The ride back into town was completed in silence. Arnav was lost in his own thoughts while he rode the scooter while Khushi was with her own musings as she sat behind him. The awkwardness of holding his waist that she had felt in the morning was gone. Now she not only had her hands on his waist but her head rested on his back. She had made her decision after this day spent together.
Arnav didn’t know if he could describe this feeling he was going through. A part of him was anxious, worried and tensed while a part of him was happy, at peace. How could he feel two contradictory emotions at the same time? The sun had set and he had put his aviators back into its box. Soon they would reach where they had started from in the morning and Khushi will tell him what her decision was.
Will she agree to give him a chance and take this further or will she simply shake her head and tell him that this day was all they could have together in the present? His heart and his soul was terrorized by the thought that Khushi may yet decide against giving him another chance to show her how much he loved her. His heart despaired at the thought. What good will be his life if she rejected him? How would he live? There was a time when he had not met Khushi and lived a joyless existence. He couldn’t dream of going back to it. He’d rather face thousand deaths with her than exist in this world alone, without Khushi. And yet.. a part of him insisted that he will have to accept it if that is what Khushi wished him to do. After what he’d said to her, done to her- it may be the only befitting punishment.
When they reached Barista, Khushi’s hands left his waist reluctantly. She moved her head to one side as he leaned back against her. Her involuntary movement brought her lips in contact with his shoulder and she couldn’t resist wanting to kiss it gently. She so much wished she could lean on his strong shoulders for the rest of her life. If her decision was correct, she may yet have that chance to do so, told her an inside voice.
Arnav felt her lips touch gently on his shoulder and shuddered. He was very anxious now. He wasn’t sure if that kiss was a gesture of acceptance of his regret or if it was a good bye kiss. His heart was in his mouth as he looked back at her, with his eyes a clear mirror of his anxiety. He wanted Khushi to know, he didn’t want to hide himself from her anymore.
Khushi looked into his eyes, looking for a single glimpse of that Arnav Singh Raizada who had been vile, who had accused her of horrible things, but she couldn’t find him. Instead all she could see was Arnav that she had fallen in love with, his eyes giving her a clear glimpse of his heart, his soul that spoke of goodness inside.
Khushi took the first step to break the eye contact. She had felt him happy at her touch the whole day through and she had also felt him shudder when her lips had touched his shoulder. She was aware now that love needed this physical touch to complete itself into one being. She couldn’t deny it. She couldn’t ignore this feeling by calling it lust and not love. She moved away from him and got down the scooter.
Arnav looked at her as she moved away from him and got down. His heart was beating a tattoo in his chest. What was she going to do? Arnav Singh Raizada was, perhaps the first time in his life helpless and had no control over the situation with regards to the fate of his life.
Khushi came up to the front of the scooter and said, “Shall we sit inside Arnav? I wish to drink something cool after a long ride.”
Together they went inside and Arnav went up to the counter to order. Khushi looked at him and sighed. She couldn’t not give Arnav a second chance.
His eyes spoke of the history of love in his life since beginning – the lost little boy searching for love that he had never found in his mother, the youth who had to grow up before his age, knowing his Anjali Di relied on his strong support since the day they had found out bitter truth about their parentage, the man who before he became successful had been hurt by women in his life and the man who hid himself from every eye, the one who had stopped looking for love in the world and become ruthless for the sake of his sanity.
She remembered well that weekend in Goa when they had spent the weekend together. They had fought and their fight had escalated to a level where Khushi had spent her entire day away from him. He had been worried out of his mind for her and in the late evening when she had come back, she had found him not angry but sick with worry. He had spent the entire day looking for her, even going to the hospitals to find out if she’d done something drastic. He had not shouted at her then. He had explained his reasons for being so aggressive and distrustful. He was a bastard and Anjali was only his half-sister. They shared their mother by blood but no one knew who his blood father was.
She remembered their dialogue. He had difficulty apologizing then and had come about with an explanation in a roundabout manner. His explanation had stunned Khushi. He had needed a strong shot of whiskey before he began with his explanation.
I may have been a bit out of line with the way I behaved today morning Khushi. With the –“ he paused as if thinking how to continue or even if he should.Then as if he couldn’t help himself, he continued, “-with the way I’ve been brought up and what I’ve seen of the world, I’ve always come across women who are ready to take advantage of men at the drop of the hat.”
“Excuse me? And that gives you the reason to generalize? You said some unforgivable things to me today Arnav. What if someone behaved like this with your own sister or your mother? Would you have forgiven them?” Khushi retorted with question of her own.
Frankly speaking, she had been taken aback by this turn of conversation. When he said he wasn’t going to apologize for his behaviour, she had been outraged and left the house. She had walked around for a long time on the beach and even gone to the church to calm her raging soul. Never in her life had she imagined that his explanation for what he had said to her in the morning would be something related to his past experiences!
“Anjali di.. you’ve met her. She already has a steady boyfriend and truthfully speaking, she would think about it carefully with her head and her heart before she ever said yes to a guy. My mother-she was one of those women I despise today. She thought she could use her wealth, her fool of a husband’s wealth to trap the man who sired me. Told herself she was in love and was taking the right path to a better life. “
A look of such hatred crossed his features that Khushi could only gape at him. He hated his mother and thought she was– but why?
