Chapter 19C: Flashback in Italics
“Aowww damn it!” Khushi swore and despite several lectures to not go there, her brain transported her to the time and the incident when he had taken her to his beach house in Goa for the weekend before he had proposed.
Arnav had been giving her a tour of his beach house, if a 3,000 square feet of elegancy could be called a beach house. It looked more like a picture out of the “House” magazine. The interior of the house was stunning with loads of space, creamy walls, French windows that opened out to the beach, with hardwood floors.
Khushi inspected the house with her hands on her hips, her mouth open at the beauty of the interior and the art pieces that graced the walls and some well known sculptures adoring the living room.
“Huh.. so you call this a beach house? It should be declared an art gallery. Khushi murmured as she gazed at the painting that depicted the ocean trees around it and people dancing around the camp fire. She looked at him with raised eyebrows, “ Memory sketched into painting?”
“Hardly something that I’d leave to adorn the walls of my living room.” Arnav sniggered and then said, “Nah, this is the scene from ‘the night in the Bahamas’ collection.”
Khushi rolled her eyes, “Another display of your wealth Arnav.. same difference. I wonder why do you do that?”
“You know why Khushi and I don’t see anyone else complaining.” Arnav shrugged
“Yes, of course. Who’d dare defy THE Arnav Singh Raizada? There’s also the fact that many cater to the whims of the rich in the society we live in, regardless of whether they like the person or not. Thank God I am reasonably poor as compared to you.” Khushi joined her hands in her usual gesture while praying to her Devi Maiyya.
Arnav looked at her, “How unambitious of you!” then called for Mrs De’Souza while letting Khushi know that she and her husband take care of this house in his absence and keep it ready for him all the year around in case he pops by. Khushi raised her hands to her face, cupping her mouth and her eyes wide, “OMG Arnav! Such extravagance! Wonder how you live with yourself. You could donate the amount you spend to keep this house ready for you or fund an – never mind. Everyone has their eccentricities and this is yours.”
They moved towards the living room area and into the wing of guest rooms that began with a huge hallway.
“This is your room. I hope you like it.” Arnav said, opening the door to reveal a set of rooms painted in apricot and cream. “I’m on the other side of the house. If you need me, just call me through the house intercom.”
As they left the guest wing and entered the living room area, Khushi said, “Why’d I need you Arnav? You brought me here ‘cos you needed me to help you with your project. I won’t need you.”
“You’re so sure you won’t need me?”Arnav raised an eyebrow. At his question, Khushi shrugged. Just because she liked him didn’t mean she will call for him at night, even if the dark scared her. She could always sleep with the lights on. She wanted him to see she was his equal, maybe more than a match for him at work. She absolutely didn’t want to think of him on personal basis. She kept the lid of her emotions closed tight when it came to Arnav Singh Raizada. There was no way she was going to let the events of the past repeat themselves. She was determined to keep him at an arm’s distance. She smiled sweetly and affirmed, “Very sure. If I think about it, it is you who needs me and not me who needs you.”
Arnav looked at her, his head cocked to one side, “How is it that I need you Khushi?”
Khushi felt this moment called for a bit of a bold statement. He was always the one in control while her emotions raged rampantly everywhere every time they were together. Time to give him the taste of his own medicine.
Khushi smiled, “You, Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada are always looking around for me when you need a file or a document or when you wish to talk to me about Aakash and Payal and how fed up you are of Aakash always lost in his day dreams and not paying attention to what you are saying, etc. You hound me with the help of your mobile and don’t let me sleep.. telling me I’m the only one you think you can talk to. Remember the time in the office where you came after me, annoyed because I had left my mobile phone behind during lunch and you wanted to know where the Singhania folder with contract documents might be? You almost had a nervous breakdown then.”
“That’s a gross exaggeration if I’ve ever heard one.” Arnav said and took a step forward towards her, a glint in his amber eyes indicating he was a little annoyed.
As he stepped forward, Khushi took a step back. She mentally noted that she stepped back every time he came forward. Was she afraid? Nah! An inner devil prompted her to say, “You may not want to own up to it but it’s true. When have I needed you for anything?”
Her question with arched eyebrows met silence from Arnav. His amber eyes held hers and she saw a flicker of emotion there, hot fire that she had come to become wary of. She took another step back, a tiny thrill going down her spine and a surge of adrenaline rushing through her body. Arnav was looking at her with that hot fire in his eyes. Those eyes were going to kill her one day, with the way they looked at her, as if they could look right into her, deep down and reach the basic level of her emotions, the foundation of her being. With heat in his eyes, he leaned in a little closer, tantalizing her nose with the smell of his aftershave. He smelled like deep, dark wood that bound mystery and fantasy into one. He leaned a little more close as she leaned back.
Slowly, deliberately, very deliberately Arnav placed his right hand on the wall next to Khushi’s shoulders and then just as slowly placed his left one on the other side, trapping her between him and the wall. Leaning closer, so close that their bodies nearly touched, he said softly, “You know what i think? I think you’re lying Khushi. I think you have needs too; needs that you need me for.”
His husky voice sent shivers down her spine. His body warmth felt like a live wire, wrapping itself around her body. She felt her tummy tingle and tighten. She stuttered but carried on firmly, “Of c-course I have needs. I need 7 hours of sleep every night, the more the better, I need three full meals a day, snacks in between, challenging work, daily regime of 20 minutes of exercise while I-“
“-lie naked in my bed.”
Khushi’s mouth dropped open in sheer shock, her cheeks going from bright pink to red. Her heart stopped for a second, then re-started and then beat faster. She snapped her mouth closed immediately in panic lest it be taken as an invitation. Her mind scrambled to think of a fitting retort but came up blank. Her mind had gone in deep freeze, it seemed.
Arnav leaned even closer as his mouth met her ear. He didn’t attempt to kiss her ear, instead whispered sexily in it, “Actually twenty minutes may be too quick. I’d recommend a minimum of forty or even the entire day if possible.” His eyes when he leaned back met hers.. sexual hunger apparent in them.
Khushi was tongue-tied, literally! Still blushing, she tried to speak, urging her brain to wake up an come with a sharp retort. She lifted her chin, her heart beating like jungle drum of one-two dance, making her head spin and her body ultra-alive. “Thanks for the offer but I believe there’s plenty of exercise I can do without troubling you.”
Arnav’s eyes laughed at her, “Really?”
She fought the sudden urge to let her eyes smile back at him. She let her imagination run wild in the other direction so that she could distract herself from the fact that he was too close to her right now. She knew the style of warm-up and the aerobic activity he was talking about- the one that ended in bed and in tears. She recommended a cool-down phase to her body as she said, “ Uhh.. yes. The things I have in mind don’t require me to – they require no nudity at all.”
‘But nudity is good. You’re naked when you bathe.”
“Yes, good logic but I bathe in private. In public, I prefer clothes on my body.”
Arnav’s mouth leaned closer to her ear again, practically grazing her earlobe. She was sensitive there. A zing went through her body at that contact and she almost stopped breathing when he said, “But I can show you how the right activity can motivate you to be…naked” and after a pause “with me.”
Her heart beat at such a frantic speed that she was sure he could hear it out loud. She loved the feel of his lips on her earlobe and the tender skin that he had decided to explore below, oh so slowly. A shiver ran down her as he caught her ear this time between his teeth and held it. He was teasing her, he was tormenting her and he wanted her to melt in his arms. Something that Khushi knew she loved but should definitely avoid.
But how can she ignore this ache inside her, making her feel the driving need to do exactly as he was saying? When she stayed quiet, he whispered again into her ear, “Come on Khushi, admit it. You do like the idea of being naked with me, maybe even skinny dipping in the night in the sea with me.”
Khushi fought hard but a grin surfaced and stuck to her mouth. Arnav sounded as if he was getting a little frustrated that she was silent and not responsive enough. That she was fighting. She decided there was no harm in some fun at his expense. Anyway, she was intrigued about those things he’d said. She deliberately let her eyes go unfocused as if she was thinking, “I – don’t know Arnav. Maybe- once I’m done with all the activities there are to do out here on the beach, all by myself.”
His reply was to kiss her throat and bite the side of it gently as if punishing her for torturing him. The touch of his lips on her throat; a brief touch and the light bite set the fire in her body roaring. He licked the place where he had bitten making he visibly shiver as he asked, “-activities by yourself, eh? What kind of activities?”
Khushi sighed, her voice dropping to a whisper, heat in her body growing my mini-second, “Everything. There’s endless number of activities I can occupy myself with this weekend here.”
“Name ‘everything’. Name a few of them.” Arnav kissed the collarbone, licking the nerve throbbing there. Khushi gasped as his tongue flicked the region of her collarbone. “I’m waiting Khushi.” He added just before sliding his mouth up the neck, to her ear and kissing her ear.
Khushi felt her thoughts becoming a complete muddle in her head at this gesture. She felt as if her brain had decided to take leave and go away from her body. Her skin was on fire everywhere his mouth had touched. She grabbed his shirt front and clung to him, moving closer. She needed contact, more contact of her body to his.
“Khushi?” Arnav prompted. Khushi tried to think, tried hard while he continued touching her, kissing her. Her mouth dried, her belly tied into knots when he reached the neck of her halter top. She wanted him to touch her, wanted his hands down her ribs, playing with her breasts, under her breasts, sliding down the complete length of her. She was trying hard not to think of how his mouth was moving over the line of her tank top when sudden inspiration made her speak up. “Swimming.”
He was smart and had not lost his senses yet. “That’s one activity. What else?”
“Isn’t that enough?” Khushi was barely able to speak, her voice turning hoarse with desire.
“No, not enough. Tell me more.” Arnav answered, his hands moving to her face, cupping it, titling the head while the side of her neck was exposed. His fingers moved towards her nape and caressed her there. Khushi shuddered. She had no idea this was one of her erogenous spots. His lips followed his hands, kissing an invisible spot on the nape of her neck. At the touch there, Khushi’s chest came out to meet his and a moan dragged from her mouth, “Arnav stop please!”
“Your actions belie your words Khushi.” Arnav chuckled as Khushi gripped his shirt tighter holding him closer to her, pressing herself against him. He had turned devious though. “You said endless number of activities.”
He was touching her, tasting her and literally driving her crazy. How could she think when she was being bombarded by sensations from head to toe? She choked as she said, “jogging.”
“That’s two activities.”
‘jogging” Khushi said, the word turning into a moan as he moved her to face the wall, her back to him. He moved closer, his hands slowly sliding down the exposed back. He kissed her ear again from the back and said, “more Khushi?”
Khushi could only moan and say, “yes!” She heard the chuckle as he said, “so tell me, what more activities do you have in mind?”
Khushi looked back at him, her eyes betraying the fire burning inside her body and she spoke again, “jogging-“
He kissed her again by the ear, “you already said that honey.” Khushi could feel the fire burning, the heat building. This was nothing to be taken lightly and she’d been a fool to have provoked him, she accepted. This was wild- this passion and it was making her wild with need. It was new to her and very strong and she didn’t know how to handle this. She wriggled, helplessly moving backwards until her back touched his chest completely and she could feel the hard stomach and something harder beneath that stomach. She tried to speak, “snorkelling, sailing in the boat, sailing in the boat-“
“One activity can be counted only once Khushi.” Arnav said, almost losing his control when Khushi moved her hips against his stomach, making him harder than he already was for her. He desired her so intensely that he wanted to run his hands on her bare thighs and put his hands under her short skirt. But he was strong and he could control. He didn’t want to touch her below her waist yet. Not yet. At this moment, he didn’t want to stop this torture and this slow fire that burned their bodies. He waited.
“What about kissing? That’s an activity.” Khushi sighed, turning towards him again. She wanted to touch those lips, she needed them on hers.
He was the ultimate tease though. He didn’t kiss her despite knowing she wanted it. He lifted his head and moved a little away from her, considering her question. It brought a groan of need out of Khushi’s lips as she said, “Please Arnav. I need you to kiss me. Stop this teasing.”
He bent towards her, his elbows bending by the sides so that he was completely leaning onto her, crushing her chest with his and grinding his hips against hers. She responded back in kind and moaned. He still didn’t kiss her.
Suddenly Khushi couldn’t stand it anymore. She reached up to him, winding her arms around his neck and dragging his mouth to meet hers. She slashed his lips with her tongue and kissed him hard. Her lips parted again for him to enter. She wanted to open for him all the way. She couldn’t resist. She wanted to experience him, feel her blood racing across her veins, inside out. The kiss deepened while she grew soft and pliant in his arms. This was the best sensual experience that she’d ever had yet. She wondered what it’d be like if she surrendered totally to her needs.
As if sensing what she was thinking, Arnav lifted his head and took a deep breath. He moved a little away from her now, breaking body contact and then coming back again to press himself harder as he said, “So.. We’ve proved that you do need me, even if it is not naked then at least for a kiss.”
It took some time for the statement to penetrated Khushi’s desire fogged mind but as she did, she pushed him away, horror written plainly over her face at what she’d done, what she’d said to him. Arnav smiled slightly as she started smoothing her top and straightening her skirt that had ridden a little higher.
Her lips tingled and her body was still aching for his, the fire of need going strong. Khushi clamped it down by saying briskly, ignoring his statement, “Thanks for the house tour. I’m going to go into my room and- freshen up. I know where everything is now.”
“I do too Khushi.” Arnav’s smile stretched wider, laughter just beneath the warm glint of his amber eyes. Khushi blushed again as the meaning of his sentence seeped in. She gritted her teeth, gave him a blank smile and moved away. She didn’t really look where she was heading to. All she wanted to do was move away from his physical presence and calm herself down. The result of not looking where she was going was that she bumped her nose into the wall and wailed, “oowww!! Bloody hell!”
