At the time of my last note, I had decided to continue Secret Passion but it was hard to find the motivation to continue with a funeral to deal with and just generally, a very difficult time.
It took me some time but here it is...
The season finale of Secret Passion!
Or just scroll down!
KEEP IN MIND: all warnings apply. Read the disclaimer for Secret Passion here if you haven't already.
Don't like, don't read. It's pretty simple. The internet is a big place and I don't need negativity on my site so exit out of here if it's not for you. I really can't be clearer.
With this chapter, the story crosses 850 pages on Word :O
I've been working on Desert Heat as well but it is longggg. I had forgotten how long lol.
So it is a work in progress and I will update you all soon with its progress.
In other news... I am planning something for Valentine's day so make sure to stop by ;)
Hope you are all doing well! I will respond to comments soon! I'm behind on that.
**SSECRET PASSION COPYRIGHT TINA ESKAY. NO COPYING, DISTRIBUTING, DISTORTING OR ANY OTHER USE OF WRITTEN MATERIAL ALLOWED. **
Secret Passion by Tina Eskay
Episode 46: Undone
Arnav woke up in heaven.
The carpeted floor beneath him wasn’t all that comfortable and there was no blanket, no pillow to provide any sort of relief from it. And yet, he didn’t seem to mind. Not a bit.
Blinking awake, he smiled at the woman nestled in his arms, her body twisted around him as if even in sleep, she was fighting to burrow into him, seeking the warmth of his skin. Her chest rose and fell in time with her even breaths while her mouth remained adorably half-open.
Khushi. His love. His wife.
After over a year of marriage, so many ups and downs, he should have been used to the torrent of feelings one glance at her face elicited in him. And yet, he wasn’t. An overwhelming blend of deepest affection, need and fierce protectiveness stole his breath as he studied her sleeping face.
They’d somehow fallen asleep on the floor of the nursery. Glancing up, he was surprised to find the twins watching him from the crib, their innocent, chubby-cheeked faces rosy in the early morning light.
He’d been wrong.
This was better than any heaven he could envision. He wanting nothing more than to remain right where he was, right on this hard floor, his children safe and smiling nearby, his wife warm and soft in his arms. Ahaan chose the next second to make a fussing sound and Khushi stirred awake before he could begin to calm his son.
“Arnav, the babies--” she began, half-asleep still.
He pressed his lips to her forehead. “Sleep, love.”
“I’ll handle him.”
She let him go at that, her arms loosening from around him. He slid the slim leg that was draped over his waist carefully aside and stood, lifting Ahaan into his arms. Angeli decided to flail her arms at him as soon as she saw her brother being picked up and his smile deepened at that. His daughter had him already wound around her tiny fingers.
A peace unlike any other settled over him as he held his children to his chest, rocking them, crooning to them.
“You have a beautiful voice.”
He turned, surprised to find his wife wide awake now, a soft smile on her lips. Unlike the past, when he’d known so little happiness and no inkling of the beauty of a love like theirs, an answering smile formed on his face. “I think you might be a bit biased, Khushi.”
She shook her head as she stood, wrapping her arms around his torso. Leaning down, she dropped kisses on the twins’ heads and then rose up on her tiptoes to peck his mouth with her own.
“You’re wrong, Mr. Raizada. Your voice is like nothing I’ve ever heard. It’s so soothing, even when you just hum.”
“Like this?” He hummed to her and the children who remained pressed between them. Taking hold of her hand, he managed to keep a secure hold on the twins and with his free hand twirl his wife, dancing with her effortlessly in the middle of the nursery.
Her bright, gorgeous smile suddenly vanished, her face growing drawn and far too serious. He stopped, frowning at the sudden change. “What is it?”
“I don’t know… I just have this strange fear that something is going to go wrong. That this happiness is too good to be real. To be mine…”
He studied her pale complexion and felt his heart twist at the unease and fear he glimpsed there. Gently, he set the twins down and pulled her into his arms, rocking her against him.
“This happiness is yours, Khushi. In this moment in time, it’s all ours. And it’s not going anywhere.”
Tears glistened in her hazel-colored eyes, shaking him with their sheen. “How can you be so sure? After everything that’s happened?”
He pressed his lips to her forehead, holding her flat against him. “Nothing is for sure in life, love. But I am sure of our love. Of our family. Of all the security measures we have in place. And even without all that, I know we can face anything. Arnav and Khushi against the world, remember?”
His wife nodded, remembering that evening in New York that felt ages ago now. With a whimper, she threw herself into his arms, holding him tightly as tears escaped her eyes, wetting the front of his thin t-shirt. He held her to him with the same fervor, cradling her against him much as he had the twins.
He would not allow any more darkness to enter their lives, to infiltrate the small slice of heaven they’d found all on their own. Even as he made the vow, he leaned down and grazed his wife’s parted lips, drawing comfort in the familiar taste and feel of her.
