Adora!Her beauty was legend. And in the dying days of the great Byzantine Empire -- that last vestige of what had once been Imperial Rome -- her value as the emperor's daughter was priceless.
Three men claimed her as wife. Orkhan, the powerful Ottoman sultan; the dashing pirate Alexander, lord of Mesembria; and Prince Murad, to whom Adora's heart truly belonged. In a grand epic that sweeps the reader from the golden palaces of fourteenth-century Byzantium to the blazing sensuality of the sultan's harem, Adora was a woman who firmly controlled her own destiny because she and Murad were meant only for each other. And together their passions would forge an empire.
Adora! Her name was the secret of all love.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Adora by Bertrice Small
The Convent of St. Catherine in the city of Bursa was a small one, but it was rich and distinguished. It had not always been so, but the recent prosperity was due to the presence of one of the sultan's wives. Princess Theadora Cantacuzene of Byzantium lived within the convent walls.
Theadora Cantacuzene was now thirteen, and quite capable of childbearing. Sultan Orkhan, however, was sixty-two and had a harem full of nubile females both innocent and experienced. The little Christian virgin in the convent had only been a political necessity after all. And so she remained there, forgotten by her Ottoman husband.
Had he seen her, however, even the jaded Orkhan could not have ignored Theadora. She had grown tall and had long, beautifully shaped arms and legs, a slender torso, firm, high, cone-shaped breasts with long pink nipples, and a beautiful heart-shaped face. Her skin was like smooth cream, for although she enjoyed the outdoors, she never tanned. Her dark mahogany-colored hair with its golden lights hung straight down her back to just above the soft swell of her sweetly rounded buttocks. The violet eyes were startlingly clear, and as candid as they had always been. Her nose was small and straight, her mouth lush with a full lower lip.
Within the convent grounds, she had her own house consisting of an antechamber for receiving guests--though none came--a dining room, a kitchen, two bedchambers, a bath, and servants' quarters. Here she lived in isolated semisplendor--lacking nothing. She was well-fed, well-guarded, and very bored. She was rarely allowed to leave the convent grounds and when she did she was heavily veiled and escorted by at least half a dozen sturdy nuns.
In the summer of Theadora's thirteenth year her life changed suddenly. It was a hot midafternoon, and all the servants lay dozing in the sticky heat. Theadora was alone, for even the nuns slept as she wandered the deserted, walled convent garden. Suddenly a small breeze brought to her the scent of peaches ripening in one of the convent orchards, but the door to the orchard garden was locked. Theadora was annoyed, and as her desire for a peach became overwhelming she looked for another means of entry into the orchard, and she found it.
Where the garden wall met the orchard wall along the street side of the convent property, there was a thick gnarled vine. Tucking up her simple lime green cotton tunic dress Theadora clambered up the vine to the top. Then, chuckling gleefully to herself, she walked carefully along the wall looking for a similar vine so she might get down into the orchard. Finding it, she descended, picked several of the plumpest fruits, and put them in her pockets. Then she climbed back up to the top of the wall.
The wall, however, was old, and worn away in several places. Its only traffic for many years had been the cats of the city who frequently courted the privacy of the convent gardens. Flushed with her success, Theadora did not watch her footing and suddenly she found herself falling. But, to her surprise, she did not hit the ground. Instead, she fell--shrieking--into the strong arms of a laughing young man.
The arms cradled her, gently but firmly, and seemed in no hurry to release her. Jet-black eyes looked her over thoroughly, admiringly. "Are you a thief? Or merely a naughty little nun?" he asked.
"Neither." She was amazed to find she still had a voice. "Please put me down, sir."
"Not until I learn your identity, violet eyes. You are not veiled, so you cannot be Turkish. Who are you?"
Theadora had never been this close to a man other than her father. It was not unpleasant. The man's chest was hard, somehow reassuring, and he smelled of sunshine.
"Have you lost your tongue, little one?" he queried softly.