Immediately Arnav came to her rescue, concern all apparent in his eyes, “Khushi!” He took her hands away from the nose and looked at it. Then tut-tutted, “you’re so careless I swear! Dekh kar nahi chal sakti! Stupid woman. Idhar aao ab! Come with me.” He caught her hand in his and started walking towards the kitchen.
Khushi blushed with embarrassment and outrage. She tried to remove her hand from his, “How dare you call me stupid! You- you… “
“I don’t like you swearing but you just won’t listen to me, would you? So go ahead. You can swear as much as you want. There’s a small scratch on your nose. Just let me clean it and put a Band-Aid there. The first aid box is in the kitchen cabinet.”
He made her sit down on one of the chairs by the kitchen table and took out the first-aid box. Slowly he wiped her nose with a piece of damp cotton.
“I don’t want to put a Band-Aid on my nose. If you’re insisting, just apply some cooling ointment and I’ll be fine.”
Arnav looked at her in exasperation and finally acceded, “Okay. But after this, you go to your room and rest. I don’t want you moving about for at least two hours. Samjhi tum?”
Khushi huffed but stayed still as he applied the cooling antiseptic cream. Inwardly she loved the attention and care he showed for her. He looked so adorable when he was like this- his eyes hard and focused on her nose, at the wound while his hands ever so gentle. She made a hissing sound once and he stopped, his eyes watching her face to catch a glimpse of any pain he may have caused. He said, “sorry” once and then became gentler than before while applying and rubbing the cream on her nose. Khushi felt as if she would melt on the spot and thanked God she was sitting in the chair.
She came out of her memories as she applied the moisturizer on her face, taking extra care to be gentle to the spot on her nose that had turned a little red. A huge sigh left her. If only he’d show that side to her again, convinced her that the gentle side of Arnav Singh Raizada was there to stay, she’d think of opening up to him again.
Checking her reflection once again, she picked up her purse and left the room. It was time to meet Arnav at the Barista parking.
Do forgive me if you find any mistakes despite having proof-read the chapter beforehand. My eyes are killing me right now with that acne inside the right eyelid. 😦
A bright new morning woke Arnav up from his peaceful slumber with a smile upon his face. Obviously the reason for this smile was his dream about Khushi and the much anticipated day out with her. Sleep had eluded him last night for a long while his guilt of his earlier treatment of her gnawed at his soul.
He wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to forgive himself for all that he had done to hurt Khushi. Ironic wasn’t it, that he had been the one to hurt her the most when he was supposed to be the one to bring utmost happiness into her life. After much pacing around the room, he had decided that his current modus operandi of winning back Khushi was the right step if ever wanted to live peacefully with his conscience and in his life with the woman he loved. He sat up, stretched and headed purposefully towards the bathroom with his newspaper, a spring in his step.
Khushi had been up and about long before Arnav woke up. She had been roaming about in the garden thinking constantly about where she would take Arnav today and how they’d spend the day. Strange that she didn’t really feel her sanity endangered as she would have a month back. The only feeling that persisted was an exciting fizz in her stomach as her heart wondered what may happen during the day time when they were alone together. She mocked herself- a month back, she’d have run miles with the thought of spending any alone time with Arnav at all, but things had changed today, and so quickly too! She was ready to spend time with him without any coercion or seduction.
She refused to become anxious and kept the worries her head warned her off at the back of her mind. Now was not the time to be scared or give in to cowardice. This was the time to face Arnav, show him how unsuitable she found him the way he was, with his “kiss-my-feet-I-am-the-King” attitude. However there was a part of her head that rang alarm bells and made her body nerveless, the part that reminded her of how cruel he could be.
This was not to say he was all bad, her heart argued with that part of her brain. He was kind, loving and generous to the people he loved or cared for. He may be ruthless and not give a damn in the business world but he had never mistreated any employee. Sure, when he got angry the whole office could walk on eggshells for all her cared but he was never unfair. As long as the company employees worked in his well-oiled office, giving their best performances, he was happy.
In his personal life, Khushi had seen more than one example of how he behaved with people he cared for and people he disliked. She had seen both the sides of him. The side that worshipped her sister, the side that kept people he had to socially interact with but regarded with distaste at bay, without being rude or impolite, the side that was nice to children and the side that desired her so much so that–Drat! Despite her rigorous efforts, her heart kept on sending memory messages to the brain bank, taking it back to the events of the past.
The time when Arnav had cornered her in the office at a party, the time at Raizada house, at the tennis club, the day when they all went to the temple for special prayer and how he asked for her forgiveness with his eyes for his earlier behaviour kept coming up. And that was not all- the time when he had gotten mad with rage when she had refused to go out with him and break her date with another of her friends guided by plain jealousy, the times when he would catch her unawares with his eyes, the times when he would be there to take care of her and protect her before she came through any harm, the weekend at the Goa beach house when they had finally given in to the feelings and desires, the wild night of passion on the beach that had followed the weekend; all of these memories kept wanting to surface again and again while she pushed them back.
Khushi told herself that this was not the time to indulge or live in past memories; not when there was new memory to be made – the one that would be the first step towards deciding whether Arnav was worthy of her love or not. She had given it unconditionally earlier but now, she would keep it safe until she was sure he deserved it.
Last night, she had informed her grandmother of her decision and had been wished good. Mrs. Gupta had been surprisingly calm about it, simply reminding Khushi that her happiness rested in her own hands and if she thought Arnav worthy of a second chance one way or another, she should throw all the doubts out from her mind as one throws garbage out of the house. Negativity needs to get out letting positive thoughts take hold of the mind so that peace may prevail.
Khushi had kissed her grandmother good night and assured her that she will first and foremost look at the positive side and only then count the negatives against the positives. However she would also make sure, she vowed to herself, that she would not fall into the trap of physical longing this time and give in to his demands and wishes.
She grabbed her bag from the nearby table to check the contents of her bag, to ensure everything she’d need in the span of this day was there.
She was dressed today in a blue Kurta that had little white flowers embroidered on it with white tights. The sleeves of the Kurta were organza fabric and the dress was her favourite cotton for summers. She was about to put on her glasses and then debated with herself. Should she wear her lenses? Maybe not. She didn’t want Arnav to think she was wearing lenses especially because of him. She put on her glasses more firmly on the nose. So firm was the push that she got hurt on both sides of her nose by the frame of the glass.
“Aowww damn it!” Khushi swore and despite several lectures to not go there, her brain transported her to the time and the incident when he had taken her to his beach house in Goa for the weekend before he had proposed.
Hello readers! Here’s presenting the next chapter. As usual, shall wait for your likes and comments. 🙂 I have decided to divide this chapter into A-B-C sections so that I am able to do justice to all the thoughts portrayed by Arnav, Khushi, their outing as well as the flashback that is an essential part of this chapter. Enjoy 19 A. 19B comes tomorrow. 🙂
Chapter 19 A:
Time seemed to have stopped for Arnav as he waited for her in Barista, occupying one of the love seats near the glass window. He kept looking at his watch every five minutes, waiting for his happiness personified; his Khushi to enter. She was late today and it was already quarter to five. It was also very unlike her since Khushi was always the one girl he knew who prided on her punctuality. He was anxious, no he was worried. His heart was sure he would come to meet him, but his logical mind gave him doubts. His head kept on telling him, he was insane to think she’d even entertain this meeting in her head in any way. Khushi in a way, was as ruthless as he was.
His heart refused to admit defeat though. Now that he knew what he felt for Khushi was way beyond lust, maybe even love he was not ready to let her go. He closed his eyes and willed his heart and mind to become one thought, one purpose. And just as quickly opened them. She was here!
Khushi entered the cafe after a lot of contemplation. It was alright to sit in the room and decide that she’d meet him. But when the time came to actually see him, she had grown cold feet. She’d been standing outside the cafe, in the parking lot since the last one hour, since the time she’d seen Payal off at the railway station. She hadn’t been able to muster enough courage until now to get her feet to move towards the cafe. It was constant encouragement that her head had given to her “almost-faint-with-anxiety”heart that had made her finally move ahead. She looked at herself in the glass doors. She had not particularly dressed up to meet Arnav today. In fact, her defiance had been such that she had donned her glasses, and worn a salwar kurta. She knew Arnav would expect her in her natural look-jeans and T-shirt with no make up on. That had made her wear a bit of make up too. She had braced herself for the astonished looks from Payal and her grandmother when she’d come down her room. Both had done exactly that but kept quiet. For that, she was grateful.
It had been alright until she had said goodbye to Payal and made her way to the cafe. Doubts about her appearance came up then. Was she overdressed? Had she applied too much make-up? What would he think when he’d see her like this? She’d gained weight and looked curvy. Maybe wearing salwar kurta had been a bad idea since she looked very – filled in in her dress. And why did she choose the red one when she had been planning to wear the blue one? She kicked herself several times mentally for her dress, her looks. She worried non stop all the way and while standing outside for an hour.
Debate raged on in her head if she should go home and change. Finally, a bell rang in her head and her heart eagerly complied to this thought. What did it matter how she looked? She was giving him a chance to gain her trust, her love; not the other way round. He should be worried about how he’d behave with her, and she should not at all bother to look good for him!
Arnav knew the exact second Khushi came in as his breath hitched in his throat. She was wearing red! Nothing else could have put that smile on his face as that dress did. He knew in an instant that it must be have been an unconscious decision because from the way he looked, he knew Khushi had dressed up in defiance. Khushi almost never went for make-up if she could help it and today she was wearing it. Earlier Khushi would’ve worn a pair of jeans and a top to defy him but no more. Today she wore an Indian traditional dress to signify that she wished to follow the old fashioned rule of courting. Her glasses, that had been absent in Delhi told him that she wanted to him to see her with her as she was. So she wore glasses, so she had bad eye sight. What she didn’t realize is that such things didn’t bother him. It may have at one point in time, but no more. She could wear sack clothes and dress like a clown and he’d still find her beautiful.
Khushi felt his presence a split second before she saw him sitting like a royal prince in one of the love seat by the glass window. Hesitation and discomfort took hold of her being. Was she doing the right thing by coming here to hear him out? But how could she not? She had promised Jiji and herself that she’d give him a fair chance. She looked at him again while she walked towards him. Her heart beat just that little quicker seeing him dressed casually. The man was a powerful dynamo and no matter what he wore, he still looked dazzling.
She schooled her features into a mask and gave him a polite smile as she took the other seat. “Hope you’ve not been waiting long, sorry am late.” she said.
Arnav raised his eyebrow and smiled, “What happened to Hi?”
She never even cracked a smile, “Hi.”
Arnav smiled in acknowledgement. “Hi. It was no problem waiting for you. If needed, I’d have waited all my life. What happened though? You’re never late.”
“I – got waylaid by something.” Khushi grabbed the first excuse that came to her mind. Thankfully Arnav didn’t question her any further on it. Instead he asked, “What would you like for refreshments? An espresso as usual?”
“I’ve changed a bit Arnav. I don’t drink espresso anymore.” To the standing waiter she smiled and said, “one mocha please.”
Arnav ordered his usual double shot of espresso and said, “So you’re off espresso?”
“Not really but I don’t feel like drinking espresso so often any more. Even when I do, I drink cappuccino or mocha these days.” Khushi replied.
They stayed quiet for some time but it was not the kind of quiet that was uncomfortable. It surprised Khushi to feel that while they were quiet, the comfort level of simply sitting there with him was very high. She was not at all on the edge! Instead, some part of her was waiting for him to speak on the main topic, the reason for which she had today agreed to meet him. Apparently, he didn’t intend to speak about it as yet.
Arnav looked covertly from under his lashes as they waited for the coffee to arrive. She looked prepared to sit with him and talk. It encouraged him a lot more than he’d have thought and granted him the strength to hold on until after the coffee had arrived. His earlier instinct had been to quit all this wooing and courting. When she came in to the cafe, he had looked as if she’d run away if he even spoke a word. His heart wanted him to simply go down on his knees and beg her to come back to him but now he realized she waited for him to court him in the right way, thereby earning her love back. He was ready to go it.
When the coffee arrived, he thanked the waiter and said to her, “Do you come here often with your friends?”
Khushi picked up her mocha cup with care as she replied, “Sometimes. I don’t go out much. Mostly I like to take my car and go away on a long drive. Sometimes I simply go to Bhimtal or sometimes to the nearby towns.”
“Your maternal family has always stayed here, in that house?” asked Arnav.
Khushi took a sip of her mocha and said, “As a matter of fact, yes. My mother grew up here and was married from here. Everyone out here knows our family and gives it the respect it has earned. My grandfather build two schools out here; one for the girls and one high-school. He along with my grandmother had been one of the most loved couples. Even today, grandmother is respected throughout the town. I love this town and have been coming here for my holidays since I was kid. I know all there is to know about the town and the nearby places simply because I thought one day I may settle down here and maybe manage grandmother’s estate. I guess I will be doing that.”
Arnav ignored the red herring. “I’ve been to Nainital before but only when business demanded it and only for a day or two. I never got a chance to know much about the city.” Arnav said, finally taking the first step towards his well thought out plan. “Can you tell me something about it?”
This request surprised Khushi. She had thought he would simply come to the point, as he always did and demand that she forgive him. If she was honest with herself, she felt a new pleasure in knowing that he wanted to know something about the place she loved.
She sat quietly for a bit and then spoke, “Do you know how the name Nainital came to be?” At the shake of his head, she smiled, “It’s something to do with the story of Shiva and Sati. Did you know that they were the first lovers of the Universe ? When Sati died, Shiva was devastated. He was inconsolable, he roamed about the universe with Sati’s dead body in his hand until Lord Vishnu cut Sati’s body into pieces. It is said that Sati’s eye fell in the lake here. The eye is called “Nain” in Sanskrit and lake is called “tal”. Thus the place got its name Nainital.”
