“But that’s not– Arnav Rothwell, you clear this right now!” Khushi was too outraged at Shyam’s statement to not speak out.
Arnav looked at her, his eyes gleaming with amusement. “And what am I supposed to clear exactly, darling? The truth shall remain what it is.” He drawled, much to Khushi’s astonishment. Why was he behaving like this?
“You know what.” Khushi replied back, tight lipped.
Shyam looked at them both and sighed, “Why this pretence, Rothwell. You and Khushi have both been hiding this for a year. I had no idea Khushi worked in your company before she moved out here, didn’t know that she had moved to India because you both had quarrelled. ”
“Well, yes in a way, but it was not like that. ” Khushi blurted out unconsciously giving merit to Shyam’s statement and making Arnav’s head turn. His mind, that could calculate complex financial details in a second was not slow to respond to her statement. It latched on to her honest declaration of running away from London, from him, because of that night. A part of him was elated by this knowledge. She had never said she was immune to him, but this – the fact that she was scared enough to run away from him and the feelings he evoked in her gave him a reason now to pursue this train of thought he had been with for some time. Idly, he gazed into his empty cup and said,
“Our reasons don’t concern you Jha, but I am quite prepared to wait until Khushi is over her tantrum and wants to declare what is in her heart, to the world. ”
Khushi turned fiery eyes full of anger towards Arnav at his statement, but never uttered a word of defiance against him. The reason — she had in that moment found her eyes stuck to La’s tear filled eyes. Slowly it dawned on her that the only reason why Arnav might carrying on like a person demented was because he wanted to help La not feel guilty. It was as if a light bulb lit up in her brain. She kicked herself at her delayed understanding. Of course La had blurted out the first thing she could think of when Shyam might have confronted her. Khushi had realised some time back that La was in love with Shyam, and whatever misunderstanding stood between them, she also knew that Shyam had an equal amount of affection for La.
An enquiring brow and a shake of head was all the communication that passed between Arnav and Khushi at this stage. Shyam looked at them both and said, “Look, you guys wish to keep it a secret and I don’t mind. It is your business what you do with your relationship, but I tell you now, I won’t let your sister talk to La about marrying you, Rothwell.”
A flicker of irritation caused Arnav to say, “If you are so concerned about it, why dont you ask La to marry you?”
Khushi heard La give an inward gasp, while Shyam looked a bit dazed. Suddenly he caught hold of La’s hand and got up from his seat. A look of utter happiness crossed his face as he looked at La and he said, “You know what- I think I will do just that. ” And saying so, he turned to La and simply asked, “Marry me, my dear?”
La seemed to have developed wings of happiness, as she went into Shyam’s embrace without delay. Her tears of happiness were her affirmation of her answer to his question. With La in her embrace, Shyam looked at Khushi and gave her a brilliant smile. “Khushi, will you arrange my wedding? I’d like to get married within a week. ”
About to take a sip from the glass of water next to her, Khushi choked on it and stuttered, “A-a w-week! Impossible Shyam. I have other –”
“Done.” Arnav interrupted her, and before she could protest, put a finger on her lips. His mouth curved in a tender smile as she looked at him, her eyes wide and her travelling between his finger on her lips and his own amber gaze. His own turned molten with desire, as she closed her eyes, unable to face the fire. His head swam and his hand on his thigh tightened. This was no time to succumb to desire! She shook his finger off her lips and spoke firmly, “Shyam, you know these things take time. Especially if you want to advertise to the whole world about your love. Be reasonable! I also have Anjali ji’s wedding arrangements to consider. You know I don’t take two contracts at the same time.”
Shyam and La looked at each other, stars shining in their eyes. Without taking her eyes off Shyam, La said, “Let us get married in a civil ceremony then. We can do that this week, and at a later date let Khushi made arrangements for a grand wedding our families will want to host. We can even go back home and do it! Say yes, Shyam.”
Shyam let out a chuckle and gave a conspirational wink to Arnav, saying “How our women hold our hearts, eh Rothwell? In that case, we must do what they say.”
“Hmm” Arnav smiled non-committally.
Shyam took La’s face in his hands and said, “Okay, if that is what you want; that is what we shall do. These two can be our witnesses, eh? ”
“Gladly!” said Khushi for herself, without thinking. Arnav looked at her, one of his eyebrows raised in mockery. Khushi flushed pink and continued, “I mean, I will gladly be your witness Shyam.”
Quite deliberately, Arnav picked up Khushi’s hand and kissed it, sending tingles down her spine. Challenging her to argue, he said, ” If Khushi says she will be there, she knows so will I.” Letting go of her hand, he stood up and straightened his cuff links, “Let me know when I need to come down to the court for the ceremony, will you La? I must take your leave now, since I have a date this evening. I would hate to keep my date waiting.”
Not looking at Khushi, he nodded to Shyam, hugged La and made his exit from the scene. Khushi was left prone to feeling as if he had kicked her in the stomach and left her bleeding. What date? With who? A murderous rage seemed to envelop her; she was upset and she was finding it hard from showing it. Shyam looked at her curiously and said, “So until you decide to let your engagement stay in the dark, he dates other women and you date other men?”
Hastily La broke in, “Shyam, don’t be silly! ASR goes out on meaningless dates to fill his evenings, and most of his dates are platonic; they know the score. ”
Shyam looked keenly at Khushi and then softly whispered, “But does Khushi know the score?”
Forcibly Khushi brought a smile to her lips and said airily, “But of course. Now if you two love birds will excuse me, I shall go back home and get Anjali’s wedding into gear. ” Still smiling, she hugged La and got out of the cafe.
Once outside, she gave a huge sigh and looked about for an auto rickshaw to take her home. She was tired and she really needed some space to think. Luckily, Payal won’t be home until later tonight and she could simply loll about and eat jalebis. Thinking so, she had just taken a step towards the auto rickshaw stand, when she felt her hand being pulled from behind and her whole body jerked back. In shock, Khushi opened her mouth to give hell to whoever had done this, with her other hand raised in the air to strike. It stayed mid-air as her gaze collided with ASR’s.
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.
Arnav too was thinking about the same incident while lying on his bed. How mean he had been to her that evening! His remorse knew no bounds as the tears he always kept hidden from everyone came to his eyes. He slowly wiped the tear away from his eye with his hand. He had always been unfair to Khushi. Khushi, who had been innocent of any malice that evening, had suffered at his hands. That was the first time when he had hurt her by doubting her. He closed his eyes and he continued thinking about that evening.
The moment Arnav had seen that tear fall; something had squeezed his heart tight, nearly making him gasp. He had felt as if he had been stabbed with a sharp dagger. When she hastily turned her head and walked away so that he couldn’t see her crying, regret took hold of his heart. He realized he may have been too harsh with her. Maybe his bitterness had been unjustified and maybe she was really an innocent. He knew he had a habit of painting every woman with the same brush due to his past but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t trust anyone.
Arnav closed his eyes for a moment against this onslaught of emotions, as if trying to reach to a decision. When he opened them, determination had taken hold of his body. Whatever it was that he felt for Khushi, he couldn’t let it control him. He couldn’t let her get close to him. She disturbed him like no one else did. He shook the feeling away, telling himself he had done what was best for the both of them.
He had gone back to the family, where laughter and chatter kept everyone too busy to notice Arnav’s keen gaze on Khushi and Khushi’s avoidance of his eyes. Anjali however had not been too busy to notice that something had happened between her brother and that charming girl Khushi. She had asked him about her after the ceremony was over and Khushi had gone back home with her family. He had preferred not to talk about it and asked her to leave him alone.
He left the next day for London since the project they had been working on had to be executed from there. After the successful execution of the project, he had called up his uncle and asked him to pass on his congratulations to the entire team for the good work done. Much though he wanted to and probably as he should, he had not called Khushi to let her know that it was in fact her ideas and her presentation that had brought forth the best in the project.