“I am a bastard Khushi. My mother was married to the man I am honoured to call father but he was not my blood father. I was adopted by him as his son and he loved me as much as he would his own. We don’t even know until some time back who my blood father was. What I found out simply increased my disgust for my mother and her deeds. The man was a married guy who used to come to London for business trips. She says she fell in love with him and in his trap. The truth was my mother had lured him many times with money and the fool she was, she never realized that is all he wanted from her. She cheated on my father again and again with that-that man.
Nani had come to England to take care of Anjali Di as my mother was incapable of taking care of her. Hell, she was incapable of thinking about anyone else but herself! When the family name started getting smirched due to her affair coming out to open in public, my father banished her to the family mansion in the countryside. Nani went along with her to ensure she may behave herself. That was when they found out about me. Father had already divorced her by then.
Apparently, unbeknown to nani and my father, she had kept in touch with the guy, pleading him to come back and marry her. He kept on promising marriage.” A look of utter disgust had crossed his face, “I was the result of one of those meetings Khushi. My father adopted me, gave me his name and declared me his heir when I was born but disowned her from his property. He took me away from my mother then since she had gone berserk from anger. Once that news reached the guy, he wanted nothing more to do with her. His golden chicken was dead and he wanted to wash his hands off her. She died soon after, in a car accident. She was broken hearted and depressed when she drove that car. “
Khushi didn’t dare interrupt him. She stayed quiet to hear him out. It looked as if he hadn’t finished. Her heart had bled for the little Arnav who had been told the truth when he was able to understand it. His voice held no emotion; it was as if he was simply talking about weather. But now, admiration crept into his voice.
“I will always be grateful to my father for everything he did for me. I may have not been his sired son but he didn’t consider me any less and for that I guess, I am grateful. He gave me his name, and raised us single-handedly. He was not a very affectionate man but he was kind. I will always admire and respect him for that. But he was bitter. He never married again. He had loved my mother and she had broken his heart again and again until it was irreparable.
He sent us to the best boarding schools and visited us often. He loved me in his own way I guess and taught me good things. My father taught me to stand on my two feet and become successful by my own intelligence and my own means. I borrowed money for the capital of my first business and paid him back in full when I succeeded.
One thing he taught me very early on was to be aware of gold diggers and opportunists. Rich men or rich women were always prone to emotional attacks if they weren’t careful. That was a lesson well learnt by me Khushi early on, right after my first infatuation left me for a rich man because I had refused to inherit my father’s money.
I learnt the lesson early on that my father was right when he’d said women are like leeches. Most women that I’ve met fall under the same category. When one is as rich as I am, women fall over themselves to come into contact of any kind and will do anything to make sure they get something out of it. Over the years, I found most women simply wanted money. Some were over ambitious and wanted the Raizada name for what it could bring to them. I found my father was right.
The only woman who ever loved me for myself was my Anjali Di. I received all the love I could get from her in my childhood. She cared for me when there was no one else. So you’ve got to understand Khushi, I’m not –“
He had not been given a chance to complete as Khushi had rained kisses on his face, crying for the little boy he’d lost somewhere inside him and conversation had ceased with the understanding that she had forgiven him. Passion had reined them.
Today he had laid bare his need for her forgiveness and love; she could vulnerability, his fear of losing her forever. He was not perfect, yes. He had made mistakes, yes. He had hurt her, used her and had only physically desired her. But just like those facts was also the fact that he had admitted his guilt and regretted his actions bitterly. He was ready to love and he needed someone who could hold his hand and let himself be loved. How could she not love him after looking at the purity of intentions in his eyes? Her answer was ready and on her lips to be uttered when he came back.
“I see you have changed your taste in clothes. Blue most certainly suits you though. Good morning Khushi.” Arnav said as soon as he saw Khushi parking her scooter at the Barista parking. He was wearing a green vest with Khakhi coat and same coloured baggy pants today.
He looked mouth wateringly sexy, thought Khushi as she gave him her first glance this morning. She parked her scooter carefully and slipped the keys in her purse. Then she looked up at him, avoided his question on her choice of clothes for the time being and gave him a sombre smile, “Good morning to you too. All ready for the day out as a common man with 500 rupees in your pocket?”
Arnav showed his wallet that held five notes of hundred each and at her nod, put the wallet back in his back pocket. Her looked like a man ought to look, oozing manliness and with a smirk that could capture any woman’s heart on his face.
“So what’s the first place in the list of places to visit?” Arnav asked, leaning against the car he’d parked.
“I plan to take you to the places that are an integral part of this town. Today I’m going to take you to the famous Naini Lake, thandi road, the ropeway and to Kilbury in the end. I wanted you to visit the Naina devi temple as well since the view from there is amazing but .. I’ll leave that on how the day goes. We will watch the sun set in Kilbury and come back as that is a sight not to be missed. But first-“
“Sounds like I’ll be moving into your magical land of nature, beauty and tranquility today. Khushi-“
Arnav broke in and a look of discomfort passed his face as Khushi looked on. He continued, “Khushi, are you sure we don’t need more money?”
