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.
The memory of what had happened at the club terrace was never far from Khushi’s mind even though many things had happened after that. According to her, it was the only time when she had fought Arnav and yet given in to him. For a while, she had told herself that he had deceived her, just like he had done by the poolside. But that wasn’t true; she knew it in her heart. It had been inevitable that the fire that burned both of them would engulf them as soon as they were alone.
It had taken all of self-possession Khushi owned to decide what to do while maintaining her composure. Fine, he wanted to take a walk on the terrace with her and talk to her about work in private, she could do it. It was one thing to tell yourself that you’re indifferent to him; that the kiss was no big deal. It was easy to talk when there were people around them, but to be alone and in the dark with him- Khushi’s breath hitched in her throat. Her mind though was running on a different track, thinking- if she went with him it would definitely ensure him; it would teach him that she was really not interested in him or his doings. For once and for all, it would put them on normal footing. If she wanted that, she would have to take the walk.
Khushi looked up at him squarely in the eye and said, “If there is really something important that you wish to speak to me about in private, fine. I will walk with you on the terrace.”
Arnav’s eyes glittered with triumph, making him look too much like a dangerous predator. For a moment Khushi wondered if she was doing the right thing. What if- what if he kissed her again out there in the dark? Determination asserted itself. Of course, he would behave himself out there, knowing there were too many people milling about just a little distance away. Also, knowing what she did about him, she was sure that Arnav was mean and tricky but he had too much pride. He would not kiss her especially when he thought she was out on the hunt for a rich NRI husband. No, he wouldn’t kiss her now unless she would break down and indicate that she wanted him to kiss her. And she did want that, badly!
Keeping that voice of her heart out of her head, Khushi accepted the hand he held out, his eyes asking her if she was ready. “Come on, let’s go.” Arnav said.
Khushi took his hand. He held it tight for a second and then relaxed his hold. Her stomach somersaulted at his touch but she made sure none of her anxiety showed on her face. It was a bland mask. Thankfully, once they walked outside and on to the terrace, he let her hand go. Khushi jammed her nails on the palm of her hand to get rid of the burning sensation of his touch. He led the way to the stone balustrade that overlooked the club garden and the golf course further ahead.
On one side, a dark grove of trees stretched out. There was no one else on the terrace except them. Khushi gritted her teeth and willed her heart to slow. Her teeth were almost about to chatter with anxiety. She kept on telling herself in her head that nothing would happen. She would talk to him and ensure that they behaved like two civil people, who the next time they meet will be polite with each other. He will then not have this powerful hold of physical attraction over her. Her thoughts will be hers again.
While she was thinking all this, Arnav leaned his hips against the balustrade and turned towards her. His arms were crossed over his chest and he looked utterly sexy if he didn’t know it. “I’m not going to apologize for that kiss Khushi.”
Khushi looked at him warily, “So you’re planning to apologize for the way you behaved later but not for the kiss?”
Now Arnav being Arnav could never say he was sorry or even that he regretted saying anything harsh to her. The words didn’t really come easy to him. He simply added, “I mean- that is what I said; no apology for the kiss.”
“Excuse me!” Khushi gasped at his bold statement.
Arnav looked at her, his jaw set, “I will not apologize for kissing you. I wanted to kiss you as much as you wanted me to do it.”
Khushi blushed at the truth of that statement. She couldn’t deny it outright. The lie would stick in her throat. “Well, I just-“She started again and came up with a sarcastic retort. “Fine, I will accept your apology. I didn’t think you had it in you to apologize.”
“I’m not normally wrong but you’re proving that I could be. Anyway, the kiss-“ Arnav was interrupted mid-sentence as Khushi said, her agitation plain. “Enough with the talk of that kiss! Forget it. I sure have.”
Arnav’s reply was curt and to the point, “Don’t lie to me. You haven’t and neither have I.”
Khushi was fed up. She didn’t want to talk about the kiss. It unsettled her big time. He stood there talking about them kissing as if it was nothing out of ordinary. She tried to regain her quickly sleeping calm, “Fine, now that you’ve told me you don’t intend to apologize for that damn kiss, may I go inside?”
Khushi’s eyebrows went up at his reply. Arnav hissed a breath from between his lips and grated, “We are not done yet with this conversation. You said you are unaffected by it. So stand here and talk to me.”
“I’m done with this conversation.” Khushi said exasperatedly.
“Then you’re not as clever as I thought you were. You’re nuts.”
Khushi drew herself up to her full height and her voice went cold, “Excuse me? What did you just say?”
“Don’t deny it Khushi. It is between us today as much as it was the other evening. It’s like a live wire. I know it and you know it. At this moment all I want is to tear your clothes off and make love to you. I know you want it too.”
Stunned at the image his words created in her head, Khushi felt dazed with arousal. She could barely contain herself. So she turned haughtier, “Speak for yourself Raizada. I, for my part do not wish to have anything to do with your- body.”
“Stop lying Khushi.” Arnav uncrossed his arms and pushed himself off the balustrade that he was leaning on. He came to her, “That kiss was… addictive.”
Khushi’s heart beat like a crazy tattoo in her chest. Sudden inspiration seized her, “That kiss was probably a simple result of all pent up psychic energy you were exuding that evening.”
“Huh? What?” Arnav was puzzled.
Khushi waved her hand in the air, confident now that she could get out of this tricky situation. “You know! You were talking as if you knew all about me and my thoughts that evening. You made me angry when you spoke to me with so much familiarity. I made you angry when I walked off. The kiss was a result of that anger, built-up anger that was looking for a way out. Nothing more.”
Arnav looked at her, sighing, “Really. Built-up anger created that kiss… not because I tried to seduce you? I thought you’d accused me of taking advantage of you.”
“I wasn’t thinking properly then. Huh.. you could hardly seduce me with everyone present. It was-just what I said- anger.” Khushi declared, trying her level best to make it sound like an expert claim. She sure as hell was not going to admit how that kiss had affected her! She shrugged a shoulder as if that said everything.
“huh.. fancy that.” said Arnav, an amused smile trying to make its way towards his mouth. He hurriedly smothered it. It would not do to let Khushi see the smile. He would play her at her own game. She thought she was so smart! He spread his legs apart so that Khushi was right in between them, a few inches away from him and put his hands on his hips as if thinking seriously on her claim, “So you mean to say, we get the hots for each other when we meet up and get mad at each other?”
Khushi grabbed this opportunity to convince him. He sounded dubious at the moment and ready to believe. She quickly agreed, “Yes, exactly! I think that is the perfect description. It’s normal’; we’re just ordinary humans not Gods. It can happen to us you know.”
Arnav rubbed his jaw, as if saying, “Ordinary? Me? Speak for yourself!” He kept on looking at her, “I- am not so sure about this but I can say one thing. It does no good to us when we kiss each other. We have no business going around kissing each other.”
“Oh yes! That is so true!” Khushi agreed, nodding her head quite fiercely. Inside she felt piqued and annoyed. He didn’t think she was worthy of his kiss?
As if she hadn’t spoken and as if he was still talking to himself and thinking, Arnav said, “The dilemma is, how the hell do we stop provoking each other so that we don’t get angry with each other and not kiss each other in rage? We simply rub each other up the wrong way every time we meet.”
Khushi was thinking, her brain working overtime. “Uh- perhaps we should not meet” At his look she hastily added, “I know that is a little difficult. Maybe we- ah yes! Every time we meet, we smile and say nice things to each other. How about that?”
