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Fateful Love 12-16

**NO COPYING, SHARING, ALTERING OR DISTRIBUTING OF ANY PART OF THIS MATERIAL STRICTLY ALLOWED. COPYRIGHT 2013-2014 BY TINA!**

Fateful Love by Tina
Teaser
"I will always find my way to you," vowed Arnav, pressing kisses to her tear-streaked cheeks and finally her mouth.
Khushi drew him on top of her, needing him desperately. "I'm not the kind to wait, as you know. I'll chase after you if I have to, Arnav. I won't let you forget me."
His tongue stroked hers as he murmured between more kisses: "That will never happen. You know very well I can't live without you. We will be together."
He sounded utterly convinced and yet both couldn't help but worry. Holding him to her heaving chest, Khushi closed her eyes in prayer. Everything was against them, but their love had to be enough. It had to be.. 

Fateful Love >> Start Here with Chapter 1
**NO COPYING, SHARING, OR DISTRIBUTING OF ANY PART OF THIS MATERIAL STRICTLY ALLOWED. COPYRIGHT 2013-2014 BY TINA!**

Fateful Love by Tina
Chapter 12: Answers
Khushi stood waiting with bated breath, watching as the sun set outside, painting the skies in hues of shimmery blues and dusky pinks. Any second now, Arnav would appear. 
His arms would wrap around her as always, his warm breath would press against her nape, his lips curling into that characteristic half-smile.
See, love, he'd say, I'm fine. I'm absolutely okay. I'll never let you go.
But nothing of the sort happened.
Seconds ticked by and not even a breeze touched her. Khushi's eyes snapped open, her heart pounding as she swerved around.
She was still in her room... in her time... The bedroom was glaringly empty. Arnav's black and white photograph hung on the wall, but he was not there. His frozen eyes seemed to see into her soul, his mouth bent in a thin line.
"Where are you?" Khushi mumbled, laying a quivering hand atop his image. "Where are you, love? You have to come tonight. I know you will."
The words stung her throat, her breath coming in fast, uneven spurts. What if something had gone wrong? What if Shyam had been successful?
"NO!" she cried out. They'd saved Anjali, and they'd save Arnav too.
A knock came on her door, shaking her. "Khushi? I thought I heard a shout. Everything okay in there?"
"Yes, Jiji," she managed, brushing back tears. "I'm fine." Everything would be fine. Arnav had to come. He'd vowed he would and he'd never broken any promise to her--not even when they were children.
She felt weak, close to collapse. She wanted to scream... to sob... but she couldn't. No one would understand. No one except for him.
As Payal's footsteps shifted away, she curled into a ball on the canopy bed, tears escaping her eyes and wetting the bedding.
"Please, Arnav... Please, return to me. I love you. I love you so much..."
For a split second, she felt as if he was there, his hand on her cheek, smooth and warm. 
But then there was nothing. Nothing but loss and mounting terror.
Where was he?
*****
Arnav did not have the faintest clue where he was. His eyes flickered open and immediately sealed shut. A brilliant light surrounded him. It was white and blinding.
"I can't see anything."
The voice understood. "No, you won't be able to. You're not meant to see it yet."
With his eyes closed, it was difficult to pinpoint where the voice was coming from. "Who are you?" A hallucination? An angel? God?
"Your heart will make that decision."
He was left confused, but it seemed to not matter at this moment. "Am I dead?"
"No, you are not," the voice insisted.
"Khushi... Is she okay?"
The voice lowered. "She's waiting for you. It's past sunset now."
Arnav didn't need to be told what state she must be in. His heart already knew, a deep pain throbbing there.
"Why?" The long-sought questions tumbled past Arnav's lips. "Why did this happen to us? Why and how did we meet? She's not from my time."
"No, she's not, but souls don't follow calendars or clocks. They only recognize the one who are their other half, no matter how unlikely."
"I don't understand..."
"You see, Arnav, it was your and Khushi's bond all along. The moment she stepped inside Sheesh Mahal, your souls connected. Being a century apart made little difference to that pull."
He struggled to make sense it. "We did this?"
"Yes, though it began with you. You, who'd lived a short life largely devoid of love and family. You lost your parents at a young age, then your home, and those tragic experiences hardened your heart against love. But a part of you still believed, a small ember within you still carried hope. Even when you lay dying in that canopy bed."
"That bed... that room... Why did I meet Khushi there? It was always that room."
"Your bedroom held a great significance in your too short life. It was where you often cried and mourned alone, where you longed for love and friendship, and where you breathed your last... Your soul became entwined with that place. Time passed and then someone stepped into Sheesh Mahal. Someone just as lonely as you, someone who also sought friendship and family. Your souls recognized one another from the start."
Arnav froze as the memories assailed him. It was true, from that first improbable encounter, Khushi and he had forged a bond, seamlessly falling into a deep friendship. He lay stunned as the voice continued:
"Everyone else found the boarded up house to be cold and inhospitable, but Khushi felt warmth. Her heart sensed you. And yours did the same. The bond was unseen, but it was powerful. So powerful that it pulled her into your time... A time where you both could be the same age, growing up together. And suddenly, you had everything you never had originally: a true friend, someone you could trust and share your sorrows with."
Tears fell from Arnav's eyes. "Is that why no one else ever saw or sensed her but me?"
"Yes."
"But why was it always at night?"
The voice sighed patiently. "Well, you see what your souls were doing is very, very rare. So, you both unknowingly used a shortcut of sorts. Dusk and dawn is when the world changes. When day gives way to night, light to darkness and in your case, present to past. It was the easiest time for you both to bridge the time gap."
"We managed to change the future... We changed my sister's fate."
"Because she chose it. That is very important. Your Khushi was right, you cannot force your will on the past. It has to come from the heart. That is how your sister married Aman Mathur. Why Ram Jha became Ram Mathur."
"The change happened seamlessly...overnight almost. No one seemed to notice it."
"No," agreed the voice, "Unlike a physical object like a feather or the iron bars on your window, meddling with another soul carries weight. Those physical changes appear a trick to the human mind, a momentary confusion, but changing the course of a person's life is far-reaching. It is seamless for a reason."
Arnav nodded. It seemed to all fit. But one question loomed before him. The most important one. "And now? Will I see my Khushi again?"
"That is a choice you've more than earned and you were taken from that terrible accident to make it... Picture now a fork in the road, with signs pointing to past and future. The choice is clear: you can either return to your own time unscathed or you can go to where Khushi and your child are."
Arnav was bewildered, staggering against the weight of the revelation. His heartbeat pounded. Surely, he'd heard wrong. "Child?"
"Yes, though even Khushi does not realize it yet."
"We thought it wasn't possible."
The voice seemed to smile. "Much like how a feather once crossed from your world to hers, it is possible. But a word of caution: if you decide to go to her, your love will be tested."
Arnav realized there wasn't much of a choice for him to make. His heart stung at the thought of leaving his Di behind, but he knew that she was safe now. She'd have a happy life with Aman and Ram. But Khushi needed him. Their child needed him. And he needed them.
Swallowing, he nodded. "I want to go to my family... to my wife and child."
The voice grew fainter, echoing now. "Then open your eyes, Arnav."
Without hesitation or delay, he did just that.
*****
Khushi clapped a hand over her heart as she felt that same peculiar jolt. What was that? What did it mean? Her heart told her it was connected to Arnav somehow though she could not explain it--not even to herself.
Her feet halted on the carpet, her eyes darting about the bedroom. But it was as it had been all night long--painfully empty. Where was Arnav?
She hadn't slept at all, pacing before the fireplace, panic assailing her with every passing second. He had to come! Their love had to triumph and overcome all obstacles. She closed her eyes and his image from just the other night swam before her, his voice echoing in her ears. How happy they'd been then...

But she couldn't ignore the facts at this moment. Arnav knew how much she'd be worrying. His absence indicated he couldn't be with her for a reason--and that uncertainty frightened her. Tormented her soul.
It was dawn now; the first light of day was just appearing over the horizon outside. She could wait no more. And then it hit her. Her eyes widened. Of course...
Mr. Ram may no longer be there to answer her questions, but she still had a means of finding out about the past. She stumbled toward the nightstand, picking up her phone with shaking hands.
Ms. Anita took her time in picking up, her sleepy voice breaking in over the answering machine's drone-like tone.
"Hello?"
"Ms. Anita! It's Khushi. Khushi Kumari Gupta. I--"
"Khushi?" broke in the housekeeper. "Dear, do you have any idea what time it is?"
"I know and I'm very sorry to be calling so early, but it's urgent."
Ms. Anita sighed. "Very well. Go on."
Khushi wasted no time. "Do you remember the first time I visited you and Mr. Ram at the manor? Do you still remember all that he spoke to me about?"
"I only heard bits and pieces of it, dear. I was out of the room making tea, remember? I only came in when you fainted."
"Yes... exactly..." Khushi brushed back a wayward strand of hair, her eyes shining with determination. "Mr. Ram told me about his Chote Uncle. Do you know anything about him, Ms. Anita?"
The housekeeper sounded confused. "Shouldn't you already know? He must have told you all I know. About the poor boy's accident and--"
"Accident?" Her voice cracked over that word. The phone almost slipped from her numb hands, but Khushi held on to it, everything in her threatening to break apart. "What accident?"
"From what I recall, that poor young man--Arnav, I believe was his name--was hit by some drunk driver. His car toppled over a bridge. He died on the spot and his body was never recovered."
The information was uttered in an emotionless, offhand manner, but for Khushi, everything was falling apart within. She was shaking, gripping the bedpost for support. NO! It couldn't be! "W-when?" Her voice shook as she struggled to ask the question that would determine her fate. "When did it happen?"
"I don't remember that, dear."
"Please, Ms. Anita, could you please check? I must know! It's very important."
The housekeeper's brow furrowed at her tone. She wondered what a young girl like Khushi had to do with a decades old accident. Arnav Singh Raizada was long dead. Shrugging, she replied, "I packed away Mr. Ram's diary last night. Let me find it. Hold on..."
The line went dead and Khushi could barely breathe. Every moment was painful, a torment so terrible she didn't think she was strong enough to bear it. And then came the sound of a rustle.
"Still there, Khushi?"
She swallowed thickly, her breath suspended as she heard the sound of pages turning. Pages that would decide her fate. Their fate. She whispered a prayer, her body tense and unmoving.
"Yes... I'm ready."
"Here it is," said the housekeeper, squinting down at the entry. "Mr. Ram writes: Ma was awfully quiet and morose today, and when I asked her why she was so sad, she replied it was because she missed her beloved Chote. Papa held her close and so did I, hoping it comforted her. It's been so many years, but she never forgets. I wish I'd known my Chote Uncle. He was only 22 years old when some drunkard crashed into his car, killing him on the morning of January 21,1926."
Unspeakable agony sliced through Khushi as the date was read. Darkness fell past her eyes. The phone tumbled from her hand, crashing to the floor. Ms. Anita's perplexed voice came from the speaker several times, but she did not hear it. The room seemed to spin around her, Arnav's image and voice echoing from all directions.
His lips on her as he vowed: "Nothing will happen, Jaan. I'll see you tomorrow night, just as always. I will always find my way to you..."
It was with a dull thud that she fell to her knees on the carpet, her eyes unseeing. And then as blackness consumed her, all she could think was: I've lost him. I failed. I couldn't save the man I love. 
ARNAV!
****
Arnav jerked on the pavement, seeing a flash of blue before his eyes closed again.
"Did you see that?" An unfamiliar voice sounded by his side. "He's alive!"
"Oh, thank God. I thought I'd killed him. He appeared out of nowhere on the bridge, I swear."
Arnav's hands tightened into fists at his sides as he gathered strength. This time he managed to keep his eyes open a tad bit longer.
An elderly gentleman in a gray suit and a young woman who looked to be his daughter were kneeling beside them, their faces scrunched with concern. Above them, the sky was a glowing, sapphire blue as daylight descended.
"Are you okay, young man? Anything feel broken?"
"Papa, let him breathe."
"I'm just checking, Sheetal. I have no idea how he came in front of our car."
"If you'd let me drive in the first place, it would have never happened." she muttered.
Arnav ignored their bickering, trying to get his bearings. His sharp intake of breath must have alerted them because both of their heads swiveled toward him.
"Are you hurt?" asked the old man, his eyes kind.
It was a simple enough question. Arnav slowly flexed his arms and legs. It felt a bit odd, but there was no pain. Shaking his head, he asked, "Where am I?"
They exchanged a puzzled glance. "Lucknow, of course, young man."
The next question felt even more important to him, though he had no clue why. Still, he asked it: "What's the date?"
This time they looked at him with growing concern. And then the daughter glared at her father.  "I told you, Papa, we should have taken him to the hospital right away."
The man shrugged. "He doesn't have a scratch on him. But you're right, Sheetal, help me get him up. We'll take him to the nearest hospital."
Arnav frowned, but did not argue as they pulled him up by the elbows. He felt a bit dazed. As he stood, he realized he was on some bridge, the steel cables and metal around him perfectly intact. A circle of curious onlookers was watching his every move.
As he was led away, they dispersed too, and the traffic jam on the bridge eased up. Cars and dusty trucks zigzagged around them, drivers honking. Everything felt strange, congested, and much too noisy. Arnav resisted the urge to clap his hands over his ears as the shouts and horns grew louder, the sound of a passing helicopter overhead startling him.
The strangers made him sit in the passenger seat of a silver-colored luxury car, casting worried glances at him ever so often as the daughter steered the car forward. Arnav frowned, feeling a strong urge to go in the opposite direction. He could have sworn he was late for something important. That someone was waiting for him... calling out to him... though he had no idea who. Tears came to his eyes unbidden.
"The date.." he said again, swallowing thickly. "What's the date?"
The elderly man raised an eyebrow at him. "Why, January 22, 2025, of course."
To be continued...
So Arnav is now in Khushi's time though they are yet to meet. I tried to write this update in a very secular and abstract way so you the reader can fill in the blanks for yourself. Divine intervention or hallucination? That's your individual call to make. I think that's how it should be--up to the readerEmbarrassed About 6 chapters till the finale.