Not that he was in the best of the moods these days. Anjali and Dean; who had just entered the scene then as her boyfriend, had both mentioned in the passing that he behaved like a bear with a sore head. Arnav knew he was not himself and he also knew the reason for it. He kept on thinking about a certain doe eyed female with tears falling down from her eyes and a hurt look on her face. He dreamt of her lips under his and could taste her essence when he closed his eyes. Her fragrance had stayed with him, on the suit that he had worn that evening. A week after he had returned, he had given the suit away for dry cleaning and had not worn it since. He worked out fiercely in the mornings and evenings, worked later than usual and dated as many women as he could. He dined them and took them out but he had lost the will to bed any of them. He couldn’t even think about kissing any one of those leggy, delectable models, much less taking them to bed.
His days were filled with work and night with longing. But he resisted- until he accidentally heard that Khushi’s parents wanted her to choose a husband too. His entire being revolted at the thought of Khushi in another man’s arms and a murderous rage took over. On prodding gently, Aakash told him that Khushi’s parents thought it was time they started looking for a suitable guy for Khushi. They had asked Khushi if she had anyone in mind but she had denied. What’s more they were troubled by her tears and her firm declaration that she would never get married. After a lot of back and forth talks, Khushi had finally agreed that she would at least consider any proposals she got before rejecting the offers of marriage out of hand.
It was this news that made Arnav fly to New Delhi the next day itself, on the pretext of upcoming business deal. He knew that Aakash could handle the whole deal himself but hell, what was he to do? He reached there the day after and walked around in the garden to catch a glimpse of the Khushi. He knew the window of her room overlooked Raizada garden. He had seen her once or twice while he jogged past her in the morning, sitting by the window ledge, gazing at nothing in particular and with a silly smile on her face.
To Arnav’s disappointment, Khushi never showed up by the window. She had stopped looking outside. From what he had gleaned after his general family talk with Aakash, she had become very dull since the last few weeks. Gone was her chirpiness; instead she was always frowning and sometimes her face was etched with some painful memory. Payal had tried hard to find out what the matter was but Khushi wouldn’t tell her and of course, it was so difficult to gauge one’s emotions simply over the phone. Aakash was worried about Khushi because Payal was worried about her. Typical lovesick teenager behaviour, thought Arnav smirking.
In the night, he paced around the room after dinner thinking about this conversation. He said to himself, “Of course she wouldn’t. She’d not be the girl I know if she spoke what was troubling her.”
As if they were connected with an invisible thread, memories overflowed Khushi’s mind almost at the same time. Khushi was also thinking about the events following that evening by the poolside.
Arnav had left the next day and she hadn’t heard or seen of him until the weekend when they all went to the golf club. She had known that he’d come back a few days ago but had carefully avoided all the times when she could even see him by chance.
That weekend, both the families had been invited for a party at the Golf Club. The theme of the party was formal vs. traditional. Payal had come down for the weekend and both the sisters had decided to dress up in traditional garb. Khushi was decked in a red sari with long silver earrings whereas Payal wore an orange sari with matching accessories. Both the Raizada and Gupta families had left in their respective cars and were mingling with other guests in the party. Aakash and Payal were being congratulated by their acquaintances and family friends where Khushi mingled with her own set of friends.
Khushi had not really wanted to come to the party but second thoughts; she decided she couldn’t avoid people forever. It is possible that she may run into Arnav at some time, since they were a part of the family of sorts. They knew the same kind of people and went to the same kind of places so it was inevitable that they meet each other sometime when Arnav was in New Delhi. It was important that she put the incident at the back of her mind and face him normally.
Still, she hadn’t expected to see Arnav at the party. She had been mingling with her group of friends far away from the lounge bar. But thirst drew her towards it. Walking into the club lounge that was decorated by smart furniture and green walls, keeping in tune with the motto of the golf club, she found Arnav sitting there. To not expect him to be there had been a mistake, she realized with a shock. One smartly clad knee rested atop another while he spoke with Mr Westerly and Martin; her dad’s friends. Her immediate reaction of course was to turn away from where he sat and leave the lounge bar area.
But Khushi was nothing if not determined. She had decided to put the past incident behind her and behave normally and that is exactly what she will do. She was not going to let him affect her in any way. Suppressing the cowardly impulse, she went ahead and sat at the bar table to order a glass of Chardonnay. It was her favourite white wine. She was joined by other people of her acquaintance in a short while and they all moved to sit in the other part of the half-lit lounge.
While a casual smile was pinned upon her face, Khushi straightened her shoulders and made some breezy talk. She was not unconscious of Arnav sitting just a little further away from her group, chatting with his friends or business colleagues. He seemed to be unaware of her presence and that’s exactly how she wanted it. She was thankful of this and at the same time terribly conscious of the fact that her own body was completely attuned to him. She didn’t know how but she felt his eyes on her the moment he caught sight of her. She looked at him and saw him falter in his chat, his smile almost fading away.
To her astonishment, Khushi felt a rush of satisfaction at his reaction. She gritted her teeth and gave a cool smile. Surely this satisfaction she felt was inappropriate for her? She hadn’t wanted him to notice her, did she? She didn’t even want him to falter or stare at her but he had and for the life of her, she couldn’t understand this rush of pleasure that ran through her body at his reaction. Deliberately, she turned her away from him and started talking to the person nearest to her. She had no idea what she was saying. All she knew was, she had gulped her glass of wine in one go and the waiter who had been standing nearby and come forward. She told him, “Can you get me a glass of Chardonnay again please?”
The waiter smiled at her and said, “Sure, Ms. Gupta. Right away.”
Khushi felt as if her smile was stuck to her face, while her heart beat fast. It was literally pounding as it heard Arnav talking to others in the distance. He had seemingly recovered from his shock at seeing her and was not animatedly immersed in a conversation behind her. Khushi closed her eyes. For so many days now, his voice had haunted her, his face a part of her dreams. Her mind constantly kept on going over and over that kiss; the passion in his eyes and later on, the contempt on his face. Her dreams were full of the moment when he had lowered his mouth on hers. His harsh tone when he told her he thought of her as nothing more but a man-trap or a fortune hunter and as much as he was attracted to her, he didn’t want anything to do with her and feelings.
She hated those odd moments in the day when her heart would suddenly speed up from the memory, just like it did now. Khushi took deep breaths; breathe in- breathe out, inhale, exhale. She was determined to calm down so that no one could see her agitation, least of all that Arnav Singh Raizada.
“Here is your glass of white wine Ms Gupta. Are you alright?” The overfriendly waiter asked.
Khushi gave him a bright smile but her eyes were full of ice, “What? Oh yes, I’m fine.” The waiter had the grace to blush. Khushi took a small sip this time, smiling at the person next to her, who was talking about some garden. The wine was excellent but to her it tasted like water, the company was interesting but felt boring; nothing felt good.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to remain calm as she heard the conversation behind her break up. Mr Westerly and Martin were going away to dine with their wife and kids accompanying them this time. Arnav had politely declined going along with them. Khushi could feel her heart beating mercilessly against her chest. For God’s sake, calm down! Arnav would leave too, she was sure. She prayed he would. She felt herself go tense simply in the anticipation that this moment would be over soon. He would leave.
Instead of leaving with others, Arnav walked towards Khushi. She looked ethereal to him. Did she know red was his favourite colour? Earlier when he’d seen her for the first time in so many days, he had felt his heart stop. She looked like his dream come true to him; dressed in a red sari with those silver earrings dangling from her ear as if trying to kiss her cheeks every time she turned her head. When she turned away from him, he had been tempted to leap up and go to her, to pick her up and walk away into oblivion where no one would disturb them. But he had controlled himself and carried on with his conversation after a few seconds.
