Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jane's Corner: The Jewel of the Maharajah's Eye (Chapter 5)

Chapter Five

Putting aside her simple black dress, Perse looked at all the clothes that Sunitaji had given her to try. It was a huge pile. Sunitaji has confessed that before her marriage to Arun she had been as slim as Perse and had loved to buy clothes but had hated throwing anything away in the hope of one day getting that slim figure again or passing them on to her daughter. Sadly she had only sons so, she was left with all these.

Perse tried on lenghaas, chaania cholis and all sorts of saris but then her eye caught on simple chiffon sari in shades of blue, there were tiny mirrors sewn all over it, making it sparkle like a million stars.

“That one!” Perse said excitedly. Sunita looked at her critically for a moment and then beamed “yes that is perfect for you. It will look beautiful, the perfect match for you eyes. Now for the blouse.”

“Blouse? Oh, but we have only today left, and its already late evening, we will never get it sewn!” Perse frowned. “Never mind, I will choose something else.” she said good naturedly.

Sunita said, “No, you will wear that and it will look beautiful. Come on, I know just the right person who can make you a sexy choli blouse in one night, lets go and get you measured up.”

Perse blessed the travel agent yet again for bringing her to the Lake palace.

Sleep alluded him, restlessly Samir stared at the moon in the inky night sky, countless stars sparkled. It was a beautiful night, the whole scene was so beautifully framed by the golden coloured window in his mother's office. The whole Peacock Palace itself was so stunning, his ancestor's had built something worth preserving. Once he got a handle on things he would think about opening up the palace for the local people to enjoy as well, but at the moment that all seemed a long away away.

The cool night breeze wafted in bringing with it fragrances from the gardens of  sweet night jasmine, scented heavy roses, gardinia, raat ke raani and others, reminding him of her, the smell of her in his arms. The woman who he had only met for a couple of hours but seem to play on his mind all the time.

Turning back to the desk he glanced at his laptop where her pictures were playing on the slide show. He  had no idea why he had downloaded them from her SD card onto his laptop. They were quite beautiful pictures, she had taken a lot of care over light and angles, he thought, as they displayed one after another. One could get a feel of the place and the message she had been trying to convey. There was only one picture of her in the hundreds of photographs she had taken, she was sitting with a small child who was dressed in traditional goat herders clothes, bright red paghdi, white top and white little dhoti, they appeared to be sharing a joke. He stared at her face, she was quite exquisite, her face scrunched up in the bright sunlight, laughing with the child, wearing a loose white shirt and a long skirt which she seemed to favour.

With a muttered curse he snapped the lid shut on his laptop chastising himself for acting like an idiot. Damn, he had been stuck too long in this place he thought, maybe tomorrow’s party would be a good antidote, once he saw her again he would be able to dismiss her from his mind, he reasoned with himself.

Sunitaji was good as her word the blouse was ready by the following afternoon.
Perse had been out all morning arranging interviews with local people that Arunji had refereed her to. The book she was currently working was a look at Indian palaces from the peoples perspectives. She had already amassed a wealth of photos around town and other places now she needed to interview people with connections to the palaces. From the families of artisans whose ancestors had built them to people who actually worked there now. She was really getting excited by the anecdotes and stories she had gathered hoping that her publisher would also be happy with it.

This was a new venture for her, usually her books had always been academic, her father being an eminent Professor in the field of classics at Oxford University, and her mother too had been an lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford, so she had a lot to live up to. She had been weaned on philosophy, mythology and classics.

Having a parent of Indian origin had always drawn Perse towards India and its people. Her father had gone to study in London, England and met her Irish mother at college, they had fallen head over heels in love. His family had rejected him for marrying a non-Indian and he had lost touch with them all, through the years. Her mothers large Irish family had accepted him as one of their own and he decided to settle in London and then Oxford when their work took them there.

Sadly her mother had died from a particularly virulent form of cancer just after she received her Doctorate in philosophy a year ago. After that her father had withdrawn completely from the real world at his immense loss. For him looking at Perse, who was the image of her mother was both painful as it was happy. Now he barely ventured out, choosing to bury himself in ancient books in the literary cocoon that was the Oxford library.

Buying some of her favourite mangeos from the local market she headed back to the hotel, it was about time she made preparations for going to the party she thought.

“Perse! Where have you been?” Sunitaji asked her as soon as she got to the reception. “Your blouse has come and we need to try it on before the girls for the facial and hair arrives.”

“Err...facial? Hair?” Perse stared at Sunitaji. “Err I have not arranged for anything like that.”

Sunitaji looked at her smiling, “But I have. Did I forget to tell you? Perse , I know you have beautiful skin but everyone could do with a facial. You are after all going to a royal party!” Sunitaji declared.

She grabbed the bag of fruits out of her hand and ushered Perse into her room. Handing her the blouse she asked her to go and try it on.

Perse obediently tried it on loving the way Sunitaji was bossing her about, it reminded her very much of her mother. Slipping out of her loose linen shirt, she pulled on the blouse, it had one single gold clasp at the back, which she managed to hook with a little effort, she stared at herself in the mirror, the deep dark peacock blue of the blouse looked beautiful against her pale almond skin.

The blouse, she had to admit was a feat of astounding engineering, it pulled in and pushed up her breasts and displayed her cleavage in a way that would have had the current Bollywood dance queen Mallika salivate with envy. She turned to look at the back of it in the long bathroom mirror, it dipped low, laying most of her back bare, there were pretty long tassels that needed to be tied across her back. She had to admit she had never worn anything quite like it.

