Authors: Rachael Stapleton
THE TEMPLE OF
THE TEMPLE OF INDRA’S JEWEL
Copyright © 2011, 2013 Rachael Stapleton.
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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ISBN: 978-1-4917-0223-9 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-4917-0224-6 (hc)
ISBN: 978-1-4917-0225-3 (e)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013914010
iUniverse rev. date: 9/16/2013
irst and foremost, I’d like to thank my husband for supporting me while I wrote this book, even in those moments when it would have been nicer to watch hockey. I’d also like to thank my parents for the strength to take chances; as well as my sister—my best friend and favourite beta reader—her husband and my brother for being my champions. It’s nice to know there’s a soft landing and to have people who are forever there when you need them—much like my in-laws, who watch my beautiful children allowing me to edit each and every week. There could be no greater support system. I also want to recognize Travis and Vivian, for making me smile and understanding those sometimes-difficult moments when Mommy works. My family is my inspiration and motivation for continuing this journey. I also want to acknowledge my Aunt Jules, for asking me what I wanted to be and later reminding me of my answer. A child needs to dream. And finally, to my writing group: Connie, Yvonne, Susan, Lora, and Ann for the pep talks, wine, hugs, and kicks-up-the-backside. Their feedback helped sculpt and shape this book. Special thanks to Marissa, for walking the line before me. I knew I’d be an author, but those first steps were monumental. I’m so very glad to have all of you in my life. And lastly, a huge thanks to Krista, Amy, and the rest of the editorial team of iUniverse for providing excellent support.
he sound of heavy footsteps and a feeling of dread overtook me as I woke. A deep humming nagged at my ears, and I burrowed deeper into my cocoon of quilts. The door opened, and a strong musk stung my nostrils.
I thought, shaking my head to clear it as the bed sank under the strain of company. All the movement was too much, and a wave of nausea that could knock over a sailor rolled in.
I swallowed it back down. “Nick,” I whispered, attempting to grasp my bearings. “What happened?”
His hand stroked my hair before trailing slowly to my ribs, making me very aware of the thin fabric tangled at my waist. As I peeked one eye open, my vision blurred, and my eyes stung as if filled with salt.
“Nick,” I repeated. “What happened?”
His hand caressed my nipples, first one and then the other, which responded against my better judgment
I thought. My head throbbed. The room spun as I attempted to sit up.
“The cavern,” I said.
“Shhh,” he soothed, laying me back down. I was so damn weak.
“Tell me!” I said, pushing back at him.
I’d been the first to jump off the boat and head for the reef. Was that only this morning? It felt like a lifetime ago when I’d noticed the deep dark shadows of an abyss off in the distance. I remembered suddenly finding myself over top of it, thinking,
There’d no longer been any fish around me, and I had marvelled at how surreal it was to swim over a cliff. That’s when I saw the metallic light radiating from below. Trying to recall what happened next, I pushed my memory to the brink. I remembered sunshine, finding my breath, popping up…
My sinuses burned, and my eyeballs felt like they’d burst out of my head. That brought me back to reality and the fact that Nick was still touching me. I ignored him and opened my eyes again, forcing them to focus. There were delicate diamond panes of glass in the windows, floral patterns on the walls and dolls on a shelf.
Nick’s voice surprised me, pulling me out of my reverie as he slipped the blanket down to expose my thighs.
I grabbed for it and pulled it back up to my waist, shivering. “Nick, where are we?”
He continued cooing in my ear. I closed my weary eyes, my mind searching, trying to make sense of his voice and touch. He usually didn’t speak French unless we were with his dad’s friends.
His voice grew deep and menacing as he switched to English and stood up.
“Sapphira! You try my patience. Stop playing.”
I looked up, but I could only make out a dark figure looming over me, pacing back and forth. “I can’t see you. There’s something wrong with my sight.”
When I didn’t respond further he tweaked my nipple hard.
“Owww!” I howled, opening my eyes just in time to watch his blurry shadowed form disappear from the room.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed to chase after him, but nothing seemed familiar or right. This was not our villa. Where was I? How did I get here? I remembered wandering up the hill. Oh my God! He’d proposed!
