Tang Dynasty China, 823 A.D.
Musician Jia needs a valuable book of poems by a famous courtesan to buy her freedom…and she believes Luo Cheng has taken it. Her attempt to steal the book from him fails, but the tall and powerful scholar unexpectedly offers to help her quest! But when they finally find the book—and the arousing poems and artwork inside—Jia’s longing for freedom is replaced with a new kind of desire for Cheng….
Note: Capturing the Silken Thief is a standalone novella. It features the North Hamlet, also known as the Northern Quarters, and the Lotus Pavilion. This setting will be featured in a new historical romance series set to be released in 2013.
Release date: March 1, 2012
Length: 56 pages
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All About Romance
“I’ve read Capturing the Silken Thief three times now. Each reading has left me more impressed with Ms. Lin’s work. The Tang Dynasty is famous for its landscape paintings called shanshui. These works of art are sparse yet evocative, not representations but rather created to convey an experience of a feeling or scene. This novella is a storybook shanshui — not a literal tale but rather a fabulous foreign fable presented in less than 18,000 words.”
A- Desert Island Keeper (DIK) Review by Dabney Grinnan
Misadventures of the Super Librarian
“Capturing the Silken Thief by Jeannie Lin is everything a good short story should give readers. It’s has a fully realized plot, well developed characters, and is a complete story. “
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Tang Dynasty China, 823 A.D.
Luo Cheng turned his back on the chorus of cries and the rosy glow of the lanterns that swung over the doorway of the drinking house. The entreaties from his fellow scholars were well-meaning enough, but the pleas to stay and be sociable quickly died away, fading behind gales of laughter and carousing.
How did his fellow scholars manage to stay out drinking all night, every night, and hope to pass the imperial exams? He’d woken up with his face pressed into the pages of a book for three days now, after having fallen asleep in the middle of another treatise on statesmanship and duty. And heaven knows, there were many. The empire had an abundance of paper and these politicians were intent on writing on all of it.
At twenty-five years, Cheng was no longer the young prodigy that the local magistrate had boasted about to his exalted peers. Any man, no matter how humble his birth, could become a ranking official by proving himself in the civil exams. The hopes of his entire county had been behind him when he passed the provincial test three years ago. He had journeyed in triumph to the capital only to fail at the imperial level. If he failed again, Cheng would not only lose face, he’d have to lose several body parts to repay Minister Lo for sponsoring him.
He slung the sack of books over his shoulder and headed toward the southern gate of the ward. A soft, feminine voice floated from the pavilion doors at the end of the street. The words of the song rose over the plucked notes of stringed pipa. The lute-like instrument had become one of the most popular in the drinking houses.
The light of the last lantern slipped by him as he ventured toward the edges of the pleasure district. His apartment was located in a quiet corner of the ward, through winding streets. The pavilions with their retinue of entertainers had sprouted up around the student centres of the city. The two populations fed on each other: the scholars with their cash and nights of leisure, the courtesans with their enchanting smiles and soft, scented skin.
It was only after he passed the third corner that he realized the group on the other side of the street had been following him. He glanced briefly in their direction before turning away. They didn’t look like scholars, but they didn’t look like street thugs either.
The footsteps quickened behind him. Cheng tightened his grip on his knapsack and turned to see five black shapes converging on him like a pack of rats. There was no getting out of it now. He swung his pack hard at the head of the gang. The weight hit the leader square across the face and the scoundrel fell back with a grunt.
Damned fools were attacking the poorest student in the district.
Cheng punched the next one in the nose. There was some advantage to being a country boy. The imperial capital had educated him in custom and civility, but he still knew how to handle himself in a brawl.
“Give us the bag.” A sharp-nosed fellow hedged back as he issued the demand.
“Dog-born bastards,” Cheng spat.
They lunged for him once again.
Someone threw an arm around his neck. Cheng wheezed as the weight pressed against his windpipe. He was going to get knifed right there for a couple of history books and three copper coins.