Closing his eyes, he found himself praying his words would be proven true. He had never been all that religious, growing up in RITA had erased that part of him, made him doubt every prayer, every unspoken hope and dream as nothing more than wishful thinking. And yet, he now found himself doing what he’d never thought to do again since he was a boy, orphaned and alone, locked in a cage-like cell in RITA’s basement.
Please, please keep my family safe. And if anything bad has to happen, let it happen to me, not them. Please. That’s all I ask. Me—not them. Not my wife and children.
Lia couldn’t seem to breathe as the door slammed shut behind Aman. Never in her life had she been more relieved to see anyone. Her body though stiffened in the shackles, tense and on edge as she glimpsed his expression.
He looked beyond enraged.
“Did you not hear me?” he all but growled at the men surrounding her. “Step away from her. Now.”
The authority in his voice had two of the masked men frowning but the third, the one who was old and thin, the one who had called her ‘pet,’ kept his beady eyes trained on her, his gaze roving over her naked skin, missing nothing.
Lia shuddered and Aman must have noticed because he came charging toward her the next second, pushing the man out of his way and turning to face them so he shielded her as effectively as a brick wall. His body was taut with barely contained violence, his hands balled at his sides
“Aman…” she whispered past dry lips. “Don’t—”
“All three of you exit this room. At once.”
The ruddy-complexioned man laughed, his mouth twisting beneath his mask of dark burgundy into a vicious snarl. “You’re asking us to leave? Us? Do you even realize who we are? You are a nobody, someone who has bought his way in. We are masters, three of the Devil Lair’s top masters, boy.”
Lia froze, her gaze whipping from one to the other. Was one of these men Master H? Her thoughts scattered a second later as the man who’d spoken stepped forward.
“As punishment, you will watch as we three take turns with her. You will watch and you will learn that there are no attachments here. This girl is not yours to defend and take for yourself. She belongs to the Devil’s Lair. The paperwork we do here is thorough and clear. Her body has been signed away from the moment she stepped within these walls. As is yours. I’m ordering you to move aside and let us commence with her trial.”
“You’re wrong,” Aman cut in, his voice hard and unshakeable. “Wrong that I would allow this trial to continue. Wrong to say that she is not mine. I will not allow any of you to lay a single filthy finger on her.”
The masked man looked on the verge of snapping when the older stranger, the one who made Lia’s hair stand on end, laid a calming hand on his shoulder.
“Come now, Master S, let’s talk like civilized men.”
“But did you not hear him? How dare he speak to us masters like that, especially you? He must be punished.”
“He is new. He doesn’t know our ways.”
“He must be punished regardless!” exclaimed the third man, shouldering his way toward them.
The old man stopped him too. “Now, now, there is another way, Master D. One that would please us all…”
Though Lia should have felt a twinge of relief at his words, she felt only an icy chill as if a cold, dead finger had lain itself on her skin. Whatever he was planning, she knew, it could not be anything good.
ONE HOUR LATER...
“And then what happened?” NK’s eyes were wide and unblinking as he listened to Aman and Lia explain all that had happened at DL. On the sofa opposite him, Arnav and Khushi sat holding hands, appearing just as on edge.
“And then they just... let us go,” finished Lia lamely, exchanging a look with Aman, struggling even now to make sense of it all. “We were escorted out of the club and told to return next week for the gala. They gave us each a personal invite.”
NK raked a hand through his overgrown hair. “But that makes no sense. Why invite you both to the main event? Maybe they overlooked Aman’s behavior because of all the money he’s given them posing as an investor, but why would they extend you an invite, Lia? I mean, if one thing is clear in all of this, it’s that you’re out of the running for the red mask.”
“We should just be glad nothing worse happened to the two of them,” Khushi broke in, her hold tightening on her husband’s hand. “The invites are more than we could have hoped for. We don’t need the mask.”
“But we have it,” Lia muttered.
Opening her purse, she gingerly pulled out a blood-red mask of pure silk and set it on the coffee table. NK’s mouth opened and closed several times though not a single syllable slipped forth. Khushi’s breath suspended. Arnav was the first to speak, his gaze hard as he studied the mask.
“You won it?”
Lia shook her head miserably. “Not me… The three masters awarded it to Aman. They said he acted just as how a master should without any prior training. They were pleased... eventually…”
“Initially, they wanted to just throw me out,” he explained. “And then one of them started arguing with the others, an older man. He was the one who gave me the mask and demanded that I show up next week to the gala with Mrs. M. as my guest.”
“Mrs. M meaning...” NK’s gaze darted to Lia’s pale face.
She nodded miserably.
