“What the hell is she doing here for God’s sake!”
Shyam’s outburst startled Khushi. They had been focused on his upcoming exhibition for a solid four hours, with Khushi helping him place the photos in the right order at the gallery. Hunger had made itself known, bringing them thus to Shyam’s favoured Yellow Brick Road, a Taj Vivanta restaurant in Khan Market.
Khushi didn’t mind really because she could eat her fill of Belgian waffles with blueberries, melted butter and maple syrup, though she would have been just as comfortable in a small South Indian restaurant not far away from the art gallery. Normally Shyam would feel better after eating YBR chicken- their signature dish but not today. Something had upset him; or rather someone.
Khushi looked up and about and her gaze rested on Laavanya, who was sitting some tables away, talking furiously with a man sitting opposite her. Khushi looked at Shyam carefully and hid a smile. If that was not the case of a jealous man, she didn’t know what it was! Shyam looked ready to commit murder, his gaze stone cold as it rested on Laavanya and the man she sat beside. He looked away and tried to focus on his food while Khushi tried to get a look of the man who was sitting with Laavanya. She couldn’t see his face but he looked tall and imposing from the back. Surely La was not indulging in a romance with this man, not when she was looking at Shyam with defiance and longing in her eyes. Khushi decided not to let Shyam know.
She turned to Shyam and said innocently, “Isn’t that the model you had been shouting at the last time- what was her name?”
“La.” Shyam bit out, and then added, “Never mind with them. I think we must get back to work Khushi.”
Khushi looked at him in horror. “And leave my waffles uneaten behind? Are you mad? I am not going anywhere and neither are you. Finish your chicken. ”
“You are so bossy at times! ” Shyam’s tone was forceful but not overly so. While looking at the couple, he took a bite our of his chicken like it was the head of the man. And choked on it the next instant. Khushi patted him on the back and said softly, “Don’t look now, but La is looking right at you. ”
“I don’t need to look. “Shyam said exasperatedly, and drank deeply from his glass of water, adding “We should discuss our relationship soon, don’t you think? It is time we announced our engagement Khushi. ”
Khushi sighed softly. Men were indeed stupid in the matters of heart and Shyam was fast becoming a prime example of such stupidity. She put her fork down reluctantly and looked directly into Shyam’s eyes. The right time to have her say had arrived.
“Shyam, I love you dearly- as a friend and I think you know that you do the same as far as I am concerned. You and I both know for certain that you are only being stubborn. We both know that I am not the right person. ”
“How do you know that? ” Shyam looked away from Khushi and at La, “How do you recognise the right person then?”
“You just know it- like you do. ” Khushi said softly, touching him on the shoulder and smiling at him. “Go to her when the time is right and tell her how you feel Shyam. I remember the earlier encounter with her and I got the feeling she has feelings for you too.”
Shyam held her hand fast in his and said, “No. That can’t be. We— it’s a long story but we can’t be right for each other; La and I. She is a total five letter word and I am not into such women.”
“Shyam!” Khushi rebuked him sharply. “Don’t be daft! And I know I don’t know what happened between you two but I don’t think she is the kind you describe.”
“Oh yes, she is. She is a tease. I have known her from when we were ye high and she was always the same. She would lavish all her attention at you one time and the next completely ignore you. She is like that. To think that our parents ever thought— She is a total bitch and a tease. She graduated but only because it was fashion. She models for fun, and because she gets to meet men to flirt with. She did the same in London. Went out with me and when she got bored, she didn’t really break it off. Simply went out with another man and splashed herself in the society pages as his arm candy. She might still be with him for all I know and playing behind his back. ” Shyam’s voice was bitter.
It grew sharp as he fisted his hands in anger after catching a look at the man’s face and exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be damned! What the hell is he doing here as well?”
The man in question took La’s hand in his own and kissed it while La looked at Shyam, openly defiant . Khushi was highly amused when Shyam broke into voluble curses under his breath. Khushi could only see La and not the man as he was seated in the other direction from her own chair. She had seen La’s reactions and drawn her own conclusions from when Shyam had looked at her smilingly, and held her hand. That stricken look and sadness in Laavanya’s face hadn’t been the reactions of a tease or a bitch of any sort. Those reactions had been of a woman in love, who knew she was in love and was suffering due to some misunderstanding between herself and her beloved. She opened her mouth to explain this to Shyam when the man sitting beside La turned his head and looked at Shyam with open disdain.
Khushi gasped audibly beside Shyam, turning the man’s gaze towards her. His eyes widened for a second before he looked back at Shyam, plain dislike open on his face now and then turned away from both of them, his back rigid. Khushi swallowed hard, her love of waffles forgotten. Shyam knew him?
When Shyam said, “Let’s get out of here. I feel stifled.”, she couldn’t agree fast enough.
Unfortunately for Shyam and Khushi, they had to pass through the table where La and her companion sat. Khushi couldn’t believe her eyes they were stopped by La. She put out a hand and touched Shyam’s arm while he passed her by. She was pale but determined as she spoke.
“Are you going to ignore us, Shyam?”
Shyam, to give him credit, smiled at La and said, “How did I ever forget that you hate being ignored ? ” Then he looked at the man who stood up and shook hands, “Jha. Long time no see. You plan to settle down in India? ”
His gaze flickered for a mini-second to Khushi standing beside Shyam, totally ignoring him and back to Shyam.
Shyam was too muddled in his own affairs to notice anything else. He shook hands firmly and said, “Rothwell. Didn’t know you were interested in my personal life. What business lured you to India ?”
“Sometimes it is the pleasure that lures you. I thought you knew that Jha.” Arnav replied back; his retort stiffening Shyam by Khushi’s side.
Utterly uncomfortable with the vibes floating around, Khushi refused to look at any of them despite his taunts, especially ignored ASR. Her brain was bouncing around in her head, a green flame flickering in her heart, a fire in her eyes. Her opinion of him at that moment was at an all time low. The scoundrel! The rat!!! What did the man think he was doing, playing around with La who clearly belonged with Shyam ! She wanted to slap some sense into Laavanya and ask her what madness had driven her in ASR’s company.
La looked at Khushi amidst all the tension in the air, and smiled genuinely, warmly for the first time in all these minutes. She came with her hands held forward and said, “Khushi, it is good to see you again.”
Khushi smiled uncertainly and accepted her hands in her own, giving them a gentle squeeze to tell La she sympathised with her. Out loud, she said, “La, it is good to see you too. ”
La looked at ASR and still smiling said, “Alex, this is Khushi. Khushi this is my –friend, Alex Rothwell.” After hesitating in her addressal for ASR, she then deliberately (or so it seemed to Khushi) put her hand in the crook of his arm and continued gaily, “Alex has come down for a few days. Do you know, he has never been around Delhi much. I thought I’d give him a tour of the city. I remembered you telling me about this place and thought we might start with our lunch here. ”
Shyam looked daggers at Khushi as if she had betrayed him.
Arnav Singh Raizada gave her a mocking smile, his eyebrow raised in question. His eyes went to her lips that trembled as his gaze touched them. He looked into her eyes again, as if silently asking “Should we acknowledge each other as strangers or tell them all about our history?Should we tell them how you melt in my arms when I kiss you?”