“Lovely story that despite being mythical sounds reasonable. And the lake is quite something, isn’t it.”Arnav mused. He wasn’t religious but he knew Khushi was and it would not do well to mock her sentiments at any time. In fact, he could actually empathise with Shiva. To lose the one woman you love is devastating.
A first genuine smile appeared on Khushi’s lips since the time she had entered the cafe. She said, “Nainital is called “lake paradise” and Naini lake is one of the main attractions for the tourists. Kingfisher yacht race takes place here. It is also a great source of fresh water and fresh water fish. In this season you will find yachts, boats; both paddle and rowing boats aplenty on the lake. If you have the time or the inclination, you can go there and enjoy an afternoon out.”
“Hmm..”was all Arnav said as she gulped down his espresso. Then, as if thinking about it, he said, “What are the other places to see in and around Nainital?”
Khushi raised her eyebrow, “You plan to make this a touristy visit Arnav?”
Aranv nonchalantly shrugged his shoulder, “I’m here as long as I need to be here to convince you that I’m not that bad a guy and do deserve a second chance.”
Khushi hurriedly looked down. A thought occurred to her, “So you’re not here on business?”
Arnav shook his head slowly, his gaze showing the seriousness of his reply, “No Khushi, I’m here simply for you. My business is on hold until I can prove myself worthy in your eyes as well as my own. “
“Arnav–” Khushi started to shake her head but was ruthlessly cut off as Arnav said, “Please Khushi, let me finish. By coming here, you’ve given me a ray of hope that maybe I still hold a modicum of respect, a place in your heart somewhere. I know that I have wronged you badly but all I am asking you to do is give me some time to prove I am still worthy of your thoughts, your love. After that, if you still can’t find any love for me in your heart, I will leave. I will never ever bother you.”
“I don’t know how to do it Arnav.” Khushi placed her situation in front of him honestly. “Even if I may forgive you, even I found it in my heart to love you, how will I ever live with the fact that you once thought of me as-”
“Stop, please. Let the past be where it is for now. All I am asking you to do Khushi is to look at me without colouring me from what happened between us in the past. Let this be a new beginning? ”
“How?” Asked Khushi, bewildered. Her heart wanted to give him a chance, desperately even though her mind quaked at the thought of it.
“Spend the day with me tomorrow. Show me the places you like in Nainital tomorrow Khushi.” Arnav put forward his proposition at a gaping Khushi.
“You want to see Nainital with me? Why?”
“I want to see it the way you see it. I want to know the reason why you love this town. Will you show it to me Khushi?”
She could have said no, but a part of Khushi wanted to do that–she wanted to show him her haunts, her favourite places. She wanted him to see what she liked and tell him why she liked it. Maybe that could be the first step towards better understanding? After all, didn’t she say she’d give him a fair chance?
She nodded her head in acquiescence. “Okay Arnav. I will show you around tomorrow. But I have a condition. We will go around the town like ordinary people. No attitude, no suits, no fancy cars, no bodyguards, no expensive hotels for lunch. You will be an ordinary man with 500 rupees in your pocket and I will be who I am. I have seen your world and now I want to show your mine. I want you to see what it is like to not be a billionaire with the world at his feet.”
“Deal.” Arnav agreed to her condition immediately. She was ready to show him around and that in itself was a feat!
While he was still digesting the fact that he had gotten Khushi to agree to his plans, Khushi placed some money on the table and got up, “Dress casually but keep a light sweater with you. It tends to get cool in the evening around these parts. See you tomorrow morning at 8 Arnav. I will meet you here. Here’s my share of the money for coffee.”
Arnav had no intention of arguing at this time. “See you.” Before she could guess his intention, he leaned in and gave her a peck on the cheek. Thoroughly taken aback by this gesture, she looked up and was alarmed to find those liquid amber eyes so close to her. He looked into her eyes and Khushi felt as if she’d melt. Her eyes strayed to his mouth close to hers as he whispered, “I’m allowed to do that, aren’t I?”
Khushi simply looked at him, her eyes pools of want that made Arnav want to kiss her again, this time around on the lips. But her lashes quickly fell over her eyes and when she opened them, they were devoid of the fire that raged inside her. She simply nodded and left.
Arnav saw Khushi leave, his dark glasses hiding the emotions that showed plainly in his eyes. This round went to him, with Khushi agreeing to show him something of Nainital tomorrow. He dialled Mrs. Gupta’s number. It was picked up immediately by her. He smiled and he was sure Mrs Gupta could hear his smile, “Mubarak ho naniji. Khushi has agreed to show me Nainital tomorrow. We shall leave tomorrow morning by your car. She has demanded that I travel in her car and learn something of Nainital with the eyes of an ordinary man.”
“An ordinary man? Whatever does that mean?” Mrs. Gupta asked from the other end.
“What she means is- I should leave my rich and arrogant billionaire attitude behind along with my riches. In her words, “I want you to leave your “pompous-ass-I-am-always-right-self” behind and see what Nainital looks like with my eyes. Look at it with the eyes of an ordinary man and you’ll understand something of me. She’s smart, your granddaughter.”
He heard Mrs Gupta laugh and unwillingly a smile lit his face too. He was thankful to her wholeheartedly for her assistance in getting Khushi back. He could never forget how she had calmly but firmly reprimanded him during their first meet. He had wanted to tell her everything but she had refused to listen to him, saying she knew he had broken Khushi’s trust in some manner. If anything would persuade her to help him, it would be Khushi’s happiness because at one level she knew her granddaughter very well and realized that without Arnav, she would always remain unhappy. She knew that no matter how much Khushi may deny she was in love with him. That had brought tears to his eyes. Arnav had hung on to this small sliver of hope.
For the first time ever, arrogant Arnav had been absent from that meeting, overtaken by Arnav the humble man. He had declared his love for Khushi to her and convinced her that he wanted to win her trust, her love back. Mrs Gupta had told him then that she would help him only if she found Khushi’s reaction in his favour after their meeting at Mallika’s engagement. Once the meeting had been done, Mrs Gupta had called him herself, extending the hand of help and declaring without a doubt that Khushi could be happy only when she would accept his love for her. Today was the first step towards his redemption.
Mrs Gupta said, “Yes, I know she is smart and that will make your job a little more difficult. You have chosen to fall in love with a woman who can stand for herself, think for herself.”
“I’m proud of the fact naniji that Khushi is such a woman. No one else could have seen me the way she does.” Arnav said with heartfelt sincerity, in a tone that was tinged with hestiation. “Maybe I’m not good enough for her naniji. This is the reason why I am going to prove myself to her as well as myself and then let her decide.”
“My blessings are with you my dear Arnav. Best of luck to you for tomorrow.” Mrs. Gupta blessed him and they said their goodbyes.
Tomorrow morning couldn’t come soon for Arnav now.
After having the entire night with memories of her past flashing by, Khushi gave up her attempts to sleep. She hadn’t slept a wink the entire night, yet sleep eluded her. Exhaustion seemed to be the only companion for her this morning. But one thing was certain. She was going to meet Arnav at Barista today evening at 4:30 and see what could come out of that meeting. She was torn into two parts. While her head denied any possibility of giving him a chance to prove himself her heart; the one that had ruled her all her life, wanted to meet him and find out if his feelings were genuine this time around. It wanted to give him an opportunity so that she may get her own chance at happiness. Let no one ever accuse her of not giving him a chance to prove himself. Let no one ever say she had maintained the same attitude that she had once accused him of- of being unfair.
Birds were beginning to sing on the trees and dew was still fresh on the green grass. Khushi roused herself from the bed and went to sit by her window as dawn came in to spread grey light from the clouds over the land below. Slowly the Sun rose high up in the sky becoming a full glare when you looked it in the eye. Khushi upped herself up and away from the window, giving her confused thoughts a rest. A knock on the door alerted her to the outer world, the others who wished to converse with her.
“Coming!”” She raised her voice so that it could be heard. Today the sun had decided to play hide and seek. It crept slowly out of the clouds spreading a burst of bright light and then, just as suddenly it disappeared, making the world a dark place. August was close by and the weather had already started changing. Maybe it indicated the change in her life too. Khushi was never too philosophical to think about such thing but today seemed like a good sign of the change she could let loose in her life. The only difference would be that her life would be facing autumn with her barely warm attitude towards Arnav and if he didn’t improve winter would proceed further with no promise of spring.
The day went forward where Khushi kept looking at her watch time and again. Lunch was done and Payal was ready to depart to the station to catch her train to Delhi. After teary goodbyes to Mrs. Gupta and Lalita, Payal was taken to the station by Khushi in the car. At the station, Payal caught Khushi’s hand before she boarded the train,
“Khushi,you know I love you and I know I shouldn’t interfere in your life but I have a request to make.” Khushi looked at her elder sister, puzzled by the pleading tone of her voice.
“What is it Jiji? If you need my help with anything, you know I’d sacrifice my life for your happiness.”
Payal clutched on to the pallu of her sari. With tears in her eyes, she hugged Khushi again, “I know that my darling. But I wish for your happiness, our family’s happiness. Since you’ve left Delhi, Mum and Dad have been unhappy. I have no body to talk to either and miss you desperately sometimes. When I didn’t know your whereabouts, I felt as if a part of me had gone missing. Mum says the same thing Khushi. Sometimes she roams about the house absent-mindedly making stuff you like. Then she breaks down and cries, not sure what to do. Dad doesn’t say much but he looks worried. They miss you so much Khushi.
Aakash tells me things were not pleasant at work either with Arnavji yelling at everyone after you’d left. Daddyji has been silent about this whole affair but he worries about Arnavji non stop and so does Dadiji. Arnavji went near crazy for a while after you had disappeared.
If Arnavji comes here to persuade you, I only wish that you give him one chance to redeem himself in your eyes. I do not know what happened between you two, Aakash won’t tell me either. It seems as if he now knows that had happened and why you decided to leave all of a sudden. But when I asked him, all he did was sigh and say that you are right in what ever you wished to do after all that has happened. Khushi, I am not going to ask you what happened since I know you do not wish to tell me. However, if it is your decision, I want you to consider everything. You’ve never been more unhappy in your life as you are now, Mum and Dad have never been as worried as they are now with your absence from the house and my whole family, my in-laws are unsettled. Whatever you do, we will abide by it but if Arnavji is asking for forgiveness for whatever he’s done, at least hear him out. If you love him, don’t let your ego come in between Khushi. Forgive him and accept his proposal when he proposes. But whatever you do, do it for yourself, not just for us or for him.”
Khushi was astonished by her jiji’s speech. It was absolutely unexpected since Jiji never scolded Khushi, never even advised her. The only time Jiji had shown her displeasure was when Khushi had gone away for the weekend with Arnav and– Khushi put a break to her thoughts right there. It was not a path she wished to take. She assured her Jiji of her well-being, not disclosing her dealings with Arnav these days, “Jiji, be assured I will give him the chance he wishes for when I deal with him. Maybe he doesn’t deserve it but I will give him the opportunity to prove that he truly regrets what he’s done. I can’t promise that I will be able to forgive him completely and accept him in my life or that thing will be as they were before with him. What I can do is promise you that I will give him a fair chance. I will not let my ego come in between. I have no desire to win this battle Jiji. This is one game where we both lose, no matter what the outcome.”
Payal gave a deep sigh and said, “What ever you do Khushi, please don’t shut me out. I have always been and will always be on your side.”
Khushi hugged her elder sister for those words. Oh, how she loved her Jiji! She crossed her fingers, “I will Jiji. I will come to you the next time if I go through any problem. Ab khush?”
Payal smiled and cupped Khushi’s cheek, “All I want is my sister’s happiness. Humain aur kuch nahi chahiye Khushi. Tum Khush rahogi toh hum sab khush rahenge. Tumhari khushi main he humari khushi hain.”
Khushi gave one last hug to Payal when the train whistle sounded, announcing the departure. With load of last minute instructions and a reminder to call when she’s reached, Khushi wished Payal goodbye.
Arnav was a man with diverse needs, complex nature and ruthless in his machinations when he needed to be. The hard set of his jaw, his well-shaped mouth forming a tight line made many girls around the world swoon and set many hearts to flutter. However today Arnav looked very different. He didn’t look like a man on the mission.
Today he looked more like a man who knew everything he had would be laid down on the table at the mercy of someone else while he played the biggest game of his life- fighting for love. He donned on green T-shirt with black horizontal stripes and dark blue jeans. With determination etched on his face, he left the room of his new bought house and went into the garden. He knew Khushi would love this garden; she was one of those green thumb persons. He’d bought this house not on impulse.
Arnav Singh Raizada never did anything on impulse. With a firm thought in his head, he had planned ahead. If Khushi said she wanted time to think, he’d need a place to put up. If she said she didn’t want to leave Nainital yet, he would marry her and stay here with her. He had bought this house keeping Khushi in his mind. He had left the grass growing, the weeds waiting for the lady of the house to come and sort them out, the wild roses waited for the hand who would pluck them lovingly for the house vases, for the nose that will inhale their heady perfume.
In short, everyone waited for his Khushi, literally his happiness to return to him so that his world could resume. He gave himself a mocking grin. It all rested upon how he would play his cards and the rest would be in the hands of- Khushi’s grandmother. She was the only one who could guide Khushi back to him. She was the one who would help Khushi decide what was the best for her. If Khushi decided to give him a chance, he would leave no stone unturned to ensure that she realized the depth of his feelings for her.
A man not given to vanity, Arnav looked at his reflection in the glass window to see he looked presentable and left for Barista on the Mall Road.