That should definitely achieve her goal of putting them on an even footing. A part of her was annoyed that it was taking him so long to take her notion on face value, but it would not do to be annoyed at him. To show him that she was angry would make her own reasoning sound silly and her solution inadequate.
Arnav stared at her, “That is not a bad idea actually. We can always have something nice to say to each other when we meet up by chance.”
Khushi was quite enthusiastically into this game of making him believe her point. He removed his hand from his chin and gave a firm nod as if he had reached a decision, “Alright then. If you’re willing to give it a chance, I am too. Why don’t you go first?”
Khushi looked at him, annoyed. “Why should I go first and why should you order me to go first?” So typical of him! He agreed to not fight and then insults her by ordering her, consequently raising a point of fight.
Arnav threw up his hands in the air as if he gave up on the fight. “Okay, don’t get your rear up in the air. I’ll go first if that makes you happy. Something nice about Khushi Kumari Gupta. Hmm..” He scratched his chin as if nothing nice came to his mind when he thought about her. That irked Khushi. He put his hands behind his back and finally said,”Okay, here goes. I really admire how easy you are with people.”
Before Khushi could protest, he held out his hand, “No it is not meant as an insult; hear me out. I always find it difficult to talk to strangers. I am a businessman and can talk shop with anyone but when it comes to making people comfortable or drawing them out, I think you do it very well. You make them feel.. good about themselves.”
Khushi’s jaw literally dropped at his statement. Arnav looked at her in astonishment. “Oh come on! You know that already Khushi. Or do you take that part of your character for granted? I should tell you that it is not easy for many people to be so at-ease with others. You could be a very good manager if you wanted to be.”
At the shake of her head, he continued, “In fact, had it not been for the fact that we kissed, I’d have offered you a job with me after that project.”
Khushi looked like she was planning to catch flies with her mouth. Arnav thought she was charming? A part of her that was still wary of him and expecting a hidden insult said, “Are – I am supposed to believe this?”
“Look if you want this “be nice to each other” thing to work, you’ve got to. And now it’s your turn.” Arnav said with his eyes on her.
Was that amusement lurking in his eyes? Khushi wondered and then said, “Ah, okay. My turn. Good thing about you.”
“I know I’m not full of virtues but hey, am not that bad either.” Arnav supplied helpfully.
Khushi licked her lips and thought, “Okay. It’s not that hard really. I think the way your run your company is admirable. I think you may be stubborn and an absolute horror when it comes to manners” at his look she added, “I mean that in general but when it comes to your employees, you have integrity. I’d even say you’re downright honest in your dealings with them.”
Arnav scowled, “I don’t believe it. You actually think of me as a nice person?”
Khushi quickly replied,” You wanted me to say something nice about you, something I really believed in. So there.”
Arnav stroked his chin with his hand, “Thanks, I think. I mean I know what you’re saying is right but- “ Khushi rolled her eyes at his boasting. This guy hadn’t heard of modesty, had he? He continued, “-but when you say it, it means I am not surrounded by fair weather public. You don’t really like me but you still think I’m nice.”
“So” Khushi chuckled, as she smiled at him, “See? We’re not angry at each other now. Wow.”
“Yes” said Arnav, his voice low, “A marvel indeed.”
Their eyes met and Khushi’s smiled faded slowly. They may not be angry at each other but the sizzling awareness that they felt for each other was as strong as before. It hadn’t gone anywhere. On the contrary, she felt it had become stronger now that she knew he thought she was charming and also due to the fact she had acknowledged that he had integrity and was honest.
“Unfortunately I don’t think it has fixed the problem Khushi, only made it worse probably.” Arnav stared at her fixedly, making her swallow hard.
She couldn’t deny it; he was correct. They hadn’t fixed the problem, only aggravated it. She wasn’t standing close to him right now but she could feel his aura surrounding her anyway. She took a step back and saw his amused gaze on her.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to kiss you.” He said.
“Oh.” Khushi’s voice, to her horror sounded as if she was disappointed. A corner of Arnav’s mouth quirked.
“That is not to say I wouldn’t like kissing you. I meant if we did kiss- which I am not saying will happen- but if we did kiss, it has to be you who takes the initiative.”
Khushi became still as a statue. The night air was cool while they looked at each other. All amusement seemed to have left Aranv’s face as he stood staring at her, his hunger for her evident in her eyes. Khushi could feel electricity humming around them, her inner motor of physical desire ready to rev. NO! She mentally took a step back. She wasn’t going to take any initiative of that sort, she didn’t want to kiss him! Not only that she didn’t want to- NOT AT ALL- but also that she couldn’t. That would be –
She hiccupped in surprise and looked at him, her eyes wide – that would be a lie. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted him like crazy but how could she? This was Arnav Singh Raizada, the playboy from London. He was much too playful with emotions, too masculine for her comfort, he was mean and nasty to her every time they met, he had kissed her so thoroughly that her knees had gone weak and then been harsh with her. How could she want to kiss him?
But her blood pulsed in her veins, making nonsense of all her thoughts, her insides melting and going soft at the idea of being in his arms again. She looked uncomfortable to meet his gaze, her fingers twisting in her hands betraying her nervousness. She imagined what it would be like to get close to him, touch him, put her arms around his neck, touch his chest, and lift her face to kiss his lips. It would feel- a gasp escaped her mouth- it would feel marvellous!
In the meanwhile, Arnav stood there next to her, silent and watching the play of emotions on her face. It made him feel rooted to the spot. He could watch that face all day long and not get tired of it. His male sexual power was controlled at this time, simply waiting- it was at her discretion. She would decide. His body thrummed with excitement at the idea of her holding the final word and then coming ahead to kiss him. He had never before liked the idea of losing control but with Khushi, he liked it very much. As if in a trance, Khushi took a step towards him. Yes! She took a step towards him this time, not away- thought Arnav jubilantly.
Khushi felt the excitement running through her like the twisting of the screw of a champagne bottle. She looked at his ever hypnotic eyes. They glittered but they didn’t look dangerous to her anymore; they glittered with the same madness that seemed to have taken over her being at this time. She could also see doubt there and fear- fear that she would move away from him and he would lose the touch of her. She saw vulnerability in his eyes.
That was probably what did her in. She would have pulled back the last moment and come to her senses but for that vulnerable look in his eyes. There was no way she could stop herself now. Her heart pounded madly as she reached up her hands to place them gently on the side of each cheek. Anticipation reached to the point of pain for Arnav but he held back. He was all man yes, but he wanted her to be the master in this instance. It gave Khushi a heady feeling of power, as he stood still while she touched him. She saw his nostrils that flared at her touch, the coil of need twined tightly around their bodies. He kept his hands by his sides as he saw her rise up on her toes and press her lips, ever so gently against his. Their eyes closed at the pleasure of that contact.
Arnav felt the air rush out through his nose as he kept tight control on himself. It was her initiative, her moment. He couldn’t ruin it. So he let her experiment with the pressure of her mouth on his. Despite this immense control, a small noise escaped from his throat.
For Khushi, it was pure delight to have him at her disposal. She could run her hands through his silky hair, she’d always known it would be. Slowly he started responding to her kiss. He responded to her light kisses by giving them back as he received them. She liked him so much the better for it! She nipped his lips and he nipped back. She pressed a little harder and he increased the pressure too. Just like her hands in his hair, his hands went up and into her hair, spiking the strands and holding her to him.