Khushi understood the question perfectly but refused to give him the satisfaction. However she couldn’t stop the blush that spread across her cheeks. She looked away from him. She wanted to slap that amused look off his face so bad! Taking a soft deep breath, she controlled herself and made do with a simple acknowledging nod. ASR gestured likewise, his eyes glinting with wicked amusement at Khushi.
Khushi turned her attention back to La and said still smiling, “Glad to have been of service though you could have started with Chandni Chowk; the place that brings both horror and awe to foreigners on their first visit. ”
La giggled softly and Khushi was hard put to smile back at La. She wanted to growl for some reason. She kept on telling herself it was not La’s fault; that La was only trying to make Shyam jealous after all. Secretly she was also horrified with herself for mean thoughts.
At this point, Arnav spoke up, addressing her bluntly, “Did La say this was my first visit Khushi? ”
Since the question was directed at her, Khushi had no choice but to look at him. His eyes burned her just as hers burned him. Her tone was polite but coldly dismissive, “I assumed that to be the case since La said you’re very familiar with the city, but perhaps you didn’t have anyone to escort you around. ”
Her tone plainly suggested that no one would have wanted to escort him. Shyam looked at her in astonishment. This was a different side to Khushi; she was being rude! Confused at her tone of voice, La looked at Khushi for a moment. To diffuse the situation, she said,
“I haven’t lost your phone number Khushi; I just thought I’d call you when you’re a little less busy what with–.” La said and then abruptly stopped and continued haltingly, “–with your –I mean Shyam’s exhibition and–”
“We need to leave. ” Shyam cut in suddenly. Catching Khushi’s hand in his, he nodded towards ASR and ignored Laavanya.
Khushi was annoyed, but kept quiet knowing this was not the time to berate her friend. She smiled apologetically at La and threw an icy look at ASR, who blandly gazed back, before following Shyam outside.
“So- where am I to drop you Miss Khushi Gupta?” Arnav asked, his body turned towards her as they sat in his car.
Khushi fidgeted with the seat belt, not securing it and not meeting his eyes either as she softly but firmly replied,” Since Anjali ji is watching us, you may drop me on the street outside. Then you may go where you wish. Personally I don’t -”
“-care to be anywhere next to me. I know that, Khushi. Maybe I frighten you or are you frightened of yourself, Khushi? ”
Khushi looked at him, her eyes stormy. “What? I am not frightened of you at all! Securing the seat belt, she said, “Just drive, will you? ”
“Not until you tell me where it is you wish to go the next.” Arnav retorted promptly, his eyes not leaving her face.
Khushi bit her lip and wondered what to do. She was acutely conscious of his raw masculinity, his unique scent reaching out to touch her senses. Would it be wiser to simply let him drive her to the art gallery, rather than sit here arguing with him? Maybe she wasn’t willing to let him drive her to the destination so easily because she enjoyed these little skirmishes? Maybe she wanted to spend more time with him – a little voice inside her head insinuated. Squashing that voice flat, Khushi decided to ask him to drop her off to the art gallery. It was possible that he might look at Shyam and her together, and decide to leave her alone.
Meanwhile, Arnav wondered what would happen if he leaned in and caught her lips with his. She had this habit of sucking her lower lip into her mouth every time she got anxious. Arnav wanted to touch her lips and release that lower lip from her mouth, taking it in his. His attention was diverted when the lip was released from its hold and Khushi spoke, “The art gallery next to India Gate, please.”
He gazed at her lips a second longer, than with a silent sigh, started the car. To pass 30 minutes of travel between them was going to be a torture since she was so close and not able to touch her. His thoughts still hadn’t settled down from his musings earlier. He still remembered how he had touched her intimately, the way she tasted in his mouth. His body went taut at the memory, a slight shudder going through him. Khushi, battling demons of her own, missed his reaction when her hand accidentally touched his while she fidgeted with her bag.
“Why can’t you sit still damnit!” Arnav growled from beside her, startling Khushi.
She looked at him, her eyes wide with bewilderment. “What did I do?”
“Just stop fidgeting.”
“Why don’t you just focus on your driving Mr Raizada. I don’t need to sit still like a statue simply because you have been ordered to drop me off.”
“What the– Don’t test my patience and don’t talk to me in that tone of voice, Khushi Kumari Gupta. ” Arnav growled, glaring at her.
“Huh- as if there is any other tone I’d use for you Mr Aranv Singh Raizada or Alexander Sebastian Rothwell, what ever you want to call yourself. ” Khushi glared back, her whole body turned sideways, towards him. She continued, “It is so silly to have two names, really! I have always thought–”
In the next instant, before she could say anything more, Arnav stopped the car abruptly, making her gasp. Khushi looked around and found herself half way through to her destination. It was just a side road, that would eventually merge into the road that would take her to India Gate. He unlocked the door and said, “Get out.”
Khushi gaped at him, her mouth open, her eyes unblinking. Maybe she had misheard. “What?” she asked to clear the air.
“Get out. ” ASR said again, gritting his teeth.” I can’t stand being next to you any longer. You are such an irritating woman.”
So angry at him that she didn’t even wish to look at him at this time, she said, “How dare you!” Getting her bag out of her way and unclipped her seat belt, while muttering, ” I should’ve known you would act like a jerk. What else can I expect from you.”
In the next instant, Arnav pulled her bag, thereby pulling her towards him as he leaned towards her. His gaze brought alive the tangle of nerves in her stomach that she had been trying to subside as he brought his face closer to hers. Khushi bravely met his gaze even though her lips quivered while she tried to keep a tight rein on her emotions. Looking deep into her eyes, he said angrily as if saying it against his wish, “You can expect this–”
Saying this, he lowered his head and brushed his lips evocatively across her own. Khushi’s mouth trembled under his tender onslaught. Without an order from her mushy brain, her lips responded back, moulding themselves to his shape. He groaned quietly and pulled her into him. Khushi’s hand touched his shirt covered hard chest and felt his rapidly beating heart. A beast roared inside her as he muttered, “- expect this. You make me crazy Khushi Kumari Gupta.”
Khushi mumbled his name, her voice husky with want. He chuckled, but his voice was just as fractured with desire as hers. As she repeated his name, he nibbled her lower lip, and said ” I love it when your voice cracks with want over my name. You can use this tone to talk to me any time Khushi.”
It was his words that brought Khushi back with a bump, back to reality. She tore her mouth away and pushed him back into his seat. Closing her eyes for a second to hide herself from the shame of having responded so ardently to his kiss, which was clearly meant to be her punishment, she said hurriedly, “Of course you would blame me for your crazy acts as well.”
Before he could anticipate her move, she opened the door and jumped out quickly. Closing the door of the car hard, she made him wince and felt a little better. Through the window,her eyes spit fire and she snapped, “Go to hell Raizada.” and ran towards the auto waiting a little further away.
Arnav cursed softly as he saw her climbing into the auto and being driven away. Damn the girl, she always made him lose his temper and his mind, he thought irritatedly. He let her get to her too much. This had to stop somehow. But how? Still thinking on it, he drove away towards work.
Uncertainty assails me as I am in two minds regarding the behaviour of a strong character in one of my stories; the title it holds for now is- ” To go or not to go – A family hell beckons”. Needless to say, it is not my usual story talking romance, but a dark family plot. It might also sound like typical family drama (nothing new), but well – I do wish to try my hand at it.