Goosebumps erupted all over Khushi’s body as she felt his presence right behind her chair. He looked oh, so casual as he sauntered right up to where she sat with her friends. The fiend! She wanted to look at him, she wanted to send him a cool smile, letting him know that he didn’t affect her; she didn’t care at all for him. She wanted to tell him that he couldn’t rattle her- Khushi Kumari Gupta. She was calm, she was cool. But she couldn’t do anything of the sort. She simply kept sitting, staring fixedly down at her glass of wine.
An arm snaked out in front of her and she almost jerked in reaction. He was reaching out to pick up cashews from the bowl on the table.
“Hi Khushi.” Arnav greeted her.
Khushi put up her brightest smile and slowly looked up at him, “Oh hello Arnav. Fancy seeing you here, back in India.”
Arnav didn’t smile back. Her smile faltered. He excused himself and asked the person sitting next to her “Is it okay if I sit here?”
The other person, Khushi couldn’t remember who he was got up and gladly gave him the permission to sit. “I was leaving anyway. Nice talking to you Khushi. Let’s meet up sometime.”
Khushi smiled at him and watch him go. Arnav hadn’t sat down yet. He looked at her, “Okay if I sit here?”
Her fingers played with her wine glass. Act unconcerned Khushi, she told herself. Then she didn’t look at him but she said lightly, “Why should it not be okay? You can sit wherever you want Arnav.”
She saw him sitting down from the corner of her eyes. His eyes were watching her carefully, “I haven’t seen you around in the last few days. Not at the office, not by the house. Been keeping busy, have you?”
“I have my German exams coming up so yes, been keeping busy. Plus I’ve had no time to do anything else with so much to study.”
His voice was so low that only she could hear it as he said, “I thought I’d driven you away from the places that interested you earlier. That you wanted to avoid me.”
Khushi gave a little laugh, as if she was above it all and said, “Oh Arnav, come now. I know we don’t know each other well enough but I thought you’d realize that I wouldn’t let you do that- drive me away from places of my interest.”
Arnav didn’t get into a slinging match. He simply looked at her and she said, “I’m here now, aren’t I? You’re sitting next to me so how can I be avoiding you?”
“Ye-es true. You’re sitting next to me right now.” He conceded.
Khushi waved her hand in the air, as if she had proved her point by the statement.
Aranv leaned on his elbow that was on the bar of the chair, resting his jaw in his hand and stared. Khushi wailed inwardly as she tried to keep her calm demeanour intact. The devil! Did he know how mortifying she felt right now, with his dark amber, amazing eyes boring into her? He broke the silence as she shifted in her seat uncomfortably, “So, if you’re not avoiding me, would you be willing , umm.. to play tennis with me tomorrow?”
“Certainly.” Khushi replied back instantly. It would not do to give him the impression that she wanted to run away from him as fast as her legs could take her. He had started believing in her statement and she would do anything to keep that impression of unconcern intact. She took another sip of her wine, imagining him playing tennis. She could imagine the muscles she had felt when he had held her moving under his shirt as he played tennis. Her heart sped up again as she remembered the kiss.
“And would you dine with me tonight along with the rest of the family?” Arnav asked. Khushi inclined her head in agreement. After all, this is what she wanted. Yes, this would surely establish them on a normal footing, keeping all the other sensations away when the others would be around them.
“Really.” Arnav said. It was more a disbelieving statement than a question.
Khushi couldn’t meet his gaze for long, “Yes, really”, she said.
Arnav reached out with his other hand to snare some more cashews, his eyes lowered so as not to give Khushi any idea of what he was thinking. Khushi watched him, heat filling up her body beneath her blouse as he slowly placed the nut in his mouth, closed his eyes and savoured its taste. He opened his eyes to catch her gawking at him. Khushi hurriedly lowered her lashes.
Arnav continued as if he had not seen her hungry stare, “Strange that you’re so fired up to be cool with me after we shared that kiss; so cool that you could do anything.”
“Don’t give yourself too much credit”, snapped Khushi and leaned closer to him to whisper, her eyes glaring, “just because you kissed me and I allowed you to kiss me isn’t going to change the way I feel about you. It is not going to change my world. I’ve kissed men before you know. It wasn’t a big deal.”
“No big deal, hmm” Arnav’s gaze didn’t leave Khushi’s. She lifted the hand that held the glass of wine and said, “Yes, you heard me right.” She gave him a smile as she sipped on her wine. She had always believed she was immune to the charms of men in general and in particular of Arnav’s kind; the ones who were out on the hunt. In all of her twenty five years, she had never felt as vulnerable as she felt towards Arnav- him of all people! Her blood was singing through her veins, her body felt as if it would instantly combust if she sat next to him any longer. But she had to, she wouldn’t admit defeat.
Arnav was watching the expression that flitted across her face, without her knowing. “Then..” he said, “if you’re so unaffected by that kiss and by me, then I am sure you wouldn’t object going out for walk with me on the club terrace.”
Her eyes widened as she took in his words, “What? Now?”
Arnav nodded and said, “Any problem? If you’re so unaffected by me then you wouldn’t mind it surely? In fact, there is something with regards to the project you worked on that I wanted to talk to you about. In private.”
*Flashback continues to the next chapter*
NOTE: Trust you don’t find it all boring!!! Don’t forget to press like here and comment where ever you’re reading the link from. Thanks!
Khushi was so annoyed with herself! She knew she shouldn’t have picked up the phone. Her treacherous hands had not supported her brain’s orders. Now look what came of it! As she heard him huskily say, “Missing me yet?” she forced a laugh,
“You wish! What the hell do you think you’re doing, calling me up in the middle of the night? In case you didn’t know, civilized people sleep at this hour.”
“In that case you and I both are not civilized enough to be awake at this hour. Couldn’t sleep?” He asked confidently as if he knew she’d been sitting there thinking of him.
“I was deep in sleep when you called. And I’m going to go back to sleep after I hang up the phone. Good n-”
“Liar!” pat came his reply with laughter following, “you and I both know Khushi that we’re bound by this invisible thread of telepathy. I can just about see you in your bed, making a mess of the bed covers and pummelling your pillow in frustration. Can’t get those memories out of your head, can you now?”
Khushi looked at the cell-phone, open mouthed. Indeed her bed covers were bunched up in her hands, a complete mess and she had been hitting her pillow. How the hell does he know what I’ve been thinking about and how does he know that I’ve been doing exactly the thing? Quickly she removed the covers and moved to the window?
“Are you here again Raizada? I swear to God I’ll have you arrested if you try to snoop in on me again!”
Arnav bit back a laugh and said, “Darling, to know what you’re doing and thinking doesn’t need me out there in person. I can hear your thoughts; I can see you from no matter where I am. Distance is immaterial when it comes to you and me Khushi.”
“Huh.. Don’t talk to me about distance and memories Arnav. You’re as far away from my thoughts as -as Mars and memories.. huh.. I do have a lasting memory of you accusing me of being a loose character. Nothing will persuade me to bring that memory up before sleep time. Nothing better to bring a nightmare in the night am sure.”
Khushi’s cold tones were clear and crisp as the night, her pain and bitterness evident in her voice. Arnav closed his eyes in despair as a deep sigh escaped from him. He hated himself for what he’d done and he hated hearing Khushi’s voice laced with pain and bitterness more than ever before tonight. He had to somehow get past this barrier of bitterness, this cloak of pain she wore.
What he said next didn’t just bring tears in Khushi’s eyes but also brought out her panic. Her insides roiled with the fear of losing him completely as he said quietly,
“Khushi I can’t ask for your forgiveness any more than I can forgive myself. I know you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me. All I am asking of you right now is this- remember all those times when we were together and we were happy. Think of those times and remember me from those times. I want to be that Arnav for you again, my love. You’re not the only one scared right now. I’m scared too Khushi because I don’t want anyone else to have your heart. The thought of anyone else loving you or kissing you enrages me to the point of madness. I’m scared because I don’t want anyone else to take the place that is mine. I want to be your heart’s desire.
