I apologize once again for the long delay since I posted Chapter 7, it’s something I’ve never done before and I’d like to thank you all for your continued enthusiasm, patience and understanding.
My unforgiving asli duniya has really made it impossible to complete the update , and I hate making you wait for so long. And so over the last week, I had come up with a solution of sorts.
Chapter 8 was updated over the past week in 4 parts, and it is now complete. To those of you who read it in parts, here’s Part 4, enjoy!
And to those who are reading Chapter 8 from the beginning, happy reading, and do let me know what you think.
Thank you all again for waiting, your support keeps me going!
Dedicated to all the Baaraatis. This update wouldn’t have been possible without you.
“F**k you, Arnav!”
“F**k you right back, you miserable creature.”
“She started it!”
I resist the urge to throttle the stupid bird that has been spouting profanities with such ease, and turn instead to my wife. I hadn’t been able to see her when I came in a few minutes ago, but now that I am finally looking past the worthless parakeet that is currently lodged in our living-room, I see that Khushi is seated in the shadowy corner with a cellphone held up to her ear. Her cheeks are red with embarrassment, and her next words tell me why.
“Sorry, Naniji…I’ll have to leave now. Woh…Arnav is home.”
I flash an unrepentant grin and make my way towards her before bending down and placing a swift kiss on her conveniently parted lips. She cuts the call with an audible gasp, and my grin widens.
“What is wrong with you? I was talking to Naniji and you…and Sheetal…Oh God, what must she be thinking?”
“She knows all about Sheetal, that won’t surprise her at all. As for me, I was just giving back as good as I got.”
She sits up suddenly, forcing me to take a step back as she flings the phone aside.
“That has to be the worst excuse yet.”
I shrug with assumed nonchalance and drag her close, choosing to ignore the continued squawking of the pest behind us.
“I hate her, and I’d strangle her if it wasn’t for Di. You know that, don’t you?”
She narrows her eyes at me, then sighs as she melts into my arms.
“I know. She isn’t the friendliest of creatures, is she? Having her under our roof while Di and Shyam are out of town sounded so easy to begin with, but she’s quickly taxed even my patience. I don’t know how Di puts up with her at all.”
I tighten my arms around her, knowing that Khushi needs to know the truth.
“This bird has a special significance for Di.”
Khushi’s eyes widen.
“Yes. A few years ago, Di found out that she…could never conceive. At that time, Shyam was away on a client visit, and he was devastated that he couldn’t be with her when she found out. They took months to recover from that blow, and then he suggested that they could look at other options including adoption. But Di kept stalling, perhaps she was hoping for a miracle? And then, I don’t quite know why…one day, Shyam brought this bird home and that was it. Di fell in love, plain and simple. And that’s the reason why we put up with Sheetal, even when she’s made it her lifelong aim to maim us.”
Khushi looks away suddenly, and I know instinctively that she’s battling tears. An emotion that feels suspiciously like tenderness makes me hold her close, and I give her a moment before gently turning her around to face me.
“Hey…it’s okay, Khushi. Di has come to terms with that now…or so we hope.”
She blinks once, then rests her head against my shoulder.
“Why do these things always happen to the nicest of people?”
I smile against her hair.
“Probably because there isn’t a God up there, who takes care of everyone who’s nice and good.”
She raises her head, then huffs impatiently.
“I’m not getting into that argument again. And actually, that reminds me of something else that I’ve been meaning to ask you…”
“Shyam sounds like a…great husband, a wonderful person, really. And yet…I get this feeling that he doesn’t really like me.”
“Why? Has he said something?”
“No! I…it’s just a vibe, that’s all. It just…makes me uncomfortable to be around him.”
I sigh , realizing that somehow, this has turned into a night for truths.
“It’s probably because he’s still waiting for you to whip out your gold-digging claws.”
“It’s a long story, Khushi. But the gist of it is that he doesn’t really trust you. Or rather, he doesn’t trust my decision in getting married to you in haste. At the time, he even tried to dissuade me from doing this, and when I refused to listen, he insisted that I should at least take some time to get to know you better before committing to this relationship. And when that didn’t work, the lawyer in him wouldn’t let him rest until he had asked me to consider a pre-nuptial agreement between the two of us.”
“He didn’t know about the contract, did he?”
“Of course not. No one does, apart from NK and my legal team. All he was worried about was the fact that I was making an error of judgement. But yes, those are his reasons in a nutshell. He is probably still holding back on making a final call, even though Anjali Di has accepted you into the family.”
“He…sounds very protective of you.”
“He is. He’s made himself a part of this family and I respect him for that. Just give him the benefit of the doubt, Khushi. I’m sure that with time, he’ll see that his fears are wholly unfounded.”
She smiles faintly, and draws away, her gaze now fixed on Sheetal again.
I cast a quick look at my watch, then realize that I have the perfect method to take her mind off these melancholy subjects.
“You do remember that we have to leave in about half an hour for the Huang’s?”
By the shocked look on her face, it is apparent that she has forgotten all about tonight’s dinner engagement.
I had informed her about this invite around a week ago, but I know that she wasn’t really paying attention at that point.
I almost grin as I remember why.
Before I can follow my lustful train of thought, she goes into full blown panic mode and I stifle my amusement.
“The Huangs! I’d completely forgotten about them! Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
Before I can reply, she wrenches herself out of my grasp and is halfway up the stairs before I can take my first step. Used to her quicksilver ways by now, I follow at a more leisurely pace and reach our bedroom door just in time to see her dash across to the wardrobe.
For a moment, I pause at the threshold.
Yes, it is our bedroom now.
A room that we share…along with much, much more.
Two weeks have passed since we returned from India, and it seems as if I have learned a whole new meaning of passion and desire….from my innocent wife, of all people.
That fact hasn’t ceased to amaze me yet. Ever since that first night in the Bangalore hotel, I have been fascinated and astounded in equal measures by the response she has managed to evoke in me. I knew when I chose her that the chemistry between us would be explosive, but I hadn’t counted on being consumed by it to this extent.
Even though we have been intimate several times since that night, our first time together is still imprinted on my mind and body. I still recall the thrill of that first exploration…and the deep satisfaction of possessing her for the very first time.
And every time since, that feeling has intensified until it has almost obliterated my control and preconceived notions of what it means to really desire someone.
That realization brings me to a sudden halt, and I walk briskly into our room, trying hard to ignore the implications.
“Will this do?”
I look over at her, and nod absently at the black wrap dress she’s holding up for my perusal. Apparently, she isn’t satisfied because she storms over towards me.
“Tell me honestly, Arnav! Does this look too formal? Should I choose something else? I want to make a good first impression, after all, he’s the head of marketing at A.R and he works closely with you…”
Inwardly, I rejoice at her reason behind wanting to look good tonight. Not too long ago, she had barely taken any interest in the dinner party I’d wanted to organize. But now, her sole motive seems to include projecting herself as my wife , and more than anything else, that tells me how much her priorities have changed over time.
I take her hand in mine, and tell her the truth.
“You’ll look great in it, Khushi. Or in anything else, for that matter.”
Finally, I succeed in eliciting a smile.
“Flatterer. You’re not going to get anything in return for your compliments, you know.”
I do know that.
I remember that fraught moment four days ago when she had haltingly informed me that she would be unable to share a bed with me for the next few days because of her monthly cycle. She had uttered those words with her gaze looking anywhere but at mine, and I still remember the deep pink color that had spread itself across her cheeks then.
Coming from the bold, confident woman who had seduced me with her innocence, this shy embarrassment had amused me to no end.
“Not everything I do is for profit, you know.”
“That’s up for debate.”
With a cheeky grin, she turns back into the dressing room, and I sit back on the bed while I wait for her to get ready.
And then, I am hit by the astounding realization that although we haven’t been intimate for the past few days, the pull remains the same…for me , at least. I look forward to coming home to her every day, and holding her pliant body close to mine has become the highlight of my night.
For a man who has only ever viewed relationships with women in terms of the physical, this represents a departure on a massive scale, and I am apprehensive about what exactly this implies.
On the other hand, I cannot deny that the absence of sexual anticipation has allowed me to focus on and discover other aspects of my partner that I had probably overlooked earlier.
As that thought passes through my mind, my gaze goes back to Khushi, who is now back before the mirror in the dressing-room.
I notice the sheer life and vitality in her movements, it’s as if every single part of her is alive. From the eager light in her eyes, to the fast, yet graceful movements of her hands, every part of her body seems to echo with an exuberance and spirit that is attractive in it’s own right. Even her hair seems to be alive, shimmering with vitality as it flows down her back in dark waves of ebony.
I sigh again.
I’m not just a poet anymore.
The woman has turned me into the bard himself, apparently.
As I continue to stare, I recall her little quirks that serve to amuse and endear, all at once.
I remember the way she always clutches her pillow to herself as she sleeps, and more than once, I find myself getting jealous of that piece of fabric and foam. I remember how she sways to cheesy bollywood songs when she thinks I’m not looking. I even recall how she always talks to Sheetal as if she were a real person, and not just a crazed menace to all mankind. That stupid bird has even taken to repeating everything she’s ever said, for some reason.
I remember how she always seems to know when I’m around, something that she always puts down to luck and good timing.
The woman has gotten under my skin, it’s as simple as that.
Or as complicated.
Her presence in my life is rapidly becoming my entire life,and that thought makes me angry.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
This marriage was one wherein I was supposed to retain complete control, not give it all up to the woman who isn’t even sleeping with me at the moment. This was supposed to be all about lust and sex and power…but now, it has transformed into so much more and I’m not sure what I can do to stop it from happening.
I push away these thoughts, unwilling to examine them closely at the moment. I focus on Khushi, who is now dressed and ready by my side. I watch as she reaches for her phone, and then feel myself stiffen as her face pales.
“Khushi? Is something wrong?”
She looks up quickly, and shakes her head.
“Not wrong, exactly. It’s just that it…took me by surprise, that’s all.”
“What is it?”
“An email from Aman, of all people.”
“Aman Mathur? What does he want now? I can’t believe he has the nerve to…”
She comes up to me, and lays a calming hand on my shoulder.
