Chapter 8 : A scene from this chapter has been dedicated to Monnie Singh Raizada. 🙂
Khushi and Mallika were enjoying the aftermath of the engagement party. The engagement had gone off without a hitch. Punditji had done his job with the prayers and among other things, rings were exchanged between NK and Mallika. Their parents had embraced each other and gifts had been exchanged between both the parties. Khushi, dressed in a red sari with golden border and decked with gold earrings dangling from her ears and a necklace sitting pretty on her neck was a sight for sore eyes. Her red bangles made a jingling sound as if spreading cheerfulness where ever they jangled with her anklets adding sweet music to it. The sari gave her face a pink glow and minimal make up of a red gloss and kohl around her eyes made her look beautiful, totally rubbishing the idea that she could look plain. She had at Mallika’s request left her glasses behind and worn lenses.
While quivering inside with anxiety, she was outwardly calm and smiling. She had not seen Arnav anywhere around yet. Maybe he had left?
Just when she started relaxing, she caught sight of him. He was dressed as usual, in his impeccable suit, his eyes focused on the person he was talking to. He looked handsome as ever. Her skipped a beat as she looked at him. He didn’t look out of place and seemed quite comfortable with people around him. Just then he smiled at the lady he was talking to and Khushi felt her heart flutter. She turned away from him, clutching her sari to her chest.
“Khushi” It was softly spoken but raised the hair on her arms. The voice was so close to her ears. She didn’t dare turn around. She quickly strode away before he could say anything else.
Arnav started moving forward. He hated it when Khushi walked away from him. In all these months, this was another constant that hadn’t changed. He moved towards her and she’d run away. He swore he’d soon put an end to it.
But as he started moving towards where Khushi had walked away to, he felt a hand on her shoulder, “Arnaavv, where are you moving off to? They’re going to play the band soon. I want to dance with you.”
It was Shruti Negi, Mallika’s younger sister. Anrav turned around to find Shruti smiling like a shark at him. She was very provocatively dressed with a single strap holding her blouse from behind. Bare back and barely enough cloth to cover her front, draped with a pink gauze and net sari around her body, Shruti sure looked pretty tempting. But for Arnav, she was as interesting and desirable as a lifeless statue. Shruti leaned onto him, brushing her chest against his and whispered in his ear, “Maybe after a dance or two, we can move to the garden. What say?”
Arnav moved away from her hand, with enough ice in his eyes to freeze the blood in her veins. His smile was polite and dismissing. “I don’t dance Ms. Negi. You’d best find yourself another amusement for the evening.”
Shruti’s eyes widened at his cold voice. Her smile faltered, her practised poise gone. She straightened, with blush covering her cheeks. “Sorry, I thought maybe-“
Arnav sighed. Young girls had to be handled with care, especially when they were future business associates’ daughters, “No problem. A simple case of miscalculation of interest is what happened. You look very pretty and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of men who’d love to dance with you. Good luck.”
He moved away and turned to the bar. Ordering himself a stiff drink, he wondered where Khushi had disappeared off to. He couldn’t see her in the room. Gulping down his drink in one go, he thanked the bartender and went out of the party room that opened out to the lobby of the house.
He walked further out and saw Khushi. She was sitting with Mallika and other girls, who were giggling while Mallika blushed. Girl jokes, he was sure were being cracked. Khushi though had a strained smile on her face as she participated in this girl talk. She was sitting with her head down, playing with the end of her sari and biting her lip softly. His Khushi and her traits were well known to him. He was sure she was trying to think of a way to get out of there. Payal sat along with them, laughing with the other girls and talking animatedly. Her laughter died abruptly as she saw Arnav coming towards the group. She looked at Khushi, anxiety for her sister written plain on her face.
Khushi had closed her eyes and was holding on to her sari tightly; she knew he was here. Her heart beat had suddenly gone into over drive. He was the only one who had that effect on her. Mallika’s voice rang out as enthusiastic and cheerful, making Khushi flinch. “Arnav, hey!”
Arnav looked at Mallika and smiled while the other girls looked at him too. A gasp from some girls broke the silence. Obviously, thought Khushi. Arnav Singh Raizada effect was taking hold of them so they would gasp. She opened her eyes to look straight into his glittering amber ones. She shivered at the amount of want she saw there- and determination.
