Planning a wedding to please two cultures was not simple. Arabella flipped her heavy braid off her shoulder as she struggled to hide her frustration. She wanted to please her mother and father but melding British customs with Mughal traditions was not an easy task. Admittedly, the English ceremony was the easier of the two, but when would each celebration occur?
“Is it not possible to remove a few matrimonial protocols, Maman?” Arabella asked.
Her mother snorted. “If you wish to anger your family, you can do so.”
That was not the answer Arabella wanted to hear, but her mother spoke the truth. Belonging to a royal family meant that no short corners could be taken, but Arabella was only half Mughal. Surely, she could do half the ceremonies.
“Justin still has to give the sacnaq; only then can the manjha ceremony take place,” Arabella continued. “But the sacnaq can only happen once his family arrives.”
The sacnaq was the first wedding gift sent to the bride’s home on behalf of the bridegroom. Justin had no family in India as they were all in England, but he had promised to send them a letter to remind them about their wedding that was due to take place in fifteen months. It took six months just to travel from Britain to India and perhaps a few more to reach one’s final destination. Would the letter reach the Balfours in time to attend the wedding?
“I know that, azizam,” her mother assured her. “I am confident Justin will fulfil his promise. In the meantime, we can discuss your wedding attire. We need a bright yellow and gold lehenga for the manjha ceremony, a–”
“I think I need some sustenance for this conversation,” Arabella interrupted. “My mind is already spinning.”
Smiling, her mother called one of the servants, giving a short command for an assortment of foods to be brought.
“You always eat when you are stressed, azizam,” her mother said. “But there is no reason to be. Your aunts and I could organise everything for you. You would not have to lift a finger.”
“That is precisely what I do not want, Maman,” Arabella protested. “This is my wedding, and I wish to be part of all the planning.”
“You say you want to plan the wedding, but you also want to prepare your house. How can you do both?”
“With your help, of course. But that is the operative word–help. I do not wish my aunts to take over everything as they usually do.”
Arabella’s aunts had the habit of assuming they knew what was best, but Arabella was not like them. Her tastes, opinions, and ideas were an eclectic mix of her three cultures–English, Mughal, and Hindu–while her Mughal aunts wanted tradition and custom to dictate everything. The Princesses were accustomed to getting their way, but Arabella was just as stubborn and preferred her own way.
Arabella’s mother chuckled softly. “I think they already know that they will have opposition to their ideas. Let’s not discuss the wedding now. I would like to know about you and Justin. He left the house early today and didn’t seem very happy. What happened?”
Arabella coloured. Her mother had noticed? “It was nothing, Maman.”
“It didn’t look like nothing, azizam. I thought he would stay for dinner. I asked the kitchen to make Justin’s favourite biryani and sweet dish, only to find him leaving moments later. I hope there is no trouble before you are even married.”
What could Arabella say? Justin had heard about the other suitors who had come to call on her in the hopes that she would break off her engagement to Justin and pick one of them. They didn’t see their betrothal as finalised until Justin’s family arrived and spoke with her family. Most believed that Arabella should marry a Mughal noble and not the third son of an English duke.
“Justin overheard someone discuss the gentlemen who came to the palace while I was here. He wasn’t impressed that so many refused to accept that I am betrothed to him.”
“I see. If your father and I believed those other men were worthy of you, we might have given your hand to them, but Justin was the only one we found who truly loves you. The others are simply captivated by your beauty and royal blood. ‘Tis not every day a fair-haired woman is born to the Mughal royal house.”
Arabella was not the typical dark-haired beauty of a Mughal or Hindu woman but a golden-haired, golden-eyed woman with pale skin that burned quickly in the sun. Some said she resembled her French great-grandmother who married a Mughal prince, or she favoured her father’s family, who were predominately fair-haired people. Whichever it was, Arabella stood out.
“Grandfather gave his blessings to the match,” said Arabella. “Would anyone dare to go against the emperor?”
“I doubt it, but they might hope to change his mind,” her mother explained. “That’s why it’s imperative we make a show of organising the wedding preparations. It will make your betrothal to an Englishman more of a reality than a situation that can be changed.”
“Did you deal with the same thing when you married Baba? A baron is not the same as a prince.”
It wasn’t typical for a Mughal princess to marry an Englishman, but Arabella’s father, Lord Bedford, had managed to convince the royals that his marriage would benefit them since he had ties to the East India Company and the ear of the King of England.
Although I hear the king’s son is now Prince Regent. Poor King George.
“Your father has a silver tongue,” her mother said with a smile. “It took a day for him to convince my father and a month for us to be married. I think he knew that the only way to ensure I was his was to marry me as soon as tradition and custom allowed.”
