Chapter Two

 

 

 

Thank you for yet another beautiful banner, Harith25!
 
 
 
 
Chapter Two (Part One)
 
 
 
“Mrs. Raizada? We are an hour away from landing, just wanted to let you know.”
I sit up, dazed and groggy after my nap.
“Thank you.”
The stewardess smiles, then turns around and leaves the cabin.
It still amazes me that  there is an actual cabin on board this plane, complete with a bed, small table and nightstand. I came in here hours before, but I haven’t been asleep all the while.
I look over at the nightstand,  and gather all the printouts that I had brought with me on board. As I place them back in my bag, I recall everything that was written on those sheets of paper . They are printouts of articles I found on the internet, when I Google searched ‘Arnav Singh Raizada.”
One particular article has been taken from the Time magazine, from when he had been included in the list of top fifty young entrepreneurs in the States. The article details his rise to his current position after he arrived here from India, and it has helped me fill in the blanks about this enigmatic man I have married. I now know that he came here when he was seventeen, after he secured a job as a security guard in a software company. After two years, he had managed to start his own security agency, and it had been moderately successful. With this new source of income, he had enrolled for a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, but had dropped out a year before graduation to start his own small internet security firm. One of his antivirus software programs had gained instant popularity, and overnight, he had become one of Silicon Valley’s success stories. After that, there was no stopping him. He had started out by buying up small companies like his own, until he had a sizable market share. And finally three years ago, Raizada Corp had been formed. The company was now recognized as a significant player in Silicon Valley, and it’s founder was now a millionaire.
After reading that article, I found myself admiring his drive and ambition. The hunger to succeed was evident, and I can identify with that.
What I simply can’t reconcile myself with are all the tabloid stories that I have pulled up at the same time. Articles about his flamboyant lifestyle and affairs with celebrities make me uneasy, although I know that this isn’t so very different from the other rich, privileged men here.
I ask myself why this disturbs me so much, and I have no answer to that question. After all, what he does with his life is no concern of mine. This is just a twelve-month deal, and that’s all there is to it.
I walk over to the restroom and quickly splash some cold water on my face. In a few minutes, I manage to comb my hair and put on some lip gloss, making myself presentable in the process.
I stare at my reflection in the mirror as I wonder once again…just why does he find me attractive?
All my life, I haven’t really paid too much attention to my own looks, or lack thereof. I know that I am too thin, and very pale. I don’t wear too much make-up, and my wardrobe is geared for practicality, not elegance. And so I don’t really see why a man like him would find me alluring.
A question forces it’s way to the forefront of my brain…
Do I want him to find me attractive?
 
I refuse to answer that, even to myself.
I reach into my bag and pull out some perfume, and while I am spraying that around my neck, the bangles around my wrists catch my eye.
I smile as I recall the moment when Naniji gifted them to me.
When Arnav informed her that he was leaving for the States, she had put her foot down and told him in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t let him go until the muh-dikhai was over. He might have refused to participate in the pre-wedding ceremonies or even a traditional wedding, but this was one ceremony that she wouldn’t compromise on. She wanted the extended family to meet the new Raizada bride, and she had made that clear.
And so, he had stayed back until that afternoon.
The ceremony itself was short, and I remember feeling self-conscious throughout. The one bright spot was when Naniji gave me these beautiful bangles and welcomed me into the family. Her affection for her grandson was visible and I couldn’t help but feel the pang of guilt at our deception, even as I smiled with a honest appreciation of her gift.
Arnav had left that afternoon after lunch, and the very next day, I had returned to Bangalore with Amma and Payal. Those last few days in my home were marked by an outpouring of affection on Amma’s part, and a gradual thaw on Payal’s. Slowly, we had gone back to the way things were before that fateful night on the Shantivan balcony. And one week later, when it was time for me to board this jet, we had clung to each other and wept, knowing that our lives were going to take divergent paths from now on.
The memory makes me close my eyes, but then I open them again when I hear the Captain’s announcement.
It is time to land…time to face the results of my decision.
I take a deep breath, and walk out into the main cabin. As I buckle myself into my seat, I see that someone has slid into the one opposite me.
“Mrs.Raizada, there are a few things you need to know before we disembark.”
I hesitate before looking up.
I know who that voice belongs to, of course. When I boarded the plane, the Captain introduced me to a dusky, statuesque beauty, who went by the name of Lavanya Kashyap.
Incredibly, she was assigned to me as my private bodyguard.
I hadn’t been informed about this beforehand, but she had assured me that ASR had specifically asked for her to be my shadow…my protection against all dangers that might be out there.
I had tried my level best to take this in my stride, but the whole situation made me uneasy.
Lavanya made me uneasy, too. 
There was just something about her…something I couldn’t place my finger on.
I tried to tell myself that it was unfamiliarity with the whole bodyguard thing, but I couldn’t quite convince myself.
And now , here she is, sitting right before me…and I have to steel myself to face her.
“Yes, Ms.Kashyap?”
“I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, Mrs.Raizada. But given that you are unused to being in the public eye, it is my duty to prepare you for the worst.”
I look away towards the window, and notice that we are already circling over the glimmering blue waters of the San Francisco bay.
“The…worst?”
“Yes. We will be landing at a private airstrip, and hopefully, we should be able to make a quick getaway. However, if there has been a leak…the paparazzi might be waiting. And in that case, I need you to stay calm, not answer any questions, and just follow me as I make my way through. Is that clear?”
Paparazzi?
 