A sudden thought jumped into her mind like stone dropping into a still pond, she shivered as she remembered those dark sooty framed eyes taking stock of her from the tips of her toes to her flaming red gold hair, what would her scowling stranger make of it she thought, blushing to the roots of her hair.

“Does it fit?” Sunita called from the room interrupting her musings.

“Yes it fits ...but..”.Perse hesitated...she opened the door and stepped out for Sunitaji to see.

“OH! My Gosh, Perse you look so sexy!”

“I think I look like a bollywood item girl!” Perse muttered, “this is so far removed from Persephone Gupta's usual long black number.”

“Bah! Black is for funerals!” Sunitaji brushed away, “you are going to knock their socks off, and anyway your Sari will drape over it, you will look beautiful, trust me.” She pondered with a sigh, her dark eyes twinkling. “I wonder if there are any eligible bachelors on the guest list?”

Perse burst out laughing, it seemed that marriage is the only thought on all mothers minds the world over.

Two hours later, Perse was finally  ready to Sunitaji's satisfaction, she had a facial, showered, had her hair washed and dried (she had insisted on her natural style).
Light make-up applied, they had done something to her eyes that made them smoky and seductive and dressed her in the exquisite sari which had been pressed and preened to an inch of its life.

She had to admit that she looked amazing. She had never spent this long getting dressed, all this kind of thing was totally beyond her. Thankfully her mothers Irish heritage and her father's Indian genes had given her a naturally good skin. But Sunitaji and her assistants had made her look like a million dollars.

She thanked them all pulling out her purse to pay the girls, but Sunitaji refused and said the treat was on her.

“Perse, its been such a long time since I have enjoyed myself so much. One day when my sons get married I will be able to dress up their wives like this. Now Arun will drop you in the car and you are to call when you want to come back.”

“No! Please,” Perse gasped, horrified at the thought of Arunji waiting up for her. “I will get a taxi and book one back.”she insisted.

“Ok, but Arun will drop you.” Sunita insisted.

With that she sent Perse off to the party.

Bahadhur Singh looked at his watch for the tenth time. Where had Samir sir got to? He had promised that his business with some lawyers in Delhi would be finished by  late afternoon, leaving him plenty of time to fly back. Bahadahur Singh did not like him to fly in that old  Aztec Piper twin engine plane of his father's, but Samir sir seemed to love it.

He heard the screech of tyres outside and saw Sameer stride in with an apology on his lips, “I am sorry I am late but the meeting took longer then I had thought it would.”

“I have had the valet lay out your clothes for the evening Sir.” Bahadhur Singh said, heaving a sigh of relief that he had managed to get back safely in that old plane.

“I am going to see to the arrangements,” Bahadahur Singh told him.

“OK, I will see you there.” Samir said striding into the bathroom for a cool shower.

Bahadhur Singh went off to the main palace looking for a certain special guest that he knew Samir sir would be interested in seeing. He had seen the way his eyes had lingered on her picture on his laptop when he thought he had not been looking.

Perse stepped out of the car and adjusted her Sari. It had been a long time since she had worn one, but she loved wearing it, the floaty chiffon made her feel totally feminine, she looked up as a voice called out 'Good Evening' to her.

“Bahadhur Singh! How are you?” Perse asked happy to see a friendly face and equally surprised that he was here.

Arun looked at Bahadhur recognising him as the man who had helped Perse the other day, smiling he said 'have a good time' and drove off.

“I am fine madam, and may I say you are looking very beautiful tonight.” Bahadhur Singh said to her smiling face.

“Err..Thank you Sunitaji and her helpers at the hotel seems to have worked wonders on me.” she told him, climbing up the steps towards the entrance.

For a moment she stood and stared at the magnificence of the inlay and the doors framed by many arches. Peacocks depicted in many forms, in exquisite colours graced the doors.

“There are still many peacocks still roaming around the palace madam. Sam.....Er the late Maharajah's mother used to love watching them.” Bahadhur Singh reminisced.

Other guests were arriving, Bahadhur Singh said to Perse “Why dont you go in and meet the other guests, I just need to attend to some matters.” Smiling merrily, he signalled for one of the servants to come and escort her in.

“Dr. Persephone Gupta!” announced the man.

Choti Raani looked up to see and stood startled for a moment. This was Dr Gupta? Well, well, well she should hopefully keep Samir busy for a while she thought.

Perse stood in the grand entrance of an equally dazzling grand room. Her creative and photographers eye looking around at the exquisite detail.

“Dr Gupta, Hello!” somebody spoke to her, “I was looking forward to meeting you. When I read the guest list I was excited to see your name on it.”

Perse looked at the man in front of her. She was sure she had seen him somewhere before.

“Three years ago, I came to Oxford to meet your father.” he said “Do you remember I have a great love for classics. “The name is Drummond, Mike Drummond I was looking for some information on a long lost Greek book.”

Perse looked at him “Yes..” she vaguely remembered Mr Drummond coming to visit her father. But she had just met him very briefly. 

“I read your last book, very interesting. Come ............” He took her along with him to introduce her to the rest of his party.

Raghav looked around the room idly with a bored expression on his face. Not one interesting looking woman that would be good enough for him he thought. He would have to make do with the politician's daughter who was practically throwing herself at him, and then his roving eye stopped on her.

Amar Singh watched his nephew with despair. He was already well on his way to getting drunk and the evening had hardly begun. He made his way through the throng greeting people politely here and there until he stood next to Raghav.