Arabella’s heart sunk. She would have been married to Justin next month, but they had postponed the wedding when her father fell ill last year. Arabella wanted her father to be well enough to participate in the wedding, and Justin had agreed. However, now it seemed that their decision might cause unforeseen challenges.
“Do not fret, azizam,” her mother insisted. “Your grandfather and father like Justin or they would have opposed the wedding. His position as the British Representative has given him good status.”
“I certainly hope so. Do you think I should do the English ceremony first and follow it with the Mughal customs later? That way, I shall be legally married to Justin, and no one can do anything about it.”
“That is not a good idea, child,” her mother objected. “The granddaughter of the emperor cannot do such a thing.”
Arabella pouted. “It seems nobles are more caged in than the lower classes.”
Laughing, her mother gestured for the servants to bring in the food. “Perhaps you will feel better about it after you have eaten.”
Arabella took a deep breath as the food was displayed before her. The mingling spices and other fragrant smells of the dishes made her belly clench with anticipation.
“You look happier already,” said the Princess. “Eat, azizam.”
Arabella broke off a piece of paratha, a delicious flatbread, and dipped it into the qeema mater, a ground lamb and pea curry. The explosion of taste in her mouth was enough to make her hum and her shoulders shake.
Arabella was a happy eater and would likely have been twice her size if not for her regular walks. Most people would describe her as pleasantly rounded in the right places as her culture dictated women should be, but Arabella wondered if it was the same for the British. Perhaps if she had been taller, she would have felt more at peace with her curvaceous shape, but at five foot two and already nineteen, Arabella knew her height would not change. Her father often joked that her hair, which was currently down to her knees, would one day be longer than she was tall. Arabella longed to cut it, but her mother forbade it.
“Are you not eating?” she said when she looked up and found her mother quietly sipping her mint tea.
“I had something earlier, but I might have a samosa or haleem if I get peckish.”
Arabella coveted her mother’s ability to eat so little. The Princess was slender and dainty, and although the same height, Arabella sometimes felt like a giant.
Dipping her paratha into the haleem, a meat and lentil stew, Arabella handed it to her mother.
“Baba would not be happy if he was here now,” Arabella warned. “You have to remain strong for him.”
Arabella’s father was recovering well from his illness, but he was still weak. The royal physician had prescribed rest, sunlight, vegetables, and broth, but Arabella knew her father was sneaking in brandy and meat. The Princess would likely scold her husband if she knew he had bribed the servants to serve him his favourite English meals when she wasn’t around.
With a little sigh, Arabella’s mother took the laden paratha and took a tiny bite.
“Better?” she asked.
“Eat the entire thing, Maman,” Arabella insisted. “We still have much to discuss. Were you able to divide the food gifts to the poor? I hope they were not too unruly. I know that desperation can cause one to act in an unseemly manner, but they need to understand that the royal guards will not allow one of us to be harmed. I would hate to have someone jailed or even killed for causing a mere scratch on you.”
“I sent a message ahead that I would be in the area and asked the elders to organise the community according to the neediest family to the least needy.”
“Did it work?” Arabella asked.
“Yes, for the most part. Will you join me tomorrow? I know some of the community members would love to see you.”
Arabella had not been to the royal house for some time as she had been with the British community visiting her aunt and cousins. Her parents believed it was necessary to spend as much time with the English people as she did with her Mughal family to avoid an imbalance of culture and traditions. Arabella found it amusing how she had to act like the quintessential English woman, speaking only English or French with the British community, but at the palace, she could be herself and speak Persian, Urdu, and any other regional language. Her father said it was necessary should she ever go to England, but Arabella hoped she never had to leave India. Justin loved it here as much as she did, and their home would be here as well.
“Well, Aunt Beatrice, Lydia and Archie have come to see Baba and might stay for a week. Although between you and me, I think Lydia would like a bit of lavish living. The British home is nothing compared to the palace.”
“I think everyone would prefer the palace to their home,” her mother replied with a tinkle of laughter. “Where are they now?”
“Aunt Beatrice went to lie down, and Lydia is in the women’s garden. Archie is probably with the guards practising his sword fighting. He has aspirations to become a celebrated hero, but Aunt Beatrice has other ideas.”
“My son will not become a warmonger,” said Aunt Beatrice, walking into the room.
She was followed by Lydia, who looked pretty and refreshed. Arabella had a feeling her cousin had taken advantage of the beauty treatments available to the royal women.
For a woman who dislikes my culture, she certainly loves to take advantage of it.