“It’s nothing like that. He just…it’s some sort of weird apology for what he did earlier. And he also goes on to say that his company did manage to pull through the crisis after a small genetics firm sourced their research through them.”
“Good for him, and good riddance. Although I still wonder what compelled him to write to you today.”
She shrugs, and moves away.
“I have no idea. I’m glad that things worked out for him, though.”
I smile, amazed that she can still be happy about the good fortune that has befallen the moron who fired her for no fault of hers.
“Are you ready to leave?”
She nods, then gathers her purse and places her hand against mine in a familiar gesture. As we walk out together, my gaze falls on the suitcase that lies just inside the door.
“So…you forgot all about the Huangs, but I’m glad to see that the amnesia did not extend to packing for our honeymoon.”
A blush climbs up her cheeks, and she looks away abruptly.
“It’s not something I can easily forget.”
I tighten my hold on her arm.
“I just wish that we had time for a proper vacation in some exotic country instead of just going out to Lake Tahoe for three days.”
She looks up at me, and her gaze holds tenderness and something that I have no name for.
“Lake Tahoe sounds heavenly. You know I’ve never been there, this will be the perfect opportunity to explore…”
“…among other things, of course.”
The blush intensifies.
“Seriously, though, I’m perfectly alright with going to the Lake. You cannot leave the city for prolonged periods while this merger is going through, I understand that.”
“I’ll make sure the honeymoon part is perfect, even if the destination part isn’t.”
For a moment, her shyness is banished and mischief takes it’s place.
“I’ll hold you to that, Mr. Raizada.”
I laugh, then pull her close for a brief kiss before leading her down the stairs, promising myself that I will give her a honeymoon that she will remember for the rest of her life.
Three hours later, I look over at her as she leans her head against my shoulder in the shadowy confines of the limo as we head back from the beach-town of Sausalito. Dinner with the Huangs has been a resounding success, and pride fills me now as I recall how they had been impressed with the intelligence and wit of my beautiful new bride. And Khushi had appeared to be enjoying their company as well. Michelle Huang is a physician at Stanford, and shared stories of the campus and town had taken them well through dinner and beyond while her husband and I had discussed the worrisome state of the economy.
When it was finally time to say goodbye, I had realized that it was too late to make the journey back to Menlo Park. After instructing Dhruv to take us to the penthouse in San Francisco instead, I had settled into a companionable silence with Khushi as he drove us through the winding roads back to the city.
As I absentmindedly run my hands through her hair, I realize that there is something about tonight that I have been meaning to tell her. But before I can do so, she raises her head and turns to face me with an eager light in her eyes.
“The bridge! I’ve always wanted to stop there when it’s dark…can we do that now?”
Smiling down at her, I convey the request to Dhruv.
“Of course. Aren’t you too tired, though?”
Shaking her head, she leans over to look out of the window.
“I’d rouse myself from the deepest slumber to stare at the Golden Gate bridge. There’s just something about it that never gets old, you know? It’s majestic and beautiful…I’ve often wondered what it would look like at night with all the lights of the San Francisco skyline in the distance…”
“You’ll be able to see for yourself in just a few minutes.”
She smiles up at me as if I’ve just given her the greatest gift ever.
“It’s going to be the most perfect end to a great evening!”
“You liked the Huangs, didn’t you?”
“Of course! They are intelligent and engaging…what’s not to like?”
“I’m glad. Peter Huang is not just someone who works for me, he’s also a close associate whom I socialize with often. You’ll be seeing a lot of him, and I hoped that you would get along…and apparently, you did.”
For a moment, she just stares up at me.
“Is that all there is to this? What aren’t you telling me?”
I still, amazed at the way she has looked past the facade and seen that I had something more to say to her.
This perceptiveness is something that she has been displaying often over the past few days, and I’m not sure how I feel about that anymore.
Trying to focus on what I have to tell her now, I take her hand in mine, just as Dhruv takes the turn towards the bridge.
“Do you remember when Michelle was talking about her cousin?”
“The one who was just released from rehab? Yes, I do. Although I do think she only wanted you to hear about it. When she realized that I had heard that too, she changed the subject real quick.”
“You’re too intelligent for your own good, Mrs. Raizada.”
No trace of amusement lightens her features, and I know that I cannot delay this any longer.
I take a deep breath, and hold her hand firmly in mine as I speak.
“This is about her cousin. I didn’t tell you before we met them because I did not want you to go in there with preconceived notions. And Michelle isn’t really close to this cousin after all. He’s a distant relative, it’s not like they’re really family.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
I stare into her clear hazel eyes, hoping that she doesn’t react the way I’m afraid she will.
“Because it was her cousin who pulled a gun on me all those years ago.”
“Her cousin?! Are you trying to tell me that Michelle is related to the stalker you had told me about earlier? The one whose company was taken over by A.R, stalked you and then threatened you with a weapon?”
I grimace, knowing that the truth isn’t going to be easy on her.
“Yes, he’s the same guy. The one who was apprehended by the police at the time, and released after a few months in prison. And then months later, he was diagnosed with a drug problem and went into rehab.”
“And he’s…out now? “
“Apparently. Michelle has been keeping tabs on him after what happened all those years ago.”
“I can’t believe this! How can you be so unconcerned about all this? And how do you manage to work with someone who…”
“Peter has nothing to do with this, and neither does Michelle. He’s been working for me since I started A.R, and although it was an unpleasant shock when he found out that I was taking over the cousin’s company, he’s been nothing but supportive and devoted since. And before you ask, I haven’t trusted him blindly on this. I had the couple investigated when all this happened and they came up clean. They’re good friends, Khushi. The fact that they happen to belong to the same family as the person who threatened me doesn’t affect me anymore. And neither should it bother you now. I only told you this because I wanted you to know, so you wouldn’t be taken by surprise if the matter ever came up…”
My words trail off as I suddenly register the wariness in her eyes, something that doesn’t entirely owe it’s existence to worry and anxiety over this current situation. In a flash of certainty, I realize that I have been seeing this wary, guarded look often over the past few days. It only appears fleetingly, and has barely registered on my consciousness…but when I give it some thought, the realization dawns upon me that she is hiding something from me.
Before I have time to pursue that disturbing train of thought, she turns away slightly before replying.
“He’s out there somewhere…does this constitute a security threat again?”
My eyes drop to her fingers, and I realize that she is twisting them nervously in an attempt to alleviate her anxiety.
“Khushi…it doesn’t matter. We have guards with us at all times, remember? I didn’t tell us this so that you would panic. I really didn’t want that. Look, can we just forget about it for the moment and enjoy the rest of the night?”
She looks out the window for a long moment, then slowly turns to face me again.
“I…guess. But if there’s any more news about him, will you let me know?”
“Of course. Honesty, Khushi. It’s what I’ve always promised…and delivered.”
Again, that fleeting look of anxiety passes across her expressive features…and this time, it is combined with something that looks a lot like guilt.
A sense of unease makes it way down my spine, but just then, Dhruv finally pulls up at the turn-off into the Golden Gate visitor area and brings the limo to a smooth stop. He steps out and holds my door open for me, and I have no choice but to step out before opening the door for Khushi. I discreetly signal Dhruv and he drives off again until the limo isn’t visible to us , and then we are alone, except for the few others on the other side of the road. The visitor center and sidewalk is closed at this time of the night, and so I take Khushi’s hand in mine and walk over to the side of the road where the tall towers and sweeping high cables soar high above us against the shadows of the night. In true San Francisco fashion, a mild fog obscures the highest reaches of the bridge, but that just adds to the overall mystique of the monument.
The lights of the skyline glimmer in the distance, reflected by the still waters of the bay below. The darkness is broken by the pale colors of the sailboats moored in the docks below the bridge, while the island of Alcatraz beckons in the distance.
For a long moment, we stand there in silence, just trying to take it all in.
Unlike her, I’ve seen this night-time view several times before while I had been heading to and from late meetings around the city. But this time, there seems to be something new….something different here.
It takes me a moment to realize that this can only be attributed to the woman who stands beside me, her gaze starry-eyed and fascinated as she stares at the man-made glory before her.
I shift a little until I am standing directly behind her, then pull her against my body before placing my hands around her waist and drawing her close. She settles into my arms with a sigh, and I am alarmed to realize that I could just stand here like this for a long, long while, and never feel the urge to move.
I look down at her profile, and marvel anew at the range of emotions she brings out in me.
And then I scoff inwardly at myself.
I am a man.
I am not supposed to talk about my emotions…or even think about them.
We aren’t supposed to be wired that way.
And yet, how do I explain the comforting warmth that spreads through me,making me want to stay this way forever?
I close my eyes and block the disturbing thoughts one more time , and this time I am aided by her soft, hesitant tones that float across the still night air.
“What does this do to you?”
I open my eyes, unsure about what exactly she is asking here.
“What do you mean?”
She frees one arm and gestures towards the vista before her.
“This…this beautiful bridge and bay and lights and night…what does it make you think? What does it make you feel?”
It has made me realize that I can never cross this bridge without thinking of her and this moment again, but I cannot really tell her that.
Instead, I turn the tables on her.
“We came here for you, Khushi. Did you find what you were looking for?”
She remains silent for a moment, and when she finally answers, her voice is hushed and almost…reverent.
“I did…and did not.”
She takes a deep breath, then turns around in my arms until she is facing me again.
“I thought that I would enjoy this…and create a memory that I would remember for a long, long time. But what I hadn’t bargained for was…your presence here.”
“Me? What do I have to do with…”
She raises one hand and touches my face in a brief caress, her eyes holding a wealth of tenderness that only increases my unease.
“You have everything to do with it. Don’t you understand? Just the fact that you are here…it makes everything so much more special. I won’t just remember this for a while…I’ll never forget this moment for the rest of my life.”
Her quiet, honest words touch something deep down inside, and I have to consciously brace myself to withstand the sudden onslaught of emotions that threaten to overwhelm me at that moment.
There’s that dreaded word again.
