Khushi sat waiting for Shyam at her favourite cafe that evening, while her mind still turned over Payal’s words. Why did Payal think that she, Khushi Gupta could ever fall in love with an arrogant arse like ASR?
She shook her head vehemently in denial, almost spilling coffee from the mug in her hand. The idea itself was mental. She could never fall for a man who had not even an ounce of humility in him. He was – he was-
“An espresso please, double shot. ” The deep dark voice raised the hair at the back of her neck. Trying to reject the voice in her head that said it knew who the voice belonged to, her eyes opened wide with shock as Arnav sat down in the chair next to her and grinned wolfishly.
“I had not thought of you as a coffee drinker, Khushi Gupta. You sound like you would drink gallons of tea, not coffee. “
Her eyes drank in his grinning face- he looked so devastatingly handsome when he smiled!- and then his words registered. More to the point, his presence by her side registered as she came out of her daze. Her doe eyes sparkled with annoyance.
Arnav saw the moment Khushi’s expression changed and his eyes lit up at the expectation of fireworks. He loved it when she looked ready to spit fire, the passion of her feelings plain on her face. He didn’t have long to wait.
Khushi’s chest swelled with quiet indignation. His eyes rested briefly on the heaving chest and then moved to her eyes. They were now furious at his blatant display of interest.
“How dare you! “Khushi spoke with her mouth barely moving. “What the hell are you doing here Mr Rothwell ? “
“I have been called here, by your – who is he anyway? Is he your associate or your friend?”
Khushi refused to calm down. With gritted teeth, she asked, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but you had better leave. I have a meeting and I am not going to waste my energy talking to you. “
“Of course. ” Arnav was brisk, his eyes sharp. He accepted his cup of espresso with a polite smile at the waitress, that seemed to turn her into a silly mush. Fluttering her eyelashes, she asked him if he wanted any sugar.
“He is diabetic. No sugar, thank you.” Khushi spat dismissal at the waitress, who went away with a scowl on her face. Looking straight back at ASR, Khushi said, “Did you hear what I said Mr Rothwell Raizada? Leave.”
“You’re pretty adorable when you’re all fire like this. “Arnav observed amusedly, and then huskily added, “Most of the times, I can’t wait to burn with you.”
Khushi had no reply for such a statement. She sipped her coffee and pointedly looked at her watch. Arnav finished his mouthful of espresso and wiped his mouth with a serviette, calming informing her, “Don’t be mad at me. I didn’t come here myself. I was called by your photographer associate, Shyam. “
Her jaw dropping, Khushi retorted, “Shyam? My Shyam called you?”
“Your Shyam? ” Arnav’s eyes caught fire at her reference to Shyam as hers. He was annoyed.
His entire day had been a pain, so why should he be surprised if evening was the finale of all that he found irksome. He had decided to work from home this morning. His morning had begun with Anjali teasing La at the breakfast table. By noon, La had become decidedly panicky, coming to him with the request that he make things clear to his family. She was terrified they would marry her to him tomorrow if they had their way. Highly tickled by her imagination, Arnav had assured her nothing of the kind would happen. She ought to take the teasing in her stride and be indifferent. After all, she wanted the pretence of being his girlfriend to save her pride. But La had been unable to handle things. Post lunch, she had excused herself with the excuse of a prior meeting with an old friend and got out of the house.
Arnav had breathed a sigh of relief as Anjali had turned her attention to her own wedding matters, and he had finally been able to focus on his work. Things had just settled down, when Shyam called. He had been polite and straight to the point.
“Hi Alex, I would like to meet you this evening. Is it possible?” Shyam had asked politely.
Arnav had observed, “A bit sudden, isn’t it? “
Shyam had been just as adamant, “I’ll agree, it is a bit sudden but imperative. I would appreciate it if you could come to the India Cafe this evening. Khushi will also be there.”
Arnav had tensed at her name, and in a split second made his decision as an unsavoury thought had entered his head. His entire being had rebelled at the idea. As he remembered the thought that had prompted him to come here without a second’s hesitation, his annoyance at his own behaviour grew. He looked at Khushi and suddenly he said, “I might as well tell you since I know you will not tattle tale. I think it is time I got married.”
Khushi looked at him, going pale at his words. ASR planning to get married? To Whom? Or was he simply saying that to annoy her? Well, she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. With mighty effort, she ignored his declaration and ploughed on, “Why has he called you here?” Then muttered to herself, ” Is he planning to warn you off in front of me or something? “
Arnav’s mind, that had seconds ago been amusing itself at Khushi’s instant reaction and efforts at non-reaction to his statement, was now outraged at this muttered suggestion. How could anyone warn him off Khushi? Khushi was — and he stopped the thought in his head. He liked annoying her, flirting with her. He had already admitted to wanting her badly. Khushi was his — The point was, she was not for Shyam.
Khushi, unaware of his internal debate continued muttering to herself, “I must talk to Shyam. He has been a bit odd lately, but I simply thought it was due to his preoccupation with–.”
“Still talk to yourself, do you? Old habits die hard. ” an amused Arnav drawled lazily, stretching in the chair. “I can’t wait to hear what milk toast man has to say to me.”
Khushi choked on her coffee “Milk toast man? You are calling Shyam a milk toast man?”
ASR shrugged his shoulders, “What else would I call a man who has been playing with fire recently, but is not able to take the heat?”
“What fire? What heat? What the hell are you blabbering on about ASR?” Khushi snapped, forgetting her intention to stay calm.
She drew back as Arnav leaned forward. Suddenly his eyes were drawn to the door and he took a sharp breath. Khushi saw the change in his face, saw the hardness enter into his eyes and looked at the door too.
Shyam and La had entered the cafe; Shyam with a grim look on his face and La with averting eyes. His gaze zeroed in on Arnav and Khushi and his jaw tightened. They all greeted each other politely. La sat between Khushi and Shyam, her gaze averted from Arnav. Khushi observed this and wondered.
Finally Arnav spoke, “So Jha, what is it you wanted to talk about?”
Shyam put down his coffee and looked at Khushi accusingly, saying “I just wanted to make sure we are all on the same page. You have not trusted me enough as a friend Khushi, or you would have confided your secret in me. ” He sighed deeply, unhappily. Before Khushi could ask him, he raised his hand, “I am not finished yet Khushi. Please don’t interrupt. “
Shyam looked at Arnav and a determination entered his eyes. He said, “La tells me your family spoke to her today about her marrying you. Now is the time Rothwell. You must tell them.”
Khushi’s eyes strayed to Arnav, shock evident in them. Without looking at her, Arnav kept his gaze on Shyam, “Tell them what, Jha?”
At this point, La interrupted both men, looking at Arnav with pleading eyes. His eyes hardened and she averted hers, saying “I am sorry, Alex. I wouldn’t have told Shyam about any of it, had he not told me about his intention to marry her.”
ASR being who he was, didn’t even blink at her declaration of innocence. He simply nodded at her and then looked back at Shyam.
A frustrated exhale, and then Shyam said, “You must tell your family the truth Rothwell. Tell them that La is not your girlfriend, but mine. You must tell them about your engagement to Khushi. “
“So- where am I to drop you Miss Khushi Gupta?” Arnav asked, his body turned towards her as they sat in his car.
