” Why is it that every time I try to do something nice for you, it backfires?” Anjali asked her brother, thoroughly put out by his attitude that evening.
Arnav looked at his sister, amusement plain on his face. His sister’s tactics were not unknown to him but to have invited La to be his date for her Mehandi evening without even asking him stretched things a bit far. And he was quite sure that she had no idea what a can of worms she had opened up by inviting Laavanya to India in the first place. He shrugged and said,
“Who knows ? Maybe you should stop thinking you’re being nice to me by giving me unplanned surprises. Unlike you my darling sister, I don’t like them.”
He had been surprised to see La this morning, when she had suddenly come up to his office and announced herself. Politeness and long ingrained teaching of never leaving a friend in need alone had urged him to take her up on her offer of showing him around the city. He had cancelled his appointments for the rest of the day and gone out with her, only to listen to her mooning about the only love of her life- Shyam Jha.
His hand fisted at the thought of him and then the fist tightened when he recollected Shyam and Khushi together, with her hand in his. Unexplained rage had erupted in his head at the sight of Shyam dragging Khushi away from him. He had wanted to snatch her away from Shyam, and keep her by his own side.
It had taken a few moments for such irrational thoughts to fade, and sense to kick in. Recalling Khushi’s behaviour he had realised that she had not objected to Shyam’s hand in hers, nor had she protested when he had led her away. The rest of the day had become unbearable with his head partially filled with thoughts of Khushi and the question of her relationship with Shyam. La had tried to be bright and chirpy but by evening, she had fizzled out; opting out of going to the night club as originally planned.
On arriving home, he had been greeted by Maamiji who had wanted to know if La was coming to the house later on. Initially he had been taken aback by her suggestion, but later on realised if Anjali had organised La’s coming to India, it was quite possible every one thought, he and La were an item again. He had excused himself after firmly dispelling Maamiji’s doubts about his relationship with La.
Once in his room, he shed his clothes and made straight for a cold shower. Unwillingly, he had thought of Khushi. As usual, she had tried her best to ignore him. That had only annoyed him more. Deliberately he had tried to rile her up, only to fall flat on his face as she had dismissed him by calling him ignorant about New Delhi in not so many words. She had even dared to imply that he was one of those men who wouldn’t go out unless he had an escort. Distaste of that thought had left feeling him bitter in the mouth.
Once dressed in casual chinos and a white t-shirt, he had come down to be grumbled at by his sister.
Anjali continued, stuffing flowers into an already neat flower arrangement. Arnav winced for them as Anjali said, ” I thought having La here would cheer you up. I wasn’t sure if you were together any more or if you have moved on to pastures new, but she’s a nice girl. I like her. “
The last was said in a defensive tone. Arnav stopped her from putting a rose in the arrangement, chuckling, “Any more in there and the entire arrangement will be choked to death Anjali! ” He put the rose down on the table and said, “La is a good friend, has always been. But there is nothing of the kind of relationship you think between us. She has her sights set very firmly on a man since she was a teenager.”
At Anjali’s raised eyebrows, he had to defend La, “The time in London was a smokescreen! She needed a fiction and I did too.”
“Did you now? Hmmm.. it must’ve been to keep the horde away I’m sure.” Anjali gigggled at her brother’s frowning face and said, “Imagine that! La prefers someone else to you! Who I wonder is this guy?”
ASR scowled as he recalled Shayam and with him, Khushi. He growled out the name in annoyance, “His name is Shyam; the son of Manohar Jha; the owner of Manchester Cotton Textile .”
Anjali’s face took on a speculative look. “That’s not a bad choice. I remember the guy from the corporate parties I had been forced to attend last year, as a board member. You joined hands with his father for a project, didn’t you?”
“That’s right. His father is a good businessman, so I am quite sure he won’t be averse to the match between his family and La’s. However it is this man himself who has been a bit shaky on commitment.”
Anjali absorbed this and Arnav continued, “Coincidentally he is also here these days and we bumped into him today. He was with that girl; Khushi Gupta.”
The last words came out really bland in tone. Anjali looked at her brother, realising that he was hiding very strong emotions under the bland voice. She pretended ignorance about Shyam being Khushi’s photographer and said, “Our Khushi- the wedding organiser and your ex-employee? How does she know him? “
“I have things to do for your wedding. I’ll see you later, okay?” Arnav said and walked away instead of answering her question. Anjali observed the taut profile of her brother walking away from her and smiled slowly. Things were definitely taking a very desirable turn, small thanks to unprecedented luck on her side. She might just be able to pull off her stint and finally fulfil her mother’s dying wish.
Anjali sat down on the chair by the flower arrangement on the table, her eyes misting. She still remembered her mother’s deep sigh and her words, spoken to her when she was only eighteen and Arnav was twenty-three. Anjali had been crying of guilt because Arnav hadn’t eaten for two days; they had fought bitterly over her latest crush who had been paid off by Arnav. He had shown her tender teenage eyes the real picture hiding behind the object of her infatuation’s charm; a man ten years elder to her and only after her money. It had been too much to bear then and in rage, Anjali had lashed out at her brother.
Her mother had been travelling with her father to Paris for a business event that weekend when the incident occurred. Upon return, she had taken the matter into her own hands and had the matter resolved in minutes. She was the only one Arnav ever listened to, without any argument. When he had gone back to his room (after accepting Anjali’s apology with a smile), Anjali had asked her mother why her brother had been so brutal with the truth. Her mother had given a sad sigh and said to her,
“My darling son and your brother is a complicated character. When your father died, I married Sebastian and sometimes I wonder if that is what started his cynicism of relationships. He knew; he was six, old enough to know that I had married Sebastian not because I loved him, but because we wanted companionship, and also because I wanted financial security to raise the both of you. He had already seen what his own father had done to us as a family. Your father had thought he would climb the social ladder by marrying me and he did so too, by squandering my inheritance and betraying my father’s trust. Arnav had loved your father dearly, made him his idol. Sadly his love had never been returned. Your father was not the one to love anyone but himself. One day Arnav realised the truth. Turned out his charming idol had feet of clay. That was his first disillusionment. When I married Sebastian for financial security, it was his second disillusionment. Later on, as he grew up he realised there was a lot more to our relationship that that, but it did give birth to the cynic in him.”
Lost in her thoughts, she had then smiled, and proceeded to say, ” I have never regretted my decision to marry Sebastian, and I was very happy the day you and Arnav decided to accept him wholly and call him your Dad. Sebastian truly loves you as his own.”
Anjali had smiled brightly, held her mother’s hand and kissed it. Her mother had squeezed her hand in return and continued,
” I think its was the greatest sign of acceptance when Arnav decided to accept his new name. I know that he loves being called Alex by Sebastian, but he is also aware of how different his life might have been had he not been given the life and love he has, by Sebastian. When you father died, all I had was you as a toddler in my arms and Arnav, and a whole lot of debts that his womanising and gambling had left behind. My mother couldn’t forgive me for choosing such a man, and I couldn’t forget that I had chosen such a man. Yet I had loved him wholeheartedly. I can never regret meeting him or marrying him, because he gave me you and Arnav.
Anjali, I sometimes wonder if there would a woman brave enough to love him and fall in love with him, despite his weaknesses. I am not blind to his faults darling, nor am I unobservant. He is clever and brilliant at what ever he does, and your father says he will go far when he joins the business next week, as his successor. I have no doubt about it. But I have seen bitterness reflecting in his attitude, made only worse by his broken affair. His eyes are already of a man of thirty, cynical. He is the son of a prestigious businessman, has money and he is aware of it. He knows that girls-women may like him only because of his wealth. So many girls flock over to him, and I have no doubt he has his share of girlfriends and fun. What man his age wouldn’t? My fear is, even if he does fall in love one day, he is so pig headed, he might just screw things up, to run away from his one fear- disappointment. Remember my words, darling. If I am not around at the time, you make sure your brother finds his soul mate.”
Tears ran down Anjali’s cheeks as she remembered this conversation with her mother. This was the last close conversation they had had together. Two weeks after, her parents had been killed in a plane crash, while travelling across the Atlantic. Mr Rothwell senior had happily named his successor, given a party for the occasion, and decided to take a holiday with his wife. They had been travelling to America when the plane had crashed.
Anjali wiped tears off her cheeks and sniffed, going into her bedroom, more determined than ever to ensure her brother’s happiness. She knew what she had to do next.
By evening however, Khushi had forgotten all about Shyam and La. She was at home, dressed in her old favourite T-Shirt and jeans, too busy arranging things over the phone, and muttering curses beneath her breath, about spoiled, rich families who couldn’t understand how any change in plans at the last minute affected organizers.
She had just received an email from Anjali Raizada. Khushi had panicked and called her up, to be told very politely but firmly of the change in her plans. She wanted her Mehandi function to take place in the Taj Mahal Hotel instead of at the Raizada Mansion. No reasons given. To top it all, she wanted Shyam to be the photographer of this entire event; none other would do.
“Truly her brother’s sister, no doubt about it with the amount of arrogance with which she gives those orders!” Khushi muttered, and then got annoyed with herself for thinking about ASR. She focused her attention to the changes that had to be made immediately.
“Khushi, the dinner has been ready for about an hour now. I’m really hungry!” Khushi turned back and looked guiltily towards her younger sister, who had been waiting patiently for more than an hour for her. Sending her an apologetic glance, she begged for five more minutes and tuned back in to the phone call.
