Forbidden Jewel of India(8)By: Louise Allen
‘Go back to Calcutta? Go back to my father after he threw us out? He does not want me, only to stop me interfering with his political schemes. I hate him. And I cannot leave you and Kalatwah when there is danger, my lord. I will not run away—never!’ In her mind the crackle of flames and the clash of steel mingled with the sound of a big man’s belly-laugh and her mother’s stifled sobs.
‘Such drama,’ Herriard drawled, blowing the swirling images away like a draught of cold air. She itched to slap his well-defined jaw. ‘Ten years ago your father was in an impossible position and did the only honourable thing open to him to ensure the well-being of yourself and your mother.’
Herriard went very still. ‘You never, in my hearing, defame the honour of Sir George Laurens, do you understand?’
‘Or?’ Her neck muscles were so tense it was painful.
‘Or you will find it a matter for regret. If you will not leave because your father commands it, then do it for his Highness, your uncle. Or are your grudges so deep that you would hamper the defence of his state, the safety of the family, to indulge them?’
Grudges? He can calmly dismiss feelings about the betrayal of love, the rejection of a family, as a grudge? The marble floor seemed to quiver like sand beneath her feet. Anusha choked back the furious retort and looked at her uncle. ‘Do you want me to go, my lord?’
‘It is best,’ Kirat Jaswan said. He was everything to her: ruler, uncle, surrogate father. She owed him her total obedience. ‘You...complicate matters, Anusha. I would have you safe where you belong.’
So I do not belong here? No matter how she had been feeling these past months, this was too sudden, too abrupt. Her uncle had cast her out too, as her father had. Now she truly was adrift with nowhere to call home. To protest, would be futile, and beneath her. She was a Rajput princess by training, even if her blood was mixed. ‘I do not belong with my father. I never did, he made that clear as crystal. But because you, my lord and uncle, ask it, I shall go.’
And she would not weep, not in front of that arrogant angrezi who had got what he came for, it seemed: her surrender. She was of a princely house and she had her pride and she would do what her ruler commanded and not show fear. If he had commanded her to ride into battle to her death with his troops she would have done. Somehow that felt less frightening than this. ‘When must I go?’
The Englishman Herriard answered. It was as though her uncle had already washed his hands of her and had given her over to the other man. ‘You leave as soon as the vehicles and animals can be gathered and the journey provisioned. It is a long way and will take us many weeks.’
‘I remember,’ Anusha said. Weeks of blank discomfort and misery, clinging to her mother who was too proud to weep. Sent away because the big, loving, bear of a man who had hugged her and spoiled her, who had been the centre of her world and her mother’s universe, had cast them out. Because love, it seemed, was not for ever. Expediency conquered love. It was a lesson that had been well learned.
Then what Herriard had said penetrated. ‘Us? You will take me?’
‘Of course. I am your escort, Miss Laurens.’
‘I am so very sorry,’ she said, baring her teeth in a false smile. She would make every league a misery for him, if she could, the insensitive brute. ‘You obviously do not wish for this duty.’
‘I would walk the entire way in my bare feet if Sir George asked it,’ Major Herriard said. The cold green eyes looked back at her without liking or anger, as hard as the emeralds in his ears. ‘He is as a father to me and what he wants, Miss Laurens, I will ensure that he gets.’
A father? Just who was this man whose devotion went so far beyond a soldier’s obedience? ‘Fine words,’ Anusha said as she turned to leave. ‘I do hope you will not have cause to eat them.’
‘If that man sends one more message about what I must and must not take I will scream.’ Anusha stood in the midst of harried, scurrying maids and searched for a word to describe Nicholas Herriard. With a phrase quivering on her tongue she caught Paravi’s amused gaze and compromised. ‘Budmash.’
‘Major Herriard is not a villain or a knave,’ the rani said, her tone of reproof in conflict with the curve of her lips. ‘And he will hear you—he is only on the other side of the jali. It is a long journey. He is right to make certain you will have everything you need, yet not too much.’