“Don’t you get it, Arnav? Everything is different…because you are involved. I’ve been giving this some thought, you know. If I had signed that contract with someone else, I would have been miserable. In fact, I don’t think that I would have entered into an agreement with anyone else at all. I think that…it has always been you. You have made the difference. I had my own reasons for marrying at the time…but I still don’t think that I would have actually gone through with it for any reason if it had been anyone other than you. “
Speechless, I can only stare as she rests her head against my chest before she continues.
“You make everyday special. When I stand here and look out at this beautiful sight, I know that it is remarkable because you are sharing it with me. “
She looks up at me again, and the naked emotion in her eyes almost hurts me with it’s intensity.
“I am content with my life today because you are in it, Arnav. I can’t get more honest than that.”
I finally realize that this is her own way of responding to my revelation from earlier, and the power of speech deserts me as I wonder how I am going to match up to this now. Her forthright confession of my place in her life makes everything I feel for her pale in comparison, and I decide to answer her in the only way I know…the only way I am comfortable with.
Raising her face to mine, I take her lips in a slow, gentle kiss . She responds immediately, winding her arms around my neck and parting her lips beneath mine as the kiss deepens.
When we part for air, I find that I cannot just let her go. I kiss her closed eyes, and her pink-tinged cheeks before finally placing yet another kiss on her reddened lips.
And this time when we part, I drag her close to my body, closing my own eyes as I battle the urge to give in to the roiling emotions within.
For long moments we stay that way, and then she finally raises her head and smiles up at me.
“What about you, Arnav? Have I made any difference in your life at all?”
Hell yes, she damn well has.
She has overturned my existence until I can barely recognize myself anymore, not that I can tell her that.
Instead, I kiss her one more time before replying.
“If you knew me at all, you wouldn’t really need to ask that.”
Her eyes lose some of their hopeful light, and I want to kick myself at that moment.
But then she rallies, and comes back with yet another question.
“What is your life all about, Arnav? What do you want from it?”
“What do you mean?”
She looks away for a moment, then rephrases her question.
“I mean…where do you see yourself in five years from now? What do you envision for yourself? If we could look into the future, what would we see you doing?”
Unbidden, an image flashes into my mind.
In the future, I see myself doing exactly what I am doing at this moment…standing with her in my arms, looking into those clear hazel eyes that hold me captive.
I look away quickly before she can see the answer in my eyes, and cast about for a different version of the truth.
“I see myself at the helm of a company that has grown from strength to strength…maybe even one that has expanded internationally. That has been my dream for a while now.”
“And…that’s it? What about…your family?”
“My family? I see myself doing exactly the same things with them five years down the line as well. Why would anything change?”
She doesn’t voice those words, but I can still hear them as if they had been clearly spoken out loud.
How am I going to answer that?
In increasing desperation, I fall back on the one thing that is a safe constant…the one thing that doesn’t threaten my iron control over this tricky situation.
I haul her back into my arms, and with an effort, I inject a lighter, more flirtatious note into my voice.
“And yes, I see myself spending night after passionate night with my beautiful wife…if she agrees to stay with me for that long, of course.”
Khushi stares up at me for a long moment, and I wonder just what she is seeing in my eyes.
But years of keeping a tight rein over myself must have come in handy because she finally sighs, then rests against my chest again.
“I suppose I should be glad that you don’t think that boredom would have set in after five years.”
“Does that mean you are considering taking this beyond a year, Mrs.Raizada?”
She looks up at me with a smile, but I see the barely hidden strain behind it.
“The jury is still out on that one, Mr.Raizada.”
I smile back at her, hoping to steer this conversation out of the dangerous waters it seems to have drifted into.
“Starting tomorrow night, I’ll do my best to bribe the jury.”
“With your body? How sleazy, Arnav.”
“We’ll see who’s calling me sleazy when they’re writhing under me in bed, naked as the day they were born.”
“Is that a challenge?”
“If you want to take it as one.”
“You are a challenge. One that I’ll be delighted to conquer, someday.”
I lean over and kiss her again before I am tempted to answer that honestly.
That for all intents and purposes, her conquest is already complete.
During the drive back home and for most of that night, I think about the things that have been said and the words that have been left unsaid tonight. Even as I hold her in my arms that night, I agonize about how I can deal with everything that is happening between us…and how it would feel if she wasn’t there to begin with.
As we leave the house and head for the car the next morning, that sense of unease just won’t leave me in peace. Khushi seems to be a little distracted as well, and only speaks up when she notices the changes that I have made for this trip.
“We aren’t taking the limo?”
“No, we aren’t. I’m going to drive you there myself.”
I gesture towards the new Lambhorgini aventador that gleams silver in the early morning light, and then decide to tell her about the other modification at the same time.
“Dhruv will follow us in his car.”
She looks up at me.
“Yes. I’d like to have some privacy on this trip.”
She doesn’t blush as I had expected her to. Instead, her gaze goes to a disgruntled Lavanya who is now relegated to looking after Sheetal while we are away.
“Do you think that’s a good idea? Especially after what we’ve learned about Michelle’s cousin?”
“It will be fine, Khushi. No one even knows that we are heading out to Tahoe. And Dhruv will always shadow us from a distance, don’t worry.”
She nods reluctantly, then steps away when NK comes up to me for a final briefing before we leave. While I am talking to him, I notice that Khushi has just received a call and I catch a few words of the conversation.
Amazed at what I am hearing, I quickly wind up my conversation with NK and hold the door open for Khushi. Settling down into the driver’s seat, I look over at NK , Lavanya and Manorama.
“Hold the fort, guys. I’m counting on you.”
With their wishes and goodbyes ringing in our ears, I start driving and wait until we are on the freeway before turning towards Khushi, who still looks more than a little shocked at what she’s just heard.
“Did I hear that right? Payal is coming to the States for her honeymoon?”
“Yes…that’s what Amma just told me. Apparently Payal wanted to surprise me with this news and had asked my mother to keep it a secret until she actually got here…”
“Where exactly are they going?”
“My mother doesn’t know, Payal didn’t tell her the exact location. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough…”
For a few miles, silence reigns in the car as we struggle to come to terms with this news.
And then Khushi makes an attempt to recapture the earlier mood in an obvious attempt to keep to her promise about Payal, and I go along with it at once. She changes the music CD to that of a new bollywood singer she admires, and for the next half hour, she talks non-stop about all his songs and how different they all are from everything else that is being churned out these days.
From there, the conversation turns to our favored bands and then on to movies, and we quickly discover that we have almost nothing in common when it comes to our taste in films and music. We move on to our favorite books, and then wind up debating the merits of a questionable bestseller that is currently topping the charts.
Soon, the three hour journey is over, and we stop at a cafe for a quick breakfast.
“The cabin isn’t too far now. It should take us about ten minutes…”
“Yes, the vacation home that I was telling you about? It’s in a quiet, secluded alcove of it’s own, I’m sure you’ll like it…”
“I’m sure I will, but I don’t want to go there right now!”
“There’s a whole list of things I want to do first! There’s Vikingsholm and Emerald bay and the cruise over the lake, and then…”
“Are you serious? You’re going to play tourist while you are on your honeymoon?”
“But I’ve never been here before! All this sounds so interesting, how can I miss out on it?”
I gear myself up to argue, but something stops me at that instant. I recall how I’ve disappointed her by holding back last night, and decide that I will not dash her hopes this time.
If this is what she wants, then this is what she will get.
And so, over the course of the day, I take her to some of the famous spots in the Tahoe region.
We begin with a drive up to Emerald Bay, where her delight over the scenic vista makes me smile at her enthusiasm. The one mile steep hike down to Vikingsholm doesn’t faze her in the least, and she explores the Scandinavian summer castle with all the eagerness of a child at an amusement park. We head back up the trail and drive back to the marina for am all-American lunch, and then it’s time to take the two and a half hour cruise aboard the Tahoe Queen, the only authentic paddlewheeler on Lake Tahoe. Once aboard the 3oo passenger vessel, she quickly befriends a group of young women and chatters incessantly while darting apologetic glances at me from time to time. Content to lean back against a bench as I observe her, I smile to myself as she gasps and exclaims at the breathtaking views as we journey across South Lake Tahoe. The view of Vikingsholm from the water holds her spellbound, and when we approach the nearby shore, I take the opportunity to point out the cabin that is going to be our home for the next three days.
“That’s just so….perfect!”
“I knew you’d like it. Can we go there after this cruise?”
She laughs, and throws her arms around my neck.
“Of course! I can’t wait to see what it looks like on the inside!”
In the end, we decide to make one more stop before actually heading to the cabin. Stopping at a large downtown restaurant, we settle on having an early dinner so that we won’t have to leave the cabin before morning.
As we enter the bar area , Khushi gestures towards the restrooms.
“I need just a moment.”
“Sure. I’ll wait for you at the bar, we’ll go in and order the food when you get back.”
I watch her until she disappears around the corner, then decide to order a drink while I wait. I’ve barely opened the wine list before I sense someone settling themself on the bar-stool beside me, and I look up with a smile, assuming that it is Khushi.
“Hello , Arnav. What a pleasant surprise!”
The auburn-haired woman smiling up at me is most certainly not my wife, but I recognize her immediately.
The petite fashion designer is the woman I had been seeing over the course of the last year, until we had amicably ended our relationship. To see her here, at this moment, throws me for a loop .
“You remembered my name. I’m flattered, really.”
“Of course I did. How have you been?”
“I’m fine, Arnav. And now that I’ve met you here, things are definitely looking up.”
Her flirtatious smile and teasing manner put me on my guard, and I know that she is a woman on the prowl.
But tonight, I have no intention of being her chosen prey.
“It’s nice to see you after all this time, Anna. But I have to tell you this…I’m taken.”
She laughs, then places her red-tipped fingers on my arm.
“I’m sure that you can rearrange things…for old times’ sake?”
I know what she is offering, and I am astonished to realize that I am not even tempted.
Not in the slightest.
I look down at the tight black dress she’s poured herself into, and realize that a year ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated before taking her up on her offer.