“Hi Mallika. Congratulations once again on your engagement. Lovely party.” Arnav came forward towards them. Khushi looked at the other girls with scorn. She could see awe written their faces, their mouths open and eyes wide. What was it about this guy that turned all girls silly?
“Come meet my friends.” Said Mallika and proceeded to introduce everyone around. When it came to Khushi and Payal, she gestured at Payal and said, “She’s Payal Singh- hey you guys share the same surname! She is Payal Singh Raizada! She is married and lives in Delhi. And this is her sister, Khushi; my best friend Khushi.”
Mallika grinned and her jaw dropped when Payal said, “ Arnavji is my brother-in-law Mallika.”
“I had no idea. Papa never told me that! ” Mallika’s eyes went wider as if a sudden thought occurred to her. “So you know Khushi too.”
“Of course.” Arnav inclined his head towards her as he looked at Khushi. “Don’t we now each other Khushi?”
Khushi had no choice but to speak. Her voice was a mere croak, “Yes. Hello Arnav.”
“Why don’t you sit down with us Arnav and tell us how you like Nainital. Is this your first visit here?”
Khushi looked at her friend; Neha who had invited Arnav in her simpering, husky voice to join them. She ground her teeth in frustration. Oh for heaven’s sake! She’d always hated Neha’s simper and her attempt to seduce boys with her voice. And here she was doing it with Arnav! There was nothing that she could do about it though so she lowered her eyes and looked down as other girls joined in the request.
Arnav was actually enjoying this. Khushi looked flustered, blush rising on her cheeks, her annoyance apparent to him. This should be fun. How about rousing that not-so-little green monster in her? He sat down and zeroed in on the girl who had invited him. What was her name- ah yes! Neha.
“I like Nainital very much Neha. All the more so since everything here is so beautiful. In fact, I think I will stay here for one extra week and spend time looking at beauty around here.”
It was the way he said it that finally loosened Khushi’s tongue. She lashed out, “Be careful while straying away from the city Arnav. There are lots of animals around here who wouldn’t spare you if you mistook their gentle demeanour as timid when you wander. You’d want to return to London in one piece.”
And almost groaned out aloud as another friend spoke up, “Oh wow, London! You live in London? You don’t live in India then?” Another one spoke up, “NRI Munda hain Neha. Are you married Arnav?”
Arnav’s eyes met hers amidst all others. He wanted to grin at her annoyance but kept his expressions in check. “I used to live in London until a few months back. I’ve moved to India now. I live in Delhi. And no, I’m not married…yet.”
Khushi glanced at Payal questioningly and then away. What did it matter to her where he lived now or if he was thinking about – what did he mean anyway with married not yet? Khushi shook herself mentally. It shouldn’t matter to her. It didn’t matter at all. He could live in Timbuktu and marry the Princess of Norway for all she cared.
Arnav could feel heat rising from Khushi’s being. He could see her trying hard to control her temper and her breathing. He decided to make it more difficult for her. His question to Neha, who sat listening to him with a look of pure lust on her face, startled Khushi, “Have you ever been to Delhi Neha? If not, you can come there sometime and I’ll show you around.”
Khushi closed her eyes and tried to control her temper. She could feel the green monster rising from the depths of her being, his hunger apparent. Khushi felt a knot in her stomach as she realized what she felt. She was horrified at a merest mention of him being interested in someone else could cause such a fierce pang of pain in her heart and bring her to boiling rage. She couldn’t do that to herself, she didn’t want to feel this burning jealousy that slowly seemed to be enveloping her soul.
Without putting her mind to it, she heard the conversation being carried out, where Neha pouted, visibly fluttering he eyelashes, making eyes at Arnav and said, “So you’d show me around in Delhi, huh? But I don’t know anyone in Delhi. Where would I put up?”
He replied, his voice seducing the girls surrounding him, “Well, now you know me. I have a big house with lots of rooms. Maybe you’d like to stay there. It would be fun. “
“Uhh..” totally flustered, Neha looked around and saw that the other girls were looking at this Arnav guy with the same lust that she felt. It was all a matter of staking claim, right? Her eyes were pure evil when she said, “Sure! I’d love to come and stay in your house.”