Fateful Love by Tina
Chapter 13: Memories
Someone was lifting her off the ground as the world came into focus. Khushi struggled to make sense of it.
"Thank God," said Garima as she noticed her regain consciousness. "Payal, help me get her up and call a doctor right away."
Khushi tried to speak up as they maneuvered into the canopy bed, pulling the blankets up to her chin.
"Amma..."
"Hush," her mother said, sitting beside her and patting her too pale cheek. "Just rest, bitiya."
The urge to sleep was powerful and Khushi could not stop it. Thankfully, it was a dreamless sleep, so light that she could hear the commotion and murmurings around her every now and then.
"She's very weak," said an unfamiliar voice that had to be the doctor's. "How long has she been in this state?"
"She said she was feeling a bit unwell last night, but I didn't think it was so serious," Garima explained. "She went to sleep early and then my other daughter found her like this just this morning."
Something sharp dug into Khushi's left arm. It made her grimace, her eyes scrunching tight.
The doctor extracted the needle, capping off the blood sample. "The results will be ready by tomorrow morning. I'll have them faxed to Sheesh Mahal."
"Thank you," Khushi heard her mother reply. She said something else but Khushi couldn't hear it, exhaustion weighing her down.
She tried to fight through it, her eyes opening with a great deal of effort. Above her head, the white canopy cloth seemed to sway slightly. The shades had been drawn and a fire was blazing in the hearth. Across the room, Arnav's portrait seemed to call out to her, making her eyes and throat burn with fresh tears.
"Sleep, Khushi," murmured Payal, squeezing her hand. "Just rest."
Khushi closed her eyes and once more, she was lost. Lost in that endless abyss..
*****
On the opposite corner of Lucknow, Sheetal was staring up at her father with shock, her lips parted.
"Wait," she said. "The doctor told you what?"
"That the young man has lost all of his memories," Mr. Malik explained patiently. "Amnesia brought on by the trauma of the accident. He doesn't remember anything."
Sheetal glanced to where Arnav sat on a hospital bed, staring down at his hands.
"Nothing?"
Her father nodded. "Nothing at all. Worse, he has no ID card or driver's license on him. Just some very old currency from the 1920s was found in his pockets. Strange, isn't it? But anyways, the good news is that he is perfectly healthy otherwise. Like I said, not a scratch on him."
"What are we going to do with him, Papa? Turn him over to the police?"
"The doctors suggested that." Mr. Malik looked toward Arnav for a split second, his voice lowering. "But I feel he's my responsibility, Sheetal. It was our car that struck him after all. I told him we'd help him find his family--and that he can stay with us till his memory returns."
He shared the last bit of news with hesitation, knowing her famous temper first-hand. He waited with bated breath for the eruption that was sure to come.
Sheetal wanted to refuse. Her dad had always wanted a son, and it seemed he'd finally found one. She should have been talking him out of his crazy idea, but she found herself unable to.
Because of him.
Her eyes flew once more to Arnav, lingering this time over his lean form, those masculine, aristocratic features, and that wavy hair that made her itch to run her fingers through. She could not deny that the moment his eyes had fluttered open on the bridge and she'd gazed down into those inky depths, she'd already made up her mind.
She wanted him--and she'd get him. Her father's plan was actually quite perfect now that she thought about it.
"If you say so," she muttered demurely, hoping her enthusiasm didn't leak through. "Mystery guy can come home with us."
Her father clasped her shoulder. "My sweet darling girl, I knew you'd understand. And I forgot to tell you: he has a name--Arnav. You see there was a ring on his finger and..."
Her father's voice droned on, but Sheetal was not listening. Her fiery gaze was centered on the young man who was paying her no attention. It was so different from the usual interest she received. She could have sworn this man hadn't even noticed her charm or beauty. It made her pulse race, the need to attain him fueling her with a vigor she hadn't felt in much too long.
"Arnav..." she said, relishing each syllable as if she could taste it. Her lips curled.
Sheetal may have been fixated on him, but Arnav was oblivious to everything, focused entirely on the ring in his hands. His thumb stroked over the inscription: Arnav.
It had to be his name, but why then did it not sound familiar? Why were there no memories attached to it?
As instructed, he tried to relax his mind and remember, but there was simply nothing. The memories--if there were any--remained out of reach. He ground his teeth in frustration, angrily working the ring off his finger.
At that exact moment, something else happened--something remarkable. A vivid vision came to him... of a rose garden...
He was sitting on a patch of crisp grass, a wonderful warmth pressed to him. His heart pounded as he looked down and saw who was reclining on his lap.
She was a slim, petite female--her hair a riot of silky ebony. She was facing away from him, not even her profile in view as she slid the ring onto his finger.
"You keep it," he heard himself say.
Her soft, feminine voice sounded vaguely familiar. Even though he could not see her face, he could sense her smile. "No. This is where it belongs--with you. I have you back now."
He felt her turn in his lap. Her silky hair brushed over his face as it swung, and he nearly froze with anticipation. Now he'd see her... See the woman he felt so attuned to, such love for...
But the memory vanished just then, another voice intruding: "Arnav? Are you all right?"
His eyes snapped open, his senses reeling. It was so strange, but he could still feel the woman's searing body heat, could still smell the roses around them.
But one quick look around showed that he was in no garden now. The hospital appeared cold and lifeless. And towering over him was not the woman he'd been longing to see, but Mr. Malik's daughter--whatever her name was.
"Should I call a doctor?" she asked, peering down at him as if he was some anomaly she'd never seen before.
He shook his head, biting his lip to keep from shouting at her. She had no idea what her interruption had cost him. "Just leave me alone."
Her hand descended upon his shoulder, and he shrugged it aside, flashing his eyes at her. "Did you not hear me? Leave me alone!"
Her lips thinned with displeasure. "I'm just trying to help you, Arnav. You'll understand that soon enough."
She left him with a toss of her hair, dyed an odd shade of red. Arnav could care less if she found him rude. The woman from the vision consumed his thoughts. Her hair had been far different from Mr. Malik's daughter: waist-long, coal black, and straight as an arrow.
Who was she? Where was she? Since he'd woken on the bridge, he'd felt as if he was late to something. Something incredibly important. And now he knew.
He was late to meet her.
He closed his eyes, concentrating hard, but the answers remained out of reach. He took a deep breath, drawn once more to the ring in his hands. It glinted in the dim light, the gold shining just as brightly as from the memory. He froze. There it was: undeniable proof that not much time had passed. The memory was not years old, but recent.
Why then did he not remember?
Carefully sliding the gold band back into place, Arnav stood up, his body tense and rigid as he strode to the window. It showed a scenic view of Lucknow though a fog was descending. His palms flattened on the glass, his breathing growing uneven.
I have you back now, she'd said in the memory.
"We're not together though," he found himself whispering. "How do I find you? I must. Because..." His head bowed as he admitted what he instinctively knew to be true. "Because I love you."
*****
Khushi woke quite early the next morning, her face wet with tears. She had no idea how long she'd slept, but it had felt endless. She hazily recalled a doctor checking her, and sometime in the night, Babuji had come by as well.
The bedroom was a bit chilly and dark though the fire in the hearth remained burning. The view outside was no better: it was a gloomy, foggy day with no hint of sunshine.
"Khushi?" Payal was stirring awake beside her, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "How are you feeling now?"
The lines of worry on her sister's face made Khushi feel even worse. She'd done this, she realized. She'd troubled the whole family. There was only one way to fix it--something she'd mastered as a child.
She plastered a too-bright smile on her face, trying to appear cheerful when all she wanted to do was give into the sobs.
"I'm fine now, Jiji. I probably just fainted because I skipped a meal."
Payal sighed with relief, helping her to sit up. "I'll go bring you some breakfast. You haven't eaten in over a day. How about jalebis?"
Khushi managed a nod, smiling as her sister sprinted out the door. The moment she was alone, the smile vanished and her lips trembled.
Her eyes went to the black and white portrait as always, the sharpest of pains biting into her as she gazed at his handsome face, those frozen features she'd touched and kissed countless times.
"What kind of love is this, Arnav? I can't even mourn you..." Tears threatened to destroy her and she blinked them away, taking deep, shuddering breaths. As much as she ached to, she could not weep like a child. Not now. Payal would be returning any moment. She had to keep the facade up--no matter how much it cost her.
Payal entered just then, sitting beside her and handing her a plate of freshly made jalebis. Khushi's hand shook as she picked one up, and she could only hope her sister hadn't noticed it. She forced herself to eat, swallowing mechanically. For the first time in years, she didn't taste any of the syrupy sweetness.
"Good, isn't it?"
"Delicious, Jiji. Aren't you late for college?"
Her sister shook her head. "I'm not going today. You still look very weak to me."
"I'm absolutely fine now. Really. And--" Khushi's voice broke off as a slight movement caught her attention. Her mother stood in the doorway, papers in hand.
Khushi smiled at her too, hoping the dim light hid the sheen of tears in her eyes. "Amma, tell Jiji, I'm all better now. She shouldn't skip her classes because of me."
Her mother did not answer, her face twisting into an expression Khushi had rarely seen: anger and disgust.
"Amma?"
The stack of papers was suddenly thrown in her face, making her flinch.
"Garima!" Babuji strode into the room, his gaze stormy as he grabbed his wife by the arm, swinging her away from the canopy bed. "What are you doing? Khushi is sick!"
"SHE IS NOT SICK!" she screeched, shaking off his hold. Her eyes were glazed over as she met Khushi's bewildered gaze. "She's pregnant!"
Khushi couldn't move, convinced she'd heard her wrong. It couldn't be possible... could it? Beside her, Payal looked just as stunned, staring at her with wide-eyed horror.
"You're lying, Garima."
Incensed, she swung to face Babuji. "I wish I was. But the medical reports clearly state she's pregnant."
Khushi was staring down at the same papers, the positive test result jumping out at her. She was pregnant? But how had a baby crossed the time gap? She'd never read anything to support it. A hundred questions were spinning in her mind when her mother grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her hard.
"It's true, isn't it, Khushi?" Her voice was cold and foreboding, mirroring her eyes.
Khushi swallowed, a hand settling over her stomach in a protective gesture. The test results could not be denied. Just as in the past, she could not bring herself to lie. Steeling herself, she met her mother's gaze with resolve, hiding nothing.
"Yes."
She was prepared for the slap, but the force of the blow caught her unaware, her head snapping sideways. Blood filled her mouth.
"Amma!" Payal tried to shield her as Garima lost control, striking her repeatedly. Shashi had been standing speechless till now, but the ring of another slap had him darting forward. He bodily pulled his wife off.
"No!" shouted Garima, breaking out of his hold and towering over Khushi. "She needs to answer my questions this time!" Her eyes spit fire. "Who is the father, Khushi? WHO?"
A tense silence fell over the four of them. No one seemed to move. Khushi gazed up at her mother, searching for signs of compassion and love and finding none.
"KHUSHI!" Garima grasped her shoulders again. "ANSWER ME!"
"Arnav," she whispered. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth as she said the name again, more forcefully this time. "Arnav. Singh. Raizada."
*****
No more than ten minutes from Sheesh Mahal, Arnav was pacing in a posh hotel room. He was on edge, though he had no idea why. Try as he might, he could not ignore the feeling that he was needed somewhere. That the woman from the memories was calling out to him.
A knock sounded on the door, shaking him from his reverie. "Arnav?"
He recognized the voice. "Come in, Mr. Malik. The door's unlocked."
The elderly gentleman smiled as he entered. "Any luck yet?"
Arnav knew what he was referring to: his memories. He shook his head, lounging back on the sofa. "Not yet. Only that one so far--of the woman in the garden."
Mr. Malik nodded, looking thoughtful as he took the seat opposite him. "Have you considered that this woman may not be in this city?"
"Not in Lucknow? She must be."
Mr. Malik stared at him grimly. "There has been no missing person report filed anywhere in the city. No one has come looking for you and the police have found no leads."
Arnav shrugged, though he too had been pondering the same. "Maybe someone will soon."
"Agreed, but I see no point of you sitting around and waiting. You can do that in Delhi too."
"Delhi?"
"Sheetal and I are leaving for Delhi tomorrow morning. We were only in Lucknow for some business matters, which unfortunately fell through anyway. It's time to head back home now... And I'd like for you to come with us, Arnav."
He shook his head to refuse. The woman in his memories had to be in Lucknow. Everything pointed to it.
"Listen, son," Mr. Malik broke in, "You cannot search this whole city on your own. The police are searching here and Delhi has even more resources and agencies who can help. We'll find your family." He must have discerned the doubt brewing in Arnav's eyes because he rose to stand then. "Just think about it."
Arnav was left more confused than ever. It would be a long night, the silence his only companion. 
Where was she? 
Who was she?
*****
"Arnav Singh Raizada?" Garima repeated the name in a choked voice, her face draining of all color. She was sure she'd heard that name before... years ago... Payal had mentioned it on their second day in Sheesh Mahal. "Khushi said she met one of the Raizadas last night, Amma. Some Arnav."
"No... It can't be."
"It is," insisted Khushi. "His name is Arnav Singh Raizada."
But her mother was no longer listening to her, swinging to face Babuji. "I told you. I told you from the start she needed a doctor. She's mad!"
"I'm not!" Khushi's voice was louder now, ringing with strength. "I'm not crazy and I'm not lying. His name is Arnav Singh Raizada. You must believe me."
"All the Raizadas died long ago, Khushi! And this Arnav--if he does exist--where is he?"
She flinched at the question, all of her strength splintering apart. Her heart shattered all over again to actually say the words out loud. "He's... he's dead." Tears came to her eyes, rolling down her pale cheeks.
"Exactly, Khushi. They all died decades ago. He can't be the father."
Khushi's hand flattened on her stomach. She bit her lip to keep from shouting. Payal settled her hand on her shoulder, silently supporting her.
"Amma, please. Don't you see how weak Khushi is?"
Their mother nodded grimly, her lips compressing. "She brought this on herself, bitiya. And now she has to face the consequences."
Khushi wiped away her tears, her face impassive. "I'll face it, Amma. Whatever it is."
"We must get rid of that sin, first. If anyone found out about this--"
Khushi heard no more. Sin? How could she explain to them that this child was no sin? But a miracle. He or she was the product of the purest love, a part of her Arnav growing within her. She loved the child--fiercely. "I'll never get rid of my baby, Amma," she said in a firm, unyielding tone. "Never."
The iciness in her mother's eyes did not lessen. "Then you'll have to leave."
Khushi froze as those words hit her. "Leave Sheesh Mahal?" These old walls meant the world to her, this room carried with it a thousand memories of Arnav--of their childhood... their love... "This is my home. How can I--"
"It is not your home," interrupted Garima in a scathing tone. "It never was! This is simply a job your Babuji took on, but you never accepted that. And from what I've seen, this house has only worsened your mental condition. You will go tomorrow morning to Delhi."
Khushi looked to her father pleadingly, but he glanced away, silent again.
"Amma, you can't send Khushi away," Payal cut in, tears streaming down her face.
"There is no choice, bitiya. Your aunt will take care of her and hopefully, her health will improve outside of these walls."
Khushi had never felt more the outsider as they discussed the arrangements, ignoring her very presence. Her eyes flew to Arnav's portrait, wishing against all hope he could be with her. How cruel was fate? How could have he been taken from her? Arnav... love, I need you so much. And now the baby needs you too. If only you could be with us.
Garima paused mid-sentence as she observed Khushi. She turned to look at the portrait, her lips compressing in a thin line. It was a black and white photograph of a brooding young man and looked to be at least a century old, though someone had taken extremely good care of it. There was not a speck of dust anywhere and even the frame was in pristine condition. Her jaw flexed as she realized who must have cleaned and preserved it so meticulously.
Khushi cried out as her mother took down the portrait, walking in deliberate steps towards the fireplace.
"Amma! Amma, no!"
She struggled out of the bed, fighting back the wave of weakness that threatened to overwhelm her. The room spun around her, the colors spiraling. She swayed on her feet, but remained standing.
"Amma, please! It's the only picture I have of him!"
Garima overlooked her cries, her mouth bent with grim resolve. Without pause, she flung the frame into the flames.
"NO!" Khushi shouted. "Please, don't!" She stumbled to the fireplace, her hand out-stretched. Ignoring the sting of the flames, she grabbed the portrait, holding it to her heaving chest with clenched fingers.
The gold frame and the corners had blackened slightly, but otherwise, her Arnav's image lay untouched. "I won't let you, Amma. Not this."
Her mother's eyes bulged with fury. She started to take the portrait, but Babuji restrained her. "Enough, Garima. Come along."
Payal started to go to Khushi, but her mother caught her arm. "Don't."
"But Amma, Khushi burned her hand. It must be hurting her."
"She'll be fine. Leave her alone for now."
The three were still arguing as they left. Khushi fell to her knees on the carpet, hugging Arnav's photograph. And then, once she was sure no one was nearby, the sobs came, wrenched from deep with her. Only with him did her grief spill out unchecked.
*****
It was drizzling the morning Khushi left Sheesh Mahal, a thick fog still engulfing the skies of Lucknow. She silently wept as she gazed one last time into the bedroom she'd shared with Arnav since age eight. Her eyes longingly swept over the glass-paned window where they'd once seen a shooting star, the floorboards where they'd cried their goodbyes, and the canopy bed where they'd made love.
She pressed her hand to the wall, tears streaking across her cheeks. No matter what anyone said, Sheesh Mahal was her home and always would be.
"I love you, Arnav," she whispered. "I'll return one day." Lost in memories of him, she vowed to come back... to this place where their love had blossomed and taken root.
Holding onto that love, she brushed aside her tears, picking up her small suitcase, Arnav's trunk and photo frame. It was heavy, but she managed to make her way to the foyer.
Babuji and Payal were nowhere to be seen, but her mother stood near the main door, her face blank. "Take this train ticket and some money," she said stiffly, as if completely her last duty.
Khushi could not accept it. And besides, she had some money saved up. It wasn't much, but enough to get her to Delhi. "I don't need it. Thank you."
Garima nodded, glancing pointedly away.
Khushi neared her slowly. "Amma..."
"I'm not your mother," she snapped. "Your mother died long ago. Accept reality, Khushi. Accept that we are not your real family. And that no Raizada exists." Without waiting for a reply, Garima opened the door, tapping her foot impatiently.
Khushi managed a weak smile. She started to leave and then paused, glancing back at the woman who'd raised her as a daughter. "I always considered you all my family and always will. Goodbye, Amma."
Their eyes met briefly and then the door was shut, the lock sliding into place. Khushi had no choice but to get into the waiting taxi. Tears blinded her vision as she caught a glimpse of the rose gardens, remembering every cherished memory with Arnav: running through those bushes as kids, that unforgettable night he'd taken her there and she'd returned his ancestral ring. And then it was gone. The wrought-iron gates of Sheesh Mahal closed behind her, the house disappearing in the mist.
*****
As Khushi made her way to the train station, Arnav sat debating his options. He knew Lucknow contained his answers, but why then did he feel so uneasy? Why did it feel like the woman was no longer nearby? He couldn't explain it.
"What have you decided?" Mr. Malik asked.
It was a tug-of-war between his heart and mind. Arnav chose to side with his heart. "Delhi. I'll come with you to Delhi."