I had never even considered that the media might be interested in me, of all people. But I realize that now, as the new wife of a Silicon Valley millionaire, there is bound to be a certain level of curiosity.
“I understand, Ms.Kashyap.”
I look away again, but she continues.
“ASR is very particular about privacy…when it comes to his family. I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.”
It seems like a strange choice of words, but I let it pass.
“I’m sure that we can handle it together.”
She smiles a grim smile, the turns towards the window herself.
I stare down at the bay, wondering if the press is down there, waiting to pounce on me.
Not for a moment do I think about who else might be down there, waiting.
_______
As we walk towards the parking lot, I find myself grateful that the media hasn’t been alerted to my arrival after all. Now all that is left is to make my way home with the enigmatic Ms.Kashyap, and then I can finally give in to the exhaustion and sleep to my hearts content.
She stops before a long, silver car, and I blink in disbelief.
A limousine?
 
Before I can get over my surprise, she opens the rear passenger door and steps back.
I take a deep breath, heft my bag securely over my shoulder and step into the cool, opulent interior.
Only to have the breath knocked out of my body when I see the man lounging against the leather upholstery.
“Hi.”
I say nothing for a moment, my head spinning with confusion.
For some reason, I had never considered that he might actually come here to the airport to meet me on my arrival.
“Why the surprise, Khushi? Did you think I wouldn’t be here to welcome my new wife?”
“I…just didn’t…”
He smiles.
“Never mind that. Here…”
He holds out a bouquet of tulips and daisies, and I take them automatically.
The sound of the car door closing draws my attention,and I look up to see that Ms.Kashyap is now sitting next to the driver.
Arnav looks up too.
“Dhruv, straight home, please.”
“Yes, Mr.Raizada.”
He presses a button and a grey glass wall slides up between us and the front of the car, ensuring that we are no longer visible to the others.
Even as I marvel at this , I feel his fingers grasp mine.
Taken by surprise, I raise wide eyes to meet his, just as he lifts my hand to his lips, and places a soft kiss on my palm.
“Welcome home, Mrs.Raizada.”
I want to answer, but I can’t.
I’m too busy trying to ignore the warmth that spreads across my hand, something that I’ve never felt before.
“Did you have a comfortable flight?”
I look up at him, then take a deep breath.
“Yes, thank you.”
He lets me go, then reaches into his jacket and pulls out his phone.
“Would you like to let your mother know that you have arrived safely?”
I nod, startled that I had forgotten all about my mother for a moment. But instead of taking his phone, I pull out my own and turn it on before dialing my mother’s number.
He stares at me for a moment, hand still outstretched. And then he sighs once, before replacing his phone.
It takes me only a few minutes to reassure Amma that all is  fine, and I promise to call her again later, from home.
I have barely cut the call before his phone rings, and he answers it quickly.
“Di? Yes, she just landed. She’s right here, if you want to speak to her…”
He hands me the phone, and I speak to Di as well. After a couple of minutes, she asks to speak to Arnav again, and I hand him the phone, careful to keep from touching him again.
“Yes, Di? No, I haven’t had a chance to discuss the house yet. I will, soon. When’s your flight? “
He listens for a few moments.
“I just don’t understand why you can’t use the jet, Di. It’s just sitting here…”
I look out the window, trying not to eavesdrop on the conversation . And I am moderately successful, until a name draws my attention.
Sheetal? You want me to check on her? Are you insane?”
I look over at him, surprised by the note of incredulous astonishment in his voice.
“After everything that happened when I last saw her, how can you possibly ask me to do that?”
There are a few more moments of silence from his end as he listens to Di, and then he sighs.
“Look, the most I can promise is to send N.K to her. If  he has the time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have much more important things to think about than her.”
 
He cuts the call and throws the phone beside him, then rubs a frustrated hand over his eyes.
I open my mouth to ask him what the matter is, but then I curb the impulse.
That would be something a real wife does, and I have to remember that none of this is real.
 
Separate lives…
 
I stare out the window again, and realize that we are driving along the waterfront.
“Do you live…here?”
 
My amazement overrides my reserve, and I turn to face him again.
He looks over at me with a half-smile in place, his earlier frustration obviously forgotten.
“It is one of my homes, yes.”
Of course.
Where would a millionaire live, if not in the Financial district?
I know that this is the most exclusive neighborhoods of San Francisco, I couldn’t even afford to rent a place here on my current salary.
And this is just one of his homes!
“Actually, that’s something I wanted to talk to you about, Khushi. Before we left for India, I had seen a property in Menlo Park that I really liked. Di loved it too, and I ended up buying it. The deal has now been closed, and I would like to take you there tomorrow to see if you would want to live in a place like that.”
Menlo Park?
 
