She entered the girls' room and saw Palak wrapped up in an oversized blanket...and she was still wearing her wet clothes.
"What the...? The nerve of the man!!! How dare he accuse me of negligence when the dunce doesn't even know that she'll catch pneumonia if she is closeted in wet clothes? Poor girl! How she is shivering! Wait till I catch hold of the conceited, overbearing, arrogant lord of the manor...I'll..."
She swirled around to find him leaning against the door with a bowl of what looked like soup in his hands...and looking...Oh God, no one has the right to look so handsome...Wait, did he hear what I said?
Yash smirked in amusement. So the young maiden was a spitfire? He strolled casually toward her. Forgetting the bowl of soup for a moment.
"And pray tell maiden? What shall you do? Perhaps you might want to consider changing out of those wet clothing before I conjure an idea or two of what I might do."
He removed his eyes from her face, traipsing them down her drenched figure for a moment, before glancing at her again. He snickered dismissively and turned his attention to his daughter. He placed the soup on the dressing table, and then prepared to undo his daughter's clothing.
His coarse fingers struggled with all of the tiny buttons and laces. His skin shivered pleasantly as Aarti's cold, damp hands placed themselves over his. She looked at him, eyes requesting that he allow her to complete the task. Withdrawing his hands slowly, he smiled in satisfaction-- proud of the little gasp he had evoked from the maiden's tiny pink lips. Hmm...they looked succulent, strawberry flavoured perhaps? He quickly squashed the thoughts, annoyed that he had even considered such thoughts with his child in the room. He began feeding the shivering child the soup, blowing carefully on each spoonful before placing it against her pale lips. She smiled up at him tremulously, grateful for the familiar presence of her father. He frowned, wondering how she had fared during those frequent months that he had been off at war. Judging from the interest the maiden, Aarti, showed her own son, it seemed that the months without him and his departed beloved had left the children none for the worse.
Together lord and maiden completed the task of making Palak warm and comfortable again. Casting one last glance Aarti's way, he patted Palak on the head, kissed her just beneath her tiny curls, and left the room, determined to avoid the vixen nanny before she seduced him. "Maan ka paap" he muttered under his breath unconsciously.
"Kantaap?"My good lord, did he say that? Nay, Aarti...you must have misheard. He is haughty and vain and arrogant and egotistical; but he doesn't seem like a man who would lay a finger on a woman with intention to hurt. See, how gentle he was with Palak? Not like Mr. P...May God rest his soul in peace!!! No, no...I won't think of those ugly days. I feel safe here and somehow at peace, even though that man makes me unsettled every second he is in front of me." Aarti put Payal to sleep after feeding her...and then picked up her son, who was curled into the sofa in deep sleep.
"Come my precious...time for bed."
She changed into her nightgown and sat down to write the events of the day in her diary. That was when she heard her stomach growl and felt the first pangs of hunger. She had done it again...forgotten to have her supper in the chaos of the evening. Now what? Should she change? "Where's the need? The servants would have retired for the night. The girls were asleep and the Master, lord Yash, would still be away in Chaudhary Castle attending the marriage of their daughter, Neelam."
She tip toed out of the room and silently found her way to the kitchen. There she found the leftover soup and some bread. She heated up the soup, and was about to sit down to eat, when she heard the familiar deep voice.
"May I have some of that?"
"Do you always have to do that?" she snapped.
"Do what?" he asked mildly?
"Startle me! As if you don't know! And can't you knock before you enter?", she continued indignantly.
Now thoroughly aroused by the fiery lady, who looked like a little girl in that simple white dress, he stepped into the doorway. But her eyes..." My God...those eyes will be the death of me!!"
"Startle you? Knock at the door of my own kitchen? Hold on, young lady. This is my home. I'll come and go as I wish. It's you who is crossing the line, sitting here as if you own the place! In that...in that...What are you wearing?"
Aarti jumped to her feet, knocking the chair over. She had completely forgotten her state of dress! She looked up to find deep, scorching eyes that were staring into her very soul and reflecting an emotion that she knew she could not dare decipher for the fear of burning into them. She did the only thing she could think of. She rushed to the door, heart beating rapidly in her chest, bread and soup forgotten. Her thoughts had become scattered once she realised her state of undress, and oh great gods! Before the Lord Yash Pratap Scindia?!
Just as she was sure he would let her go by, her body collided with his rock- hard figure. The breath rushed out of her lungs, and as she looked up at him, she could not find the strength to pull the air back in.
"Please lord Yash, let me pass?"
Lord Yash looked at her with wicked a grin. "So, the spit-fire, vixen has shame after all? And who would have thought such a docile little tongue lay in your mouth?" He refused to move, body remaining firmly planted in the doorway. His long fingers wrapped around her waist, holding her firmly in place. He could feel the heat of her skin coming through the flimsy material of her gown. Soft folds of flesh molded to the grasp of his fingers. His own heart was racing, his body tightening to the response of having a woman in his arms after four years of self-imposed celibacy, unheard of in the ranks of royalty. Her eyes had darkened- a twinge of fearing lacing them, but not the right sort of fear. He released her, realising that he had been far too forward to the children's nursemaid.
Her eyes dropped to the ground instantly, cheeks blazing as her oval lips quivered. She drew ragged gasps of breath, not daring to move from her position. Automatically, the act of a curtsey followed, and she remained rooted there, waiting for him to move.
"I apologise maiden. T'was highly inappropriate of me to hold you so unabashedly."
He saw a tear glisten on the tips of her lashes as she fled from the room.
Yash could only stare at her fleeing back. That tear had made his heart constrict. He realised he hated that droplet that had made her sad and fearful. Only moments ago those eyes had looked at him without fear, and with a courage that he had never seen in a woman. He picked up the upturned chair and sat on the very place she had sat. He closed his eyes, and the beautiful face swam in front of them. He snapped his eyes open.
"No! Not her! It was supposed to be Arpita..." Yet, he could not forget the feel of her body in his arms. It had felt so right, as if he had woken up after a deep slumber. What was it that made his heart feel so alive again? And why after four years? Why was he seeking her out? It was as if his heart was receiving her signals, and guiding him toward a path that he never thought he would tread on again. He had left the marriage function early; providing them with some vague explanation regarding Palak's health...rushing back home hoping...What? Why? No...He had to stop himself before he crossed the line of propriety and did something which he would regret all his life.
Lord Yash got up, the soup forgotten. He knew what he had to do. It was the only way he could erase those feelings that were creeping in. He was always in control of his life. He would prove to himself and to her that she meant nothing! That her big eyes which spoke volumes meant nothing. That her tears meant nothing. That she did not affect him in any which way. She was his daughters' nursemaid, and that was all the woman would ever be.