Khushi felt such power as she’d never felt before. His hard, strong body was hers to control, to play with. Arnav behaved like a dancer at this moment; a perfect partner who followed her lead and went where ever she wanted to go, did whatever she wanted him to do. She felt she wanted more. She felt exhilarated; it flowed in her blood like bubbles. She curved her body to his, leaning into him, moving her lips as if they couldn’t get enough of him. She was hungry for him. This need to get closer, more intimate had made her forget everything else. Her hands went down from his hair and on to his strong shoulders and then the chest, exploring through the coat, vest and shirt.
Arnav groaned silently, moving his jaw expertly and opening her mouth. This was the first initiative taken by him all by himself and Khushi found that she didn’t mind at all. It was alright even when his tongue found its way into her mouth, French kissing her. It was her second time that she had been smooched; the first time was by the pool. It gave her such a shock of pleasure; she found that she wanted so much more of it. Arnav’s breathing grew heavy and fast. His hands roamed up and down Khushi’s back. But it was okay for Khushi. She didn’t mind his taking control from her hands at this time. She felt satisfied that she was the one who had set the ball rolling, not let him control her desire.
Anrav’s hands were strong and assured of what they were doing as they caught hold of her waist, skimming the sides of it. Slowly he curved his hands over the surface of her sari, her blouse, and her breasts. The sensation that hit Khushi was so exquisite when he touched her there that she flinched. Her nipples had long since turned into hard pebbles.
Not that Khushi’s flinch stopped Arnav. He moved his hands over her breasts, sometimes teasing her by simply touching the undersides, sometimes taking them in her hands and massaging them, squeezing them. It felt like heaven! She threw her head back and gave a low moan when he touched his lips to her throat.
Khushi didn’t want him to stop this sensual onslaught he was raining on her senses. She could hear him breathing as heavily as her, as he slowly licked her breastbone. At the same time, he slowly and deliberately touched the hardened peaks of her breasts and squeezed them gently. She gave out a loud moan as she felt sensations beyond anything she had ever felt before. She’s never imagined making love was so marvellous.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Excuse me.” A voice interrupted, intruding rudely on the delightful scene. Khushi felt as if she’d jerked wide awake from deep slumber. She felt both herself and Arnav freeze. Once the person had retreated back into where ever he had come from, Khushi slowly removed her hands from Arnav’s hair. Arnav pressed his head against her collarbone, telling himself and her, “Okay.” His hands had stopped playing with her breasts and come down to rest on her waist. “Okay, okay.” She heard him murmur again. Slowly he lifted his head and let go of her, all of her and straightened to move away from her. He looked absolutely- out of control.
“Oh boy.” He said softly, his eyes still glinting yet showing how much control it had taken him to move away from her. He looked at Khushi as she self-consciously straightened her sari. Her gaze flitted up and then down.
“That being nice with each other didn’t really work.” Arnav muttered. All Khushi could do at this time was nod. She was not just embarrassed, but she was aghast at her own actions. She had nearly let him make love to her in public, on the club terrace! She, who always thought first about proprieties didn’t even bother with what anyone would think if they caught them together. What about the families? Arnav was the most unsafe man she had known, a play boy who would do nothing but use her and go back to London. But she had all but thrown herself in his arms. What was wrong with her!
Arnav tried to smooth his hair, his voice rough, his expression grim. He had never in his life thought he would lose control like this. What had begun as simple teasing to teach her a lesson had turned into fierce sexual hunger that was out of control. He shook his head. He had to play it differently. It wouldn’t help if he was out of control. He said, “We have to really avoid doing this again Khushi.”
“Yes.” Khushi’s voice was sullen.
“At the risk of sounding a little rude but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s only logical thing to do, I have a suggestion.” Arnav straightened his coat and his vest that had become slightly dishevelled at Khushi’s hands. Khushi blushed when she saw him do that. He continued, “ I suggest we should keep away from each other as much as possible. When we meet, a simple “hello” should make for the conversation and we should NEVER be alone with each other. Agreed?”
Khushi drew in a deep breath. This is what she wanted, right? Then why did it feel as if someone had tied a stone around her neck and thrown her into deep water to drown to death? Why did it feel so lonely, so disappointing, so scary to think of not touching him again? Not seeing him again!!- that felt like life sentence to her. But Khushi knew it was the only sensible course of action. She couldn’t-wouldn’t let her physical attraction for him take over her head, her brain. “Agreed.” She said.
“Because-“ Arnav was now playing simply hard to get “ there is no way we could have anything going between us.”
A frown placed itself on Khushi’s forehead, her eyes widening as she took in his meaning, “You mean- like a relationship?”
Arnav nodded and then flicked his glance away, straightening his tie this time.” We’re far too different and we want different things from a relationship. It would never work.”
“Too true.” Khushi said angrily. “So now that we’ve sorted that out, I should go inside.”
Without any goodbyes, she simply walked away. But not before she turned back again to look at him, still standing there, looking at her. His look took her breath away. It belied everything he’d said, suggested; it was a look that told Khushi that he didn’t really want to not talk to her. He didn’t want to let her go. The look indicated his want for her; if he ever got a chance to be alone with her, kiss her, make love to her, he would do it. Probably would do even more than simply make love to her, and that would be very unwise- she knew that. She would be wise to stay away from him; she told her heart- he had the power to hurt her very badly. He could take away her self-preservation and strip her clean of her mask of indifference by a look. No, best is she stayed away from him. She looked at him one last time, her mind made up and went back into the lounge.
Arnav too was thinking about the same incident while lying on his bed. How mean he had been to her that evening! His remorse knew no bounds as the tears he always kept hidden from everyone came to his eyes. He slowly wiped the tear away from his eye with his hand. He had always been unfair to Khushi. Khushi, who had been innocent of any malice that evening, had suffered at his hands. That was the first time when he had hurt her by doubting her. He closed his eyes and he continued thinking about that evening.
The moment Arnav had seen that tear fall; something had squeezed his heart tight, nearly making him gasp. He had felt as if he had been stabbed with a sharp dagger. When she hastily turned her head and walked away so that he couldn’t see her crying, regret took hold of his heart. He realized he may have been too harsh with her. Maybe his bitterness had been unjustified and maybe she was really an innocent. He knew he had a habit of painting every woman with the same brush due to his past but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t trust anyone.
Arnav closed his eyes for a moment against this onslaught of emotions, as if trying to reach to a decision. When he opened them, determination had taken hold of his body. Whatever it was that he felt for Khushi, he couldn’t let it control him. He couldn’t let her get close to him. She disturbed him like no one else did. He shook the feeling away, telling himself he had done what was best for the both of them.
He had gone back to the family, where laughter and chatter kept everyone too busy to notice Arnav’s keen gaze on Khushi and Khushi’s avoidance of his eyes. Anjali however had not been too busy to notice that something had happened between her brother and that charming girl Khushi. She had asked him about her after the ceremony was over and Khushi had gone back home with her family. He had preferred not to talk about it and asked her to leave him alone.
He left the next day for London since the project they had been working on had to be executed from there. After the successful execution of the project, he had called up his uncle and asked him to pass on his congratulations to the entire team for the good work done. Much though he wanted to and probably as he should, he had not called Khushi to let her know that it was in fact her ideas and her presentation that had brought forth the best in the project.
Not that he was in the best of the moods these days. Anjali and Dean; who had just entered the scene then as her boyfriend, had both mentioned in the passing that he behaved like a bear with a sore head. Arnav knew he was not himself and he also knew the reason for it. He kept on thinking about a certain doe eyed female with tears falling down from her eyes and a hurt look on her face. He dreamt of her lips under his and could taste her essence when he closed his eyes. Her fragrance had stayed with him, on the suit that he had worn that evening. A week after he had returned, he had given the suit away for dry cleaning and had not worn it since. He worked out fiercely in the mornings and evenings, worked later than usual and dated as many women as he could. He dined them and took them out but he had lost the will to bed any of them. He couldn’t even think about kissing any one of those leggy, delectable models, much less taking them to bed.