“Beatrice, how lovely to see you,” the Princess greeted warmly. “Arabella just informed me that you’re here to see David. You look particularly beautiful today, Lydia.”
“Princess,” greeted Aunt Beatrice, curtsying. “I thought I must see how my brother-in-law is doing. He seems improved from my last visit.”
“He is now that I’ve forbidden the servants to serve him any meat or alcohol,” said Arabella’s mother with a brief glance at Arabella.
Arabella almost laughed out loud. How could she have assumed her mother did not know what her father was up to? The Princess had eyes in the back of her head!
“That’s good, although it must be difficult for him not to eat his own kind of food,” said Aunt Beatrice. “I find the native cuisine too heavy on spices, which gives me horrible indigestion. I’m afraid my palate is too accustomed to English food.”
In other words, the woman preferred bland food. There were very few English dishes that Arabella would eat, but she did enjoy some puddings.
“I’ll have the kitchen staff prepare something you’ll like for dinner,” the Princess offered.
“No, there’s no need for that, Princess,” Aunt Beatrice protested.
“Of course, there is. I must take care of my husband’s family as they are my family as well.”
Arabella’s mother lifted her hand, speaking quietly to a servant, her gold bracelets clinking together. Arabella watched her aunt stare covetously at her mother’s jewellery, but when she realised she was being observed, the woman quickly looked away and pretended to be interested in the murals on the wall. Smiling, Arabella continued to eat.
Lydia’s hands itched to take the flatbread and dip it into the meat stew, but English women did not eat with their hands. Going through several beauty rituals had made her hungry, but she was far too proud to say it. Her mother had warned her to never grow accustomed to this heathen land because one day, they would return to England.
I would have been there now if Arabella hadn’t stolen Justin from me. I despise her for that.
Why had Justin fallen in love with a half-breed? Albeit, Arabella looked English with her pale hair and skin, but the woman had Mughal blood running through her veins, and that lessened her value in Lydia’s eyes.
“Has Justin come yet?” she asked her cousin. “I know he was due for a visit.”
Something unclear flashed in Arabella’s eyes. “He was here, but he had to leave suddenly. The work of a British Representative is never finished.”
“Indeed,” Lydia’s mother agreed. “He is an important man with duties to fulfil. We’re fortunate to see him once a day when he is with the British community. Have you managed to set a date for the wedding yet?”
Lydia glanced sharply at her mother. Why did she have to bring up the wedding? It was a sore point for her.
“Not yet, Aunt,” said Arabella. “But it will be next year during the summer.”
A summer wedding? Lydia knew it would be stupendous and outrageously expensive, but Arabella’s family could afford it. She found the entire thing unfair.
Lydia, her mother, and her brother were at the mercy of Uncle David, their late father’s brother. Coming to India had probably been the worst decision her mother had ever made, but they had had no other way to support themselves. Who knew Lydia would have to fight with her own cousin for the affections of a handsome aristocrat?
I saw him first! I’ll never forgive Arabella for taking him.
It didn’t matter that Justin had fallen in love with Arabella at first glance, only that her cousin should have never accepted his advances. Lydia deserved to be married to Justin, not Arabella! It hurt to watch them stare at each other with such affection while she had to suffer another day in humid India.
One day, my day will come, and I’ll have the faerie tale life. Just you wait and see.
It was all Lydia ever prayed about. She would give her soul to the devil if need be and was willing to go to any lengths to achieve the life she wanted. Lydia just needed one opportunity.
Justin kicked off his dusty boots, hardly paying attention to the manservant who quietly took them away. Today had not been a good day at all, and it was all his fault. Why did he have to be so short-tempered with Arabella? It was hardly her fault. Expelling a short breath, Justin rolled his neck this way and that, working out the kinks.
“Good day, Lord Balfour,” said Suleman, entering the room. “How was your trip to the palace?”
Justin regarded his khitmagar, wondering how much to tell the butler. Suleman was a highly astute man who could see straight through a person’s lies and excuses. Justin decided the truth was better.
“I was jealous and took my stress out on her.”
Suleman’s dark eyebrows lifted. “You scolded the begum’s daughter?”
The man sounded utterly shocked that Justin would dare scold a princess’s daughter. The Mughal royal family were above reproach as far as Suleman was concerned.
“Not exactly. I simply wasn’t as patient as I usually am.”
The butler shook his head. “You have been afforded a great privilege to marry a woman of such birth and beauty. I know she is half your kind, but in this land, she is a Mughal noble.”
“I know all this, Suleman,” Justin assured him. “That’s why I feel worse about what I did. It’s my fault, really. It’s all my fault.”