Between clenched teeth he warned 'Raghav! Do try and limit your drinking, we have a long night ahead. You need to keep your head so we can get the others drunk enough to set up a poker game, the more drunk they are the higher the stakes will be, but you need to keep a clear head.”

Downing his neat whiskey in one gulp, Raghav put his arm on his Uncle's shoulder his eyes still on that beauty, he said “Relax, Uncle I have it all under control.” He pointed to his friends in the bar area who were busy plying drinks to many of the guests including the young royals.

Amar Singh looked around, the waiters were all diligently topping up everyone with drinks, not letting anyone stand with an empty glass.

Where was Samir? His dark eyes scanned the room. He would have to keep an eye on him too.

“Bonjour your Highness.” The French Ambassador's wife said from next to him. “ I am so pleased to be here.”

Amar Singh turned on the charm like a tap, Choti Raani thought as she watched  him gush over the French woman. He had never even bothered to do that even when they had first married. She hated her husband, how could he be so charming with others and so cold with her, but then she had grown used to it. The only person her husband had ever wanted, she knew had been Raani Saheeba. Whenever she thought about it rage filled her, but she was so very good at hiding it now, she pasted a happy smile on her face and greeted her guests like the perfect hostess she was.

Samir walked in almost thirty minutes late and the first thing he saw was the frown on his uncle's face. He looked at what his uncle was frowning at and the blood rushed to a part of his anatomy that had nothing to do with thinking.

It was her, he was sure of it. He would recognise that red hair anywhere. She had her back to him. Her posture was ramrod straight, it looked like she was wearing a sari. She turned towards him to say something to a woman standing next to her and he stopped dead in his tracks.

His dark eyes stunned, he looked slowly from the tips of her toes slowly travelling up the shimmering sari in shades of blue to her exquisite face. But it was her eyes that had him catch his breath, she had done something to them to make them look so sexy, the blue-violet of her eyes surrounded by greys and deeper blue's it made her look as if she was in a sensuous haze.

All thoughts about dismissing her from his mind fled. His mind flooded with the memory of her softness in his arms, her fragrance, her flashing extraordinary eyes. He wanted to sweep her away back to that moment in his arms.

“Sir! Look!” Bahadhur Singh warned from next to him nodding his head in the direction where he and his uncle were looking.

Then he saw why his uncle was frowning. Raghav and his friends were on their way over to her. They were all already a little worse for wear, loud and causing people to glance at them.

He could see Raghav's eyes were fixed on her. He strode forward to intercept him.

“Dinner is served!” came the loud announcement from the end corner.

Damn! He had wanted to speak to her to make sure she kept away from Raghav and his friends. People were already coming to him and chatting away, he half listened as everyone went towards the grand dining room.

A frown came over his face as he followed everyone in, barely glancing at the woman who was gushing all over him.

Perse was escorted to her place by a servant, she looked at the name card next to hers. Maharajah Udayveer Samir Singh Rathod? The name rang a bell, she vaguely remembered Sunitaji saying something about him.

Samir groaned he could not get to her, she had already walked in.

He strode in as Bahadhur Singh pointed him to his seat. Looking up he saw she was being seated quite near him. Good, he thought he may be able to talk to her. Maybe he could get Dr Gupta to exchange seats. He walked forward and spied his name on the card right next to her.

Perse looked up, she saw him striding towards her. Mr Scowl? What was he doing here. Her heart skipped a beat. In a formal midnight blue sherwani with a embroidered yoke and round collar he looked formidable, his height, his muscled body shown off to perfection. His long dark hair had been brushed but still managed to look unruly and so touchable as it fell across his brow making her fingers itch to run her hands through it..

They stood staring at each other for a moment oblivious to all around them. His eyes impossibly dark as they drank her in and then at the name card.

“Dr Persephone Gupta?” He queried his voice deep.

Finally all the pieces fell into place. Udyaveer Samir Singh Rathod! The playboy Maharajah! Mr Scowl!

Perse blushed to the roots of her hair, as the distinct memory of her calling him an idiot and a playboy sprang to her mind.

It looked like he too remembered as his eyes filled with mirth as he saw the colour flood her cheeks.

“Persephone..... the goddess of spring” he said in a deep and sexy tone, rolling her name around on his tongue as if he were tasting a fine champagne.

© Jane Meme Copyright 27.02.2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jane's Corner: The Jewel of the Maharajah's Eye (Chapter 4)

Chapter Four

Raghav looked at his Uncle and sniggered. Really, the old man had no guts. “Raghav don't do this Samir is here, Raghav dont do that Samir is here.” Really! He was not afraid of his half-brother at all and there was no way he was going to change his life style to accommodate anyone. He was a prince and he intended to act like one.

Amar Singh glared at his nephew. The boy was the image of his father, good looking, tall, but without the charisma his brother had, and now alcoholism and the drugs he had become addicted to were starting to show their effects on him. Frustrated with his nephew he looked down at his desk, gambling debts, bar debts, all over the district, in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangkok, payment for all sorts of services that he did not want to think about, designer clothes, cars, horses, jewellery.....the piles of bills were endless.

Raghav was the monster he had helped to create and now that monster was eating  him alive and he could do nothing about it.

He had hated his brother for marrying Raani Saheeba, after all he had seen her first at a party and fallen in love with her. But his brother had decided she was going to be his and laughed at him.  He had charmed his way into her heart with his good looks and charismatic personality and she had chosen to marry him, but once Samir was born his brother lost all interest in her and went back to his previous bad ways.