But at this moment, all I can remember is a hazel-eyed witch who does not even need seductive clothing to bring me to my knees. I recall her modest clothes that barely hint at the sinful curves hidden beneath them, and the soft, plain night-suits that provide almost no barrier for my hands when I reach for her in bed.
That thought makes me smile, even as I shake my head at Anne.
“You don’t understand. I don’t want to rearrange anything. I’m married now, and I’m here with my wife.”
She leans away now, and a glimmer of respect appears in her blue eyes.
“Well well. Who would have expected you of all people to get hitched willingly? And to remain faithful too…your wife is one lucky woman, Arnav.”
“I am the lucky one here. And yes, my wife has no reason to feel insecure.”
She smiles up at me, then steps down from the bar-stool.
“She may not have reason to be jealous, but I find myself envious of her all the same. Regardless, it was nice to catch up after all this while, Arnav.”
“Same here, Anna. Have a good life.”
She starts to turn away, then faces me again and leans over for a quick peck on the cheek.
“For old times’ sake…just like I said.”
With one last saucy wink she walks away, and I shake my head again, laughing at her antics.
Little did she know that this man really was off the market, in every sense of the word.
A sudden hankering for my little hazel-eyed temptress makes me turn towards the restrooms, but then I still in shock.
Standing there with a disbelieving expression on her face is Khushi, and I realize that she has witnessed the entire episode.
And obviously, she has misunderstood it entirely.
I stand up quickly and start walking towards her, but she whirls around and rushes out through the lobby.
In seconds, I am running through the lobby and out again through the entrance, but I don’t see her until I am all the way into the parking lot. My steps stumble to a halt as I see that Dhruv is standing with her.
Taking a deep breath, I walk towards her at a slower pace and finally reach her side, just in time to see that Dhruv is gesturing back towards the restaurant.
“It’s alright Dhruv. Khushi and I are leaving now.”
Dhruv looks up at me, surprised. But then he leaves us alone after a quick nod, and I watch as Khushi’s shoulders stiffen.
“Khushi, we need to talk.”
She turns around to face me, and I am taken aback to see that her face looks impassive. It is not what I had expected, and I suddenly find myself at a loss for words.
Her gaze shifts to a point beyond my shoulder, and then back.
“I’m sorry I overreacted back there. I did not want to create a scene in public, that really wasn’t my intention.”
“Damn the public! Will you listen to what I’m saying here?”
“Of course. But I don’t think that this is a conversation for the parking lot . You’ve just informed Dhruv that we’re leaving, I think that’s what we should do.”
She’s right, of course. But something about her dispassionate words puts me on edge, and I quickly guide her to the Lamborghini before she can change her mind. I check the rear mirror to make sure that Dhruv is right behind us, and then pull out onto the road.
I wait for a couple of minutes before speaking, unsure about where I need to begin.
But before I can say anything, Khushi speaks in a low, serious voice that captures my attention at once.
“I don’t know what got into me back there. There is absolutely no excuse for the way I ran out. I apologize again for overreacting.”
I take a deep breath.
“You weren’t overreacting. You thought you saw something, and I need to tell you that it wasn’t what you thought it was.”
I can feel her eyes on me now, but I need to keep my own gaze fixed on the road as the car eats up the miles.
“And what was it, Arnav? All I saw was someone who was presumably a female acquaintance giving you a goodbye kiss, and part of a conversation that preceded it. That’s no reason to assume that it was something more, especially not after you’ve told me that fidelity ranks high on your priority list. There really was no reason for what I did, I realize that now. In my defence, it was a knee-jerk thing, that’s all.”
I know it wasn’t just a knee-jerk thing.
The scene she has just witnessed has probably made her feel insecure , jealous…or maybe even both. And I know this because I have felt these same emotions when I have seen her interactions with NK. I understand her at this moment because for the first time in my life, I have felt these same things for her.
For some unfathomable reason, I need her to come clean on this. I don’t want her to brush this off as just some random, sudden overreaction.
But I also know that the car isn’t really the place for what I have in mind, and so I quickly change the subject, resolving to take this up again when we reach the cabin.
“You can see the cabin now. It’s just over that outcropping of rock on the right.”
I can sense her surprise, but I force my concentration back to the road and wait for her response.
And after a moment, she gasps in surprise at the sheer beauty of the surroundings. The simple log cabin is a purchase I made on a whim a year ago, and I haven’t made use of it all that much. Perched on the banks of a secluded cove, it gives us access to the waters of South Lake Tahoe while still providing much-needed privacy that is essential to me.
“You actually own this?”
I can’t stop myself from glancing at her now, just for a moment. Her wide eyes are focused on the cabin, and I suppress a smile at the success of my ploy.
“Yes, I do. Why does that surprise you?”
“For the same reason that the house in Menlo Park surprised me, I suppose. I expected something more…luxurious and flashy, I guess.”
“The cabin has every luxury you could ever want…on the inside. But I wanted the exterior to remain the same. It fits in with it’s surroundings, don’t you think?”
“It’s perfect. But then again, you wouldn’t have bought it if it wasn’t.”
I cannot stop myself from taking advantage of the opening she has handed me quite unknowingly.
“I am never interested in acquiring anything that is less than perfect.”
I hear her gasp of shock and outrage at the insinuation that she is an acquisition, but at that moment, I pull into the narrow path that leads up to the cabin and stop the car. Dhruv is out of his own vehicle and beside us in an instant, and it takes me a few minutes to tell him that his services won’t be needed tonight after he delivers our dinner from a cafe we passed on our way here.
Khushi is at the door by now, and I quickly walk over to unlock it. We enter the living room, and I watch her as she looks around the small,yet comfortably furnished room with it’s white upholstery and earth-toned rugs . I guide her into the kitchen, and hand her a glass of water before pouring one for myself.
“So…what do you think?”
“It’s really nice. And the view is to die for, of course.”
She places the glass down and walks towards the hallway, and I show her into the one large bedroom with it’s old fashioned four-poster bed. She stops at the threshold for a moment, and then walks over to the large bay window and throws open the heavy silk curtains to reveal yet another stunning view of the lake.
I walk up to her and place my hands on her shoulders, but she quickly turns around with a strained smile that immediately lets me know that she has forgotten nothing.
“I think I’ll take a shower before the food gets here.”
And just like that, she’s gone…leaving me with an empty room and a heart full of foreboding.
When dinner arrives, she comes into the kitchen where I am laying out the silverware on the small breakfast table. I look up quickly, but her face offers me no clue about the true state of her emotions.
“All that sightseeing has made me hungry! What’s for dinner?”
I take the covers off the gourmet pizza and soup that is still piping hot, and for the next few minutes, we eat in silence. When she has finished her second slice, my patience finally comes to an end.
I cannot take this anymore.
I have seen the truth on her face back there at the restaurant, and I need to hear it from her now.
I have to know that the sight of me with Anne has affected her just as much as the sight of her with NK had affected me, all those days ago.
I want the truth, and I want to be the one to reassure her that there is absolutely nothing to be worried about.
Brushing this under the carpet isn’t something that is acceptable to me.
I know that my reasons are illogical and unreasonable, given the reticence that I had shown on the Golden Gate Bridge while she had spilled her deepest secrets. But I don’t care about that at the moment.
All I know is that I want to see a reaction…any reaction at all.
And so I stand up quickly and wash my hands at the sink before turning to face her again.
“We still need to have that talk, Khushi.”
She looks like she’s about to argue, but she must have seen the implacable expression on my face because she finally stands up with a sigh.
“Alright. So who was she?”
Her voice is still too calm and controlled for my liking, but I disregard that for the moment.
“Her name is Anna, and I was in a relationship with her last year. We parted amicably and I haven’t seen her since. So it was a surprise to see her there and…”
“So she’s part of your past and I have no reason to worry. There, I told you that I had just misunderstood things back there!”
The rest of my control snaps, and I walk over to her and grasp her by the shoulders.
“And that’s it? I tell you that she’s an ex, and you forget what you have seen ? It’s as easy as that for you?”
I know that I am goading her…almost taunting her to a fight. But even that realization doesn’t stop me.
Her hazel eyes flash with anger, and I know that I have succeeded when she shrugs out of my hold.
“You’re angry because I trust you? Because I’m taking your word for it?”
“Of course not! I’m angry because you’re still holding back. Why don’t you tell me what really happened there?”
She stares at me for a moment, visibly struggling for control.
And then she raises her chin, and that single gesture lets me know that I am going to get my wish at last.
“Fine! You want to know what I really felt when I saw you smiling at a drop-dead gorgeous woman ? Do you want to know what it looked like from where I was standing? And it wasn’t just me, every single person in that room would have got exactly that impression when they saw you sharing that intimate moment with her before undressing her with your eyes! You couldn’t take your eyes off her body, do you want to explain why that happened? And in the end, it looked like you were making an assignation when she left you with a kiss. Do you want me to tell me why?”
A strange satisfaction fills me when I finally hear what I have been waiting for.
But at that moment, I also know that I have to tell her what really happened at the restaurant with Anna.
“Yes, I couldn’t stop looking at her body. Do you want to know why? At first, I was trying to figure out just why there was no attraction there anymore. I was trying to recall why I had even had an affair with her in the first place. I looked at her form-fitting clothes and my mind flew back to the woman in my life…the one who needs no seductive clothing in order to draw me to her like a moth to a flame. The one whom I lust after…to the exclusion of all others. And that was why I smiled. It was the thought of you that did it. And in the end, I was just reacting to a remark she made before leaving, something that alluded to the fact that I had just rejected her advances. Does that answer your question?”
She looks shocked for a moment, but then she rallies.
“So she did make a move on you?”
I shrug with assumed nonchalance.
“Woman do that all the time. But in this instance, I refused in no uncertain terms. I told her that I was married, and that nothing would tempt me to stray. “
I walk up to her and pull her close.
“Nothing. Do you understand?”
She pulls away again.
“I know that. You’ve never been less than honest with me. Although I had made some wrong assumptions there for the space of a minute, I knew deep down inside that you wouldn’t be unfaithful. And thank you for letting me know what went through your head anyway. But now, I have a question.”