I want to make you happy again Khushi. Seeing you unhappy brings grief and pain to me as much as it does to you. If you tell me tonight that not seeing me and not forgiving me gives you happiness, I will leave you alone. I will walk away and you will never see me or hear from me again Khushi. I want to see you happy, even if it is without me. If you think there is a chance where you can forgive me, then give me a chance to prove my love to you Khushi. That’s all I’m asking for. If you think there is a chance for us, if you think you can let me prove to you that I’m really the Arnav you fell in love with, come and meet me at the Barista on Mall Road tomorrow evening at 4:30. Think about it with your head and your heart. Good night Khushi.”
Khushi could only stare at the cell phone in her hand as she heard a definite click that said the phone was disconnected. Arnav would do that? Immense amount of rage crowded Khushi’s mind making her see a red mist in front of her. How dare you Arnav Singh Raizada! How could you talk of leaving me alone! Her heart screamed out its pain as her mind conjured up the time where Arnav would be absent from her life forever.
Her mind created images of Arnav walking away from her, never to look back bringing tears to her eyes. NO! Her heart shouted, objecting to any reasoning made by her head that was still coming to terms with his words. He can’t leave me after declaring that he wishes to change for me; that he wishes for my forgiveness and would do anything for it. How dare he think that he can just walk away after actually confessing that he loved her even when he’d been angry with her! She’d teach him a lesson or two tomorrow when she went to meet him.
Still fuming, she laid back down on the bed, her mind made up. She will meet him tomorrow. Not that she was able to sleep. In her sleep, her mind travelled back to the time when they had finally kissed.
It had been building up for two weeks. Arnav had been in Delhi for the past two weeks, in the same office as Khushi, though they hardly saw each other. After the waiting lounge incident, both seemed to be keeping their distance from each other. Arnav had been surprised when he’d seen Khushi during the project presentation. Knowing that they’d probably have to work together sometime had weighed on his mind as well as hers for some days until they finally decided that they couldn’t do anything about it. Silently they had agreed on a truce. If they had to speak to each other, they made sure they had a chaperone with them.
Khushi didn’t know how but she understood what he wanted even before he could say it out loud. She had seen the surprise in his eyes when she’d worked out the project details exactly as he wanted it without him saying more than a dozen words to her. She enjoyed the work and felt satisfied at the performance of the project. The project had been going on for four weeks now and was on the verge of completion. Whatever that had to be done from the Indian office end was done by now and it was time for the London office to take over the project and guide it towards final execution.
On the home front, Khushi regularly met Aakash and his mother when she went to Raizada Mansion but avoided Arnav at all costs. Anyway Arnav never seemed to be there when she went visiting them with her parents and her sister Payal. Things seemed to be moving towards Aakash and Payal’s engagement. Khushi’s father; Sashi Gupta and Aakash’s father; Mahinder Singh Raizada had already given their blessings to the couple. The only thing that remained was for Payal to finish her social work year at Shantiniketan.
It was the evening before Payal was to leave for Shantiniketan. They all had been invited to the Raizada Mansion for dinner. It had also been decided by the elders that they would do the “ROKA” function after dinner so that the engagement could be announced at a later date once Payal returned from Shantiniketan after two months. ROKA is a custom followed by people from the North of India to indicate that the couple has been given the blessing by their elders to get married.
To grace the occasion, Khushi wore a green sari with sequined border. While dressing, Khushi had thought about Arnav. Would he be there tonight? After all, he was a part of their family. Khushi had also heard that his sister, Anjali had flown down to India to meet Payal and to attend the ROKA function. She was the only sister between Aakash and Arnav. Khushi wondered what Arnav’ sister was like. Was he as arrogant and pig-headed as her brother? From what she’d heard of her from Aakash’s Mum and Aakash himself, she was angel personified. She finished dressing and helped Payal get ready. Her doe brown eyes sparkled with mischief as she teased Payal mercilessly.
“Khushi stop it! Wait until it’s your turn you devilish creature!” Payal threatened her. Khushi waved her hand in the air, “Huh.. You’d not be able to bring me down from heaven the day I have my ROKA jiji. No amount of teasing would work on me a I’d consent to marry only when I meet the man of my dreams; the one who’d love me to death!”
An image popped unheeded into Khushi’s head of a guy in dark suit, holding her from behind and kissing her neck. A shudder passed through her body. She had no business thinking about that man! She shook her head so vehemently that Payal looked at her quizzically.
“All okay Khushi? Trying to dispense with the image of your Mr. Right?”
“You dream on jiji and I’ll not burst your balloon if that’s what you want to think.” Khushi forced herself to speak gaily, making nonsense of Payal’s question though a light blush did steal through her cheeks.
“Let’s go jiji! It’s very naughty of you to keep my Aakash ji-”At Payal’s raised eyebrows, she laughed,”Jijaji waiting.” Payal slapped her playfully on the shoulder as both the sisters left their room to meet their parents who waited for them in the main room. Together they reached the Raizada Mansion next door.
After the formal embraces between both the parents, with Payal and Aakash sharing loving glances, they all sat down. Khushi looked around for the sign of guy who had been haunting her thoughts since this evening.
“Who are you looking for Khushi? Aakash’s question brought her head snapping back to the party present.
Khushi blushed and then quickly replied, “I was just looking at – er- the candles and the lights decorated by the poolside. There’s so many of them Jijaji! You did that for jiji?”
As Payal and Aakash both blushed, a laugh erupted from Mrs. Raizada. “No my dear Khushi, there is also someone else in the house who loves lighting candles.”
Khushi looked at her with mouth open. Arnav Singh Raizada had a fetish for candles? Almost as if the thought had conjured up the man, he came into her view making her heart beat just a little faster.
Chapter 15- Flashback continues. Arnav and Khushi give into their desires and kiss by the poolside! Aftermath follows.
NOTE: FLASHBACK WILL CONTINUE ON TO THE NEXT CHAPTER THAT WILL BE POSTED TOMORROW. I DECIDED AGAINST POSTING A LONG CHAPTER AS I FEEL IT MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR THE READERS TO READ. 🙂 FORGIVE THE TYPOS. MY KEYBOARD IS ACTING WEIRD.
Chapter-13 (Flashback in Italics)
A satisfied smile adorned Mrs. Gupta’s face when she put the phone down. Khushi, who had just come back from the camp, saw this smile and wondered what could have happened to put such a smile on her grandma’s face. Surely it must be some good news?
“What’s this smile for? What’s the news grandma?” Asked Khushi, plopping herself on the sofa besides her grandmother.
“Ah, my darling! I am so happy today. It seems like the little risk I had taken for my biggest investment is about to be paid off.” Mrs Gupta put her hand on Khushi’s head and caressed her hair as Khushi laid her head in her grandma’s lap. A beaming smile lit her face too at her grandmother’s happiness.
“Really? That’s cool grandma! So are we going to party?” Khushi asked with raised eyebrows and saucy smile on her face.
“Not before I see the fruits of my plans.”, said her grandmother and tweaked her ear. “Ouch! That hurt grandma. How could you hurt me like that?”
“Growing up is a difficult process my child, I know that. But one day you have to. The day you grow up, I’ll tell you all my secrets.” Mrs. Gupta said. Before Khushi could ask anything more about this ambiguous statement, Mrs. Gupta changed the topic, “So how was your camp this year? How were the kids this time around? Anything special happened?”
Images of Arnav kissing her the morning of the camp, comforting and playing with the kids, as well as the bird watching incident crowded Khushi’s mind. As a result, her face outpoured multiple expressions of confusion, anger and love. She shook her head as if trying to disperse all these images from her head and looked at her grandmother, forcing a smile upon her face. After all, it would be expected of her that she be tired but happy.
“Everything went well, grandma. I really liked spending my time out there with those children. The feeling never changes although it does leave me tired.”