Aman was watching her expression closely and he reached for her hand without thought, weaving their fingers together. “I don’t understand why you are so upset. Isn’t this exactly what we wanted? We have the mask and an invite to the gala. We even get to skip all those horrific tests Mrs. X will be no doubt designing leading up to the gala. This is a good thing, Lia.”
God, she wanted to believe him. But there was a churning in her belly everytime she recalled the masked man who had handed the mask to Aman so easily. Although there had been a smile on his face the entire time, something about him made her shudder. It was as if something evil, not human, had stood before her in that moment, grinning in delight.
But the others seemed to agree with Aman’s assessment of the day’s events and she swallowed her protests, shutting away the memory of that old man’s too bright gaze.
No matter what anyone said, she would not leave Aman for a second at the gala. She’d be glued to his side the entire time, Lia decided.
The man in question, the one who seemed to dominate all her thoughts lately, found her sometime later, walking alone in the backyard. His shadow separated from those of the trees surrounding them and he approached her slowly, as if she was liable to erupt any second.
Damn it, he knew her too well, she thought, her mouth curving into a rather severe frown.
“Are you following me? Is that your new way to annoy me now?”
He didn’t so much as tense at her sharp tone, his gaze more amused than anything else. “Yes Lia, because with everything going on, all I can do is sit around, twiddle my thumbs, and come up with ways to annoy you.”
“Shut up, Aman.” She swerved away at the heavy sarcasm lacing his words, stomping away like a child. “And leave me alone!”
A warm hand, its fingers long and far too familiar, caught her wrist. With one pull, she found herself plastered against him, her body reacting immediately.
What on earth was he talking about now? Why did she become all silly and dazed, losing track of entire conversations when he was so close, the muscles of his chest taut beneath her fingertips.
“Make you what?”
His insufferable smile deepened. Damn him. “Make me shut up.”
Her eyes seemed to have a mind of their own as they settled on his full mouth. Oh, how she wanted to...
“I can’t--” She somehow forced herself out of his embrace, her breaths coming hard and fast now. “How can you be so calm when in just a few days’ time, you’ll be at that gala? Wearing that damn red mask?”
“Because of the reason we’re doing all this for. For the twins... the Raizadas... and you...”
She had of course known how much Angeli and Ahaan meant to him all along, noticing the adoring looks he cast their way every time he thought no was paying him any attention. She had realized in their short time together too how much he respected ASR and Khushi but his last word stumped her.
Aman nodded, his face half in shadows from the overhanging tree branches. “I know you, Lia. I know you won’t rest until the twins are safe. That knowing someone out there, someone involved with the Devil’s Lair, means them harm keeps you up at night.”
Her eyebrows rose with surprise.
“I’ve been sleeping with you every night,” he said in way of explanation. “I can feel you getting up time and again, unable to sleep, so worried... for everyone else except for yourself.”
Tears gathered in her eyes and for the life of her, she couldn’t prevent them from falling.
His voice cut off and he crossed the slight distance separating them, enfolding her in his arms once more. This time, she had no will power to step away, no ounce of control over her bubbling emotions. She threw herself into his arms, her tears not stopping.
“Hush,” he kept murmuring, rocking her, soothing her by his very presence. She didn’t know how long they stood like that, wrapped in each other’s arms beneath the moonlight, fighting to get closer still.
Her impatience got the best of her as usual, and she dried her tears on his t-shirt clad chest and rose on her tiptoes, seeking his mouth.
He seemed for once surprised, taken aback by her sudden change in mood, fighting to read her expression in the dim light. “What are you doing?
She smiled against his lips. “Shutting you up.”
This time when she kissed him, he was ready for it and he groaned as her tongue sought his, a fierce urgency burgeoning in her blood and blocking out all else. She moaned as he easily lifted her off her feet, her legs winding around his waist, seeking that growing hardness even as their kisses grew wild. Frenzied. Utterly devastating.
His hands settled on her bottom, kneading her muscles and she welcomed the possessive touch, moving against him like a wild thing. His mouth suddenly drew away and she hissed at him, her hands tugging on his hair. He groaned and they fell into another long, drugging kiss, only for him to break it off. Again.
She frowned up at him and found him in no better state than her, his breathing choppy, his lips wet and oh so tempting.
“Bedroom,” he said as if saying anything more than those two syllables was beyond him. “Now.”
She covered his mouth with hers. “No.”
Lia pulled away a tad, bucking against him in a slow caress that made him tremble. “Right here.”
Aman looked as if he might argue, but the next moment, Lia found herself pressed against the bark of the nearest tree, her pajamas pushed out of the way. His hands were suddenly everywhere--her breasts, the crease of her neck, her waist--and she relished every touch, needing it as much as her next breath and then some.
“Lia...” Her name on his lips was a plea, a question.
She answered it wordlessly, her hands finding his zipper. The sound, amidst the rustling trees and caress of the cool evening wind, inflamed them both and the next second, he was within her, claiming her, making her feel for the first time all day, not afraid, but calm and certain.