Arnav kept on thinking of ways to woo Khushi. What if she liked something while they were looking and wanted to buy it but didn’t have enough money on her? If he didn’t have any, he won’ be able to buy anything for her too! This thought made him uncomfortable. He’d never faced lack of cash since the day he turned successful.
“Arnav, I am absolutely sure you won’t need more money. However, if you want to shop for Anjali Di or Dean any time, you may of course do it later when you’re by yourself. I’m sure you’ll remember the way with your photographic memory.” Khushi smiled a little too brightly.
She could have bitten her tongue when the information about photographic memory slipped out. She remembered very well the last time it had come into picture and she didn’t want to think of that time. A rosy hue covered her cheeks.
“Ah yes- my photographic memory.” Judging by the way his eyes became unfocused, Khushi could see he remembered the same moment in time when she had last used the word and what had been the result of it.
Khushi could have groaned out aloud in frustration at her gaffe. She didn’t want him to remember anything today that was associated with their past. How in the world were they going to move ahead in the present if they kept on thinking about the past?
She looked away from his piercing gaze and into the distance for a second to gather her thoughts. Then as if she was done with the task, she spoke briskly, “Alright then. First on the list is Bhimtal. It is about 25 kilometers away from here and famous for water sports. I need to meet someone there as well so that’ll be my one task done.”
Arnav was curious, “Whom do you plan to meet out there? Isn’t that a very small place?”
“Yes it is, but I have a contact there that works with local small businesses. I have to speak to him.”
“You promote local products? What kind of products?” Arnav was not surprised that Khushi was working to promote local small business. But he was surprised with the knowledge that despite being so out of spirits and terribly hurt when she had come to Nainital, she put her miseries behind to help others. She had been immersed in good work for others while he only ever thought about himself. A wave of regret washed him as he looked at Khushi with new eyes that adored her even more. Maybe this was why he had adored her and not known it. Arnav tapped on his inherent nature of hiding pain when he felt it and looked at her with question in his eyes.
Khushi blushed as she saw admiration in his eyes. She stammered, “I-It’s—nothing really. It’s just that I’m helping some people with their tour guide business; you know, for campers who come to visit the town and don’t wish to live in big hotels but in vicinity of nature during their entire stay. It’s nothing really.”
“I’m sure whatever it is that you’re helping them with, it is doing great things for their business.” Arnav said confidently, making Khushi’s face break into a smile. She liked this Arnav- he had great confidence in her abilities as opposed to the one who mocked her efforts in the past. The memory of how he had once humiliated her in the office by mocking her while praising her wiped the smile of her face. She turned abruptly to her purse and started hunting for keys to her scooter inside. She found them and handed it to him.
“Here you go. You’re going to drive my scooter for today.”
A look of horror passed on Arnav’s face as he looked at the keys and the scooter she had just parked. He closed his eyes visibly hesitant about her plans and his ability to ride what looked like a vehicle made for girls. Khushi giggled inwardly. His Highness is not going to forget this trip so easily after what he’ll have to go through. She taunted softly, “Scared Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada?”
“Arnav Singh Raizada is not scared of anyone and most certainly not of your tin pot scooter ride Khushi Kumari Gupta. I’m just meditating on something from work.” Arnav’s offended and outraged reply, with his eyes still closed came pat back.
Khushi giggled loud this time. “Meditate my foot! Don’t be chicken Arnav. This scooter is quite safe. You wanted to spend the day with me and this is how I spend my day when I roam about.” She moved on towards her Scooty Pep and said, “What are we waiting for?”
Arnav opened his eyes, a calm stealing over him. He can do this. If driving that small scooter, he gulped, was going to make Khushi happy, he will do it. He took the keys from her hand and asked her about how it operated. She instructed him on what to do to start the scooter and things he should be careful about while driving the scooter in the town and then on the outskirts of the town.
Arnav wore his helmet while Khushi put on hers. He sat on the scooter feeling ridiculous and Khushi sat behind him. Arnav started and then smiled. Maybe this scooter riding was not such a bad idea after all since Khushi was going to sit very close to him. He felt zinging electricity run through him when she actually put her hands around his waist.
“What the—“his voice didn’t resemble his own at the moment to his ears. It sounded shocked and strangled. He tried again, “What are you doing Khushi?”
Khushi spoke to his back, “I need to make sure I don’t fall off. Now drive along kind Sir and I shall guide you on the way.”
With a huge grin on his face, Arnav rode off. They moved away from the town soon and were on the outskirts. Khushi didn’t speak much, simply pointed out various places they may visit on the way or places that were worth watching. Arnav loved the feel of her hands around his waist and would have loved to spend an eternity riding the scooter. Unfortunately for him, they reached Bhimtal too soon. He now wished he had not speeded. He kicked himself mentally for not driving at the minimum speed. No matter, he had this whole day with Khushi holding on to him on the scooter. Just the thought of it brought out radiating happiness in his eyes.