“Of course, taking care of children is a tough task but you do it well, don’t you my dear?” Mrs. Gupta cajoled her daughter for more information, “But did you see anything interesting? There must’ve been new volunteers with your group. Did you meet anyone nice?”
“Hah! Like I would, come on! You know how picky I am. “Khushi had to force herself to laugh that one off and feign a yawn. “Lord, I’m so tired I could sleep right here. Do you mind if I skip dinner tonight and go off to sleep grandma? I truly don’t wish to stay awake any longer than I have to.”
“Go to your room child, Lalita will bring something to you on a tray. You can sleep until late tomorrow morning since me and Payal are not going to be around.” At the question in Khushi’s eyes, Mrs. Gupta clarified, “We’re going shopping since Payal plans to leave soon. I must make sure to buy gifts for all to send. They’re all such nice people.”
“Yes, they are.” Khushi affirmed and then added, “Enjoy yourselves tomorrow then. I’m off to sleep. Good night grandma.”
Khushi hugged Mrs. Gupta and went upstairs to her room. She was not in the least sleepy but she wanted to be by herself. Donning on her cream night dress, she went and sat by the window ledge, watching the dark hills far away. She gazed at the clear sky, twinkling with stars. If only she could follow their example! She so much wished to clear her mind of all the confusion and hurt, to retain only good memories of Arnav. She knew that he would not quit, he would not rest until he achieved his goal-her forgiveness and her trust. But could she really trust him? Had he not broken it so brutally, she might have had it in her heart to forgive him easily. But he hadn’t even given her a chance to clear her side. How could she forgive him for that? How could she ever forget his venomous words that had poisoned her soul? Where could she find the antidote for such venom?
Deep down, she knew that Arnav was, is and will be the only man she’d ever love. Her belief had been put very nicely in one of her favourite Indian films, “Kuch Kuch Hota hain” where SRK said, “Hum sirf ek baar jeete hain, ek he baar marte hain aur pyaar- pyaar bhi sirf ek baar he hota hain.” She knew it held true in her case. She’d never be able to replace Arnav with anyone. His image, her love for him was seared in her soul. But it was not possible for her to show it to him anymore. She may love him to bits but she would never let him know. She had been very badly hurt the last time.
“What if he proves himself to you Khushi? What if he truly regrets his mis-judgement and wishes to make up to you? What if he said those horrible things only in anger and didn’t mean them?” Khushi asked herself, “Would be so cruel as to not even give him a chance to prove his love, to earn back your trust? What then would be the difference between him and you?”
A knock on the door broke her monologue. Lalita entered with a tray that held a bowl of minestrone soup and bread. This was her favourite food when she was tired. Khushi smiled at Lalita and thanked her. When Lalita left the room, the smile disappeared and a thoughtful expression took its place back on her face. She absently started eating her food, with one leg dangling from the window ledge as she thought of Arnav. Should she give him a second chance? Should she believe his claim of loving her or should she believe what she’d been told before? She knew very well that he wanted her, oh yes he did. He always had.
Khushi had agreed to help Aakash and his father Mr. Mahinder Singh Raizada at work. Senior Mr. Raizada’s secretary had been off sick and the temp agency had not been able to send any satisfactory replacement. Since Khushi was not doing anything in particular, she had volunteered to help them. Soon of course her potential was obvious and she had been asked to work on contract basis for an important project. Apparently the marketing team needed a big boost due to the last two screw ups that had lost them good deals. Khushi was to work in co-ordination with the marketing department and handle the entire project as an outside consultant. She was very happy as the project had given her something challenging to work on.
At the time she had taken up the project, she of course had no idea that her path was about to be crossed with Arnav again. He was the London counterpart who would be handling the deal in the U.K. Was the only fact she had been aware of. She had had no idea at the time that this project would one day pave the path to bring them closer to each other.
A week after Khushi had joined the project; she had been sitting in the waiting area of Mr. Raizada’s office, waiting to talk to him when she felt his presence a moment before she heard his mocking drawl,
“And what’s a social butterfly like yourself doing in an office?”
She looked up to meet his eyes only to silently gasp. She had almost forgotten the intensity of those eyes. They gave her a thorough look over that incensed her awareness of him, bringing a sparkle of rage to her eyes. However her voice showed none of her rage as she calmly retorted,
“I thought the norm of greeting in corporate offices was “hello” or “good morning”. “
“Good morning Ms. Gupta. What brings you here?” He sounded so meek that Khushi looked at him suspiciously. Arnav Singh Raizada and meek? Huhh.. What a joke! She may have met him twice but she knew his type well. Such men were arrogance personified.
“What- no come back? “ He raised an eyebrow with the drawl she was slowly coming to hate.
“I am thinking if you are as stupid as you sound although that would hardly stand up to the image everyone has of you.” At his look of disbelief at her words, Khushi felt a quiet sense of glee. He looked as if he couldn’t believe he was being called stupid. While he still looked at her, she continued, “Obviously, since I am waiting here in the reception lounge of senior Mr. Raizada, I’d have thought it would be obvious to a clever man like you what I might be doing here. Looks can be so deceptive.. oh dear, you look angry.” She could barely contain the smile that wanted to break free on her face.
“I am not sure what you could be doing here waiting for Mahinder uncle. What business have you here with him? Maybe I can help?” He spoke up, his amber eyes ready to catch fire but his voice ever so cold.
Khushi shook her head in negation, “Nothing that I may need your help with Mr. Raizada. My business is solely with er- Mahinder uncle.”
A slight cough had them both turning around at the secretary sitting at the reception lounge. She was a young thing, looking at them both with a troubled expression on her face, as if scared to intervene. Arnav looked at her and gave her a dazzling smile that probably floored the poor thing. She purred like a cat with a smile on her face that had Khushi gritting her teeth, “Welcome back Mr. Raizada. We were awaiting your return.”
“Thank you Edith. How are you? Is my uncle free?” He asked her.
Any moment now Khushi was sure this Edith chick will probably climb over the desk and wrap herself around his feet. Silly twit! As if he could read her thoughts, Arnav turned to her and gave her a shark grin that almost had Khushi jumping from her seat to grab his neck and throttle him. How dare he flirt so openly with-
Almost shocked at her thoughts, Khushi quickly looked away from him and at Edith, “ Ms. George please inform Mr. Raizada that I’ll be with Aakash if he wishes to speak to me.”
“Sure Ms. Gupta.” Edith replied back abently, her gaze stuck on Arnav, “Mr Raizada, let me call Mr. Raizada sir and find out if he’s free. If you’d wait here a moment please?”
“On second thoughts Edith, would you ask him to buzz me when he’s free? I’ll be in my office. Thanks.” It was the ruthless businessman who was doing the talking now. Gone was the smile of a charmer and it was replaced with a dismissal. Khushi muttered under her breath, “Laad Governer kahin ka, he thinks everyone is inferior to him. Arrogant ass.” as she walked off from the area. Not that she went far.
“Not so fast! I wish to know what it was that you said under your breath just now.”
A hand came to clamp itself around her waist and she was dragged into a corner at the turn of the lounge. Khushi gasped with outrage, and tried to free herself. “How dare you! Let me go Raizada, I’m not one of your empty headed bit of fluff!”
“As soon as you tell me what it was your said before, I’ll let you go.” Arnav said while he held her. Truth be told, he liked her moulded to him like this. She fit his hold perfectly; his hand on her tiny waist making her his prisoner, her back rubbing against his chest as she struggled, igniting a fire that refused to be bogged down.
Khushi could feel herself burning up at the touch of his hand on her waist. In fact her whole body seemed to be burning up while he held her tight from behind, with his chest rubbing her back so often. “Go to hell Raizada. I don’t wish to talk to you.”
“If you keep on moving, there won’t be any possibility of us talking at all. In fact, let us not talk; I like you much better like this if only you’d stay quiet.” Arnav said huskily, pulling her even closer by putting his other arm around her waist and touching his lips to the side of her neck.