I knew the town, of course. It was yet another exclusive, expensive area, one that was chosen by the elite who wished for privacy above all else.
“Why do you want to relocate to Menlo Park?”
He stares at me for a moment.
“I wasn’t sure if I did, really. I bought that home because it seemed like a good investment…but in this case, it would be convenient for you when you join the University. So, should we go out there tomorrow?”
“I…I guess so. But I’ll need to go in to Palo Alto in the morning, I have to go to the Biotech start-up I was telling you about and tell them I won’t be joining them.”
“That isn’t a problem. We can go to the house in the evening. “
I nod reluctantly, wondering why my opinion is needed at all. 
When all is said and done, I will only be living there for twelve months…
Before I can remind him of this fact, I realize that we are heading into the parking garage under one of the residential high-rises not too far from the waterfront.
The passenger door opens as soon as the car comes to a halt, and within minutes, we are in an elevator.
As I step out into a lobby that is all chrome and glass, I look out the tall windows and realize that we are on the penthouse level again.
I walk over to the door, and wait while Dhruv brings in my bags.
Arnav comes up behind me, and I start as I hear his whisper.
“Should I carry you over the threshold?”
I whirl around, only to find him grinning at me.
The door opens before I can say anything, and I find myself staring at a middle-aged lady dressed in a bright pink saree.
“Welcome, Mrs. Raizada! I am Manorama, your housekeeper!”
__________
An hour later, I step out of the shower and dry my hair.
I look around my room again, taking in the ivory bedspread, gray curtains and white furniture. Everything is elegant, luxurious…and makes me feel like I need to be extra-careful at all times.
The same is true of the entire three -bedroom apartment as well. Manorama gave me a tour earlier, and she pointed out Arnav’s room too, which is the room directly across the hallway from mine. I have no idea what she thinks of this arrangement, but I certainly do not have the courage to ask.
Arnav escorted me to my room earlier, and I haven’t seen him since.
Not that I am in any hurry to do that, of course. I haven’t forgotten his declaration on our wedding night, and I know that the practiced seduction will be back when we find ourselves alone again.
I sigh, knowing that I will have to face him soon. There is dinner to be gotten through, after all.
But surely, there’s still time for that?
I am feeling dizzy from the lack of sleep, and I decide to take a small nap before dinner.
I lie down on the bed, still dressed in my robe.
Within moments, I am lost to the world.
An indefinite length of time later, I have the strangest sense that I am being watched. I don’t know if this is reality, or just a dream.
My eyes refuse to open, even when I feel a gentle, fleeting touch on my lips.
I sigh, then turn around and go back into a deep slumber.
________
“Mrs.Raizada, what will you have for breakfast?”
“Breakfast? Nothing, please. I’ll just take some juice with me, I’m terribly late and I…”
“Sit down, Khushi. You missed dinner last night, you’re certainly not leaving without any breakfast.”
I whirl around, unaware that he has come up behind me.
Immediately, I find myself conscious of my appearance. After a long night’s sleep, I have woken up just fifteen minutes ago, appalled that I was going to be late for my appointment. After a quick shower, I had thrown on the first pair of clothes that I could find, and surely those were no match for his clothes.
Today he  was wearing a blue suit, and looking impossibly sexy while I…
I tear my eyes away, and shake my head vehemently.
“I need to be in Palo Alto by ten, I can’t afford to…”
“I’ll drop you. Now, tell Manorama what you would like to eat.”
I open my mouth to argue, but there’s something in his eyes that tells me that it would be a waste of time. I quickly settle for a bowl of cereal, and finish it in five minutes while he stares at me over a cup of coffee.
Once I’m done, I walk over to the closet and pull out my jacket, grimacing as I see his expensive leather coat beside it.
I smooth down my kurti just as he walks to the door, and Manorama comes up beside me.
“You’re looking very pretty, Mrs. Raizada.”
I smile at her, thankful for the attempt to cheer me up.
“Thank you.”
As I turn away, I notice that Arnav is staring at me with a speculative expression.
“I…I hope I’m not keeping you from anything?”
“It’s not a problem, Khushi. I’ll drop you off today, from tomorrow you’ll have your own car and driver.”
I follow him into the elevator and down into the garage, then wait until we are seated in the limo before speaking again.
“Uh…can I have anything but a limo?”
He stares at me, surprised.
“Sure, if that’s what you want. I choose this because it’s convenient for me to work while I travel. But if you prefer something else…”
“Anything small and inconspicuous would do.”
“Fine, whatever you want.”
I turn away, biting my lip. I wish that I had a car of my own so I wouldn’t have to borrow his, but I’ve never been able to afford one.
And somehow, I don’t think he’d allow his wife to travel by public transport, which is what I’ve been doing for the past few years.
Lost in my thoughts, I don’t realize that he is staring at me until he speaks again.
 
 
“Why do you find it so hard to accept compliments?”
Surprised by the sudden question, I wrench my eyes away from the glorious view of the San Francisco bay outside and look back at him.
“Compliments?”
“Yes. Like the one you just received this morning.”
“I thanked her, didn’t I?”
He looks at me with an appraising gaze, and I fight the urge to shift in my seat .
“Yes, you did. But I saw the look in your eyes later. You didn’t believe that there was anything worth complimenting about your appearance, did you?”
I look down at my new peach-colored Lucknowi chikan kurti, and the tan slacks that I have paired with them.
“Honestly? No.”
He stares at me for a moment, and then straightens from his indolent pose.
His eyes glint with interest and something more…something I have no name for.
“You really don’t think you’re beautiful, do you?”
I meet his eyes, and say nothing.
I have never thought of myself in that way, and to hear that word from his lips makes me uncomfortable. 
He leans towards me slightly, and his gaze sharpens.
“Why don’t you try looking at yourself through a man’s eyes?”
“What?”
I have no idea where he’s going with this, and I’m not sure I want to hear the rest of it.
I sneak in a quick glance outside, but we are still driving along the freeway and I know that our destination is miles away.
There’s no escape, and now it’s too late.
His low, husky tones seem to whisper along the leather upholstery, and his next words steal my breath.
“Yes. First, let’s talk about your eyes… a man could look into those eyes for years, and never really figure out what shade they are. Are they hazel? Or green with a tinge of blue? Mysterious eyes that might change with different moods…”
I blink up at him, wondering if he’s taunting me. After all, this is the United States, and beautiful eyes of different hues are so very common here.
But his gaze holds nothing but serious intent, and I realize that he has moved on from my eyes.
“Or shall we talk about your hair? Thick, lustrous…makes a man instantly visualize what it might look like against his pillow. Or wrapped around his hand as he draws you in for a kiss…”
I gasp in shock, and stare up at him.
But my power of speech seems to have deserted me at the moment.
“Maybe we should talk about your skin instead. Pure, unblemished…every man wonders if it’s the same all the way down your body.”
His gaze wanders down my body, and this time, I cannot stop myself from shifting against the seat.
Unfortunately, embarrassment isn’t all that I’m feeling at the moment.
An insidious heat begins deep inside, and I find myself unable to meet his eyes.
Does he know what he is doing to me?
 