Not that Khushi could see his eyes since he was wearing his Aviator glasses. But she could feel that he was happy. She felt a smile reach her lips at the knowledge that he was happy but she fought it back. Her hands made to leave his waist but he was driving fast and she really was scared that she’d fall off so she let them be. What she had thought would be a prank to make him uncomfortable was turning against her. She could feel the heat of his body and shivered with the contact every time her chest hit his back when he braked. Physical attraction had a lot of answer for, making a person mad with desire like that. She muttered a few choice curses against her own body and tried to keep a distance. It was impossible of course since the scooter had only so much sitting space. She heaved a sigh of relief when they reached Bhimtal. A guy was walking towards them. Probably her contact, thought Arnav. The guy came up and after bowing to a Namaste said, “Ki haal hariyaan?”
Khushi answered with a namaste and “Main theek choon. Tum kas chou Anand? Ghar pan sab kas chan? Mein lag oonuk dekh ber khushi holi. Mein itvaar din oonake koshish karounl. “
The guy nodded vigorouly, „Sab theek chan didi. Sab tumuko(n) bahut din baad dekhi ber khush haie jaala.”
Khushi smiled as she walked off with him, leaving a stunned Arnav. She spoke Kumaoni? Bitterness welled up inside him. How shallow he had been when he’d been with her in the past? He’d never once asked her what she liked, what she could do, what were her interests, who all were associated with her life that didn’t revolve around him. Hell, he’d never even known who her best friends were. How selfish he had been, talking only about what he wanted, who he was and how he was! He swore again that he’d make up to her for all the time he didn’t pay attention to her; the real Khushi inside that dynamite body.
He watched Khushi as she walked up to the guys standing in the group outside a building in Bhimtal. Khushi had asked him to wait by the scooter while she finished her talk. She didn’t want to include him yet in what she was doing. The thought hurt Arnav a bit but he braved it. After all, it would take time to earn back the same level of friendliness and trust where they could talk about anything they wanted.
He looked on as Khushi smiled and talked. She was explaining something and everyone around her was paying attention. At times, their faces were wreathed with smiles and at times laughter. It fascinated Arnav how a small smile on their faces made Khushi’s eyes glow and her animation increase. She used her hands to make gestures, a lot! Finally, they seemed to have concluded the talk and Khushi said Namaste to them and walked back to Arnav.
“Work done?” Arnav asked with a smile. Her reply was a reciprocating smile and nod. She sat behind him once again and said, “Quite satisfactorily in fact. Thanks for asking.”
“Where to next Ms. Guide?” Arnav looked back at her. The smile tugging the corners of her mouth was very tempting. Her luscious, plump, pink, lips with sheen of wetness on them were too inviting. Arnav felt like kissing her but stopped his impulsiveness on time. There were others present here; others who respected Khushi, her morals, her ideals and her work. He wouldn’t do anything that will bring her down in their eyes.
“Next, we go back into town and to Naini Lake.” Khushi quipped, rubbing her lips as if she could feel his thoughts. Arnav looked forward again and started the scooter. Soon they were back in Nainital and moving towards Naini Lake.
The view around was calm and beautiful. It was still early morning so there were very few people around. Apparently tourists crowded the area at about noon. Khushi wanted to know if Arnav would like to do some boating.
“Paddle boats?” asked Arnav.
“No, I mean boating, with a boat man who would row the boat while you sit and enjoy the nature around you in peace.”
“I’m in. Let me go buy the tickets.”, said Arnav. Khushi stopped him.
“Do buy some popcorn for me please while you’re getting the tickets. I already have a bottle of water for us and a picnic basket for later. I always eat popcorn when I’m in the boat.”
Arnav looked at her with amused eyes and she blushed. He definitely didn’t need to know that! Damn her stupid mouth. Khushi lowered her eyes and immediately looked back up when Arnav’s hand came to grasp her chin.
“Look up Khushi. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ll get your popcorn.”
The look in his eyes was enough to make Khushi want to sit down. It held tenderness and understanding that he had never displayed before. She liked this Arnav, a lot actually! Arnav made quick work of it and came back holding a popcorn bag and tickets. He motioned with his eyes towards the boat and Khushi followed him.
When the boat ride ended, Arnav got out of the boat and held out his hand for Khushi to grasp and come out. One look at his face and Khushi couldn’t help but give her hand to him. This boat ride had brought as much revelation to her about her own self as well as Arnav. She let her thoughts flow for a moment thinking about the boat ride.
Arnav Singh Raizada who always believed in the being at the helm of any boat, captaining it had allowed the boatman to row while he sat, contented and happy. His face held an aura of joy as he looked around, absorbing the quiet, listening to the chirping of the birds, sound of the oars dipping and coming out of the water, in fact Khushi felt as if he had actually become one with nature. Khushi had brought red, juicy apples with her to eat during the boat ride; a breakfast of sorts. She offered one to Arnav and ate one herself along with her popcorn. Arnav was happy to munch on the apple alone and smiled his thanks. While he behaved like that, Khushi had thawed a little in her attitude towards him.
Here was the man she had dreamed of, the one she had fallen in love with and could easily fall in love with again. Here was the man who was confident that he could do whatever he wanted to but for the moment, he was ready to let someone else take the lead and stay content. The only thing that had broken the calm waters of her happiness was the thought that he was also the same man who had accused her of infidelity and lack of character. It was so hard to keep track of all the bitterness when she saw this side of him.