Grabbing fistfuls of his hair on either side of his head, Justin let out a wailing groan. It had taken him so long just to have Arabella’s father agree to their betrothal, that to lose her now would mean to lose her forever.
Finding out about the princes and nobles who had gone to the palace to speak with her was indication enough that they believed they still had a chance with Arabella. Justin was a foreigner to them and an unwelcome one because he wished to take away one of their prized beauties. It didn’t matter that Arabella was half-English, only that she had been born in India and brought up in the Mughal way.
“Why not go back and apologise?” Suleman suggested. “Your lady loves you and will forgive you.”
Justin knew that, but his guilt stopped him from doing what he should. “’Tis not as easy as you say. Arabella has no notion that I have lied to her about my family.”
Suleman’s brown brow puckered. “Lied, my lord? How so?”
“Do you recall the letter I sent to them a year ago? About my wedding?”
“Yes. You said you would notify them about your intention to marry the Baron’s daughter.”
Justin nodded. “That’s just it. You see, I spoke about the Baron’s daughter, but I said nothing about her being half-Mughal.”
Understanding quickly followed as disappointment dawned in the butler’s eyes. “You are ashamed of her mixed heritage.”
“No!” Justin quickly denied. “I’m not at all ashamed. In fact, I love that the woman I adore is so culturally diverse. However, my family may not see her in the same light I do.”
“I do not understand. She is half-English like you. Yes, she is half-Mughal, or maybe you can say one-third Mughal and one-third Rajput, but she does not look it. If you did not know her ancestry, you would not know she is not full English.”
Justin knew everything Suleman was saying, but the man didn’t understand that his family were purists. They only wanted English nobles in the family, and that excluded Arabella.
“My family has never mixed outside of their ideal,” Justin tried to explain. “If not for the dangers of inbreeding, I daresay they would continue with that practice.”
Suleman tilted his head to the side, frowning. “Inbreeding, my lord? What is this?”
“When you marry your close cousin or sometimes your sister.”
“Ah, I know this. Sometimes my people do this as well but not in my family. If your blood is too close, your child is born with problems.”
“Yes,” Justin agreed. “That is why my family stopped that practice, but they are still strict about who is brought into the family by marriage.”
“But what if they come to your wedding?”
That was what Justin was afraid of. He had been wishy-washy about when the wedding would be and subtly told them their presence was not needed if they did not feel like making the long trip to India. Justin knew his family members were not particularly fond of India and would grab onto any excuse not to come.
“I’m hoping they will send a letter giving me an excuse as to why they cannot come.”
“But what about the customs and ceremonies?” Suleman asked. “Who will stand for you if you do not have family?”
The man seemed more concerned than Justin was. He understood that the Mughals had their ways for wedding celebrations, but he figured he could take care of most of them alone. Perhaps some of his colleagues could stand for him as his family.
“Friends,” Justin replied.
Suleman shook his head. “That is not done. You will bring dishonour upon your head and make the royal family rethink their decision.”
Justin had thought about that as well. It seemed that no matter which angle he looked at the situation, he was at risk of losing Arabella. It was enough to make him sick.
“You’re not making me feel any better, Suleman,” Justin groaned. “I need solutions, not a retelling of my problems.”
“My apologies, Lord Balfour,” said Suleman sincerely. “Perhaps I should bring some refreshments for you. A little food and drink can make the worst of situations easier to handle.”
Justin smiled. “That is what Arabella says. Perhaps I should take her a few sweets to sweeten her mood.”
“It will do you better to think what you will do about your family, my lord,” Suleman urged. “You are a grown man and can make your own decisions. I know a son has responsibilities to his parents, but you have two older brothers to worry about that. You are the youngest, and sometimes they say the one who does his own will.”
That was true. Justin’s parents had been happy about him joining the military but not about his going to India. They had bought him a high position, but Justin wanted to prove himself and eventually became a British Representative to Baroda. That was when he had met Arabella and fell instantly in love. Justin hadn’t even known her mixed heritage then and assumed she was the daughter of an English gentleman. Never in his wildest dreams did he think he had fallen in love with the granddaughter of the Mughal emperor.
“Let’s see what they say in their next letter,” Justin decided. “That will dictate how I deal with the situation.”
“A few letters arrived for you while you were away,” said Suleman. “I will bring them to you.”
A knot formed in Justin’s stomach. One of those letters could be from his family. Enough time had passed for them to have received the letter and sent one back.
“I think I might need a drink for this,” he said to himself, getting up from his armchair.