Fateful Love by Tina
Chapter 14: New Beginnings
"Set that trunk down, Khushi. It's not good to carry heavy thing in your state."
The remark startled Khushi. So her aunt knew about her pregnancy? But how?
"Garima called," her aunt explained, reading the question in her eyes.
"Oh, of course..." Had Amma also told her about how she found her mentally imbalanced? How she was in love with a man who had lived a century ago?
Buaji's kind eyes gave nothing away, and Khushi didn't have the heart to ask. Despite the weariness and gloom weighing her down, she managed a weak smile.
"Thank you, Buaji."
As Khushi embraced her, she froze with surprise, awkwardly patting her back. "No thanks necessary, Sanka Devi. You know, you were always my favorite. Nothing will ever change that."
"You trust me." It was a statement and not a question. Khushi drew back, swallowing hard.
"You really are Sanka Devi, aren't you? Of course, I trust you. I admit I was a bit shocked when Garima told me, but I also knew that nothing short of the truest love would have made you take that step. You don't need to explain."
A sob escaped Khushi's throat. She hugged her aunt again, shaking. "I loved him, Buaji. With everything that I am. I will always love him. I miss him... I miss him every second..."
"Hush, Sanka Devi. Have faith." Her aunt hastily blinked back tears, surveying her almost sickly complexion. "Now rest, you look exhausted. I'll call you for dinner in awhile."
Khushi watched her go, sinking down on the thin mattress. Her hand absently stroked her abdomen. A single tear escaped her eye.
"Oh, Arnav.."
His black and white photograph comforted her, but what she truly yearned for was to hold him... to see him again... to hear his husky voice...
How had death touched her beloved? How had it happened? She still could not fathom it.
Rising up, she took down a clock that didn't seem to be working, carefully hanging the portrait in its place.
The room no longer felt cold and lifeless now. It felt as if he was near, though reason told her he couldn't be. It was impossible. Arnav was dead. And she was alone, their child growing within her, her only anchor.
*****
As Khushi adjusted to her new surroundings, the same sting of loneliness was hitting Arnav--and hard.
The Maliks had accepted him like a genuine member of the family. Their home was one of the finest in all of Delhi, a mammoth structure of white marble and European imported sandstone. He'd been given a luxurious suite, every amenity at his fingertips and yet, despite it all, he felt miserable and utterly lost.
More memories like the vision of the rose garden had not resurfaced yet. It both irritated and confused him what he remembered and what he had forgotten.
He learned that he was well-versed in early twentieth century literature, knew calligraphy rather well, how to speak English and French--signs that Mr. Malik said pointed to a privileged upbringing.
But in addition to not recalling his previous life or family, there were other startling omissions in his skills. He may have known how to read and write quite well, but a simple thing as operating a hair dryer he'd forgotten.
A servant had been assigned solely to help him. He would patiently explain and demonstrate everything from using a phone to working the shower knobs. Arnav picked up everything fast, but it annoyed him that he had to be so dependent on another. Why were his memories so skewed? It felt like he knew nothing of modern-day technology, but that simply couldn't be. It was impossible.
As the servant opened a shiny, rectangular device, Arnav's mouth bent crossly. He was sick of these lessons. He wanted to be normal... to find where he belonged...
"This is a laptop," the man explained in a sleep-inducing tone. "Or computer, it--"
"It contains more books than an entire library. I know," Arnav grumbled. He froze the moment the words left his mouth. They'd come out of nowhere.
"Sir? You remember?"
"Someone told me once... a young girl..."
 Her image bloomed right before his eyes: a thin, smiling girl with long, black hair and twinkling, mischievous eyes behind her glasses.
"Really?" he heard himself ask. "It contains more books than our entire library? Just one small machine?"
She nodded, spreading her arms wide. "More books than you can even imagine and lots more information. I haven't gotten a chance to use it much. Amma says it's for Babuji's work, but maybe I'll ask again soon."
"Sir?"
"Quiet!" He held up his hand, concentrating hard.
But the girl was gone as suddenly as she'd come. The memory vanished. Arnav shivered, breathing hard.
Who was she, he wondered? How did he know her? And who were the Amma and Babuji she'd mentioned? The answers remained out of his reach.
"Leave me," he ordered the servant.
"But--"
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" Arnav roared, watching with a twinge of regret as the man scurried out.
He dropped his head into his hands, willing himself to remember... to remember her... the woman he loved and ached for... The only one who could answer the questions that consumed his mind. Something told him she was the key to everything.
He had to find her.
*****
The weeks that followed were some of the hardest and most grueling Khushi had ever endured. Without Arnav, the world around her seemed gray and lifeless. She read his letters from the trunk every day, knowing the words by heart now, though that didn't seem to matter. His elegant, flowing handwriting, the knowledge that his warm hand had once touched this same sheet soothed her soul. No matter what happened throughout the day, his memory was never far from her thoughts.
Even at night, it was Arnav and only Arnav.  She dreamed of him, their moments together twisting into a confusing, jumbled maze that knew no end till out of the blue, Mr. Ram's voice would interrupt:
"Chote Uncle was only 22 years old when some drunkard crashed into his car, killing him on the morning of January 21,1926."
Khushi would wake up out of breath, tears streaming down her cheeks. It was the cruelest torment, and some days she wondered if she was strong enough to get through such darkness. 
And yet, as it always did, time slowly passed.
With her aunt's encouragement, she converted the small bedroom into a proper nursery. The once dreary walls were repainted a warm yellow. A cradle had been borrowed from the neighbors and Buaji had moved one of the rocking chairs from the living room into the room. Along with new curtains, Khushi had stitched some clothes for the baby. It wasn't much, but it was a start.
Along with helping Buaji around the house and keeping up with her college classes online, Khushi started working for a nearby caterer. Cooking had always been something she enjoyed, but under the strain of pregnancy and Arnav's absence, it too became a chore. She forced herself through the long hours, exhausted by the time she made it home every afternoon, her feet swollen and her back aching.
Buaji clucked her tongue with disapproval. "You need to rest more," she remarked as Khushi set down her purse and reached for her textbooks.
"I can't, Buaji. Exams are coming up and I'm so behind as it is."
"You were always on top of your classes in Lucknow. You'll pass just fine."
"I know, but it's my last year. The professors have piled on so much work. I have three research papers to complete."
Buaji patted her on the head. "Get to work then, Sanka Devi. I'll make you some tea." Her eyes fell on Arnav's portrait as they always did, but she asked Khushi no questions, quietly leaving the bedroom.
Khushi studied late into the night, rubbing her eyes when the page before her seemed to blur. Her back was killing her, and she longed to sleep. But she couldn't--not for another few hours at least.
Her aunt returned later with another cup of tea and a small snack. Khushi accepted the plate gratefully, sighing as she took a bite.
"Sanka Devi..."
"Yes, Buaji? Something wrong?" She could tell something had happened by the way her aunt was nervously twisting her hands.
"Garima called this morning."
Khushi blinked with surprise. Her parents hadn't contacted her even once since that fateful night in Sheesh Mahal and though Payal had called one rainy afternoon, it had been only to wish her the best and inform her that she wouldn't be calling again. She hated to lie and go behind their mother's back, Payal had explained. Amma had strictly forbidden it.
Khushi had understood, keeping her voice cheerful despite the tears rolling down her cheeks.
That had been two months ago. Perhaps, her mother was finally ready to reconsider. "Amma called? What did she say?"
Buaji frowned, hating to squash her hopes. She decided not to prolong it, explaining quietly: "She didn't call for you, Khushi... She wanted to inform me that Payal's wedding has been arranged."
"Jiji's wedding?" A smile lit her face. "Really? With whom?"
"To the son of one of your Babuji's schoolmates. They're settled in Canada."
Khushi froze, setting down her plate. "So Jiji will be moving there? So far?"
Buaji nodded, staring at her grimly. "Yes, and not just her--Shashi and Garima are also retiring there."
"What? They're all leaving--" Me alone? She bit her tongue, knowing she had no right to expect anything. They'd cut her off completely. The grief was followed by an equally deep shock. A most unsettling realization.
"And Sheesh Mahal?"
"Garima said the trust would have to find another caretaker or sell it off. There are talks of that."
"Sell Sheesh Mahal? They can't! It belongs to the Raizadas!" She quieted the moment she saw her aunt's face. She looked more than a little worried and confused. Khushi took a deep breath. "I'll be okay, Buaji. It's just a lot of changes at once."
Her aunt nodded. "Don't over exert yourself, there's the baby to think about. Finish your tea and then sleep. It's very late."
"Good night, Buaji."
Khushi waited till she was gone before giving into the tears. She sobbed silently, her eyes rising to Arnav's photograph. Sheesh Mahal had meant so much to him and now it was in danger of being sold. What if the new owners decided to tear it down? What if it was destroyed?
She refused to give up without a fight. Grabbing her phone, she searched for the Raizada trust, finding their email address. And then she typed:
To whom it may concern:
I've heard that Sheesh Mahal is likely to be sold. I sincerely request you to keep the property. Its value and history cannot be defined by any monetary amount.
I realize a new caretaker is needed, and I would like to apply for the position. I'm currently in my final year at Lucknow's oldest university and while I do not have much experience, I know Sheesh Mahal better than anyone. My father is the current caretaker and I've grown up in those grand halls and majestic grounds. For me, Sheesh Mahal carries a thousand memories, each one precious. I will work with all my heart and soul to keep Sheesh Mahal a historical beacon and preserve it for future generations.
I hope you consider my application. Attached is my resume and contact details should you have any further questions.
Sincerely,
K. Raizada
With a whispered prayer, Khushi pressed send. Now she could only wait. Hopefully, the reply would be in her favor and Sheesh Mahal would be saved. She could not even bear to think of the alternative.