“Hum samajhte hai aapki baat Mishra ji, par inn amir logo ke nakhre toh aap jaante he hai. Please accommodate to their needs this time around? Aage se, I will be careful you get plenty of notice.”
Khushi was trying to coax the manager of the Taj Mahal hotel to change room bookings. Nothing but the biggest conference hall would do. After some time, a smile spread across her face. She hailed for her victory by raising a fist in the air when the manager finally acceded to her request. She put down the phone with a sigh of relief. Now to make that phone call confirming the change of venue to Anjali Raizada.
“Khushi!” Payal shouted in frustration from the dining room when Khushi was speed-dialing Anjali’s number.
” Give me two minutes darling. Bas do minute! “Khushi replied back to Payal and then gasped when she heard a hiss in her ear and a terse,
“No need to shout in my ear woman, especially when you call someone else your darling.”
Arnav Singh Raizada!
“How was I to know you’d pick up Anjali ji’s phone?” Khushi demanded heatedly and then belatedly realised how that sounded, so she added, “It is none of your business who I call darling anyway. ”
“Wanna bet?”Arnav growled softly over the phone, raising goosebumps all over Khushi’s body. Resolutely, she kept her voice calm, “I don’t like gambling of any sort Mr Raizada. Now if you don’t mind, please hand the phone over to Anjali ji ”
“Why the hurry? Wish to go back to your “darling”, do you? ”
“Would you just bugger off?” Khushi finally got exasperated.
” Make me.” He sounded amused, which made Khushi madder.
“Why should I? I can simply hang up and be done with you. ” She replied with a touch of her own arrogance.
“Do you tremble in his arms too, like you do in mine every time I touch you, every time I kiss you ?”
He delivered this question, his voice going deeper and huskier, making Khushi tremble as he asked softly, “Do you remember that evening Khushi?” and continued, ” I remember that evening Khushi. Just like I remember the morning you came to receive me at the airport. I remember how I took your mouth, how it softened under mine, how your tongue danced with mine. Just thinking about it makes me want to do it again. I remember how your breasts swelled in my hand when I cupped them, how your nipples peaked — ”
“Shut up… stop talking like that!” Khushi gasped, her breath coming fast.
“If it helps, you affect me the same way Khushi. Your breathing has quickened at the thought, hasn’t it? Mine too. ” Arnav growled softly, making Khushi clench her legs together,denying the heat she felt between her legs. She wanted to deny the effect his words had on her, but she couldn’t. So she stayed quiet. After a heart beat, Arnav said softly, “Meet me for dinner tomorrow, Khushi. ”
“It would never do to show him you go weak at the knees when he talks like that, Khushi! Show some backbone!” Some part of her brain that had not turned to mush by his words yet screamed in reprimand. Her mind cleared in an instant, when she recalled the horrible embarrassment she had gone through after those few moments of insanity that evening. She hated her voice for betraying her with its huskiness, but she tried to be cool and dismissing with her words.
“Your ego is astounding Mr Raizada! Let me make something very clear -forget dinner; I don’t want to see you, or even talk to you. You’re mistaken if you think you affect me in any way. Now, either you pass the phone to Anjali ji or I shall hang up.”
“Huh..” Was all he said, and the next second, it was Anjali on the phone saying, “Haan Khushiji, have the changes been made ?”
Khushi breathed deeply to control her anger. When she spoke next, her voice was calm, “Yes, Anjaliji all the arrangements have been made with the changes requested by you. I shall get back in touch with you tomorrow to talk about the arrangement changes needed from your sides for that day. ”
“Come to the Raizada Mansion tomorrow morning Khushi ji if it’s not too much trouble, please? I will ask OP to pick you up from your house and he would also drop you back. I promise it won’t be inconvenient. ” Anjali requested earnestly over the phone.
Khushi could hardly refuse a request made so nicely. Sighing inwardly, she agreed. At least she had to thank Devi Maiyya that Laad Governor was staying at the Taj and not at the Raizada Mansion. She could heard loud voices in the background.
“Come on Anjali bitiya. We are all waiting for you. “A shrill, melodious voice spoke in the background loud enough to make Khushi wince. She knew who it was — another intimidating Raizada; Manorama Mami ji.
“Khushi ji, I shall see you bright and early tomorrow morning at 10:30. ” Anjali declared and with a hasty bye hung up. Khushi sighed loudly and said, ” I don’t have a choice, do I? “
“What nonsense!” With a jerk, Khushi moved out of his grasp at his words, completely rattled. “I’d thank you to keep your hands and your opinion to yourself.”
“But if I remember correctly, you liked my hands on you.” Said Arnav with dead calm, and watched as pink seeped into her cheeks. She whispered, “How dare you! That — that was — I was distraught and I didn’t realise–“
“Bullshit!” Said Arnav, heating up a little. “Why not be a little honest with yourself and say that you liked it? A little foreplay in the corner might not have been what you wanted, but you did want me. I stopped only because I realised we were at work and I was your employer.”
“I am not standing here and listening to this. If you want to get in that car standing there at the car parking, and go to the hotel, do so, or go to hell.” Shaking with outraged indignation and a little shame because she knew what he said was right, Khushi turned away to leave. Her next breath turned into a gasp, as he caught hold of her hand from behind and pulled her towards him.
“Wha—let me go this instant!” Khushi said, her breath coming in short, fast gasps.
Not hearing her, he pulled her with him into the nearest telephone booth and closed the door.
“Open the door this instant, you…. I don’t want to talk to you at all! Let me go.” Khushi demanded, refusing to struggle like a hysterical heroine in the movie.
Arnav pulled her closer and tighter to him, if that was possible. He pulled her ponytail a bit so that her eyes came up to meet his defiantly. His palm could feel the pulse beating frantically in the nape of her neck; he could feel her nipples peaking against his chest. Her heart was beating like a drum roll, just like his was, at this nearness. There was no doubt in his mind. She was as attracted to him, as he was to her and fighting it with admirable spirit too! Had he been right all these months, thinking that she had disappeared because she had felt the strong pull of attraction to him? He was starting to think he was right.
Feeling a kick of satisfaction in his gut, he growled, “You still want me Khushi Gupta, and God help me, but I still want you—very much. “ He bent a little lower, his breath falling on her face, his soft words caressing her face, “Why is it that you always lie about what you feel? Why do you always hide under the façade of coolness or anger? Is this why you disappeared? “
“I don’t want to talk about this! Why can’t you leave it alone?” Khushi closed her eyes and said despairingly.
“Can you leave it alone? Tell me you didn’t think about me all these months. “Arnav whispered, his lips almost touching hers, feeling her breaths.
Khushi could hardly think; much less speak, for the fear of touching his mouth with hers, and igniting herself in the fiercely burning fire of want. She tried to move her head to one side, but his tight grip on the nape of her neck prevented her.
“Khushi..” Arnav groaned against her mouth, and in the next second touched his lips to her. Desire that was just a flame, turned into a raging inferno for both of them as their mouths touched. Khushi kissed him with abandon, opening her mouth for the invasion of his lips and tongue. They kissed like they’d never want to be apart again. Khushi held on to him like he was her rock of Gibraltar, her hands holding his head, her fingers making scissoring patterns in his hair. Arnav pecked at her lips, her eyes, her cheeks, her jaw and she did likewise. His hands moved from the nape of her neck to her back, her waist and then to her hips, where he held on to her as he kissed her. He moved down to her nape, whispering, “I knew you want me. “
Khushi stiffened in his arms as she heard his whisper, horrified at what she was doing. Had she let go of her senses completely? How could she have let him kiss her, and furthermore, kiss him back with such ardent abandon?
She pushed him away from her, breathing as if she’d run a marathon, and he faltered a step as he lost his grip on her. Khushi looked at him, her eyes glittering pools of brown. Angry tears at her own failure to curb her desire weren’t far away. She made to move out of the telephone booth by pushing him away, but he simply pulled her back to him, her back brushing his chest. He moved the ponytail away and kissed the nape of her neck, breathing hard. Khushi ‘s breath hitched in her throat at the touch of his lips there, and her voice wavered when she spoke, “ You let me go this instant. I never want this to happen again!!”
Arnav bit the lobe of her ear lightly and then licked it to soothe it. Khushi felt herself twitching between her legs, her insides clenching with need, as he spoke, his voice gruff with desire, “Never say never, Khushi. You can’t ignore this attraction between us, any more than I can.”
“Can I not?” Khushi said through gritted teeth, freeing herself finally.
She quickly opened the door and stepped out of the telephone booth. Arnav stepped out from the telephone booth too and walked towards her. Now that she was free of his enveloping presence, she could think clearly. She moved away from him and towards the parking lot, with Arnav following her. Anger at herself for giving in to her carnal lust, and at him for making her feel so vulnerable made her spat, “I can do what I want Mr. Raizada. You don’t have any hold over me, do you hear?”
His thundered face was the testament of how enraged he felt at her words. But he let her words flow past him silently, and walked to the car park, where the car was standing.
The driver of the car got out and watched the scene unfolding in front of his eyes with avid fascination, but wisely kept his distance. He could smell romance in the air, despite all the arguing that was going on. He was being eaten up with curiosity about this girl who dared to be defiant and give Arnav baba hell. No young women he had seen come in contact with him had behaved with anything less than simpering adoration, and he had known Arnav baba since he was a baby. No one got so much attention or emotion. He gathered his thoughts and quickly opened the back door, as Arnav walked briskly up to the car.