However hard Raani Saheeba tried, her husband just pushed her away further.  Thinking that since as his brother had cast her aside now she may accept his advances, he had approached Raani Saheeba many times but she had always rejected him. Her rejection had been the final straw. It was a bitter pill to swallow to think that the woman you loved, only felt pity for you. To add to that his father had insisted that he marry a woman he could barely stand.

So when Raghav was born by one of his brother's mistresses he found the perfect tool to taunt Raani Saheeba with, presenting Raghav in front of her all the time, but Raani Saheeba had always risen above it and tried to do the best for both boys. He had encouraged Raghav's bad behaviour in front of Raani Saaheba and Samir. Creating all sorts of problems for Samir for which he knew his brother would thrash him. In the end Raani Saheeba sent Samir off to boarding school at the tender age of seven so that he could escape from the bitterness and vindictiveness in the palace.

Raghav's mother had cast a spell so deep on his brother that he forgot his beautiful wife and fell head over heels in love with her. She used him mercilessly to achieve her ambitions and cravings for the high life. She never loved her son but was not averse to using him to get more money out of his brother. She died  a bitter woman suffering from alcoholism when his brother stopped going to her in favour of someone younger.

It was not as if he had not tried with Raghav, Amar Singh refelcted, but the seed for bad behaviour had already been sown so deep. Raghav had watched and emulated his father from an early age even down to chasing women.

When he had found that he could have no children of his own he had lavished all his attention on Raghav. He had sent him to the best schools but Raghav was invariably expelled after a month or two, in the end however much money he was willing to pay the school, nobody wanted to take him. So he had arranged tutors at home and yet again his bad behaviour had sent them all running one after another. In the end he gave up on trying to educate him, leaving him to run amok. His brother was not even bothered with Raghav at all.

On the other hand Samir had excelled in school going to England for his secondary education. When at fourteen his mother had died so suddenly and the boy had come home, Amar Singh saw that he was going to be the copy of his mother in his actions and thoughts. Raani Saheeba had only trusted Bahadhur Singh and thus she had made him a trustee of  her estate. Bahadhur Singh had made sure that Samir's school fees were paid on time and he had not wanted for anything. Once Samir could, he had started working paying his own way using the annual sum from his mothers funds to donate to good causes on her behalf.

Now Samir was a billionaire with business interests worldwide in Software, Hotels and Resorts. His business acumen was legendary, he had become a man to reckon with. Now all the money he had sent for the repair of the Summer palace and the Tiger fund and other projects would all have to be accounted for.

He had thought he had plenty of time to make it up but his brother had died suddenly of a heart attack leaving him no time to sort it out. In-fact Bahadhur Singh had come and told him only yesterday that Samir would like to see the accounts for the money he had sent. Where was he going to get paperwork, there was no paperwork, because none of the money had been spent for which it was intended!

“Raghavbeta, you have to curtail your activities. I don’t have endless pots of money. We have to be especially careful now that Samir is here” he said waving the pile of bills at him. “Samir wants accounts for the money he has sent, where am I going to get that? You tell me?”

Raghav was busy looking out of the window. He could see the comings and goings on in Raani Saheeba's annex from his uncles office. There was an awful lot of activity, he wondered what his half-brother was up to. He had thought he would come back for the old man's funeral and high tail it out of this god forsaken place. But it looked like he wanted to play Maharajah for a while.

“For god's sake uncle, just get your old accountant to make some papers up and get some workers to look busy at the summer palace. Really! I don’t know why you are getting into such a frenzy, don’t be such an old woman!” Raghav laughed sarcastically, his uncle was getting old he thought.

Amar Singh rose and slammed his fist on the lacquered walnut wood desk. “Dont make the mistake of taking everything as a joke Raghav! Samir is not a two-bit official you can bribe or befuddle with false paper work. He runs a Multi-Billion Dollar empire. His brain is faster then his supersonic jet, and he has that Bahadhur Singh, his mothers old retainer by his side. It seems Bahadhur Singh has been keeping a tab on all our activities. I should have done something about him years ago!”

“What's going on here?” Choti Raani questioned walking in in a hurry “If you are having a meeting why did you not call me?” she said with a worried expression on her face, her paranoia clearly evident.

“Nothing is going on,” Raghav rolled his eyes. “Uncle is worrying unnecessarily. Samir will soon get fed up of playing Maharajah in a few days and leave. Now lets not worry about it all, we have a party tomorrow night, Aunty tell me who is on the guest list? Anyone interesting? ”

This was a topic Choti Raani could cope with, she loved entertaining and being seen and this kind of occasion was becoming far and few in between now.

“There are people coming from the British Consulate, The French Ambassador and his wife, now she likes to gamble I hear. There are also some young royals coming from Gwalior and Tripura, who also enjoy gambling and hunting, your friends, a woman who wanted to take pictures of the palace, she is an author and also is looking for film locations for a small film company. We could charge them for the shoots of-course.”

“Has Samir invited anyone? After all the party is in his honour.” Amar Singh interrupted.

“No, he has not told me to add anyone to the list. Also, as usual there will be our high society friends, local politicians and journalists.”

Amar Singh nodded. Each one of the invites had been sent out because the person could be of some use to them in the long run. They had to keep the image up that they still were royals to contend with. Gambling was one of Amar Singh's passions and he was excellent at it he knew. That was one of the ways they kept the coffers full but sadly just as he very good at it, Raghav was just as bad. Raghav drank too much and lost all sense when he was gambling. He would have to keep a close eye on him in the next few days whilst there were guests in the palace.