Samadhi- an Inner Consciousness
Samadhi, a woman in her late sixties, had been forced out of her home a year ago. Living on government welfare and in a house run by the women welfare committee now, she has slowly recovered from the betrayal and started living a normal life. Since the last two weeks, she had started earning her keep by volunteering to do the housekeeping for similar houses run by the committee. She now remembers the young girl she had once been – a young girl with dreams. She is slowly getting close to the meaning of her name – life and balance of inner consciousness. The enlightenment. Until–
A phone call wakes her one night. She rises and takes the call. It was the house superintendent. They were looking for her and wanted her to come back. As she puts the phone down, she finally realizes she has to take a stand. She may be broke, but she is not broken. The last year had shown her that. Something in her has reared its head up with a vengeance to take back her life, her own happiness. Time has come for her to take action against those who have made her life such a hell hole- her own family!
But first, some questions that plague her need to be looked at-
1) Should she forgive the matriarch of the family, who ruled the roost and had made her life an absolute misery right from the first day of her marriage? It was in the name of tradition that she took immense pleasure in her cruel ways, keeping this new bride away from her newly wedded husband, and later on being the cause of constant marital conflict? Would it be right to call her out on her actions, considering she is physically incapacitated ?
2) Over the years, as the woman became older, she knew sadness was her shadow. But she bravely rallied on. She had thought it couldn’t get worse- but it did. The family she had spent the last forty years loving and supporting turned against her, forgetting the fact that had it not been for her, they might never have made it so good.
Should she forgive them all, who when she needed their support, one by one turned against her, isolated her and became the cause of constant mental pain? What should be her attitude towards such a family in her old days?
3) The man she had fallen in love with and married, the man she sacrificed her once successful nursing career for, the man she should have had by her side as a friend, as her constant support, but the man who never had been-not even when she was in pain or when she gave birth to his child, risking her life for the heir, had declared in the end that he had never loved her.
Thanks to the matriarch, she was constantly berated and ignored by him all her married life. Last year, he had got her declared insane and turned her out of her own house, thanks to the constant plotting and planning of his family. He had even mocked her existence as he had turned her out. When she had beseeched him, asked him to not turn her out – didn’t he love her at all, he had laughed at her. Who could love her, he had said.
The same man from over a year ago, the same man she had lived with all her years was now calling her. He is now bed ridden & repents his actions- or so he says. He wants her to come back to be by his side. Should she go back to him ?
This is the ultimate question— Should Samadhi forgive and forget all those, who forced her own mother out of her family home when she had come calling and been in need of her daughter, leaving in misery to never return, to the day she died?
Can all the bitter memories be washed away ? With what exactly?
Forgiveness is an admirable human virtue, but should it be practised for those who don’t believe in repenting for their sins and create constant misery?
What about the law of Karma? What should she do in such circumstances? My own heart urges me to teach them all a lesson, to be unforgiving. But what about you?
The more opinions, the better. 🙂
” Khushi, there’s a car here, come to pick you up for a meeting.” Payal informed Khushi through the window overlooking the verandah. She had been sitting there with her book in her hand, her head in the clouds.
“Thank you for yelling little sister. I was expecting it and shall be out presently. ” Khushi grinned and yelled right back through the window. Khushi wore a pale yellow tunic over blue leggings, with aquamarine drop earrings in her ears. Her feet were encased in glass studded blue juttis today. She looked ready to take on the battle of new adjustments with the orders. Or so she felt at the moment. Grinning at her image in the mirror, she moved over to the table where her clutch bag was all ready to be picked up, she got out of the house.
“Good morning Khushi ji. ” The driver of the car greeted her as she came down the steps to reach the car. Waving her sister goodbye, Khushi replied, “Good morning OP ji. Trust all is good with you? ”
“Jolly good ji.” OP replied back with a warm smile. “The family is excited and waiting for you at Raizada Mansion. ”
“Excited?” Khushi asked, a little bewildered.
“Well, Anjali bitiya’s excitement keeps everyone on their toes. ” OP said hastily, evading Khushi’s eyes.
Khushi relaxed at his reply, not noticing his evasiveness as she hunted in her bag for her mobile to check for messages from Shyam. For a moment there, his voice held a tinge of mischief that she had become suspicious of.
At exactly half past ten, Khushi stepped into the foyer of Raizada Mansion and was greeted by Anjali Raizada’s cheerful countenance.The bright smile directed at her made Khushi blink in surprise and then smile back just as warmly. Anjali Raizada had been, until today a cool and distant client; nice and kind, nevertheless cool. Khushi had not been bothered with her coolness, after all she expected her rich clients to behave so. The rich didn’t know any other way to behave, did they?
Anjali was draped in a pale pink saree with chickankari work done on it. She had diamond drops in her ears and a huge diamond pendant on a chain around her neck. Hooking her arm into Khushi’s, she chirped,
“I am so excited and so happy to see you Khushi ji! Let us go into the garden and we can sit and discuss the plans in peace. I have already asked JP to bring your favourite beverage – lemonade. ”
Khushi looked at Anjali with a friendly smile as they sat down in wide comfortable chairs set amidst the bush of green. ” You must know some sort of witchery then, since I don’t remember ever telling you anything about my favourite drink.”
Anjali laughed, the sound like tinkling of bells. “You think I wouldn’t have found out? My brother, to my surprise is very vocal when it comes to your choices.”
A sound like a choked sqweak came out of Khushi’s mouth. “Your brother? What has he got to do with it? ”
Anjali turned an innocent face to Khushi and said, “Er- Why nothing of course. You never told me you had worked for my brother at one time.”
Khushi, getting more confused by the second strived to be professional and calm. She smiled hesitantly and said, “Well, it never came up and your brother -”
“-is right here. Hi, am I late? ” Said a voice and the next moment Arnav sat down in the chair vacant next to Khushi.
Khushi went stiff as cardboard as Arnav sat down next to her. She worried her lower lip in anxiety. What was ASR doing here? She looked at him once and acknowledged him for politeness sake, “Mr Raizada.”
Arnav gave her a mock smile and returned the stiff greeting with one of his own, “Ms. Gupta.”
Khushi looked away from him. Trying to calm herself, she picked up the glass of lemonade in front of her and took a sip. In the next second, she nearly spewed all of it out of her mouth as Arnav said, ” So kind of you to invite me to the meeting Anjali. ” I thought the plans were final, so what are we discussing exactly?”
Anjali rolled her eyes and said, “Arnav, don’t be an ass. Nothing is fixed nor final yet- not until I feel totally comfortable with the whole scene. ” Oblivious to Khushi’s rising colour, Anjali poured herself a glass of lemonade too as she continued, “In fact, all the planning that has been done and finalised, is all thanks to Khushiji. Now for the mehandi function; have you been able to get dancers for the mehandi ceremony? ”
At Arnav’s surprised look, Anjali smiled sweetly, “Since women in our family don’t believe in dancing, I thought it might be an idea to get dancers to perk everyone’s mood up.”