Arnav walked briskly up to the car, knowing that Khushi had walked a bit and now stood outside the car park. He turned around and looked back at her. She was staring at him, her expression confused at his behaviour. Their eyes met and he could feel a huge wave of some unknown emotion rise within him. He felt an overwhelming need to see a different emotion in her eyes, anything but this confusion that reflected his own feelings. He said, “In a way, I am still your employer you know. I am paying for my sister’s wedding. So you see Khushi, I still have a hold over you. See you later.”
The utter horror and shock etched on her face at his announcement must have satisfied him perhaps, because the next moment, he sat in the car and was driven away. He kept on replaying the look he had left Khushi with in his mind until he reached his room, freshened up, had his dinner and stood outside the room balcony, eyeing the city bright with lights, with a glass of neat scotch whiskey in his hand. A smirk came on to his face that turned into a huge grin. He chuckled loudly and then the chuckle turned into a laugh. Still laughing, he lay down on the bed and under the covers. Sighing deeply as if relieved in some manner, he closed his eyes and fell asleep with the same look, his mind occupied with Khushi.
Khushi heard a gasp and some low voiced mutterings. Curious to know where the noise had come from, she looked up to see a boy coming down the stairs slowly, one step at a time. She recognized him immediately. It was Vishal. His forehead shone with perspiration as he tried to carefully take another step down the stairs. With her heart in her mouth, Khushi watched as he slowly came down. How he had grown! Her heart ached for the little boy she had known and the boy know, who was trying so hard to fit in into the world. If nothing, she was glad that he had Arnav’s affection.
She had now accepted the reasoning her mind had come up with the night before, that even though Vishal had been accepted by Arnav, Aparna had not. What Arnav said when before he left to sleep in the guest room had stayed with her. It was quite clear that Aparna had left their lives long time back. She was curious as to what could have been the reason. Why did Arnav say she would regret having sacrificed five years of their lives together?
During this contemplation, she had also let in another thought. A part of her had wondered if she was actually being forced to go back. She had had to accept it that deep inside her, hope of going back home, to the man who was her husband, her life had always been there. Maybe when she had prayed at all times for her beloved’s well-being, she had secretly hoped for a reunion. Why should she then not embrace it?
After an hour of debate with herself, Khushi had finally decided to give herself and Arnav a second chance.
When Khushi had entered RM, she had wondered if she would encounter any unknown in the house she had made home. But looking around had confirmed her suspicions from last night.
For whatever reason, Aparna had not been given an entry in Shantivan. Meeting everyone made her realize another thing. Aparna had never been a part of this family- her family, in all the years that Khushi had been gone. Had she lived in Shantivan; Raizada Mansion, she would have definitely left her mark somewhere, on someone. It was as if she had never been there. The only difference she could perceive in the house was addition of some new furnishings. No doubt that the escalator was for Vishal as was the moving chair and a hammock next to the back garden.
Khushi watched Vishal coming down all by himself and felt anger bubbling inside her on his behalf. How could everyone just let him walk down the stairs all alone! At least OP or HP should have been with him! Another step and he faltered again. Before Khushi could stop herself, she was up the stairs and next to him. Smiling at him, she said, “Will you let me help you down?”
The smile that lit Vishal’s face as he accompanied it with an enthusiastic nod nearly brought tears to Khushi’s eyes. How could she not love him? After all, if she thought fairly, it was Vishal who had first awakened motherly feelings in her. Shrugging all her thoughts, she held his hand.
“I’m so glad you’re back.” Vishal said as he took a step down.
“I’m glad to see you can walk now.” Khushi said, her voice husky with emotion. There was no question of not accepting Vishal, he always had a place in her heart.
Vishal looked at her face again. Seeing tears glittering in her eyes, his hand left hers. In the next instant, he wrapped them around Khushi’s waist, his head buried against her. Khushi hugged him back as he whispered, “My Ma! I missed you so much! It was hard work, but Dad helped me get through it.”
Unwittingly, a tear dropped out of Khushi’s eye. Her heart had responded openly to Vishal calling her Ma like he always used to. At the time Khushi had thought he addressed her such because she was another woman in his father’s life. He had always called Arnav Dad and Aparna had always been addressed as “Mom”. Shrugging thoughts of Aparna aside for the moment, Khushi ruffled his hair.
Her voice was husky, as she said, “I-I’m glad he was there to support you.”
They had almost reached the bottom of the stairs. Arnav stood aside with Aarush and Ayush holding his hands. They were looking at Khushi and Vishal. Arnav came forward with both his sons and introduced them to each other.
“Vishal, these are your brothers- this is Aarush and this naughty boy here who’s wriggling is the youngest of you all; Ayush. Aarush, Ayush, this is your elder brother Vishal.”
All three looked at each other. Vishal’s face had a wide smile on it, as did Ayush. Aarush however looked at Khushi for confirmation of this information. Khushi nodded and smiled, bringing Vishal forward to meet her sons. “Come, meet your brothers Vishal.”
Vishal hugged both his brothers who hugged back with total acceptance. If their mother said he was their brother, then he was. It was a few minutes before Aarush’s smile was replaced again by a frown. Khushi closed her eyes in mortification as she knew the question that was about to come up. Her son Aarush was nothing if not like his father. He would definitely have been analyzing the information given and come up with a conclusion. And what was more, just like his father, he was going to be blunt about it and say it out loud. She was right.
“Mommy told us long time back about you. She also said she had to leave you and Dad because you had another mother.” He looked at Khushi and frowned, “So do we have two Mommys?”
She was about to answer when Vishal laughed a bitter laugh, “Oh no, Aarush. That is not true, not exactly.” He hugged Khushi who stood beside him. He looked up at her, his face serious and said, “I know I was not born from her like you guys, but she is my only Ma.”
While Khushi was still trying to speak past the lump in her throat, never mind bring all her scattered thoughts together, Vishal looked at his brothers, oblivious to the chaos Khushi’s heart and mind was in.
He said firmly, “We have only one mother Aarush. We don’t have two Mommys.” At Aarush’s still confused expression, he elaborated, “Let me explain. Come let us sit on the sofa. My legs ache, you know. I got a new foot.”
“What happened to the old one?” Ayush asked with child-like ignorance.
Vishal looked at him sadly, “I lost it brother.”
“How?” Ayush asked again.
Vishal sighed, evading the question, “I lost it when I was 2 years old.”
Ayush looked at Vishal and said, “Our teacher says we are born only with one pair of legs and we must eat well to keep them healthy. We learned about body parts in our class.” He looked around and told everyone importantly.
The family, that was sitting already and listening to the entire dialogue, smiled and nodded.
Ayush was not done with his questions however. His eyes glinted with morbid curiosity of a child as he asked, “So when you lost it, was it an accident? Were you walking by yourself?” At Vishal’s affirmative nod, he whispered, “Was there a lot of blood?”
“Ayush!” Khushi gasped, scandalized. She put her hand on Vishal’s head immediately as if to protect him, as she scolded her youngest son, “You must not ask questions like that! Apologise.”
As Ayush’s lower lip trembled with the reprimand. Arnav picked up his youngest son and tickled him, “Bloodthirsty child! Yes, there was blood but Vishal was very brave.”
Ayush smiled radiantly at his father, “I was sure there must be blood involved. Teacher says when there is accident, there is always lot of blood.” He looked at Vishal and said, “Sorry brother.”
Vishal seemed to be overcoming a lump in his throat as he said huskily, “Not a problem little brother. You can ask me anything, anytime.”
Aarush had a frown on his face as well. He was looking at his elder brother, his eyes understanding some of what was being said, “So – it must have hurt a lot when you lost your foot? We had a boy like that in our class. He said it hurt a lot when he tried to walk with stick. He couldn’t get a new foot though. Maybe that’s why he was always sad.”
Vishal empathized, “Yes, that must be it. Were you his friend then?”
Ayush and Aarush nodded enthusiastically, as Aarush replied, “Oh yes! He couldn’t run or anything but we studied together and played Snakes and Ladders too! He came to our house quite frequently. Mommy always gave him Barfi; he likes it very much you know.”
Arnav looked at Khushi, his eyes betraying the overwhelming tenderness he felt for his wife. At his son’s admission of how Khushi gave extra affection to that physically disabled friend of his, his feelings threatened to overflow. He heard the women in his family sniffing behind them.
Deciding enough tears had been shed today, he said loudly, “ I’m thinking of throwing a party and introduce all my sons together.”
“Great idea bhai!” enthused Aakash. Payal nodded in acceptance. She was, it seemed to Khushi, used to their rich lifestyle now. Payal had a glow about her that Khushi had never seen before. Good for her!- thought she.
Aarush pulled on Vishal’s sleeve. Vishal bent down to hear what his brother had to say and then gave a very un-boyish like giggle. All three brothers went on with their talk in excited whispers, until Khushi asked, “What is going on here? What are you boys talking about in whispers?”
“It’s a secret Ma.” Said Vishal with a beaming smile towards his brothers. The twins nodded vigorously. Khushi opened her mouth but closed it again with a snap at a look from Arnav. His look said, “Leave the kids alone. Let them talk.” Reluctantly, she nodded at him and turned away to the elders of the family.
“Naniji, I don’t think a party will be a good idea so soon. We still need to get used to- I mean, Aarush and Ayush will have to get used to the lifestyle here and we—“
“Khushi, my child- all will happen in its time I assure you. However, I agree here with Arnav that a party is a good idea. All three grandsons of Raizada clan will be introduced. Along with that, the news of the newcomer will also be celebrated.”