Mallika seemed totally dazed with the conversation. She cleared her throat, looked at Arnav, mischief dancing in her eyes and said, Er-yes. Goodness Arnav, stop seducing the girls! Waise, it’s a good idea. In fact I’m sure many girls here would want to take up on that offer.”
While they all laughed, Payal looked at Khushi who seemed to be in intense pain. “Khushi?”
“huh? Yes Jiji?” Khushi opened her eyes and looked at Payal.
“Are you feeling alright? You-“ Khushi cut Payal midsentence,
“Yes Jiji, I’m absolutely fine, just a little suffocated. In fact, I think I’ll go inside.” She gave a brilliant smile to Mallika who nodded her assent and without looking at Arnav, walked away from there muttering loud enough for him to hear, “and throw up.”
Arnav watched her go, muttering along the way and smiled to himself. She was nothing if not feisty, yes- that was Khushi Kumari Gupta-soon-to-be-Mrs. Raizada. He just had to wait for his plans to come to fruition and fervently hope that she’d not screw up the plans with her unpredictability.
Khushi walked back into the house, with the party full on and people dancing around. While the young generation had taken up the dance floor, the elder generation had moved to the far side of the room, where comfortable sofas and lounges had been kept. Khushi made a face towards the noise emanating from the room and walked towards where her grandmother sat. She must be there somewhere.
“Khushi, come join us!” Some of the guys from the dance floor called her. “Change your traditional clothes and join us in fun babe.” One of the guys, Gaurav shouted, giving her leering glances. He was an old friend who loved to fool around and was not to be taken seriously. He opened his arms wide and shouted, “Come to me baby!” Khushi laughed and shook her head in denial. She thumbed him down and signalled him a “See you later” to resume walking. She had barely taken two steps when she was held tight by her waist and roughly pushed out of the house again.
Only one man had the guts to do that to Khushi Kumari Gupta. Anger that had been churning in her stomach was ready to spill out. She struggled furiously as he dragged her to the far side of the lobby, next to the swimming pool. All was quiet here, with no one around.
“Let me go, damn you! Get your hands off me Arnav!”
Arnav swivelled her so that she faced him now, her face red from anger and exertion of the struggle while his wild amber eyes sparked with the same emotion.
“How dare you Arnav Singh Raizada! How dare you manhandle me, you bas- “Khushi stopped, horrified with herself and closed her mouth with her hand before she could utter the one profanity that was true in Arnav’s case. She tried turning away from him again and he said, “If you want to call me a bastard, do. It’s only the truth after all.”
Khushi closed her eyes and counted to ten. She couldn’t say that to him. It hurt her just as it would hurt him. But she couldn’t let him have his way either. She was angry after all. She tried pushing his hands away from her waist and spat, “Let me go this instant. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
Arnav wouldn’t let her go of course. He was just as angry as he held her by her waist and dragged her face to face, “Sure, why would you want anything to do with me when there are guys out here you may already be doing with! ”
Khushi looked at him, her shock evident on her face, her struggles ceased for a moment. “You’re a fine one to talk! Who was that who was seducing all the girls with his “Come and stay with me in Delhi” statement?” She mimicked his voice, her eyes flashing fire.
“Jealous sweetheart? You’ve no need to be. ” Arnav caught her closer so that their chests were almost brushing against each other.
“You wish Raizada! It doesn’t bother me in the least.” Khushi spoke quietly. She had stopped struggling now, knowing that her struggles will brush her chest against his and burn her body even more. She hated herself for this pool of desire that was accumulating between her legs at this close contact. She tried to control her wanton thoughts. Closing her eyes, she said, “Flirt with whoever you want Arnav. Just let me go. I’m not interested in spending time in your company.”
“The way you were giving a come-on to that guy on the dance floor, it looks like you’re not short of company here in Nainital.”
Khushi gasped as the meaning of his words sank in. Oh how she hated that mocking drawl of his and– he was actually accusing her of being promiscuous again! Her hand came forward to hit him but was caught mid-air. Chest heaving, they both stared at each other while Khushi laughed bitterly, “Oh yes, double standards are at play again Arnav Singh Raizada! You can flirt with any one you want but I can’t even talk friendly with a guy. No wonder I don’t want anything to do with you anymore.”