Perhaps her bitterness had shone through for Arnav had looked at her, his eyebrows raised in question. She had shaken her head and smiled as if to convey all was well and she was happy that he was enjoying.
Arnav looked at Khushi and said, “Thank you for bringing me here. I enjoyed the boat ride and the view but most of all, I enjoyed our companionable silence. I have never shared that with anyone before.”
Such a simple admission but it worked wonders. Khushi’s face took on a smile as she told him, “Glad you liked the boat ride. Now we move to Nainadevi Temple? Or do you wish to skip it? We could opt for the ropeway. Walking on thandi sadak is something that should be done later on.”
“Khushi this is the day you planned. I wanted to see Nainital with your eyes. If you think the temple is the next place to go to, by all means- let us go. I have nothing against the gods these days. I am thankful to them for many things, one of which is you.”
Khushi looked away from him as tears gathered in her eyes and a lump formed in her throat. Oh he was the devil to say things like that! Didn’t he know how those words affected her? His next words surprised her completely.
“I’m sorry Khushi. I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t want you to feel that I’m simply mouthing words to please you or trying to get you back by sweet talking. I mean it but you don’t need to hear it right now I guess.”
“It is all right Arnav. Let us move on.” Khushi said and simply moved away. She was not sure how to respond to his shocking statement.
They visited the temple, enjoyed the view of Mall road from the temple. Khushi told him that coming here always had a calming effect on her. She found the place serene and gorgeous and could sit for hours on end. Arnav quietly agreed that the place was indeed gorgeous but also mentioned that he was somehow happier with nature rather than sitting in vicinity of the temple. His God was nature. Khushi looked at him, trying to gauge how serious he was about his declaration. This- from Arnav, who had once absolutely rejected the idea of talking about his feelings, when it came to religion and God!
They went to the ropeway the next which was quite uneventful. Soon it was lunch time. They sat down by the park close to the ropeway and picnicked there. Khushi had brought a picnic basket which had been stored inside her Scooty Pep storage box along with a red rug to sit on. The fare was simple. Sandwiches- vegetable and cheese since Khushi knew Arnav liked them and some salad. For dessert, she had packed some ripe peaches. They ate their lunch while sitting completely at ease with each other, talking about non-related topics like politics and finance.
While she packed the empty plates back and the rug, Arnav cleared the area of any debris and threw the waste into the garbage can close by.
It was one of the best days of his life, Arnav decided while they were walking along the thandi sadak. Not only had Khushi been relaxed and spoken to him as if they’d never fought, she had also opened up to physical contact. She didn’t flinch so much when he accidentally brushed against her or touch her. She had held him by the waist all day whenever they sat on her scooter. Of course, the sexual current was vibrant every time that happened but she ignored it and he tried to ignore it. He loved this day because it brought Khushi closer to him. He was wondering if he could plan out his next step soon.
Thandi Sadak had pine trees, deodar trees and oak trees lined up along its sides, and was in actuality a cool road to walk on. The green hills that surrounded the town and the lake were a balm to his soul. The singing of the birds made for a lovely song that he could hear. He knew Khushi shared this song because he could see the same smile on her face too when she looked up to hear the birds chirping.
It was time for the Sun to set before they reached Kilbury. Khushi went on to talk about it as Arnav looked on at the view laid in front of him.
“You can see the Himalayas on that side and here, on the other side you see “Tarai” area, fields divided into terraces and village houses. The forest around is made up of lush oak, pine and rhododendron. There are many people who come here for a picnic or simply to sit and watch the clouds hover about. I love coming here with my book when I don’t have anything else on my mind.”
Arnav grinned at her, “I like your idea of coming here with a book; no distractions and pure quiet; something that is missing in Delhi big time. Is there a place to stay out here?”
Khushi pointed to a guest house up ahead, “That’s the forest bungalow where you can stay if you wish to come here. But then, you’ve got a cottage in the countryside in England. Why’d you wish to come here?”
Arnav shrugged his shoulders, “It’s a good place and that’s probably why. Plus you like it here, don’t you?”
Khushi looked away from him and said, “Yes, I like it here.”
Arnav put his hand under her chin and made her look up, “Khushi, I will come here because I know you like it here. If you are here, where else can I be?”
“Arnav-“ Khushi tried to speak but stopped with a gasp as Arnav came closer to her. She took a step back and tried to move away but he held her by the shoulders, gently.
“Stop running away from me Khushi. It hurts me when you do that. I am not about to do anything that you wouldn’t allow me to or want me to.” Arnav told her gently, not wanting to spoil the last hour with her. “I want to watch the sun set with you out here Khushi. I want to watch it while your hand rests in mine. Can we do that? Please?”
Khushi couldn’t deny him, not after his request. She quietly nodded and they sat down by the ledge, waiting for the sun to go down, hand in hand.
Chapter 19C: Flashback in Italics
“Aowww damn it!” Khushi swore and despite several lectures to not go there, her brain transported her to the time and the incident when he had taken her to his beach house in Goa for the weekend before he had proposed.
Arnav had been giving her a tour of his beach house, if a 3,000 square feet of elegancy could be called a beach house. It looked more like a picture out of the “House” magazine. The interior of the house was stunning with loads of space, creamy walls, French windows that opened out to the beach, with hardwood floors.