Arnav laughed loudly, the sound curling Khushi’s toes as a small smile unwillingly touched her own mouth. She looked at him and then hurriedly down into her lemonade, trying to calm her racing heart. While he sat close to her, her heart beat erratically, but seeing him laugh, she could swear it had stopped beating for a second. He looked so young when he laughed, so mesmerising. Pity then, that he was so arrogant and cold most of the time- reminded a snide voice inside her head. It was best she focused on the job at hand and ignored him. Deciding that, she put the glass of lemonade down, adjusted her chair a little away from him and took out her notepad and pen. Next she composed her features into a suitable expression and cleared her throat, “Let’s get to the business on hand Anjaliji. With the changes made as per your request, there are some things that would also need attention. I have arranged for cars to take guests to the hotel, but where do you plan to get ready for the function itself? Would you like the girls from the salon come up here or to the hotel? You said all guests may require a spa day. When is that to be? ”
And so the meeting went on, with Arnav barely giving any input, grunting his yay or nay when Anjali asked him for his suggestion.
Arnav could have left them alone and gone ahead to finish off with his work. He had enough meetings scheduled later in the day, and he was not really interested in how Anjali wanted the function. He was not one of the guys who could participate in such events with glee, like some men he knew did. He thought of Anjali’s choice of groom and grimaced a bit. It had been hard to swallow that Anjali would marry the man he considered not worthy of her. He had threatened with non-attendance, and yet she had gone ahead. The family had bowed in to her wishes. He had relented after his grandmother had called him. She was right after all. Anjali was not a child anymore, but a grown woman and quite capable to looking after herself. If she was making a mistake, it was her own. He had not told him grandmother the reality of the to-be-groom- that the guy was essentially a gold-digger. Instead, he had found a way around it. He had used manipulation and in the end, got both of them to sign a pre-nuptial agreement.
He heard Khushi talking about the flower arrangements and sighed. Truthfully speaking, his modus operandi would have been to give a cheque and leave the management of the function to the organiser-had it been any other organiser. He hadn’t missed her reaction; how she’d gone stiff when he took the seat next to her, how she had moved her chair away from him, how she had not once looked at him since she had started talking business. A part of him was outraged at her behaviour, yet a part of him of was amused. Something close to tenderness touched his half closed, contemplative eyes. She was so cute, when she was not sexy. His body thrummed at the sight of her and thoughts of touching her intimately were always around when she was close to him. During these last months, he had started wondering if he was getting too old to play the field. He of course, still lived a full social life, but overtures from women had started getting on his nerves. At one point, he had started wondering if he was bored of sex and games. From the day he had arrived and met Khushi though, it felt as if his libido had returned back with full force. He mused what was it about her that made her so attractive to him, when he could have his fill of attractive women all the time.
He looked at her again. She was wearing what would be deemed decent in any casual surrounding- a tunic and leggings. His eyes widened slightly looking at her feet in glass studded blue juttis. They were the peep toe sorts. Her toes were varnished with pale pink and kept curling, her feet kept twisting and turning as if ants were walking over her legs. A small satisfied smile curved his mouth as he saw that telling movement. So she wasn’t as calm and composed as she looked. But didn’t he know that from the past?
He remembered the evening that had left an unforgettable impression of her in his mind and on his body. If he closed his mind to his present surroundings, he could very easily visualise it, as if it had happened just seconds ago.
He had, with terrific effort controlled his desire to see her for weeks, but on that evening, he had simply run out of control. It had been a perfect excuse. He had called her into his office to discuss a presentation. When she hadn’t shown up quickly, he had gone down and found her muttering to herself.
” -Stay calm. Deep breaths. He is not going to strangle you even if you might have made a mistake. ” and she breathed in deep and closed her eyes.
“He just might . If you don’t stop talking to yourself and get yourself moving.” He remembered saying, highly amused by pep talk she was giving herself.
She had been startled and flustered for the first few seconds, but then looked at him haughtily and simply reiterated by saying that she was on her way to his cabin, with her ever present notepad and pen. He had looked her over, and felt the quickening of his senses. To hide it, he had simply grunted and lead the way to his office. It had become difficult to keep his head away from her thoughts, but he supposed he had done a good job. Every time he looked at her though, he could feel the need to take her in his arms and kiss her senseless. He wanted to kiss every inch of her tempting body until she forgot all about composure in his presence. Fate had presented him with the opportunity only a few short minutes later.
There were a lot of points they disagreed on. He liked the fact that she could make an intelligent argument and stay focused on the point, but he didn’t agree with her. Sometime he disagreed a minor point simply to rile her up. He loved to see her eyes glint with fire when she was angry. Until finally –
Khushi kept making changes as per his instructions with a mild “Okay, so I have now changed it as per your suggestion Mr Raizada, but I still think you should think it over.” They were an hour into the whole discussion. This time she argued with him again on a minor point and he disagreed with her suggestion again, when Khushi suddenly exploded, “Fine. As you say ASR. I shall make all the changes you want. Why should I waste my time arguing when I see you won’t listen! I am already quite late, and have better things to do than sit here arguing with you. If you think your way is the right way, go ahead and make a fool of yourself. What do I care! “
He had been surprised by her sudden temper, but his own temper had come forward at her ill chosen words. He had grasped her arm when she had picked up her things and had almost reached the door, and growled, “No one talks to me like that Ms Khushi Gupta, least of all you! “
She had given an unladylike growl herself, as she’d tried to free herself from his grasp, unsuccessfully. The files fell on the floor along with her purse. He had tightened his hold and she had snapped, “Get your hands off me! I wonder how this company reached its peak with you behaving as if no one’s opinion counts but yours. “
Arnav had been incensed at her tone, “What the–how dare you question my judgement! You know nothing!”
Khushi had been too angry to care about the consequences. She had snarled back, “I may know nothing, but I do know more than you do in this case. If I had any sense, I’d quit and leave you to fall on your face.”
“If you think you’re so smart, open up your own company and we’ll see how that goes. In the meanwhile-“
Khushi had made a sound of frustration at her inability to free herself from his grasp, cut Arnav off with a grumpy, ” I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Let me go you–ASR !”
Instead Arnav’s hand had circled her waist while the other had caught the back of her head, and brought her close to him. They were both breathing heavily, emotions running high. She looked up into his eyes and he had seen her fighting the same desire he felt. With a groan, he caught her closer, “You know why we fight, don’t you? “
As she trembled in his arms, and whispered a breathless, “I don’t want to know anything. Just–please-” he had simply swooped down and muttered against her lips “-please what?” He took a quick sip from her lips. Her lips followed the movement of his lips. He brushed his lips again against hers, looked into her eyes, and a tortured confession broke from him, “You drive me crazy; so many sleepless nights- all because of you Khushi Gupta. “
Khushi had met his look, her brown eyes reflecting the same deep fire of desire that he burned from, her lips quivering under his, and simply closed her eyes moaning out his name. That was when he had lost control. He had picked her up, still kissing her and moved away from the door slowly, to one corner of the room.
She had wrapped her legs around his waist as they continued kissing. He had grasped her butt in his hands and said, “This had to happen- was inevitable!”
Khushi had moaned and he had taken that as her consent. They had moved to the long conference table then. While he sat her down on the table, his hands unfastened the buttons of her blouse. His mouth travelled down her throat, nipping her and then on to the creamy slopes of her breasts, encased in a white lace bra. He had captured one hard peaked nipple in his mouth, making her moan out loud while his hand had travelled to tug up her skirt.
“Arnav, what do you think of Khushi ji’s idea?”