Khushi fidgeted with the seat belt, not securing it and not meeting his eyes either as she softly but firmly replied,” Since Anjali ji is watching us, you may drop me on the street outside. Then you may go where you wish. Personally I don’t -”
“-care to be anywhere next to me. I know that, Khushi. Maybe I frighten you or are you frightened of yourself, Khushi? ”
Khushi looked at him, her eyes stormy. “What? I am not frightened of you at all! Securing the seat belt, she said, “Just drive, will you? ”
“Not until you tell me where it is you wish to go the next.” Arnav retorted promptly, his eyes not leaving her face.
Khushi bit her lip and wondered what to do. She was acutely conscious of his raw masculinity, his unique scent reaching out to touch her senses. Would it be wiser to simply let him drive her to the art gallery, rather than sit here arguing with him? Maybe she wasn’t willing to let him drive her to the destination so easily because she enjoyed these little skirmishes? Maybe she wanted to spend more time with him – a little voice inside her head insinuated. Squashing that voice flat, Khushi decided to ask him to drop her off to the art gallery. It was possible that he might look at Shyam and her together, and decide to leave her alone.
Meanwhile, Arnav wondered what would happen if he leaned in and caught her lips with his. She had this habit of sucking her lower lip into her mouth every time she got anxious. Arnav wanted to touch her lips and release that lower lip from her mouth, taking it in his. His attention was diverted when the lip was released from its hold and Khushi spoke, “The art gallery next to India Gate, please.”
He gazed at her lips a second longer, than with a silent sigh, started the car. To pass 30 minutes of travel between them was going to be a torture since she was so close and not able to touch her. His thoughts still hadn’t settled down from his musings earlier. He still remembered how he had touched her intimately, the way she tasted in his mouth. His body went taut at the memory, a slight shudder going through him. Khushi, battling demons of her own, missed his reaction when her hand accidentally touched his while she fidgeted with her bag.
“Why can’t you sit still damnit!” Arnav growled from beside her, startling Khushi.
She looked at him, her eyes wide with bewilderment. “What did I do?”
“Just stop fidgeting.”
“Why don’t you just focus on your driving Mr Raizada. I don’t need to sit still like a statue simply because you have been ordered to drop me off.”
“What the– Don’t test my patience and don’t talk to me in that tone of voice, Khushi Kumari Gupta. ” Arnav growled, glaring at her.
“Huh- as if there is any other tone I’d use for you Mr Aranv Singh Raizada or Alexander Sebastian Rothwell, what ever you want to call yourself. ” Khushi glared back, her whole body turned sideways, towards him. She continued, “It is so silly to have two names, really! I have always thought–”
In the next instant, before she could say anything more, Arnav stopped the car abruptly, making her gasp. Khushi looked around and found herself half way through to her destination. It was just a side road, that would eventually merge into the road that would take her to India Gate. He unlocked the door and said, “Get out.”
Khushi gaped at him, her mouth open, her eyes unblinking. Maybe she had misheard. “What?” she asked to clear the air.
“Get out. ” ASR said again, gritting his teeth.” I can’t stand being next to you any longer. You are such an irritating woman.”
So angry at him that she didn’t even wish to look at him at this time, she said, “How dare you!” Getting her bag out of her way and unclipped her seat belt, while muttering, ” I should’ve known you would act like a jerk. What else can I expect from you.”
In the next instant, Arnav pulled her bag, thereby pulling her towards him as he leaned towards her. His gaze brought alive the tangle of nerves in her stomach that she had been trying to subside as he brought his face closer to hers. Khushi bravely met his gaze even though her lips quivered while she tried to keep a tight rein on her emotions. Looking deep into her eyes, he said angrily as if saying it against his wish, “You can expect this–”
Saying this, he lowered his head and brushed his lips evocatively across her own. Khushi’s mouth trembled under his tender onslaught. Without an order from her mushy brain, her lips responded back, moulding themselves to his shape. He groaned quietly and pulled her into him. Khushi’s hand touched his shirt covered hard chest and felt his rapidly beating heart. A beast roared inside her as he muttered, “- expect this. You make me crazy Khushi Kumari Gupta.”
Khushi mumbled his name, her voice husky with want. He chuckled, but his voice was just as fractured with desire as hers. As she repeated his name, he nibbled her lower lip, and said ” I love it when your voice cracks with want over my name. You can use this tone to talk to me any time Khushi.”
It was his words that brought Khushi back with a bump, back to reality. She tore her mouth away and pushed him back into his seat. Closing her eyes for a second to hide herself from the shame of having responded so ardently to his kiss, which was clearly meant to be her punishment, she said hurriedly, “Of course you would blame me for your crazy acts as well.”
Before he could anticipate her move, she opened the door and jumped out quickly. Closing the door of the car hard, she made him wince and felt a little better. Through the window,her eyes spit fire and she snapped, “Go to hell Raizada.” and ran towards the auto waiting a little further away.
Arnav cursed softly as he saw her climbing into the auto and being driven away. Damn the girl, she always made him lose his temper and his mind, he thought irritatedly. He let her get to her too much. This had to stop somehow. But how? Still thinking on it, he drove away towards work.
By evening however, Khushi had forgotten all about Shyam and La. She was at home, dressed in her old favourite T-Shirt and jeans, too busy arranging things over the phone, and muttering curses beneath her breath, about spoiled, rich families who couldn’t understand how any change in plans at the last minute affected organizers.
She had just received an email from Anjali Raizada. Khushi had panicked and called her up, to be told very politely but firmly of the change in her plans. She wanted her Mehandi function to take place in the Taj Mahal Hotel instead of at the Raizada Mansion. No reasons given. To top it all, she wanted Shyam to be the photographer of this entire event; none other would do.
“Truly her brother’s sister, no doubt about it with the amount of arrogance with which she gives those orders!” Khushi muttered, and then got annoyed with herself for thinking about ASR. She focused her attention to the changes that had to be made immediately.
“Khushi, the dinner has been ready for about an hour now. I’m really hungry!” Khushi turned back and looked guiltily towards her younger sister, who had been waiting patiently for more than an hour for her. Sending her an apologetic glance, she begged for five more minutes and tuned back in to the phone call.
“Hum samajhte hai aapki baat Mishra ji, par inn amir logo ke nakhre toh aap jaante he hai. Please accommodate to their needs this time around? Aage se, I will be careful you get plenty of notice.”
Khushi was trying to coax the manager of the Taj Mahal hotel to change room bookings. Nothing but the biggest conference hall would do. After some time, a smile spread across her face. She hailed for her victory by raising a fist in the air when the manager finally acceded to her request. She put down the phone with a sigh of relief. Now to make that phone call confirming the change of venue to Anjali Raizada.
“Khushi!” Payal shouted in frustration from the dining room when Khushi was speed-dialing Anjali’s number.
” Give me two minutes darling. Bas do minute! “Khushi replied back to Payal and then gasped when she heard a hiss in her ear and a terse,
“No need to shout in my ear woman, especially when you call someone else your darling.”
Arnav Singh Raizada!
“How was I to know you’d pick up Anjali ji’s phone?” Khushi demanded heatedly and then belatedly realised how that sounded, so she added, “It is none of your business who I call darling anyway. ”
“Wanna bet?”Arnav growled softly over the phone, raising goosebumps all over Khushi’s body. Resolutely, she kept her voice calm, “I don’t like gambling of any sort Mr Raizada. Now if you don’t mind, please hand the phone over to Anjali ji ”
“Why the hurry? Wish to go back to your “darling”, do you? ”
“Would you just bugger off?” Khushi finally got exasperated.
” Make me.” He sounded amused, which made Khushi madder.
“Why should I? I can simply hang up and be done with you. ” She replied with a touch of her own arrogance.