Warily, I take one step forward and close the distance between us again.
“If there really was nothing going on there and I was prepared to let it go, then why did you just create such a big deal about it?”
The answer surprises her…and me, because I certainly never meant to say that to her.
“Because I wanted to know if the sight of it affected you just as much as that little scene between you and NK affected me.”
“Me and…NK? Are you serious?”
I am being backed into a corner now, and I don’t like it.
“Why is that so hard to believe? You’re an attractive woman, and NK could see that too. Any man could.”
“But I’m not interested in any other man! Why would I be, when I’m…”
She purses her lips and turns away, and I am left with the craving to know what she would have said.
But she isn’t done yet.
Walking across to the adjoining living-room, she faces me again.
“So you wanted to know if I was jealous, and now you do. But now I want to know why that matters to you. I know that you want this marriage to last beyond the one year time-frame we’d agreed on, but then again, you’ve also made it clear that the physical part of this relationship holds the greatest allure for you. But you know what, Arnav?”
The wariness has increased by leaps and bounds, and I find myself holding my breath while I wait for her to continue.
“I don’t think that…sex explains everything. It doesn’t explain why you want to know everything about my life, and everything that’s going on in my head. It doesn’t explain the things I see in your eyes at times…or the things I feel when you’re near me. Sex isn’t all there is…is it?”
I don’t want to hear this.
I don’t want to look closely at what she’s just said and hear the unpalatable answer from my own heart.
And so I fall back on what comes naturally to me…and in a way, I give her an answer.
Grasping her by the shoulders, I push her back gently against the floor-to-ceiling window before taking her lips in a hard, demanding kiss. The blood rushes from my head when she responds in kind, her hands pulling my head down as her lips mold themselves to mine.
When I end the kiss, we’re both breathless.
“Sex isn’t something to be disparaged, Khushi. It’s more powerful…more honest than a lot of other so-called emotions.”
“I’m not saying that it isn’t. I just want to know if that’s all you feel. But you know what? I’m tired of waiting to find out. “
And with those words, she turns the tables on me.
Her hands wind themselves around my neck as she kisses me this time, and presses her body against mine.
The sheer intensity of this kiss makes my head pound as unadulterated lust takes over my body. I allow my hands to move from her shoulders to her back, and then further below.
The kiss deepens and she falls back against the glass, and I finally take my lips from hers even as her hands go to the buttons of my shirt. The pale skin on the side of her neck beckons, and I cannot stop myself from nipping at her warmth while she pulls my shirt off my shoulders.
But then she surprises me again.
Spearing her hands through my hair, she pulls my head up until I am gazing into her passion-clouded eyes.
“So all this is…just sex?”
I keep my lips sealed shut, and watch the light of challenge flare in her eyes.
In a bold move, she drops her hand to the front of my pants and strokes me through the fabric.
I cannot stop myself from closing my eyes as the fire spreads through my groin.
“If this is just sex…then you would have felt the same with all your exes…am I right?”
That brings my head up in a hurry.
She strokes me again, and my hands leave her body as I try to keep my balance by placing my hands flat on the glass behind her.
“This. If this is sex, and you’ve done it before…then did you get…hard after just one kiss with the others? With Anna, for example?”
Shock spears through me as I realize just where she’s going with this.
“Why the hell are we talking about other women at this moment?”
Her face is flushed, but her eyes are clear and purposeful.
“Because that’s logic, Arnav. If this is sex, then it must have been the same with everyone else. I just wanted to know, that’s all. It’s not like I have anything to compare and…”
I push her back against the glass with my body.
“And you won’t. Ever. As for me, I’ve told you before that what’s between us isn’t something I’ve experienced before. We’re fire, you and I.”
“So…still just sex, then?”
She’s stubbornly persistent, but then, so am I.
Our eyes clash for an instant, and then we reach for each other at exactly the same moment.
The kiss this time is a battle for control, and in moments, we are sliding down against the glass until she’s lying beneath me on the rug.
But then something finally registers, and I raise my head to gaze down at her .
“Is it…okay to be doing this today?”
Incomprehension blanks her features for a moment, but then she quickly nods.
I sigh inwardly and reach down to pull off her top, but her hands still mine.
“You should see your eyes at this moment. They tell me something different from what your lips always say, Arnav.”
I look away at once, then reach for her top again.
In moments, I have pulled it off of her and thrown it aside, but then I freeze in sheer astonishment.
It’s always been white lace with her, and I have gotten used to seeing her that way.
So the sight of her wearing…nothing below her modest cotton top paralyzes me with lust and…something else.
I know that she isn’t someone to go about without every garment in place, and so I know what it must have taken for her to do this…for me.
I look up into her eyes, and find that she is staring back at me with a mixture of desire and embarrassment in her gaze.
“Hell. Are you trying to tell me that you’ve been sitting before me all this time with nothing under that top?”
Her lowered gaze and flushed cheeks are answer enough, and my mind races to the next question immediately.
“Are you wearing anything below that pant?”
Her lashes sweep up to reveal a challenging gaze again.
“Why don’t you find out?”
I want to, but I also know that the sight of her bare skin might drain what’s left of my self-control, and so I quickly raise myself off her body and haul off my own pants and briefs before touching her again.
I fumble with the drawstring at her waist, and soon I have it off her long, pale legs.
A second wave of shock and lust hits me hard.
She isn’t naked, but she might as well have been.
A tiny red thong is all that shields her most intimate parts from my devouring gaze, and I cannot stop myself from touching her through the lacy fabric.
She moans into my shoulder and that sound threatens my self-control yet again. As I look up at her, my gaze is drawn to her unbound breasts and I lower my lips to the taut peaks immediately.
Molding her breasts with both my hands, I fill my mouth with the delectable firmness as her body begins to move under mine. I roll the peak of the other breast between the tips of my fingers, and she moans again.
I raise my head to look down at her, and that gives her the opening she’s apparently been waiting for.
In a swift move, she sits up suddenly, dislodging me in the process.
Her warm hands push me down by the shoulders, and I lie back down on the rug, unsure about what she’s doing here.
In the next instant, it all becomes clear.
In a lithe move, she climbs up on me until she is seated firmly on my hardness. Her damp heat over that part of my anatomy makes me even more hard…and I grasp her hips, mindless with lust.
But she has other plans.
Unwinding her hair from the clip, she lets it fall around her in a curtain of ebony, shrouding us both in a cocoon of intimacy.
She bends down over me and now I can clearly see the apprehension in her eyes, and I realize that I know the cause. This isn’t a position we’ve ever tried before, and the fact that she has chosen it makes me burn for her with increased intensity.
She caresses my lips with hers gently, and I pull her down before deepening the kiss. But then my attention is distracted by the feel of her breasts against my chest, and I pull away slightly before looking down at her.
I reach for one breast, but just as I close my hand around it, she leans back and away from me.
“This touch…this heat and warmth…it’s all just sex?”
I cannot believe that she’s still thinking about that.
And if she is, then I must be doing something wrong.
To forestall any other questions, I pull her down until I have her peak in my mouth and suckle hard until she falls against me, boneless and breathless. I sweep my hands down her back and pull her firmly against my body before pushing aside the thong and delving my fingers into her hot, wet core.
She sits up suddenly, and I know that for her, it’s still not enough.
The questions on her mind have not been erased yet, I can see that in her eyes.
She closes her eyes for a long moment, and then opens them again. I can see the determination there…the courage to keep doing this until she has what she wants.
In that moment, I realize that I have never admired her more.
She pushes her hair off her shoulder before looking into my eyes again.
Holding my gaze, she runs one hand down her body, past her breasts…until she stops at that part of me that is begging for her touch.
“Say it now, Arnav. Tell me that it’s all just sex.”
I open my mouth, but the words just won’t come.
She smiles suddenly, and then raises her hips slightly.
“Should I take this off…or will you?”
I reach for the thong before rethinking my decision, then gesture at her to proceed.
In a swift movement she draws it off, but I barely have time to think or enjoy the view because she presses down on me immediately.
Starburst behind my closed eyes makes me mindless for a moment, but then I suddenly remember something that is now ingrained from years of practice.
“Wait…let me get a…”
She looks up at me, and shakes her head.
“I’ve started the pill.”
Before I can process that startling announcement, she lowers herself on me until I’m halfway inside. I grasp her hips to try and still her progress, afraid that I am going to embarrass myself today. I’ve never felt so out-of-control…ever.
I lower her slowly until I’m lodged completely inside her, and we both still as we savor the naked slide of skin against skin for the very first time.
I open my eyes, determined to tell her this one truth, even I cannot bring myself to accept the others.
“Khushi…this is a first for me.”
She opens her eyes and looks down at me, her chest heaving as she battles for control. Her gaze is drugged with desire, but I know that she needs to understand what I’m saying.
“I’ve never done this without protection. Ever.”
Her eyes widen in surprise.
“No. I’ve never trusted anyone enough.”
For a long moment, she looks down into my eyes, and I am suddenly struck by the fanciful notion that she can see down clear to my soul.
And then she places a gentle kiss on my lips, one that I feel right down to where we’re joined in the most intimate of embraces.
She straightens immediately, and now there’s a wicked light in her eyes.
“Then let me take your virginity, Mr.Raizada.”
She raises herself until she’s barely impaled, then lowers herself suddenly before looking up at me with a slightly apprehensive gaze.
I know then that she is unsure about how to proceed, and I steel myself against all temptation in an attempt to take it slow.
With her hips in my hands, I raise and lower her until she understands the motion, and then she takes charge.
I throw my head back against the pillow as the sensations spiral, trying hard to hold on until she has found her release. The sound of her body pounding down on mine as she loses control pushes me to the very edge, but I stay grounded. I reach for her breasts, fondling them roughly as she gasps.
But then she pulls herself out of my reach.
“No. Not this time.”
My voice is hoarse, and I don’t really understand what she’s saying until she leans over me again.
“This time, we do this together.”
I know what she is saying, but it is really hard for me to give in to it. To give up control and let myself go…that isn’t something I’ve done before either.