 
I have no time to ponder, because his next words shock me out of my daze.
“And then, there are your breasts. A perfect size for a man’s hands…”
He looks up from my chest suddenly.
“…unless, there’s some padding there?”
What?! Of course there isn’t!”
My eyes widen in shock, and I cannot believe that I have allowed myself to be goaded into the instantaneous, revealing, rebuttal.
Why couldn’t I have just ignored his blatant, suggestive words?
 
 
His gaze holds an amused glint now, and he relaxes against the seat again.
“Well, that’s a relief. And there you have it. You are perfect, just the way you are. Without artificial enhancements or beauty aids…how can you not see what I see?”
I place my hands over my burning cheeks, then lower them immediately when his eyes hone in on the telltale gesture.
I can’t take much more of this, and I decide to tell him that he needs to stop, effective immediately.
“Look, you can’t keep doing this. You need to stop saying these things…”
“I don’t really think I can. Not when I have such an attractive partner.”
I resist the urge to throw my hands up in despair.
“Well, I do too, but I don’t go on and on about it!”
His sharp intake of breath alerts me to what I’ve done.
Once again, I have let my tongue run away with me, and in doing so, I have revealed something that I never, ever wanted to.
But it’s too late to take the words back,and I watch in trepidation as satisfaction lights his eyes.
There is triumph there as well…and that elusive something.
 
 
 
Finally. Khushi Arnav Raizada admits that she finds her husband attractive.”
I take in a deep breath, and decide that I won’t give him the satisfaction of embarrassing me over this.
I will brazen it out, come what may.
“That’s not exactly breaking news. Haven’t you seen yourself in a mirror recently?”
“I have, of course. But it is so much more interesting to hear this from your lips. Tell me, Khushi, what do you find attractive about me?”
I can’t believe that I am actually having this conversation with him.
But from what I have seen of him since we have gotten married, these kind of conversations are going to be the norm and I need to adapt, quickly.
“Do you want a list?”
I aim for sarcasm, but he chooses to overlook it.
His eyes glint with a wicked delight, and I raise my chin in an unconscious acceptance of his challenge when he replies.
“Yes. Why don’t you tell me what you like?”
I stare at him for a moment, and then I throw caution to the winds.
 
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
“Well…there is one part of you that draws my attention like nothing else.”
His eyes widen in surprise momentarily, and the air of studied laziness disappears as he straightens.
“There…is?”
“Yes, I’m very , very curious about it…”
I look down at him deliberately, and then raise my eyes slowly to meet his.
He is staring at me as if he’s never seen me before, and I revel in my imminent victory.
“Curious?”
His voice is husky, and I lower my own as I continue.
“Yes, Mr. Raizada. I want to know all there is to know about that one part, given the extraordinary tales of your prowess in that area.”
“You…do?”
“If there was a way, I’d like to examine it some day. Just to see what makes it so special , you know?”
He shifts towards me slightly, and I notice that his eyes have darkened.
“Good God, woman, I didn’t think that you would want to…but now that I know, you’re welcome to  examine it any day, any time.”
I bite my lips to curb my laughter, and notice that his eyes are drawn to that gesture.
“Really? But how would I be able to do that, Mr.Raizada?”
He tears his gaze from my lips and looks up at me, then reaches for my hand.
“I can show you, right now.”
I pull my hand away and widen my eyes.
“What are you talking about?”
My voice seems to finally penetrate the haze he seems to be drowning in, and he stares at me, confused.
“What are you talking about?”
“Your brain, Mr. Raizada. Your famed shaatir dimaag. What did you think I was talking about?”
For few moments, silence fills the car.
He stares at me, his eyes glazed with shock.
And then slowly, a smile lifts one corner of his lips.
“My…brain?”
 