Khushi trembled violently in his arms as she felt his lips come in contact with the side of her neck. She may not have any experience when it came to men since she never had any serious boyfriends but she was not entirely naïve. She could feel the sexual tension that had both of them in its grasp and made her want to submit. She found it difficult to breathe when Arnav turned her to face him, with his arms still around her; her entire body shaking with an unknown emotion. She had to get out of his arms or she’d suffer from instant combustion.
Her voice trembled when she said while looking down, “Let me go Raizada. I don’t like being manhandled like this. Let me go and I’ll tell you what it was that I said.”
Arnav looked down at her lips and then at her eyes. He caught her chin in his hand and made her look up to him. What he saw there nearly toppled him. He could read the same desire in her eyes that he felt, and he could even feel her wanting to control this madness. As Khushi met his eyes and saw them watching her lips, she felt her throat tighten, her lips drying. As if she couldn’t help herself, the tip of her tongue came out and wet her lips. He gulped visibly as he followed the unconscious gesture of provocation. He wanted to catch that tongue of hers in his mouth, he wanted to desperately touch his lips to hers, wet them with his tongue. In fact he wanted nothing more at this time than to devour her slowly and steadily.
Arnav was not sure what was happening to him but he was sure he didn’t want to let her go. He’d never felt this immense tug of desire before. He’d been around women since his teenage years and knew what it was to be in lust, but this was something completely different. He felt aroused beyond his wildest expectations. And he felt this for this girl – the girl he wasn’t even sure he liked! He could feel her trembling; what made her tremble- was it the fear that she felt or was she feeling the same that he was?
Man, this was getting a little out of hand! A part of his brain rang warning bells and screamed to let her go; she was dangerous while a part of him wanted to glue her to his body so close that they’d become one. Alarmed at such emotions being aroused in him, Arnav immediately let her go.
She moved away as quickly as possible from him as soon as he removed his arms from around her. She still couldn’t look at him. Gathering her courage in her hands, she did the only thing she thought was sensible. She walked as fast as her legs would carry her. As she went out of sight, she looked back once, met his eyes and then turned around the corner. Arnav watched her disappearing from his sight with a brooding expression on his face.
Khushi jerked back to her senses and jumped away from the window as if burned. Her whole body was shaking from the memory of that first close physical encounter. She groaned loudly at her body’s state of arousal. Damn the man! She could do without this feeling for the moment when everything in her life seemed confusing to her.
She gave herself a mental kick as she climbed into the bed. She was about to switch off the bedside lamp when the cell phone rang. Khushi glanced at the bedside clock. It was almost past midnight. Who would ring her at this time of the night? She glanced at the phone and her heart started galloping as she saw the name on her screen. Arnav Singh Raizada. Khushi turned away from the phone, ignoring it once- twice. The third time it rang, she picked it up annoyed with him and herself, only to hear him say huskily,
“Missing me yet?”
Chapter 8 : A scene from this chapter has been dedicated to Monnie Singh Raizada. 🙂
Khushi and Mallika were enjoying the aftermath of the engagement party. The engagement had gone off without a hitch. Punditji had done his job with the prayers and among other things, rings were exchanged between NK and Mallika. Their parents had embraced each other and gifts had been exchanged between both the parties. Khushi, dressed in a red sari with golden border and decked with gold earrings dangling from her ears and a necklace sitting pretty on her neck was a sight for sore eyes. Her red bangles made a jingling sound as if spreading cheerfulness where ever they jangled with her anklets adding sweet music to it. The sari gave her face a pink glow and minimal make up of a red gloss and kohl around her eyes made her look beautiful, totally rubbishing the idea that she could look plain. She had at Mallika’s request left her glasses behind and worn lenses.
While quivering inside with anxiety, she was outwardly calm and smiling. She had not seen Arnav anywhere around yet. Maybe he had left?
Just when she started relaxing, she caught sight of him. He was dressed as usual, in his impeccable suit, his eyes focused on the person he was talking to. He looked handsome as ever. Her skipped a beat as she looked at him. He didn’t look out of place and seemed quite comfortable with people around him. Just then he smiled at the lady he was talking to and Khushi felt her heart flutter. She turned away from him, clutching her sari to her chest.
“Khushi” It was softly spoken but raised the hair on her arms. The voice was so close to her ears. She didn’t dare turn around. She quickly strode away before he could say anything else.
Arnav started moving forward. He hated it when Khushi walked away from him. In all these months, this was another constant that hadn’t changed. He moved towards her and she’d run away. He swore he’d soon put an end to it.
But as he started moving towards where Khushi had walked away to, he felt a hand on her shoulder, “Arnaavv, where are you moving off to? They’re going to play the band soon. I want to dance with you.”
It was Shruti Negi, Mallika’s younger sister. Anrav turned around to find Shruti smiling like a shark at him. She was very provocatively dressed with a single strap holding her blouse from behind. Bare back and barely enough cloth to cover her front, draped with a pink gauze and net sari around her body, Shruti sure looked pretty tempting. But for Arnav, she was as interesting and desirable as a lifeless statue. Shruti leaned onto him, brushing her chest against his and whispered in his ear, “Maybe after a dance or two, we can move to the garden. What say?”
Arnav moved away from her hand, with enough ice in his eyes to freeze the blood in her veins. His smile was polite and dismissing. “I don’t dance Ms. Negi. You’d best find yourself another amusement for the evening.”
Shruti’s eyes widened at his cold voice. Her smile faltered, her practised poise gone. She straightened, with blush covering her cheeks. “Sorry, I thought maybe-“
Arnav sighed. Young girls had to be handled with care, especially when they were future business associates’ daughters, “No problem. A simple case of miscalculation of interest is what happened. You look very pretty and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of men who’d love to dance with you. Good luck.”
He moved away and turned to the bar. Ordering himself a stiff drink, he wondered where Khushi had disappeared off to. He couldn’t see her in the room. Gulping down his drink in one go, he thanked the bartender and went out of the party room that opened out to the lobby of the house.
He walked further out and saw Khushi. She was sitting with Mallika and other girls, who were giggling while Mallika blushed. Girl jokes, he was sure were being cracked. Khushi though had a strained smile on her face as she participated in this girl talk. She was sitting with her head down, playing with the end of her sari and biting her lip softly. His Khushi and her traits were well known to him. He was sure she was trying to think of a way to get out of there. Payal sat along with them, laughing with the other girls and talking animatedly. Her laughter died abruptly as she saw Arnav coming towards the group. She looked at Khushi, anxiety for her sister written plain on her face.
Khushi had closed her eyes and was holding on to her sari tightly; she knew he was here. Her heart beat had suddenly gone into over drive. He was the only one who had that effect on her. Mallika’s voice rang out as enthusiastic and cheerful, making Khushi flinch. “Arnav, hey!”
Arnav looked at Mallika and smiled while the other girls looked at him too. A gasp from some girls broke the silence. Obviously, thought Khushi. Arnav Singh Raizada effect was taking hold of them so they would gasp. She opened her eyes to look straight into his glittering amber ones. She shivered at the amount of want she saw there- and determination.
“Hi Mallika. Congratulations once again on your engagement. Lovely party.” Arnav came forward towards them. Khushi looked at the other girls with scorn. She could see awe written their faces, their mouths open and eyes wide. What was it about this guy that turned all girls silly?
“Come meet my friends.” Said Mallika and proceeded to introduce everyone around. When it came to Khushi and Payal, she gestured at Payal and said, “She’s Payal Singh- hey you guys share the same surname! She is Payal Singh Raizada! She is married and lives in Delhi. And this is her sister, Khushi; my best friend Khushi.”
Mallika grinned and her jaw dropped when Payal said, “ Arnavji is my brother-in-law Mallika.”