Fateful Love by Tina
Chapter 15: Mr. Malik
Arnav blinked awake, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. For a moment, it felt as if he was still dreaming.
Lips were gliding down his torso, but they weren't ones he recognized. They had none of the warmth from his dreams.
Unfamiliar hands slid up his thighs, going to his waistband. Arnav reached for the light, snapping it on. Throwing off the blanket, his eyes narrowed.
Sheetal was draped over him, wearing a skimpy, blue bit of lace and not much else. Her hands were in the process of pulling down his pants.
Arnav pushed her off of him and jumping out of the bed.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he barked. "In my room?"
She shrugged, lounging and stretching on the sheets in an almost feline manner. "You looked so lonely. I know what you want, Arnav. And it's what I want as well. Come back to bed, baby."
The muscle in his jaw tightened. "I don't want you, Sheetal. How many times do I have to tell you that?"
"Then whom do you want?" she snapped, looking furious suddenly. Her eyes glittered in the dim light. "That mysterious woman from your memory? You haven't even seen her face. You don't even know her name."
"It doesn't matter. I know I love her. Only her."
"She's not here in Delhi," Sheetal countered. "But I am." She rose up, looping her arms around his rigid waist. "And I've been wanting you for months now. Why won't you give in?"
Arnav detangled himself from her arms, his face hardening. "Because you aren't that woman and you never will be! Stay the hell away from me, Sheetal."
She didn't look too pleased. Her red-rouged lips compressed into a thin, disapproving line. "One of these days you will give in, Arnav. And I'll be waiting."
He bit back the urge to shout and tell her he'd never give into her, watching with a look of disgust as she sashayed out the door. He locked it, breathing hard.
Several months had passed, and he was no closer to finding the woman he loved. Sometimes he sensed her around him, but he chalked it up to his mind playing tricks, his heart longing for the impossible.
Tiredly rubbing a hand over his face, Arnav glanced at the clock. It was almost 8 AM and he had a packed schedule at the office today, as well as a dinner party later in the evening.
His memories may have been gone, but he had retained his skills in business. Making deals and contracts came to him with natural ease. Under his leadership, the Maliks' business had grown substantially. It was the only way he could think of to repay the man who'd saved his life and helped him search for his family. So far, they'd found no leads, but he wasn't giving up.
Arnav sighed, heading to the shower. It would be another long day... another meaningless day.
*****
Khushi was running late, a hand sliding over her burgeoning belly as she gathered her things. Now where was her purse?
"Here," said her aunt, sliding it out from under a giant stack of baby books.
"Thanks, Buaji."
"What time will you be back today?"
Grimacing, Khushi glanced away. "I'll probably be late. There's an important event we're catering today."
"Khushi, you're almost in your eighth month now!" Buaji reminded. "You need to slow down."
Khushi managed a beaming smile for her, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. "I'll be just fine, Buaji. Don't worry. It's just for a few more weeks as it is. My maternity leave goes into effect soon."
Before Buaji could get another word in, Khushi gave her a quick hug, scampering out the door. It was easier said than done. She felt absolutely huge these days.
Carefully sliding into a taxi, Khushi handed the driver a small scrap of paper with an address scribbled on it. She was reaching for her phone when it suddenly buzzed.
"Hello?"
It was the manager from work. "Khushi, make sure everything goes perfectly today. It's a very important contract."
"I know, Mrs. Singh. I promise you I'll handle it."
"Good. And by the way, I've also sent some of the junior assistants to help you. There shouldn't be any problems."
"There won't be. Thanks."
"Take care."
The call disconnected and Khushi immediately opened up her email account, her eyes skimming through the new messages. Not one was from the Raizada trust. As she did once a month, she resent her original email to them, hoping someone would read it eventually.
"Here we are," said the driver, shaking her from thoughts of Sheesh Mahal and Lucknow.
Khushi blinked at the whitewashed mansion. It was much larger than any of the catering company's previous contracts.
"Are you sure this is it?"
The man nodded, waiting impatiently for his fare. Khushi paid him, a cool wind sliding over her face as she stepped out. Clutching her purse and trusty clipboard, she walked toward the gates. A lone guard stood there.
"Is this the Maliks' residence?" she asked him.
"Yes, and you are?"
"Khushi Raizada. I'm in charge of the catering for the party tonight."
He pressed a button and the shiny, silver gates opened at once. With a deep breath, Khushi strode forward.
*****
As Khushi entered the Malik's grand kitchen, supervising the preparations, Arnav was five minutes away, sitting in a conference meeting to the right of Mr. Malik. Sheetal was seated directly across from him. She kept batting her eyelashes ever so often in his direction.
He ignored her, focusing on the presentation. The company was hoping to expand into Lucknow's market.
"Last time I went there, the deal fell through, but this time..." Mr. Malik beamed at Arnav. "I'm leaving it to even more capable hands. Arnav, I want you to head this new venture."
"Of course."
"Wonderful." He turned toward his daughter. "Sheetal, send all the documents to Arnav's office immediately."
"Yes, Papa. I'll be more than happy to." The way she practically purred those words made it blatantly clear how much she'd enjoy this excuse to be alone with him.
Arnav glanced aside, avoiding her gaze as the meeting concluded. Knowing her, he expected her to show up within minutes at his door, but she took a good hour.
"There were a lot of files," she explained, signaling in two men. They carried several boxes.
"These contain all the details about the new property. An incredibly wealthy, Lucknowi family once owned it, but they died off and the trust no longer wants it. We're lucky to have gotten it at such a low price."
Arnav didn't reply, shifting through the myriad of papers and files. Sheetal frowned. "Are you even listening to me?"
At his silence, she continued without pause, her voice extra cheery. "You know, it's the perfect location for a new mall, Arnav. And who wants an old, haunted building anyway? Lucknow should thank us, don't you think?" He still didn't reply, and her teeth gritted together. "If my father finds out how you behave with me, he'll--"
"He'll what?" Arnav interrupted, his voice cold. "Throw me out of the company? I could care less if that happened. You know as well as I do that the only reason I even tolerate you is because of your father."
Sheetal couldn't deny that. She knew he only stayed with them because of some silly sentimental attachment to her dad. The two had become very close, almost like a true father and son. There was also the fact that Arnav felt beholden to her father for all his assistance in finding his family. Thus far, the search had yielded no tangible results, but both men remained insufferably optimistic.
Whatever his reasons were, Sheetal knew she couldn't lose Arnav because of her childish tantrums. He'd call off the search and come to her one day. He had to.
"Can't you give me a chance?" she asked, more to herself than him.
Before he could decline her infuriating request, she picked up a stack of papers. From Arnav's viewpoint, it looked to be some email exchanges.
"You know, I was going through these boxes a bit and there's this girl who keeps emailing and asking to be the caretaker. The usual 'This house is a historical beacon and must be preserved for future generations' and other nonsense. Hilarious, isn't it?"
"Not really. Now, are you done? I have work to do."
Frowning at his bent head, Sheetal straightened. "I know. You're quite the workaholic, aren't you Arnav? But don't forget, the dinner party is tonight. Your tux will be in your room. I had it dry-cleaned."
"Thanks, but you didn't have to trouble yourself. You're just my boss's daughter--not my wife."
Sheetal marched out of the office before her temper got the best of her and she said something she knew she'd later regret. "I may not be your wife, Arnav, but one day, I will be. Nothing and no one can stop me."
*****
By the time the first guests began arriving at the Maliks' mansion, the sky was darkening and all of Khushi's preparations were finally complete. The ballroom was decorated beautifully, a long table of delicacies lining the back wall.
"Everything ready?" she asked the assistants.
"Yes, Khushi," came their replies.
"Great, everyone. And remember, it'll be a busy night but we need to do our absolute best. As a team, we can do that and--"
A sharp, feminine voice intruded: "Who's in charge here?"
It was a petite woman, dressed in a fine gold saree with matching glitter sprayed on her hair, neck, and arms. It looked quite expensive, but the combined effect made Khushi's eyes water.
"I am," she said, striding forward. "Khushi Raizada."
The woman pointedly ignored her outstretched hand, making a face at Khushi's simple red saree.
"Look, I don't care who you are, but everything has to be flawless tonight. This is my party and if anything goes wrong, I will have your catering company shut down. Is that understood?"
Her heels tapped away before Khushi could get a word in. "What a snobby, little witch," she murmured.
The assistants giggled. "That she is. Sheetal Malik is known for her attitude."
Khushi shrugged. "Let's just forget about her and stick to the plan."
They all nodded, hurrying off to their stations while Khushi stayed in the main ballroom, supervising everything.
The guests around her were dressed in the best designer wear, exchanging kisses on the cheeks and the latest gossip. To Khushi's eyes, it was akin to watching a theater performance. Everything around her seemed too loud and superficial. She'd much rather read a book in the quiet of her bedroom than attend such a party.
Shrugging, she turned away. It was none of her business how these rich people spent their evening. But just then, she felt something, an odd awareness. As if--
She quelled that thought, taking a deep breath. Was she truly crazy as her mother claimed? Arnav could not be here. It was impossible.
But as the lights dimmed and a soft love song began playing, she couldn't help but sense his presence. Why? Why did she feel him?
As Khushi berated her wishful heart, Arnav entered the party, adjusting the cuff on his tuxedo. Mr. Malik spotted him right away, leading him off to his circle of friends.
Amid the hello's and pleasantries, his mind remained elsewhere. His eyes flashed over the crowd, searching for something... someone...
Why did it feel as if the woman from his dreams was near? It was as if he could sense her heart, beating just as fast and irregularly as his. Could she really be here?
He excused himself, crossing the dance floor to the opposite end.
*****
Khushi wiped the tears from her eyes as she walked through gleaming glass doors into an adjacent garden. The fresh air calmed her nerves, but even here Arnav's thoughts would not leave her alone. She felt a strange pull, the faint strains of the love song still reaching her ears.
She had to get back to work. What was she doing out here? And yet, her feet wouldn't seem to move. She was too caught up in memories of the man she loved to think straight.
Taking a hiccuping breath, she massaged a hand over the baby bump, crooning softly. The wind ruffled her hair, nipping her exposed skin. And then she felt it: that same strange awareness. Against all hope, her head shot up, the world seemed to fall away.
Arnav had strolled out onto the patio in a confused state, his thoughts all jumbled. And then he froze.
He wasn't alone as he'd assumed, there was someone else here too: a stunning woman, dressed in flaming red, her eyes wide and tearful as they rose to his. He felt an instant connection, something powerful and charged blazing through the air between them.
Khushi couldn't seem to breathe as her eyes traced over him. Was it another dream? A cruel fantasy that would soon disappear and leave her broken?
"Are you okay?"
His voice, so long unheard and so terribly missed, its husky richness and deep timbre just as she remembered it, crashed into her like a firestorm. Dear God... it was him... Arnav was alive and standing before her.
She swayed on her feet and he immediately crossed the distance separating them, catching her in his arms. Their gazes clashed as he gripped her, staring down at her with mounting concern.
A broken sob escaped her throat. She couldn't tear her eyes off of him, tracing over each feature. He was real against her. Solid, warm, and very much alive.
"Oh, Ar--"
Arnav tightened his arms around her, drawing her against him as her eyes fluttered close and her body went completely limp.
His hand trembled as it brushed over her cheekbone. She was so soft to the touch, so delicate. "Are you okay?" he asked again.
He shook his head almost at once, cursing his own foolishness. Clearly, she was not okay. She'd fainted.
Carefully, he lifted her in his arms, his gaze frozen on her beautiful features. He felt so connected to this woman, as if all he searched for was within his grasp after months of restless wandering.
Sitting on one of the stone benches, Arnav kept her draped over his lap, his eyes washing over her hungrily. His gaze narrowed on the bulge at her midline. She was heavily pregnant.
Before he could stop himself, his hand settled over the swell. And at once, his own thoughts played back to him, from a time and place he didn't remember:
If he ever became a father, he vowed he'd hug his son or daughter close all the time. He would tell them how much he loved them. His child would never feel unloved.. would never experience the pain of being an unwanted burden, easily replaced..
The memory vanished as abruptly it always did. He stared down at the motionless woman in his lap, feeling as if the answers were very close. He just had to concentrate...
"Arnav!"
His teeth gnashed together as Sheetal stepped before him, her eyes bulging as she spotted the pretty catering girl in his arms.
"What are you doing here with her?"
"She fainted."
Sheetal frowned. She'd had a feeling from the start this girl would ruin her party. "Well, don't just sit there. Let's take her inside."
He said nothing, rising up.
"Let me call some servants to carry her," she murmured.
Arnav shook his head sharply. "That's not necessary."
Leaving her open-mouthed behind him, he strode through a back door, taking Khushi carefully upstairs. Sheetal swore, chasing after him.
To her horror, he'd taken the catering girl right to his bedroom, laying her on the sheets with such gentle care that she had to bite her lip to keep from cursing again. He'd never even glanced at her with such tenderness.
"I'll handle her," she murmured through clenched teeth. "You can go back to the party. My dad was looking for you."
Arnav hadn't let go of the unconscious woman's hand. Why did he feel such a pull to her? Why did it feel as if he recognized her? Was it his mind playing tricks again?
"Arnav.. this is a woman's matter. She's clearly pregnant and I can help her better." At his hesitance, she hastily added: "I'll call you when she wakes up."
"You promise?"
Sheetal nodded. "You have my word. Now, go."
It made her feel slightly better when he finally left, though he kept glancing back several times. She closed the door at once, flinging a look of pure loathing at the catering girl. How dare she try to ensnare her Arnav? She'd handle this.
Khushi's eyes blinked open, his name on her lips. "Ar.. Arnav.."
But he wasn't there. The gold-draped woman stood before her, smirking slightly. "My husband is not here."
Khushi was sure she'd heard wrong. It couldn't be... "Your husband?"
"Yes. Arnav is my husband. What did you think? That he was available for you to try your tricks on?"
"That's not--"
Sheetal raised up a hand. "I don't want to hear your explanations, whatever-your-name-is. Just get out of my house!"
Khushi narrowed her eyes. "I don't believe you."
"What?" Sheetal, for the first time in a very long time, was taken aback. No one ever had the guts to question her--least of all middle-class girls like this one.
"I don't believe you," repeated Khushi, sliding out of the bed. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find someone."
She brushed past a baffled-looking Sheetal, heading for the staircase.
"He is my husband," snapped the woman, her lips twisting. "Just ask him."
Khushi acted as if she hadn't heard her, her eyes searching for Arnav. He was standing near the bottom step, his tall, lean build and broad shoulders catching her attention at once.
Taking a deep breath, she tapped a finger to his tuxedo-covered back. He swerved toward her, his handsome features tracing over her. To see him again was such a shock that Khushi still could not fully comprehend it. Arnav was here... in her time...
But then something struck Khushi amidst the boundless joy bubbling within her. The perplexed look in his eyes... something was wrong...
Her world seemed to sway once more, but she kept upright, her heart pounding.
"You don't recognize me, do you?"
Arnav was silent for a long moment. "Should I?"
He'd truly forgotten her. Her heart shattered at the realization. Was he simply a look alike of her Arnav? But it couldn't be. Otherwise, why would her heart feel so attuned to this man? Still to be sure she asked the question Sheetal Malik had told her to ask.
"What's your name?"
He seemed even more confused. "Arnav Malik."
Arnav Malik. Arnav and Sheetal Malik... husband and wife. So it was true? Tears blinded her vision for a moment. All hope almost left her.
And then her eyes noticed something--the ring on his hand. The gold band she'd carried against her heart for years. She'd have recognized it anywhere. He was wearing the Raizada heirloom, making him... Arnav Singh Raizada.
The man she loved.
"Are you okay?" he asked again, staring across at her with a furrowed brow.
She managed a teary smile. "I will be..." We will be. I'll make you remember, love, if it's the last thing I do. I won't give up. Not now, when I've finally found you against all odds.
I love you...