His days were filled with work and night with longing. But he resisted- until he accidentally heard that Khushi’s parents wanted her to choose a husband too. His entire being revolted at the thought of Khushi in another man’s arms and a murderous rage took over. On prodding gently, Aakash told him that Khushi’s parents thought it was time they started looking for a suitable guy for Khushi. They had asked Khushi if she had anyone in mind but she had denied. What’s more they were troubled by her tears and her firm declaration that she would never get married. After a lot of back and forth talks, Khushi had finally agreed that she would at least consider any proposals she got before rejecting the offers of marriage out of hand.
It was this news that made Arnav fly to New Delhi the next day itself, on the pretext of upcoming business deal. He knew that Aakash could handle the whole deal himself but hell, what was he to do? He reached there the day after and walked around in the garden to catch a glimpse of the Khushi. He knew the window of her room overlooked Raizada garden. He had seen her once or twice while he jogged past her in the morning, sitting by the window ledge, gazing at nothing in particular and with a silly smile on her face.
To Arnav’s disappointment, Khushi never showed up by the window. She had stopped looking outside. From what he had gleaned after his general family talk with Aakash, she had become very dull since the last few weeks. Gone was her chirpiness; instead she was always frowning and sometimes her face was etched with some painful memory. Payal had tried hard to find out what the matter was but Khushi wouldn’t tell her and of course, it was so difficult to gauge one’s emotions simply over the phone. Aakash was worried about Khushi because Payal was worried about her. Typical lovesick teenager behaviour, thought Arnav smirking.
In the night, he paced around the room after dinner thinking about this conversation. He said to himself, “Of course she wouldn’t. She’d not be the girl I know if she spoke what was troubling her.”
As if they were connected with an invisible thread, memories overflowed Khushi’s mind almost at the same time. Khushi was also thinking about the events following that evening by the poolside.
Arnav had left the next day and she hadn’t heard or seen of him until the weekend when they all went to the golf club. She had known that he’d come back a few days ago but had carefully avoided all the times when she could even see him by chance.
That weekend, both the families had been invited for a party at the Golf Club. The theme of the party was formal vs. traditional. Payal had come down for the weekend and both the sisters had decided to dress up in traditional garb. Khushi was decked in a red sari with long silver earrings whereas Payal wore an orange sari with matching accessories. Both the Raizada and Gupta families had left in their respective cars and were mingling with other guests in the party. Aakash and Payal were being congratulated by their acquaintances and family friends where Khushi mingled with her own set of friends.
Khushi had not really wanted to come to the party but second thoughts; she decided she couldn’t avoid people forever. It is possible that she may run into Arnav at some time, since they were a part of the family of sorts. They knew the same kind of people and went to the same kind of places so it was inevitable that they meet each other sometime when Arnav was in New Delhi. It was important that she put the incident at the back of her mind and face him normally.
Still, she hadn’t expected to see Arnav at the party. She had been mingling with her group of friends far away from the lounge bar. But thirst drew her towards it. Walking into the club lounge that was decorated by smart furniture and green walls, keeping in tune with the motto of the golf club, she found Arnav sitting there. To not expect him to be there had been a mistake, she realized with a shock. One smartly clad knee rested atop another while he spoke with Mr Westerly and Martin; her dad’s friends. Her immediate reaction of course was to turn away from where he sat and leave the lounge bar area.
But Khushi was nothing if not determined. She had decided to put the past incident behind her and behave normally and that is exactly what she will do. She was not going to let him affect her in any way. Suppressing the cowardly impulse, she went ahead and sat at the bar table to order a glass of Chardonnay. It was her favourite white wine. She was joined by other people of her acquaintance in a short while and they all moved to sit in the other part of the half-lit lounge.
While a casual smile was pinned upon her face, Khushi straightened her shoulders and made some breezy talk. She was not unconscious of Arnav sitting just a little further away from her group, chatting with his friends or business colleagues. He seemed to be unaware of her presence and that’s exactly how she wanted it. She was thankful of this and at the same time terribly conscious of the fact that her own body was completely attuned to him. She didn’t know how but she felt his eyes on her the moment he caught sight of her. She looked at him and saw him falter in his chat, his smile almost fading away.
To her astonishment, Khushi felt a rush of satisfaction at his reaction. She gritted her teeth and gave a cool smile. Surely this satisfaction she felt was inappropriate for her? She hadn’t wanted him to notice her, did she? She didn’t even want him to falter or stare at her but he had and for the life of her, she couldn’t understand this rush of pleasure that ran through her body at his reaction. Deliberately, she turned her away from him and started talking to the person nearest to her. She had no idea what she was saying. All she knew was, she had gulped her glass of wine in one go and the waiter who had been standing nearby and come forward. She told him, “Can you get me a glass of Chardonnay again please?”
The waiter smiled at her and said, “Sure, Ms. Gupta. Right away.”
Khushi felt as if her smile was stuck to her face, while her heart beat fast. It was literally pounding as it heard Arnav talking to others in the distance. He had seemingly recovered from his shock at seeing her and was not animatedly immersed in a conversation behind her. Khushi closed her eyes. For so many days now, his voice had haunted her, his face a part of her dreams. Her mind constantly kept on going over and over that kiss; the passion in his eyes and later on, the contempt on his face. Her dreams were full of the moment when he had lowered his mouth on hers. His harsh tone when he told her he thought of her as nothing more but a man-trap or a fortune hunter and as much as he was attracted to her, he didn’t want anything to do with her and feelings.
She hated those odd moments in the day when her heart would suddenly speed up from the memory, just like it did now. Khushi took deep breaths; breathe in- breathe out, inhale, exhale. She was determined to calm down so that no one could see her agitation, least of all that Arnav Singh Raizada.
“Here is your glass of white wine Ms Gupta. Are you alright?” The overfriendly waiter asked.
Khushi gave him a bright smile but her eyes were full of ice, “What? Oh yes, I’m fine.” The waiter had the grace to blush. Khushi took a small sip this time, smiling at the person next to her, who was talking about some garden. The wine was excellent but to her it tasted like water, the company was interesting but felt boring; nothing felt good.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to remain calm as she heard the conversation behind her break up. Mr Westerly and Martin were going away to dine with their wife and kids accompanying them this time. Arnav had politely declined going along with them. Khushi could feel her heart beating mercilessly against her chest. For God’s sake, calm down! Arnav would leave too, she was sure. She prayed he would. She felt herself go tense simply in the anticipation that this moment would be over soon. He would leave.
Instead of leaving with others, Arnav walked towards Khushi. She looked ethereal to him. Did she know red was his favourite colour? Earlier when he’d seen her for the first time in so many days, he had felt his heart stop. She looked like his dream come true to him; dressed in a red sari with those silver earrings dangling from her ear as if trying to kiss her cheeks every time she turned her head. When she turned away from him, he had been tempted to leap up and go to her, to pick her up and walk away into oblivion where no one would disturb them. But he had controlled himself and carried on with his conversation after a few seconds.