Certain that they would face anything that was thrown their way.
Certain that she would never get over this man.
Certain that he might just break her heart one day.
And yet, as their mouths met hungrily, Lia held Aman to her naked body, welcoming his possession in the darkness, marking him as hers in turn, and knowing that she was hopelessly, foolishly, completely in love with him.
“Where has everyone disappeared to?” NK asked Arnav from within the mansion’s mammoth kitchen, peering out the floor to ceiling windows with a quizzical look. The sky outside had darkened to almost pitch-black although it still wasn’t all that late. At the continued silence, he turned his head and found his cousin about to exit the room.
“Naanav, you’re leaving too?”
“What does it look like, NK?”
“But it’s only eight o’clock. We could plan out more about the gala.”
Arnav paused at that. “We’ve discussed enough for today. Let’s just sleep on it.” His voice was a bit grumpy, but there was no help for it. His three were already upstairs and it had taken him longer than he liked to send off some important work emails and join them.
“Sleep?” NK’s expression was comical. “This early? I mean, it makes sense for the twins, but I’m twenty-sev--” Before Arnav could get in a word and explain that wasn’t what he’d meant, NK shook his head. “Actually, you’re right.”
His eyebrows rose. “I am?”
“Yes, you’re a genius really. The more sleep we get, the more refreshed we’ll be. And the more refreshed we’ll all be tomorrow, the better we can plan. Good night, Naanav.”
“Night,” he managed, fighting back a grin. He took the stairs and pushed open his bedroom door, his amusement dying immediately.
It felt for a second as if everything around him had ceased to exist--except for her.
His wife sat perched on the end of the bed, wearing not a stitch of clothing, her beautiful body laid out before him. Every single, glorious inch.
Khushi, the fiery, righteous girl he’d first met in Lucknow, had stolen his every thought, shaken all he thought he knew.
Khushi, as the love of his life, his partner, his wife, awed him, filling him with equal shades of bottomless longing, deepest affection and God help him, a fierce sense of possessiveness that refused to fade away.
Khushi, as a mother, had been yet another side of her he’d been so damn lucky to witness. As a protective, loving mother to their two kids, she was the most beautiful, no doubt. A blazing glow seemed to surround her, one he felt privileged to be anywhere near.
But this... Khushi as a seductress was his fucking heaven and hell. He wanted to cover her body with his and just... plunge inside, even as he battled with the need to see what she would do next. The masochistic side of him won out--by a hair.
“Hello, Mr. Raizada,” she said, grinning at his stunned expression. “You took your time getting here. The babies have been asleep for over thirty minutes.”
Damn it. Damn every one of those fucking emails. Without taking his eyes off her, he turned the lock behind him.
“I’m here now.” And he meant to not waste a single second. But before he could step any closer, Khushi stopped him, pointing to the pillow-covered loveseat in the corner, the place he often found her with one of the babies in one hand, and a dog-eared book in the other.
He frowned at the spot now, his controls in tatters. “Khushi...” he began.
“No, arguments. Take a seat, Mr. Raizada.”
He sat tensely, his eyes trailing over every inch of her exposed body as if they were his hands. She wasn’t immune to his scrutiny, her nipples stiffening, her legs shifting just so. Her full lips trembled as she rose onto her feet, padding closer. He swallowed, his hands clenching on the arm rests as she dropped to her knees before him.
“Khushi...” he croaked, his voice sounding a bit strangled to his own ears.
“Don’t move,” she ordered, as if she knew exactly how close he was to dragging her into his arms and taking over. She pressed her lips to the cold metal of his zipper, tugging it downward. “This is all for you.”
And then she had him bared, rockhard, and the next second, engulfed in the wet heat of her mouth. One touch and he forgot everything, every damn thing, except for her and how much he needed her... adored her... loved her beyond all reasoning or control, to the darkest realm where obsession and love mingled like two lovers forever entwined.
His hands tightened in her hair and he could only groan her name, wondering how the hell he’d gotten so damn lucky.
For the boy who’d once been locked in the uninterrupted darkness of the Rehabilitation Institute for Troubled Adolescents, full of despair and rage, Khushi was not just his love and light, she was his miracle. She always would be.
“Things are moving too slowly for my liking.”
The man facing Horatio nodded, his lips curling. “You have been most patient, but perhaps it is time to take greater control of the situation.”
He knew all about control, at DL he wielded it like a second skin, relishing his power over others. His eyes lit up like the darkest of flames and his voice crackled. “I’ve had it with that boy! He has been a festering thorn in my life since the time of his birth. His sister was easily handled, but Arnav is resilient, he manages to escape each time.”
The man watched him thoughtfully, his voice showing no hint of the anger licking his insides. “RITA should have destroyed him.”