“Do you tremble in his arms too, like you do in mine every time I touch you, every time I kiss you ?”
He delivered this question, his voice going deeper and huskier, making Khushi tremble as he asked softly, “Do you remember that evening Khushi?” and continued, ” I remember that evening Khushi. Just like I remember the morning you came to receive me at the airport. I remember how I took your mouth, how it softened under mine, how your tongue danced with mine. Just thinking about it makes me want to do it again. I remember how your breasts swelled in my hand when I cupped them, how your nipples peaked — ”
“Shut up… stop talking like that!” Khushi gasped, her breath coming fast.
“If it helps, you affect me the same way Khushi. Your breathing has quickened at the thought, hasn’t it? Mine too. ” Arnav growled softly, making Khushi clench her legs together,denying the heat she felt between her legs. She wanted to deny the effect his words had on her, but she couldn’t. So she stayed quiet. After a heart beat, Arnav said softly, “Meet me for dinner tomorrow, Khushi. ”
“It would never do to show him you go weak at the knees when he talks like that, Khushi! Show some backbone!” Some part of her brain that had not turned to mush by his words yet screamed in reprimand. Her mind cleared in an instant, when she recalled the horrible embarrassment she had gone through after those few moments of insanity that evening. She hated her voice for betraying her with its huskiness, but she tried to be cool and dismissing with her words.
“Your ego is astounding Mr Raizada! Let me make something very clear -forget dinner; I don’t want to see you, or even talk to you. You’re mistaken if you think you affect me in any way. Now, either you pass the phone to Anjali ji or I shall hang up.”
“Huh..” Was all he said, and the next second, it was Anjali on the phone saying, “Haan Khushiji, have the changes been made ?”
Khushi breathed deeply to control her anger. When she spoke next, her voice was calm, “Yes, Anjaliji all the arrangements have been made with the changes requested by you. I shall get back in touch with you tomorrow to talk about the arrangement changes needed from your sides for that day. ”
“Come to the Raizada Mansion tomorrow morning Khushi ji if it’s not too much trouble, please? I will ask OP to pick you up from your house and he would also drop you back. I promise it won’t be inconvenient. ” Anjali requested earnestly over the phone.
Khushi could hardly refuse a request made so nicely. Sighing inwardly, she agreed. At least she had to thank Devi Maiyya that Laad Governor was staying at the Taj and not at the Raizada Mansion. She could heard loud voices in the background.
“Come on Anjali bitiya. We are all waiting for you. “A shrill, melodious voice spoke in the background loud enough to make Khushi wince. She knew who it was — another intimidating Raizada; Manorama Mami ji.
“Khushi ji, I shall see you bright and early tomorrow morning at 10:30. ” Anjali declared and with a hasty bye hung up. Khushi sighed loudly and said, ” I don’t have a choice, do I? “
“Khushi, are you listening to a word or am I talking to a zombie ?” Shyam said angrily, exasperated by her thoroughly.
They were in the national gallery of modern art at India Gate since the last two hours, where Shyam was working on his personal company’s assignment. His company had hired a model to pose alongside his exhibition photos for promotion. He had insisted on Khushi going along with him, so that they could discuss and expand the ideas he was working on. Having decided the last night about saying no to his proposal, Khushi thought it might be a good idea to accompany him. She wanted to break it to him gently. After spending the first hour though, she decided to wait for the evening, when they’d be more relaxed while out for dinner.
Startled at his tone, Khushi looked up at him from her ipad and said coldly, “What is wrong with you Shyam? Why are you so annoyed? I was checking out venues that can use your photos post exhibition, for God’s sake! You will need to advertise your work if you wish to succeed.”
“I know I need to publicize, thank you. You don’t have to be so patronising all the time Khushi.” Shyam retorted back and moved away from her, to click some photos of the model posing in front of the painting. “I don’t know why I thought bringing you with me would help in any way.”
Astonished, Khushi looked up at him. She had never heard Shyam use such tones before. She wondered what he meant by that cryptic statement and then observed him closely. He was taking photos, but he acted strange while doing it. He was very brusque with the model, so that she was nearly in tears. She was hiding it well but her eyes glinted with it.
“For heaven’s sake, La! Have you forgotten all the rules of modelling? Don’t you even know how you must pose?” Shyam barked loudly and angrily at the model again as he clicked another picture of her.
Loath to see him in such a mood, Khushi tried to calm him. She intervened by standing next to him, put a hand on his shoulder and spoke softly in his ear, ” Okay, would you stop being nasty and tell me how she must stand and I’ll help her out? Chill out dude. You’re scaring the poor girl.”
Shyam turned angry eyes on Khushi, “Help her then, if you can. I think she’s absolutely incompetent. I don’t know how I thought I’d work with her anyhow!” He tunnelled his hands through his hair, his silver bracelet glinting. The model; La her name was, seemed to be transfixed by it, a stricken expression on her face. Perhaps she had heard what Shyam had said about her, thought Khushi.
Time to take action!” she muttered to herself and came forward, smiling at the model. “Hi La, Shyam’s very particular about his poses. I’ll help you with the poses since some of them are awkward I’m sure. Is that okay?”
La jerked her attention to Khushi from Shyam’s bracelet and nodded frantically, relief evident in her eyes.
Khushi smiled widely at her and Shyam and said, “Right then. Let’s get on with it.”
Slowly the tension in the air fizzled out and La became comfortable enough to pose effortlessly. Khushi liked La immediately after having spoken to her for a while, when helping her pose. She was of Payal’s age, and was modelling for pocket change. Not that she liked it much, La confided in Khushi. According to her, her co-workers were all stuck up and didn’t talk much, apart from bitching about each other, talking about diets and rich boyfriends. She didn’t much like it, and were it not for the fact that she loved posing and seeing her face popping out of the billboards and magazines, she wouldn’t associate herself with the modelling world at all.
It took them a little more than an hour, but they were finally done. Khushi breathed a sigh of relief, seeing both Shyam and Laavanya- or La, as she liked to call herself, relaxed. She smiled at both of them and said, “So if it’s all done now, how about we share a cup of coffee before going separate ways?”
Nothing could have shocked her more when Shyam and La at once spoke up together, “No!” She looked at both of them. La was the first one to speak, though her cheeks were tinged with pink, and Khushi could see she was very uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry Khushi, I can’t. I must leave immediately. I have someone waiting for me.”
“You were not supposed to be free for another hour. So who’d be waiting for you when you’re working?”
Khushi scowled at Shyam as he said this. He sounded so rude! Poor La turned a bright pink, but ignored Shyam. She looked at Khushi desperately and said, “I really do have someone waiting. Don’t mind please. We can meet up some other time maybe? I’ll give you my phone number.”
“I have your phone number. I’ll give it to her. You can go to meet whoever is waiting for you.” Shyam spoke again, his voice so harsh it made Khushi flinch. La simply didn’t respond and at Khushi’s understanding nod, strode off. Shyam looked after her, his face set tight. Khushi rounded on him,
“What in the world is the matter with you Shyam? Did you have to sound so rude to La? You almost made her cry! And your tone! What business is it of yours if she has someone waiting? Anyone would think you were–” She stopped, her eyes going wide with understanding. In a whisper, she said, “You were jealous!”
“What nonsense! Stop imagining things Khushi. I am just not in the mood for this now! Let us go! ” Shyam said gruffly, but he avoided her eyes.
Khushi stood rooted to the spot, going over the entire morning in her head. He was definitely jealous! So who was La to Shyam?