Justin made his way to his drinks cabinet. It was concealed to respect his religious fiancée, but Justin hoped he wouldn’t have to give up certain habits completely. He enjoyed pork and alcohol, which was against Arabella’s religious beliefs, and whenever he visited the palace, he had to remember protocols to avoid insulting the royals.
Justin didn’t get far pouring his drink when Suleman came in holding a letter from England.
“I think this is from your family, my lord.”
“I think so, too.”
Justin put the glass and decanter down, rubbing his hands down the sides of his trousers. They were damp and full of the evidence of his apprehension. Suleman handed the letter to him, politely ignoring Justin’s hands.
“I hope the letter contains information to help you make a good decision, my lord. Will you take your dinner in the dining room or your study?”
That’s if Justin wanted to eat after reading the letter. There was no telling what was in it.
“I think in my study,” said Justin. “I’ll be in there if you wish to speak to me about anything else.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Suleman left the room before he did, but Justin followed soon after, the letter almost crushed in his hand. Entering his study, he poured himself a brandy from another concealed drinks cabinet.
“I need to fortify my nerves,” he said aloud, drinking the brandy in one shot.
He hissed as fire coursed down his throat, but it probably wasn’t as painful as the letter he was about to read. Rubbing his hands over each other, Justin looked at the letter.
“Just read it,” he urged himself.
He grabbed it before he lost his courage, ripping it open and devouring the words with bated breath.
It has taken me several attempts to write this letter, and still, I feel terrible putting these words down on paper, but it must be done.
Firstly, I hope you are well, son. How is Arabella? I long to meet the woman who has captured my wayward son’s heart. I often despaired of you ever finding a woman and settling down, but now the prayers of a loving mother have been answered. How I wish we could come to your wedding, son, but several situations have arisen that keep us from travelling to India to share in your special day.
George and Anne were travelling to their home in the countryside when the horses suddenly took flight and caused the carriage to fall over. George was injured terribly, but Anne managed to escape with only a few scratches. It is a blessing because she is with child.
James has eloped with a courtesan you know well–Elizabeth Gardner. She has bewitched him and made him abandon his family when we need him the most. Your father has not taken this news well, and while he is not unwell, I fear the stress is overwhelming and may bring sickness to his body. He cannot handle this by himself, Justin. He needs your help.
I know that you are busy where you are, and you have made a life for yourself in India, but your family desperately needs you. George cannot manage the estates in his bedridden condition, James is gone, and your father must deal with it all. I am doing the best I can, but I cannot do it alone.
Please come home, Justin. I know it is much to ask, but you know I would never concern you with any matter unless it is important, and I have exhausted all other avenues. George may never walk again, and James has cut all ties with us. My heart cannot take any more shocking news.
This was the last thing Justin had expected to read. George had had an accident that could prevent him from ever walking again? James had eloped with an older woman? It sounded like his family had descended into chaos.
Justin looked at the date the letter was written and calculated eight months ago. It would take that long just to reach home. If he left now, he wouldn’t make it back in time for his own wedding. How could he just go?
“But how can I stay when my family needs my help?” he asked aloud.
Justin could justify not going by saying his brother would be recovered by the time he reached home, his father would be back to his usual self, and his mother would no longer be under stress. But what if that didn’t happen?
Justin scratched his head. There was no solution to please everyone. He was going to disappoint someone. The question was, would he disappoint the woman he loved and possibly lose her forever or disappoint his family when they needed him? Justin realised he couldn’t make this decision on his own. He needed to speak to Arabella and her family. Justin could leave happily if Arabella married him within the week, but Mughals did not do things as the English did. There were traditions and ceremonies to follow. Perhaps if Arabella had not been part of the royal family, he might have been able to convince them to let her marry him in an English ceremony, but there was no use in thinking about ‘ifs’.
“Lord Bedford might agree and convince his in-laws,” he thought aloud. “But it’s not fair to force Arabella to get married in a hurry or when her father isn’t well enough to join in the celebration.”
Justin knew how important a woman’s wedding day was to her and wanted nothing but the best for his fiancée.
Sighing, Justin decided that it was best to speak to his future in-laws and see what they had to say. Hopefully, they would have a solution that didn’t entail losing the woman he loved but would allow him to go to his family. What that be too much to ask? Probably.
Arabella carried several books to her father’s room, stopping once to adjust the load. Her father was more restless than usual and wanted a good book and some ‘English’ company. While the man loved India, Arabella knew he missed his home country. Arabella was the closest thing to England while he stayed in the palace.
Entering his room, she noticed the drapes were still closed. Was he moping again? Arabella couldn’t blame him, not when he was bedridden for most of the day, but her father didn’t do himself any favours by wallowing in darkness.