 
I want to respond, but I can’t.
I feel as if I have suddenly exhausted my supply of poise and wit for the day, and my own brain decides to shut down under the force of his heated glare.
“Of course, there’s no way for you to examine my…brain. You’ll just have to accept the evidence blindly. However…”
He leans towards me, and I cannot stop myself from leaning back.
His nearness is having a strange affect on me, especially after all that we’ve been talking about.
And then he finally continues, and I find myself suddenly breathless.
“…however, my offer to examine…everything else still stands.”
With a final wink, he settles back in his seat.
And I just sit there, breathless and bewildered by my own body’s reactions for the rest of the ride.
________
After wishing him a hasty goodbye, I step out of the limo and walk down to the new office of the start-up with Ms.Kashyap. She tells me that she will stay out by the reception, and I barely pay attention to her, distracted by the thought of the upcoming meeting.
Aman Mathur and I have been classmates for the past three years, but I cannot say that I know him very well. He was one of the reserved, studious types who neither did badly nor very well, and his mediocre grades were much below my own. I did realize that he comes from a wealthy family, and so I wasn’t surprised when he decided to start his own company after graduation.
was surprised when he offered me a position as Principal Investigator, though. I had graduated at the top of my class, and finding a job would have been easy for me. However, since he was offering me one without having to go through an extensive interview process, I had chosen to accept it at the time.
We even had our first big project in hand, something that had excited me once.
But now that a bigger prize was within my reach, I couldn’t help but wish for this to be over, just so that I can go back and call the admissions advisor at Stanford about my PhD.
As I walk into his office, I wonder how Aman is going to react to this news.
To my dismay, he reacts pretty badly.
After a moment of shocked silence and disbelief, he starts berating me about leaving him in the lurch. I try to explain why I’m doing this, but he seems to be unable to look beyond his own loss.
Finally, I lose my cool.
“Look, Aman, it’s not like I’m the only PI out there! With the salary you are offering, I’m sure you’ll have a line of…”
“But they won’t be you! I was counting on you, Khushi! You were a topper, the fact that I had you on board went a long way towards convincing BioSys to hand us this prestigious project! If they find out that I don’t have a good PI, then…”
“It won’t be an issue if you look for someone right away, Aman.”
“I can’t take that chance. I’ve borrowed heavily from my family, I can’t afford to…Khushi, can you consider working here for a month or two? Just until I find someone good. And I’ll make sure that your hours are flexible, so that it doesn’t interfere with your studies.”
I sigh, then look away for a moment as guilt rears it’s head.
After all, Aman had given me a job as soon as I had graduated, and I owe him this much.
“A month, that’s all.”
“Thanks, Khushi, you’re a savior!”
I sigh again, then walk outside to tell Lavanya that we will staying all day.
The rest of the day passes in a blur as I try to concentrate on the project, but by five p.m, jet lag is beginning to catch up with me.
I walk out to the parking lot, not surprised to see the limo there already.
But there’s no one else in it, and I ask the driver about it.
“ASR is already at the home in Menlo Park, Mrs. Raizada. He asked me to take you there after work.”
I lean back and close my eyes, almost having forgotten about the house.

On the drive over, I take out my phone and check my personal email, my mood brightening as I see the mail from Payal.
Apparently, Amma is hosting a lunch for Akash and his mother over the weekend, and the wedding date will likely be decided then.
I type a short reply, and when I’m done, the limo is pulling into a long, winding driveway.
I look up as the house comes into view, a sharp gasp escaping my lips at the sight.
 
 
 
I didn’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t this.
As the car comes to a smooth stop in front of a water fountain set in the center of a small, ornamental pool, I gaze wide-eyed at the beautiful mansion before me.
It is a Spanish colonial house, complete with the characteristic white walls and red-tiled roof. The sides are covered with ivy, and I can see the green lawns that border the courtyard.
I step out of the car, and Ms.Kashyap escorts me to the entryway. I stare up at the carved stonework, arches and spiral columns that make up the facade, and I find myself puzzling over this choice.
As expensive as this obviously is, it isn’t what I had been expecting, especially after I had seen his penthouse in the Financial District.
This isn’t an ostentatious showpiece…not really.
There is a warmth here…this is clearly a home, not merely an investment property.
As the door opens and I step into a high-ceilinged living-room , that impression solidifies into certainty. The warm paint accents, the colorful tiles at my feet, and the earth tones throughout put me at my ease, and I immediately feel comfortable here…unlike the penthouse.
My gaze is drawn to the man standing by the bay window, and he turns to face me at exactly the same time.
“Khushi…welcome. I hope you’re not too tired for a tour?”
I shake my head, then watch warily as Arnav comes up to me. I can’t believe how fresh and energetic he looks after a full day’s work, and I find myself wishing that I had taken the time to straighten my appearance before meeting him.
I look away, appalled at my thoughts.
Why do I care if I look less than presentable?
“So…what do you think of the house so far?”
“It’s beautiful. “
He smiles, obviously pleased by my response.
“Shall we go in?”
I follow him into a dining-room, and then we enter the gourmet kitchen and family room. The kitchen opens out into the backyard, and the view of all the greenery is amazing.
I walk over to the sliding door that leads outside, but his voice stops me.
“Can we leave that for later? I’d like to go upstairs first…”
We climb the stairs to the upper level, and he informs me that the house has six bedrooms. I have no idea why we might need that many, but I say nothing.
We look through all the guest rooms first, and I find myself smiling at the beautiful decor.
But then we reach the master-suite, and the smile drops off my face.
“This is my room…and if I may make a suggestion, this could be yours.”
I follow his gaze, and frown.
The master bedroom opens into a large dressing-room, and a door there leads out into another, similarly-sized room.
Interconnected bedrooms?
 
This is not what I had planned for, and my consternation probably shows on my face because he walks up to me quickly.
“Khushi…I know that this has surprised you, and I am certainly not going to force you into anything. But I was just thinking about Di…you know that she lives close by, if she were to visit us…this would seem like a better arrangement, don’t you think?”
His words make sense, and yet I can’t help the sense of unease that steals over me.
He sighs.
“If it makes you feel better, let me show you how each bedroom locks from the inside. It would be your own private sanctuary, Khushi.”
“That’s…fine. It shouldn’t be an issue.”
He stares at me for a moment, then smiles.
“Good.  I want you to be happy here.”
“Why?”
I regret the impulsive question immediately, but I can’t help but follow through, especially after he raises a questioning eyebrow.
“I mean…why are you asking for my opinion at all? This is a huge investment, and I’m only going to be staying here temporarily. What I feel…what I think shouldn’t really matter.”
He walks up until he is standing right beside me, and I steel myself as my body reacts predictably to his proximity.
“It does matter, Khushi. I know what this marriage means to us…but I also know just how much you have given up to be here. And this is the least I can do, to make up for that.”
I shake my head immediately.
“There’s no need for guilt. I went into this with my eyes open, and I am gaining a great deal out of all this.”
“Let’s not argue about who’s gaining what…or who has the upper hand, Khushi. Right now, I just want you to enjoy this house, and tell me what you really feel.”
I turn away, uncomfortable with this intensity that seems to radiate off him in waves.
“Like I said, it’s a beautiful mansion. And the interiors are warm and welcoming…it’s just that…this doesn’t really seem like your style…”
 