He caught at her shoulders gently as regret flooded his being and he mentally kicked himself. What the hell was he doing! He had to be gentle with her, woo her. In his jealous rage, he’d completely forgotten himself and accused her again when she was innocent. Would he never learn?
“Khushi, I’m sorry.” Khushi refused to look at him. “I’m shouldn’t have said that. I just don’t like the thought of you with anyone. I didn’t mean to-“
“It doesn’t matter Arnav. Let me go please.” Khushi’s voice was deathly quiet, tone flat. She moved his hand from her shoulder and made to go. Arnav was having none of it.
He roughly caught her shoulder in his hand and turned her around, “Look Khushi, I’m really sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have said all that. I don’t know what got into me or maybe I do.” he uttered the four letter word that Khushi didn’t really think a man who was apologizing would use in front of her. To top it, he was still holding her, his strong hand gripping her shoulder while she trembled inwardly. All she could do was stare at his shirt buttons and pray “Devi Maiyya please extricate me from this situation. How could you put me in such a- and after all that he had said before and again … please make him let go of my shoulder, NOW.”
While she closed her eyes and prayed to her beloved Devi Maiyaa, Arnav looked at her with something like fury that was replaced quickly with guilt and pain. He was genuinely apologizing; yes, he was at fault again. Khushi always made him feel a heel. He had never apologised to anyone except to her and his Di. The least she could do was listening to him once and maybe give him a chance, dammit!
He knew he had hurt her bad the last time, when he had called her names and broken the engagement. The day he had uncovered the truth, he had gone through excruciating pain and guilt. He had realized what a fool he had been by letting go of the only woman that could love him as deeply she did, who could accept him despite his background and his faults; the only woman who made him complete.
His Anjali Di had wiped the floor with him and later on tried to help him find Khushi. He had tried but in vain. As a last resort, he had decided to immerse himself in work and his sorrows in solitude where nothing but happy memories of Khushi stayed put along with the huge stone of guilt around his neck. Had it not been for Khushi’s grandmother calling, he’d have drowned himself in his misery and died.
Hell, he understood her anger and her distrust of him. He was ready to prove himself and earn her trust again if need be. If only she would listen to him! His confidence took a dipping when he thought about it.
“All she does is close her eyes, hide her pain, her feelings and say that she didn’t want to talk to me!” He swore quietly, thinking to himself. Khushi was not going to let him get into her affections again so easily, was she?
He knew he should let her go but touching her did odd things him; always had. The day they’d almost made love on the club terrace came into his mind and stirred up a fire that refused to go down. He took a deep breath to control his emotions. Why wouldn’t she look at him at least! He was trying to apologize and be a gentleman too.
“Khushi” Her name came out in a warning growl and then, as if things had not yet reached its peak, he took hold of her other shoulder and shook her, “look at me dammit!”
Startled and quaking, Khushi looked up. Maybe he’d let her go now? She thought and then looked at his eyes. His eyes were burning globes of fire.. as if he was the panther about to attack his prey.
“Why do you have to rile me up so much? You always get under my skin dammit! What do you think of yourself Khushi Kumari Gupta? I’ve been standing here saying sorry to you umpteen times and you don’t even look at me! The way you walk, the way you look down your nose at me. It makes me go crazy Khushi!”
Khushi eyes were wide orbs, “I make you go crazy!?” she squeaked and then got her courage back. “How dare you blame me Arnav Singh Raizada, Mr. next-step-to-God! I have done nothing to you, do you hear.. nothing! As if all you accused me of in the past is not enough, you’ve come here to- what you said just now – let me go at once!” Khushi tried to free herself from his hands but they were like iron bands around her shoulders.
“Make me.” His words were menacing and Khushi felt fear curl in her stomach with- excitement? “You glare at me Khushi Kumari Gupta and your mouth gives me the message “touch-me-not” but ..”
“But what?” Khushi held her breath as her stomach churned with well-known sensations, sensations she thought she had lost months back. She was panicky and confused. What was he trying to say?