“Has everything been arranged?” He asked his wife, satisfied when she nodded. That was one job at least she was reasonable at. “Now tomorrow I want you to keep an eye on Samir make sure he is kept busy, whilst we interest our guests in a little side game of cards.”

His wife nodded, her eyes a little fearful, Samir was sure to be hard to keep busy. She had already tried to talk to him several times, he had always been polite but had hardly talked to her always busy with his Blackberry and other phones. She cast a fearful eye on her husband and nephew, how long would they be able to keep this pretence up before they were caught she wondered. How long before Samir finds out how broke they really were and how long would it be until he found out all their other secrets. She shivered as a wave of fear swept through her.

Samir ran a frustrated hand through his black hair. All day he had been seeing people from the area, farmers, land owners, politicians, local people, they all had several lists of complaints about his uncle and half-brother. Outstanding bills, complaints about bad treatment from Raghav and his cronies and that he had been after their daughters and sisters. The list was endless. His uncle was bad enough but it seemed Raghav was even worse.

He paced his mother's office wondering what he had landed himself in, stopping in front of her portrait he looked up at her, looking deeply into her eyes. They smiled down at him lovingly. All the holidays she had spent with him in England  had been the best years of his life. Her sense of fun, her passion for life, she had always come to him and they had gone on driving holidays or camping, or sometimes she had taken him to very posh hotels and taught him etiquette and dancing. How she loved to dance he remembered. Sometimes she had brought along Bahadhur Singh so he got to know him telling him that Bahadhur Singh was the only person he could trust if she was no longer around.

She never took him home to the palace ever again. And when he had asked, she would say, you are better off staying away from that horrible place, my darling. Stay away, work hard and make me proud, my baby. Make your people proud and then one day you will be able to win a place in their hearts. She had been so extraordinarily beautiful, he thought. Her skin had been so fair, almond in colour and her eyes so blue. In the portrait she was wearing a simple blue saree that matched her eyes, her jewellery always Sapphires, set very simply in intricate gold patterns. His mind immediately conjured up an image of another woman on whom these stones would look just as beautiful.

Bahadhur Singh came in and saw Samir Sir looking at his mothers portrait.

“Sir, she was a very beautiful woman and so bright and clever.”

Samir turned, his eyes bright with the sheen of tears. “You don’t have to keep calling me 'Sir', You are more family to me then they ever will be.” Samir declared angrily.

Bahadhur Singh acted highly affronted even though he was very pleased. Samir was his mother's son. “ but that would not be proper Sir!” He replied.

“You will not let me call you your highness so 'Sir', it will have to be.”

Samir frowned at him. “Bahadhur Singh all that went a long time ago, the only thing left now is ruins.”

“But Sir,” Bahadhur Singh contradicted, his voice full of encouragement “even now people remember your mother so fondly. When they know you have come to stay they will welcome you with open arms. You will have a chance to put right some of the wrongs that have been going on for such a long time. It was your mothers wish.” he declared firmly, looking up at the portrait of his beloved Raani Saheeba.

“That is why I am putting up with all this!” Samir replied, his dark eyes filled with frustration as he looked at the piles of paperwork in front him, thank god he had a superb teams in place that dealt with his own business interests otherwise he would have no time to come here and sort everything out.

“Sir, I have sent one of the servants to return the camera and other items to that lady.” he would have happily gone himself, but Samir Sir had needed him today in all the meetings.

Samir was just about to ask him something when one of the doormen knocked on the door saying “Sir, Choti Raani Saheeba would like to speak to you I have shown her to the reception room.”

“Wonder what she wants now?” Samir muttered “probably more money” he said shaking his head.

Bahadhur Singh chuckled as he followed Samir into the reception room.

Choti Raani was standing with her mouth open staring at the room. Samir noted she was dressed to the hilt, designers saree, designer handbag, she was dripping with gold he wondered how she managed to carry all that weight, she was quite a tiny woman.

“Udayveer...” she started in her girly fluttery voice.

“Call me Samir,” he growled, he hated the name his father had given him choosing only to use the name his mother had chosen for him.

“Err.. Samir is there anyone you would like to invite for the party tomorrow, you have not given me any names.”

“No, I do not have anyone I would like to invite. Thank you for asking.” he said politely, his dark eyes assessing her. She looked worried he thought.

“Err well I have seated you next to an author, a Dr. P Gupta, I thought you may find someone who writes books interesting, apparently Dr Gupta has written books on Greek Mythology and Indian Palaces” she said distractedly, looking around with interest at the opulent furniture in Raani Saheeba's annex, practically drooling as she recognised priceless pieces of furniture and original paintings. Even one of these chairs she was standing next to could keep her in good money for months she thought. Damn Bahadhur Singh, he had never given anyone access to her apartments and now she knew why.

So she wants me away from all the other more illustrious guests Samir surmised. Bahadhur Singh had already given him the list earlier but he had barely glanced at it. He had also been enlightening him about the card games and gambling his uncle and Raghav like to play on the side, and told him that in the guise of entertainment they liked to empty the pockets of their guests.

Samir watched her eyes as they looked around his mothers room, he could practically see her putting price tags on everything. He did not want his mothers rooms contaminated any longer by her greedy stare, so he said “if that is all, I still have a lot of work to attend to.”

“Yes, yes of-course.” she said dragging her eyes away from a exquisite Louis the XVII double chaise lounge, it was in such beautiful condition and she knew exactly the person who would pay a fabulous price for it.