Senior Mrs. Raizada, then pointedly looked towards Payal with warmth in her eyes. Khushi gasped and shouted, “Jiji, you are going to have a baby!”
“Shhh!!” Khushi was shushed by Payal, who turned a rosy pink.
After much of hugging and cheerful talk, everyone departed taking Aarush and Ayush with them. It was the first night together for Arnav and Khushi. Despite Khushi’s protests, Arnav’s suggestion was deemed right. They needed to spend time together, to re-engage the feelings and talk.
Nervous, Khushi walked upstairs with Arnav, to enter into the domain that she had left behind five years back. Their bedroom.
It was with a heavy heart that Khushi locked the door of the house she had spent her last five years in. Tears had gathered in the corner of her eyes; tears she wouldn’t allow herself to shed. Even when Savita came to wish her good bye, Khushi smiled cheerfully, assuring her that she will be back from time to time. She behaved as if her heart was not full of misgivings at going away from this place- her sanctuary when she needed it the most.
She looked back once as she reached the car where Arnav and her sons were waiting for her. Two tears made their way out of her eyes, onto her cheeks as she mentally thanked the house and the much loved previous house owner for giving them a happy place to live. She sat in the car and looked straight ahead. Aarush and Ayush, she knew were happy to be where ever she was, where ever they thought their father could live with them.
They had, as kids do, accepted the facts quickly, without shedding any tears over it. They had been sad the previous evening when they had been told of their departure from Allahabad and arrival into busy city called New Delhi. Arnav had spent time with them, patiently explaining the situation, as Khushi sat next to him, her hand in his. The flight to Delhi from Allahabad had been full of chatter, with boys wanting to know everything, as they incessantly questioned their father. Aarush, Ayush and Arnav sat together while Khushi preferred to sit on the other side of the aisle, by the window.
Arnav knew she wanted space and time to gather her thoughts and he had given it. For that Khushi was thankful. As they landed in Delhi and stepped out of the airport, Khushi’s heart quickened. Their driver waited outside in the parking lot, to take them home.
The journey home was completed in silence from Khushi while the kids chattered on. Arnav patiently replied to all their questions and from time to time, kept his eyes on Khushi. He fully appreciated how difficult this time was for Khushi and how much she needed this time alone to herself. Soon they reached Shantivan.
Trembling inside with anxiety, Khushi stepped out of the car. Arnav held her other hand and squeezed it tight to reassure her. Aarush and Ayush both exclaimed with awe when they had their first glimpse of Shantivan. They all held hands. Arnav held on to Aarush’s hand while Ayush was holding Khushi’s. She looked up at Arnav, seeking reassurance again. Arnav smiled, bent and kissed her forehead, saying, “ Everyone is waiting for you my darling. Welcome home.”
Khushi smiled a ghost of a smile, still anxious. Her heart eased a little though when Arnav held on to her as the door opened.
Khushi saw a sea of faces- all too familiar faces and tears gathered in her eyes. Payal stood inside the door, holding the Kalash while Anjali stood beside her, holding the puja thali. Khushi held on tight to
For Khushi, it was a bittersweet homecoming. Everything that had happened to her in Raizada house ran in front of her eyes, as if it was a film that was being rewinded. She remembered her first entry into Shantivan, Anjali’s loving care, Naniji’s sweetness and understanding, Akash & her own sister Payal’s love and consequently their wedding. She also remembered all the happenings during the wedding, how her own had occurred quite accidentally and forcefully, how things had changed, how Arnav had changed. But most of all, she remembered her re-marriage and her entrance into this house that had become the home of her heart and the events that followed it.
Every nook and corner of this house reminded her of the love shared by herself and Arnav and then, the intense sorrow of leaving it all behind, for his good. Two tears slipped from her eyes and flowed over on to her cheeks, as her lips smiled with joy of seeing Shantivan again. This place was her haven of happiness and she had to leave it behind. How had she borne it then? How will she ever bear to live here again, now that it must have been tainted by new memories of Arnav and his ex-girlfriend?
“Khushiji.” Anjali’s wobbling voice reached across her ears and Khushi turned around. The whole family stood in front of her, still waiting in the hall. Everyone had tears in their eyes, including Mamaji and Akash and their faces were alight with joy. Naniji was sobbing in her handkerchief. Buaji stood beside her; her face a picture of unbearable happiness, her hands joined to thank NandKishore. Beside Buaji stood her mother & father.
“Khushi, meri bacchii.” Garima sobbed out a whisper.
“Amma” Khushi whispered at first and then cried out loud, running towards her mother. As she reached within inches of her mother, she stopped and stared at her mother’s face. Tears ran down her cheeks as she gazed lovingly at her mother, who couldn’t seem to control her shaking or crying. In the next second, Khushi was in her mother’s arms who hugged her fiercely.
“Amma.. I’m so sorry Amma. Please Amma, don’t cry. I’m very sorry to have hurt you. Please forgive me Amma, please!” Khushi said brokenly, pleading for forgiveness again and again as she held on tightly to her mother.
“Nahi Bitiya, nahi.. rote nahi. I’m so happy that you have finally come back. Don’t cry my daughter. I love you. I am not angry, there is nothing to forgive. Oh my child, how you must have suffered all alone!” Garima; Khushi’s mother said, consoling her, kissing her forehead and then hugging her again.
The storm of sorrow and guilt subsided a little in Khushi’s heart as she met everyone one by one. Everyone had truly welcomed her back home, but her eyes kept on looking for traces of Vishal and his mother. Their sons had been introduced and made much of, by all the elders of the house. Anjali had gone completely overboard when she hugged them and told them she was their father’s sister; their aunt. Arnav had been glad to see that they had liked her immediately, though they did become a little wary of her, as she kept on hugging them and not letting them go. All in all, they had been kissed and hugged and welcomed in true Raizada style. Both of them seemed anxious and wary as they met everyone, though they did lap up all the affection. Once they’d been introduced to all, they had come back to hold on to Arnav’s hand as their mother still seemed busy with others.
Arnav had been standing quietly until now. He had watched the union of his family with Khushi; his eyes hiding a well of emotions. Khushi had broken down when she’d first hugged her mother and father. It had almost made Arnav want to hug her himself and console her, to tell her everything. But he held on to his control. As she met with everyone, he saw Khushi’s eyes straying anxiously, looking everywhere. Arnav knew what she was searching for.
He looked up and signaled to the teenage boy standing in the balcony. At his signal, the boy slowly came down the stairs, as if afraid of his reception by the party downstairs. He looked at Arnav for confidence, at Arnav’s nodding smile, continued downstairs. His feet encasings were new and still stiff. A quick step forward almost made him slip. He held on to the banister with a gasp, a mutter and steadied himself. And he immediately caught Khushi’s attention.
Khushi woke up in the morning and stretched herself with a smile on her face. The smile disappeared though the moment she realized where she was. She was in the drawing room, sleeping on the sofa. It took only a second for previous evening’s events to come back to her and she sat stiff on the sofa, wondering what would happen the next. What would she do if – heaven forbid- she found out that Arnav was serious about keeping the kids with him? Why was he doing this? What-
“I see you’re back to deep thinking. I missed you in bed.” The mocking drawl brought Khushi up short from her musings. Her heart gave a lurch as she saw Arnav standing on the stairs, his hair ruffled. Above his trousers, he was bare chested and looking as sexy as a handsome man could in the morning.
“Where can a man find spare towel in this house?” He asked coming to stand close to the sofa. Khushi scrambled on to her feet. Belatedly she realized that was a mistake, since now Arnav was very close to her, standing a mere inches away. Stammer took hold of her tongue as she said, “Y-y-you can find it in the cupboard below the stairs. I must rush, I need to wake the kids and get them ready for school.”
“School?” Arnav raised puzzled eyes from her body to her face.
Khushi’s face flamed at his blatant eye wandering but she kept her wits about her this time. She said, “They both are in play school right now. They will be in a proper primary school the next year.”
Saying so, she almost ran away from him, scared and at the same time annoyed with herself for being scared. Truth be told, she wasn’t scared of him, never had been much, but she was most certainly scared of her own reactions to him. Last evening had proved to her already how weak she was where Arnav was concerned. She couldn’t let him roughshod over her- not at any cost! Her life was set here, with her sons and he was not a part of it. A sadness welled in her at this thought but she fought it away with grim determination. Yes, he had no part in their lives. He had a son and long lost love with him and they were his life, not she and her sons.
She kept on chanting this thought in her mind, deliberately hurting herself inside as she got her sons ready. No body looking at her getting her sons ready for school could say that she was not cheerful.
She packed the lunch boxes into their bags and filled their water bottles, looking disheveled. Although the day was only beginning, she felt as if she’d been up for hours and yet, she had been neat an hour back, when she’d bathed and dressed. But that’s what happens when you run behind kids, thought she with a smile. As Aayush tried to ruffle his hair, Khushi automatically reached down and smoothed his hair back into position. He groaned and glared at her but didn’t say anything and Khushi smiled wide. “Okay now, you’re sure you’ve got everything needed for today?”
“Sure Mommy!” Cried both
“How sure?” Khushi raised her eyebrows and asked naughtily. This was their daily routine and they all loved it.
“Two thousand times sure.” They replied back, grinning.
Khushi gave them both a smacking kiss on their cheeks and said, “Alright, time to scram. Go, go, go!”
Both the kids rushed out as Savita hollered from outside. It was her turn today to take her daughter and Khushi’s sons to playschool. But something weird happened then, that Khushi had not expected.