Goosebumps erupted all over Khushi’s body as she felt his presence right behind her chair. He looked oh, so casual as he sauntered right up to where she sat with her friends. The fiend! She wanted to look at him, she wanted to send him a cool smile, letting him know that he didn’t affect her; she didn’t care at all for him. She wanted to tell him that he couldn’t rattle her- Khushi Kumari Gupta. She was calm, she was cool. But she couldn’t do anything of the sort. She simply kept sitting, staring fixedly down at her glass of wine.
An arm snaked out in front of her and she almost jerked in reaction. He was reaching out to pick up cashews from the bowl on the table.
“Hi Khushi.” Arnav greeted her.
Khushi put up her brightest smile and slowly looked up at him, “Oh hello Arnav. Fancy seeing you here, back in India.”
Arnav didn’t smile back. Her smile faltered. He excused himself and asked the person sitting next to her “Is it okay if I sit here?”
The other person, Khushi couldn’t remember who he was got up and gladly gave him the permission to sit. “I was leaving anyway. Nice talking to you Khushi. Let’s meet up sometime.”
Khushi smiled at him and watch him go. Arnav hadn’t sat down yet. He looked at her, “Okay if I sit here?”
Her fingers played with her wine glass. Act unconcerned Khushi, she told herself. Then she didn’t look at him but she said lightly, “Why should it not be okay? You can sit wherever you want Arnav.”
She saw him sitting down from the corner of her eyes. His eyes were watching her carefully, “I haven’t seen you around in the last few days. Not at the office, not by the house. Been keeping busy, have you?”
“I have my German exams coming up so yes, been keeping busy. Plus I’ve had no time to do anything else with so much to study.”
His voice was so low that only she could hear it as he said, “I thought I’d driven you away from the places that interested you earlier. That you wanted to avoid me.”
Khushi gave a little laugh, as if she was above it all and said, “Oh Arnav, come now. I know we don’t know each other well enough but I thought you’d realize that I wouldn’t let you do that- drive me away from places of my interest.”
Arnav didn’t get into a slinging match. He simply looked at her and she said, “I’m here now, aren’t I? You’re sitting next to me so how can I be avoiding you?”
“Ye-es true. You’re sitting next to me right now.” He conceded.
Khushi waved her hand in the air, as if she had proved her point by the statement.
Aranv leaned on his elbow that was on the bar of the chair, resting his jaw in his hand and stared. Khushi wailed inwardly as she tried to keep her calm demeanour intact. The devil! Did he know how mortifying she felt right now, with his dark amber, amazing eyes boring into her? He broke the silence as she shifted in her seat uncomfortably, “So, if you’re not avoiding me, would you be willing , umm.. to play tennis with me tomorrow?”
“Certainly.” Khushi replied back instantly. It would not do to give him the impression that she wanted to run away from him as fast as her legs could take her. He had started believing in her statement and she would do anything to keep that impression of unconcern intact. She took another sip of her wine, imagining him playing tennis. She could imagine the muscles she had felt when he had held her moving under his shirt as he played tennis. Her heart sped up again as she remembered the kiss.
“And would you dine with me tonight along with the rest of the family?” Arnav asked. Khushi inclined her head in agreement. After all, this is what she wanted. Yes, this would surely establish them on a normal footing, keeping all the other sensations away when the others would be around them.
“Really.” Arnav said. It was more a disbelieving statement than a question.
Khushi couldn’t meet his gaze for long, “Yes, really”, she said.
Arnav reached out with his other hand to snare some more cashews, his eyes lowered so as not to give Khushi any idea of what he was thinking. Khushi watched him, heat filling up her body beneath her blouse as he slowly placed the nut in his mouth, closed his eyes and savoured its taste. He opened his eyes to catch her gawking at him. Khushi hurriedly lowered her lashes.
Arnav continued as if he had not seen her hungry stare, “Strange that you’re so fired up to be cool with me after we shared that kiss; so cool that you could do anything.”
“Don’t give yourself too much credit”, snapped Khushi and leaned closer to him to whisper, her eyes glaring, “just because you kissed me and I allowed you to kiss me isn’t going to change the way I feel about you. It is not going to change my world. I’ve kissed men before you know. It wasn’t a big deal.”
“No big deal, hmm” Arnav’s gaze didn’t leave Khushi’s. She lifted the hand that held the glass of wine and said, “Yes, you heard me right.” She gave him a smile as she sipped on her wine. She had always believed she was immune to the charms of men in general and in particular of Arnav’s kind; the ones who were out on the hunt. In all of her twenty five years, she had never felt as vulnerable as she felt towards Arnav- him of all people! Her blood was singing through her veins, her body felt as if it would instantly combust if she sat next to him any longer. But she had to, she wouldn’t admit defeat.
Arnav was watching the expression that flitted across her face, without her knowing. “Then..” he said, “if you’re so unaffected by that kiss and by me, then I am sure you wouldn’t object going out for walk with me on the club terrace.”
Her eyes widened as she took in his words, “What? Now?”
Arnav nodded and said, “Any problem? If you’re so unaffected by me then you wouldn’t mind it surely? In fact, there is something with regards to the project you worked on that I wanted to talk to you about. In private.”
*Flashback continues to the next chapter*
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Arnav wore a black silk shirt and looked like sex on wheels. Khushi met his eyes and looked away as usual. She couldn’t deny that he looked handsome and that he did something make her heart do somersaults but she was damned if she’d admit it. So she raised her chin and looked at him again, defiance plain in her eyes. Arnav simply bowed his head very slightly, not for all to see but only for her as if acknowledging her defiance. When her gaze moved from him, she saw a lovely woman standing next to him, looking at him with a smile of joy and wonder on her face and then looking at her. Her smile radiated warmth and Khushi automatically smiled back at her even though her mind buzzed with hundred questions. Who was she and what was she to him? Her face though, remained clear of her thoughts.
Mrs. Raizada’s loud voice boomed in her ears, making her flinch. “Ah! Arnav, Anjali beta.. come come. We were just waiting for you.” She looked Khushi and said, “Payal, Khushi; beta meet my darling niece Anjali. She is Arnav’s sister and she too loves candles like Payal does.”
After hands were shaken and embracing done, Anjali sat down next to Khushi and Payal. She engaged Payal in small talk while Khushi wondered about her. So this was Arnav’s sister. She was so different from him! Like chalk and cheese this brother-sister pair were; with one being so mean and cruel while the other being extremely warm and sweet. Anjali was beautiful, thought Khushi. In that area of course, both brother and sister had been generously blessed by the Almighty.
“Useless to compare; she’s the sweet side of me.” Amused voice broke into her thoughts.
“I beg your pardon?” Khushi feigned ignorance.
“Anjali is my half-sister and thus perhaps missed the mean streak that I inherited.” Arnav said, “I know what you were thinking.”
Khushi fluttered her lashes at him and gave him a very obvious fake smile, “I had no idea you were a psychic. And are you telling me there actually is a sweet side to you? Wow.”
The statement was meant to insult him and it sure did. For a moment, his eyes caught fire and his jaw tensed but then, control took over. He visibly relaxed and smiled, “Oh yeah, I tried to show you my sweet side the other day but you ran away.”
“I didn’t run away!” Khushi protested, her glare deadly enough to kill a man or two. Then as if she realized she had just acquiesced with his statement in a way, she said, “I walked away like any female with sense in her head would. And if that was the sweeter side of you, god help us all when you -”
Aware that she was again putting her foot in her mouth, she shut up. Amber eyes bored into her, challenging her to continue. “when I what- Khushi? Scared to put your thoughts into words, are you?”