“Baba! Why are these drapes closed?” she demanded.
“Papa or Father, dear,” her father insisted, coughing a little. “This is our English time.”
“Very well. Papa, why are these drapes closed?”
“I didn’t want any cheerful sunlight.”
Sighing, Arabella put the books down and sat on the edge of the bed. “You know what the physician said. Sunlight is important for your recovery.”
“So is good old English food.”
So, this was what his attitude was all about? Arabella grinned, patting her father’s knee.
“Mama spoke to you, didn’t she? You know that she is worried about your health.”
“A man needs something more than just vegetables and bone broth,” the man insisted. “Potatoes, thick chunks of meat, butter, eggs, cheese…even pork! I could have recovered in our own home where I can eat all these things. Why did I have to come to the palace?”
“You know why, Papa. Mama has more help here than at home.”
“But we have servants,” her father protested. “A whole household of them!”
Arabella could see she wouldn’t change her father’s mind when he was in this mood, so she decided to change the conversation to the books she had chosen.
“I’ve brought an assortment of books, Papa. Philosophy, war, science, literature, and history. Which one would you like to read?”
“Preferably fiction. A story where the hero gets to do whatever he wants.”
Arabella had to laugh. “There are many stories like that, but none of the heroes live in lavish palaces like this one or get waited on hand and foot. Heroes eat whatever they want to, but they do not have beautiful wives who love their husbands and wish them well. Neither do they have intelligent daughters who entertain them with stories, palace gossip, and news from the English community. Now, would you still like to be the hero or the very fortunate man you are?”
Her father gave her a side glance. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?”
“I don’t just think it, Papa. I know it. My education has been second to none, and I daresay I am more educated than the women in England. Our Mughal ways are certainly superior.”
Lifting his eyebrows, the Baron snorted. “Which explains why Britain has such a growing presence on the continent. We are conquering the world nation by nation, and soon, everyone will bow to the British monarchy. You mark my words, Bella.”
“We shall see about that. Now, about that book?”
The Baron eventually chose a book about Babylon and had Arabella read of the kingdom’s conquests.
“Do you know that the Persians defeated the Babylonians?” her father asked after some time.
“Of course. I have Persian ancestry and thus have been taught about our victories.”
“Yes, I suppose your grandfather made sure to elevate his ancestors. I wish you would give as much attention to your English ancestors.”
“I do as much as I am able, Papa,” Arabella argued. “Do I not speak and act like an Englishwoman when needed? No one can tell the difference.”
“I do not mean how you behave, dear. I simply want you to know more about your British ancestry. Perhaps you and Justin will consider going to England for a year or two. It would be good for you to learn first-hand.”
Arabella had mentioned her reluctance to see England on many occasions. Although familiar in some ways, it was still foreign to Arabella. Lydia often remarked on how life in England was better and more civilised, but Arabella didn’t think so. Any country that kept its women from pursuing an education past a certain age was backwards. Mughals valued education, and every royal woman was highly educated in every sphere of life. Princesses were known to be poets, astronomers, architects, and so much more than most countries afforded. How could England be better? Arabella believed she would feel stifled in such a place.
Fortunately for Arabella, her answer was thwarted by her mother’s arrival, her jewellery announcing her arrival before the Princess was seen.
“Oh, good,” the woman said, seeing Arabella. “You’re here, azizam.”
“It’s my English time, my love,” Arabella’s father pointed out.
“Now?” the woman asked. “Very well. You’re here, dear.”
“Yes, Mama,” Arabella answered. “I came to read to Papa and hopefully cheer him up. His mood leaves much to be desired today.”
“I know. I woke up beside him this morning.”
“You speak as though I am not here,” the Baron complained. “That is no way to treat an ill man.”
Arabella’s father was typically a cheerful man, but his illness had taken away some of his usual spark. Now, he was crankier, moody, and sometimes demanding. The Princess certainly had her hands full.
“Not unless the ill man is my husband who refuses to follow the physician’s orders for his health’s sake,” Arabella’s mother retorted. “But I am not here to discuss that. Justin is here and wishes to speak to all three of us. He appears agitated.”
Arabella’s heart lifted. Justin had come back? When he had left her yesterday, Arabella had wondered if she should have done more to repel the nobles who had come to test the waters. It wouldn’t have been acceptable for her not to receive guests, but she understood why Justin would have been angry. Still, he didn’t have to be concerned about other men coming to see her because Arabella’s heart belonged to him and always will.
“Why the devil does he need to speak to me?” the Baron demanded. “I’ve already given the blessing for their marriage.”