“I had no idea. Papa never told me that! ” Mallika’s eyes went wider as if a sudden thought occurred to her. “So you know Khushi too.”
“Of course.” Arnav inclined his head towards her as he looked at Khushi. “Don’t we now each other Khushi?”
Khushi had no choice but to speak. Her voice was a mere croak, “Yes. Hello Arnav.”
“Why don’t you sit down with us Arnav and tell us how you like Nainital. Is this your first visit here?”
Khushi looked at her friend; Neha who had invited Arnav in her simpering, husky voice to join them. She ground her teeth in frustration. Oh for heaven’s sake! She’d always hated Neha’s simper and her attempt to seduce boys with her voice. And here she was doing it with Arnav! There was nothing that she could do about it though so she lowered her eyes and looked down as other girls joined in the request.
Arnav was actually enjoying this. Khushi looked flustered, blush rising on her cheeks, her annoyance apparent to him. This should be fun. How about rousing that not-so-little green monster in her? He sat down and zeroed in on the girl who had invited him. What was her name- ah yes! Neha.
“I like Nainital very much Neha. All the more so since everything here is so beautiful. In fact, I think I will stay here for one extra week and spend time looking at beauty around here.”
It was the way he said it that finally loosened Khushi’s tongue. She lashed out, “Be careful while straying away from the city Arnav. There are lots of animals around here who wouldn’t spare you if you mistook their gentle demeanour as timid when you wander. You’d want to return to London in one piece.”
And almost groaned out aloud as another friend spoke up, “Oh wow, London! You live in London? You don’t live in India then?” Another one spoke up, “NRI Munda hain Neha. Are you married Arnav?”
Arnav’s eyes met hers amidst all others. He wanted to grin at her annoyance but kept his expressions in check. “I used to live in London until a few months back. I’ve moved to India now. I live in Delhi. And no, I’m not married…yet.”
Khushi glanced at Payal questioningly and then away. What did it matter to her where he lived now or if he was thinking about – what did he mean anyway with married not yet? Khushi shook herself mentally. It shouldn’t matter to her. It didn’t matter at all. He could live in Timbuktu and marry the Princess of Norway for all she cared.
Arnav could feel heat rising from Khushi’s being. He could see her trying hard to control her temper and her breathing. He decided to make it more difficult for her. His question to Neha, who sat listening to him with a look of pure lust on her face, startled Khushi, “Have you ever been to Delhi Neha? If not, you can come there sometime and I’ll show you around.”
Khushi closed her eyes and tried to control her temper. She could feel the green monster rising from the depths of her being, his hunger apparent. Khushi felt a knot in her stomach as she realized what she felt. She was horrified at a merest mention of him being interested in someone else could cause such a fierce pang of pain in her heart and bring her to boiling rage. She couldn’t do that to herself, she didn’t want to feel this burning jealousy that slowly seemed to be enveloping her soul.
Without putting her mind to it, she heard the conversation being carried out, where Neha pouted, visibly fluttering he eyelashes, making eyes at Arnav and said, “So you’d show me around in Delhi, huh? But I don’t know anyone in Delhi. Where would I put up?”
He replied, his voice seducing the girls surrounding him, “Well, now you know me. I have a big house with lots of rooms. Maybe you’d like to stay there. It would be fun. “
“Uhh..” totally flustered, Neha looked around and saw that the other girls were looking at this Arnav guy with the same lust that she felt. It was all a matter of staking claim, right? Her eyes were pure evil when she said, “Sure! I’d love to come and stay in your house.”
Mallika seemed totally dazed with the conversation. She cleared her throat, looked at Arnav, mischief dancing in her eyes and said, Er-yes. Goodness Arnav, stop seducing the girls! Waise, it’s a good idea. In fact I’m sure many girls here would want to take up on that offer.”
While they all laughed, Payal looked at Khushi who seemed to be in intense pain. “Khushi?”
“huh? Yes Jiji?” Khushi opened her eyes and looked at Payal.
“Are you feeling alright? You-“ Khushi cut Payal midsentence,
“Yes Jiji, I’m absolutely fine, just a little suffocated. In fact, I think I’ll go inside.” She gave a brilliant smile to Mallika who nodded her assent and without looking at Arnav, walked away from there muttering loud enough for him to hear, “and throw up.”
Arnav watched her go, muttering along the way and smiled to himself. She was nothing if not feisty, yes- that was Khushi Kumari Gupta-soon-to-be-Mrs. Raizada. He just had to wait for his plans to come to fruition and fervently hope that she’d not screw up the plans with her unpredictability.
Khushi walked back into the house, with the party full on and people dancing around. While the young generation had taken up the dance floor, the elder generation had moved to the far side of the room, where comfortable sofas and lounges had been kept. Khushi made a face towards the noise emanating from the room and walked towards where her grandmother sat. She must be there somewhere.
“Khushi, come join us!” Some of the guys from the dance floor called her. “Change your traditional clothes and join us in fun babe.” One of the guys, Gaurav shouted, giving her leering glances. He was an old friend who loved to fool around and was not to be taken seriously. He opened his arms wide and shouted, “Come to me baby!” Khushi laughed and shook her head in denial. She thumbed him down and signalled him a “See you later” to resume walking. She had barely taken two steps when she was held tight by her waist and roughly pushed out of the house again.
Only one man had the guts to do that to Khushi Kumari Gupta. Anger that had been churning in her stomach was ready to spill out. She struggled furiously as he dragged her to the far side of the lobby, next to the swimming pool. All was quiet here, with no one around.
“Let me go, damn you! Get your hands off me Arnav!”
Arnav swivelled her so that she faced him now, her face red from anger and exertion of the struggle while his wild amber eyes sparked with the same emotion.
“How dare you Arnav Singh Raizada! How dare you manhandle me, you bas- “Khushi stopped, horrified with herself and closed her mouth with her hand before she could utter the one profanity that was true in Arnav’s case. She tried turning away from him again and he said, “If you want to call me a bastard, do. It’s only the truth after all.”
Khushi closed her eyes and counted to ten. She couldn’t say that to him. It hurt her just as it would hurt him. But she couldn’t let him have his way either. She was angry after all. She tried pushing his hands away from her waist and spat, “Let me go this instant. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
Arnav wouldn’t let her go of course. He was just as angry as he held her by her waist and dragged her face to face, “Sure, why would you want anything to do with me when there are guys out here you may already be doing with! ”
Khushi looked at him, her shock evident on her face, her struggles ceased for a moment. “You’re a fine one to talk! Who was that who was seducing all the girls with his “Come and stay with me in Delhi” statement?” She mimicked his voice, her eyes flashing fire.
“Jealous sweetheart? You’ve no need to be. ” Arnav caught her closer so that their chests were almost brushing against each other.
“You wish Raizada! It doesn’t bother me in the least.” Khushi spoke quietly. She had stopped struggling now, knowing that her struggles will brush her chest against his and burn her body even more. She hated herself for this pool of desire that was accumulating between her legs at this close contact. She tried to control her wanton thoughts. Closing her eyes, she said, “Flirt with whoever you want Arnav. Just let me go. I’m not interested in spending time in your company.”
“The way you were giving a come-on to that guy on the dance floor, it looks like you’re not short of company here in Nainital.”
Khushi gasped as the meaning of his words sank in. Oh how she hated that mocking drawl of his and– he was actually accusing her of being promiscuous again! Her hand came forward to hit him but was caught mid-air. Chest heaving, they both stared at each other while Khushi laughed bitterly, “Oh yes, double standards are at play again Arnav Singh Raizada! You can flirt with any one you want but I can’t even talk friendly with a guy. No wonder I don’t want anything to do with you anymore.”
He caught at her shoulders gently as regret flooded his being and he mentally kicked himself. What the hell was he doing! He had to be gentle with her, woo her. In his jealous rage, he’d completely forgotten himself and accused her again when she was innocent. Would he never learn?