Wrapping a blanket tight to my chest to ward off the chill, I staggered out of bed and across the room. The nausea was overwhelming. I leaned my forehead against the cold marble of an oversized fireplace, trying to dredge up what had happened. We’d found ourselves on the backside of the island, gazing out over the cliff.
His dad wanted us to join the family business in Europe. But I’d said no. And he’d lost it!
I gripped the mantle more tightly. What had happened next?
I remembered walking away from him to catch my breath—that’s when I noticed that same metallic spinning in the water below. Suddenly I was hurtling toward it.
Dizziness overtook me.
I opened my eyes to get away from the memory. Bracing myself, I stared down into the face of an ugly Marie Antoinette–looking doll lying in a basket. The eyes bulged.
Had I fallen?
If so, this was a pretty strange hospital. I ran my hands over my face and head. No cuts, although I did feel bruised, nauseous and dizzy.
As I contemplated that, a crescendo of tiny knocks rapped at the door. I quickly returned to the bedside in time to see a petite, dark-haired girl poke her head in.
“Oh good, Mademoiselle, you’re up. Are you feeling any better?” She signalled behind her, and two women marched in to open the drapes, unfold a food tray and hand me a cup of hot broth.
“Please, tell us what ’appened?” Her tiny French voice cracked with excitement.
Sipping my broth, I moved to the window, feeling extremely alien as they began to make the bed and assemble garments.
“Who are you?”
“Chloe!” she said, looking affronted.
I ignored her and gazed out the French doors at the expanse of blue water. The villa must be built on a cliff. Then it came to me.
Nick had grabbed me by the neck and leaned me back over the edge of a cliff on Sainte Marguerite. I tried to reach for his chest, to pull myself in, and then I clawed at his hands to loosen his grip so I could breathe. But as I squirmed I forgot the edge. Loose rocks gave way beneath me. My balance wavered, and Nick let go. Falling in slow motion, it was like a bad dream. I hit the water with a thud, driving a terrible stinging up my nose. I struggled to swim. My lungs wanted to explode with panic. I drifted deeper. And then suddenly, as the strange magnetic lights encompassed me, I just relaxed.
“The water… I was d-d-r-owning. Did I wash up here?” I sputtered, confused, almost like an amnesia patient.
Chloe paused slightly and gave the other lady a strange look. “You were found floating in the sea.”
How could Nick have done that? He must have dived in and saved me ’cause here I was, alive, or at least partially alive. I felt like death. I remembered it all so clearly now. We’d gone snorkelling at the Lérins Islands just off the coast near Cannes.
Had I washed up onshore somewhere along the French Riviera? Or were there other islands, perhaps a private island?
Yes, that was it! This was some eccentric’s mansion, which explained the room.
“What were you doing at the
?” Chloe asked, interrupting my reverie.
“Give her a moment to collect herself,” scolded the tall, thin maid with the pinched face. “She has just awakened. She probably desires to catch her breath,
“Lisabetta, come look at the nasty bruise on her head.” Anais motioned rapidly for the older lady to come over.
They all stepped closer to examine my head.
Lisabetta said in a mixture of French and Italian. “Isn’t that right,
“But Mademoiselle, how?” Chloe questioned, before seeing the old woman’s face.
Chloe quickly clapped a hand over her mouth. Lisabetta grabbed her wrist and ushered her out into the hall.
They returned a moment later, all smiles.
“Well, now, Signorina, you are safe, thanks to that handsome Graf of Württemberg. Let’s take care to get you dressed so the house can move on.”
She reminded me of someone else, someone feisty I should have remembered, but my mind was a jumbled mass of confusion. I moved through a fog, remembering odd things and yet having no context for them. I blanked on other things right in front of me.
It took me a little by surprise when Lisabetta threw my arms up and Anais yanked the nightie over my head.
“What the hell are you doing?” I said, quickly throwing my hands over my breasts, or at least the nipples. My hands weren’t quite big enough to cover everything.
“Mademoiselle?” Anais questioned.
“Give me that!” I screeched, grabbing for the nightgown as Anais stepped back out of my reach.
“Who are you, and where the hell is Nick?”
I was not a shy person, but I was not used to being stripped by strangers.
Anais looked panicked, glancing from Lisabetta to me.
“Leave her,” Lisabetta said calmly.