Khushi inspected the house with her hands on her hips, her mouth open at the beauty of the interior and the art pieces that graced the walls and some well known sculptures adoring the living room.
“Huh.. so you call this a beach house? It should be declared an art gallery. Khushi murmured as she gazed at the painting that depicted the ocean trees around it and people dancing around the camp fire. She looked at him with raised eyebrows, “ Memory sketched into painting?”
“Hardly something that I’d leave to adorn the walls of my living room.” Arnav sniggered and then said, “Nah, this is the scene from ‘the night in the Bahamas’ collection.”
Khushi rolled her eyes, “Another display of your wealth Arnav.. same difference. I wonder why do you do that?”
“You know why Khushi and I don’t see anyone else complaining.” Arnav shrugged
“Yes, of course. Who’d dare defy THE Arnav Singh Raizada? There’s also the fact that many cater to the whims of the rich in the society we live in, regardless of whether they like the person or not. Thank God I am reasonably poor as compared to you.” Khushi joined her hands in her usual gesture while praying to her Devi Maiyya.
Arnav looked at her, “How unambitious of you!” then called for Mrs De’Souza while letting Khushi know that she and her husband take care of this house in his absence and keep it ready for him all the year around in case he pops by. Khushi raised her hands to her face, cupping her mouth and her eyes wide, “OMG Arnav! Such extravagance! Wonder how you live with yourself. You could donate the amount you spend to keep this house ready for you or fund an – never mind. Everyone has their eccentricities and this is yours.”
They moved towards the living room area and into the wing of guest rooms that began with a huge hallway.
“This is your room. I hope you like it.” Arnav said, opening the door to reveal a set of rooms painted in apricot and cream. “I’m on the other side of the house. If you need me, just call me through the house intercom.”
As they left the guest wing and entered the living room area, Khushi said, “Why’d I need you Arnav? You brought me here ‘cos you needed me to help you with your project. I won’t need you.”
“You’re so sure you won’t need me?”Arnav raised an eyebrow. At his question, Khushi shrugged. Just because she liked him didn’t mean she will call for him at night, even if the dark scared her. She could always sleep with the lights on. She wanted him to see she was his equal, maybe more than a match for him at work. She absolutely didn’t want to think of him on personal basis. She kept the lid of her emotions closed tight when it came to Arnav Singh Raizada. There was no way she was going to let the events of the past repeat themselves. She was determined to keep him at an arm’s distance. She smiled sweetly and affirmed, “Very sure. If I think about it, it is you who needs me and not me who needs you.”
Arnav looked at her, his head cocked to one side, “How is it that I need you Khushi?”
Khushi felt this moment called for a bit of a bold statement. He was always the one in control while her emotions raged rampantly everywhere every time they were together. Time to give him the taste of his own medicine.
Khushi smiled, “You, Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada are always looking around for me when you need a file or a document or when you wish to talk to me about Aakash and Payal and how fed up you are of Aakash always lost in his day dreams and not paying attention to what you are saying, etc. You hound me with the help of your mobile and don’t let me sleep.. telling me I’m the only one you think you can talk to. Remember the time in the office where you came after me, annoyed because I had left my mobile phone behind during lunch and you wanted to know where the Singhania folder with contract documents might be? You almost had a nervous breakdown then.”
“That’s a gross exaggeration if I’ve ever heard one.” Arnav said and took a step forward towards her, a glint in his amber eyes indicating he was a little annoyed.
As he stepped forward, Khushi took a step back. She mentally noted that she stepped back every time he came forward. Was she afraid? Nah! An inner devil prompted her to say, “You may not want to own up to it but it’s true. When have I needed you for anything?”
Her question with arched eyebrows met silence from Arnav. His amber eyes held hers and she saw a flicker of emotion there, hot fire that she had come to become wary of. She took another step back, a tiny thrill going down her spine and a surge of adrenaline rushing through her body. Arnav was looking at her with that hot fire in his eyes. Those eyes were going to kill her one day, with the way they looked at her, as if they could look right into her, deep down and reach the basic level of her emotions, the foundation of her being. With heat in his eyes, he leaned in a little closer, tantalizing her nose with the smell of his aftershave. He smelled like deep, dark wood that bound mystery and fantasy into one. He leaned a little more close as she leaned back.
Slowly, deliberately, very deliberately Arnav placed his right hand on the wall next to Khushi’s shoulders and then just as slowly placed his left one on the other side, trapping her between him and the wall. Leaning closer, so close that their bodies nearly touched, he said softly, “You know what i think? I think you’re lying Khushi. I think you have needs too; needs that you need me for.”
His husky voice sent shivers down her spine. His body warmth felt like a live wire, wrapping itself around her body. She felt her tummy tingle and tighten. She stuttered but carried on firmly, “Of c-course I have needs. I need 7 hours of sleep every night, the more the better, I need three full meals a day, snacks in between, challenging work, daily regime of 20 minutes of exercise while I-“
“-lie naked in my bed.”