“But it didn’t! Even with all those drugs and electrocutions, all that torture, he didn’t crack! I thought I’d take him out and throw him into a new world, one filled with temptation and though he fell for it for some time, that damn wife of his came along and changed everything!”
“It doesn’t help that he’s grown into the very image of his father, does it, Horatio? The man who did not deserve Samaira’s love, but got it all. Every drop went to him, not even a measly amount left for you.”
The last was said in a snippy tone and it rattled Horatio like nothing else. His eyes closed as he recalled the woman who haunted him like no other. Sometimes it felt as if she was near, her fragrance, the soft smell of lilies and jasmine, lingering in the air at the most peculiar times. He was sure of it. “Samaira was faithful to that bastard but by the end, there was no love in her heart for that man or his children! She was mine then! ALL MINE!”
“And yet she shot herself rather than embark on a life with you and--”
Horatio slammed his fists into the smooth surface of the mirror, again and again, watching with relish as the man he’d been speaking to, the one who thought he knew it all, disappeared, crimson and glass shards taking his place.
He grinned at his damaged reflection and hummed a soft tune. The man had been wrong about most of it, but one point stuck true. He’d been far too lenient. A divorce between the Raizadas wasn’t enough, not nearly enough. He needed to do something bigger. Grander.
Arnav Singh Raizada had escaped him for far too long. It was time to act.
Khushi laughed as her husband lifted her off her knees, twirled her in his arms and tossed her down on the bed. Though his movements were careful and restrained, the look in his eyes seemed to seer her, inflaming every inch of her bare body with its sheer intensity. He undressed as she watched, her heart beating so fast, her face flushed. God, how she loved him.
“I won’t be able to go slow,” he warned.
She held his burning hot gaze and nodded, feeling breathless all over again. After so long, she knew he wouldn’t be able to make love to her in any other way. It would be hard, messy and utterly devastating.
The next second, he was on her, his restraint gone, his mouth hard and hot as it found hers, his hand sweeping over her body and penetrating deep.
She shot off the bed and he grinned against her parted lips, knowing exactly how to make her lose all sense of control. She welcomed it, hardly believing she’d lived without this for so long.
She writhed and moaned and dragged him to her, needing him more than anything else. He groaned and rewarded her with a deep, thorough kiss, his fingers entwining with hers as he rose up over her.
And then there was a knock. Several, increasingly urgent knocks.
They both froze and she could have sworn she saw red-hot rage flash in his beautiful eyes. But it was no fantasy. Someone was at their door, pounding as if all hell had broken loose.
“I’m going to kill him,” Arnav growled, rolling off of her. Khushi couldn’t help but whimper as her brain registered his loss and he kissed her hard and quick. The next second, he slid the blanket over her body, making sure every inch of her was covered, and shoved his legs into his pajamas bottoms. Stomping his way to the door, he flung it open.
“What the hell do you want, NK? Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
From behind him, Khushi could just make out how NK seemed to freeze for a second, registering his cousin’s mussed hair and bare chest no doubt, his face growing a bit red. She cringed inwardly.
“Sorry... it was really important, Naanav.”
“It better be!”
“You uncle... he’s had a heart attack. A hospital in Paris called.”
“WHAT? Is he okay? What did they say?”
NK shrugged. “He’s alive, but asking for you.”
Arnav spun back around. “I’ll handle it from here, go back to bed NK.”
The door slammed close before poor NK could get another word in and Khushi sat up, the blanket falling to her waist.
“You’re going...” She shook her head. “I mean, of course you must go. I’ll come with you.” She started to get out of bed, but her husband stopped her with a single glance, looking thoughtful. Far too thoughtful.
“What about the twins?”
“We’ll take them with us.”
“This late at night? They’ll be uncomfortable the entire time.”
Khushi felt her old streak of stubbornness come to life. “Then NK can watch them, Lia and Aman would gladly help as well.”
“Khushi, the answer is no.”
She could only stare at him, her face growing ashen by the second as she glimpsed the conflict in his eyes. “Why?”
He was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know... It’s just a rule my parents had about not flying together when Di and I were kids. That way one parent would always be there no matter what happened.”
Her breath suspended. “You think... something will happen? To the plane?”
Arnav sat before her and took her cold, clammy hands in his. “Of course not, love. It’s just a precaution.” He cupped her face in his palms, his gaze intent and sincere. “Listen to me, baby, I’ll take the red eye and be back before you and the twins can miss me.”
“I miss you already.” Even now, it felt as if he’d left them.
His mouth pressed to hers, the touch hard and claiming. “Uncle needs me, Khushi. I owe him a great deal.”
Of course... this was the man who’d been the only reason he’d escaped RITA. The only one he’d invited to their wedding. The real one.