“But your eyes say something different. He leaned into her, “Do you know something sweetheart? The more your mouth says no, the more I want to touch you.”
His words, softly spoken made Khushi’s stomach drop somewhere in her shoes. What did he just say? Arnav couldn’t possibly want her! No, he couldn’t desire her at all! Not after all that had happened! He had been cruel to her, he had mocked her, made fun of her; he had told her that she was promiscuous, crazy, comical and absolutely not worth his time’ that her body disgusted him.
And yet, when Khushi looked into his eyes, she could see the fire blazing high, the inferno of want burning for her as he leaned into her more, pressing her against the wall, into the darkness where they were away from all; in hiding. He was pressed so close to her that she could feel his taut muscles down the length of her entire body and Good God- that surely wasn’t!! She gasped as her eyes looked down and then flashed back up at him, her voice a mere whisper, “Let me go.. please.”
“I know I treated you bad just now, downright rotten in fact. But I am apologizing for it. Had I not dragged you away from there, I’d have been tempted to do this again and again right there by the dance floor, in front of all others who were lusting after you, until I was sure you couldn’t remember your own name much less any of them.”
Instant shock held her rigid as both his hands came around to cup her face. She moved her head to one side but he would have none of it. His softly spoken “Khushi” had her turning at him again. She closed her eyes. As his lips touched hers; gently at first and then swooping down again and again, sipping her taste from her lips, Khushi felt herself melting in his arms. No more did she want to wriggle away from him, not this time.
“Khushi…” Her name was a desperate moan as Arnav’s mouth began taking firm possession of hers, the gentle kiss turned into an act of possession. A sensation so incredible that Khushi felt she was floating in the air took hold of her. Her hands grabbed his shoulders for support as her knees buckled with this sensuous onslaught. This was- was- so good. She met his move with her own, her heart beating a tattoo in her chest, blood rushing down south as they both gave in to this incredible, inexplicable need for each other. Khushi felt as if a potent narcotic drug had been injected in her veins and if she didn’t find relief soon, she’d die. Her skin felt so hot, she felt so hot! She wanted to simply eat him up or hold on to him and never let him. She wanted to straddle him right there and let him take her. She loved him —
As though alarm bells had jingled loudly in her ears, she opened her eyes in shock and pushed him away roughly while he was still unbalanced. How could she have fallen in his spell again! She had to get out of here.
He seemed to be dazed and shocked just as she was, although she doubted if he was dealing with the kind of emotional upheaval that she was dealing with.
“I- I- good bye!” her voice was a hoarse whisper and she turned and ran away from him. She didn’t dare look back to see the kind of expression his face may hold.
Khushi could feel herself trembling an hour later even after she reached the safety of other ladies in the women’s parlour and was sitting beside Mallika. Punditji was looking for the good muhurat for the wedding to take place in the next two weeks since NK had to go back to Sydney. While everyone around her was talking, Khushi was in her own thoughts. Oh my goodness gracious everything under the sun. Her lips still tingled and her body was still on fire. She wept inside with rage, frustration and desire. Humiliation burned deep within her along with those other emotions. How could she have done what she did — responded so ardently! How could she have forgotten what he’d accused her of, what he’d thought of her, what he still could readily accuse her of!
Arnav sat with the other men, his mind a million miles away- or maybe simply in the other room where Khushi sat with other women. He had walked back a few minutes after she’d ran, trying to compose himself. His body had been shaking with undisguised, unfulfilled lust as well as disgust for himself. So much for attempting to talk to her, woo her!
He wanted to turn around, forget about the niceties, barge into ladies’ parlour, carry Khushi away somewhere to begin anew. He’d woo her and make her trust him again. But then common sense took hold of him. He picked up a glass of wine from the tray of the waiter passing by and drank it in one gulp. He picked up another and prowled back into the room where other guests were. He had enough time and this time, Khushi was going nowhere. He had her exactly where he wanted her. He knew she desired him and perhaps a part of him hoped that she still loved him, but he wouldn’t go as far as that. Time enough to make her fall in love with him again even if she hated him now. He resolved silently. Khushi Kumari Gupta, you can enjoy your friend’s wedding. It will soon be your turn next.”