My style?”
“Yes. After the penthouse in San Francisco, I expected a different kind of place…something more flamboyant and ostentatious, I think.”
He laughs.
“Interesting. But no, this is exactly what I wanted. The penthouse is fine, it has it’s place. But I decided that it is time for something different.”
His gaze suddenly turns lighter…there is a hint of mischief there that I don’t trust at all.
“And also, I chose this place because it has something special. Come, let me show you…”
He takes my hand and pulls me out of the room, not pausing until we have descended the stairs. 
He leads me through the kitchen, and pushes open the sliding door.
I catch my breath at the vista before me.
A vast green lawn seems to end in a small wooded area, and a line of hills rises directly behind it. To one side, there is a white gazebo, and in the distance, I can see a few outbuildings.
“What are those?”
“Come with me. You’ll see.”
His enthusiasm is infectious, and I find myself keeping pace with his rapid strides.
Soon, we have reached the small cluster of outhouses, and I immediately see what they are for.
“You have horses here?”
He grins, then walks over to one of the stalls and gestures towards a tall, black stallion.
“Yes. It’s the reason why this house appealed to me instantly. I’ve learned horse-riding over the past three years, and I just couldn’t give up this chance to have my own stable here.”
I watch the horse, and step back instinctively.
It looks huge, and I don’t trust that glint in it’s eye at all.
He laughs.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to force you to share my passion. Not this one, at least.”
The teasing tone is back, and I suppress the urge to roll my eyes.
It’s apparent that flirting is second nature for him, and I have to learn to ignore it to the best of my ability.
I turn back towards the house, and a movement by the gazebo catches my eye.
“What’s going on there?”
He follows my gaze, and starts walking back across the lawn.
“I asked for some refreshments to be served in the gazebo. It’s a beautiful evening, we should enjoy the outdoors before heading back to the city.”
_______
A half hour later, I sit back in the chair, wiping my lips with a napkin. The pastry and tea were a delicious combination, and I smile as I remember their taste.
If this was how the elite lived, then one could get used to this…
 