Precap: Chapter 19:
Arnav saw Khushi leave, his dark glasses hiding the emotions that showed plainly in his eyes. This round went to him, with Khushi agreeing to show him something of Nainital tomorrow. He dialled Mrs. Gupta’s number. It was picked up immediately by her. He smiled and he was sure Mrs Gupta could hear his smile, “Mubarak ho naniji. Khushi has agreed to show me Nainital tomorrow. We shall leave tomorrow morning by your car. She has demanded that I travel in her car and learn something of Nainital with the eyes of an ordinary man.”
The memory of what had happened at the club terrace was never far from Khushi’s mind even though many things had happened after that. According to her, it was the only time when she had fought Arnav and yet given in to him. For a while, she had told herself that he had deceived her, just like he had done by the poolside. But that wasn’t true; she knew it in her heart. It had been inevitable that the fire that burned both of them would engulf them as soon as they were alone.
It had taken all of self-possession Khushi owned to decide what to do while maintaining her composure. Fine, he wanted to take a walk on the terrace with her and talk to her about work in private, she could do it. It was one thing to tell yourself that you’re indifferent to him; that the kiss was no big deal. It was easy to talk when there were people around them, but to be alone and in the dark with him- Khushi’s breath hitched in her throat. Her mind though was running on a different track, thinking- if she went with him it would definitely ensure him; it would teach him that she was really not interested in him or his doings. For once and for all, it would put them on normal footing. If she wanted that, she would have to take the walk.
Khushi looked up at him squarely in the eye and said, “If there is really something important that you wish to speak to me about in private, fine. I will walk with you on the terrace.”
Arnav’s eyes glittered with triumph, making him look too much like a dangerous predator. For a moment Khushi wondered if she was doing the right thing. What if- what if he kissed her again out there in the dark? Determination asserted itself. Of course, he would behave himself out there, knowing there were too many people milling about just a little distance away. Also, knowing what she did about him, she was sure that Arnav was mean and tricky but he had too much pride. He would not kiss her especially when he thought she was out on the hunt for a rich NRI husband. No, he wouldn’t kiss her now unless she would break down and indicate that she wanted him to kiss her. And she did want that, badly!
Keeping that voice of her heart out of her head, Khushi accepted the hand he held out, his eyes asking her if she was ready. “Come on, let’s go.” Arnav said.
Khushi took his hand. He held it tight for a second and then relaxed his hold. Her stomach somersaulted at his touch but she made sure none of her anxiety showed on her face. It was a bland mask. Thankfully, once they walked outside and on to the terrace, he let her hand go. Khushi jammed her nails on the palm of her hand to get rid of the burning sensation of his touch. He led the way to the stone balustrade that overlooked the club garden and the golf course further ahead.
On one side, a dark grove of trees stretched out. There was no one else on the terrace except them. Khushi gritted her teeth and willed her heart to slow. Her teeth were almost about to chatter with anxiety. She kept on telling herself in her head that nothing would happen. She would talk to him and ensure that they behaved like two civil people, who the next time they meet will be polite with each other. He will then not have this powerful hold of physical attraction over her. Her thoughts will be hers again.
While she was thinking all this, Arnav leaned his hips against the balustrade and turned towards her. His arms were crossed over his chest and he looked utterly sexy if he didn’t know it. “I’m not going to apologize for that kiss Khushi.”
Khushi looked at him warily, “So you’re planning to apologize for the way you behaved later but not for the kiss?”
Now Arnav being Arnav could never say he was sorry or even that he regretted saying anything harsh to her. The words didn’t really come easy to him. He simply added, “I mean- that is what I said; no apology for the kiss.”
“Excuse me!” Khushi gasped at his bold statement.
Arnav looked at her, his jaw set, “I will not apologize for kissing you. I wanted to kiss you as much as you wanted me to do it.”
Khushi blushed at the truth of that statement. She couldn’t deny it outright. The lie would stick in her throat. “Well, I just-“She started again and came up with a sarcastic retort. “Fine, I will accept your apology. I didn’t think you had it in you to apologize.”
“I’m not normally wrong but you’re proving that I could be. Anyway, the kiss-“ Arnav was interrupted mid-sentence as Khushi said, her agitation plain. “Enough with the talk of that kiss! Forget it. I sure have.”
Arnav’s reply was curt and to the point, “Don’t lie to me. You haven’t and neither have I.”
Khushi was fed up. She didn’t want to talk about the kiss. It unsettled her big time. He stood there talking about them kissing as if it was nothing out of ordinary. She tried to regain her quickly sleeping calm, “Fine, now that you’ve told me you don’t intend to apologize for that damn kiss, may I go inside?”
Khushi’s eyebrows went up at his reply. Arnav hissed a breath from between his lips and grated, “We are not done yet with this conversation. You said you are unaffected by it. So stand here and talk to me.”
“I’m done with this conversation.” Khushi said exasperatedly.
“Then you’re not as clever as I thought you were. You’re nuts.”
Khushi drew herself up to her full height and her voice went cold, “Excuse me? What did you just say?”
“Don’t deny it Khushi. It is between us today as much as it was the other evening. It’s like a live wire. I know it and you know it. At this moment all I want is to tear your clothes off and make love to you. I know you want it too.”
Stunned at the image his words created in her head, Khushi felt dazed with arousal. She could barely contain herself. So she turned haughtier, “Speak for yourself Raizada. I, for my part do not wish to have anything to do with your- body.”
“Stop lying Khushi.” Arnav uncrossed his arms and pushed himself off the balustrade that he was leaning on. He came to her, “That kiss was… addictive.”
Khushi’s heart beat like a crazy tattoo in her chest. Sudden inspiration seized her, “That kiss was probably a simple result of all pent up psychic energy you were exuding that evening.”
“Huh? What?” Arnav was puzzled.
Khushi waved her hand in the air, confident now that she could get out of this tricky situation. “You know! You were talking as if you knew all about me and my thoughts that evening. You made me angry when you spoke to me with so much familiarity. I made you angry when I walked off. The kiss was a result of that anger, built-up anger that was looking for a way out. Nothing more.”
Arnav looked at her, sighing, “Really. Built-up anger created that kiss… not because I tried to seduce you? I thought you’d accused me of taking advantage of you.”
“I wasn’t thinking properly then. Huh.. you could hardly seduce me with everyone present. It was-just what I said- anger.” Khushi declared, trying her level best to make it sound like an expert claim. She sure as hell was not going to admit how that kiss had affected her! She shrugged a shoulder as if that said everything.
“huh.. fancy that.” said Arnav, an amused smile trying to make its way towards his mouth. He hurriedly smothered it. It would not do to let Khushi see the smile. He would play her at her own game. She thought she was so smart! He spread his legs apart so that Khushi was right in between them, a few inches away from him and put his hands on his hips as if thinking seriously on her claim, “So you mean to say, we get the hots for each other when we meet up and get mad at each other?”
Khushi grabbed this opportunity to convince him. He sounded dubious at the moment and ready to believe. She quickly agreed, “Yes, exactly! I think that is the perfect description. It’s normal’; we’re just ordinary humans not Gods. It can happen to us you know.”
Arnav rubbed his jaw, as if saying, “Ordinary? Me? Speak for yourself!” He kept on looking at her, “I- am not so sure about this but I can say one thing. It does no good to us when we kiss each other. We have no business going around kissing each other.”
“Oh yes! That is so true!” Khushi agreed, nodding her head quite fiercely. Inside she felt piqued and annoyed. He didn’t think she was worthy of his kiss?
As if she hadn’t spoken and as if he was still talking to himself and thinking, Arnav said, “The dilemma is, how the hell do we stop provoking each other so that we don’t get angry with each other and not kiss each other in rage? We simply rub each other up the wrong way every time we meet.”
Khushi was thinking, her brain working overtime. “Uh- perhaps we should not meet” At his look she hastily added, “I know that is a little difficult. Maybe we- ah yes! Every time we meet, we smile and say nice things to each other. How about that?”
That should definitely achieve her goal of putting them on an even footing. A part of her was annoyed that it was taking him so long to take her notion on face value, but it would not do to be annoyed at him. To show him that she was angry would make her own reasoning sound silly and her solution inadequate.
Arnav stared at her, “That is not a bad idea actually. We can always have something nice to say to each other when we meet up by chance.”
Khushi was quite enthusiastically into this game of making him believe her point. He removed his hand from his chin and gave a firm nod as if he had reached a decision, “Alright then. If you’re willing to give it a chance, I am too. Why don’t you go first?”
Khushi looked at him, annoyed. “Why should I go first and why should you order me to go first?” So typical of him! He agreed to not fight and then insults her by ordering her, consequently raising a point of fight.
Arnav threw up his hands in the air as if he gave up on the fight. “Okay, don’t get your rear up in the air. I’ll go first if that makes you happy. Something nice about Khushi Kumari Gupta. Hmm..” He scratched his chin as if nothing nice came to his mind when he thought about her. That irked Khushi. He put his hands behind his back and finally said,”Okay, here goes. I really admire how easy you are with people.”
Before Khushi could protest, he held out his hand, “No it is not meant as an insult; hear me out. I always find it difficult to talk to strangers. I am a businessman and can talk shop with anyone but when it comes to making people comfortable or drawing them out, I think you do it very well. You make them feel.. good about themselves.”
Khushi’s jaw literally dropped at his statement. Arnav looked at her in astonishment. “Oh come on! You know that already Khushi. Or do you take that part of your character for granted? I should tell you that it is not easy for many people to be so at-ease with others. You could be a very good manager if you wanted to be.”
At the shake of her head, he continued, “In fact, had it not been for the fact that we kissed, I’d have offered you a job with me after that project.”
Khushi looked like she was planning to catch flies with her mouth. Arnav thought she was charming? A part of her that was still wary of him and expecting a hidden insult said, “Are – I am supposed to believe this?”
“Look if you want this “be nice to each other” thing to work, you’ve got to. And now it’s your turn.” Arnav said with his eyes on her.
Was that amusement lurking in his eyes? Khushi wondered and then said, “Ah, okay. My turn. Good thing about you.”
“I know I’m not full of virtues but hey, am not that bad either.” Arnav supplied helpfully.
Khushi licked her lips and thought, “Okay. It’s not that hard really. I think the way your run your company is admirable. I think you may be stubborn and an absolute horror when it comes to manners” at his look she added, “I mean that in general but when it comes to your employees, you have integrity. I’d even say you’re downright honest in your dealings with them.”
Arnav scowled, “I don’t believe it. You actually think of me as a nice person?”
Khushi quickly replied,” You wanted me to say something nice about you, something I really believed in. So there.”
Arnav stroked his chin with his hand, “Thanks, I think. I mean I know what you’re saying is right but- “ Khushi rolled her eyes at his boasting. This guy hadn’t heard of modesty, had he? He continued, “-but when you say it, it means I am not surrounded by fair weather public. You don’t really like me but you still think I’m nice.”
“So” Khushi chuckled, as she smiled at him, “See? We’re not angry at each other now. Wow.”
“Yes” said Arnav, his voice low, “A marvel indeed.”
Their eyes met and Khushi’s smiled faded slowly. They may not be angry at each other but the sizzling awareness that they felt for each other was as strong as before. It hadn’t gone anywhere. On the contrary, she felt it had become stronger now that she knew he thought she was charming and also due to the fact she had acknowledged that he had integrity and was honest.
“Unfortunately I don’t think it has fixed the problem Khushi, only made it worse probably.” Arnav stared at her fixedly, making her swallow hard.
She couldn’t deny it; he was correct. They hadn’t fixed the problem, only aggravated it. She wasn’t standing close to him right now but she could feel his aura surrounding her anyway. She took a step back and saw his amused gaze on her.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to kiss you.” He said.
“Oh.” Khushi’s voice, to her horror sounded as if she was disappointed. A corner of Arnav’s mouth quirked.
“That is not to say I wouldn’t like kissing you. I meant if we did kiss- which I am not saying will happen- but if we did kiss, it has to be you who takes the initiative.”
Khushi became still as a statue. The night air was cool while they looked at each other. All amusement seemed to have left Aranv’s face as he stood staring at her, his hunger for her evident in her eyes. Khushi could feel electricity humming around them, her inner motor of physical desire ready to rev. NO! She mentally took a step back. She wasn’t going to take any initiative of that sort, she didn’t want to kiss him! Not only that she didn’t want to- NOT AT ALL- but also that she couldn’t. That would be –
She hiccupped in surprise and looked at him, her eyes wide – that would be a lie. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted him like crazy but how could she? This was Arnav Singh Raizada, the playboy from London. He was much too playful with emotions, too masculine for her comfort, he was mean and nasty to her every time they met, he had kissed her so thoroughly that her knees had gone weak and then been harsh with her. How could she want to kiss him?
But her blood pulsed in her veins, making nonsense of all her thoughts, her insides melting and going soft at the idea of being in his arms again. She looked uncomfortable to meet his gaze, her fingers twisting in her hands betraying her nervousness. She imagined what it would be like to get close to him, touch him, put her arms around his neck, touch his chest, and lift her face to kiss his lips. It would feel- a gasp escaped her mouth- it would feel marvellous!
In the meanwhile, Arnav stood there next to her, silent and watching the play of emotions on her face. It made him feel rooted to the spot. He could watch that face all day long and not get tired of it. His male sexual power was controlled at this time, simply waiting- it was at her discretion. She would decide. His body thrummed with excitement at the idea of her holding the final word and then coming ahead to kiss him. He had never before liked the idea of losing control but with Khushi, he liked it very much. As if in a trance, Khushi took a step towards him. Yes! She took a step towards him this time, not away- thought Arnav jubilantly.
Khushi felt the excitement running through her like the twisting of the screw of a champagne bottle. She looked at his ever hypnotic eyes. They glittered but they didn’t look dangerous to her anymore; they glittered with the same madness that seemed to have taken over her being at this time. She could also see doubt there and fear- fear that she would move away from him and he would lose the touch of her. She saw vulnerability in his eyes.