“Errr...please come early Samir after all the party is in your honour.” she said looking at him with hard bright, bitter eyes, changing to a giggly goodbye as she saw his dark eyes watching her carefully.

Samir felt like counting all the pieces of silver in her wake.

As soon as she left Bahadhur Singh said “you have to be careful of that one, she acts all confused  but underneath that all lies a heart of pure hate and avarice. Sir, I am sure she hated your mother with a vengeance.”

“Hmmm,” Samir said distractedly not really registering what Bahadhur Singh was saying. Walking back to the office, he picked up the list from the desk again, he wondered what the name of that redhead was and who she was sitting next to, maybe he could change places, at least she would not be as boring as sitting next to some dry, dull author he thought with a devilish smile.

© Jane Meme Copyright 27.02.2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jane's Corner: The Jewel of the Maharajah's Eye (Chapter 3)

Chapter Three

Moving towards her he prised the camera out of her nerveless fingers turning back to the horse he carefully buckled it into a saddle bag. He turned to say something to her but she looked rooted to the spot, her eyes full of terror. Suddenly he felt contrite for scaring her out of her wits.

Crooking a long elegant finger, he gently raised her chin so she looked at him with those extraordinary eyes, which had turned dark violet with fright.

“Trust me.” He whispered softly, looking deeply into them. 

She blinked and stared into his face for a second and then he saw that she was coming back to herself as her face paled and she opened her mouth to say something, seizing that moment he lifted her again and placed her sideways on the saddle.

Toofan stamped his hooves arrogantly, turning his head he looked at her as if he understood everything and snorted, Perse was sure he was laughing at her.

Grabbing on to the horn of the saddle tightly, Perse hissed down at him from between her teeth, “Get me down now! I am not riding this monster!” She dared not speak louder in case she offended the black beast under her, who at this moment was very  busy, showing off and prancing like a prince.

The only horse she had ever ridden in her life was one on the merry-go-round at the fun fair and they did not breath like dragons or throw up their manes arrogantly or try to throw their riders off. She clung on to the saddle for dear life, cursing Mr Scowl in all the languages she spoke.

Ignoring her completely, Samir soothed Toofan lovingly and then with an athletic jump a world champion would have envied, he vaulted into the saddle behind her, drawing the reigns into his hand confidently.

Toofan reared up excitedly throwing Perse right back against his hard chest. She was sure she heard him chuckle as the breath was knocked out of her. He clamped his right arm across her midriff keeping her locked to him tightly, letting the beast have his run whilst controlling him with envious skill, Toofan picked up speed as they left the palace gates with obvious enjoyment. His mane flying in the dusky night air, his muscles moving gracefully.

It was the most exhilarating ride of her life. Perse felt all her senses overload. Whether it was the powerful beast moving under her with fluid grace, running at a breakneck speed or the man holding her firmly against him, she did not know.

Clamped to him as she was, she felt his heartbeat, his every breath as they rode  into the night, the lights of the city shone in the distance. In the circle of his arms she felt completely safe even riding this beast of a horse, she had no idea why. He was a complete stranger. She stole a look up at him, his face was relaxed, he caught her looking and focused those dark, sinfully framed eyes on her. Perse stared up at him transfixed, he was so extraordinarily good looking but not in the conventional chocolate box sense. He had something else that would stop any red blooded female in her tracks, he just oozed power and passion from every pore, shame it was all wrapped up in a scowl she thought.

“Relax.” He said into her ear over the thundering of hooves.

He watched her face wondering whether he had ever seen anything quite so exquisite. Her eyes held an exhilarated look, she was obviously enjoying the experience now, her body finding the natural rhythm of the horse after the first few moments when she had sat stiffly fighting it.

The wind played with her hair and it twined around his shoulders smelling of wild flowers and apples, it was as if the fiery tresses were  staking their claim on him. His arms were full of her softness. It hit him then, what had stirred his senses was the fact for all her sassy behaviour she was totally feminine and exotic as a wild orchid. His thighs pressed against her bottom, his chest against her back. It seemed like they had always fitted together like this, not just met an hour or so ago. The whole thing felt completely surreal Samir thought.

A smattering of stars started peeping out, twinkling brightly as the sky grew darker. White wispy clouds that had been floating here and there gradually sank into the inky night sky losing themselves into its dark arms.

To Perse's amazement even the beat of her heart had started to follow his. Goosebumps broke out on her skin. Thinking she was cold he pulled her even closer into his body offering her the warmth. What a contradiction the man is Perse thought, but the goosebumps were not because the cool night breeze was hitting her bare arms it was because of  him and the sheer thrill of the ride in his arms. This whole evening was rapidly becoming something that had leapt out of a fantasy novel she mused, things like this did not happen to Persephone Gupta.

They did not speak, it was as if a silent agreement had been reached that they would not talk and break into this magical moment. It seemed to Perse that they rode on and on riding towards the distant lights.

Emerging from the darkness in the distance she saw the lights of a vehicle moving closer to them. She wished that she had not seen it, somehow it did not belong in this moment, but she felt the horse slow as the man reigned in its speed.  She was sure he muttered a curse at seeing the lights too, seeming also reluctant for this moment to end. The lights almost upon them now, he slowed Toofan down to a canter.

The Jeep stopped as as soon as they came into view. An smartly dressed elderly man stepped out wearing a turban and stood waiting for them to approach.

As they approached the jeep, reluctantly Samir relaxed his arm from her midriff and jumped off the horse making it look so graceful and easy. Feeling completely bereft without the safety of his arms and his hard warmth Perse looked down at him as he talked to the man, it was obvious that it was him the Jeep driver was seeking.