“Khushi, I’m sorry.” Khushi refused to look at him. “I’m shouldn’t have said that. I just don’t like the thought of you with anyone. I didn’t mean to-“
“It doesn’t matter Arnav. Let me go please.” Khushi’s voice was deathly quiet, tone flat. She moved his hand from her shoulder and made to go. Arnav was having none of it.
He roughly caught her shoulder in his hand and turned her around, “Look Khushi, I’m really sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have said all that. I don’t know what got into me or maybe I do.” he uttered the four letter word that Khushi didn’t really think a man who was apologizing would use in front of her. To top it, he was still holding her, his strong hand gripping her shoulder while she trembled inwardly. All she could do was stare at his shirt buttons and pray “Devi Maiyya please extricate me from this situation. How could you put me in such a- and after all that he had said before and again … please make him let go of my shoulder, NOW.”
While she closed her eyes and prayed to her beloved Devi Maiyaa, Arnav looked at her with something like fury that was replaced quickly with guilt and pain. He was genuinely apologizing; yes, he was at fault again. Khushi always made him feel a heel. He had never apologised to anyone except to her and his Di. The least she could do was listening to him once and maybe give him a chance, dammit!
He knew he had hurt her bad the last time, when he had called her names and broken the engagement. The day he had uncovered the truth, he had gone through excruciating pain and guilt. He had realized what a fool he had been by letting go of the only woman that could love him as deeply she did, who could accept him despite his background and his faults; the only woman who made him complete.
His Anjali Di had wiped the floor with him and later on tried to help him find Khushi. He had tried but in vain. As a last resort, he had decided to immerse himself in work and his sorrows in solitude where nothing but happy memories of Khushi stayed put along with the huge stone of guilt around his neck. Had it not been for Khushi’s grandmother calling, he’d have drowned himself in his misery and died.
Hell, he understood her anger and her distrust of him. He was ready to prove himself and earn her trust again if need be. If only she would listen to him! His confidence took a dipping when he thought about it.
“All she does is close her eyes, hide her pain, her feelings and say that she didn’t want to talk to me!” He swore quietly, thinking to himself. Khushi was not going to let him get into her affections again so easily, was she?
He knew he should let her go but touching her did odd things him; always had. The day they’d almost made love on the club terrace came into his mind and stirred up a fire that refused to go down. He took a deep breath to control his emotions. Why wouldn’t she look at him at least! He was trying to apologize and be a gentleman too.
“Khushi” Her name came out in a warning growl and then, as if things had not yet reached its peak, he took hold of her other shoulder and shook her, “look at me dammit!”
Startled and quaking, Khushi looked up. Maybe he’d let her go now? She thought and then looked at his eyes. His eyes were burning globes of fire.. as if he was the panther about to attack his prey.
“Why do you have to rile me up so much? You always get under my skin dammit! What do you think of yourself Khushi Kumari Gupta? I’ve been standing here saying sorry to you umpteen times and you don’t even look at me! The way you walk, the way you look down your nose at me. It makes me go crazy Khushi!”
Khushi eyes were wide orbs, “I make you go crazy!?” she squeaked and then got her courage back. “How dare you blame me Arnav Singh Raizada, Mr. next-step-to-God! I have done nothing to you, do you hear.. nothing! As if all you accused me of in the past is not enough, you’ve come here to- what you said just now – let me go at once!” Khushi tried to free herself from his hands but they were like iron bands around her shoulders.
“Make me.” His words were menacing and Khushi felt fear curl in her stomach with- excitement? “You glare at me Khushi Kumari Gupta and your mouth gives me the message “touch-me-not” but ..”
“But what?” Khushi held her breath as her stomach churned with well-known sensations, sensations she thought she had lost months back. She was panicky and confused. What was he trying to say?
“But your eyes say something different. He leaned into her, “Do you know something sweetheart? The more your mouth says no, the more I want to touch you.”
His words, softly spoken made Khushi’s stomach drop somewhere in her shoes. What did he just say? Arnav couldn’t possibly want her! No, he couldn’t desire her at all! Not after all that had happened! He had been cruel to her, he had mocked her, made fun of her; he had told her that she was promiscuous, crazy, comical and absolutely not worth his time’ that her body disgusted him.
And yet, when Khushi looked into his eyes, she could see the fire blazing high, the inferno of want burning for her as he leaned into her more, pressing her against the wall, into the darkness where they were away from all; in hiding. He was pressed so close to her that she could feel his taut muscles down the length of her entire body and Good God- that surely wasn’t!! She gasped as her eyes looked down and then flashed back up at him, her voice a mere whisper, “Let me go.. please.”
“I know I treated you bad just now, downright rotten in fact. But I am apologizing for it. Had I not dragged you away from there, I’d have been tempted to do this again and again right there by the dance floor, in front of all others who were lusting after you, until I was sure you couldn’t remember your own name much less any of them.”
Instant shock held her rigid as both his hands came around to cup her face. She moved her head to one side but he would have none of it. His softly spoken “Khushi” had her turning at him again. She closed her eyes. As his lips touched hers; gently at first and then swooping down again and again, sipping her taste from her lips, Khushi felt herself melting in his arms. No more did she want to wriggle away from him, not this time.
“Khushi…” Her name was a desperate moan as Arnav’s mouth began taking firm possession of hers, the gentle kiss turned into an act of possession. A sensation so incredible that Khushi felt she was floating in the air took hold of her. Her hands grabbed his shoulders for support as her knees buckled with this sensuous onslaught. This was- was- so good. She met his move with her own, her heart beating a tattoo in her chest, blood rushing down south as they both gave in to this incredible, inexplicable need for each other. Khushi felt as if a potent narcotic drug had been injected in her veins and if she didn’t find relief soon, she’d die. Her skin felt so hot, she felt so hot! She wanted to simply eat him up or hold on to him and never let him. She wanted to straddle him right there and let him take her. She loved him —
As though alarm bells had jingled loudly in her ears, she opened her eyes in shock and pushed him away roughly while he was still unbalanced. How could she have fallen in his spell again! She had to get out of here.
He seemed to be dazed and shocked just as she was, although she doubted if he was dealing with the kind of emotional upheaval that she was dealing with.
“I- I- good bye!” her voice was a hoarse whisper and she turned and ran away from him. She didn’t dare look back to see the kind of expression his face may hold.
Khushi could feel herself trembling an hour later even after she reached the safety of other ladies in the women’s parlour and was sitting beside Mallika. Punditji was looking for the good muhurat for the wedding to take place in the next two weeks since NK had to go back to Sydney. While everyone around her was talking, Khushi was in her own thoughts. Oh my goodness gracious everything under the sun. Her lips still tingled and her body was still on fire. She wept inside with rage, frustration and desire. Humiliation burned deep within her along with those other emotions. How could she have done what she did — responded so ardently! How could she have forgotten what he’d accused her of, what he’d thought of her, what he still could readily accuse her of!
Arnav sat with the other men, his mind a million miles away- or maybe simply in the other room where Khushi sat with other women. He had walked back a few minutes after she’d ran, trying to compose himself. His body had been shaking with undisguised, unfulfilled lust as well as disgust for himself. So much for attempting to talk to her, woo her!
He wanted to turn around, forget about the niceties, barge into ladies’ parlour, carry Khushi away somewhere to begin anew. He’d woo her and make her trust him again. But then common sense took hold of him. He picked up a glass of wine from the tray of the waiter passing by and drank it in one gulp. He picked up another and prowled back into the room where other guests were. He had enough time and this time, Khushi was going nowhere. He had her exactly where he wanted her. He knew she desired him and perhaps a part of him hoped that she still loved him, but he wouldn’t go as far as that. Time enough to make her fall in love with him again even if she hated him now. He resolved silently. Khushi Kumari Gupta, you can enjoy your friend’s wedding. It will soon be your turn next.”