“What nonsense!” With a jerk, Khushi moved out of his grasp at his words, completely rattled. “I’d thank you to keep your hands and your opinion to yourself.”
“But if I remember correctly, you liked my hands on you.” Said Arnav with dead calm, and watched as pink seeped into her cheeks. She whispered, “How dare you! That — that was — I was distraught and I didn’t realise–“
“Bullshit!” Said Arnav, heating up a little. “Why not be a little honest with yourself and say that you liked it? A little foreplay in the corner might not have been what you wanted, but you did want me. I stopped only because I realised we were at work and I was your employer.”
“I am not standing here and listening to this. If you want to get in that car standing there at the car parking, and go to the hotel, do so, or go to hell.” Shaking with outraged indignation and a little shame because she knew what he said was right, Khushi turned away to leave. Her next breath turned into a gasp, as he caught hold of her hand from behind and pulled her towards him.
“Wha—let me go this instant!” Khushi said, her breath coming in short, fast gasps.
Not hearing her, he pulled her with him into the nearest telephone booth and closed the door.
“Open the door this instant, you…. I don’t want to talk to you at all! Let me go.” Khushi demanded, refusing to struggle like a hysterical heroine in the movie.
Arnav pulled her closer and tighter to him, if that was possible. He pulled her ponytail a bit so that her eyes came up to meet his defiantly. His palm could feel the pulse beating frantically in the nape of her neck; he could feel her nipples peaking against his chest. Her heart was beating like a drum roll, just like his was, at this nearness. There was no doubt in his mind. She was as attracted to him, as he was to her and fighting it with admirable spirit too! Had he been right all these months, thinking that she had disappeared because she had felt the strong pull of attraction to him? He was starting to think he was right.
Feeling a kick of satisfaction in his gut, he growled, “You still want me Khushi Gupta, and God help me, but I still want you—very much. “ He bent a little lower, his breath falling on her face, his soft words caressing her face, “Why is it that you always lie about what you feel? Why do you always hide under the façade of coolness or anger? Is this why you disappeared? “
“I don’t want to talk about this! Why can’t you leave it alone?” Khushi closed her eyes and said despairingly.
“Can you leave it alone? Tell me you didn’t think about me all these months. “Arnav whispered, his lips almost touching hers, feeling her breaths.
Khushi could hardly think; much less speak, for the fear of touching his mouth with hers, and igniting herself in the fiercely burning fire of want. She tried to move her head to one side, but his tight grip on the nape of her neck prevented her.
“Khushi..” Arnav groaned against her mouth, and in the next second touched his lips to her. Desire that was just a flame, turned into a raging inferno for both of them as their mouths touched. Khushi kissed him with abandon, opening her mouth for the invasion of his lips and tongue. They kissed like they’d never want to be apart again. Khushi held on to him like he was her rock of Gibraltar, her hands holding his head, her fingers making scissoring patterns in his hair. Arnav pecked at her lips, her eyes, her cheeks, her jaw and she did likewise. His hands moved from the nape of her neck to her back, her waist and then to her hips, where he held on to her as he kissed her. He moved down to her nape, whispering, “I knew you want me. “
Khushi stiffened in his arms as she heard his whisper, horrified at what she was doing. Had she let go of her senses completely? How could she have let him kiss her, and furthermore, kiss him back with such ardent abandon?
She pushed him away from her, breathing as if she’d run a marathon, and he faltered a step as he lost his grip on her. Khushi looked at him, her eyes glittering pools of brown. Angry tears at her own failure to curb her desire weren’t far away. She made to move out of the telephone booth by pushing him away, but he simply pulled her back to him, her back brushing his chest. He moved the ponytail away and kissed the nape of her neck, breathing hard. Khushi ‘s breath hitched in her throat at the touch of his lips there, and her voice wavered when she spoke, “ You let me go this instant. I never want this to happen again!!”
Arnav bit the lobe of her ear lightly and then licked it to soothe it. Khushi felt herself twitching between her legs, her insides clenching with need, as he spoke, his voice gruff with desire, “Never say never, Khushi. You can’t ignore this attraction between us, any more than I can.”
“Can I not?” Khushi said through gritted teeth, freeing herself finally.
She quickly opened the door and stepped out of the telephone booth. Arnav stepped out from the telephone booth too and walked towards her. Now that she was free of his enveloping presence, she could think clearly. She moved away from him and towards the parking lot, with Arnav following her. Anger at herself for giving in to her carnal lust, and at him for making her feel so vulnerable made her spat, “I can do what I want Mr. Raizada. You don’t have any hold over me, do you hear?”
His thundered face was the testament of how enraged he felt at her words. But he let her words flow past him silently, and walked to the car park, where the car was standing.
The driver of the car got out and watched the scene unfolding in front of his eyes with avid fascination, but wisely kept his distance. He could smell romance in the air, despite all the arguing that was going on. He was being eaten up with curiosity about this girl who dared to be defiant and give Arnav baba hell. No young women he had seen come in contact with him had behaved with anything less than simpering adoration, and he had known Arnav baba since he was a baby. No one got so much attention or emotion. He gathered his thoughts and quickly opened the back door, as Arnav walked briskly up to the car.
Arnav walked briskly up to the car, knowing that Khushi had walked a bit and now stood outside the car park. He turned around and looked back at her. She was staring at him, her expression confused at his behaviour. Their eyes met and he could feel a huge wave of some unknown emotion rise within him. He felt an overwhelming need to see a different emotion in her eyes, anything but this confusion that reflected his own feelings. He said, “In a way, I am still your employer you know. I am paying for my sister’s wedding. So you see Khushi, I still have a hold over you. See you later.”
The utter horror and shock etched on her face at his announcement must have satisfied him perhaps, because the next moment, he sat in the car and was driven away. He kept on replaying the look he had left Khushi with in his mind until he reached his room, freshened up, had his dinner and stood outside the room balcony, eyeing the city bright with lights, with a glass of neat scotch whiskey in his hand. A smirk came on to his face that turned into a huge grin. He chuckled loudly and then the chuckle turned into a laugh. Still laughing, he lay down on the bed and under the covers. Sighing deeply as if relieved in some manner, he closed his eyes and fell asleep with the same look, his mind occupied with Khushi.
Shyam looked at Khushi as she hung up and put the mobile back in her bag. She looked back at him, her eyes unfocussed. She was already thinking about business; about Anjali’s brother who would have to be picked up from the airport tomorrow because he had made a last minute decision to join in the festivities. Apparently he was against this wedding, and had decided not to attend it earlier. She could cheerfully wring his neck were he not an important part of the client’s family. Now she could have to rearrange everything from sitting positions, cards to family presentation details.
“Khushi! I swear to God sometimes I wonder if you live on another platform!” Shyam’s outraged voice brought her back. Khushi patted on his back in a friendly way, and smiled warmly at him, “You know I am a little like that. But you like me despite my eccentricities. Now be a good fellow and help me out.”
“With what?” Asked Shyam, putting an arm around her good naturedly, his ill humour forgotten with her warm smile.
Khushi looked at him teasingly, “Your grammar is a bit sloppy, isn’t it? “
Shyam gave her a crooked smile, “Well now, you know me honey. I don’t care about such things. And there’s always everyone’s take on how to speak things you know.”
Khushi snorted delicately and gave him a smart tap on his shoulder, “Huh! Just admit you like being a little out of ordinary yourself Mr. Shyam Jha! Now to business- I need your help. This new client has a brother who is arriving tomorrow. I want someone to go and pick him up from the airport.”