Anjali’s voice broke into his past reminiscences. He shifted uncomfortably, closed his eyes for a second, deeply thankful that the table cloth hid his powerful arousal. In the next second, he opened his eyes and looked at his sister, his face devoid of expression. No one looking at him could imagine that he had been remembering his steamy encounter with Khushi from the past. Not even Khushi herself. In fact she avoided looking at him entirely. Knowing he had himself in control again- for the moment, he stood up, saying ” Frankly speaking, I think I don’t need to give any input at this stage. I do believe Ms Gupta considers herself capable of handling such issues without bothering you too much about it. I do not wish to bore myself with details at this level anyway. ”
Khushi was startled one moment at his confidence in her ability to manage his sister’s wedding plans and outraged the next. How dare he insinuate all her decisions were boring to him? She refused to look at him, gathered her pen and notepad, stuffed them in her bag and stood up too. Flicking an invisible thread from her tunic, she looked at Anjali with a polite smile and said, “In that case, all our plans are set Anjali ji. I must take your leave to immediately make the changes you’ve suggested. I shall see you at the hotel before the Mehandi function. ”
After looking flustered for a couple of seconds, Anjali composed herself, looking very much like her brother when he was about to make the kill. Giving a warm smile to Khushi, she said, “Sounds good Khushi ji.” and directed a sly look at her brother, “Arnav, how about you drop Khushi ji off to where ever she has to go next? I am sure she will appreciate it. Plus it will give you time with each other. ”
At Khushi’s squeak of shocked protest and Arnav’s icy look, she hastily added, “In case you had any suggestions or surprises for me that you might want to talk to her about; this is the opportunity. It’s the least you can do for me, Arnav. You know how I love surprises. ”
While her mind looked at the approaching scenario of time alone with Arnav in the car with horror, Khushi’s body tingled and peaked at various places in excited anticipation. Disgusted with her pathetic physical self, she looked at Arnav, hoping for his protest at his sister’s request, and then hastily looked away from the heat in his eyes. She opened her mouth to protest, but he beat her to it, smoothly agreeing and saying, ” Sounds good. Are you ready to leave Ms Gupta? “
By evening however, Khushi had forgotten all about Shyam and La. She was at home, dressed in her old favourite T-Shirt and jeans, too busy arranging things over the phone, and muttering curses beneath her breath, about spoiled, rich families who couldn’t understand how any change in plans at the last minute affected organizers.
She had just received an email from Anjali Raizada. Khushi had panicked and called her up, to be told very politely but firmly of the change in her plans. She wanted her Mehandi function to take place in the Taj Mahal Hotel instead of at the Raizada Mansion. No reasons given. To top it all, she wanted Shyam to be the photographer of this entire event; none other would do.
“Truly her brother’s sister, no doubt about it with the amount of arrogance with which she gives those orders!” Khushi muttered, and then got annoyed with herself for thinking about ASR. She focused her attention to the changes that had to be made immediately.
“Khushi, the dinner has been ready for about an hour now. I’m really hungry!” Khushi turned back and looked guiltily towards her younger sister, who had been waiting patiently for more than an hour for her. Sending her an apologetic glance, she begged for five more minutes and tuned back in to the phone call.
“Hum samajhte hai aapki baat Mishra ji, par inn amir logo ke nakhre toh aap jaante he hai. Please accommodate to their needs this time around? Aage se, I will be careful you get plenty of notice.”
Khushi was trying to coax the manager of the Taj Mahal hotel to change room bookings. Nothing but the biggest conference hall would do. After some time, a smile spread across her face. She hailed for her victory by raising a fist in the air when the manager finally acceded to her request. She put down the phone with a sigh of relief. Now to make that phone call confirming the change of venue to Anjali Raizada.
“Khushi!” Payal shouted in frustration from the dining room when Khushi was speed-dialing Anjali’s number.
” Give me two minutes darling. Bas do minute! “Khushi replied back to Payal and then gasped when she heard a hiss in her ear and a terse,
“No need to shout in my ear woman, especially when you call someone else your darling.”
Arnav Singh Raizada!
“How was I to know you’d pick up Anjali ji’s phone?” Khushi demanded heatedly and then belatedly realised how that sounded, so she added, “It is none of your business who I call darling anyway. ”
“Wanna bet?”Arnav growled softly over the phone, raising goosebumps all over Khushi’s body. Resolutely, she kept her voice calm, “I don’t like gambling of any sort Mr Raizada. Now if you don’t mind, please hand the phone over to Anjali ji ”
“Why the hurry? Wish to go back to your “darling”, do you? ”
“Would you just bugger off?” Khushi finally got exasperated.
” Make me.” He sounded amused, which made Khushi madder.
“Why should I? I can simply hang up and be done with you. ” She replied with a touch of her own arrogance.
“Do you tremble in his arms too, like you do in mine every time I touch you, every time I kiss you ?”
He delivered this question, his voice going deeper and huskier, making Khushi tremble as he asked softly, “Do you remember that evening Khushi?” and continued, ” I remember that evening Khushi. Just like I remember the morning you came to receive me at the airport. I remember how I took your mouth, how it softened under mine, how your tongue danced with mine. Just thinking about it makes me want to do it again. I remember how your breasts swelled in my hand when I cupped them, how your nipples peaked — ”
“Shut up… stop talking like that!” Khushi gasped, her breath coming fast.
“If it helps, you affect me the same way Khushi. Your breathing has quickened at the thought, hasn’t it? Mine too. ” Arnav growled softly, making Khushi clench her legs together,denying the heat she felt between her legs. She wanted to deny the effect his words had on her, but she couldn’t. So she stayed quiet. After a heart beat, Arnav said softly, “Meet me for dinner tomorrow, Khushi. ”
“It would never do to show him you go weak at the knees when he talks like that, Khushi! Show some backbone!” Some part of her brain that had not turned to mush by his words yet screamed in reprimand. Her mind cleared in an instant, when she recalled the horrible embarrassment she had gone through after those few moments of insanity that evening. She hated her voice for betraying her with its huskiness, but she tried to be cool and dismissing with her words.
“Your ego is astounding Mr Raizada! Let me make something very clear -forget dinner; I don’t want to see you, or even talk to you. You’re mistaken if you think you affect me in any way. Now, either you pass the phone to Anjali ji or I shall hang up.”
“Huh..” Was all he said, and the next second, it was Anjali on the phone saying, “Haan Khushiji, have the changes been made ?”
Khushi breathed deeply to control her anger. When she spoke next, her voice was calm, “Yes, Anjaliji all the arrangements have been made with the changes requested by you. I shall get back in touch with you tomorrow to talk about the arrangement changes needed from your sides for that day. ”
“Come to the Raizada Mansion tomorrow morning Khushi ji if it’s not too much trouble, please? I will ask OP to pick you up from your house and he would also drop you back. I promise it won’t be inconvenient. ” Anjali requested earnestly over the phone.
Khushi could hardly refuse a request made so nicely. Sighing inwardly, she agreed. At least she had to thank Devi Maiyya that Laad Governor was staying at the Taj and not at the Raizada Mansion. She could heard loud voices in the background.
“Come on Anjali bitiya. We are all waiting for you. “A shrill, melodious voice spoke in the background loud enough to make Khushi wince. She knew who it was — another intimidating Raizada; Manorama Mami ji.
