Forbidden Jewel of India by Louise Allen

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To Obey His Duty Is To Deny His Heart

Anusha Laurens is in danger. The daughter of an Indian princess and an English peer, she’s the perfect pawn in the opulent courts of Rajasthan. Even so, she will not return to the father who rejected her.

Arrogant angrezi Major Nicholas Herriard is charged with bringing the alluring princess safely to her new life in Calcutta. Nick’s mission is to protect, to serve—but under the searing Indian sun an initial attraction unfurls into a forbidden temptation.

This beautiful, impossible princess tests the very limits of his honor—especially when Nick is left with only one option to keep Anusha safe: marriage. But the fast-flowing waters of the Ganges determine a different fate, and duty may separate them forever.

Rating: B

Louise Allen is, in my opinion, one of the strongest of the Harlequin/Mills & Boon Historical authors, and I’ve always found her romances to be well-written and strongly characterised. Category books tend to be shorter than mainstream ones, but Ms Allen is very good at getting straight to the heart of the story and into the heads of her characters and Forbidden Jewel of India is no exception.

Anusha Laurens is the daughter of Sir George Laurens, a merchant of the East India Company, and his Indian mistress. In an interesting Author’s Note, Ms Allen explains how British men were encouraged to take Indian wives and mistresses as a way of fostering understanding and cooperation between the two cultures in the early days of the Company’s regime. It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century with the advent of Christian missionaries that the “propriety” of British society began to assert itself and the Indian wives and children found themselves relegated to less than second-class citizens.

This story, however, takes place in that earlier time, and we meet Anusha as a young woman of twenty-two who had lived happily with her parents until she was ten, when her father’s angrezi (English) wife finally joined him in Calcutta, and Anusha and her mother were – to Anusha’s way of thinking –cast off and set aside. Since her mother’s death, Anusha has lived with her uncle, the Raja of Kalatwah and has thus been brought up as a well-born Indian lady, an upbringing which has been markedly different to that of a similarly circumstanced Englishwoman.

When a British officer arrives at the Palace, Anusha cannot help but be intrigued. She has never seen a man like him before – tall, broad and golden-haired – but she takes an instant dislike to his manner, which she thinks is disrespectful and overbearing.

Major Nicholas Helliard has been sent by Anusha’s father to bring her to him in Calcutta, but she does not wish to go. She has no regard for Sir George, believing he callously discarded her mother in order to placate his wife, and makes her opinion of him more than clear. But Major Helliard – Nick – will have none of it. Sir George has been a surrogate father to him and Nick is nothing if not loyal to a fault. He will not hear a word against him, and is determined to fulfil his assigned task, by any means necessary.

Anusha knows she has no alternative but to agree to return to Calcutta, but even before their departure she is busily making plans for her escape. When the palace is unexpectedly threatened with a siege by a neighbouring raja, Nick has no alternative but to get Anusha away quickly, without their baggage train and without an escort. In India, as in Britain, it is not done for a young man and woman to travel together unchaperoned, but they have no alternative.

On a journey that is fraught with danger, Nick and Anusha begin to know each other better and to appreciate each other’s strength and ingenuity. She learns that Nick has spent the last twelve years in India and that he is proficient in several languages and conversant with local customs and religions. He is a clever strategist and courageous warrior, putting her safety before his own on several occasions. For his part, Nick comes to appreciate Anusha’s resilience and resourcefulness – although he finds his growing attraction to her increasingly difficult to ignore.

Things are complicated further by the fact that Anusha’s education has included the reading of erotic texts and discussion of how to please her husband in bed. As a result, she is not shy of admitting the desire she feels for her handsome Major, or of wanting to act upon it; which I thought was an interesting contrast to her dismay at discovering that English ladies are allowed to appear before men unveiled, expected to interact and flirt with them and – under certain circumstances – to permit their touch. In fact, I was very intrigued by the author’s explanation and exploration of the differences in sexual attitudes between the two cultures.

Yet regardless of how much he wants Anusha, Nick cannot betray the man he regards as a father by dishonouring his daughter; and once they reach Calcutta, he dutifully hands her over to Sir George and the ladies of the English community who are to make “a proper English lady” out of his unconventional and exotic travelling companion.

One of the things I enjoy about “road trip” stories, is that it affords the author the opportunity to develop the relationship between the hero and heroine at a reasonably fast pace without it seeming rushed. Being thrown together by circumstance encourages the sharing of confidences and the development of friendship and trust; and I always enjoy stories in which the central couple becomes friends before they become lovers. Though both Nick and Anusha are changed by their experiences on the journey and by their association, they retain the essence of who they are; while their deepening attraction and awareness of each other makes for some delicious sexual tension and steamy moments suffused with longing.

I enjoyed Forbidden Jewel of India very much. Ms Allen’s depictions of the terrain and of village life brought the locations to life in my imagination and overall, I thought she made excellent use of the unusual setting. It’s a quick, entertaining and emotionally satisfying read, with well-rounded and engaging central characters and a well-developed and sexy romance.

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