“No can do sweetheart. I have an early morning meeting. You need to do this yourself. “ Khushi groaned inwardly, but conceded she would have to do it. Another black mark against her as an elder sister, she thought to herself guiltily. Payal had asked her this morning, if she could keep her diary free for tomorrow, and she had assured her that nothing would come in the way.
Khushi’s face must’ve shown some of her inner regret and sadness, because Shyam held her chin up and said, “Khushi, don’t be sad! Look if you don’t want to go to the airport to receive this fellow, just let them know you can’t. They can’t hang you for simply not going to receive him. After all, it is last moment notice.”
That got Khushi out of her reverie. She couldn’t afford to lose this account, for Payal’s sake. She made herself smile as naturally as she could and said, “It’s alright. I was just thinking about something I’d seen on the TV earlier and it made me sad. That’s all.”
“Khushi!!” said Shyam exasperatedly and they both laughed together.
Khushi was at the airport to receive Anjali’s brother at four the next morning. She had hated getting out the bed and dressing up, but had no choice. Keeping her dress code casual formal, she had worn blue jeans with a pale green Shirt, topped it with an Olive green short jacket. Her hair was tied in a sleek ponytail and her feet were ensconced in green sandals with kitty heels. A pale pink gloss was all the make-up she had put on.
The placard in her hand read Alexander Sebastian Rothwell. She wondered at the name for a minute. Strange for Anjali to have a brother who sounded foreign. Maybe an English mother? She shrugged her shoulders mentally and yawned. What did she care? All she knew was that she was to receive him, drop him to the Taj Palace Hotel and go back home to snuggle down back into the covers for an hour or two, before accompanying Payal to whatever mystery place she wanted to take her to.
Arrival of the flight from New York was announced, and Khushi jerked herself awake. Holding the placard high in her hand, she stood a little apart from the throng of others who were waiting for their guests at the arrival gate. As soon as people starting coming out of the gate, Khushi looked around, hunting for a white Caucasian male to get out and look at her placard. She kept on looking, until almost everyone had left.
Had she missed him ? Had he not come after all? She turned around and checked people passing by. Nope, didn’t look like he was among them either. So where the devil was he?
“Of all the people in the world—Are you here to receive me by any chance?”
The hairs on the back of her neck and hands stood up as Khushi heard the voice she had never wanted to hear again. Slowly, keeping her wits about her, she turned around and nearly fainted. ASR stood there, with his hands in his pockets, his expression unreadable in the faint light. He looked up at the sign she was holding and said resignedly, “It had to be you. ”
He had not changed a bit in the last year, thought Khushi as she looked at him. In his thirty-third year now, he was still broodingly handsome, with a day’s stubble on his face and those amber eyes that seared her body. Her heart beat fast as she tried to get over her shock.
“But I’m here to receive a Alexander Sebastian Rothwell, not you.”
He looked forbidding and bored, as she said, “Take your pick. ASR – Arnav Singh Raizada or Alex Seb Rothwell, I’m still the same person you’ve come to receive at the airport. Now if you’d stop imitating a gold fish, I’d like to go to the hotel please. Or is it too much to hope that a room has been booked for me?”
Khushi flushed pink with anger at his tone and his words. Closing her mouth that had been wide open with shock, and holding her emotions in control, she spoke to him coolly, “A room has been booked for you in the Taj Palace, as per your sister’s instructions. If you will please follow me, I’ll take you to the car that will take you to the hotel.”
His gaze moved to her head where her hair was tied neatly in a ponytail. He observed, “You’ve grown your hair. It is longer than I last saw it.”
Khushi was startled at this piece of observation from him. He had noted the length of her hair and remembered it from last year? She refused to feel that small burst of excitement in her belly and replied with coolness she didn’t feel, “Yes, I have grown it. Now, if you please—“
“Do I disturb you?” He asked and Khushi goggled at him.
“What ? I –“ Khushi started and then, alarmed took a step back when he stepped forward. “What are you doing?”
A couple of inches that had separated them vanished as Arnav came closer. His eyes were dark and searching. Khushi tried to look away from him. In the next instant she felt a hand on her chin, and rough growl, “Stop turning away from me. “ Khushi closed her eyes childishly, refusing to look at him, shivering by the touch of his hand on her chin. He bent a little to bring his face close to her and said softly, “Yes, I do believe I disturb you.”
“Why is it that every time I propose a visit to London, you have another engagement? I am beginning to think you do not wish to meet my parents.”
Khushi look at Shyam; her stable, sensible boyfriend of eight months, with exasperation and despair. Good looking, charming, and mostly fun to be with, he came from a rich family, but was not a snob like others she knew. Two years older to her twenty-eight, he was also a well known photographer, and had worked with her on some of her company assignments, which is how they’d met. His passion was landscape photography, but his bread earner was his fashion photography skills. He was going to have his landscape photo exhibition at the National Art Gallery, which was indeed an honour reserved for few. Soon he would be making his name well known for his passion.
Khushi and Shyam had met at for a work assignment initially, which had later turned to friendship and gradually into a relationship. What Khushi liked the most about Shyam was that despite the fact that they had been going around since the last eight months, he mostly kept his distance- respected her belief in the old fashioned idea of “physical relationship and commitment go hand in hand”. A kiss and affectionate hugs was all they had ever shared between them.
But sometimes, like today, she could scream at him in frustration. She knew he was planning to ask her to marry him, and she understood that perhaps he wanted his parents’ approval. After all, she was a nobody; an orphan with a younger sister to support; she was no catch and would probably not meet his parents’ approval at all. And yet this was the second time in the last week that he had insisted on going to London to meet his parents. Though she appreciated him for his efforts, frankly speaking, she felt like she was being pushed into the deep end, and she was most certainly not ready to take any sort of leap. Marriage was too big a step for her and she wasn’t sure Shyam was the right guy. And London was the last place in the world she would ever visit!
An image of ASR rose up into her mind to haunt her of the past and she shivered despite the fact that she was thousands of miles away from him now. Even after all these months, she could close her eyes and feel the impact of his persona- his soul searching eyes, his aftershave, the way he had closed the distance between them and almost made her break her own rule of never getting involved physically with a playboy. Had she not come to her senses in time, she might have been just another notch on his belt. To shake his thoughts off, she looked into Shyam’s eyes. Yes, Shyam was nice. He was safe. She put her hand on his shoulder and tried to make him understand.
“Look Shyam, I’ve told you before- I am too busy at this time with my work. I’ve just taken a new assignment and I can’t let delegate things because it is too important. If you have to visit your parents, do. I don’t understand why you want me to come to meet them anyway.”
“Don’t be daft Khushi. You know I plan to introduce you to them as the woman I am getting married to.” Shyam said, determination plain in his voice.
Khushi turned to look at him, not surprised really. She had known his intentions after all. “It doesn’t come as a surprise, but I thought you’d ask me first. That’s the way it goes you know.”
Shyam grinned charmingly, his hand playing with his long hair tied in a pony tail. “Now you know baby doll. I want us to get married. You’ve been working hard to get your wedding planner business up, but the best way is to get married yourself.” He winked, “But more to the point, I feel we’re very fond of each other, and we’ll have a lot of fun together. Don’t you?”
Khushi was in a fix. Saying no would hurt Shyam unbearably because he was very sensitive, but saying yes would encourage him to think ahead, which was not something she wanted at this time. Oh why couldn’t she have fallen in love with him or perhaps learned to be a brutal bitch who could’ve heartlessly declined his proposal? She opened her mouth to say something, and was saved from saying anything at all, as her phone rang. Giving Shyam an apologetic look, she said, “Sorry, have to pick this up. It’s the client who’s wedding I’m arranging.”