Fateful Love by Tina
Chapter 16: Remember Me, Love?
Buaji leaned back against the cushions with a loud sigh of relief. "Finally, Sanka Devi. I've been telling you to do just that for months now. In this condition, working so many hours is taking too much of a toll on you." Her gaze turned stern. "Now, you will stay home and rest. No excuses."
Cringing inwardly, Khushi met her eyes with grim resolve. "I can't, Buaji." Seeing the disapproving frown on her aunt's face, she hastened to add: "I mean I will, but not for a few more days. You see, I have a new job."
"A new job?" Her aunt appeared utterly flabbergasted. "You cannot be serious. You're in your eighth month now. I won't allow it and--"
Khushi reached for her hand before she could say another word, her gaze softening. "I know you want the best for me, but it's just for a few more days. And then I'll do everything as you say."
Buaji sighed, reading the determination in her niece's eyes quite well. There was no stopping Khushi once her mind was made up.
"If this new job is so very important to you, then fine. But only for a few more days."
Khushi smiled, hugging her as well as she could. "Deal, Buaji."
"You should sleep, Sanka Devi. It's late now."
"I am a bit tired. Good night."
"Sleep well. And wake me up if the baby troubles you at all."
"I will."
It was with some reluctance that Khushi left the dimly lit room, glancing over her shoulder. She'd decided on her way back from the Maliks' residence to not tell her aunt anything about Arnav for now. Buaji already worried so much and if she found out that Arnav was alive, but no longer remembered her or his identity, it would only add to her troubles. And Khushi couldn't do that to the one person who'd stood by her all these dark months.
She'd tell Buaji once everything was as it should be.
But how had Arnav forgotten? wondered Khushi for the umpteenth time. How had he entered her time? And how had his path crossed with that witch of a woman, Sheetal Malik?
Khushi shook her head, ignoring all those pesky troubles. It did not matter if he had forgotten her or that Sheetal claimed he was her husband. The only fact that mattered to her was that her Arnav was alive and well--not a scratch on him.
And for that miracle, Khushi could only be grateful. Walking into the brightly decorated nursery, she walked directly to his portrait, a sob escaping her.
"Oh, Arnav... Oh, love... I knew it. Some part of me knew all along you couldn't leave me." Her hand lowered to her abdomen. "Couldn't leave us..."
With trembling fingers, she stroked his dear face, lost in those stolen moments at the party all over again. That magical instant when she'd been in his arms, nestled against his heartbeat, their child pressed between them.
Tugging off her red sari, she slipped into a voluminous, white maternity dress, huddling underneath the covers. A rough wind was howling outside and against its permeating chill, Khushi longed for the man who was her other half in every way that truly mattered.
If he'd been here, he would have taken her into his arms, rubbing warmth back into her toes and pressing kisses to her face and neck. He would have stroked her belly, talking to their child and making her smile and laugh in the way only he could.
But as the single, small window in the room rattled, Khushi could not overlook the fact that she was alone. The bed was empty beside her and her Arnav remained so unbearably far despite being so very close.
Tears slipped into her hair as she recalled the faraway look in his eyes. There had been a spark of recognition in his eyes for a fleeting moment, but then it had seemed to vanish and he'd stared at her as one would to a stranger.
"Do I know you?" he'd asked at one point.
She'd swallowed, wondering how to tell him. As much as she yearned to declare: "You're Arnav Singh Raizada. My Arnav. You've come all the way from 1926 for our love," she'd known at once he wouldn't believe her.  Who would?
But she hadn't given up either. From her research on time travel years ago, she'd learned that there was often a trigger component involved. Something that would allow the person to bridge the gap of space and time. In their case, it had been their presence in Sheesh Mahal's canopy bedroom at nightfall. Similarly, there had to be something that would trigger his memories.
If he'd found his way to her, then he would find his way to the truth. And she'd help him, pointing him in the right direction till he himself recognized who he was. Who she was... She turned onto her side, recalling every word he'd spoken to her tonight.
"Do I know you?" Arnav had asked for the second time, observing her with mounting confusion as she remained silent. Like her, he didn't seem to be bothered about the noise and chaos of the party around them, his achingly familiar gaze locked on her face.
"Could you do something for me?" she'd asked instead. "It's important." She longed to tell him exactly how they were connected, but something told her that he had to be the one to remember--and that he would. It was just a matter of time.
"Anything." he'd replied, appearing taken aback by his own quick agreement.
A cautious, trembling smile had curved her lips, and she'd asked him for the one thing that would help them resolve this whole mess: time.
Time... that intangible, obscure entity that she had often cursed as well as thanked, and one which continued to surprise and astonish her.
And with that thought, Khushi finally slept, for the first time in months no nightmares plaguing her mind.
Arnav, her heart called out. Love, return to me... Remember me...
*****
"Good morning, Mr. Malik," greeted various employees as Arnav took the stairs to his private office on the second floor.
He nodded absently, his mind occupied by a young woman with twinkling, hazel eyes and a hesitant smile that made his heart skip a beat. Draped in silky crimson with her hair left open to sway in the breeze, she'd been a vision last night.
And heavily pregnant with some other man's child, the rational part of him pointed out. What the hell was wrong with him?
But absurd though it may well be, the fact remained that he'd spent the good part of the night dreaming about her--a woman whose name he didn't even know, he realized with a start.
Shaking off all thoughts of her, he tried to concentrate on work, reading through files and sending off some pending emails. But it was hopeless. Every time he closed his eyes, he recalled the feel of her against him. The impassioned, poignant look in her eyes as their gazes had met just before she'd left.
"Dammit." Arnav took a deep breath, willing himself to stop thinking about her.
Simply because she reminded him of the woman in his visions, her hair a strikingly similar texture and length, if not exactly the same, he had to stop obsessing over her. There were undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of petite women with coal black, waist-long hair.
And there were differences too. Her complexion had been more pale and sickly compared to the woman in his dreams. Her body was completely different too--swollen with child while the woman in his memories had been slim, her abdomen flat, her breasts not so full.
If only he'd seen her face once, but his dreams had remained frustratingly dark and shadow-like. Beyond the silhouette of her profile and the slight swaying of a white lace canopy above their heads, there was nothing. No answers.
Arnav's mouth compressed as he looked at the clock. It was almost 9 AM. And something told him his confusion would only intensify today.
"Arnav?"
Sheetal grinned as she walked in, her designer heels tapping on the tiles in a manner that made his head pound.
"What do you want?" he barked.
Her smile slightly faltered at his snarl-like tone, but she recovered fast, striding to his side. Leaning down, she reached for a pen, knowing just how to make full use of her low-necked dress. Gritting his teeth, Arnav glanced pointedly away.
"I thought I could help you with the new project," drawled Sheetal, teasing the pen down the side of his face. "There must be too much work for you alone."
He batted her hand aside, his expression darkening. He was just about to shout when a third voice--soft, but firm--broke out:
"That won't be necessary."
His breath caught as he looked up. Hazel eyes clung to his. She was truly there. No longer clad in red, but in a bright orange salwar kameez that brought out the rosiness of her cheeks.
"You!" Sheetal looked as if she'd choked on her own bile. "What the hell are you doing here? In Mr. Malik's cabin?"
Khushi couldn't look away from Arnav, her pulse racing. It took everything in her not to race into his arms and kiss the hard, masculine line of his mouth. He appeared much too stern and aloof, as if he'd forgotten not just his real name, but how to smile as well.
"I asked you something," Sheetal spat with venom. "What are you doing here, catering girl? How did you even get in?" She was cursing the lax security and vowing to fire all the guards on duty when Khushi interrupted, the corners of her lips tipping up:
"I'm not a caterer anymore. I'm Mr. Malik's new secretary."
"What?" Sheetal's red locks swung through the air as she turned toward Arnav with rounding eyes. "Secretary? You always said you preferred working alone!"
He hardly glanced her way, drawn to the petite, attractive woman standing across from him. There was a grace and charm about her, a radiating strength in her eyes that hinted to so much more. "Sheetal, leave. This was my decision. I don't need to explain anything to you."
"But--"
"I said leave," he ground out.
Making a strangled noise, she spun about, stalking out of the cabin with a final glare at Khushi. "This isn't over, catering girl. Remember what I told you about my position." Anger brewed in her sharp gaze. Khushi ignored her as Arnav rose to stand.
"Sorry about her," he said.
Khushi smiled as he closed the distance separating them. Her heart was galloping to be so near him once more. Her eyes traced over his tall, lean form with barely hidden warmth and affection.
"You don't need to apologize for her, Mr. Malik."
"Arnav is fine."
"Arnav..." she repeated with a dazzling smile, the single word hitting him hard.
Why did it sound so very familiar from her lips? He was no doubt being ridiculous again, his wistfulness making him long for the impossible. No wonder he'd agreed to her sudden request the night before without a second thought:
"Do I know you?" Arnav had asked, watching her carefully.
She hadn't confirmed or denied it. "Could you do something for me?" she'd asked instead. "It's important."
"Anything," he found himself saying without thinking twice.
She'd smiled, looking stunningly attractive in the dim light of the ballroom. "Actually... I need a job..."
He'd been surprised, but had instructed her to come to his office the next morning. And now here she was, at exactly 9 AM--just as she'd promised to be.
"And your name?" he asked her now, his voice gruffer than normal.
"Oh, I never did tell you, did I? I just asked for a job and ran," she reflected with an amused smile. "Sorry. I'm Khushi Raizada."
Khushi. Khushi Raizada. Why did it sound more connected to him than his own name? He didn't have time to think it through.
Khushi extended her right hand to him. "Friends?"
Arnav blinked down at her out-stretched hand and then back up to her face. "I don't have any friends."
"It's never too late." Her luminescent eyes pierced him with their gentle fire. "Friendship is one of the most beautiful aspects of life, right alongside with love."
He was both bewildered and intrigued by her. Against his better judgment, he found himself inching closer, his hand grasping hers.
A jolt went through both of them as their hands entwined--much as they had when they'd sealed their friendship as kids. Arnav was lost in the inky depths of her eyes, feeling as if he was on the cusp of something. Something important...
A throat cleared behind them and their hands immediately retracted.
"Yes?" Arnav managed, missing her touch in ways he couldn't explain. What the hell was wrong with him? he mused all over again.
"Mr. Malik, your mail," said the man at the door.
He took it, setting it on his desk before turning back to Khushi. She was waiting for instructions, he realized.
"I had a desk brought for you in here. I thought it would save you from constantly walking back and forth in your condition." As soon as he said it, Arnav realized how unusual it must all seem to her. "If you're comfortable, of course. I can assign you a cubicle with the other employees if you'd prefer."
Khushi was already setting down her things on the empty desk to his right. Her fingers trailed over the sleek wood. "No, this is very considerate of you. Thanks."
She hated how stiff and formal they were both being, but at least it was a start she told herself. Ease him into the past... help him remember...
"Is it your first child?"
Khushi swallowed, her hand settling on her abdomen. "Yes." Our first child.