“Nonsense! Anyway, I don’t think sharks have a sweet side to them.” Khushi declared, avoiding his eyes. As if she couldn’t bear to sit there with his eyes looking at her, she stood up and immediately felt flustered as all eyes looked at her. Smiling hesitantly, she said, “I think I’ll take a look at all those candles and lights by the poolside.” Looking at Anjali, she smiled genuinely, complimenting her, “They look beautiful.”
Anjali smiled back at her, affirming her opinion that here sat a lovely woman who was an absolute antithesis of her brother.
Khushi reached the poolside and took a deep breath. She really needed to calm down when that man was around! She had no idea why he affected her so much but she couldn’t ignore the fact that he did. May be this was the first time she actually understood what it was like to feel attracted to a man. She had been the centre of attention for many guys in the last couple of years but she had been easily able to dismiss their attention, their stares. Nothing had ever affected her the way his eyes did. It troubled her that she had no control over her reactions to him. Why was she not able to control her heart beats around him? Why did she left him affect her so?
“Thinking about me?” A voice spoke softly in her ear. Deep in thoughts, Khushi took the voice to be a part of her thinking and simply muttered, “Great, now I hear him in my thoughts! Why is he affecting me like this? Not that I give a damn but-”
A chuckle broke into her thoughts and Khushi realized with horror that the voice had not been a part of her thoughts. Arnav was actually standing next to her. She moved away quickly and tried to mask her reactions. Acting nonchalant, she asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Helping you think more about me, obviously.” He tantalizingly replied. Khushi put all the scorn she could muster in her gaze while she looked up at him, “You give yourself too much credit. I was not thinking about you.”
“No?” He asked disbelief plain on his face.
Khushi moved further away from him, to the other side of the pool, where potted flowers lay on one side of the wall. “Of course not! I was thinking about- well, not about you for sure. And it’s none of your business who or what I was thinking about.”
“What if I want to make it my business?” Before Khushi knew what was happening, he had trapped her between himself and the wall.
“You- you-” Words failed her and Khushi tried to find a way to get out of the trap. Arnav came closer still until she could feel his breath on her face.
“I-what Khushi?” Arnav whispered, bending a bit so that he could whisper in her ear, “If you want to know, you’ve been in my thoughts too. Unwanted and unexpected but you’ve been there… in my unholy thoughts. Does that help you?”
“No.” Khushi could only whisper back an honest reply.
“What should we do about it then?” Arnav whispered, coming closer, his eyes resting on her lips that trembled when he touched them gently. “I know of a cure.”
“You do?” Khushi’s breathing had gone ragged by now, with his fingers working magic on her lips. She wanted to lick them, to take them one by one in her mouth and suck on them. Never in her life had she felt such sensations rocking her body before. She stared into his eyes that beckoned her to travel with him to places unknown. She felt as if she was losing herself in those deep pools of amber fire that burned with desire. It gave her a heady feeling of power to know that she could ignite such fire in his eyes. His next words almost undid her.
“Sure I do. Let me show you how to cure it.” Arnav said to her. Before she could guess his intentions, he took her in his arms, slowly placed one hand on the nape of her neck and bent down- to touch his lips to hers. At first his lips were gentle and soft but soon they turned demanding and coaxed a response out of her, devouring her.
Khushi had heard of powerful physical attraction but never felt it before. She was stunned for a second or two when his lips stroked hers. Then she forgot everything- who she was, who he was and simply melted in his arms. All the anger since the time they’d first laid eyes on each other went puff and the only thing that seemed to have remained was this attraction that they felt for each other. She wound her arms around his neck and opened her mouth in response, inviting him in to taste her deeply. Arnav groaned softly when he felt her mouth open under his and deepened the kiss. He caressed her back, moulding her body to his as if they wanted to be one.
God, what was she doing to him? He’d never felt this raging fire pulsing in his veins before. It felt as if he’d die if he let go of her lips. Their breaths mingled and tongues touched, making him want to explore more of her- all of her. At this moment he couldn’t remember his name, let alone the fact that they were by the poolside and anyone could see them if they walked by. He could feel her inexperience in that kiss and for some reason that excited him all the more.
Exerting immense control over his body, Arnav slowly removed his lips from hers and stepped back so that he wouldn’t grab her again. He had to control himself because he knew in his gut that if he held her again, they wouldn’t let each other go. He was now sure that until they had sated each other’s hunger, this fire wouldn’t burn out. But for the moment, he would have to gain control. His good intentions almost flew out of the window when he saw the expression on her face. Khushi still had her eyes closed. As his lips left hers, she slowly licked them clean of his taste and took a deep breath. He groaned out loud.
“For heaven’s sake, take pity on me darling. Right now, if we don’t stop I will simply lay you down and take you right here, right now.”
That seemed to have an instant effect- her eyes snapped open as she looked at him dazedly first and then with growing horror on her face.
Khushi opened her eyes slowly, her senses still under the spell of the kiss. What a kiss that was! It felt as if she had only just come to life with that kiss. She licked her lips and she could taste him. She didn’t know what she craved for, only that he do it again and again until she felt completely replete.
A groan broke into her thoughts, and then she heard the words, softly spoken. Her eyes snapped open, growing wide with horror, her breathing wild. She looked at Arnav and her hands came up to cup her mouth. Devi Maiyya! Oh my goodness! What had she done! What had HE done to her! She had been almost ready to make love to him by the poolside, in view of anyone who cared to walk by! She was completely confused about her feelings at this time but she surely was better than this! How could she have done this? He made her do it!
Disgust and rage took hold of her senses, the cloud of desire completely lifted now. “How dare you! You can’ go around kissing anyone you feel like. Just because you’re rich and I’ll grant you- good looking, doesn’t mean you can come on to me!” She raged, her voice hoarse from the emotions she was going through. She lifted her hand as if slap him but at his quiet, “Be careful Khushi. If you slap me, you may go through another round of roller coaster of emotions you’re not ready to face yet. You gave as much as you got out of that kiss.”
Khushi turned away from him, her anger evident by the trembling of her body, “Forget that this ever happened! It’s just the kind of thing I should have expected from you. I’ve heard about you Arnav Singh Raizada. You’re a playboy out there in London, with many notches out on your belt. Don’t you even think that I’ll be one of them! You are disgusting!”
“You didn’t find me so disgusting a few seconds back when you were kissing me back. Had I not stopped, I could have -”
Khushi motioned him to stop with her hand out in protest, her eyes spitting fire now. “I didn’t know what I was doing, naïve that I am in these matters but you did. And you were out to take advantage of that fact. I know all about men like you. You don’t respect anyone or anything apart from being selfish and take all that you want, by any means.”
Aranv looked at her as if he would throttle her. His body was still on fire; only years of tightly reined in self-control was helping him keep away from her. However, his anger was swiftly replacing desire by her hot and cold attitude. He took a step in her direction. He was tempted to call her bluff off. He knew very well that he was not going to forget her and he sure as hell was not going to let her forget him.
A part of Khushi quailed at his look, but she kept up her brave girl façade, standing her ground and warning him, “Don’t you ever come near me,Raizada! If you do, I swear I’ll scream the house down and then your “good” repute can say bye bye.”
Arnav looked at her, incredulity plain on his face. Was she serious? She was brainwashing herself and laying all the blame at his door when she was just as responsible for what had happened between them! What was her game?
A part of him that always hastened to caution him; a part of him that always carried bitterness inside from his past came up quickly feeding on this doubt, taking over his brain. He forgot all about his feelings, his intentions towards her as his mind started whirring in a completely different direction. She was probably one of those girls who felt the need to trap a man in her clutches and feed on him like a parasite for the rest of her life. She was probably just like his mother. Something seemed to harden in him at that thought.