That was probably what did her in. She would have pulled back the last moment and come to her senses but for that vulnerable look in his eyes. There was no way she could stop herself now. Her heart pounded madly as she reached up her hands to place them gently on the side of each cheek. Anticipation reached to the point of pain for Arnav but he held back. He was all man yes, but he wanted her to be the master in this instance. It gave Khushi a heady feeling of power, as he stood still while she touched him. She saw his nostrils that flared at her touch, the coil of need twined tightly around their bodies. He kept his hands by his sides as he saw her rise up on her toes and press her lips, ever so gently against his. Their eyes closed at the pleasure of that contact.
Arnav felt the air rush out through his nose as he kept tight control on himself. It was her initiative, her moment. He couldn’t ruin it. So he let her experiment with the pressure of her mouth on his. Despite this immense control, a small noise escaped from his throat.
For Khushi, it was pure delight to have him at her disposal. She could run her hands through his silky hair, she’d always known it would be. Slowly he started responding to her kiss. He responded to her light kisses by giving them back as he received them. She liked him so much the better for it! She nipped his lips and he nipped back. She pressed a little harder and he increased the pressure too. Just like her hands in his hair, his hands went up and into her hair, spiking the strands and holding her to him.
Khushi felt such power as she’d never felt before. His hard, strong body was hers to control, to play with. Arnav behaved like a dancer at this moment; a perfect partner who followed her lead and went where ever she wanted to go, did whatever she wanted him to do. She felt she wanted more. She felt exhilarated; it flowed in her blood like bubbles. She curved her body to his, leaning into him, moving her lips as if they couldn’t get enough of him. She was hungry for him. This need to get closer, more intimate had made her forget everything else. Her hands went down from his hair and on to his strong shoulders and then the chest, exploring through the coat, vest and shirt.
Arnav groaned silently, moving his jaw expertly and opening her mouth. This was the first initiative taken by him all by himself and Khushi found that she didn’t mind at all. It was alright even when his tongue found its way into her mouth, French kissing her. It was her second time that she had been smooched; the first time was by the pool. It gave her such a shock of pleasure; she found that she wanted so much more of it. Arnav’s breathing grew heavy and fast. His hands roamed up and down Khushi’s back. But it was okay for Khushi. She didn’t mind his taking control from her hands at this time. She felt satisfied that she was the one who had set the ball rolling, not let him control her desire.
Anrav’s hands were strong and assured of what they were doing as they caught hold of her waist, skimming the sides of it. Slowly he curved his hands over the surface of her sari, her blouse, and her breasts. The sensation that hit Khushi was so exquisite when he touched her there that she flinched. Her nipples had long since turned into hard pebbles.
Not that Khushi’s flinch stopped Arnav. He moved his hands over her breasts, sometimes teasing her by simply touching the undersides, sometimes taking them in her hands and massaging them, squeezing them. It felt like heaven! She threw her head back and gave a low moan when he touched his lips to her throat.
Khushi didn’t want him to stop this sensual onslaught he was raining on her senses. She could hear him breathing as heavily as her, as he slowly licked her breastbone. At the same time, he slowly and deliberately touched the hardened peaks of her breasts and squeezed them gently. She gave out a loud moan as she felt sensations beyond anything she had ever felt before. She’s never imagined making love was so marvellous.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Excuse me.” A voice interrupted, intruding rudely on the delightful scene. Khushi felt as if she’d jerked wide awake from deep slumber. She felt both herself and Arnav freeze. Once the person had retreated back into where ever he had come from, Khushi slowly removed her hands from Arnav’s hair. Arnav pressed his head against her collarbone, telling himself and her, “Okay.” His hands had stopped playing with her breasts and come down to rest on her waist. “Okay, okay.” She heard him murmur again. Slowly he lifted his head and let go of her, all of her and straightened to move away from her. He looked absolutely- out of control.
“Oh boy.” He said softly, his eyes still glinting yet showing how much control it had taken him to move away from her. He looked at Khushi as she self-consciously straightened her sari. Her gaze flitted up and then down.
“That being nice with each other didn’t really work.” Arnav muttered. All Khushi could do at this time was nod. She was not just embarrassed, but she was aghast at her own actions. She had nearly let him make love to her in public, on the club terrace! She, who always thought first about proprieties didn’t even bother with what anyone would think if they caught them together. What about the families? Arnav was the most unsafe man she had known, a play boy who would do nothing but use her and go back to London. But she had all but thrown herself in his arms. What was wrong with her!
Arnav tried to smooth his hair, his voice rough, his expression grim. He had never in his life thought he would lose control like this. What had begun as simple teasing to teach her a lesson had turned into fierce sexual hunger that was out of control. He shook his head. He had to play it differently. It wouldn’t help if he was out of control. He said, “We have to really avoid doing this again Khushi.”
“Yes.” Khushi’s voice was sullen.
“At the risk of sounding a little rude but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s only logical thing to do, I have a suggestion.” Arnav straightened his coat and his vest that had become slightly dishevelled at Khushi’s hands. Khushi blushed when she saw him do that. He continued, “ I suggest we should keep away from each other as much as possible. When we meet, a simple “hello” should make for the conversation and we should NEVER be alone with each other. Agreed?”
Khushi drew in a deep breath. This is what she wanted, right? Then why did it feel as if someone had tied a stone around her neck and thrown her into deep water to drown to death? Why did it feel so lonely, so disappointing, so scary to think of not touching him again? Not seeing him again!!- that felt like life sentence to her. But Khushi knew it was the only sensible course of action. She couldn’t-wouldn’t let her physical attraction for him take over her head, her brain. “Agreed.” She said.
“Because-“ Arnav was now playing simply hard to get “ there is no way we could have anything going between us.”
A frown placed itself on Khushi’s forehead, her eyes widening as she took in his meaning, “You mean- like a relationship?”
Arnav nodded and then flicked his glance away, straightening his tie this time.” We’re far too different and we want different things from a relationship. It would never work.”
“Too true.” Khushi said angrily. “So now that we’ve sorted that out, I should go inside.”
Without any goodbyes, she simply walked away. But not before she turned back again to look at him, still standing there, looking at her. His look took her breath away. It belied everything he’d said, suggested; it was a look that told Khushi that he didn’t really want to not talk to her. He didn’t want to let her go. The look indicated his want for her; if he ever got a chance to be alone with her, kiss her, make love to her, he would do it. Probably would do even more than simply make love to her, and that would be very unwise- she knew that. She would be wise to stay away from him; she told her heart- he had the power to hurt her very badly. He could take away her self-preservation and strip her clean of her mask of indifference by a look. No, best is she stayed away from him. She looked at him one last time, her mind made up and went back into the lounge.
Arnav too was thinking about the same incident while lying on his bed. How mean he had been to her that evening! His remorse knew no bounds as the tears he always kept hidden from everyone came to his eyes. He slowly wiped the tear away from his eye with his hand. He had always been unfair to Khushi. Khushi, who had been innocent of any malice that evening, had suffered at his hands. That was the first time when he had hurt her by doubting her. He closed his eyes and he continued thinking about that evening.
The moment Arnav had seen that tear fall; something had squeezed his heart tight, nearly making him gasp. He had felt as if he had been stabbed with a sharp dagger. When she hastily turned her head and walked away so that he couldn’t see her crying, regret took hold of his heart. He realized he may have been too harsh with her. Maybe his bitterness had been unjustified and maybe she was really an innocent. He knew he had a habit of painting every woman with the same brush due to his past but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t trust anyone.
Arnav closed his eyes for a moment against this onslaught of emotions, as if trying to reach to a decision. When he opened them, determination had taken hold of his body. Whatever it was that he felt for Khushi, he couldn’t let it control him. He couldn’t let her get close to him. She disturbed him like no one else did. He shook the feeling away, telling himself he had done what was best for the both of them.
He had gone back to the family, where laughter and chatter kept everyone too busy to notice Arnav’s keen gaze on Khushi and Khushi’s avoidance of his eyes. Anjali however had not been too busy to notice that something had happened between her brother and that charming girl Khushi. She had asked him about her after the ceremony was over and Khushi had gone back home with her family. He had preferred not to talk about it and asked her to leave him alone.
He left the next day for London since the project they had been working on had to be executed from there. After the successful execution of the project, he had called up his uncle and asked him to pass on his congratulations to the entire team for the good work done. Much though he wanted to and probably as he should, he had not called Khushi to let her know that it was in fact her ideas and her presentation that had brought forth the best in the project.
Not that he was in the best of the moods these days. Anjali and Dean; who had just entered the scene then as her boyfriend, had both mentioned in the passing that he behaved like a bear with a sore head. Arnav knew he was not himself and he also knew the reason for it. He kept on thinking about a certain doe eyed female with tears falling down from her eyes and a hurt look on her face. He dreamt of her lips under his and could taste her essence when he closed his eyes. Her fragrance had stayed with him, on the suit that he had worn that evening. A week after he had returned, he had given the suit away for dry cleaning and had not worn it since. He worked out fiercely in the mornings and evenings, worked later than usual and dated as many women as he could. He dined them and took them out but he had lost the will to bed any of them. He couldn’t even think about kissing any one of those leggy, delectable models, much less taking them to bed.
His days were filled with work and night with longing. But he resisted- until he accidentally heard that Khushi’s parents wanted her to choose a husband too. His entire being revolted at the thought of Khushi in another man’s arms and a murderous rage took over. On prodding gently, Aakash told him that Khushi’s parents thought it was time they started looking for a suitable guy for Khushi. They had asked Khushi if she had anyone in mind but she had denied. What’s more they were troubled by her tears and her firm declaration that she would never get married. After a lot of back and forth talks, Khushi had finally agreed that she would at least consider any proposals she got before rejecting the offers of marriage out of hand.
It was this news that made Arnav fly to New Delhi the next day itself, on the pretext of upcoming business deal. He knew that Aakash could handle the whole deal himself but hell, what was he to do? He reached there the day after and walked around in the garden to catch a glimpse of the Khushi. He knew the window of her room overlooked Raizada garden. He had seen her once or twice while he jogged past her in the morning, sitting by the window ledge, gazing at nothing in particular and with a silly smile on her face.
To Arnav’s disappointment, Khushi never showed up by the window. She had stopped looking outside. From what he had gleaned after his general family talk with Aakash, she had become very dull since the last few weeks. Gone was her chirpiness; instead she was always frowning and sometimes her face was etched with some painful memory. Payal had tried hard to find out what the matter was but Khushi wouldn’t tell her and of course, it was so difficult to gauge one’s emotions simply over the phone. Aakash was worried about Khushi because Payal was worried about her. Typical lovesick teenager behaviour, thought Arnav smirking.
In the night, he paced around the room after dinner thinking about this conversation. He said to himself, “Of course she wouldn’t. She’d not be the girl I know if she spoke what was troubling her.”
As if they were connected with an invisible thread, memories overflowed Khushi’s mind almost at the same time. Khushi was also thinking about the events following that evening by the poolside.
Arnav had left the next day and she hadn’t heard or seen of him until the weekend when they all went to the golf club. She had known that he’d come back a few days ago but had carefully avoided all the times when she could even see him by chance.
That weekend, both the families had been invited for a party at the Golf Club. The theme of the party was formal vs. traditional. Payal had come down for the weekend and both the sisters had decided to dress up in traditional garb. Khushi was decked in a red sari with long silver earrings whereas Payal wore an orange sari with matching accessories. Both the Raizada and Gupta families had left in their respective cars and were mingling with other guests in the party. Aakash and Payal were being congratulated by their acquaintances and family friends where Khushi mingled with her own set of friends.
Khushi had not really wanted to come to the party but second thoughts; she decided she couldn’t avoid people forever. It is possible that she may run into Arnav at some time, since they were a part of the family of sorts. They knew the same kind of people and went to the same kind of places so it was inevitable that they meet each other sometime when Arnav was in New Delhi. It was important that she put the incident at the back of her mind and face him normally.
Still, she hadn’t expected to see Arnav at the party. She had been mingling with her group of friends far away from the lounge bar. But thirst drew her towards it. Walking into the club lounge that was decorated by smart furniture and green walls, keeping in tune with the motto of the golf club, she found Arnav sitting there. To not expect him to be there had been a mistake, she realized with a shock. One smartly clad knee rested atop another while he spoke with Mr Westerly and Martin; her dad’s friends. Her immediate reaction of course was to turn away from where he sat and leave the lounge bar area.
But Khushi was nothing if not determined. She had decided to put the past incident behind her and behave normally and that is exactly what she will do. She was not going to let him affect her in any way. Suppressing the cowardly impulse, she went ahead and sat at the bar table to order a glass of Chardonnay. It was her favourite white wine. She was joined by other people of her acquaintance in a short while and they all moved to sit in the other part of the half-lit lounge.
While a casual smile was pinned upon her face, Khushi straightened her shoulders and made some breezy talk. She was not unconscious of Arnav sitting just a little further away from her group, chatting with his friends or business colleagues. He seemed to be unaware of her presence and that’s exactly how she wanted it. She was thankful of this and at the same time terribly conscious of the fact that her own body was completely attuned to him. She didn’t know how but she felt his eyes on her the moment he caught sight of her. She looked at him and saw him falter in his chat, his smile almost fading away.
To her astonishment, Khushi felt a rush of satisfaction at his reaction. She gritted her teeth and gave a cool smile. Surely this satisfaction she felt was inappropriate for her? She hadn’t wanted him to notice her, did she? She didn’t even want him to falter or stare at her but he had and for the life of her, she couldn’t understand this rush of pleasure that ran through her body at his reaction. Deliberately, she turned her away from him and started talking to the person nearest to her. She had no idea what she was saying. All she knew was, she had gulped her glass of wine in one go and the waiter who had been standing nearby and come forward. She told him, “Can you get me a glass of Chardonnay again please?”