I know that this isn’t permanent, and I try to remind myself that there is fixed expiry date to  this relationship. But the combination of the cool evening breeze, the delicious food, and the surprisingly relaxing company has put me in a wonderful frame of mind, and I push all thoughts of the future to the back of my mind.
I keep my eyes trained on the hills in the distance, and try to ignore the scorching gaze that is now trained on me.
I think of something to say…something that can break this suddenly expectant silence, and I ask him the first thing that comes to my mind.
“When are we moving here?”
“As soon as possible. As you can see, the house is fully furnished and we can move in over the next few days.”
“That’s…very soon.”
“Actually, that’s something we needed to talk about. I  want us to shift here this week so that I can go ahead and organize a party here over the weekend.”
“A party?”
“Yes. It will be an informal gathering, maybe a dinner or something. It will provide an opportunity for my friends and business associates  to meet my new wife.”
The idea of meeting all theses strangers makes me uncomfortable, but I know that this is part of the role I am supposed to play.
“Don’t worry, Khushi. You won’t really need to do anything. We’ll hire a party planner, and N.K can handle everything else.”
“N.K?”
“My executive secretary. He’s my right-hand man, really. I’ve known him since I came here to the States.”
“So…all I have to do is turn up?”
“Yes. I’m sure you’ll have fun, though. There are a lot of young couples I’d like you to meet.”
Again, the temporary status of this marriage rears it’s head, and I wonder why he is going to all this trouble to introduce me to people whom I’m never going to see after a year.
But then I remember that this charade is for Di and Nani, and I think I understand his motives a little better.
Dusk is falling now, and the jet lag is beginning to make it’s presence felt again.
I yawn behind my hand, and he notices it immediately.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked you to come here today. You’re obviously exhausted.”
“It’s alright. The house was worth it.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, why did you stay back all day at the office? I was under the impression that you were  going there to resign…”
“That’s what I wanted to do. But Aman…he’s the guy who owns the company…he persuaded me to work there for a month until he can hire someone else. There’s a big project we’re working on, and the company who has sourced it out to us could retract their offer if there is a sudden staffing change.”
A frown mars his perfect brow, and he leans back in his chair.
“So you’re stuck there for a month? How will this impact your PhD?”
“I don’t quite know that yet. I didn’t have time to email the admissions advisor…”
“This isn’t acceptable, Khushi. I don’t like the fact that you are putting your dreams aside again. If all he needs is a new PI, then I will find him one, so that you are free to do what you really want to.”
I stare at him for a long moment, and then stand up slowly.
“I’m afraid I cannot allow that, Mr.Raizada. This is my problem, and I will handle it myself.”
He stands up too, and walks around the table to stand in front of me.
“There’s no harm in accepting my help, Khushi.”
“I’ve taken all that I’ve needed from you already. From this point on, my studies are my responsibility.”
His gaze doesn’t leave mine, but after a few tense seconds, he sighs.
“As you wish.”
I exhale shakily, glad that the confrontation has been resolved.
But then he turns around again, and his question puzzles me.
“So who is this Aman Mathur? You seem to be going out of your way for him.”
“We were in University together. And I am doing this because he was good enough to offer me a job when I had barely graduated.”
A speculative light comes into his eyes.
“Is he a friend? A…boyfriend, maybe?”
“He’s neither. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“I’m beginning to realize that everything you do or say is my business.”
“You need to curb this curiosity of yours.”
“How can I, when the subject is so irresistible?”
I suddenly realize that while we were talking, he has stepped closer to me.
His warm breath fans my face as he raises one hand slowly, giving me ample opportunity to step away.
And yet, I’m unable to move.
A force greater than my will holds me in place, and I watch helplessly as his hand comes up towards my face.
All the breath leaves my body when his fingers lightly brush across my cheek. It is a fleeting touch, but my body doesn’t seem to know that. My heart rate goes  haywire, and I fight to keep myself still.
He waits for a moment, and then when I still say nothing, his fingers brush across my lips once, then twice.
At that moment, a forgotten memory surfaces.
I push him away abruptly and stumble back, breathing hard.
“It was you!”
“What?”
His eyes are dark, clouded over with an emotion I don’t recognize.
But my next words seem to snap him out of it.
“Last night, in my bedroom! You were there, you…touched me!”
A half-smile curves his lips, and he inclines his head.
“Guilty as charged. I came in with an innocent motive, I just wanted to take you down for dinner. But when I saw you there in your robe…with your damp hair and your slightly parted lips…I just couldn’t resist.”
I take in a deep breath, knowing that there isn’t any point in blowing a fuse now. What’s done is done, but I want him to know that I intend to keep up the boundaries between us.
“I think I will make use of those locks on the bedroom doors after all.”
“It is your prerogative, of course. And my aim will  be to make you forget that those locks exist.”
I glare at him.
“You’re impossible.”
He laughs, and it looks like he’s about to say something.
But at that moment, a movement on the lawn catches his eye. We both look over to see that a tall, swarthy man is leading the stallion out of his stall, and Arnav steps out of the gazebo.
“I think I’ll take a short ride before we leave.”
Now? But it’s almost dark!”
But he isn’t listening anymore. 
He walks out towards the tall man, and they exchange a few words before Arnav takes the reins.
In one fluid movement, he seats himself in the saddle and leads the horse across the lawn, away from the gazebo.
Against my will, I find myself drawn to the magnificent spectacle of man and beast, moving as one . The gold and red hues of sunset form a stunning backdrop to this image, and I walk slowly across the lawn towards him.
He wheels around at that moment, and catches my eye.
Even through the gathering dusk, I see the flash of his smile, and realize that he has spurred the horse into a gallop.
In moments, he has crossed the lawn again and is approaching me, and I cannot help but envy him for the grace and ease with which he is proving his skill.
And then, it all changes in an instant.
The horse stumbles over something, and I realize that he is going too fast to stop. The horse rears back, and I watch with my heart in my throat as Arnav loses control for a moment.
The reins fly out of his hands and he is almost thrown off the horse, but at the last moment, he hooks one hand in the reins and pulls himself upright.
The tall man reaches his side then, and together, they subdue the horse and lead it back to the stable.
I reach the stable moments later, and Arnav has dismounted by then.
“Are you alright?”
He looks up at me, and I realize that he is in pain.
“What’s wrong? Did you hurt yourself?”
He looks down at his right hand, and it is only then that I notice that he is supporting it with the other.
“It’s my hand. I probably twisted it when I pulled myself back onto the horse.”
He looks up at me again, and I am astonished to see the glint of amusement in his eyes.
Damn it all to hell. This is not how I wanted to impress you.”
________
Two hours later, we are finally out of the Emergency Room and back in the limo, heading back home to the penthouse.
I look over at Arnav, but his eyes are closed. He is leaning against the headrest, and my gaze drops to the brace around his right hand.
The doctor at the E.R assured us that there is no fracture, and he has advised rest and placement of the flexible brace until the sprain has a chance to heal.
But I can see the strain on his face, and I quickly pull out the  bottle of pills from my purse.
“The doctor asked you to take this painkiller.”
He opens his eyes, and a spasm of pain crosses his face.
“I try not to take medications if I can help it.”
“What? But you’re obviously in pain!”
“I can bear it…for now. I’ll take one later if I want.”
“But what’s the point in waiting? Here, let me…”
He grasps my hand with his uninjured one, and takes the bottle away from me.
“I’ll be the judge of that, Khushi. And  why are you so worried? It’s just a sprain.”
I sit back, and take a deep breath.
“I don’t see the necessity of abstaining from painkillers when you really need them.”
“Don’t fuss, Khushi. This isn’t your problem.”
I don’t know why I say the next words, they just slip out of my mouth without forethought.
“In sickness and in health, Mr. Raizada.”
His piercing gaze finds mine, and a tense silence fills the car.
“You never made those vows to me, Khushi. Or any other vows, remember?”
do remember that.
But somehow, through all the flirting and the laughter and the shared love for a Spanish mansion, I seem to have forgotten what this marriage is all about.
For one instant, I worried about him like a real wife would.
And now, he has reminded me that nothing about this is real.
 