"Your family must worry for you... your husband especially." Inwardly, he was wishing: Please tell me there is no husband. Please...
"Yes," said Khushi, settling into the extra wide and comfy chair he'd personally arranged for her. "He worries so much so that he takes every care and precaution for me. Sometimes without even realizing it."
Arnav glanced away from her deep, soulful gaze, mentally calling himself a wishful fool. Of course, she had a husband. A happy life, separate from his own. For some bizarre reason, it hurt just to consider it. His hands fisted under the table.
Khushi's heart twisted as she observed him. Knowing him as well as she did, she could read his every expression, his every pain and question. She ached to reassure him, to smooth back the lines marring his forehead. Remember me, love? she longed to ask.
Shaking his head as if to clear all thoughts, Arnav reminded himself that she'd only come to him looking for a job. With a strain in his voice, he explained:
"The company is constructing a new mall. We need to select all the vendors and suppliers. After reading these files, review each one and make a list in order of preference. We then need to draw up formal proposals."
It seemed difficult, but one look at the number of boxes and files, and Khushi found the task downright daunting. Arnav split the files in two, keeping the larger stack for himself and passing her the rest.
"Ready, Miss Raizada?"
"It's missus," she corrected. "But please call me Khushi."
At his terse nod, they went to work, side by side. As always, Arnav threw himself headfirst into the contracts and emails, fighting to overlook the fact that his head was pounding like a drum and that all he longed to do was stare at the woman to his right. Daydreaming about a married, heavily pregnant woman was sheer madness.
And yet, he couldn't stop it. Out of the corner of his eye, he found himself staring at Khushi. She bit her lip often as she read, played with the ends of her hair in gestures so familiar it felt as if he'd seen her do it a thousand times before.
You're being utterly ridiculous, he berated. Concentrate on the file--nothing and no one else. Especially Mrs. Khushi Raizada.
"Arnav..." she said sometime later, her soft voice sending warmth rushing through him.
"Yes?" He finally allowed himself to turn her way.
Khushi was leaning back against the chair, looking weary. "Are we stopping for lunch? It's almost 3 o'clock now."
His eyes flew to the time. Dammit. "You should have said something sooner. We worked right through lunch."
"It's okay," she smiled. "My aunt fed me a huge breakfast this morning."
That didn't reassure him. He was used to skipping meals, but she was not--especially in this state. "I'll order us something," he said, reaching for the phone.
"No," cut in Khushi, "Thank you, but I brought lunch from home."
Arnav nodded, starting to order something for himself as was his daily routine. Another oily and too spicy meal no doubt.
"You don't need to do that. I brought food for both of us."
Arnav watched her take out two identical lunch boxes with raised brows. "For me? But why?"
"I thought you might like it," she said simply.
He didn't have the heart to refuse her. Taking a bite of the delicately spiced rice, his eyes closed and something akin to a moan escaped his mouth. The taste../ the aroma... It was like a long ago memory, coming to life in startling colors.
"Do you like it?" Khushi asked, observing him carefully.
His eyes snapped open. He ate another spoonful, larger this time. "It's delicious. The best thing I've had in months."
Her smile lit her eyes. "It's my husband's favorite."
Remember, love, she willed. Remember me, Arnav.
But he did not, his eyes darkening as he took a few more bites and then set the box aside.
Khushi hid her disappointment quite well. It would take time, she told herself. They hadn't come so far for her to give up so easily.
By the end of the workday, Khushi felt more at peace than she had in months. Just to be near him, breathing the same air and sharing the same space warmed her heart.
"See you tomorrow morning then."
Arnav nodded, but there was worry and concern in his brooding gaze. "How will you get home?"
She didn't seem to find his question too nosy, pointing casually toward the floor-to-ceiling windows. "My aunt works nearby. She'll pick me up."
He had no reason to hold her back any longer. Except--
"Wait!"
He followed after her. "I'll leave you to the main door."
Khushi began shaking her head. "You don't have to. I'll manage."
But Arnav wouldn't give in, taking her heavy shoulder bag as if he'd always done so. "The cleaners sometimes leave the stairs wet. I don't want anything to happen to you or your child."
Our child, Khushi longed to correct him. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she slowly took his arm, blinking back tears. He'd always watched out for her through the years, right from the time they'd been kids. Even now when he had no memory of her, he was still the same man. Caring, selfless, and guarded with his emotions.
A shudder rippled through Arnav as her hand settled on him. He led her cautiously down the stairs. If any of the employees found it strange for him to be escorting a pregnant woman down the stairs, a colorful purse in his hands, he didn't know. He didn't care enough to check. All that seemed to matter was her: Khushi.
As they arrived at the glass doors and she stepped back, he resisted the urge to bridge the slight distance separating them.
"Thanks."
"Take care, Khushi."
As she left for the day, waving at him, Arnav silently walked back to his office. Slouching back in the chair, he rubbed his temples. It would be a long night once again he knew.
*****
Khushi's eyes sparkled. "Because he's mine."
Sheetal froze, her complexion turning ashy before angry spots of color dotted her cheekbones. "What? It can't be. Why aren't you telling him then?"
"He'll remember soon enough," Khushi said with confidence. "Don't worry. But I'm warning you, stay away from him. He's not interested."
"How can you say that? He doesn't even recognize you, catering girl. You're lying about all of this, aren't you? I'll make him mine. I won't let you snatch him from me."
Khushi's lips thinned. There was a limit to patience and this woman had just blasted past it. She'd never met anyone more spoiled or selfish.
"You know, oddly enough, I feel sorry for you."
Sheetal's brow furrowed. "Sorry?"
Khushi nodded. "You picked the wrong man to go after. Let me guess, you've been trying your best to make him love you, but he's never once shown any interest, has he?"
Khushi didn't have to wait for a reply, one glance and she knew it was the truth. "That's why I feel sorry for you, Miss Malik. You've wasted your time completely. It doesn't matter if Arnav remembers me or not, his heart always will. Our love is beyond anything you could ever comprehend."
"He will love me," broke in Sheetal, a wild desperation in her eyes. "Only me. I'm in love with him."
"No, you just want to attain him. To make him yours at all costs. If you truly understood love, you'd know that love can't be forced."
"And you understand?" Sheetal questioned with a pointed glare.
 Khushi smiled. "I understand him. I love him. And that's all that matters."
Without waiting for a reply, she headed for the elevators, leaving Sheetal open-mouthed behind her.
"Flowers?" asked Arnav the moment she entered the cabin.
Khushi set the bouquet in the empty glass vase at the corner of his desk. "I thought this room could use some color. I hope that's okay."
"Of course." He fingered a velvety, ruby red petal, the scent of roses filling his senses. Memories of a vast, blossoming rose garden came to him again, along with something new: a small wooden box with an engraving and a dying rose inside.
"It's not Valentine's day, I know," murmured Khushi.
"Valentine's day?"
A hesitant voice from the past echoed in his ears: "Basically, it's a widely-celebrated holiday around the world... a day where you... tell those you care about... how much they mean to you. You give them cards, flowers, and other gifts."
"It's a day where--"
"I know," he broke in. "I remember what it is."
Her smile was wide. She didn't ask for any explanations, sitting behind her messy, paper-strewn table. "Valentine's Day is really overdone these days, way too commercialized. Why not just have a Happy Brush-Your-Teeth Day where you gift people toothbrushes?" she quipped.
Arnav paused at her question, wondering how and why it all sounded so familiar.
Because they're your thoughts, love. Your words I'm repeating back to you. Please remember. Remember us... Remember your mother's roses--my first Valentine's gift to you. She could read his every slight gesture, his confusion pulling at her heart.
"Should we start?" she asked, motioning toward the files.
He nodded, his eyes on her as they worked. Try as he might, he couldn't look away. He was pulled to her.
Khushi worked diligently, pausing every once in a while to stare down at her phone. She never called or texted anyone, but she would smile, a radiant glow on her face as she gazed at the screen.
Arnav resisted the urge to crane his neck and sneak a look. She was probably looking at her husband's photo, he told himself, an unexpected sensation engulfing him. Envy--thick and powerful. He was wildly jealous of her faceless husband, the father of her child, he realized. So much so that he couldn't stomach the thought of the other man. It was madness.
And yet, Khushi seemed drawn to him too. Sometimes Arnav would catch her staring at him, an odd astonishment in her eyes as his fingers flew over the computer keys.
"Something wrong?"
"No... You're just really good at that."
"At typing?" At her nod, he shrugged. "I pick up on things fast."
"You always did," she murmured under her breath.
"What?"
"Nothing." Biting on her bottom lip, Khushi went back to work. They worked silently, every once in awhile exchanging files.
"All done," she murmured at the end of the day, stretching her arms. "See you tomorrow, Mr. Malik."
"Arnav," he corrected.
Khushi's warm gaze clashed with his. "Arnav..."
His name rolled off her tongue slowly, almost lovingly if he didn't know any better. Without her, the office felt cold and lifeless. He worked late into the night, glancing at the roses every now and then. The wooden box kept flashing in his mind. It signified something important he knew. But what?
By the time he made it back to the Malik's house, he was exhausted and more than a little irritable.
"Still obsessed with that pregnant woman?" Sheetal nudged open her bedroom door. "You're welcome to come in and spend the night in my arms."
He stalked past her to his room.
"She's eight months pregnant!" Sheetal screeched. "With another man's child! Why are you so interested in that catering girl?"
Slamming his door, Arnav locked it, falling back on the bed. Tomorrow he'd speak to Mr. Malik. He couldn't live here anymore; it was suffocating.
But for once, he couldn't even fault Sheetal Malik. She was right. Khushi couldn't possibly be the woman from his dreams. It was impossible... wasn't it?
*****
The week rolled by fast. Arnav found himself gradually but steadily changing around Khushi. He smiled more, never missed any more meals thanks to her packed lunches, and even joked and laughed. Till she'd stepped into his life, he'd forgotten what happiness truly meant.
They were a productive team as well, getting more done in five days than he'd have imagined. The shopping mall's vendors were almost all decided.
His morning was spent with the senior directors and Mr. Malik in the boardroom. The meeting was long and dull, his thoughts frequently drifting to Khushi. By the time he made it back to back to his cabin, the sun had set and most employees were leaving for the day. He froze as he stepped inside.
"Khushi?"
She was standing with her back to him, but one glance at her rigid posture and he knew something was wrong.
Swinging her around, his gaze widened. Tears swam in her eyes, rolling off her pale cheeks in glistening rivulets.
"What happened?" he asked, shaken. "Why are you crying?"
"I dropped the files," she wailed, wiping her cheeks.
He frowned down at the papers on the floor. "So? We'll handle it. It's no big deal."
"I know, but I can't seem to stop crying." His brow furrowed and she added, "The pregnancy makes me really emotional. I cried yesterday because I put too much salt in the food."
The corner of his mouth lifted. There was something very endearing about her. An innocence that pulled him to her.
"Don't laugh," she ordered and then immediately gasped, swaying on her feet.
"Khushi!" Arnav caught her in his arms. "What is it? Is it the baby?"
A whimper broke past her lips. "No, my back... it hurts..."
Without thinking twice, he slid his hand to where she pointed. Almost instinctively, he rubbed the sore muscles of her lower back, working through the tightness there. His hands seemed to know exactly where to touch.
She sighed, relaxing in his arms. "The pain is fading now. Thank you."
His grip didn't loosen, hardening instead.