She kissed him this time, managing to pull away when all she wanted to do was throw herself into his arms and never let go. “You should go. Just hurry home and bring Uncle with you if you can.”
“I will. Thank you for understanding, baby.” He pecked her mouth one last time and then stood, dressing quickly in a dark suit and taking out his overnight bag from the closet.
All too soon, Aman was knocking on the door, his voice all business. “The driver is waiting out front and I have everything ready for your flight. Take your time.”
But there was no time to waste and everyone knew it. Khushi tied on a thick robe and followed after Arnav as he took her hand and ever so quietly, led the way to the adjacent nursery.
The two dark-haired babies, so alike in appearance and different in temperament, were fast asleep inside, baby blue and pink blankets kicked off in their sleep. As Khushi watched, her heart in her throat, her husband kissed them in turn, his gaze reverent as it fell upon them.
“I love you both,” he whispered so softly she had to strain to make out the words. As she watched, one long, tapered finger glided over their downy soft cheeks. “Daddy will be back soon. I promise.”
The lump in her throat only grew as he made his way to where she stood at the threshold and after carefully closing the nursery door behind him, enfolded her in his arms. She held him just as tightly, smoothing her hand over the tense muscles of his back.
“It’s so damn hard to leave them. To leave you...” Drawing back, she saw his eyes had darkened, flickering with emotions.
She rose on her tiptoes and kissed him soundly, trying to put on a brave face even though for some reason, she felt anything but. Being silly again, no doubt. “We’ll be waiting for you impatiently, Mr. Raizada. Don’t you forget that. Don’t forget for a single second how much we love you.”
“How much do you love me?” he asked, his gaze going soft as he studied her upturned face.
She clung to him, feeling so safe in the strong circle of his arms. “More than anything... anyone...”
He groaned and pulled her closer still. “You’re not making this easy, love. Part of me wants to just send NK to deal with everything, but it’s got to be me.”
He refused to move away, his lips brushing over hers as he spoke. “Don’t come downstairs.”
“Why not?” she whispered, breathing in his scent, savoring every second of his embrace.
“I can’t say goodbye to you. Especially in front of everyone. We’ll do it here.”
She covered the hard line of his mouth with hers. “Don’t say goodbye.” For some strange, inexplicable reason, the word seemed to carry more weight than the occasion called for. “Say I’ll see you soon. And it better be very soon, don’t forget.”
He managed a weak smile. “I’ll see you soon, Khushi.”
She held back the tears that threatened. “See you soon.”
He kissed her then, hard and long and then turned away, not glancing back as he took the stairs down. They both knew that if he’d taken a look at her ashed, teary-eyed expression, nothing would have stopped him from returning to her.
Khushi raced to the bedroom, pulling the curtains aside and watched as the sleek white SUV pulled away from the driveway.
He’d be back in a day or two, she knew that, and yet she couldn’t help the tears that slid down her cheeks like a cold benediction.
Several days later, all her composure and patience were gone. Where was Arnav?
Scratch that, she knew exactly where he was. Tied up in Paris still. The few times they’d managed to speak on the phone, he’d said there were changes in Uncle’s health that didn’t allow him to travel, but any day now, he’d be discharged, recovered enough to travel.
“What are we going to do without Naanav?” NK wondered aloud from the sofa opposite hers. “The gala is tomorrow night. Are you sure, he won’t be able to make it?”
Khushi shook her head miserably. “He won’t make it and he doesn’t want us to do anything without him here.”
“But the mask and the invites... everything is set.”
Lia exchanged a look with Aman. “I think NK is right, we can’t let this opportunity go so easily. This might be our only chance.”
Khushi knew that her husband would likely kill her for this later, but she couldn’t help but agree with the others. “I’m going too then.”
“No, Khushi, there’s no need,” broke in Lia, eyes wide.
“There is. We will do everything as planned and I’ll go in my husband’s place. Change nothing.”
Aman looked as sick as part of her felt. “ASR might talk to you again, but he’ll never forgive the rest of us for putting you in this type of danger.”
“Aren’t you all putting yourself in danger? And they are my children, Aman. It’s my right to protect them and I will. Besides, we have a plan. Let’s stick to it.”
NK was the first to recover from her announcement. “You’re going to need a mask and a dress... a fabulous one.”
Khushi nodded. “I have one being delivered from AR Designs that will work.” Thank God, she’d be allowed clothes. Through his research, NK had found that unlike how the Devil’s Lair normally operated, the gala had a strict dress code. Everyone would be wearing the very best of couture--except for Aman. If the information they had uncovered was correct, only the person wearing the red mask would have to be go unclothed. It didn’t make much sense to Khushi. What were those masters planning?
“Change nothing,” she said again. “And do not mention a word of this to Arnav until it’s done.” By the time he returned from Paris, everything would be over and done with.