“I don’t think you’re naïve Khushi, quite the contrary in fact. Any girl who can kiss the way you do already knows the score. In our case, I am honest with my feelings and can tell you that I want you. You however, wish to play games.”
“Why you-” Khushi spluttered but didn’t get a chance to go any further as with a look full of cold contempt etched on his face he said, “ I don’t play games Khushi Kumari Gupta. Especially not with your kind; who think they can trap a man into marriage by seducing them with their big eyes and fake innocence. I am not Aakash who falls for the wiles of a woman.” He deliberately turned his next statement into a gauntlet, “I’d rather have you in my bed for free than be trapped for my entire life. If you wish to take me up on my proposition, do let me know.”
Saying this, he walked away leaving Khushi to come to terms with what he’d said. He wasn’t sure why but he looked back once — and saw her struggling with her tears. She was standing exactly where he’d left her. As if feeling his eyes on herself, she looked up and met his gaze. Slowly a tear fell from her eye. Soon a steady stream of tears began. Hastily Khushi turned away from him and walked to the other side of the pool side where stairs would lead her upstairs into the prayer room.
Khushi closed her eyes as that memory took her over and tears rained down her cheeks and on to the pillow. That first kiss held bitter sweet memories for her. She hadn’t understood then why he’d been brutal with her but as the time had passed and they had come closer, she had found out all about the reason behind his cruelty that evening. She had then realized that Arnav was not a bad person by nature. He was just a man who struggled and fought every day against his past memories. Sometimes he lost and sometimes he won. That evening was the time when he had lost.
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?”
A special mention- Diksha, my friend from Facebook. Get well soon DSR. 🙂
Please remember, flashbacks are in Italics.
“Khushi, so glad you were all able to make it to the exhibition.”
Plenitudes were being mouthed left, right and centre from everywhere by her acquaintance Jhalak who was a part of the art gallery. Khushi had been the main person responsible for arranging this visit thus she was the one being addressed by Jhalak.
Khushi smiled her reply, nodded at her and moved on with the group that she had come with. She was here with her German class group to study a group of paintings that were being exhibited. Being from an exulted background, most girls behaved snobbishly. They walked with their noses in the air, kissing each other’s cheeks perfunctorily and blabbering about paintings. Some of the paintings were really worth talking about, thought Khushi while the others were simply rubbish to her mind.
“I had no idea you were into art and painting.”
At the deep baritone of Arnav’s voice that made Khushi’s nerves tingle from head to toe, she closed her eyes and willed herself to calm down. She turned around and gave a polite smile, “Arnavji, what a surprise to see you here. Aakash keeps on insisting you have no time for menial pleasure from your work. So what brings you here?”
While her mouth spoke, her eyes were busy taking in the sight of him. It had been more than two months since she had last seen him. He had left for London a few days after their last encounter and come back. According to Aakash, there was no one that was as powerful and dynamic as his brother when it came to closing deals. He could charm the birds off the trees and be as cold as ice when need be. Khushi had no idea he had returned and her heart beat a little faster with him in vicinity as she remembered their last eye contact and how it had stirred a strange attraction towards this man. Those eyes had given her many sleepless nights and she had been irritated beyond limit with his face constantly in her thoughts. It had taken a lot of effort to erase him from her mind. Fine, she had not been able to do so completely but she had been making progress! And now he was back here again. Drat!
Today he was dressed in a formal suit. The white colour of his shirt gave him an ultra-sexy look, making the colour of his eyes shine out. A shiver passed through her body as she met his eyes. Truthfully speaking, if she had the choice she’d rather stare at him than at any painting, he was quite handsome, pity about the manners though- the thought sneaked in from somewhere making Khushi blush.He looked at her in a manner she found disturbing to say the least.
Arnav looked at Khushi with an eyebrow raised at her blush, that polite smile one was supposed to give absent from his face. He scowled as he thought about the cruel jokes fate sometimes played on humans. It had taken him quite a while to get over his impulse to fly back to India once he’d left after their last meeting. Her face had haunted his dreams. Thinking about her had made him ache for many days until he had gotten sick of taking cold showers. He was sure he was in lust with her, he’d never felt it so strongly before. Something pulled him towards Khushi and he sure as hell didn’t wish to give into it without knowing what it was that attracted him so badly to her. He didn’t want to! He knew women and their tendencies to cling. Life had taught him a lesson long time ago.
He had thrown himself into work and in the evenings, dated beautiful women but nothing had captured his attention for more than a few hours. He had not been able to sleep with any of the willing dates he had taken out in the last two months, simply because Khushi’s face kept appearing in front of his eyes. He had snapped at everyone until one day his Anjali di had lost patience, asked him to get his act together and sort out whatever it was that was troubling him. Finally, he had applied immense amount of control on his libido and shut his feelings out. He had firmly decided to not stay at his uncle’s place on his Delhi visit so that he could stay away from Khushi Kumari Gupta. And now, despite all his precautions, they’d met again. Karma was a bitch for sure!
Khushi was wearing a blue dress that showed off her legs to perfection. She had long and slender legs that were encased in heels. She looked adorably young for her years, innocent and fresh. Of course that was the illusion she must want to create, he thought to himself.
“A man needs to relax now and then. I’m here with a friend who’s – she must be here somewhere.” Arnav dismissed his partner with a flick of his hand, encompassing the gallery.
Poor woman, thought Khushi, she may have come with the mighty Arnav but was nowhere to be seen. While she felt sorry for his partner a voice cooed his name, “Oh Arnav darling, you’ve got to see this! How I wish I could buy it!”
Khushi and Arnav both looked in the direction of the voice. A woman stood in killing high heels next to the painting that to Khushi’s mind was an abstract done by a child. She was dressed in a black dress that had no back and reached her knees. It was the kind of dress that curved to the entire length of her body, leaving nothing to imagination. She held out a hand towards Arnav and she cooed again, “Come here darling please. You have to see this! I insist!”
“Close your mouth Khushi Kumari Gupta. You don’t want to catch flies.” Arnav’s barely suppressed mirth came to the fore with his mocking drawl that made Khushi’s mouth close snap shut as she glared at him. “I had no idea you were into piranhas.”
His charming grin disarmed her glare as he said, “She’s good, isn’t she for an arm candy? What do you say? Should I praise that painting and make her happy?”
Khushi could barely keep her dislike for the woman to herself. She was not sure what it was about the woman that made her dislike her on the spot but she didn’t want Arnav to know it. Keeping dislike out of her voice, she tried to act nonchalant as she replied, “By all means, if you think that will sweeten her. To my simple mind, it looks like a dog pooped in there and a kid took to it with a stick.”
“Careful or you may make me laugh and ruin my repute in the society Khushi. I do need to come to Delhi from time to time you know.” He murmured, his eyes glinting with wicked laughter. “Personally I share your view then again, who am I to judge?”
Khushi felt a blush rise to her cheeks. She was being impertinent and as usual, had spoken her mind without thinking first. He was almost a stranger after all and may take offense! She said, “Forgive me, you’re right. I’m no one to judge. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my friends. Enjoy your partner’s company Mr Raizada.”
“You’re here with more than one person?” Arnav’s raised his eyebrow again in question. She was starting to get annoyed with that eyebrow. She decided to act cool. Smiling, she said, “Yes, I’m here with more than one person; a single companion would bore me to death you see. If you’ll excuse me- good bye.”