“Haan Anjaliji? Kahiye.” Khushi said on the phone. Last year, Khushi had arrived back to India with her sister and opened shop as a wedding planner. It had been a struggle in the beginning, but slowly and surely business had picked up.
The feather in her cap would be this assignment she had currently picked up- a billionaire client who was getting married in India, before heading back to the U.S. If things went right, she could get a lot of business simply by word of mouth, Khushi mused within as she discussed next day’s plans with Anjali over the phone. It would solve her latest problem of where to send Payal for her University studies.
Not that Payal, four years younger to Khushi, and an introvert who kept mostly to herself, had mentioned her preferences to her elder sister. But she had spoken to the only close friend of hers, who in turn had let Khushi know. Payal wanted to go back to London, to study Political Science and International Law at the LSE, but understood that lack of funds might prevent her. This assignment would be just the thing that would solve the problem, if things went as smoothly as they had been going the last few weeks. She focused her attention back on the phone call. In seconds, she was frowning as she said,
“You have a brother? But –“ she frowned some more and said, “ Yes, you’re right of course. It’s my mistake and I’m sorry. It’s just that no one told me you had a brother. Is he arriving alone or with his family? ”
She smiled away the frown lines with what she heard over the phone and said, “You don’t need to apologise, Anjaliji. It was an honest mistake on both parts. Don’t you worry. I will make sure someone is sent to pick him up from the airport tomorrow morning, or if not I will pick him up myself. “
ARNAV AND KHUSHI ARE BACK! 🙂
I don’t think there is a way where I can stay away from two of my favourite characters. So here goes, another story with Arnav and Khushi of the famed IPKKND. Don’t forget to let me know how you like the beginning. 😉
“Khushi madam, ASR ne bulaya hai- urgently.”
Khushi groaned inwardly as she looked at the watch. Hey Devi Maiyya! Ab kya! It looked like she was going to be late reaching home today. And on Payal’s birthday too! Why, oh why couldn’t the Laad Governer have called earlier if he had already something to pick on her today ? Not that these thoughts reflected on her face at all. She looked with a serene expression on her face at the messenger; a special “chamcha” of ASR as she liked to call him and said, “I will be there in two minutes. Thank you.”
The messenger with the name OP left her with a smirk on his face and muttered, “Fireworks on the way.”
Khushi heard that mutter and straightened her spine. She stood up, smoothed her skirt, and collected her notepad and pen. Not a single time went by when she and the CEO of the multinational organisation didn’t have a clash of –well, it wasn’t words really, since she was in no position to have a clash of words with him. After all, he was the big boss and she was just an office assistant. They generally had no personal meetings- only the end of the year meeting and a review. He found faults with her at times, and conveyed them to her by Email (lately these emails had become frequent)– she had to reluctantly acknowledge– that the wretched man had been right every time. Nothing escaped his attention.
So it wasn’t a clash of words or wills. It was simply a clash of eyes. She shivered as she remembered those amber eyes; the way they bore into her like they would strip her of all her calm. Taking deep breaths, she preached herself, “Stop it. It is high time you stopped with this nonsense. Stop being so affected by him. He’s just a man- not an ogre. Stay calm. Deep breaths..He is not going to strangle you even if you might have made a mistake. ” and she breathed in deep and closed her eyes.
“He just might .” Said an amused but irritated voice from behind, “If you don’t stop talking to yourself and get yourself moving.”
Khushi opened her eyes immediately and turned around neatly on her black pumps. ASR stood there, all six foot two of lean muscle clad in crisp grey business suit. Not even a trace of humour showed on his face, so that she thought she might have imagined his amused tone. He stood in his usual stance, with his hands in his trouser pockets and a frown on his forehead, surveying her like she was an alien specimen. Hayye Devi Maiyya! How long had he been standing there? Had he heard all that nonsense about her being affected by him? She sincerely hoped not! Her heart stuttered as she met his eyes, and then she forced herself to become calm. Her doe brown eyes became as opaque as wood as she said, “I was just collecting my notepad and pen before coming to your office.”
He looked at her, from her sleek neat hair falling over her shoulders, her doe brown eyes, her slightly flushed cheeks, pale pink lips, cream blouse over black knee-length skirt and her feet encased in black stockings and black pumps. She looked exactly as an Office Assistant should look- neat and presentable, calm and ready to handle any crisis. No one looking at her could doubt her ability to run the office with the efficiency she had been running it with, for the last two years. He wasn’t sure how, but he was aware that she was anything but calm most of the times.
“Hmpph.” said he gruffly, turning around to get out of her office and stride with his long legs into his own.
Arnav closed the bedroom door and turned around to face Khushi, who was already sitting on the bed, her legs folded, ready to talk. Her eyes were troubled, her face pale. Constant thoughts plaguing her mind could be seen very clearly in her eyes. As he stood by the door for another minute, Khushi burst out,
“Arnav ji, do come here. I – must know. We must talk.”
Slowly Arnav approached Khushi and sat down next to her on the bed. Taking one of her hands in his own, he smiled into her eyes and said softly, “Let me get ready for bed and you do the same. We’ve got the whole night to talk. “
Khushi made a face, “No we don’t. You have to wake up early and then go to work too. I don’t want you going to work all tired.”
Arnav kissed the palm of Khushi’s hand, making her quiver as he said, “How very wifely of you, my darling.” Humour glinted wickedly from his eyes.
Khushi smiled widely, “That’s because I am your wife Mr. Raizada. But I want to know—“
Arnav laughed softly and put a finger on her lips, “Quiet wife. One of your duties is also to listen to your husband—sometimes at least!”
Khushi giggled and Arnav smirked, then said, “Ab jaao. Get ready for bed my love. Once we’re cosy, I’ll tell you all you want to know.”
And so it happened that 10 minutes later, when they were both under the covers, cuddling that Khushi raised the question, “Arnavji, is it true that Aparna lied to me? That these 5 years of unhappy living and keeping our sons away from your fatherly love was all simply because I’d been foolish enough to believe her? “
Arnav sighed and kissed her hair, “You are a good person Khushi. It is not your fault that you believed in her lies, not your fault that we suffered so much these last years. You did it thinking of a little boy and his happiness. That doesn’t make you a bad person or foolish; on the contrary. “
Khushi stayed quiet, but took refuge in Arnav’s arms by snuggling into him and hugging him even tighter than before. Arnav squeezed her back and continued, “Yes, she lied to you- to everyone who knew her actually at the time we did. “
“I always wondered why she kept on harping on about how she didn’t want anything from life anymore, how her life was content. A person who is content doesn’t keep on repeating it every second, you know. The day you told me about the DNA test and Vishal being born out of wedlock, and accused me of being a neglectful father, I knew a deeper game was at play. To feel the waters, I spoke to Aparna about it. Of course, initially she pretended to deny it all and then gently cried out to me in not so many words that Vishal was my son, and she and he were my responsibility.”
Khushi looked astonished, “What? Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
Arnav looked sheepish for a second and then grimaced, “I think I should have. It might have helped you realize what was happening, and you’d have never left me. But in my arrogance, I thought I’d solve it all by myself and then you’d never have a chance of any doubts in future.
Anyway, when you left, I became absolutely distraught. I tried finding you everywhere obviously, despite all your instructions. But it looked like you’d completely vanished. Everyone was worried. Babuji never said a word to me, but I could feel his accusations every time he looked at me. Everyone looked at me for answers Khushi, and I have nothing to give.”