“Khushi ji, I shall see you bright and early tomorrow morning at 10:30. ” Anjali declared and with a hasty bye hung up. Khushi sighed loudly and said, ” I don’t have a choice, do I? “
“Khushi, are you listening to a word or am I talking to a zombie ?” Shyam said angrily, exasperated by her thoroughly.
They were in the national gallery of modern art at India Gate since the last two hours, where Shyam was working on his personal company’s assignment. His company had hired a model to pose alongside his exhibition photos for promotion. He had insisted on Khushi going along with him, so that they could discuss and expand the ideas he was working on. Having decided the last night about saying no to his proposal, Khushi thought it might be a good idea to accompany him. She wanted to break it to him gently. After spending the first hour though, she decided to wait for the evening, when they’d be more relaxed while out for dinner.
Startled at his tone, Khushi looked up at him from her ipad and said coldly, “What is wrong with you Shyam? Why are you so annoyed? I was checking out venues that can use your photos post exhibition, for God’s sake! You will need to advertise your work if you wish to succeed.”
“I know I need to publicize, thank you. You don’t have to be so patronising all the time Khushi.” Shyam retorted back and moved away from her, to click some photos of the model posing in front of the painting. “I don’t know why I thought bringing you with me would help in any way.”
Astonished, Khushi looked up at him. She had never heard Shyam use such tones before. She wondered what he meant by that cryptic statement and then observed him closely. He was taking photos, but he acted strange while doing it. He was very brusque with the model, so that she was nearly in tears. She was hiding it well but her eyes glinted with it.
“For heaven’s sake, La! Have you forgotten all the rules of modelling? Don’t you even know how you must pose?” Shyam barked loudly and angrily at the model again as he clicked another picture of her.
Loath to see him in such a mood, Khushi tried to calm him. She intervened by standing next to him, put a hand on his shoulder and spoke softly in his ear, ” Okay, would you stop being nasty and tell me how she must stand and I’ll help her out? Chill out dude. You’re scaring the poor girl.”
Shyam turned angry eyes on Khushi, “Help her then, if you can. I think she’s absolutely incompetent. I don’t know how I thought I’d work with her anyhow!” He tunnelled his hands through his hair, his silver bracelet glinting. The model; La her name was, seemed to be transfixed by it, a stricken expression on her face. Perhaps she had heard what Shyam had said about her, thought Khushi.
Time to take action!” she muttered to herself and came forward, smiling at the model. “Hi La, Shyam’s very particular about his poses. I’ll help you with the poses since some of them are awkward I’m sure. Is that okay?”
La jerked her attention to Khushi from Shyam’s bracelet and nodded frantically, relief evident in her eyes.
Khushi smiled widely at her and Shyam and said, “Right then. Let’s get on with it.”
Slowly the tension in the air fizzled out and La became comfortable enough to pose effortlessly. Khushi liked La immediately after having spoken to her for a while, when helping her pose. She was of Payal’s age, and was modelling for pocket change. Not that she liked it much, La confided in Khushi. According to her, her co-workers were all stuck up and didn’t talk much, apart from bitching about each other, talking about diets and rich boyfriends. She didn’t much like it, and were it not for the fact that she loved posing and seeing her face popping out of the billboards and magazines, she wouldn’t associate herself with the modelling world at all.
It took them a little more than an hour, but they were finally done. Khushi breathed a sigh of relief, seeing both Shyam and Laavanya- or La, as she liked to call herself, relaxed. She smiled at both of them and said, “So if it’s all done now, how about we share a cup of coffee before going separate ways?”
Nothing could have shocked her more when Shyam and La at once spoke up together, “No!” She looked at both of them. La was the first one to speak, though her cheeks were tinged with pink, and Khushi could see she was very uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry Khushi, I can’t. I must leave immediately. I have someone waiting for me.”
“You were not supposed to be free for another hour. So who’d be waiting for you when you’re working?”
Khushi scowled at Shyam as he said this. He sounded so rude! Poor La turned a bright pink, but ignored Shyam. She looked at Khushi desperately and said, “I really do have someone waiting. Don’t mind please. We can meet up some other time maybe? I’ll give you my phone number.”
“I have your phone number. I’ll give it to her. You can go to meet whoever is waiting for you.” Shyam spoke again, his voice so harsh it made Khushi flinch. La simply didn’t respond and at Khushi’s understanding nod, strode off. Shyam looked after her, his face set tight. Khushi rounded on him,
“What in the world is the matter with you Shyam? Did you have to sound so rude to La? You almost made her cry! And your tone! What business is it of yours if she has someone waiting? Anyone would think you were–” She stopped, her eyes going wide with understanding. In a whisper, she said, “You were jealous!”
“What nonsense! Stop imagining things Khushi. I am just not in the mood for this now! Let us go! ” Shyam said gruffly, but he avoided her eyes.
Khushi stood rooted to the spot, going over the entire morning in her head. He was definitely jealous! So who was La to Shyam?
Khushi was having a tough time. Her day that had begun with the nightmare of coming face to face with ASR, had worsened by afternoon by onslaught of guilt and doubt. They had just come back from their meeting, and to say Khushi was astounded by the turn of events was an understatement. She had been mystified by the whole thing when she had set out with Payal this morning to the mystery meeting. She had no idea where they were going, who they were meeting. And when the surprise had been revealed, she had felt thoroughly shocked, somewhere hurt, guilty, regretful, and happy all at once.
Payal, apparently had been seeing her childhood friend and school classmate from England. She had been dating Angus McFarley since the last two years. “Hay Devi Maiyya!” she had muttered to herself, a bit hurt that they’d fallen so far apart that they’d stopped sharing confidences. Not that she blamed Payal one bit from keeping this news from her. She was a grown woman of twenty four, she could maker her own decisions. And of course, Khushi realised that she had never been told because of her own preoccupation with herself. Payal was not the kind of person who would lay down burdens on her sisters’ head, especially when she could see her sister struggling with some of her own.
Khushi felt horribly guilty. After the “brain going dead due to sensual overload” incident with ASR, she had clammed up. She had ignored everything except the need to get away from England. She had never discussed any of it with Payal, but had brutally removed her from her comfortable surroundings, and dragged her to India, without even once asking her if she wanted to relocate. She had ignored the needs of her younger sister and put herself first. She was a horrible elder sister! Not that Payal or Angus saw it that way. They were very understanding of her, and didn’t blame her at all! Angus wanted to ask her permission to marry Payal and take her back to England, where she could continue with her studies if she wanted to, or they could set up a house.
He was a nice bloke, was Angus, Khushi mused. His family had lived next to theirs for years, before his parents died in an unfortunate car crash. She had known his parents- nice people who hadn’t been very social but always had a kind word to say about everyone in the neighbourhood. Angus had been their only child and she was well aware of the pain of becoming an orphan. Perhaps that is how they had first bonded, concluded Khushi, though she remembered Angus had overcome the grief and dedicated himself to making a career. Today, he was financially secure; worked in a bank at a good position and had no hang ups about their culture. Payal was a religious person and like Khushi, prayed to Mata Rani. Angus was a Catholic, but had no aversion to Hinduism. Khushi could hardly say no to Angus after knowing this all.