“Oh, David,” the Princess said, sighing. “You must change your attitude. Arabella and I will meet with him first, and I’ll send some men with a chair to bring you down to my private rooms. Please, don’t scold anyone.”
The Baron looked away. “I make no promises.”
The Princess didn’t respond, only gesturing with her head for Arabella to come with her. Arabella laid a light kiss on her father’s brow and patted his shoulder.
“This won’t last forever, Papa. Furthermore, you owe me a rematch of croquet.”
“I won fair and square,” the Baron replied with a bit of smile.
“It won’t happen again,” Arabella assured. “Do not tarry, Papa. I’m confident Justin has come to see us about an important matter.”
“You go down with your mother, and I’ll follow as soon as those burly men come to take me.”
Satisfied with her father’s response, Arabella followed her mother out.
“You have a way with your father, azizam,” said the Princess. “I’m glad you’re here to improve his mood. It has been difficult for him lately. He is so used to being able to go where he wants, do what he wants, and be my strength.”
“I’ll be here for some time and will spend much of it with him. Truthfully, I would rather be here than with the British community, but Baba is adamant about me knowing my English roots as well as my Mughal life.”
“You’re fortunate to have a father who wishes you to have a balance of each culture. My mother was a Rajput princess, but your grandfather primarily had us taught the Mughal ways.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Arabella acquiesced.
They chatted about other things until they arrived at the Princess’ private rooms and saw Justin.
“Justin!” Arabella exclaimed.
Justin’s face lit up, but she could see the concern in his eyes. What was wrong? Arabella wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
“How are you, Arabella? You look lovely today.”
Arabella coloured. “You say that every day. Papa will be with us in a moment or two.”
“Why don’t we sit and have something to drink?” Arabella’s mother suggested. “I have sent for some tea.”
Justin and her father drank a milky English tea that Arabella wasn’t too fond of. She preferred coffee or one of the country’s other beverages.
Arabella longed to speak to Justin about the previous day. She wanted to explain the situation and assure him that he was the only man in her life. Justin should know that, yet it surprised her that he had reacted to the presence of the male visitors.
The Baron was eventually brought in and settled beside the Princess, shaking Justin’s hand when the younger man respectfully left his seat to greet the man.
“Good to see you, Justin,” said the Baron. “What brings you to the palace? I would say my daughter, but I hear you wish to speak to all three of us.”
Justin rubbed his hands together, looking at the carpet for a moment before he met their eyes.
“There is no good way to say this, so I must lay the situation bare before you,” he began. “An important matter has threatened to disrupt my future with Arabella. I believed it best to discuss it with all of you because I need advice.”
Arabella felt her belly drop. What matter could be so severe that it would disrupt her future with him?
“That sounds ominous,” said Arabella’s mother. “What is the matter?”
“My brother George and his wife were in a carriage accident a few months ago. At the time when the letter was sent, he was bedridden, and I assume Anne has had her child by now. James has run away with an infamous courtesan and brought scandal to the family. My father is apparently not taking the stress too well, and my mother is overwhelmed with the situation. They have asked me to come home and help them until George is well enough to take over his duties once more, and my father is rested.”
Justin spoke rather quickly, but Arabella had heard every alarming detail with clarity.
“Well…” her father said. “That is a serious matter. It seems you’ll have to go back, Justin. You cannot abandon your family.”
Arabella hung her head, hiding her eyes. It would be months, maybe years, before she saw Justin again. While she loved him with her whole heart, she knew her grandfather would expect her to choose another suitor and get married.
“I know, my lord, but I cannot leave Arabella,” Justin argued. “It would be a fate worse than death to lose her.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic,” said the Baron. “Young people seem to think the world has come to an end when a serious situation arises. I’m quite surprised at you, Justin. I assumed you had a more level head than this.”
“Hush, David,” Arabella’s mother scolded. “You cannot reprimand him so. Justin loves our daughter, and like any good man, does not want to leave her behind. Were you not the same when you courted me? You couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing me for a day, so you proposed within a week of courting me. Young Justin has had to wait while you recover.”
The Baron sat up a little straighter, staring at his wife in surprise. “Are you saying it’s my fault?”
“Of course not, my love. This is not anyone’s fault. No one knew you would fall ill, or Justin’s brother would elope, or that Justin would be called home. However, the only two who stand to lose much are Justin and Arabella. We need to think about them.”
Although her mother’s words had been quietly spoken, they were as good as a sound scolding. Arabella watched her father, hoping his old self would surface and he would think of a solution to this problem. Arabella’s father was a problem solver and was often called on by the emperor himself to give advice.