Khushi swallowed, the powerful glint in his eyes crashing into her. "Arnav? You can let me go now."
His gaze darkened as he stared down at her, their mouths so close it made her breathless.
"What aren't you telling me?" he demanded. Before she could deny it, he pulled her flush to him. "Why do you seem so familiar to me? Why does everything about you haunt me? Why does your skin feel as if I've stroked it hundreds of times before now?"
At her silence, he frowned, his jaw tightening. His head suddenly dipped, his mouth covering hers before she realized it. A gasp escaped her and his kiss softened in answer. He was holding her in a taut grip, but his touch was gentle, his tongue flicking over her lips and slipping in between.
One of Khushi's hands clenched on his fine suit while the other eased into his thick hair. She found herself responding to his kiss, unable to resist. It had been so long since they'd kissed. Months of endless darkness and pain that she longed to forget.
As he felt the teasing of her tongue, he shuddered in her arms, kissing her harder, his need growing. His hands dipped to her breasts, cradling the fullness and then lowered to her stomach, massaging their child.
"You should be slapping me," he whispered against her reddened lips, pressing kisses. "Why aren't you? Why do you taste so familiar? Why can't I stop kissing you? Touching you?"
His mouth slanted over hers again, achingly tender. "Why, Khushi? Why?"
She couldn't breathe, her heartbeat pounding. "You already know the answer to that."
"I don't!" Arnav cupped her face in his palms with trembling urgency. "No more riddles. I know there's something. You do know me, don't you?"
Her eyes burned with fresh tears, hiding nothing from him.
"Arnav dear?"
Khushi slid out of his arms, rubbing the moistness on her mouth as Mr. Malik knocked on the door. Biting back a curse, Arnav motioned him in.
"I should be leaving," Khushi whispered, quivering. "It's late."
Mr. Malik nodded to her absently, but Arnav couldn't look away, their gazes clashing as she left. As Sheetal's father ran through a new contract, his mind remained elsewhere. Why did it feel like Khushi had said goodbye to him in some cryptic way?
Fear clogged his senses. He couldn't lose her... not again...
Again? He froze, not knowing where that thought had come from. He felt lost in a tumultuous storm that knew no end. If there was any light in the darkness, it was Khushi. He cared about her, he realized. More than anything... anyone...
"Excuse me," he mumbled, running out the door.
"Arnav dear!" Mr. Malik watched him go with stunned surprise. "Where are you going?"
Arnav didn't stop, his heart racing as he took the stairs two at a time. Please be here still. Please.
And then he saw her, walking slowly across the parking lot, her head bowed.
"Khushi!"
He was panting by the time he reached her.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
He couldn't look away from her, something sharp throbbing in his chest. "You'll come tomorrow, won't you? I promise I won't push you with any more questions. I'm sorry if I frightened you." You're not leaving me, are you? his turbulent gaze seemed to scream.
I can never leave you, love. She understood his every anxiety. "No, I won't be here tomorrow," Khushi said instead.
Panic assailed him. He grasped her hand in both of his. "But why?"
Her gaze flickered briefly to his ring, the much-cherished Raizada heirloom. Her smile was slightly teary. "It's Saturday. The office is closed. I'll see you Monday though."
Feeling a bit foolish, he clung to her hand regardless. "But you will return?"
Khushi nodded. "Of course I will."
"Do you promise?"
"Promise," she said, tears stinging her eyes.
Sighing with relief, Arnav squeezed her hand one last time. "Take care, Khushi. I'll be waiting for you."
The tears fell as she watched him go. You're almost there, love. Please, remember. I can't bear to be away from you...
*****
Khushi spent the evening lost in thoughts of Arnav and knitting a sweater for the baby. She hummed a lullaby as she worked, her eyes red and strained in the dim light.
"You never rest or take care of yourself," Buaji commented, clucking her tongue as she turned on the lamp on the corner table.
"I'm almost done, Buaji. Just one sleeve left."
Her aunt didn't reply, busy shelling the basket of peas on her lap. "By the way, Sanka Devi, any news from Lucknow?"
"Lucknow?" Her parents and Payal had left for Canada several weeks ago with barely a word. All her ties to the city seemed to be splintering apart.
"From the Raizada trust," said Buaji. "About Sheesh Mahal."
Pausing mid-stitch, Khushi reached for her phone. Since the party at the Maliks' residence she'd gotten so busy that for the first time in months she'd forgotten about the emails.
She wasn't expecting any response, but to her surprise, there was one, sent five days before:
Thank you for your message and application. The property is undergoing changes, but the new owners would like to hire you as a temporary caretaker, effective immediately. By next week--Monday morning, 9:00 AM--please send an updated inventory of all the property's acquisitions, holdings, and original floor maps (if you happen to find those).
There were contact numbers and several pages of more information.
"My word," whispered Buaji, reading over her shoulder. "All this by Monday?"
"It's my fault. I didn't check till now." Khushi was already up on her feet. "Buaji, I need to leave for Lucknow--right away."
Her aunt's jaw slackened. "Traveling in this state? I'm coming with you."
"No, you have work tomorrow, don't you? I can handle this on my own. I'll be back by Monday or Tuesday at the latest."
"But this is a lot of work, Sanka Devi. How will you ever manage alone?"
Khushi clasped her hand reassuringly. "I've grown up in Sheesh Mahal. I know everything about it. And I'm familiar with the workers who worked under Babuji. I'll hire them to help."
"But--"
Khushi stopped her protests with a grim look. "Please try to understand, Buaji. You know how much Sheesh Mahal means to me."
Her aunt nodded stiffly, patting her cheek. "Promise me you'll take care of yourself. And if you need me, you'll call me right away."
"Promise." Hugging her aunt, she hurried to her room to pack. It didn't take very long; she didn't have very much to begin with. Within the hour, Khushi was gone.
*****
The weekend passed painfully slow for Arnav. He'd checked into a nice hotel near the office. Mr. Malik hadn't been happy about it, but he hadn't been able to hold him back either. Sheetal had fought for him to stay, but Arnav was adamant. It was long overdue. He was done with her unwanted advances.
The silence of the hotel room bit into him, and the nights were no better. His dreams were filled with Khushi. Her soulful eyes.. her impish smile.. the silky smoothness of her skin.. the way she tilted her head sideways and played with her hair as she worked. If not Khushi, he'd see two kids running through mammoth corridors, their hands joined as they fought to contain their laughter. Sometimes, he glimpsed a white canopy bed, its curtains swaying by an unseen breeze.
He had no idea that at that exact moment, Khushi was entering that same bedroom in Lucknow. Crumpling at the door, she fingered the engraving there: ASR-KKG. Broken sobs racked her, tears falling against the old wood. It took all her strength to rise and start the staggering task ahead of her. For her, the days passed in a busy, sometimes dizzying blur.
By Monday morning, Arnav's patience was in tatters. He felt a strange uneasiness in his heart. As if Khushi needed him.. as if she was far from him..
9 AM came and went with no sign of her. He gave her half an hour more before calling the receptionist below.
"Has Miss--I mean has Mrs. Khushi Raizada arrived yet?"
"No, Mr. Malik," said the woman. "She actually called in not too long ago and said she wouldn't be coming in today."
His hand tightened on the phone. "Did she give a reason?"
"No, Sir. She just apologized and said she wouldn't be able to make it."
Arnav disconnected the call, running a hand through his hair. He stood still, his gaze wandering to her desk and then to the roses. They were limp and shriveling. Dying.
He decided to follow his instincts. Finding Khushi's address was easy enough. Within seconds, he was rushing out the door. Her house was located on the opposite corner of Delhi between crowded lanes and a bustling market.
"We're here, Sir," the driver said. "That's the house, I believe."
Arnav nodded, sliding out. At his knock, an unfamiliar woman opened the door, her hair braided and streaked with gray. This must be the aunt Khushi had mentioned, he realized.
"Good morning," he began a bit awkwardly. "I'm sorry to barge in like this, but I had to make sure Khushi's okay. Can I see her?"
The woman didn't answer, her eyes growing wide. A trembling hand rose to her mouth. "You!" Tears blinded Buaji's vision. "Sanka Devi was right. You'd never leave her."
His heart stilled. "Excuse me?"
She didn't reply, catching his sleeve and taking him into the house. It was small, but clean and unlike the sterile, cold interior of his fine hotel room, this was truly a home, plants on the windowsill and knitted pillows on the sofas. His searching gaze flew over the empty space, his heart sinking with a pang. Where was Khushi?
He started to ask her aunt when she stopped before a chipped door, opening it with a slight tremor. It was a nursery he realized, a cradle, desk, and narrow bed taking up most of the room. The walls were painted a warm yellow, a few toys scattered about. Khushi's clothes were on the bedspread, as if she'd thrown them there in a great hurry. A single window provided some light.
The room was roughly a quarter the size of his walk-in closet at the Malik's home, he realized, his heart constricting.
"Where is she?" he managed.
Buaji didn't seem to hear him, pointing to the far wall. "See, it's you..."
The ground beneath his feet seemed to fall away as he saw what she was pointing to: a black and white portrait in an ornate frame, black smoky streaks marring its edges. It looked very old and yet oddly familiar. He walked towards it in a daze, taking it down from the wall.
It was like looking into a mirror, his own likeness staring up at him. How did Khushi have this? His hand brushed over the engraving at its base, so faded he had to squint to make out the words: ASR, 1925.
How was this possible? How did Khushi have a picture of him from over a hundred years ago? Was this his ancestor? It didn't make any sense.
"She looks at it all the time," Buaji murmured, brushing back tears. "It's always with her. She has a picture of it on her phone."
Arnav froze, recalling Khushi always staring down at her phone, a loving smile on her face. She'd been looking at his photo?
"Where is she?" he asked, his throat burning.
"Lucknow. She's the new caretaker of Sheesh Mahal."
"Sheesh Mahal..." And his mind immediately flew to an email he'd read and replied to on the previous Monday.
To whom it may concern:
I've heard that Sheesh Mahal is likely to be sold. I sincerely request you to keep the property. Its value and history cannot be defined by any monetary amount.
I realize a new caretaker is needed, and I would like to apply for the position. I'm currently in my final year at Lucknow's oldest university and while I do not have much experience, I know Sheesh Mahal better than anyone. My father is the current caretaker and I've grown up in those grand halls and majestic grounds. For me, Sheesh Mahal carries a thousand memories, each one precious. I will work with all my heart and soul to keep Sheesh Mahal a historical beacon and preserve it for future generations.
I hope you consider my application. Attached is my resume and contact details should you have any further questions.
Sincerely,
K. Raizada
K. Raizada. His eyes flew open. Of course. Khushi Raizada. Her earnest words had touched his heart and he'd personally replied to her, but he'd skimmed over her name, so caught up in his thoughts, he'd completely missed the connection. She was in Lucknow because of him, he realized. Because of the message he'd sent her, making her temporary caretaker of the property before it was torn down and the mall took its place.
"I need to go to her."
Buaji nodded at him encouragingly. "Never leave her again. She's gone through so much all these months without you. Her parents disowned her when they found out she was pregnant. She had to leave Lucknow the very next morning. Khushi has tried to hide it from me, but I've heard her weeping in this room, calling out to you in her sleep. She's mourned you every day."
Tears welled up in his eyes. "I'll never leave her. Never again," he found himself vowing. As soon as he uttered the words, he knew it was the truth.
Buaji smiled, patting his cheek. "Go to her, dear. Go to your wife and child."
This time, there was no holding back his tears. His wife. His child. Arnav clasped Buaji's hands before running out of the house.
Khushi! Khushi, I'm coming... I'm coming...