But stalled them she had. She had requested for time and space to speak with her sister, but really wanted time to get used to the idea of Payal going away from her. After all, she was her only living relation in the world. Right from 12 years back, the time their parents had died, Khushi had taken over as Payal’s legal guardian. They had stayed with their father’s sister who had been declared legal guardian for both the sisters, until Khushi had turned eighteen and found her feet with her first real job. Since then, she had been acting as a guardian for Payal. She had thought she’d been doing a good job, but wasn’t sure anymore. Doubts assailed her from all directions. Would Amma-Babuji have approved of Angus? What would they have said and done had they been alive? Thoughts circled her head all afternoon, like sparrows chirping in a circle, until she felt a headache taking space of the doubts.
“Khushi di, kya baat hai? Are you worried about me? Are you not happy about–”
Speaking from the heart, Khushi blurted out ” Nothing of the sort. I am very happy for you Payal. But I am thinking of Amma-Babuji. They would’ve been so happy. They should’ve been here to take these decisions. How can I decide such things? ”
Tears gathered in Payal’s eyes. She caught her elder sister’s hand and held it lovingly next to her face. “You are my Amma-Babuji Di. You cared for me when they were gone. How can you not be the person to help me decide about my life? Did you not like Angus? Do you think I’m too young to marry?”
Hearing the worry in her sister’s voice, Khushi cursed inwardly. Drat! She didn’t want Payal worrying about things. She shrugged her doubts aside for Payal’s sake and smiled brightly, “You are old enough to marry. Had our parents been alive, they’d have married you off at the same age too, you know. And Angus is a good man. He will keep you happy. If you wish me to bless you guys, then it’s done.”
She was relieved to see a smile on Payal’s face, her eyes twinkling with happiness. Payal hugged her and said, “Thank you Khushi Di. I wouldn’t have felt right had you not been happy for me.” And then the smile turned brighter and she said, “Now that you won’t have to worry about me anymore, you may focus more on your love life. Maybe Shyam –”
Khushi frowned with annoyance and firmly declared, “Oh no. That is one boat that won’t sail at all. He is a good friend and that is who he will remain. ”
“Good, I’m happy with your choice. You need a man who can be your equal Di.” Payal shot this last remark at Khushi’s turned back and went into the kitchen.
And in that moment, Khushi knew she had made the right decision. She was going to say no to Shyam’s proposal. He was a very good friend and a very nice person, but truthfully speaking she couldn’t see herself spending years of companionship with him. She wanted to fall passionately in love and get married to the man of her dreams. A vision of ASR rose up and she gave a horrified gasp. Not him! No! She didn’t mean him as her man of dreams. He was the monster perhaps, said her head, but her accelerated heartbeat and throbbing pulses suggested otherwise.
“Get lost from my head, Alexander Sebastian Rothwell, Arnav Singh Raizada, or whatever it is you like being called, you ASR !” she hissed to herself, moving away from the window facing the roadside.
At the same moment, in one of the several meetings he was to attend that day in his company’s Indian headquarters, ASR looked up from the file he was reading, astonished to hearing his names being hissed.
“What nonsense!” With a jerk, Khushi moved out of his grasp at his words, completely rattled. “I’d thank you to keep your hands and your opinion to yourself.”
“But if I remember correctly, you liked my hands on you.” Said Arnav with dead calm, and watched as pink seeped into her cheeks. She whispered, “How dare you! That — that was — I was distraught and I didn’t realise–“
“Bullshit!” Said Arnav, heating up a little. “Why not be a little honest with yourself and say that you liked it? A little foreplay in the corner might not have been what you wanted, but you did want me. I stopped only because I realised we were at work and I was your employer.”
“I am not standing here and listening to this. If you want to get in that car standing there at the car parking, and go to the hotel, do so, or go to hell.” Shaking with outraged indignation and a little shame because she knew what he said was right, Khushi turned away to leave. Her next breath turned into a gasp, as he caught hold of her hand from behind and pulled her towards him.
“Wha—let me go this instant!” Khushi said, her breath coming in short, fast gasps.
Not hearing her, he pulled her with him into the nearest telephone booth and closed the door.
“Open the door this instant, you…. I don’t want to talk to you at all! Let me go.” Khushi demanded, refusing to struggle like a hysterical heroine in the movie.
Arnav pulled her closer and tighter to him, if that was possible. He pulled her ponytail a bit so that her eyes came up to meet his defiantly. His palm could feel the pulse beating frantically in the nape of her neck; he could feel her nipples peaking against his chest. Her heart was beating like a drum roll, just like his was, at this nearness. There was no doubt in his mind. She was as attracted to him, as he was to her and fighting it with admirable spirit too! Had he been right all these months, thinking that she had disappeared because she had felt the strong pull of attraction to him? He was starting to think he was right.
Feeling a kick of satisfaction in his gut, he growled, “You still want me Khushi Gupta, and God help me, but I still want you—very much. “ He bent a little lower, his breath falling on her face, his soft words caressing her face, “Why is it that you always lie about what you feel? Why do you always hide under the façade of coolness or anger? Is this why you disappeared? “
“I don’t want to talk about this! Why can’t you leave it alone?” Khushi closed her eyes and said despairingly.
“Can you leave it alone? Tell me you didn’t think about me all these months. “Arnav whispered, his lips almost touching hers, feeling her breaths.
Khushi could hardly think; much less speak, for the fear of touching his mouth with hers, and igniting herself in the fiercely burning fire of want. She tried to move her head to one side, but his tight grip on the nape of her neck prevented her.
“Khushi..” Arnav groaned against her mouth, and in the next second touched his lips to her. Desire that was just a flame, turned into a raging inferno for both of them as their mouths touched. Khushi kissed him with abandon, opening her mouth for the invasion of his lips and tongue. They kissed like they’d never want to be apart again. Khushi held on to him like he was her rock of Gibraltar, her hands holding his head, her fingers making scissoring patterns in his hair. Arnav pecked at her lips, her eyes, her cheeks, her jaw and she did likewise. His hands moved from the nape of her neck to her back, her waist and then to her hips, where he held on to her as he kissed her. He moved down to her nape, whispering, “I knew you want me. “
Khushi stiffened in his arms as she heard his whisper, horrified at what she was doing. Had she let go of her senses completely? How could she have let him kiss her, and furthermore, kiss him back with such ardent abandon?
She pushed him away from her, breathing as if she’d run a marathon, and he faltered a step as he lost his grip on her. Khushi looked at him, her eyes glittering pools of brown. Angry tears at her own failure to curb her desire weren’t far away. She made to move out of the telephone booth by pushing him away, but he simply pulled her back to him, her back brushing his chest. He moved the ponytail away and kissed the nape of her neck, breathing hard. Khushi ‘s breath hitched in her throat at the touch of his lips there, and her voice wavered when she spoke, “ You let me go this instant. I never want this to happen again!!”
Arnav bit the lobe of her ear lightly and then licked it to soothe it. Khushi felt herself twitching between her legs, her insides clenching with need, as he spoke, his voice gruff with desire, “Never say never, Khushi. You can’t ignore this attraction between us, any more than I can.”
“Can I not?” Khushi said through gritted teeth, freeing herself finally.
She quickly opened the door and stepped out of the telephone booth. Arnav stepped out from the telephone booth too and walked towards her. Now that she was free of his enveloping presence, she could think clearly. She moved away from him and towards the parking lot, with Arnav following her. Anger at herself for giving in to her carnal lust, and at him for making her feel so vulnerable made her spat, “I can do what I want Mr. Raizada. You don’t have any hold over me, do you hear?”
