The end is nigh. It’s all or nothing! Elizabeth Hunter-Payne has been abducted by her archnemesis Vladimir. Lucius, his patchwork man, a chimera assembled from body parts of the dead, “rescued” her from a sham charge of murder.
Now a pariah, separated from everyone who cares, Elizabeth finds herself in a luxury country estate where the gentry throw off the shackles of convention and consume copious quantities of an aphrodisiac called ambrosia and participate in salacious shenanigans involving wanton servants, well-endowed sex machines, and a familiar doppelganger. All provide cover for Vladimir as he advances his ultimate plot: to destroy the empire and possess Elizabeth body and soul.
Praise for The Ambrosia Directive (Elizabeth Hunter-Payne Steampunk Adventures 9)
"Dramatic. Mikala has moved Elizabeth from one adventure to another. Now she has placed her in a hostage situation with Vladimir, could this be the end for our heroine or is it just another day for her?"
-- 5 Stars from Ken Thompson, Amazon Review
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The Ambrosia Directive (Elizabeth Hunter-Payne Steampunk Adventures 9)
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Copyright ©2021 Mikala Ash
My New Home
I dreamt of the realm of love.
It is a wondrous place not found on any navigator’s chart or cartographer’s globe. It is a strange land founded on the extremities of human emotion, bounded only by imagination and endurance, lapped by limpid oceans of joy, contentment, and safety, harried by turbulent seas of jealousy, despair, and disappointment. We are blessed if we can but visit this arcadia where colours are overbright, fragrances are both fleetingly delicate and ferociously evocative, and a mere touch is the fuse that ignites explosions of exquisite sensation. Doubly blessed are those fortunate enough to live their whole lives within its shimmering borders.
I was riding in this strange land beside my dear husband Jonathan as he was before he left for the war. He and I rode through this perfect dreamscape on horses of infinite grace and swiftness, not knowing we were but visiting, and our time here short. Beneath a cerulean sky, and over undulating hills of verdant green we rode, laughing and urging each other on. Faster and faster we went, the wind rushing through our hair, raindrops stinging our cheeks.
Jonathan and I were fresh from making love beneath the overarching limbs of weeping willows on the banks of a looking-glass lake. Our sweat had dried, our pulsing inner muscles relaxed, the delicious languor replaced by bursts of playful energy. We’d indulged in tickling and wrestling, and, of course, kissing. Diamond drops falling from our leafy ceiling heralded a spring shower, so we had dressed swiftly and took to our glorious steeds.
As if by magic two others glided in and joined us. Felix was the first man I had made love to after Jonathan’s death. His was a beautiful soul, and it was he who had reawakened my sensuality, and taught me how to break the shackles of convention.
Then came Baudry, Dr. Jack Baudry, an honourable man who like me was an Agent of Her Majesty the Queen. He had said he loved me and had proved it, risking his life for me time and again. I deeply regretted our parting. Pride and jealousy had tainted my heart. But this was no time to think of that final argument. It was much better to remember our passionate lovemaking on the rug in front of his fireplace, the flames warming my flesh outside, his tongue setting me alight on the inside. It was marvellous to see his handsome smiling face.
Surrounded by the three men who had kissed my heart, I was exultant, my blood pumping and my soul singing. I could ignore the grim reality that Jonathan was dead, Felix had been beaten to an inch of his life, and Baudry, wonderful Baudry, was lost to me. In my dream the four of us rode on, carefree and laughing.
Oh, the joy! The thudding of hooves over the soft grass, the rapid breathing of the horses, the jangling of the bridles and stirrups, and the sweet laughter of my gallant husband by my side. We approached a hedgerow, and I turned a mischievous eye to my darling, and with a saucy wink urge him to jump with me. I catch but a glimpse of a little man who abruptly stands, emerging from the shadows like some malicious goblin. My horse screams and shies in surprise, rears up to pummel the creature with its hooves, and I am unseated, light as a dandelion flying through the blue until the green rushes up to meet me, and all goes dark.
I opened my eyes. “Jonathan?”
He gazed down at me, his beautiful eyes clouded with loving concern, the fine planes of his face creased with anxiety. With one hand he pressed a damp cloth against my forehead, and with the other squeezed my fingers. His touch was warm and reassuring, and my heart commenced to gallop.
Jonathan? My darling Jonathan? I see him, but how could this be? Something is wrong. This cannot be. I tell myself this is a lie.
My Jonathan is dead, his body mouldering these five years in the muddy battlefield of Sebastopol.
Yet Jonathan continued to tenderly caress my forehead. I screamed.
“Elizabeth. Do not be afraid. It is I. Nathanial Royston. Your brother-in-law.”
Nathanial Royston. The doppelganger. My beloved husband’s twin, parted from his brother as a newborn, and taken to a new life in India. For a moment confused images from Grove Hall Asylum filled my mind. I had been looking down at a photograph I had plucked from the hand of a monster. The bloodied image showed a man resembling my dear husband sitting in a madman’s laboratory, smiling at Vladimir, the Russian agent responsible for Jonathan’s death. I had assumed from the start the picture to be of Nathanial and not my husband, the photograph just another sick antagonism by the obsessed Russian.
I screwed my eyes against a throbbing headache. “Nathanial?”
“Gently now, sister. You have been unwell.” He puffed up a pillow and gently placed it behind my head.
“I have?” I looked around me. I was enveloped in silken sheets and soft woollen blankets, surrounded by luxury. The bed, a velvet-draped four poster was a bower within a sweetly scented room that was crowded with tall-backed chairs and Oriental style screens. Atop a dressing table where coloured perfume bottles glinted, was a gilded mirror reflecting the cool yellow light of the lamps. Wine-coloured velvet curtains fell from ceiling to floor. A comforting blaze in an ornate fireplace cast the room in a warm golden glow.
“Where am I?” I said, my voice husky and dry.
“Somewhere in England, the country, but where I cannot say.” He filled a glass from a crystal decanter on the nightstand and brought it to my lips. “Here, drink this.”
The golden liquid emitted a luscious aroma that was thick and sweet. “What is it?”
“Ambrosia. It will refresh you.”