Chapter One – Jahilipur, India
"You may have noticed the Shiraz wine you drank was poisoned." The begum's words were spoken with such casual ease that at first Donald barely noticed them. So many other matters vied for his attention — the begum herself, for example.
Together they perched in a gilded, rocking howdah mounted precariously atop the mountainous spine of an elephant. There was barely room for the two of them in the swaying contraption, and Donald was intensely aware of her lithe brown body pressing close through the whispering folds of her sari. A filmy yashmaq veil covered her head and face, revealing only the startlingly vivid emeralds of her kohl-lined eyes. When she spoke, the veil floated dreamily, riding on the sensuous waves of her strawberry-scented breath.
He recalled the night he had set out from Bombay to spend a month in the Sher Mahal at the begum's invitation. The wizened owner of the dak bungalow where he was then staying took him quietly aside, cl