At the amount of pain in his voice, Khushi grasped his hand and kissed it. She took it between both of hers and held on to him, trying desperately to absorb some of that pain of his, to lessen it. Regret washed her being in waves. She should have realized how everyone else might feel. She shouldn’t have left like that.
A pool of tears formed in her eyes as she mumbled, “I’m sorry.. so sorry Arnavji. I should’ve thought it through. I hurt you and everyone I love so badly.” She raised her tear filled eyes to his, beseeching him to understand, “But believe me, I thought I was doing the right thing! I thought, I was coming in between the happiness that Vishal and you deserved.”
Arnav leaned in and kissed her forehead. Sighing heavily, he placed his chin above her head, as she folded more closely into his arms.
“I know you Khushi. I know you thought you were doing the right thing. I don’t blame you anymore; no one does. Yes, I was distraught. I was angry when you left. But after the whole thing was sorted out, I knew exactly why you’d done it.”
Khushi raised herself up on her hands and kissed Arnav on his lips. “I love you so much. And I caused you pain.” A frown marred her brows, “But what was going on? If I was in the wrong and Aparna was doing something that was—I don’t understand Arnavji.”
Arnav kissed her back hard and smirked, “You’re not as brilliant as you think you are Khushi Singh Raizada.”
At her indignant look, he said, “Alright. I won’t tease you for now, because you do need to know it. We talk about it this time, finish the tale and never speak of it again.”
At a cautious nod from Khushi, he continued,
“ Aparna underestimated my love for you. A week after you’d left, she tried to come on to me. The first few days, she sympathized with me, cursed you for leaving me in such a condition, for leaving “her” in this compromising position where she’d have to “fill a gap you left behind”. That’s what she thought it was, and she said it.
Then one evening, everyone had gone out. I came back from work, as usual and I saw her wearing your sari and cooking in the kitchen, like you do. When I went into my bedroom, she came in after a bit. Said she’d cooked my favourite food to cheer me up. I knew a seduction game was about to roll. I set the record straight that evening, and told her there was not going to be any grand reconciliation. Even if Vishal was my son, Khushi was my wife. I didn’t want any other. She left the room that evening, but not without uttering vile words for me, that I will not repeat in front of you.
She could see her plan failing, and me slipping out of her hands. For the next two weeks, she tried to befriend me. By this time, I had already had investigators working on her case, and the results had just started coming in the evening she had tried to seduce me.
Aparna had spent the last three years at the order of the court in correctional institution. She had already been sentenced once for about six months, for embezzlement, fraud and slander. Another interesting bit also came out. There was a restraining order against her. Do you remember the architect, Arun Varma from the parties we’d attended together ? – he had filed it. Apparently, Aparna had tried to pass herself on as his girlfriend, and created differences between him and his real girlfriend. When he exposed her, she became aggressive towards his girlfriend. In the end, the restraining order had been put in place. “
Khushi listened to this, her mouth open in shock. “She was mentally sick?”
Arnav shook his head in regret, “Sadly not. Women like her are never mentally sick. It was just a way of getting out of tight spots she had gotten herself into every time. She was cunning to the nth degree.”
“How did you expose her then? And where was Vishal all this time that she was facing all these charges and in the mental institution?” Khushi asked, her frown pronounced.
Arnav took a deep breath and said, “Vishal was where he had been happy, even if alone. He was in the orphanage, where I officially adopted him from after the whole fiasco had been sorted out.”
At her dazed expression, Arnav nodded to himself, “Yes, Khushi I know. For you this all seems incredible, but the thing is, not everyone is as decent as you are, my love. Aparna had planned very carefully. She had adopted Vishal and trained him as befitting my son a few months before she accidentally bumped into us. The DNA reports that you’d seen after you’d sent the sample were fake, because the samples had been switched by her.
I could’ve let go of the whole thing, even let her leave after all the destruction she’d caused, had it not been for the fact that she’d included an innocent child into her game plan and used him, almost killed him to achieve her goal- me. “
Khushi looked up alarmed, her hackles rising, “What do you mean Arnavji? “
Taking a deep breath, Arnav said, “She tried to poison Vishal to get family sympathy.”
Ignoring Khushi’s horrified look, Arnav continued, “Vishal went through a tough time, with you leaving us, and he felt he was to blame to some extent. I had tried to cheer him up at times, but he had started getting morose. Then one evening, when I came home, I heard Aparna tried to force feed a medicine. He kept on saying it smelled vile, but she wouldn’t listen. When I tried to intervene, she told me that Vishal was a sensitive child, and according to the doctor, he needed a sedative to help him get out of low moods. What a load of rubbish! When I asked her to show me the pill she wanted to feed him, she snapped at me and told me to mind my own business.
Vishal had started crying by then, refusing point blank to take the medicine. I could see Aparna starting to become aggressive in her stance. To cool off the atmosphere, I told her, I’d give Vishal the medicine prescribed by her doctor. For my sins, I helped her feed him poison.
Khushi, that pill had been coated with rat poison. Aparna left him with me, saying she had to go out for a meeting with a prospective client. In an hour, Vishal had started vomiting and was showing severe signs of poison. Without any delay, I took him to the hospital. He was there for two days, since the poison had affected his body severely.
Investigation proved that the pill had been coated with rat poison. Aparna came to the hospital teary-eyed and accused me of trying to kill her son. What she didn’t realize was, I had already gathered all the evidence to prove her guilt. A short court battle ensued, where needless to say, I came out the winner. She was sentenced for five years, with attempt to murder. “
Khushi’s eyes were wide with shock, her voice locked in her throat as she heard the entire story unwrapping. It was almost like a TV drama, except it was real, especially since it happened with herself and her family. Had it not been for her own foolishness, none of this could have happened – she cursed herself for having being so gullible.
Silence reigned for minutes, until she let out a long breath and in a tearful voice said, “Oh my God. All this, because she wanted you, and I was foolish enough to believe all that I heard and saw.”
Arnav cupped her face between his hands and said, “No Khushi. She never wanted me. She wanted the wealth and fame that came with Raizada name. I had nothing to do with it. And you, you my love, were foolish- yes. But it was not because you were stupid. It was because you believe people are good. And that is one of the things I adore about you.”
Khushi sniffed, her nose turning red as she snuggled against Arnav, her voice breaking, “Poor Vishal. What he went through!’
Arnav soothed her, his hand moving gently in her hair, as he said, “He knows he would never have to be through anything like that ever again. He knows he is loved. I adopted him after all this, and last year we got his leg sorted out. For him, the mother that has been, the mother that is, is you Khushi. You know that. “
“Yes.” Said Khushi, glad to have the past sorted out. She looked up and smiled, the calmness in her husband’s eyes soothing her, “ I am so glad you didn’t give up on me.”
“NEVER.” Arnav vowed as he held the most precious gem of his life in his arms. “I did not know what love was before I met you, and I will never be able to love you any less for who you are. You and our children are my biggest wealth, and I am only thankful to God that you came back to me with our sons. “
Khushi smiled with her eyes at him, curving her hands around his neck, as she reached his lips and whispered, “We are not two worlds apart anymore, darling husband. If I am your wealth, I am ready to be spent– on you, by you.”
“In that case…. ” Arnav said huskily, as their passion took over.
As Arnav left to go to work with a declaration that they must talk soon, Khushi stomach knotted itself. She so didn’t want to talk to him about the past! She also knew the other things that would crop up during the talks. He had tried talking to her about them last night, and then again early in the morning after they had had the shower, but she had closed her eyes and ears to his speech about security for the boys and herself, and asked him to not spoil the moment.