Khushi’s mouth dropped open in sheer shock, her cheeks going from bright pink to red. Her heart stopped for a second, then re-started and then beat faster. She snapped her mouth closed immediately in panic lest it be taken as an invitation. Her mind scrambled to think of a fitting retort but came up blank. Her mind had gone in deep freeze, it seemed.
Arnav leaned even closer as his mouth met her ear. He didn’t attempt to kiss her ear, instead whispered sexily in it, “Actually twenty minutes may be too quick. I’d recommend a minimum of forty or even the entire day if possible.” His eyes when he leaned back met hers.. sexual hunger apparent in them.
Khushi was tongue-tied, literally! Still blushing, she tried to speak, urging her brain to wake up an come with a sharp retort. She lifted her chin, her heart beating like jungle drum of one-two dance, making her head spin and her body ultra-alive. “Thanks for the offer but I believe there’s plenty of exercise I can do without troubling you.”
Arnav’s eyes laughed at her, “Really?”
She fought the sudden urge to let her eyes smile back at him. She let her imagination run wild in the other direction so that she could distract herself from the fact that he was too close to her right now. She knew the style of warm-up and the aerobic activity he was talking about- the one that ended in bed and in tears. She recommended a cool-down phase to her body as she said, “ Uhh.. yes. The things I have in mind don’t require me to – they require no nudity at all.”
‘But nudity is good. You’re naked when you bathe.”
“Yes, good logic but I bathe in private. In public, I prefer clothes on my body.”
Arnav’s mouth leaned closer to her ear again, practically grazing her earlobe. She was sensitive there. A zing went through her body at that contact and she almost stopped breathing when he said, “But I can show you how the right activity can motivate you to be…naked” and after a pause “with me.”
Her heart beat at such a frantic speed that she was sure he could hear it out loud. She loved the feel of his lips on her earlobe and the tender skin that he had decided to explore below, oh so slowly. A shiver ran down her as he caught her ear this time between his teeth and held it. He was teasing her, he was tormenting her and he wanted her to melt in his arms. Something that Khushi knew she loved but should definitely avoid.
But how can she ignore this ache inside her, making her feel the driving need to do exactly as he was saying? When she stayed quiet, he whispered again into her ear, “Come on Khushi, admit it. You do like the idea of being naked with me, maybe even skinny dipping in the night in the sea with me.”
Khushi fought hard but a grin surfaced and stuck to her mouth. Arnav sounded as if he was getting a little frustrated that she was silent and not responsive enough. That she was fighting. She decided there was no harm in some fun at his expense. Anyway, she was intrigued about those things he’d said. She deliberately let her eyes go unfocused as if she was thinking, “I – don’t know Arnav. Maybe- once I’m done with all the activities there are to do out here on the beach, all by myself.”
His reply was to kiss her throat and bite the side of it gently as if punishing her for torturing him. The touch of his lips on her throat; a brief touch and the light bite set the fire in her body roaring. He licked the place where he had bitten making he visibly shiver as he asked, “-activities by yourself, eh? What kind of activities?”
Khushi sighed, her voice dropping to a whisper, heat in her body growing my mini-second, “Everything. There’s endless number of activities I can occupy myself with this weekend here.”
“Name ‘everything’. Name a few of them.” Arnav kissed the collarbone, licking the nerve throbbing there. Khushi gasped as his tongue flicked the region of her collarbone. “I’m waiting Khushi.” He added just before sliding his mouth up the neck, to her ear and kissing her ear.
Khushi felt her thoughts becoming a complete muddle in her head at this gesture. She felt as if her brain had decided to take leave and go away from her body. Her skin was on fire everywhere his mouth had touched. She grabbed his shirt front and clung to him, moving closer. She needed contact, more contact of her body to his.
“Khushi?” Arnav prompted. Khushi tried to think, tried hard while he continued touching her, kissing her. Her mouth dried, her belly tied into knots when he reached the neck of her halter top. She wanted him to touch her, wanted his hands down her ribs, playing with her breasts, under her breasts, sliding down the complete length of her. She was trying hard not to think of how his mouth was moving over the line of her tank top when sudden inspiration made her speak up. “Swimming.”
He was smart and had not lost his senses yet. “That’s one activity. What else?”
“Isn’t that enough?” Khushi was barely able to speak, her voice turning hoarse with desire.
“No, not enough. Tell me more.” Arnav answered, his hands moving to her face, cupping it, titling the head while the side of her neck was exposed. His fingers moved towards her nape and caressed her there. Khushi shuddered. She had no idea this was one of her erogenous spots. His lips followed his hands, kissing an invisible spot on the nape of her neck. At the touch there, Khushi’s chest came out to meet his and a moan dragged from her mouth, “Arnav stop please!”
“Your actions belie your words Khushi.” Arnav chuckled as Khushi gripped his shirt tighter holding him closer to her, pressing herself against him. He had turned devious though. “You said endless number of activities.”
He was touching her, tasting her and literally driving her crazy. How could she think when she was being bombarded by sensations from head to toe? She choked as she said, “jogging.”
“That’s two activities.”
‘jogging” Khushi said, the word turning into a moan as he moved her to face the wall, her back to him. He moved closer, his hands slowly sliding down the exposed back. He kissed her ear again from the back and said, “more Khushi?”
