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