I wrapped the nightgown around me like a towel and marched over to the door that I had seen Nick exit through. Where had he gone?
Then it occurred to me to be afraid.
My hands were cold but sweaty as I clutched the knob. For a moment I forgot the chill running down my spine, and I regarded my hand as though it belonged to someone else. Blue veins were visible through delicate flesh. My hands, yet much paler.
A small measure of comfort tugged at my heart as I noticed Gigi’s ring. Covered in purple jewels, the panther with startling emerald eyes sparkled.
“Should I call for the doctor?” Anais asked.
“No.” Lisabetta clucked disapprovingly. “He’ll put her out again.”
“Put me out?”
Lisabetta nodded, reaching a hand toward the nightgown I clutched around my body.
“Why are you dressing me?”
“Dinner,” Lisabetta said, motioning to Chloe. “The dress from the back of the door, and bring the brooch.”
“Dinner? Don’t you people have a cocktail dress?” I said, eyeing the three-quarter-length sleeves and scoop neckline. “I’m not going to dinner.” My stomach took that inopportune moment to lurch. “Where’s Nick?”
Lisabetta raised her eyebrow. “Waiting downstairs at dinner.”
“Oh, thank God,” I said, grabbing the dress from her hands. “Why do I have to wear such a fancy dress? Is it some sort of costume party?”
“Party. Yes.” Anais smiled.
I eyed her suspiciously.
“Fine. I’ll wear it,” I said, motioning for them to turn around before I bent to step into it. “I guess I can’t wear my bikini.”
I stood up straight, surrounded by a sea of bronzed gold. The material may have been made of soft silk but the crinoline underneath felt itchy. The girls instantly went to my back, tugging and squeezing until my boobs bulged out the top.
“Oh God, ouch! What is that sticking into me?”
“A corset, the usual.”
I thought to myself.
She continued on, nipping and tucking me in as she yanked the laces tighter. I let out an exasperated moan, and Anais smiled up at me.
“Euhhhh, have no fear, Mademoiselle. We will get you into it,
?” She was soon squeezing me so tightly I thought I might pass out. Never mind the near drowning, this would be death by corset. They stood back, surveying their handiwork with satisfaction.
“One last thing,” Anais said, pushing a powder puff into my face.
Lisabetta smiled and pinched my cheek.
!” agreed Anais.
I huffed, allowing Lisabetta to pinch me one last time. “Can we please go to Nick now?”
“Of course,” Anais said, opening the door for me to go.
They both just stood there.
“Could one of you lead the way?” My patience was wearing thin.
Lisabetta looked from Anais to me and then waved her hand.
“Of course,” Lisabetta said, before leading me through a dozen multicoloured chambers. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Ornamental pillars, tapestries, vaulted ceilings and sparkly chandeliers. The place was really something. Eventually the space opened up into an enormous hall with elaborate cross ribs arching high above in an elegant spiderweb shape. As she led me toward the front of the room I was welcomed by a man and a woman dressed similarly in costumes befitting a ball.
“There you are!” the older woman said. Her face was a faint pomegranate tone, perhaps reflected off the red of her gown, which set off her dark hair. I could feel curious glances boring into my back. I assumed from the shifty eyes and snippets of whispers that they were garrulous and gossipy.
“Princess Maria.” A woman in green flew up to her, interrupting us, curtsying before her. “And Comte de Chalais,” she said before kissing the man on both cheeks in an overdramatic fashion.
I gaped openly at the trio.
“Thank you so much for inviting us,” she chirped, turning back to the woman.
“Don’t thank me. It was Henri’s suggestion.”
I turned away, cheeks flushed, and glanced around the room. Three long tables were arranged to form three sides of a square. There were some twenty people set to eat and perhaps another seven to serve. Panic shot through me like a bolt of lightning
I didn’t see Nick anywhere, but I did notice a devastatingly tall, handsome man staring at me. His skin was olive, and he had the most amazing, serious, greenish-brown eyes. Our gazes locked as we took stock of one another. He was not entirely clean-shaven, and although his hair was trimmed, it curled in shining blue-black ringlets
“And look at this lovely, exotic creature. Is this your daughter?” the woman in green asked, pulling me back to the conversation at hand.