Khushi could only moan and say, “yes!” She heard the chuckle as he said, “so tell me, what more activities do you have in mind?”
Khushi looked back at him, her eyes betraying the fire burning inside her body and she spoke again, “jogging-“
He kissed her again by the ear, “you already said that honey.” Khushi could feel the fire burning, the heat building. This was nothing to be taken lightly and she’d been a fool to have provoked him, she accepted. This was wild- this passion and it was making her wild with need. It was new to her and very strong and she didn’t know how to handle this. She wriggled, helplessly moving backwards until her back touched his chest completely and she could feel the hard stomach and something harder beneath that stomach. She tried to speak, “snorkelling, sailing in the boat, sailing in the boat-“
“One activity can be counted only once Khushi.” Arnav said, almost losing his control when Khushi moved her hips against his stomach, making him harder than he already was for her. He desired her so intensely that he wanted to run his hands on her bare thighs and put his hands under her short skirt. But he was strong and he could control. He didn’t want to touch her below her waist yet. Not yet. At this moment, he didn’t want to stop this torture and this slow fire that burned their bodies. He waited.
“What about kissing? That’s an activity.” Khushi sighed, turning towards him again. She wanted to touch those lips, she needed them on hers.
He was the ultimate tease though. He didn’t kiss her despite knowing she wanted it. He lifted his head and moved a little away from her, considering her question. It brought a groan of need out of Khushi’s lips as she said, “Please Arnav. I need you to kiss me. Stop this teasing.”
He bent towards her, his elbows bending by the sides so that he was completely leaning onto her, crushing her chest with his and grinding his hips against hers. She responded back in kind and moaned. He still didn’t kiss her.
Suddenly Khushi couldn’t stand it anymore. She reached up to him, winding her arms around his neck and dragging his mouth to meet hers. She slashed his lips with her tongue and kissed him hard. Her lips parted again for him to enter. She wanted to open for him all the way. She couldn’t resist. She wanted to experience him, feel her blood racing across her veins, inside out. The kiss deepened while she grew soft and pliant in his arms. This was the best sensual experience that she’d ever had yet. She wondered what it’d be like if she surrendered totally to her needs.
As if sensing what she was thinking, Arnav lifted his head and took a deep breath. He moved a little away from her now, breaking body contact and then coming back again to press himself harder as he said, “So.. We’ve proved that you do need me, even if it is not naked then at least for a kiss.”
It took some time for the statement to penetrated Khushi’s desire fogged mind but as she did, she pushed him away, horror written plainly over her face at what she’d done, what she’d said to him. Arnav smiled slightly as she started smoothing her top and straightening her skirt that had ridden a little higher.
Her lips tingled and her body was still aching for his, the fire of need going strong. Khushi clamped it down by saying briskly, ignoring his statement, “Thanks for the house tour. I’m going to go into my room and- freshen up. I know where everything is now.”
“I do too Khushi.” Arnav’s smile stretched wider, laughter just beneath the warm glint of his amber eyes. Khushi blushed again as the meaning of his sentence seeped in. She gritted her teeth, gave him a blank smile and moved away. She didn’t really look where she was heading to. All she wanted to do was move away from his physical presence and calm herself down. The result of not looking where she was going was that she bumped her nose into the wall and wailed, “oowww!! Bloody hell!”
Immediately Arnav came to her rescue, concern all apparent in his eyes, “Khushi!” He took her hands away from the nose and looked at it. Then tut-tutted, “you’re so careless I swear! Dekh kar nahi chal sakti! Stupid woman. Idhar aao ab! Come with me.” He caught her hand in his and started walking towards the kitchen.
Khushi blushed with embarrassment and outrage. She tried to remove her hand from his, “How dare you call me stupid! You- you… “
“I don’t like you swearing but you just won’t listen to me, would you? So go ahead. You can swear as much as you want. There’s a small scratch on your nose. Just let me clean it and put a Band-Aid there. The first aid box is in the kitchen cabinet.”
He made her sit down on one of the chairs by the kitchen table and took out the first-aid box. Slowly he wiped her nose with a piece of damp cotton.
“I don’t want to put a Band-Aid on my nose. If you’re insisting, just apply some cooling ointment and I’ll be fine.”
Arnav looked at her in exasperation and finally acceded, “Okay. But after this, you go to your room and rest. I don’t want you moving about for at least two hours. Samjhi tum?”
Khushi huffed but stayed still as he applied the cooling antiseptic cream. Inwardly she loved the attention and care he showed for her. He looked so adorable when he was like this- his eyes hard and focused on her nose, at the wound while his hands ever so gentle. She made a hissing sound once and he stopped, his eyes watching her face to catch a glimpse of any pain he may have caused. He said, “sorry” once and then became gentler than before while applying and rubbing the cream on her nose. Khushi felt as if she would melt on the spot and thanked God she was sitting in the chair.
She came out of her memories as she applied the moisturizer on her face, taking extra care to be gentle to the spot on her nose that had turned a little red. A huge sigh left her. If only he’d show that side to her again, convinced her that the gentle side of Arnav Singh Raizada was there to stay, she’d think of opening up to him again.
Checking her reflection once again, she picked up her purse and left the room. It was time to meet Arnav at the Barista parking.