The group fell silent and Khushi stared up at the clock. It was just past midnight. By this time tomorrow, the gala would be in its last hour. Less than twenty-four hours remained.
After bidding the others goodnight, she went to the nursery to find Ahaan sleeping soundly while Angeli was flaying her fists in agitation.
She picked up her baby girl, calming her with her voice and touch. Breastfeeding was still something Khushi was growing used to, and she held the child close to her, taking a seat in the corner rocking chair and wishing once more that Arnav were back home. He’d be beyond enraged when he found out what she planned to do, but there was no other course. She had to see their plan through.
Sighing, she picked up the diary she’d been reading for the past few days in place of her usual paperback. She was nearly at the end. Arnav’s mother’s words were growing more and more restless, as if a grim darkness was sweeping into not just the pages of her diary, but her life and family. It mirrored on some strange level what Khushi was battling with in present time, though not nearly to the same extent.
I’m so lost. I feel like nothing is what it should be, if that makes any sense at all. My husband is growing more and more distant every day. It has been so long since he touched me or even smiled at me.
He spends most of his waking hours busy with work, and I would never fault him for that, if not for his peculiar behavior after work time hours. He’s so... cold and distant, so different from the man I know he is.
He won’t share anything with me either. Perhaps there’s been a setback at work? I wish he would be more forthcoming but nothing I do seems to help.
The children are learning to tense up whenever he is near, expecting him to tell them to leave the room and let him rest, and it breaks my heart in two. Arnav is only a boy and he has grown so quiet. He doesn’t play or smile as often as a child his age should. Anjali, thank God, is so imaginative, she can lose herself in her childish games and fantasies, but Arnav... my baby boy has eyes far too solemn for his age and often riddled with a loneliness that shatters me. I’ve never seen a soul so hungry for love, so yearning for a family. It’s tearing me apart. I hope the new year changes things and brings light again into our lives...
I have never felt more despair than this moment. The darkness in our lives isn’t receding, but multiplying, and I have no idea why. I’m writing this from the floor of Arnav’s bedroom, where the poor boy has finally fallen asleep. He’s sniffling even now in his sleep. It’s all Arav’s fault. I never thought I’d grow to resent my husband, to see him in any way different from the man who first charmed me in my home in Lucknow and asked for my hand.
But love has its limits, I’ve learned. My husband crossed every one of those limits today when he struck Arnav so hard, my baby boy had a red mark on his face for hours later. I don’t know why Arav is suddenly drinking more and more each day, turning into someone I hardly recognize, least of all the man I once loved with every part of my heart and soul. The change has been jarring. To go from loving someone to absolutely loathing them... I’d wish such a fate on no one.
You know, dear diary, you know more than anyone how much I have tolerated his coldness, his snide remarks, his ever-increasing, rage-filled tempers. But today, when he struck Arnav, I lost all control and hit him back. My tears dot this page and they attest to how much today’s events have shaken all I thought I knew. For my children’s sake and my own well being, I know today’s date marks the day my marriage ends.
I’m sorry for not writing for weeks now. I have been too distraught and well... nothing felt right. Things are better now. We (the kids and I) are in a little known town in New York if you can believe it. We are staying with my husband’s best friend. Perhaps it was forward of me to leave the country like this, but I couldn’t bear to return to Lucknow and Shantivan holds no sense of belonging either. Others, those who love to gossip and do not know me, might call me all sorts of names for abandoning my husband like this, but they do not know that it was he who abandoned us first. The estate here is like something out of a fairy tale and the children so happy and carefree for once. I’m watching them now, playing at the pond, throwing water on one another and all I can feel is peace for once, no darkness.
Today something happened that I must share with you. I have no one else to tell. The children are too young and my family and friends far away. I never thought I’d ever be proposed to again, but it’s happened. My husband’s best friend actually went down on one knee this afternoon and asked me to marry him. I still cannot believe it. I do not fault him in any way, likely he only wants to assist me and keep me away from Arav’s rages, but I could not marry him. He has been so kind to us, doting on my every wish, but I’m no longer the woman I once was. I no longer believe in love or marriage. At least I know I can no longer stay here. The children and I must leave. Tonight.
My grandmother left me a small farmhouse outside of Delhi in her will. It has been kept boarded up for years now and probably not at all livable in its current state, but at least it will be a place of refuge. The children will like it, I think, especially my darling Anjali. I am so proud of how she has coped with everything. For her, everything is a grand adventure, there is only light and happiness, and I can only pray she remains as she is, untouched by the darkness that hovers over us even now.
