Nobody noticed that Aarti had stilled. She felt a strange emptiness creep in. Her breathing froze, and once again, her vibrant being remained rooted to the spot. This time she was unconscious of it. The gnawing emptiness coursed through her, drawing her back to the accidental meeting with lord Yash. All her thoughts were focused on the memory of the last evening, his hands around her waist, sending searing heat through her body. The pressure of his fingers sinking into the softness of her flesh. The tingle she felt even with the layers of her night gown between them. She had been so close to giving in, relinquishing a taste of her lips, something she knew he desired. Then that one had flown in. Blocked her every thought and sense, filling her with misery and fear in that moment. Her eyes widened in fear again, and the dishes that she had been holding rattled in her hands. Her fingers, which were still wet from rinsing the platters they were to use, released their hold on the fragile china. Her ears failed to hear the shatter of the dishes as they fell around her. Work ceased in the entire kitchen. Not a sound was heard. Even the children had grown used to the stillness that would sometimes pervade her being. Whispering a few words to her assistant, the cook, Sanju gently pulled her along, away from the sympathetic eyes of the kitchen staff.
She felt Sanju's gentle arms rubbing her wrists, whispering comforting words in her ears. The scent of spices lingered around her, adding familiar warmth to her being. She felt herself returning from wherever she had been lost. Her gaze slowly viewed the anxious, worried face of Sanju. In the four years that she had stayed in this castle, their bond had turned into a strong blood-sister one. Her eyes filled with tears as she realised that once again that uncouth, worthless, mongrel "Mr. P." had darkened her life. Sanju held her as she cried soundlessly, understanding that this time no words were needed. Her eyes slowly drifted closed, and Sanju retreated from the room with a promise to fetch her once the breakfast was over. Her last tranquil thoughts drew her into the deep sleep she had missed the past eve...
His hot breath fell across her face, dark eyes boring into hers. Once again he had his hand placed around her waist. Her mouth fell open in shock, partially repelled, partially uncertain, but surely excited to be in lord Yash Pratap Scindia's grasp once more. Her breath hitched in her throat, finding it difficult to draw air past the lump of anxiety that also tinged her anticipation. He pulled her in closer, nose trailing down the length of her jawline, lips daringly close to the hollow of her neck. His lips came closer the tops of her cleavage...
With a start, Aarti jumped from her bed. Her face felt flushed, and she was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. "Dear Lord, I mean gods...what sort of wastrel dreams these things?" Her lips quivered in shock, while her body trembled, as if to tease her for the insulting rebuke. She pressed her hand to her chest, whispering to her rapidly beating heart, and was thus found, dazed, sweaty, and flushed before the mischievous eyes of Sanju.
"So what did m'lady dream of that caused her to have that look in her eyes? Or should I ask of whom did she dream of?" Sanju prodded teasingly.
"What look? What are you talking about, Sanju? I have told you many a times not to say such blasphemous words...they are inappropriate for a widow's ears." Aarti said shakily.
Her hand sat still upon her heart, as if physically willing it to stop beating so fast. Sanju suddenly felt a deep wave of sympathy for her friend. She was so naive and so innocent in spite of the few days she had spent with that worthless, woman-beating cad all those years ago. Mr. P may have scarred her but he had not wounded her heart, which was as loving and as gentle as ever. She had so much love to give to everyone, and was always the first one to rush to a person in need. For the past few days Sanju had noticed a change in her friend. She couldn't pinpoint exactly when the change happened, but it certainly coincided with the Lord's recent return. "Does that mean...? No, no...What am I thinking? The Lord and Aarti? Bless me dear lord...I mean God...for thinking of such a union. But, but, but...why can't the delicious thought leave my head? She would look perfect next to him." With such whirlwind thoughts in her mind, Sanju went back to her cooking, promising her friend a perfectly stimulating cup of tea once she joined the children on the lawns.