“Sir,” the man said “I was worried when you had not come back.” He looked at Perse who was looking at Toofan with obvious discomfort, holding on to the horn of the saddle with both hands, Toofan snorted impatiently not happy at stopping.

“Bahadhur Singh could you take this young lady back to her hotel please.”  he commanded “she would probably be more comfortable in the Jeep then on Toofan. She will also need a doctor to look at her foot.”

He did not want to say goodbye, but she was better off going with Bahadhur Singh.  If he rode into town with her like this there would be the inevitable questions and someone would recognise him. For some reason he did not want her to know who he was.

Perse looked down from her great height and wondered if she could also jump down, maybe not as gracefully as him but she could give it a shot. Gingerly she started to move in the saddle ready to launch herself when she heard a growl from him as he said “Dont even think about it! You will break your neck.”

Samir looked up at her, his dark eyes drank her in, he had not wanted their journey to end, then berated himself, he needed to get on with his work and not be distracted   by anyone.  His hands reached up and slid around her waist. They almost spanned it he thought as he gently lifted her down. This time he did not let her go but carried her to the jeep.  Her eyes gazed intently into his. He bent down and slid her into the seat.

“Bahadhur Singh will take you where you need to go.” He said dismissively his dark eyes gazed at her for a few minutes and then he added sarcastically, “don’t try and   venture into any more restricted areas will you, I may not be around to rescue you. Bahadhur Singh please make sure that a doctor is arranged and she reaches safely.”

Bahadhur Singh raised his eyebrow a little at Samir Sir's request. He looked at Perse with renewed interest, wondering what had happened.

Her eyes flashed back at him “I think if you had not been around I would have been fine,” she retorted adding “don’t go rescuing people who do not need to be rescued will you.” His eyes glittered with something she could not fathom, with a slight nod of his head he vaulted back on to the beast and sped off into the night.

“The life of Persephone Gupta comes back down to earth with a thump.” she muttered to herself.

“Which hotel is it Madam? asked Bahadhur Singh.

“Err its the Lake Palace, on Gandhi Marg,” she muttered listening to Toofan and his rider thundering away.

“Lake palace on Gandhi Marg?” Bahadhur Singh repeated, he had never heard of it.

Smiling at him Perse said “There is no  lake and definitely it is no palace, its next to the Hanuman temple. I think that travel agent in Delhi must have been counting his lucky stars when he saw me coming, he sold it to me as a palace that shimmers on the lake.”

“Oh!” Bahadhur Singh replied feeling bad that one of his countrymen had swindled her.

“Actually the owner Mr Arun told me that the name was supposed to be 'Lakh' Palace but the man who was making his signs was a little hard of hearing so he made a sign saying Lake Palace. Mr Arun did not want to waste money and throw it away so he decided to keep it.” Perse enlightened Bahadhur Singh.

“As it happens it is a really nice place run by Mr Arun and his wife Sujataji. She definitely has OCD” Perse said rambling on as was her habit.

“OCD?”  Bahadhur Singh questioned enjoying listening to her talking away, she reminded him of Raani Saheba when she had been younger, well before she had fallen into depression.

“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” Perse clarified “Sujataji has a phobia about dirt. I am sure that her hotel is the only one in the whole of India where you could eat from the floor. Day and night she has an army of cleaners that keep the place spotless.”

“That is very good madam.” he replied.

“Yes and whatever I need, from money exchange to manicure, Mr Arun or Sujataji has a relative or someone they know who can do it all for me at reasonable rates, I am so glad that travel agent booked me there even if it was unintentionally.”

“So how did you end up being hurt madam?” Bahadhur Singh questioned tactfully, he was curious but he knew Samir Sir did not want people to know his identity so he was being extra careful.

Perse told him and added for good measure that she would have been fine if 'he' had not come along. Bahadhur Singh chuckled to himself, madam certainly must have made him mad he thought.

She saw the Peacock Palace lights in the distance and sighed wistfully. If only she could go and take pictures there it would be the ideal place for her requirements. She had sent off her letter to the resident Maharajah the day after she had come here but nearly a whole week had gone by and she had heard nothing.

“Is your foot hurting much?” asked Bahadhur Singh at her deep sigh.

“No, its OK, I am just sighing because I really wanted to go and take pictures of the Peacock palace. I wrote to them asking permission as soon as I came here a week ago but have heard nothing. Now I have only three weeks left here I do hope they reply soon.”

“Why do you want to take pictures of the palace madam?”  Bahadhur Singh. questioned curiously.

“Its for my work, Oh we have arrived!” Perse said as she spotted the hotel in the distance cutting short her explanation.

“Thank you,” she said to Bahadhur Singh as she let herself down gently from the Jeep. “I will be fine now.”

“Madam, I will see you in and arrange for a doctor.”

“Please do not worry Bahadhur Singh, I will be fine thank you for the ride.” Perse said limping into the hotel. “I am sure Sunitaji will have something I can put on it. Thank you so much you have been very kind.” Perse said smiling at him.

“But.....” Bahadhur Singh said wondering if Samir Sir will be upset at the doctor not being called.

Arun spotted her as soon as she came in, his face broke out in a wide smile as he waved a card up for her to see, and then his wide smile froze on his face as he saw her limping.

“SUNITA!” panic in his voice, he shouted loud enough to shake the doors, “Miss Perse has been hurt”

“Arunji please its really nothing” Perse said limping into the reception. “Its only a small cut.”