But then the decision is taken out of my hands.
Her internal muscles begin to clamp down on me, hard.
I lose the battle, and lean back as the sensations take control. Pulling her hips down on mine, I feel myself pulsating inside her before climaxing with near violence. She screams at exactly that moment, and I know that she has found what she wanted.
My body continues to quake in the aftermath and I fall back against the rug, dazed.
As her sweat-slicked body falls upon mine, I hold her close while our hearts return to their normal rhythm.
And it is then that I answer her, with my lips pressed against her ear.
“It isn’t just sex. It never was.”
As the light of a new day brightens the bedroom, I stare down at her sleeping form, and for a moment, heated images from last night flash across my mind. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that she would actually do what she had done last night, and the memories make me smile, even as my body hardens in response.I embrace the sexual thoughts and hold on to them with all my might, even as I realize that this is a conscious attempt to escape the other things she has been making me feel before the sensual feast last night.
I don’t want to remember the tenderness she has managed to evoke in me through the last week.I want to wipe that soul-baring conversation from my memory…the one that I will always associate with the Golden Gate bridge from this point on.
And most of all, I want to shove that confession aside…the one where I told her that sex was never all that was between us.
This isn’t what I had signed up for. I thought that I had been in control of this situation, that everything was happening just the way I wanted it to. I had compartmentalized my feelings for her, neatly placing her in the slot marked ‘the wife I lusted after’. To know and realize that the title no longer encompassed all that I felt towards her now is something that makes me intensely uncomfortable even now.Because if I acknowledge that, I will also have to accept that I have to cede control to something that is out of my experience…and miles from my comfort zone.
I’m not ready to do that yet.And I don’t know if I ever will be, despite what happened between us last night.
In yet another attempt to ignore these harsh truths, I focus on her serene, peaceful countenance.
But then my thoughts are derailed again when I remember that the serenity is actually a facade. From the past few days, I have noticed the shadows in her eyes, the ones she has taken great pains to hide. I have noted the anxiety and the worry, and found myself wondering about the cause.In some of my more unguarded moments, I have had to restrain myself from shaking the truth out of her. I desperately want to know what’s bothering her…but I want her to confess the truth. I want that trust…I need it.
I know that this isn’t entirely a rational decision, and that soon, I will have to force the issue and find out what the problem is.
Just as that thought passes through my mind, she shifts a little in bed, and my gaze goes back to her sheet-draped body.
Only, it isn’t completely covered like before.
Her movement has dislodged the white satin from her chest, leaving one rounded breast bared to my suddenly ravenous gaze. Her arm is flung out above her head, while her lips are still parted in sleep.
I smile, my body tightening as I reach down for her.Keeping my movements slow and unhurried, I grasp the edge of the sheet and bare her to my view. She shifts again, and I still for a moment. But when her breathing pattern tells me that she is still asleep, I continue until the sheet is now down around her knees.
Leaning down over her, I blow a warm stream of air over one budded nipple and am delighted to see the visible response, even while she is asleep. I place my lips over it and kiss it gently, then move my attentions to it’s ignored twin.
The caress makes her writhe, and her eyelashes flutter as she battles the urge to wake up.
I quickly seize the opportunity to make my way down her pale, delectable body, and stop only when my mouth hovers over the juncture of her thighs. Parting them slightly, I detect the faint, yet unmistakable scent of her arousal immediately. Unable to resist, I touch the damp folds gently, testing…teasing until her eyes fly open.
But they close almost immediately, and I relish the low moan that leaves her throat.
I know that she is awake now, and her hands move to my head as if to prove that fact.
I look down again, already anticipating the taste of her against my tongue.
But the moment is rudely shattered when the phone rings abruptly. Before I can process what’s happening, Khushi has reached for the phone in an instinctive gesture, and I realize from the tortured expression on her face that she really didn’t mean to answer the call at all.
Her voice is husky as she answers, and I grin as I allow my lips to reach their target.
That name makes me jerk my head up in a hurry. Her sister hasn’t been a source of worry to either of us for a while now, and I find myself hoping that this isn’t about to change.And more than that, I want Khushi to keep to her promise, and make Payal realize that her priorities have changed.
As I watch Khushi’s face while the other woman continues to speak, I inwardly rejoice when I realize that she isn’t really taking in the words at all. Her eyes are focused on where my mouth hovers over the most intimate part of her body, and I grin again as I realize where her priority clearly lies at the moment.
“P…Payal? This really isn’t the…best time, I…”
Her words end in a gasp as I finally allow my lips to make contact.She grips the phone tight with a white-knuckled hand while the other bunches the sheets, and I return to my task with more vigor than strictly necessary.
But her sister hasn’t apparently gotten the hint.Her voice comes down the line again, and something in me snaps.
I raise my head, even as Khushi’s eyes fly open and she makes a desperate attempt to get through to her sister.
“Payal, I…your voice is breaking up! I can’t really hear you…where are you right now? Can we…do this later?”
She looks up at me, and I know that the last words weren’t directed at her sister.
Everything in me rebels, and I decide to make her forget everything but me for that moment.
Moving up until my lips almost meet hers, I place one hand over the mouthpiece of the phone while I breathe my reply against her mouth.
“Your taste is on my lips, Mrs. Raizada. We aren’t stopping this…not now. But feel free to continue your conversation while I take you…over and over.”
Her eyes widen in shock, and before she can say or do anything, I part her thighs wide and thrust inside in one smooth stroke.
Her strangled gasp echoes through the room, and she drops the phone immediately.
She meets my eyes with a passion-clouded gaze, and I rest my hips against hers for a moment as she whispers back.
“I…you have to let me cut the call…I can’t talk while I…while we…”
“Too late. You should have done it when you had the chance.”
I withdraw completely, then slam back inside again, and she gasps louder this time.
But when she opens her eyes, they are glittering with need…and a challenge that has nothing to do with her sister, and everything to do with the sultry siren who burned me to cinders last night.
“You aren’t going to win, Arnav.”
“We’ll see about that.”
I wait until she reaches for the phone, then lower my lips to her breast and suckle hard, just before I thrust inside her again.
Her hands move quickly to the phone and she hits the ‘mute’ button.Payal’s frantic voice still comes down the line, and I wonder if she has any idea what her sister is doing at this moment.
I see that knowledge dawn in Khushi’s eyes as well, and a deep red flush of embarrassment spreads across her face as she looks up at me.
I raise myself on my elbows, pulling out until only the tip lodges inside her.
She looks down at the phone, and her finger hovers over the ‘end’ button.
I see the battle in her eyes, the one where she is caught between the desire to avoid handing me the victory, and her intense embarrassment at the scandalous position she is in.
Before she can choose either way, I grasp her chin and force her eyes down to where we are almost joined.
“Tell me you don’t want that right now.”
I bend my head to her other breast, flicking my tongue across the reddened peak before breathing my next words across her aching flesh.
The words are barely out of my mouth before she makes her decision.Pulling the phone close, she closes her eyes.
“Payal? Listen to me. I’ll call you back in an hour.”
As she cuts the call, a blaze of triumph goes through me.
But it is short-lived, because she takes advantage of my distraction by pulling down my hips until I am lodged firmly inside.
“Now make good on your promise, Arnav.”
And so I do.
Over and over, until neither knows where they begin and the other ends.Throughout that passionate morning, I take her again and again, until there isn’t a flat surface we haven’t tried yet. I lose control, and so does she.
And neither of us cares.
In the afternoon, she puts her foot down and insists that we should go out like civilized adults and take in some more sights before nightfall.
I agree, because I know that even my body could use some respite from the passionate demands of my very own siren.
As we approach the car, her steps slow down until she pauses and looks up at me.
“I…wanted to ask you something.”
After her bold, confident manner of last night, this hesitant approach throws me for a moment.
“Sure. What is it?”
“Can I drive this car? Just for the afternoon?”
“You want to drive? But…”
“I have a license , you know. I’ve just never used it. And I’ve been driving the Audi sometimes…”
“I know that. I saw you once when I entered the house early.”
She looks away as the color mounts in her cheeks.
“I had to bully Lavanya into it. I know I probably shouldn’t have, but…”
“Khushi…you can certainly drive anything I own. It’s all yours too, you know. Here.”
I toss her the keys and a surprised smile breaks out on her face.
I laugh, then open the car door for her.
“Yes. I’m right here with you, how much trouble can you get in?”
Hours later, I know that I was so very wrong.The woman is trouble with a capital T, only, it has nothing to do with the car.
As we tour the Tallac historic site which consists of perfectly preserved mansions along the banks of the lake, passionate echoes of the previous night have us reaching for each other, again and again.
I pull her behind a giant redwood tree as my lips find hers, and she responds with equal fervor.
When we finally leave the site, I find that I cannot keep my hands off her. She’s wearing a long, flowing skirt today, and I push it up until I can caress the bare skin of her upper thighs.
But then the car swerves, just a little, and I remember that she’s not very experienced at driving this.
“Pull over, Khushi.”
She looks at me and I see the same desperate need mirrored in her eyes.She pulls out of the lane and stops the car in a pull-out meant for stranded vehicles. I know that we don’t have much time, and I quickly pull her close for a deep kiss even as my hands make their way down to her breasts.
As we try to get closer, I quickly realize that the front-seat of a Lamborghini isn’t really conducive for what I had in mind.Pulling away reluctantly, I hold her face in my hands.
“We’d better get back to the cabin.”
She nods once, then reaches back for the steering wheel just as her phone pings with an incoming message.
She reaches for it absently while I turn my attention to my unfastened seatbelt, but her gasp draws my gaze back to hers.
“Khushi? What’s wrong?”
And I know in that instant that something is very, very wrong.Her face is pale and the hand holding her phone trembles until she drops it suddenly, her gaze swinging wildly around as if she expects someone to jump out at her at that very moment.
I hold her back against the seat to still her frantic movements, and decide that I will not rest until I can get to the bottom of this.
But the words spill from her lips before I can say anything, and the blood chills in my veins.