The waiter smiled at her and said, “Sure, Ms. Gupta. Right away.”
Khushi felt as if her smile was stuck to her face, while her heart beat fast. It was literally pounding as it heard Arnav talking to others in the distance. He had seemingly recovered from his shock at seeing her and was not animatedly immersed in a conversation behind her. Khushi closed her eyes. For so many days now, his voice had haunted her, his face a part of her dreams. Her mind constantly kept on going over and over that kiss; the passion in his eyes and later on, the contempt on his face. Her dreams were full of the moment when he had lowered his mouth on hers. His harsh tone when he told her he thought of her as nothing more but a man-trap or a fortune hunter and as much as he was attracted to her, he didn’t want anything to do with her and feelings.
She hated those odd moments in the day when her heart would suddenly speed up from the memory, just like it did now. Khushi took deep breaths; breathe in- breathe out, inhale, exhale. She was determined to calm down so that no one could see her agitation, least of all that Arnav Singh Raizada.
“Here is your glass of white wine Ms Gupta. Are you alright?” The overfriendly waiter asked.
Khushi gave him a bright smile but her eyes were full of ice, “What? Oh yes, I’m fine.” The waiter had the grace to blush. Khushi took a small sip this time, smiling at the person next to her, who was talking about some garden. The wine was excellent but to her it tasted like water, the company was interesting but felt boring; nothing felt good.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to remain calm as she heard the conversation behind her break up. Mr Westerly and Martin were going away to dine with their wife and kids accompanying them this time. Arnav had politely declined going along with them. Khushi could feel her heart beating mercilessly against her chest. For God’s sake, calm down! Arnav would leave too, she was sure. She prayed he would. She felt herself go tense simply in the anticipation that this moment would be over soon. He would leave.
Instead of leaving with others, Arnav walked towards Khushi. She looked ethereal to him. Did she know red was his favourite colour? Earlier when he’d seen her for the first time in so many days, he had felt his heart stop. She looked like his dream come true to him; dressed in a red sari with those silver earrings dangling from her ear as if trying to kiss her cheeks every time she turned her head. When she turned away from him, he had been tempted to leap up and go to her, to pick her up and walk away into oblivion where no one would disturb them. But he had controlled himself and carried on with his conversation after a few seconds.
Goosebumps erupted all over Khushi’s body as she felt his presence right behind her chair. He looked oh, so casual as he sauntered right up to where she sat with her friends. The fiend! She wanted to look at him, she wanted to send him a cool smile, letting him know that he didn’t affect her; she didn’t care at all for him. She wanted to tell him that he couldn’t rattle her- Khushi Kumari Gupta. She was calm, she was cool. But she couldn’t do anything of the sort. She simply kept sitting, staring fixedly down at her glass of wine.
An arm snaked out in front of her and she almost jerked in reaction. He was reaching out to pick up cashews from the bowl on the table.
“Hi Khushi.” Arnav greeted her.
Khushi put up her brightest smile and slowly looked up at him, “Oh hello Arnav. Fancy seeing you here, back in India.”
Arnav didn’t smile back. Her smile faltered. He excused himself and asked the person sitting next to her “Is it okay if I sit here?”
The other person, Khushi couldn’t remember who he was got up and gladly gave him the permission to sit. “I was leaving anyway. Nice talking to you Khushi. Let’s meet up sometime.”
Khushi smiled at him and watch him go. Arnav hadn’t sat down yet. He looked at her, “Okay if I sit here?”
Her fingers played with her wine glass. Act unconcerned Khushi, she told herself. Then she didn’t look at him but she said lightly, “Why should it not be okay? You can sit wherever you want Arnav.”
She saw him sitting down from the corner of her eyes. His eyes were watching her carefully, “I haven’t seen you around in the last few days. Not at the office, not by the house. Been keeping busy, have you?”
“I have my German exams coming up so yes, been keeping busy. Plus I’ve had no time to do anything else with so much to study.”
His voice was so low that only she could hear it as he said, “I thought I’d driven you away from the places that interested you earlier. That you wanted to avoid me.”
Khushi gave a little laugh, as if she was above it all and said, “Oh Arnav, come now. I know we don’t know each other well enough but I thought you’d realize that I wouldn’t let you do that- drive me away from places of my interest.”
Arnav didn’t get into a slinging match. He simply looked at her and she said, “I’m here now, aren’t I? You’re sitting next to me so how can I be avoiding you?”
“Ye-es true. You’re sitting next to me right now.” He conceded.
Khushi waved her hand in the air, as if she had proved her point by the statement.
Aranv leaned on his elbow that was on the bar of the chair, resting his jaw in his hand and stared. Khushi wailed inwardly as she tried to keep her calm demeanour intact. The devil! Did he know how mortifying she felt right now, with his dark amber, amazing eyes boring into her? He broke the silence as she shifted in her seat uncomfortably, “So, if you’re not avoiding me, would you be willing , umm.. to play tennis with me tomorrow?”
“Certainly.” Khushi replied back instantly. It would not do to give him the impression that she wanted to run away from him as fast as her legs could take her. He had started believing in her statement and she would do anything to keep that impression of unconcern intact. She took another sip of her wine, imagining him playing tennis. She could imagine the muscles she had felt when he had held her moving under his shirt as he played tennis. Her heart sped up again as she remembered the kiss.
“And would you dine with me tonight along with the rest of the family?” Arnav asked. Khushi inclined her head in agreement. After all, this is what she wanted. Yes, this would surely establish them on a normal footing, keeping all the other sensations away when the others would be around them.
“Really.” Arnav said. It was more a disbelieving statement than a question.
Khushi couldn’t meet his gaze for long, “Yes, really”, she said.
Arnav reached out with his other hand to snare some more cashews, his eyes lowered so as not to give Khushi any idea of what he was thinking. Khushi watched him, heat filling up her body beneath her blouse as he slowly placed the nut in his mouth, closed his eyes and savoured its taste. He opened his eyes to catch her gawking at him. Khushi hurriedly lowered her lashes.
Arnav continued as if he had not seen her hungry stare, “Strange that you’re so fired up to be cool with me after we shared that kiss; so cool that you could do anything.”
“Don’t give yourself too much credit”, snapped Khushi and leaned closer to him to whisper, her eyes glaring, “just because you kissed me and I allowed you to kiss me isn’t going to change the way I feel about you. It is not going to change my world. I’ve kissed men before you know. It wasn’t a big deal.”
“No big deal, hmm” Arnav’s gaze didn’t leave Khushi’s. She lifted the hand that held the glass of wine and said, “Yes, you heard me right.” She gave him a smile as she sipped on her wine. She had always believed she was immune to the charms of men in general and in particular of Arnav’s kind; the ones who were out on the hunt. In all of her twenty five years, she had never felt as vulnerable as she felt towards Arnav- him of all people! Her blood was singing through her veins, her body felt as if it would instantly combust if she sat next to him any longer. But she had to, she wouldn’t admit defeat.
Arnav was watching the expression that flitted across her face, without her knowing. “Then..” he said, “if you’re so unaffected by that kiss and by me, then I am sure you wouldn’t object going out for walk with me on the club terrace.”
Her eyes widened as she took in his words, “What? Now?”
Arnav nodded and said, “Any problem? If you’re so unaffected by me then you wouldn’t mind it surely? In fact, there is something with regards to the project you worked on that I wanted to talk to you about. In private.”
*Flashback continues to the next chapter*
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Chapter-13 (Flashback in Italics)
A satisfied smile adorned Mrs. Gupta’s face when she put the phone down. Khushi, who had just come back from the camp, saw this smile and wondered what could have happened to put such a smile on her grandma’s face. Surely it must be some good news?
“What’s this smile for? What’s the news grandma?” Asked Khushi, plopping herself on the sofa besides her grandmother.
“Ah, my darling! I am so happy today. It seems like the little risk I had taken for my biggest investment is about to be paid off.” Mrs Gupta put her hand on Khushi’s head and caressed her hair as Khushi laid her head in her grandma’s lap. A beaming smile lit her face too at her grandmother’s happiness.
“Really? That’s cool grandma! So are we going to party?” Khushi asked with raised eyebrows and saucy smile on her face.
“Not before I see the fruits of my plans.”, said her grandmother and tweaked her ear. “Ouch! That hurt grandma. How could you hurt me like that?”
“Growing up is a difficult process my child, I know that. But one day you have to. The day you grow up, I’ll tell you all my secrets.” Mrs. Gupta said. Before Khushi could ask anything more about this ambiguous statement, Mrs. Gupta changed the topic, “So how was your camp this year? How were the kids this time around? Anything special happened?”
Images of Arnav kissing her the morning of the camp, comforting and playing with the kids, as well as the bird watching incident crowded Khushi’s mind. As a result, her face outpoured multiple expressions of confusion, anger and love. She shook her head as if trying to disperse all these images from her head and looked at her grandmother, forcing a smile upon her face. After all, it would be expected of her that she be tired but happy.
“Everything went well, grandma. I really liked spending my time out there with those children. The feeling never changes although it does leave me tired.”
“Of course, taking care of children is a tough task but you do it well, don’t you my dear?” Mrs. Gupta cajoled her daughter for more information, “But did you see anything interesting? There must’ve been new volunteers with your group. Did you meet anyone nice?”
“Hah! Like I would, come on! You know how picky I am. “Khushi had to force herself to laugh that one off and feign a yawn. “Lord, I’m so tired I could sleep right here. Do you mind if I skip dinner tonight and go off to sleep grandma? I truly don’t wish to stay awake any longer than I have to.”
“Go to your room child, Lalita will bring something to you on a tray. You can sleep until late tomorrow morning since me and Payal are not going to be around.” At the question in Khushi’s eyes, Mrs. Gupta clarified, “We’re going shopping since Payal plans to leave soon. I must make sure to buy gifts for all to send. They’re all such nice people.”
“Yes, they are.” Khushi affirmed and then added, “Enjoy yourselves tomorrow then. I’m off to sleep. Good night grandma.”
Khushi hugged Mrs. Gupta and went upstairs to her room. She was not in the least sleepy but she wanted to be by herself. Donning on her cream night dress, she went and sat by the window ledge, watching the dark hills far away. She gazed at the clear sky, twinkling with stars. If only she could follow their example! She so much wished to clear her mind of all the confusion and hurt, to retain only good memories of Arnav. She knew that he would not quit, he would not rest until he achieved his goal-her forgiveness and her trust. But could she really trust him? Had he not broken it so brutally, she might have had it in her heart to forgive him easily. But he hadn’t even given her a chance to clear her side. How could she forgive him for that? How could she ever forget his venomous words that had poisoned her soul? Where could she find the antidote for such venom?
Deep down, she knew that Arnav was, is and will be the only man she’d ever love. Her belief had been put very nicely in one of her favourite Indian films, “Kuch Kuch Hota hain” where SRK said, “Hum sirf ek baar jeete hain, ek he baar marte hain aur pyaar- pyaar bhi sirf ek baar he hota hain.” She knew it held true in her case. She’d never be able to replace Arnav with anyone. His image, her love for him was seared in her soul. But it was not possible for her to show it to him anymore. She may love him to bits but she would never let him know. She had been very badly hurt the last time.
“What if he proves himself to you Khushi? What if he truly regrets his mis-judgement and wishes to make up to you? What if he said those horrible things only in anger and didn’t mean them?” Khushi asked herself, “Would be so cruel as to not even give him a chance to prove his love, to earn back your trust? What then would be the difference between him and you?”
A knock on the door broke her monologue. Lalita entered with a tray that held a bowl of minestrone soup and bread. This was her favourite food when she was tired. Khushi smiled at Lalita and thanked her. When Lalita left the room, the smile disappeared and a thoughtful expression took its place back on her face. She absently started eating her food, with one leg dangling from the window ledge as she thought of Arnav. Should she give him a second chance? Should she believe his claim of loving her or should she believe what she’d been told before? She knew very well that he wanted her, oh yes he did. He always had.
Khushi had agreed to help Aakash and his father Mr. Mahinder Singh Raizada at work. Senior Mr. Raizada’s secretary had been off sick and the temp agency had not been able to send any satisfactory replacement. Since Khushi was not doing anything in particular, she had volunteered to help them. Soon of course her potential was obvious and she had been asked to work on contract basis for an important project. Apparently the marketing team needed a big boost due to the last two screw ups that had lost them good deals. Khushi was to work in co-ordination with the marketing department and handle the entire project as an outside consultant. She was very happy as the project had given her something challenging to work on.
At the time she had taken up the project, she of course had no idea that her path was about to be crossed with Arnav again. He was the London counterpart who would be handling the deal in the U.K. Was the only fact she had been aware of. She had had no idea at the time that this project would one day pave the path to bring them closer to each other.
A week after Khushi had joined the project; she had been sitting in the waiting area of Mr. Raizada’s office, waiting to talk to him when she felt his presence a moment before she heard his mocking drawl,
“And what’s a social butterfly like yourself doing in an office?”
She looked up to meet his eyes only to silently gasp. She had almost forgotten the intensity of those eyes. They gave her a thorough look over that incensed her awareness of him, bringing a sparkle of rage to her eyes. However her voice showed none of her rage as she calmly retorted,
“I thought the norm of greeting in corporate offices was “hello” or “good morning”. “
“Good morning Ms. Gupta. What brings you here?” He sounded so meek that Khushi looked at him suspiciously. Arnav Singh Raizada and meek? Huhh.. What a joke! She may have met him twice but she knew his type well. Such men were arrogance personified.
“What- no come back? “ He raised an eyebrow with the drawl she was slowly coming to hate.