I can’t afford to forget that.
Ever.
**************
.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Saiasmi
    Sep 02, 2017 @ 12:12:09

    Wow! Surely interesting… i get a sneaky feeling that the contract is just a ploy to keep her ensnared , to give him time to woo her. Love the progress in the story 🙂

    Like

    Reply

  2. sansid123
    Mar 02, 2017 @ 11:14:40

    i am loving this role reversal a charming devilish Arnav and a reticent khushi
    why do i get the feeling there is more to this marriage han what we know so far
    atleast on arnavs part

    Like

    Reply

  3. coderlady
    Sep 30, 2016 @ 23:08:33

    Just started reading this story. Totally loving it. Loved how Khushi tricked him with her wanting to examine his “brain”. That was just hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  4. annasabu
    Aug 13, 2016 @ 06:11:05

    Superb chapter. This Arnav is adorable. An altogether different man.
    Awesome narration dear

    Anna

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. Bibliobibulus
    Feb 24, 2016 @ 11:29:14

    I loved the way you used the character names from the show.. Some of them made me laugh, just to see the situations you’d put them in. Lavanya and Sheetal – don’t know who to be worried about more..

    As for Arnav – it’s seduction all the way! I love the way he’s flirting with Khushi. He’s going to make her fall for him, no doubt about it!

    I can’t get enough of this story, seriously!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

  6. ship1383
    Jul 02, 2015 @ 05:44:30

    Love this story. Arnav and khushi are so perfectly matched that it’s a pleasure reading about them. Loved the fact that khushi stumped arnav by expressing her curiousity to learn more about his “brain” !! 🙂 You have done a fantastic job in showing the chemistry, the attraction of arnav and khushi, can’t wait to read more !! 🙂 ship13(IF)

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

  7. jasbinji
    Apr 27, 2015 @ 15:58:57

    That was awesome
    Ur choice of words are marvelous
    Just drawn to them like a moth to a flame

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  8. kathyarsh
    Dec 01, 2014 @ 00:57:29

    expell !!! 🙂 these as xtremly large chapters !! But worth it !!!! Im starting to lyk this story ! Not tat i din in the bgining :p i don kno but it defnitly hav the capacity to make the readrs continue readin ! To tell ya the truth today i hav my model exam n that to chem !! The subjct that i loathe ! :p n i din evn touch my books !! Im bad 😦 well cudnt help it !! See wat u’ve done to me !! But im luvin it !! Its jus for one more week n i’ill be gone for my terms :p alll busy !! So wanna hav lil fun b4 leavin 🙂 so now movng on ! Luv ya loads ❤ stay blessd ❤
    -kitty

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  9. bluemystique
    Aug 28, 2014 @ 13:38:26

    Juju!

    Another wonderful chapter. So Khushi is researching Arnav, huh? Looks like she has a shatir dimaag of her own, to match the one of her husband.

    Khushi’s independence seems to be a thorn in Arnav’s side, but I love her for it. It is so easy to get lost in the intriguing ocean that is Arnav (pun totally intended), but she is trying her best to hold her own and I am impressed!

    Speaking of holding her own, as much as swooned and sighed as his description of what he found attractive in her, my favorite part of the chapter definitely goes to Khushi’s comeback. Arnav’s reaction was hilarious! I recently read a quote somewhere that “God gave men two brains, but only enough blood to run one at a time!”

    I am not sure how I feel about Aman. I sympathize with him, and his worry for his company, but guilting Khushi into staying was not nice of him. As an entrepreneur, he should always have a backup plan and not place all his eggs in one basket, so to speak.

    Arnav is trying to impress Khushi, eh? Looks like it is not such a black and white situation for him. He’s getting invested in the marriage, big time! And Juhi, you gave me SUCH a visual! Arnav, riding on a horse, sunset painting an ethereal background. And DAN you make him fall!

    And Arnav! What the fuck, ya? Do you want to impress Khushi or not? Make up your damn mind! You are certainly not impressing her by reminding her of the contract!

    Look at what you have done. She’s gone back into her cocoon again!

    Off to the next chapter!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

  10. Mirabell
    May 26, 2014 @ 01:57:31

    Shaatir dimaag was brilliant! Loved that humorous undertones in this Arnav and spunky Khushi..

    MB

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

  11. srilathalolla
    Apr 30, 2014 @ 00:48:21

    Wow A very beautiful update. Aman Mathur why do I smell something fishy about this person

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  12. Pinky
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 11:38:05

    Loved this part very much. I was smiling when I was reading the way Khushi flirted with Arnav in the car. But looks like Arnav is the master of flirting. The story is very captivating and liked it so far.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  13. Latha
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 23:45:41

    Awesome
    Arnav can be shameless sometimes but me like it

    iF
    ops yellow

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  14. S
    Mar 27, 2014 @ 19:58:20

    Well, is Khushi finding out about Arnav ‘just’ out of sheer curiosity? 😉

    Okay, this Arnav made me blush again. But this time I liked Khushi more for giving back as good as she got. 🙂

    Interconnected bedrooms?? Well, I’ll save my comment on this for later 😉

    Whatever Khushi is doing with respect to her equation with Arnav seems logical from her point of view and her understanding of their arrangement. But I can’t understand why Arnav is doing what he is doing, though. He goes out of his way to make her feel comfortable which I honestly didn’t expect from him. By the time I think I may have read him wrong, he reminds Khushi(and in turn me) that this marriage is not real. I wish I can see what is going on in his famed shaatir dimag(pun intended!) 😛

    I’m afraid I might break my resolve of reading not more than one chapter per day if your story is so interesting. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

  15. geetar95
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 13:28:39

    FANTASTIC STORY yaar! absolutely in love with it. definitely a new fan fic to follow and a different read!! just wondering if theres a chapter 2B ?
    and all the best with future updates too 🙂
    youve gained a new follower 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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