“It’s…it’s that person, Arnav. The one who…the one who sent those notes! They’ve gotten my phone number now and…”
“Wait a second. What notes? What are you talking about?”
Alarmed, I watch as as her eyes fill with tears.
“I’m so, so sorry. I should have confided in you earlier…”
“What is this all about, Khushi? Tell me, damn it!”
Part 4 (Last part of Chapter 8)
Haltingly, she explains it all over the next few minutes, and I battle conflicting feelings of anger, anxiety, and a sense of betrayal.
She tells me about the first note consisting of newspaper clippings , and my blood chills at those vicious words. She doesn’t know where it came from, because Manorama had apparently thrown away the discarded envelope before Khushi had the presence of mind to examine it for the postmark. The next two messages were sent from an unknown email address to her old University student email, and contained similar messages with warnings about how she was going to suffer in this contract marriage.
I try to control my anger as her words stumble to a halt, knowing that I need to focus on what needs to be done at the moment.
¨Arnav…I’m truly sorry! At first, I…I thought that it was just a prank, especially when they used my student email…and the last one came in a week ago, and I…it slipped my mind with all that’s been happening….and now…now there’s this…I’m really sorry that I didn’t tell you before! This person clearly knows where we are and I…¨
¨There’s no need to panic,Khushi. I’ll deal with this.¨
I can feel her eyes on me as I force my gaze back to the phone display, reading the words for the third time in succession.
Enjoy your Tahoe honeymoon while it lasts.
Your privacy is about to end, Mrs.Raizada.
The last line jumps out at me, and I know one thing for sure.
I have to get her to a safe place, and now.
With that thought in mind, I look up at her and make a quick decision.
¨Step out and let me drive, Khushi.¨
She stares at me for a long moment and then steps out, and I quickly walk over and take her place. My eyes scan the surroundings for signs of an intruder but I find none. I regret the absence of Dhruv, who had driven past us a few minutes ago after I signaled him to give us some privacy, but I know that he will catch up to us when we get back on the freeway.
I start driving with that thought in mind, knowing that I have to get back in touch with my guard as quickly as I can. I fumble in my pocket for my phone, but my hand comes up empty and I realize that it must have fallen under the seat. I turn swiftly to Khushi instead.
¨Khushi, call Dhruv, here’s his number…¨
She dials twice in quick succession but she gets a busy signal.
Knowing that it’s only a few hundred feet before we reach the safety of the cabin, I focus on driving fast and take the last turn at an unsafe speed.
The tall redwood trees block my view of the lane leading to the cabin until the last possible moment, and I keep looking back in the rear-view mirror to see if Dhruv has caught up yet.
Which is why I fail to see the persons waiting for us in the lane.
The flashing cameras catch me unawares, and for one agonizing instant, I am blinded by them. In my current state of distraction, I lose focus and the car swerves for a split second, but it is enough to make me lose control at the speed at which I’ve been driving.
I see the tree in front and slam on the brakes, avoiding a direct collision. But the edge of the hood hits the tree anyway, and the car shudders to a halt at the end of the lane.
The front and side airbags inflate immediately, hiding Khushi from my view.
In a moment of sheer, blind panic, I shout for her at the top of my lungs, desperate to know that she is alright.
As the airbag deflates, I hear her panic-stricken voice.
When I finally see her, my first bizarre thought is that I have seen her look this way once before.
The thin, red streak of red on her forehead is something that I remember from our wedding night, and the sight holds me captive for a moment.
Until I realize that this time, the red isn’t a symbol of anything that’s good.
¨Damn it, you’re bleeding!¨
As she lowers her hand from her forehead, I realize just what has happened here. In an instinctive gesture, she had put her hand up when the car swerved off the road, and the ring on her finger has caused the cut that is now bleeding onto her forehead.
I reach across for a tissue and hold it to the wound, and then she takes it from me.
Anger overriding every other emotion now, I wrench open my door and walk across to her side before lifting her out gently.
¨I…I’m fine…you can put me down.¨
I pay no heed to her feeble protest, concentrating instead on the four photographers who are now huddled on the other side of the road, looking appalled at what they’ve just wrought here.
One of them steps up when they see me walk out, and approaches me with an outstretched hand.
¨Mr.Raizada…are you okay? Do you…need any assistance? Look, I’ve already called 911 and the paramedics should be here at any moment…¨¨
My rage boils over.
¨Making sure that your trespassing didn’t actually injure us, are you? Well, it really doesn’t matter. My attorneys are going to sue your asses off for this. If you escape this with your jobs intact, I’ll be damned.¨
The threat works, and he takes a step back before starting with the pleas.
¨Sir, please! It’s not like we planned for this to happen! We were just following a tip that said that the newly married tycoon was coming here to his love-nest with another woman!¨
I have already moved past him with a pale faced Khushi in my arms, but I turn back to face him when I hear that.
¨As you can clearly see, this woman is my wife. So you and your source can go to hell. When I find out who that is, they are going to wish they had never been born.¨
I ignore his continued protests and walk steadily around the cabin until I reach the back door, then place Khushi down before reaching for the door.
¨Arnav…what if there’s someone in there?¨
I look over at her, knowing the likelihood is very low. But one glance at her trembling form lets me know that allaying her fears is essential at this point, and so I gesture her to stay back while I pull the loaded weapon from my pocket. I know that she has seen me pull it out from the glove compartment before we left the car, but her eyes widen anyway.
¨No! I didn’t mean for you to…wait for Dhruv!¨
I walk into the house , knowing that I need to get this over with before deciding on my next course of action.
Stepping back into the stance of someone who’s familiar with weapons,I look around each corner before walking into a room, and I know within seconds that there’s no one in the small cabin.
Looking back towards the hallway, I see that Khushi has already followed me inside.
¨Damn it, can’t you wait until I give you the all-clear?¨
She parts her lips, but before she can reply, we hear the sound of vehicles pulling up before the cabin.
Dhruv runs inside, closely followed by the paramedics.
¨ASR, what happened?! I drove on past the turn-off where you’d parked and then got stuck behind a trailer, but how…¨
His words come to a halt when he catches my eye, and I know that he has understood my silent gesture to remain silent before the authorities. I have made the decision to tell the cops about the paparazzi and keep the matter of the notes to myself. I know that I have the resources to find the culprit myself, and a police inquiry will only slow things down and make life hell for Khushi.
And so I wait for an excruciating thirty minutes while the medics examine me and Khushi before bandaging her wound and declaring us fit. We give our statements to the cops who have followed them, and then they finally leave us in peace.
I waste no time in bringing Dhruv up to speed, and watch his grim face as he decides that we need to get back home as soon as we can.
In moments, he has seated us in his Mercedes and we are off to South Tahoe airport, where he charters a helicopter that will take us back to a helipad in Palo Alto.
As we wait for the chopper, he leads us to a lounge where he finds us chairs that are well away from everyone.
¨ASR, you know as well as I do that getting to the bottom of this is our priority at the moment. So if you will excuse me, I need to get some details from you that might sound intrusive….¨¨
¨Go ahead, Khushi won’t mind, will you?¨
I look over at her, and she gives me a weak nod. Wishing that I had the time to reassure her, I content myself with wrapping one arm around her while Dhruv starts by asking her for details about her email account and cellphone.
¨ASR, I’m going to get our internet security team on this right away. But before that, I need a list of possible suspects so they know what they are looking for. Have you given some thought to….Chang? The Huangs did say that he had been released…¨
¨Yes, from a rehab center in Singapore, where he now lives with his parents. It can’t be him. Besides, it’s someone close…someone who knows the details of our marriage.¨
He hesitates before voicing his next doubt.
¨What could be his motive?? I don’t think so, Dhruv.¨
He looks even more uncomfortable now.
¨Lavanya has a motive….¨
Khushi looks up at me questioningly.
¨She’s always acted as if…as if I’m not worthy of being your wife, Arnav. Could that be why…¨¨
¨At one point, she wanted to go out with me. But I never took her up on her offer. I have a hard time believing that she’s harbored a grudge for this long.¨
I look down at her warily, wondering if she’s going to take me to task for keeping this from her for so long. To my amazement, there’s a glint of humor in her hazel eyes.
¨So you were right, after all. Women do throw themselves at you all the time.¨
I laugh, and even Dhruv chuckles as the tension is broken.
¨I’ll still keep her on the list.¨
¨Arnav, I…I was wondering if…if Shyam…you did say that he didn’t trust me….or even Aman, who went through so much…¨
¨Was that why you were asking about Shyam?It’s highly unlikely, Khushi. Although Aman should definitely go on that list.¨
Dhruv asks us a few more questions, and then it’s time for us to leave.
As we strap ourselves into the helicopter, it hits me for the first time that I have come so close to losing Khushi today. In the events that followed the accident, I seem to have lost sight of that.
The thought makes me pull her close as we soar above Lake Tahoe, the silence only punctuated by Dhruv’s phone calls as he gets the investigation underway.
When we land in Palo Alto, he tells us that the emails have been sent through a new account that is currently being monitored by my team. The results could still take some time, but they already have a lead on the phone number from which the text message was sent today. Dhruv tells me that it is no longer in service, and the team thinks that it was a pay as you go phone that the stalker discarded after using . Their next aim is to track down the payment and call history through the service provider, and all we can do is wait for the results.
In half an hour, we are on our way to Menlo Park in a hired limo, and Dhruv calls ahead for extra protection at the mansion.
But when we turn into the driveway, we are in for a surprise.
Even at this distance, we can clearly see the couple waiting for us at our door with Lavanya by their side.
¨Looks like your sister’s American vacation starts here, Khushi.¨
She looks up at me incredulously as the limo pulls up before the pool, and I shrug before stepping out. Dhruv walks over to open Khushi’s door, just as as his phone rings.
Khushi is now slowly walking towards her sister, and I start to follow before Dhruv pulls me to a stop.
And when I hear what he has to say, the blood freezes in my veins.
Payal is just a few feet from Khushi now, her gaze fixed on the white bandage on her forehead.
¨Oh my God, have you been hurt, Khushi?¨¨¨
She reaches out, but I am faster.