They turned back, and looked around. Khushi looked at them, puzzled. And then, she felt Arnav behind her. She turned to look at him, her breath nearly catching in her throat. Arnav had just taken a shower and had a towel round his waist. Save that, he was all man in his glory; water clinging at places on his body and his hair. A wave of desire rose inside Khushi but she stemmed it immediately, knowing if Arnav saw it, he’d take his chance.
Arnav came to stand beside her. In an instant, the kids came to him. Aarush was a little slow but Ayush had no such doubts. He flung himself in Arnav’s arms as Arnav bent to hold him. A hug and a kiss was given to Ayush and then, not wanting to be left out, Aarush also came forward to be hugged and kissed. Arnav ruffled their hair and said, “Get going dudes. See you later!”
Aarush looked at him intently, “You’ll be here? You won’t go away?”
Aranv nodded his head and said, “Yes, I’ll be here.”
“Good. I want to show you my books when I come back.” Said Aarush and then they both went off.
To say that Khushi was astounded was an understatement. Her sons were so much like him, and them together like this—it made Khushi very emotional; emotional and scared. She had almost cried when Arnav had hugged Ayush and Aarush with love. No one could doubt his love for them or their acceptance of him; and yet they’d only met yesterday evening. She knew Aarush was still hesitant but Ayush – he had accepted his father in his life completely. Oh, to be a child and accept everyone unconditionally!
It scared Khushi; this feeling. Feeling wary of his next move, she moved a little away from him. As it was, she could smell the spicy notes of his aftershave; she knew he preferred The One from D&G. She remembered the time when he’d put it on and smile his shark smile. She loved kissing him after he’d put it on; loving the scent of it on him and then rubbing on to her. They’d always ended up in bed. She gulped and tried to not stare but couldn’t help herself.
“I’m your husband Khushi. It is your right to look at my body and covet every inch of it, but when you do that, I can’t resist you- you know that.”Arnav’s husky reminder put Khushi back on alert, with her nose and cheeks going red.
She turned around so that her back faced his front and said, “Go, get dressed. I need to open shop. You can go now, back to where you came from.”
In a millisecond, she was caught by her shoulders and turned around, to face an angry Arnav.
“I told you yesterday night what I wanted and what I meant to do. In case you had any doubts, let me repeat Khushi Singh Raizada. I’m your husband-legally wedded husband and it is my legal right to see to it that my wife and kids are with me.”
“Wh-what are you talking about? Surely you can’t be serious Arnav!” Khushi tried to get free of his hold, “Chhodiye humain!”
“Not happening.” He said and pulled her closer to him. When Khushi pushed him, he let her go for a second. In the next instant, Khushi was upside down, like a sack of potatoes on his shoulder. She pummeled his back with blows, saying, “Put me down this instant Arnav Singh Raizada.. or else!”
“OR else?” Arnav’s chuckle reverberated through her backside as he held her firmly and walked upstairs.
With each step, Khushi’s breathing got faster. What was he doing? Where was he taking her? Surely not— !!! HE wouldn’t dare! She fumed and growled, “You put me down now! This is not your house, samjhe aap!”
Arnav had almost reached Khushi’s room when she spoke. He stopped immediately and put her down. Her words had cut him but he didn’t let it show. She tried to turn away from him but he caught her again by the waist and pulled her close to him. There was not a single part of his body that wasn’t demanding release at this time, yet his heart was hurting. His amber eyes were icy now with anger as he looked into her eyes and saw her flinching, her body in his arms, trembling.
He said, “Khushi Singh Raizada, yes- this is not my house but it isn’t yours either. Your house is with me- in New Delhi. Your home is Shanti Van, not this two floored building. I will make sure you learn some obedience before we go back.” Khushi opened her mouth to refute but he merely said, “Make no mistake my wife, this time around I’m beside you and you will come home with me, even if I have to resort to other measures to do so.”
Khushi looked at Arnav standing by the counter while she waited for him at the table. He stood there, waiting for their order. She knew there were a lot of girls around, stealing looks at him. Not that she blamed them; he was delicious to look at but the fire of jealousy kept on looking at things in a logical manner. Why was he not coming back to the table? It wasn’t as if it was required to stand there until the guy brought them the ordered drinks.
She saw a group of girls looking at him as they ordered their own drinks and giggling. One of them smiled and fluttered her eyelashes at him. Khushi looked on at Arnav in boiling rage to see that he had coolly looked away with disinterest from the girl who had made eyes at him. It was a bit of shock for her. She looked at him with her mouth hanging open. Arnav Singh Raizada didn’t do that!
It was as if this was another unplanned proof to show her that he was indeed a changed man. Arnav Singh Raizada as she had known him from the past would have smirked at the girl and probably raised his eyebrows at her interest. That was what used to do the girls in. She had remembered the jealous rage that had over taken her when he had done that in Goa.
The breeze was cool when Khushi, wrapped in her dressing gown decided to curl up and sit by the window in her bedroom. As she stared at the sea waves rising out of the dark sea, she took a deep breath of salty sea air. She was restless and awake in the middle of the night with no real idea of why she was awake. She thought back to the evening they had spent together.
Arnav had taken her to his known restaurant, where he was greeted like an old friend. It had surprised Khushi to see Arnav talking so affably with the owner of a small place. Arnav was a billionaire and treated everyone around him with contempt was pally with a restaurateur in Goa? Had someone told her this a few weeks back, Khushi would have laughed at them. Uptight Arnav Singh Raizada letting his so-short-hair down was something that she had never imagined. But he had and she had seen it. He had been witty, nice and considerate. She had had more glasses of wine than she normally did, had eaten food with gusto and participated in lively flirting with Arnav. It had all felt magical. All she could think about then had been Arnav. She had come to a realization this evening that their attraction, at least for her was way beyond superficial or only sexual. She was in love with him, an in a big way!
She remembered the time in the office when he had been mad at her for being so immersed in work that she had dressed shabbily for the party and he had mocked her. Later she had hardly been able to breathe with him so close to her while dancing, her head feeling as if it was filled with cotton wool and she could only stare at his tie, not looking in his eyes. He had put his hand under her chin, making her look up and she had gasped at the intensity of desire she had seen in his eyes. His hands had tightened around her waist and he had puller her even closer, with her breasts brushing his chest.
Slowly, he had maneuvered them into a dark corner of the room, both of them breathing hard. He had put her against the wall, holding he hands up and kissed her slowly at first and then deeply. He had drugged her with his kisses, his mouth making love to hers, curling her toes in her high heeled sandals. He had smelled so male, the subtle scent of his aftershave on his skin weaving its magic on her. His hands had inched their way down, caressing her breasts through the taut material and touching the low cut bodice of her party dress, his mouth on her throat. All the while he spoke about how he had been slowly going crazy all evening, wanting her. Coming back to her mouth, he kissed her again, taking full control while his hands gently took her breast out of the low cut neck. He flicked the tip of her nipple with his finger and Khushi moaned in his mouth.
He had kept on taking her name as his mouth moved down towards her breast, taking the taut nipple into his mouth while his hand had travelled down further, touching her navel, going back and grabbing her hips and then coming up front. He parted her legs and touched her there where Khushi had never been touched before. She had gasped as he continued his exploration. His mouth moved down from her breast to her navel, leaving an open mouthed kiss there. Oh my!! Thought Khushi. She was ready to fall down and it was only his strong arm around her waist that kept her standing and steady.
“Arnav, please!” She had moaned when she had felt his mouth open over her, not knowing what she was asking for but only that she wanted him to continue. He had never done that to her before. She had never before experienced such hunger, such passion in him. What shocked her was the fact that she was enjoying his ministrations, in fact she wanted him to continue. Her senses had been swimming as he placed more open mouthed kisses, the layer of clothing the only barrier between her innermost core and his mouth. She had moaned quietly, clutching his arm as he continued his exploration, down below her legs, touching his mouth on her open thighs. The dress ended just at mid-thigh.
Khushi had felt herself melting in his arms that evening. She had forgotten everything and kissed him back; forgetting where they were, until a giggle had broken the spell. Hastily she had pushed him away quite hard and adjusted her dress. He had kept quiet, breathing hard, not trying to touch her again. Not looking at him, she had run from him then, even when he called her name, scared of these intense feelings, not knowing that the desire he had aroused in her was not just physical attraction but something more. It was not going to die until he made her his.
She had then mistaken it only for strong physical attraction she felt for him, as he did for her. She had kept her distance and irked him after that. Never happy with him around yet never happy when he was far away, Khushi had not been able to understand until now what it was that pulled her to him. Why was it that she felt hurt when he mocked her or got angry on her? She could now relate to it as well as understand it.
Khushi sighed. Falling in love with Arnav Singh Raizada spelled disaster and she knew it quite well. It wasn’t as if she had wanted to fall in love but- he was—when he was not pretending to be a royal asshole, he was the best man she had ever known. She had fallen for that man, no doubt about it. So how was she going to get herself out of this situation?
Khushi thought about what he had said earlier that evening when he had apologized to her for his early morning behavior, “I’m always like this Khushi. I try to be nice but somehow my past comes out of me and bitterness always spills out first. I don’t know what to do but – main aisa he hoon Khushi. Tum jaanti ho mujhe, toh ye bhi samajh lo ke kabhi kabhi gusse main- I say things I don’t mean. Mere gusse ko face value par mat lena Khushi.