His thundered face was the testament of how enraged he felt at her words. But he let her words flow past him silently, and walked to the car park, where the car was standing.
The driver of the car got out and watched the scene unfolding in front of his eyes with avid fascination, but wisely kept his distance. He could smell romance in the air, despite all the arguing that was going on. He was being eaten up with curiosity about this girl who dared to be defiant and give Arnav baba hell. No young women he had seen come in contact with him had behaved with anything less than simpering adoration, and he had known Arnav baba since he was a baby. No one got so much attention or emotion. He gathered his thoughts and quickly opened the back door, as Arnav walked briskly up to the car.
Arnav walked briskly up to the car, knowing that Khushi had walked a bit and now stood outside the car park. He turned around and looked back at her. She was staring at him, her expression confused at his behaviour. Their eyes met and he could feel a huge wave of some unknown emotion rise within him. He felt an overwhelming need to see a different emotion in her eyes, anything but this confusion that reflected his own feelings. He said, “In a way, I am still your employer you know. I am paying for my sister’s wedding. So you see Khushi, I still have a hold over you. See you later.”
The utter horror and shock etched on her face at his announcement must have satisfied him perhaps, because the next moment, he sat in the car and was driven away. He kept on replaying the look he had left Khushi with in his mind until he reached his room, freshened up, had his dinner and stood outside the room balcony, eyeing the city bright with lights, with a glass of neat scotch whiskey in his hand. A smirk came on to his face that turned into a huge grin. He chuckled loudly and then the chuckle turned into a laugh. Still laughing, he lay down on the bed and under the covers. Sighing deeply as if relieved in some manner, he closed his eyes and fell asleep with the same look, his mind occupied with Khushi.
Shyam looked at Khushi as she hung up and put the mobile back in her bag. She looked back at him, her eyes unfocussed. She was already thinking about business; about Anjali’s brother who would have to be picked up from the airport tomorrow because he had made a last minute decision to join in the festivities. Apparently he was against this wedding, and had decided not to attend it earlier. She could cheerfully wring his neck were he not an important part of the client’s family. Now she could have to rearrange everything from sitting positions, cards to family presentation details.
“Khushi! I swear to God sometimes I wonder if you live on another platform!” Shyam’s outraged voice brought her back. Khushi patted on his back in a friendly way, and smiled warmly at him, “You know I am a little like that. But you like me despite my eccentricities. Now be a good fellow and help me out.”
“With what?” Asked Shyam, putting an arm around her good naturedly, his ill humour forgotten with her warm smile.
Khushi looked at him teasingly, “Your grammar is a bit sloppy, isn’t it? “
Shyam gave her a crooked smile, “Well now, you know me honey. I don’t care about such things. And there’s always everyone’s take on how to speak things you know.”
Khushi snorted delicately and gave him a smart tap on his shoulder, “Huh! Just admit you like being a little out of ordinary yourself Mr. Shyam Jha! Now to business- I need your help. This new client has a brother who is arriving tomorrow. I want someone to go and pick him up from the airport.”
“No can do sweetheart. I have an early morning meeting. You need to do this yourself. “ Khushi groaned inwardly, but conceded she would have to do it. Another black mark against her as an elder sister, she thought to herself guiltily. Payal had asked her this morning, if she could keep her diary free for tomorrow, and she had assured her that nothing would come in the way.
Khushi’s face must’ve shown some of her inner regret and sadness, because Shyam held her chin up and said, “Khushi, don’t be sad! Look if you don’t want to go to the airport to receive this fellow, just let them know you can’t. They can’t hang you for simply not going to receive him. After all, it is last moment notice.”
That got Khushi out of her reverie. She couldn’t afford to lose this account, for Payal’s sake. She made herself smile as naturally as she could and said, “It’s alright. I was just thinking about something I’d seen on the TV earlier and it made me sad. That’s all.”
“Khushi!!” said Shyam exasperatedly and they both laughed together.
Khushi was at the airport to receive Anjali’s brother at four the next morning. She had hated getting out the bed and dressing up, but had no choice. Keeping her dress code casual formal, she had worn blue jeans with a pale green Shirt, topped it with an Olive green short jacket. Her hair was tied in a sleek ponytail and her feet were ensconced in green sandals with kitty heels. A pale pink gloss was all the make-up she had put on.
The placard in her hand read Alexander Sebastian Rothwell. She wondered at the name for a minute. Strange for Anjali to have a brother who sounded foreign. Maybe an English mother? She shrugged her shoulders mentally and yawned. What did she care? All she knew was that she was to receive him, drop him to the Taj Palace Hotel and go back home to snuggle down back into the covers for an hour or two, before accompanying Payal to whatever mystery place she wanted to take her to.
Arrival of the flight from New York was announced, and Khushi jerked herself awake. Holding the placard high in her hand, she stood a little apart from the throng of others who were waiting for their guests at the arrival gate. As soon as people starting coming out of the gate, Khushi looked around, hunting for a white Caucasian male to get out and look at her placard. She kept on looking, until almost everyone had left.
Had she missed him ? Had he not come after all? She turned around and checked people passing by. Nope, didn’t look like he was among them either. So where the devil was he?
“Of all the people in the world—Are you here to receive me by any chance?”
The hairs on the back of her neck and hands stood up as Khushi heard the voice she had never wanted to hear again. Slowly, keeping her wits about her, she turned around and nearly fainted. ASR stood there, with his hands in his pockets, his expression unreadable in the faint light. He looked up at the sign she was holding and said resignedly, “It had to be you. ”
He had not changed a bit in the last year, thought Khushi as she looked at him. In his thirty-third year now, he was still broodingly handsome, with a day’s stubble on his face and those amber eyes that seared her body. Her heart beat fast as she tried to get over her shock.
“But I’m here to receive a Alexander Sebastian Rothwell, not you.”
He looked forbidding and bored, as she said, “Take your pick. ASR – Arnav Singh Raizada or Alex Seb Rothwell, I’m still the same person you’ve come to receive at the airport. Now if you’d stop imitating a gold fish, I’d like to go to the hotel please. Or is it too much to hope that a room has been booked for me?”
Khushi flushed pink with anger at his tone and his words. Closing her mouth that had been wide open with shock, and holding her emotions in control, she spoke to him coolly, “A room has been booked for you in the Taj Palace, as per your sister’s instructions. If you will please follow me, I’ll take you to the car that will take you to the hotel.”
His gaze moved to her head where her hair was tied neatly in a ponytail. He observed, “You’ve grown your hair. It is longer than I last saw it.”
Khushi was startled at this piece of observation from him. He had noted the length of her hair and remembered it from last year? She refused to feel that small burst of excitement in her belly and replied with coolness she didn’t feel, “Yes, I have grown it. Now, if you please—“
“Do I disturb you?” He asked and Khushi goggled at him.
“What ? I –“ Khushi started and then, alarmed took a step back when he stepped forward. “What are you doing?”
A couple of inches that had separated them vanished as Arnav came closer. His eyes were dark and searching. Khushi tried to look away from him. In the next instant she felt a hand on her chin, and rough growl, “Stop turning away from me. “ Khushi closed her eyes childishly, refusing to look at him, shivering by the touch of his hand on her chin. He bent a little to bring his face close to her and said softly, “Yes, I do believe I disturb you.”