With fear and anger fueling my movements, I pull Khushi to a halt and position myself before her, just as Dhruv comes up on her other side.
I notice his gesture to Lavanya, and she moves silently until she is beside Payal, who is now looking at me, apparently astonished.
¨What are you doing? My sister is hurt and I…¨
Khushi places a hand on my arm.
¨Arnav, she’s just….¨
Ignoring everyone else, I place my hands on Khushi’s shoulders, knowing that this is going to be hard on her.
¨Khushi…Dhruv just received some startling information. Apparently, it was easy to track down the call history of that phone because there was only one call made from it since it was purchased. And that was to you….this morning.¨
I watch as the truth begins to dawn in her eyes, as she remembers the phone call that interrupted our time together this morning.
¨No. That isn’t possible. Why would Payal…¨
Akash steps up beside his wife, seemingly bewildered at the turn of events.
¨What’s going on here?¨
Payal throws up her hands.
¨I don’t know! Possibly an attempt to poison my sister’s mind against me, I guess. Don’t listen to him, Khushi. I don’t know what he’s trying to tell you but it’s obviously not true.¨
I look down at Khushi, who looks torn.
¨The evidence is absolute, Khushi. Dhruv has the proof.¨
For a long moment, she looks up at me, and then her gaze veers to Payal.
And then she takes a deep breath before speaking the words that almost bring me to my knees.
¨He would never lie to me, Payal. He never has, and he has no reason to start now.¨
I slip my hand into hers, and she grasps it tightly, although hers continues to tremble.
Payal’s gaze takes this in, and the carefully cultivated facade begins to slip.
¨I can’t believe this! You would take his word over mine? I’m your sister! And you have just known him for a few weeks, Khushi!¨
¨He says that he has proof, Payal.¨
¨And you are just going to believe him? I expected better from you, Khushi. Or have you been blinded by all his wealth and glamour and you really can’t see the truth?¨
¨What is the truth, Payal? Why don’t you tell me the reason why you…¨
¨Exactly! Why would I do this? Why would I call you and send you threatening notes?¨
She clamps her lips shut immediately, but it’s too late.
The silence is deafening until I break it.
¨No one said anything about any notes, Payal. ¨
Khushi leans against me as the truth sinks in, and I draw her close.
Realizing that the game is up, Payal goes on the offensive.
¨Yes, I sent her those notes! And the text message! And do you know why? I did it because I wanted her to realize that marriage to you wasn’t good for her! Her place was with me, back in India! And if it wasn’t for you, she would still be there, helping me through all this!¨
Astonishment at her delusions holds me paralyzed for a moment, but Khushi replies at once.
¨Are you insane? You want me to break my marriage and come back just so that I can be there for you? Do you realize that you sound like a five year old? Did you even once consider how terrified I was when I got those messages?¨
¨I wanted you to be scared. Maybe then you would know that the only safe place for you was back home, by my side. You belong there, Khushi. Do you know how terrified I have been with you gone? I can’t handle all this by myself, Khushi! It’s different for you, you have always been the independent one. But me…I need you there. I can’t do the whole daughter-in-law and wife thing without your support. Whereas he…he can find a replacement for you quick enough. He doesn’t really need you….not like I do!¨
Something in her words trigger a memory, and I remember the very first note.
¨How the hell did you even find out about the contract?¨
She faces me with a malicious smile.
¨You thought that you were so clever, didn’t you? When you sent us all off to the temple so that you could meet Khushi alone, you thought that you had taken care of everything….but I came back that day, Mr.Raizada. I came back because I suspected that something was up, and when I did…I heard you explaining the terms of the contract.¨
Khushi’s voice breaks across her insane explanation, and it is thick with unshed tears.
¨¨I…I just don’t get it, Payal. You knew that this was a contract marriage and yet you let me go ahead then? And now…now you want me to come back to you?¨
¨I did not stop you from marrying him because it gave me what I wanted at that time. I got Akash, and you…you came here. But I was prepared to wait, knowing that you would be back after a year when the contract was over. But then…then I found out that you were taking a job that could keep you here for years…and I wasn’t prepared to let that happen. I had already lost a lot of time with you when you were here for your studies…it was hell for me then, Khushi! I couldn’t let that happen again…¨
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place.
¨And so you called someone at Gensys and told them about our marriage…but how did you know about her job at all?¨
¨Once again, you presume that only you can be shrewd and clever, Mr.Raizada. I saw the job offer in her email inbox while she was in India. And yes, I indirectly caused her to be fired. But then…she began showing signs of actually becoming attached to you, and committed to this marriage…and so I…¨
¨…you started sending those hateful messages to me?Payal, this is unbelievable! I told you when I came back to India that you were on your own now! I know that you were dependent on me, but I also know that it was an unhealthy way to live, and it was no way to start your new married life. It was for your own good, Payal…why can’t you see that?¨
¨My good? His good, you mean! It’s become all about him for you, Khushi! He’s poisoned your mind against your own family, he’s changed you completely! You don’t see it now, but he’s just going to dump you after he’s taken all that he wants and then…¨
My fraying control snaps.
¨Enough! The only poison around here is you! Did you even stop to think about the consequences of calling the paparazzi today? Your sister was injured, and it could have been worse!Do you even care?¨
She turns a tearful gaze to Khushi.
¨Khushi…I really didn’t mean for that to happen…you have to believe me! I only did this because…¨
Khushi stands up straight, leaning away from my body but keeping her hand firmly in mine.
¨I know why, Payal. I now know why you did all this. You wanted my help…and I’m going to give it to you.¨
I look down at her, alarmed.
But then I remember the trust she bestowed on me mere moments before, and I know that I owe her the same.
And so I watch as she takes a deep breath.
¨My only piece of advice for you, Payal…please, please get some help. There are counselors out there, and therapy if you need it…if not for you, do it for the baby’s sake. It deserves a mother who is in control of her own life…¨
Akash’s voice cuts across her words.
¨Baby? What baby?¨
¨She told me she was pr…¨
She senses the truth even as the words leave her lips, and it dawns on us that Payal had been lying all along…just to get her own way.
But now it as if the words are a trigger and Payal collapses into a pitiful, sobbing heap, supported only by her husband.
He looks up at me as I hold a tearful Khushi close.
¨Are you going to press charges against her?¨
I look down at Khushi, every instinct urging me to say yes.
I want Payal to be punished…but something greater than my instincts holds me back as I look down into trusting hazel eyes.
¨Not if you take her back right away and get her help.¨
He nods once, and I quickly take Khushi inside.
We have barely reached our room before she turns to me, holding me tight as she finally gives way to the storm inside.
And at that moment, I am only grateful that she has turned to me…and not from me.
The next three days are hard, as I try to combine the demands of work with my desire to be with Khushi when she really needs me. Things with the merger are coming to a head, and I try to finish as much as possible before rushing home to be with my wife.
Khushi is clearly in turmoil, and has lost her appetite. Late at night, she lies awake in my arms, alternately berating herself for allowing things to get to this point, while venting her sorrow at the same time.
I try to make her understand that it’s not all her fault, but I’m not really sure that I am getting through to her.
These three days teach me a whole new definition of being a husband. I find myself grieving for her…and with her, sharing the emotions as if they were my own.
And yet, I realize that she needs additional support. Having already arranged for her mother to get a U.S visa weeks ago, it is now just a matter of sending out the jet for her, and she is due to arrive tonight. I am hoping that her three week stay will provided much needed closure to both women, and I am planning to take Khushi out for dinner before she arrives. It will do her good to get out of the house, although she has only agreed to my plan with great reluctance.
I listen to N.K as he goes on and on about how important the Brisbane conference is and how essential my presence there is, since A.R corp is one of the sponsors. But I refuse him again, knowing that there is no way that I can leave Khushi alone for any length of time at this moment.
I enter the house with a smile on my face, and even the presence of the screeching bird doesn’t faze me.
Until I hear the words it is now repeating on a loop.
For the first time, those words aren’t profanities.
I stand there stunned, knowing that there is only one person in this house who could have uttered those words.
I did not want to hear those words.
I wish I never had.
Even as I stand there, frozen, Khushi comes down the stairs, looking ravishing in a red dress.
I look up at her, knowing what I have to do, and despising myself for doing it.
And yet, I cannot bear the thought of facing her with the knowledge that I have now…not until I can think things through.
Am I running away?
I probably am…but I don’t see any other way.
And so I go up to her and gently inform her that my presence is needed at the Brisbane conference.
Her smile falls off her face, but she reaches up and kisses me once.
¨How many days?¨
Three days in which I have to get rid of this suffocating feeling that is weighing me down with guilt, despair…and something else, something unexplained.
She smiles up at me now, oblivious to all that is driving me away.
¨Come home soon, Arnav.¨
I kiss her again, then turn around and leave through the still open front door.
I try to forget the parakeet’s echoed words as I instruct Dhruv to pack a bag for me and bring it to the airport, where I will take the next available commercial flight to Brisbane.
I try to forget those words as I drive to San Francisco in the limo.
A crushing sense of guilt at leaving her at her time of need almost paralyzes me, but I try to fight it off with the realization that she will have her mother with her.
Those words haunt me as I enter the airport, and I am only distracted by the sudden flash of cameras at the curb.
For an insane moment, I wonder if the paparazzi from Lake Tahoe are back again.
But when I look up, I realize that the flashes and shouted questions aren’t for me this time.
Instead, the focus of the media is the man who has arrived just behind me, and I know from the questions that it is someone who is a favorite of Khushi’s.
But even the presence of Chris Evans cannot distract me from what is eating me up inside.
I allow him to walk past me, and then walk on towards the Qantas counter.
It is only hours later that I allow the bird’s overheard words to play back in my mind when I am seated in the business class section of the early morning flight from San Francisco to Brisbane.
I close my eyes and lean back in my seat as the words play over and over in my head, making my heart race with every remembered syllable.
Think I love you, Arnav!
Think I love you, Arnav!
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Baaraatis CC Thread 5
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See you soon with Khushi’s perspective in Chapter 9!