What we feel for each other needs to be explored. You wanted us to be together as friends this weekend but I can hardly keep my hands off you. I have only so much restraint on myself where you’re concerned Khushi. You’re like sweet sugar in my blood, giving me a high. I’ve always lived in the moment and the women have never been given any false hopes or promises. I’m no saint but I promise to be faithful to you. I think it will take us ages before we are able to put out this fire of attraction burning between us.
I know you’re not one of those women who get involved with any man she’s attracted to. I know you want a relationship for keeps. I don’t know if I feel love for you but I do know that not touching drives me crazy. I care about you, worry about you when you’re not around. I could take you right now if I wanted to-“ Khushi had gasped, outraged while her face had taken a rosy hue but he had earnestly continued,”- you know I’m being honest Khushi, and I know that you won’t be able to resist me for long–but I did promise you, I will not touch you unless you come to me first. I shall wait for you to come to me.”
“I am like this Khushi. You know me well so understand this-sometimes in anger I say things I don’t mean.” These words were what had made Khushi restless.
Too wound up, she couldn’t sit still any longer. Yesterday she’d been thinking and wondering if she’d gone crazy to have agreed to come here to Goa alone with him, without even letting Payal jiji know what was going on. For some unknown reason she hadn’t wanted to share her growing attraction and feelings for Arnav with Payal jiji or tell her about his proposal. Now she knew why she didn’t want to. She was afraid to think about it, about her future. She thought back to the rest of the evening.
They had silently strolled on the beach, near to where the waves broke up, not wanting to go back to the house just yet. The silence was not uneasy; in fact it was easy and comforting, peaceful. While crossing the street later on, he had taken her hand in his, pulling her closer. Khushi had been touched by the gesture, knowing instinctively that he wanted to protect her. They had held hands the rest of the way home. It had felt so good. It had felt like they were a normal couple, lovers who could be seen everywhere in Goa, walking hand in hand, openly affectionate.
Once they had reached back home, she had politely thanked him for the dinner and a lovely evening, kissed him gently on the cheek and quietly come to her room, her head full of his scent. She was crazy and certified for it!
The cool breeze gave her goose bumps along with her hot thoughts of Arnav. She gazed outside absently and then started. A movement had caught her attention. In the part of the terrace of the house that was visible from her window, Khushi could see someone was standing. Her heart beats picked up speed as she realized who it would be. Arnav.
She looked at him, as he gazed into the dark night, wide awake. He was barefoot, with no shirt on his body. His jeans slung low on his hips, making Khushi’s breath hitch in her throat. He was so powerfully male! His back was broad and his shoulders shone in the moonlight. Khushi felt heat throbbing in her body while her brain went on another track. Why was he awake? What was he doing out there standing alone? What was he thinking about? Was he thinking of his future or – was he thinking of their future?
Khushi didn’t realize she had been staring hard. He must have felt her gaze burning him for he turned around and looked straight at her window, to see her sitting there. Slowly he lifted his hand and waved. Khushi’s body trembled at his gaze, even from so far away. Weakly she lifted her hand and waved back. Slowly she drew back and away from the window.
Her heart was in her mouth as the beats pounded through her body. She wanted him oh so much! Without a second thought, she ran out of the room, the marble floor cool on her feet.
*Flashback continues to next chapter*
NOTE: We’re coming to the end of this FF. 😦 It’s a wrench but I must end it soon.
The ride back into town was completed in silence. Arnav was lost in his own thoughts while he rode the scooter while Khushi was with her own musings as she sat behind him. The awkwardness of holding his waist that she had felt in the morning was gone. Now she not only had her hands on his waist but her head rested on his back. She had made her decision after this day spent together.
Arnav didn’t know if he could describe this feeling he was going through. A part of him was anxious, worried and tensed while a part of him was happy, at peace. How could he feel two contradictory emotions at the same time? The sun had set and he had put his aviators back into its box. Soon they would reach where they had started from in the morning and Khushi will tell him what her decision was.
Will she agree to give him a chance and take this further or will she simply shake her head and tell him that this day was all they could have together in the present? His heart and his soul was terrorized by the thought that Khushi may yet decide against giving him another chance to show her how much he loved her. His heart despaired at the thought. What good will be his life if she rejected him? How would he live? There was a time when he had not met Khushi and lived a joyless existence. He couldn’t dream of going back to it. He’d rather face thousand deaths with her than exist in this world alone, without Khushi. And yet.. a part of him insisted that he will have to accept it if that is what Khushi wished him to do. After what he’d said to her, done to her- it may be the only befitting punishment.
When they reached Barista, Khushi’s hands left his waist reluctantly. She moved her head to one side as he leaned back against her. Her involuntary movement brought her lips in contact with his shoulder and she couldn’t resist wanting to kiss it gently. She so much wished she could lean on his strong shoulders for the rest of her life. If her decision was correct, she may yet have that chance to do so, told her an inside voice.
Arnav felt her lips touch gently on his shoulder and shuddered. He was very anxious now. He wasn’t sure if that kiss was a gesture of acceptance of his regret or if it was a good bye kiss. His heart was in his mouth as he looked back at her, with his eyes a clear mirror of his anxiety. He wanted Khushi to know, he didn’t want to hide himself from her anymore.
Khushi looked into his eyes, looking for a single glimpse of that Arnav Singh Raizada who had been vile, who had accused her of horrible things, but she couldn’t find him. Instead all she could see was Arnav that she had fallen in love with, his eyes giving her a clear glimpse of his heart, his soul that spoke of goodness inside.
Khushi took the first step to break the eye contact. She had felt him happy at her touch the whole day through and she had also felt him shudder when her lips had touched his shoulder. She was aware now that love needed this physical touch to complete itself into one being. She couldn’t deny it. She couldn’t ignore this feeling by calling it lust and not love. She moved away from him and got down the scooter.
Arnav looked at her as she moved away from him and got down. His heart was beating a tattoo in his chest. What was she going to do? Arnav Singh Raizada was, perhaps the first time in his life helpless and had no control over the situation with regards to the fate of his life.
Khushi came up to the front of the scooter and said, “Shall we sit inside Arnav? I wish to drink something cool after a long ride.”
Together they went inside and Arnav went up to the counter to order. Khushi looked at him and sighed. She couldn’t not give Arnav a second chance.
His eyes spoke of the history of love in his life since beginning – the lost little boy searching for love that he had never found in his mother, the youth who had to grow up before his age, knowing his Anjali Di relied on his strong support since the day they had found out bitter truth about their parentage, the man who before he became successful had been hurt by women in his life and the man who hid himself from every eye, the one who had stopped looking for love in the world and become ruthless for the sake of his sanity.
She remembered well that weekend in Goa when they had spent the weekend together. They had fought and their fight had escalated to a level where Khushi had spent her entire day away from him. He had been worried out of his mind for her and in the late evening when she had come back, she had found him not angry but sick with worry. He had spent the entire day looking for her, even going to the hospitals to find out if she’d done something drastic. He had not shouted at her then. He had explained his reasons for being so aggressive and distrustful. He was a bastard and Anjali was only his half-sister. They shared their mother by blood but no one knew who his blood father was.
She remembered their dialogue. He had difficulty apologizing then and had come about with an explanation in a roundabout manner. His explanation had stunned Khushi. He had needed a strong shot of whiskey before he began with his explanation.
I may have been a bit out of line with the way I behaved today morning Khushi. With the –“ he paused as if thinking how to continue or even if he should.Then as if he couldn’t help himself, he continued, “-with the way I’ve been brought up and what I’ve seen of the world, I’ve always come across women who are ready to take advantage of men at the drop of the hat.”
“Excuse me? And that gives you the reason to generalize? You said some unforgivable things to me today Arnav. What if someone behaved like this with your own sister or your mother? Would you have forgiven them?” Khushi retorted with question of her own.
Frankly speaking, she had been taken aback by this turn of conversation. When he said he wasn’t going to apologize for his behaviour, she had been outraged and left the house. She had walked around for a long time on the beach and even gone to the church to calm her raging soul. Never in her life had she imagined that his explanation for what he had said to her in the morning would be something related to his past experiences!
“Anjali di.. you’ve met her. She already has a steady boyfriend and truthfully speaking, she would think about it carefully with her head and her heart before she ever said yes to a guy. My mother-she was one of those women I despise today. She thought she could use her wealth, her fool of a husband’s wealth to trap the man who sired me. Told herself she was in love and was taking the right path to a better life. “
A look of such hatred crossed his features that Khushi could only gape at him. He hated his mother and thought she was– but why?
“I am a bastard Khushi. My mother was married to the man I am honoured to call father but he was not my blood father. I was adopted by him as his son and he loved me as much as he would his own. We don’t even know until some time back who my blood father was. What I found out simply increased my disgust for my mother and her deeds. The man was a married guy who used to come to London for business trips. She says she fell in love with him and in his trap. The truth was my mother had lured him many times with money and the fool she was, she never realized that is all he wanted from her. She cheated on my father again and again with that-that man.
Nani had come to England to take care of Anjali Di as my mother was incapable of taking care of her. Hell, she was incapable of thinking about anyone else but herself! When the family name started getting smirched due to her affair coming out to open in public, my father banished her to the family mansion in the countryside. Nani went along with her to ensure she may behave herself. That was when they found out about me. Father had already divorced her by then.
