Forbidden Jewel of India(4)

By: Louise Allen



 * * *

 Nick felt the stir in the air, the faint pad of bare feet on the marble. Another girl—he was being treated as an honoured guest, which boded well for his mission. The strong, skilled fingers massaging his scalp made him want to purr, the muscles of his feet and ankles were relaxing into something approaching bliss. The new arrival brought with her a faint suggestion of jasmine to mingle with the sandalwood of the oil and the lime in the champo. He had smelt that earlier, somewhere.

 Hands, coated with oil that had not been allowed to warm, settled on his back and hesitated. In comparison to the other two, this attendant was either unskilled or nervous. Then his brain placed the scent as the hands slid downwards to his waist and stopped again.

 ‘Am I to hope that you will all be joining me in my room after this?’ Nick said, in English. As he expected the sure hands at his head and on his calves did not pause in their smooth rhythm, but the fingers at his waist tightened into claws. ‘All three of you at once should be most pleasurable,’ he added with deliberate provocation, his voice sultry with suggestion as he teased her. ‘I shall ask for the bed chains to be fixed to the ceiling hooks to make a swing.’

 There was a sharp indrawn breath and the claws tightened in a fleeting pain before she lifted her hands away. ‘How interesting that even the bathhouse attendants here speak good English,’ he added. It was only sporting to let her know he had realised she was there and had spoken deliberately. The faintest hiss of indrawn breath, the silken whisper of her clothing, the brush of air on his skin and she was gone.

 Nick found he was breathing hard and made himself relax. If he was feeling aroused it was because he was stark naked while his body was massaged by highly skilled hands. George’s daughter had nothing to do with it. The little witch had doubtless thought it would be amusing to play a trick on him—she would not make the same mistake again. He made his mind blank and gave himself up to the sensations surrounding him.

 * * *

 ‘Well?’ Paravi clapped her hands for the maids. ‘We will drink pomegranate juice while you tell me all about him.’ She cocked her head on one side and her nose ring swung with the movement, its tiny gold discs jingling.

 ‘He is a pig.’ Anusha plumped down on the pile of cushions opposite and disentangled her scarf with an impatient tug. ‘He knew it was me, even though he had his eyes closed, and he deliberately provoked me with indecent suggestions. The man must have eyes in the back of his head, or he uses witchcraft.’

 ‘So he had his back to you?’ Paravi appeared to find this disappointing.

 ‘He was lying face down on the slab being massaged and having his hair washed.’

 ‘So how did he know it was you?’

 ‘I have no idea. But he spoke in English to trap me.’ Paravi clicked her tongue. Anusha took a deep breath and attempted to report dispassionately. ‘He is not white, but the parts of him that have not been in the sun are pinkish. Like the muzzle of a grey cow is. Only paler.’

 ‘So.’ Paravi stretched. ‘He uses witchcraft, he is the colour of a cow’s nose and he is not a fool. Is he a good lover, I wonder?’

 ‘He is too big,’ Anusha said with the absolute confidence of a woman who had studied all the texts on the subject and had looked at a very wide range of detailed pictures while she was at it.

 A wife was expected to have considerable theoretical knowledge of how to please her husband and Mata had made sure that her education in that area had not been neglected. Anusha sometimes wondered if knowing so much was not responsible for her reluctance to agree to any of the marriages that had been proposed for her.

 If one had the luxury of choice it did make you look at the man concerned very carefully while you considered the matter. And then you tried to imagine doing those things with him and...and, so far, those mental pictures had been quite enough to make her reject every one of the suitors offered to her.

 ‘Too big?’ Paravi was still dwelling on her description of the scene in the bathhouse. Her eyes were wide with an amused surprise that Anusha was not certain she quite understood.

 ‘How could someone so large be supple and sensual?’ she added in explanation, with what she felt was crushing logic. ‘He would be a lump. A log of wood.’ He had certainly felt like teak under her hands. A contrary memory flickered through her mind of him twisting, fast as a snake, the knife in his hand. But that had simply been trained violence, not the subtle magic of the sensual arts.

 ‘A lump,’ her uncle’s wife echoed, her lips curling into a wicked smile. ‘I must see this human log more closely.’ She gestured to the maid. ‘Find out at what hour my lord holds audience with the angrezi and in which diwan.’ Paravi turned to Anusha, suddenly every inch a rani. ‘You will join me in my gallery.’

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