With a roar, he threw the one clinging to him over his shoulder. Suddenly his left eye exploded with pain and he staggered back, cursing from the blow.
“Let’s go,” one of them shouted.
The footsteps scrambled away as the pain rang in his skull. Blinking furiously into the darkness, Cheng spat out a few insults involving pack animals and body parts.
By the time he could see again, the alleyway was clear. Music continued to flow from the entertainment district behind him as he searched the ground for his satchel. Gone.
The books that Master Wen had lent to him. The essay on statesmanship that he needed to submit before taking the imperial exams. The last of his luck.
Gone. Gone. Gone.
He considered having a drink. A strong one. But his three coins weren’t enough to buy a flask of wine or the courtesan to pour it for him in this part of the city. Cheng pressed a hand to his eye. The area around it throbbed dully as he trudged back to his apartment.
It was five days until the imperial exams. That commentary had taken him over a week to compose the first time. He had better start writing.
Jia checked the desk, the cabinet, the little tight corners behind the bed. She’d been crawling around on her hands and knees, searching for clever hiding spots, too nervous to light even a tiny oil lamp.
The room was square and tidy, with a scant few personal belongings packed away in the wooden trunk. She flipped through a book she found at the bottom, squinting to stare at the characters. It wasn’t what she was looking for. The scholar must have kept the journal with him after snatching it. She set the lid back down and turned to slip out, when the door rattled.
Death and destruction, he wasn’t supposed to return yet!
Her gaze darted left and right, frantically searching for a place to hide. She’d run her hands over the entire apartment. It was as sparse as a monk’s cell.
She could run. Just bolt right by him once the door opened and hope she startled him enough that he wouldn’t call for the city guards.
That plan stalled the moment the door swung wide. The hapless scholar stood there, blocking the entrance with the shoulder span of an ox. Jia went very still beside the bed as he kicked the door shut. The frame rattled with the force of it.
Maybe he was drunk and she could still run.
“What—who’s there?” he demanded. His massive shape tensed in the darkness.
Her throat seized. He was bigger than the gossip had indicated and he was angry.
“Honourable sir,” she began, affecting the courtesan’s lilt she’d heard so many times. It was meant to soothe tempers and stroke egos. She was no good at it. “Your good friend thought you needed some companionship.”
He sounded clear-headed enough to not be drunk, which was unfortunate for her. She didn’t know how she was going to get out of this.
“Li,” she blurted out.
He moved closer and seemed to be busying himself with something at the desk beside the far wall. She’d have to dart past him to reach the door. Taking a deep breath, she pushed away from the bed only to find him in front of her, now with a lamp flickering in his grasp. A pale, yellow glow filled the chamber, encircling both of them.
His features were broad and square, not like the pale-faced scholars she was accustomed to. His cheek appeared swollen below his left eye. He was too big, the room was too small, and, on her grave, now he had seen her.
“Li?” he scoffed. “Li hates me.”
She spoke quickly. “Then I must be mistaken. This must be a joke. Farewell.”
Her attempt to slip by was again thwarted when he leaned in close to look at her. There was nothing menacing about his manner, other than he was too close for her to breathe easy.
“What is your name?” he asked.
Name. She needed a name. Some fancy courtesan name. Flowers were always popular.
“Rose. Precious Rose.” She winced. That was awful.
His gaze traced over her, and a spark of unmistakable interest lit in his eyes, but it was immediately banished with a frown. “Yes, a joke. They are all so very clever.”
His tone indicated this wasn’t the first of such pranks.
“I’m sorry,” he continued. “I can’t…I can’t pay you.”
Heat shot up her neck, rising to her cheeks before she could stammer out a reply. “Oh no, you don’t have to pay.” She realized how her meaning could be mistaken and blushed even more furiously. “No! I mean—”
He looked away, but not before his gaze flitted briefly over her. He raised a hand to scratch the side of his neck nervously. It was too late. She’d already seen his pupils darken with a flash of interest.
Copyright © 2012 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2012 by Jeannie Lin
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