She blushed and bit her lip in vexation. She had the uncomfortable feeling that he knew what she had been thinking. "I am a student at the convent," she said. "Please, sir, would you help me back up onto the wall? If they find me gone, I shall be scolded."
Setting her down, he quickly climbed onto the wall. Leaning over, he pulled her up onto the wall. Then, leaping lightly into the convent garden, he held out his arms to her. "Jump, violet eyes." He caught her easily and set her on her feet. "Now you won't be scolded," he chuckled. "What on earth made you climb the wall?"
Feeling more secure now, she looked up at him mischievously. Reaching into a pocket of her tunic dress, Theadora drew out a peach. "I wanted one," she said simply, biting into it. The juice ran down her chin. "The gate was locked, so I climbed the wall."
"Do you always get what you want?"
"Yes, but I do not usually want very much," she answered.
He laughed. "My name is Murad. What's yours?"
"Too formal. I shall call you Adora, for you're a most adorable creature."
She blushed, then gasped in surprise as he bent and kissed her. "Oh! How dare you, sir? You must not do that again! I am a married woman."
The black eyes twinkled. "Yet, Adora, I will wager that was your first kiss." She flushed again and tried to turn away from him, but he gently caught her chin between his thumb and forefinger. "And," he continued, "I will also wager that you're wed to an old man. No young man with blood in his veins would leave you languishing in a convent. You are quite outrageously fair."
She raised her eyes to him, and he saw with amazement that in the sunlight they shone an amethyst color. "It is true that I have not seen my husband for several years, but you must not speak thusly to me. He is a good man. Please go now, sir. If you were caught here, it would not go well for you."
He made no move to leave. "Tomorrow night begins the week of the full moon. I shall wait for you.
in the orchard."
"I will certainly not come!"
"Are you afraid of me, Adora?" he taunted.
"Then prove it--and come." Reaching out he caught her to him, kissing her slowly with a gentle, controlled passion. For the briefest moment she yielded to him, and all the things she and her classmates had discussed with regard to kissing flashed through her mind, and she realized that they knew nothing of the truth. This was sweetness beyond belief, ecstasy beyond her wildest imaginings, and honeyed fire poured through her loins, making her weak.
Releasing her mouth, he held her gently to him Their eyes met for a moment in a strange understanding. Then, suddenly terrified by her response to him, Theadora tore herself free and fled down the neat gravel path. His mocking laughter followed her. She heard his voice. "Tomorrow, Adora."
Gaining the sanctuary first of her house, and then of her bedchamber, she collapsed on her bed, trembling violently, ignoring the peaches that spilled from her pockets and bumped across the floor.
She had not known that a kiss could be so--she sought for the right word--so powerful! So intimate! That was certainly what it had been. Intimate! An invasion of her person. And yet--a little smile played about her lips--and yet she had liked it.
Murad had been correct in assuming that she had never been kissed. In fact, Theadora knew nothing of what happened between a man and a woman for she had spent all but four years of her young life behind convent walls. When she had been married Zoe had wisely refrained from discussing the duties of the marriage bed with a child years away from puberty. Consequently, the sultan's youngest wife was a total innocent.
Now she wondered about the handsome young man whose strong arms had saved her from serious injury. Tall and tanned, she knew he was as fair as she, for where his black hair had been newly cropped, his skin was quite light. His jet dark eyes had been caressingly, even boldly, warm; his smile, which had revealed straight white teeth, very impudent.
Of course she would not see him again. It was simply unthinkable. Still, she wondered if he really would come tomorrow night. Would he actually be bold enough to climb the convent's orchard wall again?
There was only one way to find out. She must hide herself in the orchard before dark and watch. When he came--if he came--she would not, of course, reveal herself. She would remain hidden until he left. But at least her curiosity would be satisfied.
She giggled, imagining his chagrin. He obviously thought himself quite irresistible if he expected a respectable girl to sneak out and meet him. He would soon learn differently.