After some time, Arabella’s father nodded. “Yes, my dove. We need to think about Arabella and Justin’s future, and I think I’ve come up with a solution that will please everyone…eventually.”
Arabella perked up. “Truly, Papa?”
“Yes, my dear. You and Justin are not married because of me. I wanted to be on my feet for your wedding, but I’m not yet strong enough to handle the strain. Justin must go to his family, but you cannot be forced to wait for him until he returns. It wouldn’t be fair.”
The Baron’s words had done nothing to reassure Arabella that there was indeed a solution that she could be happy with. Whichever way she looked at it, she was doomed to lose Justin.
If he goes, he might marry an English girl, and grandfather will have me choose another suitor. If Justin stays, he’ll resent me forever. He’ll fall out of love and perhaps despise me. That is not the life I wish to have.
Arabella would rather be alone.
“Are you saying Arabella and I should end our engagement?” Justin asked. “I cannot do that, my lord. I will not be forced to give Arabella up.”
Arabella warmed at Justin’s words. He loved her, and that was enough for her. If Justin loved her enough to forsake his family and stay, then she loved him enough to let him go.
“And I will not keep you from going to your family,” Arabella added. “I cannot do that to you.”
“But I cannot lose you,” Justin argued. “Do not ask me to leave your side, Arabella.”
Arabella smiled sadly. “I would rather you didn’t, but you cannot abandon your family. I know you would do the same for me if the situation was reversed.”
Arabella and Justin stared at each other, deep yearning and misery mirrored in their eyes. Were they lovers fated, never be together?
“Oh, the folly of youth,” said the Baron. “Who said either of you had to give up anything? Well, Arabella will have to for a while,” he added.
Her father was talking in riddles. What did he mean by neither of them would give up anything except her for a little while?
“Put them out of their misery, David,” the Princess urged. “Tell them your plan. I can see the wheels turning in your head.”
“Patience, my love. I’m getting to that.” The Baron observed Justin and Arabella, resolve shining in his eyes. “You will go back to England, Justin, but you will take Arabella with you. Take her with you and get married in England. In a time to come, you will return to India, and something more traditional will be held. I no longer wish to hold my daughter back from her happiness.”
The room was silent. Arabella wasn’t sure if she had heard right or if her father had taken leave of his senses.
“But, David, Arabella cannot go with a man she is not married to!” Arabella’s mother protested. “What would the family say?”
“What do you take me for, wife?” the Baron demanded. “I have covered that area as well. Arabella will be accompanied by Beatrice. The royal family will not protest Arabella going to a country that is equally hers if her aunt goes with her. Once there, Arabella and Justin can be married.”
Leave India and go to England? The thought filled Arabella with fear.
“Will you come with me?” Justin asked her, clearly excited. “We’ll be together, and once I settle everything there, we’ll come back to India.”
Arabella was uncertain, but she loved Justin enough to nod, sealing her fate. She hoped she wouldn’t regret it.
“A Lord’s Exotic Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Arabella Fortescue, the beloved daughter of an English baron and a Mughal princess, has everything she could ever wish for: a loving family, comfort, and Justin, the man she is soon to marry. Leaving India was never Arabella’s desire, but when Justin must return to England, she decides to go with him. However, a dreadful accident at sea forces them apart, and Arabella finds herself fighting for her life. Her trials do not end there though, as she discovers that Justin has lost his memory and is about to marry an imposter. Will Arabella find her way to Justin and help him recall all the sweet moments they have shared together? Or will the only man she has ever truly loved fly away?
Justin Balfour, the third son of a Duke and an avid adventurer, could never expect that he would find his other half in India. When circumstances force him to return to England, tragedy strikes while travelling; a storm takes Arabella away from him and an accident causes him amnesia. As if this was not enough, when a wicked lady claims to be his fiancée, Justin feels utterly confused because he has no feelings for her. Everything will change though, when he starts sharing a special bond with a beautiful servant girl, unable to deny the deep stirrings in his heart. Will Justin regain his memory and unravel his feelings after all? Could the peculiar and loving maid be his miraculous salvation and unlock the mystery that surrounds his life?
Just when Arabella and Justin thought they had found everything they dreamed of, lies, memory loss, and frauds fiercely separate them. Despite the obstacles, the power of their love unites them again, giving them one last chance at happiness. Will the two soulmates be strong enough to ride out the storm and live the dream that burns in their hearts? Or will their hopes for a happily ever after be stolen away, throwing them into the deepest sorrow?
“A Lord’s Exotic Love” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.