Apparently, unbeknown to nani and my father, she had kept in touch with the guy, pleading him to come back and marry her. He kept on promising marriage.” A look of utter disgust had crossed his face, “I was the result of one of those meetings Khushi. My father adopted me, gave me his name and declared me his heir when I was born but disowned her from his property. He took me away from my mother then since she had gone berserk from anger. Once that news reached the guy, he wanted nothing more to do with her. His golden chicken was dead and he wanted to wash his hands off her. She died soon after, in a car accident. She was broken hearted and depressed when she drove that car. “
Khushi didn’t dare interrupt him. She stayed quiet to hear him out. It looked as if he hadn’t finished. Her heart had bled for the little Arnav who had been told the truth when he was able to understand it. His voice held no emotion; it was as if he was simply talking about weather. But now, admiration crept into his voice.
“I will always be grateful to my father for everything he did for me. I may have not been his sired son but he didn’t consider me any less and for that I guess, I am grateful. He gave me his name, and raised us single-handedly. He was not a very affectionate man but he was kind. I will always admire and respect him for that. But he was bitter. He never married again. He had loved my mother and she had broken his heart again and again until it was irreparable.
He sent us to the best boarding schools and visited us often. He loved me in his own way I guess and taught me good things. My father taught me to stand on my two feet and become successful by my own intelligence and my own means. I borrowed money for the capital of my first business and paid him back in full when I succeeded.
One thing he taught me very early on was to be aware of gold diggers and opportunists. Rich men or rich women were always prone to emotional attacks if they weren’t careful. That was a lesson well learnt by me Khushi early on, right after my first infatuation left me for a rich man because I had refused to inherit my father’s money.
I learnt the lesson early on that my father was right when he’d said women are like leeches. Most women that I’ve met fall under the same category. When one is as rich as I am, women fall over themselves to come into contact of any kind and will do anything to make sure they get something out of it. Over the years, I found most women simply wanted money. Some were over ambitious and wanted the Raizada name for what it could bring to them. I found my father was right.
The only woman who ever loved me for myself was my Anjali Di. I received all the love I could get from her in my childhood. She cared for me when there was no one else. So you’ve got to understand Khushi, I’m not –“
He had not been given a chance to complete as Khushi had rained kisses on his face, crying for the little boy he’d lost somewhere inside him and conversation had ceased with the understanding that she had forgiven him. Passion had reined them.
Today he had laid bare his need for her forgiveness and love; she could vulnerability, his fear of losing her forever. He was not perfect, yes. He had made mistakes, yes. He had hurt her, used her and had only physically desired her. But just like those facts was also the fact that he had admitted his guilt and regretted his actions bitterly. He was ready to love and he needed someone who could hold his hand and let himself be loved. How could she not love him after looking at the purity of intentions in his eyes? Her answer was ready and on her lips to be uttered when he came back.
“I see you have changed your taste in clothes. Blue most certainly suits you though. Good morning Khushi.” Arnav said as soon as he saw Khushi parking her scooter at the Barista parking. He was wearing a green vest with Khakhi coat and same coloured baggy pants today.
He looked mouth wateringly sexy, thought Khushi as she gave him her first glance this morning. She parked her scooter carefully and slipped the keys in her purse. Then she looked up at him, avoided his question on her choice of clothes for the time being and gave him a sombre smile, “Good morning to you too. All ready for the day out as a common man with 500 rupees in your pocket?”
Arnav showed his wallet that held five notes of hundred each and at her nod, put the wallet back in his back pocket. Her looked like a man ought to look, oozing manliness and with a smirk that could capture any woman’s heart on his face.
“So what’s the first place in the list of places to visit?” Arnav asked, leaning against the car he’d parked.
“I plan to take you to the places that are an integral part of this town. Today I’m going to take you to the famous Naini Lake, thandi road, the ropeway and to Kilbury in the end. I wanted you to visit the Naina devi temple as well since the view from there is amazing but .. I’ll leave that on how the day goes. We will watch the sun set in Kilbury and come back as that is a sight not to be missed. But first-“
“Sounds like I’ll be moving into your magical land of nature, beauty and tranquility today. Khushi-“
Arnav broke in and a look of discomfort passed his face as Khushi looked on. He continued, “Khushi, are you sure we don’t need more money?”
Arnav kept on thinking of ways to woo Khushi. What if she liked something while they were looking and wanted to buy it but didn’t have enough money on her? If he didn’t have any, he won’ be able to buy anything for her too! This thought made him uncomfortable. He’d never faced lack of cash since the day he turned successful.
“Arnav, I am absolutely sure you won’t need more money. However, if you want to shop for Anjali Di or Dean any time, you may of course do it later when you’re by yourself. I’m sure you’ll remember the way with your photographic memory.” Khushi smiled a little too brightly.
She could have bitten her tongue when the information about photographic memory slipped out. She remembered very well the last time it had come into picture and she didn’t want to think of that time. A rosy hue covered her cheeks.
“Ah yes- my photographic memory.” Judging by the way his eyes became unfocused, Khushi could see he remembered the same moment in time when she had last used the word and what had been the result of it.
Khushi could have groaned out aloud in frustration at her gaffe. She didn’t want him to remember anything today that was associated with their past. How in the world were they going to move ahead in the present if they kept on thinking about the past?
She looked away from his piercing gaze and into the distance for a second to gather her thoughts. Then as if she was done with the task, she spoke briskly, “Alright then. First on the list is Bhimtal. It is about 25 kilometers away from here and famous for water sports. I need to meet someone there as well so that’ll be my one task done.”
Arnav was curious, “Whom do you plan to meet out there? Isn’t that a very small place?”
“Yes it is, but I have a contact there that works with local small businesses. I have to speak to him.”
“You promote local products? What kind of products?” Arnav was not surprised that Khushi was working to promote local small business. But he was surprised with the knowledge that despite being so out of spirits and terribly hurt when she had come to Nainital, she put her miseries behind to help others. She had been immersed in good work for others while he only ever thought about himself. A wave of regret washed him as he looked at Khushi with new eyes that adored her even more. Maybe this was why he had adored her and not known it. Arnav tapped on his inherent nature of hiding pain when he felt it and looked at her with question in his eyes.
Khushi blushed as she saw admiration in his eyes. She stammered, “I-It’s—nothing really. It’s just that I’m helping some people with their tour guide business; you know, for campers who come to visit the town and don’t wish to live in big hotels but in vicinity of nature during their entire stay. It’s nothing really.”
“I’m sure whatever it is that you’re helping them with, it is doing great things for their business.” Arnav said confidently, making Khushi’s face break into a smile. She liked this Arnav- he had great confidence in her abilities as opposed to the one who mocked her efforts in the past. The memory of how he had once humiliated her in the office by mocking her while praising her wiped the smile of her face. She turned abruptly to her purse and started hunting for keys to her scooter inside. She found them and handed it to him.
“Here you go. You’re going to drive my scooter for today.”
A look of horror passed on Arnav’s face as he looked at the keys and the scooter she had just parked. He closed his eyes visibly hesitant about her plans and his ability to ride what looked like a vehicle made for girls. Khushi giggled inwardly. His Highness is not going to forget this trip so easily after what he’ll have to go through. She taunted softly, “Scared Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada?”
“Arnav Singh Raizada is not scared of anyone and most certainly not of your tin pot scooter ride Khushi Kumari Gupta. I’m just meditating on something from work.” Arnav’s offended and outraged reply, with his eyes still closed came pat back.
Khushi giggled loud this time. “Meditate my foot! Don’t be chicken Arnav. This scooter is quite safe. You wanted to spend the day with me and this is how I spend my day when I roam about.” She moved on towards her Scooty Pep and said, “What are we waiting for?”
Arnav opened his eyes, a calm stealing over him. He can do this. If driving that small scooter, he gulped, was going to make Khushi happy, he will do it. He took the keys from her hand and asked her about how it operated. She instructed him on what to do to start the scooter and things he should be careful about while driving the scooter in the town and then on the outskirts of the town.
Arnav wore his helmet while Khushi put on hers. He sat on the scooter feeling ridiculous and Khushi sat behind him. Arnav started and then smiled. Maybe this scooter riding was not such a bad idea after all since Khushi was going to sit very close to him. He felt zinging electricity run through him when she actually put her hands around his waist.
“What the—“his voice didn’t resemble his own at the moment to his ears. It sounded shocked and strangled. He tried again, “What are you doing Khushi?”
Khushi spoke to his back, “I need to make sure I don’t fall off. Now drive along kind Sir and I shall guide you on the way.”
With a huge grin on his face, Arnav rode off. They moved away from the town soon and were on the outskirts. Khushi didn’t speak much, simply pointed out various places they may visit on the way or places that were worth watching. Arnav loved the feel of her hands around his waist and would have loved to spend an eternity riding the scooter. Unfortunately for him, they reached Bhimtal too soon. He now wished he had not speeded. He kicked himself mentally for not driving at the minimum speed. No matter, he had this whole day with Khushi holding on to him on the scooter. Just the thought of it brought out radiating happiness in his eyes.
Not that Khushi could see his eyes since he was wearing his Aviator glasses. But she could feel that he was happy. She felt a smile reach her lips at the knowledge that he was happy but she fought it back. Her hands made to leave his waist but he was driving fast and she really was scared that she’d fall off so she let them be. What she had thought would be a prank to make him uncomfortable was turning against her. She could feel the heat of his body and shivered with the contact every time her chest hit his back when he braked. Physical attraction had a lot of answer for, making a person mad with desire like that. She muttered a few choice curses against her own body and tried to keep a distance. It was impossible of course since the scooter had only so much sitting space. She heaved a sigh of relief when they reached Bhimtal. A guy was walking towards them. Probably her contact, thought Arnav. The guy came up and after bowing to a Namaste said, “Ki haal hariyaan?”
