|Picture Prompt #2 The Book Club|
“I don’t want to go,” Serena blurted out.
Merchant looked at her calmly, his face having the same expression as that of a lion watching a deer. Both knew he would get what he wanted in the end. He was not in a hurry and the glacial looks in his eyes was making her nervous.
“Darling, I’m too tired.”
She just wanted to go home and find some solitude. The past few years have been rigorous. As a training cadet, she was at the beck and call of her seniors –yet she had never felt this sense of foreboding as she did now.
Merchant got up and opened the wooden cupboard tucked at the corner of his office. He brought out a swash of red, covered in a plastic bag. With a lot of flourish he took out a blood red gown and smiled indulgently at her, “the time has come.”
Serena’s face ashened. “Tonight?”
Merchant nodded and gently laid the gown on the love seat. “You were waiting for this for so long.” He walked up to Serena and gently trailed his thumb across her soft lips, gazing deep into her eyes. “Your first independent assignment.” His grey eyes were mesmerizing, invoking a strange fear in her heart. Something that compelled her to look into them and at the same time wish, he would shut his eyes. Using all her will power, Serena pulled herself away from him.
“I’ll pick you up. Just be ready.”
At seven sharp in the evening, a knock sounded on her door. She closed her eyes to steady her nerves before opening it.
“Wohooo.” Merchant let out a wolf whistle. Serena stood stock still as he walked around her, taking in her sculptured figure encased in the red gown. Her milky white shoulder lay bare devoid of any jewelry. He wanted to rest his palm against her bare expanse but she looked so imperial standing aloof, while her eyes stared at him blankly.
“This is not your first time,” he asked, a puzzled expression on his face.
“Every time I knew who it would be. This is freaking me out.”
“All in good time, I'm sure.” He kissed her bare shoulder before putting the stole over her arm. “Shall we?”
They drove through the dense jungle of traffic to reach the beautiful farmhouse where the party was in a full swing. Dignitaries from all over the world had come there along with a smattering of Bollywood stars. Serena had attended many such parties before, in many different countries and with many different names. This time it was different. She had a gut feeling.
“Can we not go back home?”
“No,” Merchant's eyes were cold, his face grim. “You know the rules.”
“Do you know who…?”
“No.” he said curtly and they entered the sea of dignitaries flocking the ballroom. A soft music was playing and many couples had started dancing. Serena scanned the room trying to analyze who it could be.
“Ma’am your stole, please?” a young porter boy came up to her. She gave it to him, without glancing towards him, her attention focused on the people milling around her. “Be ready for the wine glass.” Before she could react, the boy walked away. She knew better than to follow him.
“May I have this dance, Madame?” Merchant came and used his British accent as he bended on his one knee.
Serena laughed and bowed deeply and they soon joined the others on the dance floor.
One, two, three and a twirl…. four, five, six and a twirl. Serena was losing herself to the turbulence of emotions - the soft music and his masculine scent. The future she had always dreamed of seems so plausible now.
“Some wine for you Ma’am?” The cold voice of the porter penetrated her thoughts. Startled she turned towards him, bringing the dance to a halt.
“No,” she whispered. Merchant gripped her by the elbows, his hand steady.
“If you don’t do it, I will meet life far worse than death. Better you than them.”
“But why?” she wailed only to be shushed as Merchant's lips descended upon her. She clung to him, unable to stop the tears. Merchant took the wine from the porter and placed it on her hands. Then they danced, lost and their tears mingled in their stolen kiss.
“You have to tell me why?” she insisted. She needed to know.
“I have resigned from the Raw.”
Serena’s eyes widened. She now understood. This was the only way out of secret agency since he knew too many secrets and they could not let him go like that. She closed her eyes and slowly brought the glass to his lips. He drank it without taking her eyes off him. Slowly she took him to a nearby chair and sat down with him.
“Go now.” He whispered urgently.
She got up and went to the cloakroom. The porter was waiting with her stole. She handed him the wine glass, hating him for his cold smile. But her face did not give away any of her thoughts. Holding her head high, she walked out the building into the rain pouring outside. The rainwater had never tasted so salty before.