“I am thinking if you are as stupid as you sound although that would hardly stand up to the image everyone has of you.” At his look of disbelief at her words, Khushi felt a quiet sense of glee. He looked as if he couldn’t believe he was being called stupid. While he still looked at her, she continued, “Obviously, since I am waiting here in the reception lounge of senior Mr. Raizada, I’d have thought it would be obvious to a clever man like you what I might be doing here. Looks can be so deceptive.. oh dear, you look angry.” She could barely contain the smile that wanted to break free on her face.
“I am not sure what you could be doing here waiting for Mahinder uncle. What business have you here with him? Maybe I can help?” He spoke up, his amber eyes ready to catch fire but his voice ever so cold.
Khushi shook her head in negation, “Nothing that I may need your help with Mr. Raizada. My business is solely with er- Mahinder uncle.”
A slight cough had them both turning around at the secretary sitting at the reception lounge. She was a young thing, looking at them both with a troubled expression on her face, as if scared to intervene. Arnav looked at her and gave her a dazzling smile that probably floored the poor thing. She purred like a cat with a smile on her face that had Khushi gritting her teeth, “Welcome back Mr. Raizada. We were awaiting your return.”
“Thank you Edith. How are you? Is my uncle free?” He asked her.
Any moment now Khushi was sure this Edith chick will probably climb over the desk and wrap herself around his feet. Silly twit! As if he could read her thoughts, Arnav turned to her and gave her a shark grin that almost had Khushi jumping from her seat to grab his neck and throttle him. How dare he flirt so openly with-
Almost shocked at her thoughts, Khushi quickly looked away from him and at Edith, “ Ms. George please inform Mr. Raizada that I’ll be with Aakash if he wishes to speak to me.”
“Sure Ms. Gupta.” Edith replied back abently, her gaze stuck on Arnav, “Mr Raizada, let me call Mr. Raizada sir and find out if he’s free. If you’d wait here a moment please?”
“On second thoughts Edith, would you ask him to buzz me when he’s free? I’ll be in my office. Thanks.” It was the ruthless businessman who was doing the talking now. Gone was the smile of a charmer and it was replaced with a dismissal. Khushi muttered under her breath, “Laad Governer kahin ka, he thinks everyone is inferior to him. Arrogant ass.” as she walked off from the area. Not that she went far.
“Not so fast! I wish to know what it was that you said under your breath just now.”
A hand came to clamp itself around her waist and she was dragged into a corner at the turn of the lounge. Khushi gasped with outrage, and tried to free herself. “How dare you! Let me go Raizada, I’m not one of your empty headed bit of fluff!”
“As soon as you tell me what it was your said before, I’ll let you go.” Arnav said while he held her. Truth be told, he liked her moulded to him like this. She fit his hold perfectly; his hand on her tiny waist making her his prisoner, her back rubbing against his chest as she struggled, igniting a fire that refused to be bogged down.
Khushi could feel herself burning up at the touch of his hand on her waist. In fact her whole body seemed to be burning up while he held her tight from behind, with his chest rubbing her back so often. “Go to hell Raizada. I don’t wish to talk to you.”
“If you keep on moving, there won’t be any possibility of us talking at all. In fact, let us not talk; I like you much better like this if only you’d stay quiet.” Arnav said huskily, pulling her even closer by putting his other arm around her waist and touching his lips to the side of her neck.
Khushi trembled violently in his arms as she felt his lips come in contact with the side of her neck. She may not have any experience when it came to men since she never had any serious boyfriends but she was not entirely naïve. She could feel the sexual tension that had both of them in its grasp and made her want to submit. She found it difficult to breathe when Arnav turned her to face him, with his arms still around her; her entire body shaking with an unknown emotion. She had to get out of his arms or she’d suffer from instant combustion.
Her voice trembled when she said while looking down, “Let me go Raizada. I don’t like being manhandled like this. Let me go and I’ll tell you what it was that I said.”
Arnav looked down at her lips and then at her eyes. He caught her chin in his hand and made her look up to him. What he saw there nearly toppled him. He could read the same desire in her eyes that he felt, and he could even feel her wanting to control this madness. As Khushi met his eyes and saw them watching her lips, she felt her throat tighten, her lips drying. As if she couldn’t help herself, the tip of her tongue came out and wet her lips. He gulped visibly as he followed the unconscious gesture of provocation. He wanted to catch that tongue of hers in his mouth, he wanted to desperately touch his lips to hers, wet them with his tongue. In fact he wanted nothing more at this time than to devour her slowly and steadily.
Arnav was not sure what was happening to him but he was sure he didn’t want to let her go. He’d never felt this immense tug of desire before. He’d been around women since his teenage years and knew what it was to be in lust, but this was something completely different. He felt aroused beyond his wildest expectations. And he felt this for this girl – the girl he wasn’t even sure he liked! He could feel her trembling; what made her tremble- was it the fear that she felt or was she feeling the same that he was?
Man, this was getting a little out of hand! A part of his brain rang warning bells and screamed to let her go; she was dangerous while a part of him wanted to glue her to his body so close that they’d become one. Alarmed at such emotions being aroused in him, Arnav immediately let her go.
She moved away as quickly as possible from him as soon as he removed his arms from around her. She still couldn’t look at him. Gathering her courage in her hands, she did the only thing she thought was sensible. She walked as fast as her legs would carry her. As she went out of sight, she looked back once, met his eyes and then turned around the corner. Arnav watched her disappearing from his sight with a brooding expression on his face.
Khushi jerked back to her senses and jumped away from the window as if burned. Her whole body was shaking from the memory of that first close physical encounter. She groaned loudly at her body’s state of arousal. Damn the man! She could do without this feeling for the moment when everything in her life seemed confusing to her.
She gave herself a mental kick as she climbed into the bed. She was about to switch off the bedside lamp when the cell phone rang. Khushi glanced at the bedside clock. It was almost past midnight. Who would ring her at this time of the night? She glanced at the phone and her heart started galloping as she saw the name on her screen. Arnav Singh Raizada. Khushi turned away from the phone, ignoring it once- twice. The third time it rang, she picked it up annoyed with him and herself, only to hear him say huskily,
“Missing me yet?”
Chapter 12- Pre-cap
He held his breath sitting next to her by the bush. The children were a little further away, playing by the lake and being supervised by the other volunteers. Khushi had come to this side of the forest to catch a glimpse of scaly breasted wren babbler. He had no idea that Khushi liked bird watching. He was starting to think there were many things about her that he had not known before, that were slowly being exposed in front of him. Just how many layers of Khushi were there inside one?
“Arnav look! There they are- scaly breasted wren babbler! Oh, what a sight this is!” Khushi whispered excitedly. She had caught hold of his arm as she pointed to the area a little far away from the bushes they were behind.
Indeed there sat two birds that to Arnav looked like all other birds. One was pecking the ground while the other was doing something to it. He frowned as he whispered in Khushi’s ear, “What are they doing?”
Khushi’s entire body tingled when Arnav spoke in her ear. Her heart beat out of control or so it seemed to her. She put a hand over it and said, “Don’t talk in my ear for heaven’s sake! I can hear you when you whisper.”
“Umm..yes.” Arnav mumbled his mouth still very close to Khushi’s ear. He wanted to kiss her ear but he knew it would be too soon to try and seduce her. He would have to wait until evening. “So what are they doing?”
Khushi tried to gather her wits and after a moment replied, “The one pecking is eating insects off the ground and the other is trying to peck the moss on the ground. They are going to build a nest somewhere. It is mating and breeding season right now.”
“Ah! Mating and breeding season. So they’re going to have babies soon. How many babies can they breed?” Though Arnav’s question seemed harmless, his voice was not. It had gone all husky and deep- aroused. Khushi was trying hard to control her voice. She didn’t want to get out of control and she knew Arnav’s close proximity and his voice was affecting her nerves. Her body wanted nothing more than to get closer to him, to have his mouth on her. NO! She must retain control of this situation. She moved a little away from him, just an inch to give herself some space and said, “They lay 2-5 eggs in every breeding season is what I know. The season is from March to August, they’d have to build a nest before they breed and collect food.”
“Of course, smart birds, these. We should follow their example instead of fighting all the time.” Arnav said and then carried on, I can earn for us and you can make a home for us- for our brood.”
“I don’t want to talk to you anymore Arnav. You said you wouldn’t talk about us if I allowed you to come with the group. Don’t go back on your word Arnav Singh Raizada.” Her wobbling voice must have disturbed the birds for they flew off. An upset Khushi walked away from the bushes while Arnav looked on, with a hand at the back of his neck, his eyes closed and sighed. Patience, he should learn more patience!
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.”
Chapter – 6
Khushi was not sure what was making her heart beat faster,making her feel dizzy but as soon as she entered Negi House; Mallika’s home, she could feel both these sensations. Now why on earth would she feel anything of the sort in her best friend’s house? She had been coming and going here since she’d been young. Why would it arouse such sensations today? The only one who could- Khushi gasped loudly making Mallika turn around worriedly, “What’s wrong? Did we forget something?”
“No-nothing, nothing at all.” Khushi tried to sound cheerful but her breath hitched in her throat. She ridiculed the thought. Nonsense, she was definitely going to have to do something about this paranoia that had her it its grip! First at the bazaar and now here.. get out of it Khushi!
Once they went into Mallika’s room and changed into Mehandi clothes, Khushi relaxed somewhat but was still on the edge. Her instincts, every now and then whispered his presence to her. But how could that be possible?
Khushi had changed into a beige coloured dress that had pink borders. She thought it gave her a homely, plain, “not worth a second glance” look but she had no idea how pretty and docile he looked in it. She wore minimum make-up, her glasses firmly perched on her nose.
Mallika being the centre of attention wore a royal blue Lehanga in velvet with red zardosi work done in it. “Why don’t you wear your lenses now Khushi and you guys, are your dresses for the sangeet ready?” Mallika asked Khushi and her other friends who were changing as well.
Khushi looked around and saw all of them nodding. She groaned inwardly. She didn’t want to wear lenses. “Can I not dance with my glasses on Mallika?”
“Absolutely not! You promised you will leave your stubbornness aside and do as I say on Sangeet evening!”
Mallika pouted and Khushi hastened to assure her that she would, despite her reluctance. Khushi wore the lenses since it would be difficult to do so after the mehandi was on her hands. It had been quite a while since she’d worn lenses. She felt a little uncomfortable with her glasses gone, as if a part of her happy girl façade had been taken away. They went into the ladies room where Sangeet and mehandi ceremonies will take place. Payal was already sitting next to grandmother, getting mehandi on her hand done.
Khushi remembered how NK and Mallika had met as she sat down beside Mallika while two girls started applying mehandi on Mallika’s hands. NK’s side of the family had already arrived, with his Mom and Dad smiling at every one. NK himself was sulking and had thus decided to stay back in the hotel. Khushi knew her friend well. He would not be able to stay away for long from Mallika, never had been able to since they met.
Khushi had befriended NK while studying for her MBA and NK had come to Nainital with her one summer holiday. That is when Mallika and NK had hit it off and even after NK had left, they had kept in touch. Two months back, NK had come down and gone on one knee, in the presence of several hundred candles to propose Mallika. Khushi remembered the joy on their faces when they had declared their love for each other and their commitment to each other. If only she could find that one man who would love her as much!
Khushi’s face drooped at the thought while a girl took hold of her hand and stared applying mehandi on it. Absent mindedly, Khushi looked at her mehandi and sighed. She couldn’t deny it that she did meet the man who was capable of deep love, only- what was love without trust? Angry at herself that she had thought of him again, she tried to focus on what was being discussed around her. They were all talking about the function that would take place after Mehandi.
“Khushi, which song are you and the girls planning to perform on?” Asked NK’s mother. Khushi liked her a lot. She was kind and gentle and by no means, lacking in sense of humour.
“Mummyji, it’s a song from the movie Chandni. It’s called “main sasuraal nahi jaaungi ( I will not go to the in-laws house)” said Mallika, looking at Khushi.
Khushi smiled back, dragging her mind away from dark thoughts. It was Mallika’s special evening and she was damned if she’d let it be ruined. A sparkle lit her eye, as she replied, “Yes, Auntiji, I know it’s a song for wedding Sangeet but we found it appropriate at this time to tease you guys. Marriage may be a bit too heavy what with us all busy meeting Mallika’s demands.”
Mallika nudged her with her elbow and outraged face while NK’s mother laughed. “Sounds like fun to me. I look forward to watching it. Is Mallika performing as well?”
Khushi chuckled, “She doesn’t want to give the wrong impression by doing it herself so we’re going to do it on her behalf.” Mallika blushed and other women around laughed.
Khushi looked around for her grandmother who seem to be missing and asked Payal, “where’s grandma?”
Payal tried to speak with an air of carelessness but was not sure if she was able to pull it off, “Oh she must have gone to the other room to meet others. There are so many people of her acquaintance, you know. She keeps on flitting around.”
It seemed as if Khushi had accepted her explanation because she nodded and focused on what was being drawn on her hands by the mehandi girl. “Do you want a letter written in it?” Asked the mehandi girl to Khushi.
“NO.” Khushi replied firmly, not giving herself any chance to feel sorry for herself. She had no business thinking about Arnav at this time.
Soon the mehandi session was over and older ladies brought in “dholak” and tambourine. They started singing old folk songs meant for weddings and engagements. Normally both the bride and groom parties teased each other with these songs. Khushi’s song may be filmy but it was of similar nature too. Men had been allowed back into the room now. NK’s mother was dancing with Mallika’s father and the other relatives had also started dancing with each other. At Mallika’s quiet whisper, all girls moved away into the other room to dress for their performance. Payal accompanied all the girls to help them dress and make-up since she was quite a good hand at it.