To be continued..
Next up: Fateful Love Chapter 17 -- Sunlight
Timeline for Fateful Love
1900--Anjali born.
1904--Arnav born.
1914--Arnav and Khushi meet in Sheesh Mahal; age ~9 and 10
1922--Arnav and Khushi admit their love. Arnav leaves. Age 17 and 18
1925--Changed date on Portrait. Arnav Returns. Consummation. Age 20 and 21.
1926--Original date on Portrait. Year of Arnav's "death" (January 21, 1926).
1944--Ram Jha/Mathur born.
1975--Anjali's death at age 75
2013--Khushi enters Sheesh Mahal, age ~9
2022--Khushi, age 17 meets Ram, age 78.
2025--Ram's death, age 81. Arnav enters Khushi's time. Arnav age 22, Khushi age 21.

Comments

  1. HAPPY NEW YEAR...
    will hope that you will continue your writing and share with us too....

    Love ya

    ReplyDelete
  2. Happy new year. Hope you will continue writing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy New Years. I will always write in some way, it's my favorite hobby :)

      Delete
  3. i really ant have words dear, its a its a mindblown story, oh god i drown myself in it. its my mst favryt story thank u so much dear i thoroughly enjoyd d mahaupdate thanks once again.
    saruni0109

    ReplyDelete
  4. i really ant have words dear, its a its a mindblown story, oh god i drown myself in it. its my mst favryt story thank u so much dear i thoroughly enjoyd d mahaupdate thanks once again.
    saruni0109

    ReplyDelete
  5. That was just fabulous.Sheetal is always a desperate woman but you can never defeat true love or force someone to love you.Arnav is really going to lucknow.Cqnt wait for the next update

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed, true love is hard if not impossible to defeat :)

      Delete
  6. Loved the chapters. Fate hands them a chance. Both meet after time spent in loneliness. Khushi tries to rejig his lost memory. Arnav finds his soulmate and promises to be with her. Eager for the next part.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for always providing feedback so consistently. Hugs!

      Delete
  7. I'm just speechless...was truly sucked in to the story that I got lost. Mindblowing update...I reread it for like 3 times coz I simply just can't get enough of it. I really really loved it...you're one hell an awesome writer. I mean it honestly and seriously...In fact I loved all your stories here, so looking forward to reading the next chapter of SP and FL.

    ReplyDelete
  8. uff....its so beautiful....pls di update soon....pls pls pls..

    ReplyDelete
  9. just mindblowing.....love your writing.....

    ReplyDelete
  10. Now simply waiting for their reunion. I hope Arnav remember her by now❤

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hope you liked their reunion now that it is posted :)

      Delete
  11. Wow Tina... such heartwarming chapters. You have so beautifully written everything... khushi's misery after talking to Ms. Anita, Garima's cruelness, Arnav's confusion and helpless to not able to remember his loved one, Buaji's love and care for Khushi, Khushi and Arnav's shock after seeing each other after so many months, khushi's loneliness, khushi trying to make Arnav remember her, Arnav reaching Buaji's house and looking at his old portrait, and swearing never to leave his wife and child and finally rushing to Lucknow to meet his heart, his life... I am in Arnav-Khushi heaven. Those were awesome chapters Tina. I am waiting for the final set. Please post soon. I can not wait longer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your feedback is always amazing. Thank you so much! Hugs!

      Delete
  12. Hello Tina pls continue
    Waiting for charter 17 of fateful love.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anjs from India-Forums :

    I cant tell you how much I loved this story when you first published it long back...... and now you gave us this awesome gift by uploading it again........... this is one such unique story that in beautiful no matter how many times you read it..... Eagerly waiting for chapter 17

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's always nice to hear that FL is loved so much! More soon!

      Delete
  14. Oh my God! I never realized how much I missed this story until I have read it again. And now that I did, I can't stop reading and re-reading it, day in and out. Fateful love and Mind games are like drugs for me. They cheer me up every single time. You know ever since Arhi happened, I never needed anything else. No social media, parties, hobbies nothing. And now after like 6 years, while ipkknd is lost to us, Arhi still lives on....through your beautiful stories. So Thank you Tina. I know how tiring this could be, but just know that, your stories are an inspiration. Can't wait for you to re-post the next chapters

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Huge hug to you hun! Your comments always make me smile:) Glad you enjoyed the story again.

      Delete
  15. I cried reading this story...you my dear are hands down, brilliant. Its like you are living & breathing Arshi,,every single word, every emotion, just touched my heart. My first time reading this story & i'm unable to think of anything else. I can't wait to read the rest of it . Hats off to you my dear. You are an amazing writer which you might already know ...now you have one more fan. Thank you so much for such a wonderful story.

    ReplyDelete
  16. pls continue
    Waiting for next update
    Love it

    ReplyDelete

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