She knew it would not be long before he would bring up the topic again.
“Khushiji?” Anjali called.
“Yes Di?” Khushi replied automatically, her mind still stuck on Arnav as she finished her plateful of Puri with Potato subzi. She had been overjoyed to see her favourite breakfast made for her by OPji.
OPji had gruffly welcomed her in the kitchen earlier. A man not accustomed to comment on his employers and ever loyal, he had been a source of comfort during tough days five years back. He did suitably frown upon her though, by shooing her out of the kitchen when she’d tried to help, haughtily informing her that she was his mistress, and he was there to serve her. He had also mumbled that it was to be hoped she wouldn’t run away this time. Chastened by the long time servant of the house, Khushi had gotten out of the kitchen then.
Now when he came to collect the dishes, Khushi smiled at him and thanked him for remembering her taste. He cracked what resembled a smile and left her.
“Khushiji?” Anjali called again and Khushi looked around.
Anjali sat with Naniji on the sofa in the living room. Payal seemed to be knitting and all three kids seemed to be talking under their breath about something. Khushi’s brow furrowed as she looked at them. They seemed to be conspiring something! Was it not just a day that they’d met? How could they be so pally? Not that she wasn’t delighted with this development, but — She mused as she went to join the others.
She smiled as she sat down opposite Anjali, who seemed to be browsing a magazine now. Anjali looked up at Khushi and said, “Khushiji, we must prepare for the party. Chhote says he plans to give the party next week, on Tuesday.”
Khushi’s eyes widened, “But Di, that’s too early! I thought it’d be another month or so before he’d throw one.”
Anjali laughed, “Have you forgotten what he’s like? Once an idea gets stuck in his head, he’d not rest until he’s executed his idea.”
Sighing Khushi nodded, “I was foolish to think he’d have changed.” Looking at Anjali’s frowning face, she smiled and said, “Not to worry Di. I’ll ensure he changes his mind.”
Nani ji shook her head sadly, “I don’t think you will be able to change his mind darling. He is quite determined to put an end to all those rumours and saga that began five years back with Aparna’s entry.”
Khushi’s head snapped right at Vishal who was busy with his younger brothers and looked back at Naniji. Mrs. Raizada senior smiled sadly and said, “Yes, Vishal was acknowledged by Arnav long back as his adopted son, but now you must acknowledge his acceptance in front of the society. You have to show people that you accept him as well. Only then will this family be able to live in peace, and Vishal bitwa will get his place in the society. Much as it pains to say it, he still feels left out. ”
Khushi frowned, “Arnav accepted him as adopted son? But naniji he is.. Vishal is Aparna and-“the words stuck in her throat but she carried on bravely, swallowing their poison, “ Aparna and Arnav’s ji son. Why was he not acknowledged accordingly? And I have another question about where Aparna is as well.”
Naniji raised her hand to stop her, and said in a firm voice, “I’m afraid I can’t answer any of your questions regarding that woman’s whereabouts. However I can tell you this- Vishal is not her son. Vishal has been officially adopted from the orphanage where he spent his childhood after his parents died.”
Seeing the bewildering expression on Khushi’s face, Naniji explained with an earnest expression, “Aparna had conspired against Arnav, and forced the child’s hand, Khushi. Granted, during their University days, they had dated but that’s all that had happened. Arnav is no fool to not realize he could have slipped and a child could’ve been born. He had his suspicions earlier on, but it was only after you left that things came into light. He investigated the whole story and found out the truth.”
A huge hole opened up under Khushi’s feet at this news. Trying to refute it, she shook her head vigorously, saying, “No. This is—how can it be possible? I saw the proof myself. I know the truth.”
Her eyes filled with tears as she saw Naniji and Anjali looking at her with a tragic expression. The world blurred into nothing as Khushi went back into her past and remembered the day DNA test results had come in. She had seen the reports, where Arnav and Vishal’s DNA had been claimed as a match.
“Aparna was a cunning woman. She played on our good nature, especially yours and gained entry in the house. It was only after you left and Chhote became inconsolable with your absence, that she started showing her true colours. Khushi ji, let Chhote be the man to tell you how things came out.”
“We spent all these years apart because I believed a lie?” Khushi’s mind boggled at the picture that was emerging.
Anjali squeezed Khushi’s shoulder in sympathy. “We all did believe her, didn’t we? It wasn’t just you. Had it not been for the near tragedy, we’d never have found out.”
Khushi’s hackles rose at the meaning behind Anjali’s words. Almost scared to ask, yet curious, she said, “What near tragedy Di?”
When Anjali looked reluctant to continue, Khushi pressed, “Please Di, you have to tell me. Nahi toh hum abhi Arnav ji ke office jaa kar unse puchenge.”
But Anjali shook her head, tears ever present in her eyes. She looked away, took a deep breath and faced Khushi, “It is best that Chhote tells you about it Khushiji. Come Nani, Mami, Payalji we must prepare lunch.”
All of them rose together, giving Khushi a pitying glance and left for the kitchen, leaving behind a very troubled Khushi.
It was Vishal who roused Khushi from her troublesome thoughts. He laid his head on her lap and closed his eyes.
“Yes my son?” said Khushi, putting one hand lovingly on his head. Aarush and Ayush came to sit beside her and she took them in her arms too.
“Let the past remain where it is; far behind us. I don’t want you and Dad fighting at any time. I hated it when you did that before you left. If you leave this time, I will come with you and my brothers.”
Tears nearly flooded Khushi’s eyes at his words. She bent down and kissed his forehead, saying, “I promise we won’t fight. I will not go away anywhere, son. But I must speak to him. I must know.”
Khushi was impatient to get to their room tonight, Arnav observed with some amusesment. He had already been warned by both Akash and Payal about the conversation that had taken place in the afternoon. Khushi had put on a calm face, but those who knew better were aware that she was in an agitated state. No one had tried to console her or ask her to calm down, he was told, because they all knew it was only Arnav who could do it.
With the boys in bed since long, and dinner with family done, they all sat around eating dessert of gulab jamuns. Arnav was eating his share of sugar free gulab jamuns and finalizing the details about the party with Akash. They had all given their inputs, including Khushi who insisted that food should be Indian- be it Indian or Non-vegetarian. Arnav had seen the happy smile on her face when everyone had agreed, and he’d added that he’d make sure there were panipuri, lassi and jalebi stands.
After a while, Khushi yawned, stood up and said, “Well, I’m tired. I’m not used to keeping late nights anymore.” Looking at Naniji, she said, “We used to sleep at about 9 every night; the kids and I, already close to midnight is half the night of sleep gone for me.”
Payal laughed at this and said, “Khushi, you always did have a penchant for finding ways to sneak off to bed and snore your head off.”
“Jiji!” Khushi sounded offended but smiled at her sister, saying, “I know that I was like that before, but it’s just that—well, after putting a long day at work, I used to be tired and sleep is sweet when there’s dreams waiting.”
“No need to go to sleep and dream about a white knight anymore Khushiji. Just order Arnav and he’ll get your dreams fulfilled.” Anjali winked at Khushi.
Khushi looked up at Arnav and found the lusty fire of his eyes burning her up. She looked down, nervous, “Maybe I can stay up a little longer.”
“Nope. We go to bed now. Good night everyone.” Arnav stood up with that decision, wishing everyone good night, winking at Anjali and Akash as he took Khushi by the arm before she could open her mouth.