Khushi came out wearing a green Lehenga with pink dupatta that was tied from one shoulder to the other side of her waist so that it may be easy for her to dance in it. The other girls were similarly attired too in Lehanga, the colours of their choice. Giggling and laughing with the other girls, Khushi came out into the room and stood beside Mallika. It was time.
By the time, the older ladies finished their song and sat down tired but happy, the girls had taken their positions. And then began the dance. Khushi danced gracefully, lip singing the song and giving out perfect, naughty expressions. The song was all about teasing NK’s family- his mother, his father, his sister, his brother-in-law. It talked about how each one of them comes to take her to the in-laws’ abode and how she’d make excuse not to go with them.
The song came to its climax, to the part that spoke about the last message coming from the beloved. Khushi had decided to drag Mallika into the song for this verse since NK had shown up in the middle of the song and was sitting beside his mother, cheering her.
As Khushi moved with the music to drag Mallika and NK into the song, the verse began, “paanchwa sandesa mere piyaji ka aaya, koi bahana na phir yaad aaya…” (the fifth message came from beloved and I couldn’t remember any excuse…) Mallika and NK looked at each other; their gazes shy and loving and spiritedly played their part on the verse while Khushi went into the background with the other girls.
The song was almost done and it said, “nange paanv main daudii chalii jaauungii, maike vaapas main lautakar na aauungii, sainyaa jii se lipat main jaauungii, huun suunii sej sajariyaa sajaauungii, ban ke bistar main haay bichh jaauungii..main sasuraal nahiin “…(I will run to him barefoot, I will not come back to my mother’s house, I will hug my beloved and decorate his life, I will become his bed by laying down for him) Mallika blushed furiously and stumbled on the last line but NK held onto her hand.
When the song was over, Khushi jumped and cheered loudly along with others, hugging them each in turn; her sadness, her worries, her heartaches forgotten. Here was one couple who was so much in love, so committed to each other, it brought tears into Khushi’s eyes. She moved away while the pair basked the glory of praise from everyone.
She wanted to move away for a bit and keep to herself for a few minutes. Going out in the garden will surely help. Thinking this, she moved without thinking and bumped into someone.
Arnav had watched Khushi dance from distance. He grit his teeth when he looked at other guys watching Khushi with lust and admiration. He wanted to tear their eyes out, so angry was he. He admitted to himself feeling jealous, knowing he didn’t want anyone else looking at his Khushi that way. While she had danced, he could feel his body stirring with desire, his heart turning over in his body, jumping with joy at seeing her again, happily dancing. She was simply beautiful!
Her eyes conveyed all kinds of thoughts through their expressions, her hair that had been tied in a braid with a silver thread, her poise, her tiny waist and the tantalising belly button that could be seen when she lifted her hands to dance, her smile; sometimes naughty, sometime mischievous, sometimes downright sinful. Her mouth when she touched her tongue to her lips, as was her habit when she was worried or concentrating hard. He ached to touch her mouth, to taste it again. He wanted to hold her in his arms again, her body moulding to his and feel her melting into them.
He had planned to watch her from a distance and make his move the next day. But one glance at all those guys who seemed to be leering at Khushi, waiting for the dance to be over so that they could ask Khushi out changed his decision. Earlier Khushi’s grandmother had told him that Khushi had been tensed since yesterday and asked him if he could perhaps postpone his plans. He had assured her that he would be careful while talking to Khushi and only if Khushi was willing will he take his plans further.
Of course, there was no way he was going to stop until he claimed her, he knew that but he didn’t think her grandmother needed to know that at this time. He had come with a purpose and he would not leave until his heart was with him again-his Khushi. He would try to be gentle. He would need to control his temper and stay calm. He had never had trouble before when it came to being calm and controlled; only with Khushi did he lose it completely. Khushi had enough power to ignite his temper, had sometime deliberately provoked him even! As to her grandmother telling him, she had been behaving weirdly since yesterday, he knew why. Of course she would! Her heart recognized his heart beating in close proximity to her. No matter how much they fought and declared they hated each other, their hearts still beat as one.
Arnav moved ahead and he saw Khushi trying to get out of the room while a couple of guys moved forward to talk to her. To hell with everything, he had to get there before anyone else!
“Oops! Sorry, I-” The sentence was left unsaid as she stared at the face of one man she had dreaded to see again, her heart had ached to see again. Arnav!
“So we meet again, Miss Khushi Kumari Gupta.” He drawled, steadying her with his hand on her arm.
Khushi went through a brain freeze at this point. Her mind boggled, hardly making any sense as questions emerged in her head. She must certainly be hallucinating! How could he be here? How would he know she was here? How did he know the Negi’s?
While a part of her mind juggled with the questions and their comprehension, a part of her registered that he had lost weight. His jaw looked more defined than ever, his bright amber eyes intense than ever and glittering with emotions that rocked her world once. He was wearing “Brioni”; the sickeningly expensive, custom tailored suit as usual, giving him his “I’m the boss” look that had turned many a girls to mush in Khushi’s opinion. His hair had been cut short to look make him look hot and sexy and he had an evening stubble. Her body heated up and danced its own tune while her mind was still trying to come to grips with his presence.
While she was still trying to formulate questions and come up with plausible explanations, Arnav pulled her out of the room and outside, away from all eyes. He walked briskly down the steps and into the garden. Surely a figment of your imagination couldn’t do that! His touch had seared her arm. It was real enough, hot enough just like when Arnav used to pull her into his arms and kiss her senseless.
“Sit. We need to talk Khushi.” He growled huskily as his eyes devoured her, while he sat by her side, still holding her hand.
Khushi looked up into his face, her chicken brain still computing the fact that he was here. At his words though, she jerked away from him and gasped; the spell broken.
Her breath hitched in her throat. He was here for real and not her imagination! Breathtakingly handsome as ever, Arnav was dangerous when he looked at her like this. Her palms started sweating as heat pooled inside her stomach and lower, heart beating like the flutter of a caged bird. How could he look so mouth watering and how could she still feel like this after everything that had happened?How could she still ache for his arms around her!?
“What are you doing here Mr. Raizada ? And why have you come? Have you not done enough, not said enough?” saying this, Khushi tried to get up.
“ Sit down Khushi! I am not done talking with you yet!” He caught her hand in his again and growled softly between his teeth, his temper already slightly showing.
“I’m not someone you can order around, get it? Let go of my wrist. I am not going to sit around and listen to whatever vile accusations you want to throw at me. Let me go or I’ll scream!”
“ Well then, you might as well scream because I’m not letting you go.” Arnav held her hand in tight grip, his eyes chips of ice. He took a deep breath. He was here to woo her, not frighten her. He had to calm down!
“Look Khushi, I will let your hand go but we really need to talk. You have to listen to me, give me a chance.”
“Let my hand go and we’ll talk.” said Khushi.
The moment he let her hand go, she ran from his side, shouting, “To hell with you Arnav Singh Raizada.”
She didn’t run far though. He caught her by the waist just when she reached the beginning of the steps.
“You really need to learn manners Khushi.” Arnav growled and before she could so much as retaliate, he picked her up like she was a sack of potatoes on his shoulder and dragged her back deeper into the garden, surrounded by trees. She was breathing heavily, struggling and trying to free herself unsuccessfully.
“Let me go damn you! I’m not your property! How dare you pick me up like this, how dare you touch me! Let me go this instant! Why should I give you a chance? Did you give me a chance?” Khushi pummelled him with blows on his back. Not that they seem to be affecting him at all. He put her down and pulled her into his body, his hands quickly holding hers as she tried to hit him.
“Calm down you wild cat! You’ll injure yourself and me both if you keep on doing this.”
“I don’t care! Let me go you beast. Oh!”
In one moment, Arnav arms twisted her arms behind her back, forcing Khushi into his body. Khushi struggled even more, tears forming in her eyes. She would not cry, she would not! She couldn’t let him see she was weak.
“You’re hurting my arms dammit! Let me go!” Khushi wailed as finally tears fell down her cheeks. “Let me go Arnav. Please! I can’t take this anymore!”
Khushi sobbed silently while Arnav looked at her, his rage fading all of a sudden. He let her go and moved away from her while she sobbed in her hands, quietly.
“Why have you come Arnav? What more needs to be said?”
“Khushi.” Arnav felt his voice grow hoarse. Hell, he could never see her crying and this was worse! He had come here to make up and he’d already shouted on her, forced her, hurt her and now she was crying again. He ran his hand through his hair, dishevelling it. “Dammit woman! I just wanted to talk to you. If you’d simply hear me out, I’d not have to force you like this. “
As if he couldn’t bear to hear her sobbing any more, as if he couldn’t bear to stand away any more, he close the distance between them and removed her hands from her face, turning it into his chest. “Khushi.”
While Khushi sobbed on his suit, Arnav breathed in the scent of her hair. Green apples and cinnamon. Her hair always smelled the same, fresh and lively. He pulled her deeper into him, his hand going around her waist, another going through her hair. “Khushi” His voice was a mere croak accompanied with a groan. “For God’s sake, have mercy on me. Stop crying. I hate it when you do that.”
She could hear his heart beating as she lay her head on his chest and cried, beating hands against him and mumbling, “I hate you, hate you.”Suddenly she stilled as his hands moved from her hair onto her back, caressing her. Was she mad? Why was she letting him hold her! She pushed herself away from him, her tears on her cheeks, her eyes blazing, “ You have a hell of a nerve Mr Raizada. You are the sole reason for my tears and my miseries and yet you- Please, just go away. I do not wish to speak to you.”
Arnav didn’t touch her this time. She had kind of hoped he would stop her as she started walking away but he only said, “ Khushi stop.”
Khushi stopped walked but didn’t turn back. He continued, “I know the truth and I know you were innocent. I know now all about how Shyam lured you into that room and tried to molest you.”
Khushi turned around quickly, her eyes shocked and surprised. Arnav continued, his voice filled with guilt “ I found out the truth recently when Shyam was drunk at a party and boasting how he had you in his claws then, how you struggled, how I didn’t believe you and how he got one up on me.”
Khushi shuddered and closed her eyes as the memory surfaced of how close she had come to being raped, by her own cousin too! Had Arnav not interrupted on time, she’d have been raped and killed by that obsessed creep. Another shudder racked her body as Khushi tried to control her panicked breathing. Deep breaths. It didn’t matter any more. She opened them to look at Arnav; her eyes a tale of anguish and then down, “So you know now. Yet you didn’t believe me then.”
Arnav looked as if someone had put a spear through his heart. Oh her eyes! How much had she suffered and he had compounded it all! He was just as responsible for hurting her physically and mentally as Shyam was. No wonder she hated him now. But he couldn’t live with her hate, he just wouldn’t! He had to ask for forgiveness, she had to give it to him.
His eyes tried to show her how sorry he was, how he suffered and lived with his guilt since the last so many months but she refused to look at his face. He turned away from her and spoke quietly,
“ I can only tell you that justice has been served. He is in jail now since he had also embezzled funds from my company. Even when he serves his sentence and comes out, he will not be entertained in any decent society.” His eyes searched her face desperately for some sign of forgiveness, some sign of her mellowing down now that the culprit had been caught and given his due punishment, “ Khushi, I know I didn’t believe you at the time since I had seen the proof with my own eyes, proving otherwise. You must realize how it looked at the time.”
Khushi looked at him, her hurt and despair plain in her eyes.
“Yes, I do now. You believed that– that creep cousin of mine who was your friend and employee rather than the woman you were engaged to; me- the woman who kept on telling you that she was not in the room by her wish but had been forced. You believed only what you saw, not in me.
You proved everyone right; all those who kept on telling me I was a fool to get involved with you- that you had no heart, no conscience, that you were ruthless in your real life as in business. Those who told me that I was naïve to believe you were engaged to me and wanted to marry me because you cared for me even if you didn’t–you couldn’t care, you couldn’t love. You proved them right and you proved silly naive me wrong. But I learnt my lesson.
I know now Mr. Raizada. It hurt horribly at the time; your distrust, your betrayal but I’m alright now. I am over the hurt and am even over you. You needn’t worry, you needn’t lose your sleep over it. I know you are not in the habit of apologizing no matter how big your crime may be. I don’t expect you to apologise just as I know I will not forgive you.”
“Khushi, I am sorry.” The words slipped out of Arnav’s mouth before Khushi could move. She looked shocked, only stared at him when he repeated again, “I’m really really sorry. I should have believed you. Forgive me and come back to me Khushi. I-”
A giant wave of rage enveloped her as she realized what he had just said. “Forgive you Arnav Singh Raizada? For what? For being your-pompous-ass-I-am-always-right-self? I don’t think so! You and I can never be together again. This conversation is over and I have nothing more to say to you.”
“Khushi, stop!” Arnav’s command fell on deaf ears as Khushi kept on walking. Tears had begun again. He wanted her, oh yes he did.. but only to assuage his own guilt, only to make himself feel better. He didn’t really care for her. Well, he could rot in hell for all she cared!
Her feet came to a stop at his softly spoken, “Khushi.” His next words scared her as did the determination in his voice. “Fine. We’ll talk another time. I’m not going to go away so you might as well face it. I’m here to get you back in my life and you will come to me again. I am not letting you go Khushi. I am staying here at Negi house as their guest since they have invited me to the engagement party.”
Khushi looked back and stared at him for a moment. She whispered so softly that he almost missed her words as he spoke to herself, “So you’re not here just for me. I knew it.”
She walked away, wiping her tears with her dupatta while Arnav stood looking at her departing dear back. A part of him was rejoicing. He had seen the proof in her eyes. Her despair told its own story. She still loved him! However,… he sighed. She was not going make this easy for him. He knew he’d have to crawl before he would be able to win her back. A determined glint came in his eyes. Tomorrow was another day. He was ready to grovel, he was ready to crawl- in his own ASR/Arnav style.