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GINA ARDITO
Katherine's Alter Ego
Excerpt from Kismet's Angel
Available Now from The Wild Rose Press
or buy your copy at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com
A pile of muslin rags sat near the barrel and she dipped one into her basin, and then wrung out the excess water. She handed him the rag and repeated the procedure with another muslin scrap. "I have more guardians than a royal princess."

Did she know? He bent to study her expression, but she buried her face in the muslin and began dabbing away the colored streaks.

When she finally dropped the cloth, she frowned. "You're not cleaning your shirt. Here."

She took the cloth from him and stepped closer. Grabbing a fistful of linen in one hand, she dabbed gently at his chest with the rag. Damp fabric separated her fingertips from his bare skin. His heart skipped and the blood sizzled in his veins. Cinnamon and vanilla surrounded him. Sweet Christ, did she have any idea the effect her nearness had? Yet, she looked up at him with trusting eyes, eyes so crystalline he swore he saw water and sky reflected within their depths.

Beth's warning rang in his ears.
You must not hurt her.

Quickly, he grabbed the rag. "Thanks," he said through a throat thick with desire. "I'll finish this."

The sparkle in her eyes dimmed, and she dropped her gaze to her feet. "Oh."

Time to return to the subject at hand. "Tell me about your parents. Did your father have family?"

"I don't know." She sighed, dropped her pink-stained cloths into a pile near the barrel. "Do not tell Uncle Ahmed this, but I often think he's hiding something about my father."

Clever girl. He bit back a smile and added his own cloth to hers. "Why would you think that?"

"I'm not certain. But Uncle Ahmed's story about my parents sounds more like a fairy tale told for a child's benefit."

"Why? What has he told you?"

"That my parents met in the marketplace."

True. He forced a banal expression, meant to keep her listing the facts.

"My father fell in love with my mother at first glance."

True again.

"He did not have much money so he wooed my mother with songs, poetry, and wildflowers. In fact, the only thing of value he owned was this ship,
Star Angel. With this one ship, he started Sunstar Trading. Three months before my birth, he took another ship on a test voyage to Bengal." She shrugged. "He never arrived, never returned. The ship was never found, no member of the crew could be located. Uncle Ahmed says the ship must have gone down in a storm with everyone onboard. My mother died of a broken heart only minutes after I was born."

"And because of that story--a story no doubt quite common in seafaring places such as this--you believe your parents were never married?"

Her lips twisted in a grimace. "I think Uncle Ahmed is ashamed of me. And I don't know why."

"I don't know why you would even think such a thing," he exclaimed. "You are the most extraordinary person I have ever met."

She shook her head. "No, I'm not. I'm just plain Antoinetta Manu from Hyderabad, nothing more. Even Ali claims I'm quite tedious at times, and he's my dearest friend."

"There is nothing plain about you, Antoinetta Manu from Hyderabad. And I swear to you, if we were not surrounded by so many of your guardians right now, I'd carry you off this ship and run far away. Believe me, I'd never find you tedious."

The blush seeping through her cheeks rivaled the finest sunset, bright pink spreading across peach flesh. What he wouldn't give to run a finger along that landscape, to touch her softness, and to wrap himself in the blanket of her thick hair. Helpless to fight his body's needs, he leaned close. His mouth burned to taste her innocence in a kiss.