She raised her head high in the air and walked off as Arnav nodded his bye and watch her go with his eyes narrowed, a tick in his jaw. All the way to her group, Khushi could feel the hair on the back of her neck tingling. She could feel him watching. She reached her group that was standing a little apart from others and smiled at them. “Are you guys done? Ich bin hungrig.”
One of the guys from the group laughed, “Du bist immer hungrig Khushi! Wir wissen das und sind nicht überraschend. (You’re always hungry Khushi. We know this and are not surprised.) There’s not a time when you’re not peckish sweetheart.”
Khushi gave him a wide smile, “Du hast das recht. (You have it right) But I can wait for a while. Tell me which painting did you like the best of all?”
While they discussed the paintings, Khushi turned back to where she had left Arnav. He had gone to the woman who had ooh-ed and aah-ed over that silly painting and was talking to her. He had his arm around her waist. She looked like a cat that had just been fed cream. Though the image made Khushi smile, seeing his arm around her waist made her feel uneasy. It made her want to go there and kick his nuts for keeping his arm around that woman’s waist. She dismissed the feeling by turning her back on him and walked off with her friends.
“So where are we planning to go? Do you guys wish to go back to Max Mueller Bhavan or somewhere else?” Khushi asked the group.
A girl from the group called Diksha chirped up, “Oh, how about we go to Delhi Haat? It would be fun.”
Khushi liked Diksha a lot. She was one of those happy-go-lucky girls who always had something nice to say about everyone. Her father was the owner of one of the most prestigious companies in India but she was unlike others, modest about her background.
Khushi smiled at Diksha, “Excellent idea Diksha. What say you guys?”
Sharad; the one who had spoken to Khushi earlier groaned, “No you guys, please not Delhi Haat. The moment we reach there, you girls will vanish into shops and we’ll hate to sit there waiting for you guys like fools. NO. Das passt bei mir nicht!
The girls made faces but agreed. Diksha shrugged her shoulders and took it philosophically. Khushi asked Sharad, “So where do you guys suggest we go?”
“How about going to the Club Bar? It’s not very far away from here.”
The idea seemed to get the general consensus and so they proceeded towards it. The Club Bar was a part of the Oberoi group of hotels. When they reached there, they were greeted with friendliness and courtesy. Most of them were known to the staff since they frequented the club quite often. Khushi smiled at one of the servers who blushed and got flustered, making the other girls giggle.
“Khushi, the guy is probably overwhelmed by your sunny smile. “ One of the girls said, giggling.
Khushi grinned and shrugged her shoulders, “And then they say we’re not polite. What’s a girl to do?”
Pratik, another guy who was a part of her group had his eyes on Khushi since long. He never left a chance to flirt with her, if he could. Now he slithered close to her chair and said, “He may not be able to absorb your brilliant smile Khushi but I always love it when you smile at me. You don’t do that often though.”
Khushi met his eyes and her smiled turned chilly, “Flirting with me doesn’t become you well Pratik since it leaves me absolutely cold. If you want a smile that is meant for you, you need to stop being so desperate. Ask the right girl and she may give you the right smile.”
Pratik’s smile wavered as he looked into Khushi’s cold eyes. He gave her a wan smile and turned towards the girl on the other side.
“Khushi, you’re too mean sometimes.” said Caroline who sat next to her and had heard the exchange.
“I don’t want him to get ideas, Caro. I don’t like him and putting him down gently doesn’t seem to work. This is the only way I can get through to him.” Khushi whispered in Caroline’s ears. As she started to move away, her eyes strayed across the table and clashed with Arnav’s amber ones. He met her eyes, raised a silent toast to her and then turned towards the woman he was with to smile and talk to her. She was the same woman who had been with him at the art gallery.
Khushi looked away and then back again. Something inside her rebelled at the idea of seeing him with another woman. The woman put her hands on Arnav’s hands that lay on the table and licked her lips.
“Ugh! Disgusting display of seduction.” Khushi muttered to herself, “What does she think he is- a dessert dish? Her hands almost look like claws to me. What does he even see in her, for heaven’s sake!”
“Whom are you talking about Khushi?” Caroline looked at Khushi, puzzled.
Khushi shook her head and said nothing. She couldn’t believe the rage that was developing inside her simply by looking at the pair of them sitting a few tables away from her. She decided to distract herself. She smiled at Sharad who sat across the table and said, “So Sharad, what are your plans for this evening? Partying hard as usual with your playboy lot?”
Sharad grinned at her and winked, “You know me well darling. If only you’d decide to accompany me to a restaurant one day, I’d leave all the partying aside.”
Khushi laughed genuinely this time. She was well aware that Sharad had no more interest in her than she had in him. He was in love with a nice girl and the families were about to fix his engagement to her. It was an old joke between them when she teased him about his playboy status and he flirted shamelessly but harmlessly with her.
“One of these days, I will say yes to you Sharad dahling, you’re going to go running off into the hills.” Khushi grinned at him. He leaned across the table and caught her hand that was lying on the table and said, “Try me sweetheart, I won’t run off. I promise!”
Khushi giggled and was about to slap his hand away when her gaze involuntarily skittered towards where Arnav was sitting. To her shock, she saw that he was glaring at her, his eyes spitting fire. His eyes moved and fixed where Sharad’s hand held Khushi’s on the table and his mouth tightened. He was not paying any attention to what the woman beside him was saying and she seemed to be put out by it. Thus Khushi found herself to be a prisoner of two pairs of hostile eyes. Aranv looked at her hand on the table again and clenched his fist.
Khushi’s eyes widened at this gesture from Arnav. What was his problem? She raised her eyes to him as if posing that question. He looked away uncomfortable and didn’t look back at her again. Confused Khushi averted her eyes from his table and looked at Sharad. “Er- well I -“ she had completely lost the track of the conversation.
Then she closed her eyes, mentally pulling herself away from what had just happened and remembered what she had been talking about with Sharad. “Well Sharad, we’ll just see when that happens.”
They didn’t stay long afterwards. While leaving Khushi looked at where Arnav was sitting, she found that he was totally focused on his companion. She was not sure why that upset her but it did. She left with the rest of the party.
It was much later that she had realized that it had been the first stirrings of jealousy that had upset her that evening. Something seemed to squeeze her heart tight at the memory of that evening. It was no use thinking about Arnav she thought had fallen in love with her and had been murderously jealous that day simply because Sharad had placed his hand over hers. He had later confessed that at the time he wanted to come to her table and punch Sharad for touching her.
The same Arnav who had declared such protective feelings towards her had not believed her and accused her of loose character when Shyam had almost raped her. Where had his protective instinct gone off then? He may have learnt the truth now and apologized but she could barely get over the hurt she had gone through. Khushi controlled a sob at the thought and berated herself for thinking of him. What good did it do thinking about him. He had apologized, and decided he wanted to take up from where they’d left off. When she’d rejected his plea and his advances, he had not even bothered to talk to her again and walked off. Her heart had wanted him to come back and beg for her forgiveness; she had wanted him to woo her but he had simply left. Since the day of Mallika’s engagement, he had not even called her once and apologized again or shown any signs of remorse.
A part of her mind mocked Khushi, “Why would he apologize again Khushi? Have you forgotten the humongous ego he carries around with him? He would have decided you were not worth the trouble and left off to pursue greener pastures. After all, he never loved you.”
Tears formed in her eyes and she wiped them away angrily. No, she would not cry, not for that unfeeling man. She should think of the task on hand for tomorrow. She was supposed to leave the house by seven for the camp. With grim determination, she left the garden and went up into her room.