Khushi answered with a namaste and “Main theek choon. Tum kas chou Anand? Ghar pan sab kas chan? Mein lag oonuk dekh ber khushi holi. Mein itvaar din oonake koshish karounl. “
The guy nodded vigorouly, „Sab theek chan didi. Sab tumuko(n) bahut din baad dekhi ber khush haie jaala.”
Khushi smiled as she walked off with him, leaving a stunned Arnav. She spoke Kumaoni? Bitterness welled up inside him. How shallow he had been when he’d been with her in the past? He’d never once asked her what she liked, what she could do, what were her interests, who all were associated with her life that didn’t revolve around him. Hell, he’d never even known who her best friends were. How selfish he had been, talking only about what he wanted, who he was and how he was! He swore again that he’d make up to her for all the time he didn’t pay attention to her; the real Khushi inside that dynamite body.
He watched Khushi as she walked up to the guys standing in the group outside a building in Bhimtal. Khushi had asked him to wait by the scooter while she finished her talk. She didn’t want to include him yet in what she was doing. The thought hurt Arnav a bit but he braved it. After all, it would take time to earn back the same level of friendliness and trust where they could talk about anything they wanted.
He looked on as Khushi smiled and talked. She was explaining something and everyone around her was paying attention. At times, their faces were wreathed with smiles and at times laughter. It fascinated Arnav how a small smile on their faces made Khushi’s eyes glow and her animation increase. She used her hands to make gestures, a lot! Finally, they seemed to have concluded the talk and Khushi said Namaste to them and walked back to Arnav.
“Work done?” Arnav asked with a smile. Her reply was a reciprocating smile and nod. She sat behind him once again and said, “Quite satisfactorily in fact. Thanks for asking.”
“Where to next Ms. Guide?” Arnav looked back at her. The smile tugging the corners of her mouth was very tempting. Her luscious, plump, pink, lips with sheen of wetness on them were too inviting. Arnav felt like kissing her but stopped his impulsiveness on time. There were others present here; others who respected Khushi, her morals, her ideals and her work. He wouldn’t do anything that will bring her down in their eyes.
“Next, we go back into town and to Naini Lake.” Khushi quipped, rubbing her lips as if she could feel his thoughts. Arnav looked forward again and started the scooter. Soon they were back in Nainital and moving towards Naini Lake.
The view around was calm and beautiful. It was still early morning so there were very few people around. Apparently tourists crowded the area at about noon. Khushi wanted to know if Arnav would like to do some boating.
“Paddle boats?” asked Arnav.
“No, I mean boating, with a boat man who would row the boat while you sit and enjoy the nature around you in peace.”
“I’m in. Let me go buy the tickets.”, said Arnav. Khushi stopped him.
“Do buy some popcorn for me please while you’re getting the tickets. I already have a bottle of water for us and a picnic basket for later. I always eat popcorn when I’m in the boat.”
Arnav looked at her with amused eyes and she blushed. He definitely didn’t need to know that! Damn her stupid mouth. Khushi lowered her eyes and immediately looked back up when Arnav’s hand came to grasp her chin.
“Look up Khushi. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ll get your popcorn.”
The look in his eyes was enough to make Khushi want to sit down. It held tenderness and understanding that he had never displayed before. She liked this Arnav, a lot actually! Arnav made quick work of it and came back holding a popcorn bag and tickets. He motioned with his eyes towards the boat and Khushi followed him.
When the boat ride ended, Arnav got out of the boat and held out his hand for Khushi to grasp and come out. One look at his face and Khushi couldn’t help but give her hand to him. This boat ride had brought as much revelation to her about her own self as well as Arnav. She let her thoughts flow for a moment thinking about the boat ride.
Arnav Singh Raizada who always believed in the being at the helm of any boat, captaining it had allowed the boatman to row while he sat, contented and happy. His face held an aura of joy as he looked around, absorbing the quiet, listening to the chirping of the birds, sound of the oars dipping and coming out of the water, in fact Khushi felt as if he had actually become one with nature. Khushi had brought red, juicy apples with her to eat during the boat ride; a breakfast of sorts. She offered one to Arnav and ate one herself along with her popcorn. Arnav was happy to munch on the apple alone and smiled his thanks. While he behaved like that, Khushi had thawed a little in her attitude towards him.
Here was the man she had dreamed of, the one she had fallen in love with and could easily fall in love with again. Here was the man who was confident that he could do whatever he wanted to but for the moment, he was ready to let someone else take the lead and stay content. The only thing that had broken the calm waters of her happiness was the thought that he was also the same man who had accused her of infidelity and lack of character. It was so hard to keep track of all the bitterness when she saw this side of him.
Perhaps her bitterness had shone through for Arnav had looked at her, his eyebrows raised in question. She had shaken her head and smiled as if to convey all was well and she was happy that he was enjoying.
Arnav looked at Khushi and said, “Thank you for bringing me here. I enjoyed the boat ride and the view but most of all, I enjoyed our companionable silence. I have never shared that with anyone before.”
Such a simple admission but it worked wonders. Khushi’s face took on a smile as she told him, “Glad you liked the boat ride. Now we move to Nainadevi Temple? Or do you wish to skip it? We could opt for the ropeway. Walking on thandi sadak is something that should be done later on.”
“Khushi this is the day you planned. I wanted to see Nainital with your eyes. If you think the temple is the next place to go to, by all means- let us go. I have nothing against the gods these days. I am thankful to them for many things, one of which is you.”
Khushi looked away from him as tears gathered in her eyes and a lump formed in her throat. Oh he was the devil to say things like that! Didn’t he know how those words affected her? His next words surprised her completely.
“I’m sorry Khushi. I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t want you to feel that I’m simply mouthing words to please you or trying to get you back by sweet talking. I mean it but you don’t need to hear it right now I guess.”
“It is all right Arnav. Let us move on.” Khushi said and simply moved away. She was not sure how to respond to his shocking statement.
They visited the temple, enjoyed the view of Mall road from the temple. Khushi told him that coming here always had a calming effect on her. She found the place serene and gorgeous and could sit for hours on end. Arnav quietly agreed that the place was indeed gorgeous but also mentioned that he was somehow happier with nature rather than sitting in vicinity of the temple. His God was nature. Khushi looked at him, trying to gauge how serious he was about his declaration. This- from Arnav, who had once absolutely rejected the idea of talking about his feelings, when it came to religion and God!
They went to the ropeway the next which was quite uneventful. Soon it was lunch time. They sat down by the park close to the ropeway and picnicked there. Khushi had brought a picnic basket which had been stored inside her Scooty Pep storage box along with a red rug to sit on. The fare was simple. Sandwiches- vegetable and cheese since Khushi knew Arnav liked them and some salad. For dessert, she had packed some ripe peaches. They ate their lunch while sitting completely at ease with each other, talking about non-related topics like politics and finance.
While she packed the empty plates back and the rug, Arnav cleared the area of any debris and threw the waste into the garbage can close by.
It was one of the best days of his life, Arnav decided while they were walking along the thandi sadak. Not only had Khushi been relaxed and spoken to him as if they’d never fought, she had also opened up to physical contact. She didn’t flinch so much when he accidentally brushed against her or touch her. She had held him by the waist all day whenever they sat on her scooter. Of course, the sexual current was vibrant every time that happened but she ignored it and he tried to ignore it. He loved this day because it brought Khushi closer to him. He was wondering if he could plan out his next step soon.
Thandi Sadak had pine trees, deodar trees and oak trees lined up along its sides, and was in actuality a cool road to walk on. The green hills that surrounded the town and the lake were a balm to his soul. The singing of the birds made for a lovely song that he could hear. He knew Khushi shared this song because he could see the same smile on her face too when she looked up to hear the birds chirping.
It was time for the Sun to set before they reached Kilbury. Khushi went on to talk about it as Arnav looked on at the view laid in front of him.
“You can see the Himalayas on that side and here, on the other side you see “Tarai” area, fields divided into terraces and village houses. The forest around is made up of lush oak, pine and rhododendron. There are many people who come here for a picnic or simply to sit and watch the clouds hover about. I love coming here with my book when I don’t have anything else on my mind.”
Arnav grinned at her, “I like your idea of coming here with a book; no distractions and pure quiet; something that is missing in Delhi big time. Is there a place to stay out here?”
Khushi pointed to a guest house up ahead, “That’s the forest bungalow where you can stay if you wish to come here. But then, you’ve got a cottage in the countryside in England. Why’d you wish to come here?”
Arnav shrugged his shoulders, “It’s a good place and that’s probably why. Plus you like it here, don’t you?”
Khushi looked away from him and said, “Yes, I like it here.”
Arnav put his hand under her chin and made her look up, “Khushi, I will come here because I know you like it here. If you are here, where else can I be?”
“Arnav-“ Khushi tried to speak but stopped with a gasp as Arnav came closer to her. She took a step back and tried to move away but he held her by the shoulders, gently.
“Stop running away from me Khushi. It hurts me when you do that. I am not about to do anything that you wouldn’t allow me to or want me to.” Arnav told her gently, not wanting to spoil the last hour with her. “I want to watch the sun set with you out here Khushi. I want to watch it while your hand rests in mine. Can we do that? Please?”
Khushi couldn’t deny him, not after his request. She quietly nodded and they sat down by the ledge, waiting for the sun to go down, hand in hand.
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.