Sunita came running in from the office.

“Perse, Perse, what happened?” she questioned, her pretty Kohl lined eyes wide with worry.

“Sunitaji please its not such a big deal, I just fell over on some rocks, A man came to my rescue and then Bahadhurji here, dropped me home in his Jeep.” she explained as she saw Bahadhur Singh at the door.

“I just need some antiseptic to clean it up and a band aid.” she said looking towards Sunita.

Arun said “I will get the first aid box” hurrying off to get it.

Embarrassed at the thought of causing so much panic Perse said “Really, please do not worry, honestly its nothing, just a small cut and some bruising.”

Arun came in with box and Sunita said “lets go to you room I will clean it there.”

“Bahadhurji as you can see I am in good hands. I will not need a Doctor. Thank you again.” He smiled and turned about to leave.

Arun smiled “Miss Perse I have some good news we have a card from the Palace today. You have been invited to a party there the day after tomorrow for evening cocktails and dinner.” he said in his deep Indian accent.

Sunita frowned, “I do not like what goes on at the palace Miss Perse why do you have to go there. Good things do not happen there, that Raghav Singh is not a good man, and nor is his father.” she finished with a frown.

Bahadhur Singh who was just about to leave turned to listen. So the palace's stories had reached everyone in the town as well he sighed. Samir Sir really had his work cut out for him.

Perse replied, “but I need to go and take pictures there Sunitaji that's all, I am not planning any more then that.” she reassured.

“If only Raani Sahiba was alive” Sunitaji said “then it would have been all so different. Udayveer Samir Singh Rathod would be living here, he would have done so much for the district and its people just like his mother. I met him once when he was a young boy, he was the image of his father but his ideas and thoughts were all his mothers. He had empathy with all his people. Now he lives in houses all over the world when his home is here.” Sighing she helped Perse up.

Bahadhur Singh smiled as he left the Lake Palace to hear his former mistress remembered so fondly was a balm to his soul. Samir Sir still had people who loved his mother and would love him too if he could sort out the mess his father, Uncle and half-brother had made over the years.

Perse limped to her room helped by Sunita.

“So who was this 'man' who rescued you and how did all this happen?” Sunita  questioned wanting to know all, “was he dashing?” she giggled at Perse.

His dark scowling image came to her mind in a rush. “Yes, he was very dashing Sunitaji. For a second I thought he was a Maharajah my mind had conjured up.” She said as Sunita helped to clean her cut and applied antiseptic. “The only problem was that he had a permanent scowl on his face.” Perse moaned.

Sunita looked at her frowning and probed deeper, “what did he look like?”

“He was probably just under 6ft, absolutely fit, he looked like he does marathons for breakfast, black hair, dark sexy eyes, fabulous face, all hard angles and those lips!” Perse blushed as Sunita giggled. “Wearing very expensive designer clothes, but he was quite abrupt, sarcastic and downright rude and to top it all he had this beast of a stallion on which we came halfway.” Not adding that the ride had been the most thrilling experience of her life.

“Hmm” Sunita said “I wonder....”

Perse opened the embellished envelope from the palace and stared at the invite.

“Sunitaji,” Perse said her eyes wide with worry. “What am I going to wear? I have nothing that would suit a Royal party.”

Sunitaji smiled at her, “That I can help you with, you are so slim everything will look lovely lets go and see what we can come up with.”

The man in question was scowling at this moment as he held her camera in his hand. Sitting at his mothers exquisite Louis XIV bureau, his long legs splayed out in front of him, he wondered how had he forgotten to hand it back to her, ruefully he smiled at it but then she seemed to have made him forget himself for a minute too he thought, maybe unconsciously he had kept it because he wanted to see her again. Then he thrust that thought away as if it stung, there was no time for that kind of thought at this moment. Just out of curiosity though he turned the camera on and started reviewing the pictures.

He was still shifting through them when Bahadhur Singh came back.

“Sir, I have dropped her off at her hotel, she did not want a doctor.”

“What?” Samir said still distracted by the photo's. Then as he registered what Bahadhur Singh had said and he looked at him frowning. “That cut needed to be looked at, she may have needed stitches.”

“Sir, the hotel she is staying at, the owners are actually very diligent. They will take good care of her.”

“Where is she staying?” Samir asked , thinking it would be the top hotel in town.

“Err she is staying at the Lake Palace in town.”

“Lake palace? Where is that?” Samir frowned, there was no lake anywhere near town.

Bahadhur Singh smiled at Samir and relayed the anecdote Perse had told him. Then added, “Sir she reminds me of Raani Saheba, her easy manner with everyone, she is very beautiful also.”

Samir stared at Bahadhur Singh, so he had fallen under her spell too in a few moments. But he was not going to succumb. He had pressing work he needed to get on with.

“Can you please get someone to go and get her belongings from the Summer Palace. I think there is a shirt and a hat on the lower wall near the Hawa Mahal and her sandals are on the top floor of the Hawa Mahal under a pile of rubble.”

“Tomorrow. you can return all her belongings to her and that will be that.” he said more to himself then Bahadhur Singh.

“No I am afraid not Sir, she has been invited to the Peacock Palace for the party the day after tomorrow.”

Samir looked at the camera again. So fate was throwing them together again. The fact that she was now constantly in his thoughts, that he could smell her fragrance still on his clothes annoyed him  Damn it, he had only met her for an hour or so and she had managed to distract him completely and he did not even know her name.

© Jane Meme Copyright 27.02.2012