Arav has found us at the farmhouse! I don’t know how. I never mentioned it to him. Thankfully, the children were playing in the barn when he arrived and spared any further heartache. He kept apologizing and saying something about being under the effect of drugs, of a conspiracy against him. I shut the door on him, scared of the wild look in his eyes. He looked beyond desperate and I could feel myself softening, once more falling into his spell, but I cannot forget what that man has put us through. Never again. If only Arnav, my beloved baby boy, was not his spitting image, I would never think of him again--at least I hope I would not. But my son has his father’s face and stubborn disposition though he has a loving heart and a wonderful, giving nature, while Arav I realize now, had neither. I cannot believe my life has come to his. That I now fear my own husband and the love we once shared. It is my weakness.
My greatest weakness.
Khushi flipped the page and found it blank. She reread her mother-in-law’s last diary entry and closed her eyes, shaken. She knew what had happened to the Raizadas a handful of days later--Arav had shot his wife and hung himself on a noose in the barn. Anjali had been unable to accept their loss and remained entrenched in her little girl fantasies forever more and Arnav.... Arnav, her Arnav, had been sent off to a mental asylum, a place of horrific cruelty disguised by the initials R. I. T. A. Setting the diary aside, Khushi rocked her daughter in her arms and let the tears fall.
Sixteen Hours later...
The dress was indeed fabulous, a wispy, midnight black creation of lace and shiny silk, unlike anything Khushi had ever worn before. Its plunging neckline left the sides of her breasts bare and she was sure if she breathed too rapidly, they would be bared completely. Thank God for some good old tape. It should hold. Hopefully.
She analyzed her reflection in the full-length mirror critically. Her makeup was dark and heavy, far more than she ever typically wore, and her hair left loose in full, bouncy curls. As she turned in a complete circle, the entire length of her leg was revealed by a slit that reached nearly to her pelvic bone. She grimaced. Her husband would have reacted strongly if he’d been around and not in a good way.
“Well, what do you two think?”
The twins stared at her from their crib curiously, as if she were a stranger. Clearly, not their mother who usually sported little to no makeup and colorful, bright clothes. Ahaan and Angeli looked as if they might begin to cry if she stepped any closer, their bottom lips trembling, and she was grateful when NK chose that moment to knock and enter. Her babies recognized him right away.
“Wow,” he said, staring at her with unblinking eyes. “You look perfect. The mask will fit.”
She took the black silk mask Arnav had been planning on wearing and tied it into place. The twins begin to cry in earnest now and NK managed to calm then when she could not. Khushi swallowed the lump in her throat and grabbed her purse. “Be careful with them, NK.”
“I will. Don’t worry.”
She gave him a weak smile and with one last glance at the twins, steeled her spine and forced herself out of the door. Aman and Lia had already left and according to the plan, she would now drive herself over to the gala and find a way in.
That’s all she needed. One chance.
The car ride took under fifteen minutes, passing all too quickly. Khushi parked at a shadowy corner and took a moment to regain her composure, closing her eyes. Once outside, she could not afford to look uncomfortable or the least bit like her usual self. To join the world of darkness, she’d have to become a part of it. For her children and husband, it was hardly a sacrifice. She’d give her life for those three who owned her heart so completely.
Her hands were steady as she tied the mask into place, securing it at her nape. Stepping outside into the crisp night air, she held her head high and put one stiletto-clad foot before the other, walking with a sense of confidence and entitlement she didn’t usually possess.
The mansion was not much bigger than Shantivan, white-washed and adorned with flickering lights. For a moment, it felt as if she’d stepped back in time and was entering the home she believed belonged to Payal’s fiance, intent on finding answers.
Time had changed the names, places and situation, but the emotions were almost identical. She felt driven, possessed by a need to find the man who’d held her family for hostage for too damn long.
She saw a man exiting a limo near the front and joined him a step behind. The masked guard at the door didn’t ask her for an invite, taking the one in the man’s hand and leering at her. She ignored him and stalked into DL’s gala as if she belonged there as much as anyone. At the opposite end of the lane, a second guard had her walk through a metal detector and took her phone, placing it into a collection bin. And then she was inside. Finally.
The first thing she noticed was the music, an odd, humming sort of tune that sounded foreboding, not welcoming. A man in a red-colored tux was playing on the piano as she entered the marble-tiled main floor. Tables had been arranged in several corners, laden with food and drinks. The wait staff was wearing what barely passed for underwear and collars, roman letters engraved on each. Khushi left her unknown companion’s side and headed to the bar, the place she was supposed to meet Lia.
She didn’t turn, giving her order to the bartender and ignoring the man who’d called out to her. “That’s not my name.”
“Of course, you couldn’t be her,” he said, stepping closer. “But there’s something about how you move, your body... it reminds me of her. Are you a dom or a sub, my sweet?”
“My dom is a master,” she said haughtily. The man stiffened and bowed his head. He knew better than to risk the wrath of a master.
“Do you know Master H?” Khushi asked going off script.
“I have not been fortunate enough to know him personally, but he is blessed to wield his control over you. Enjoy your night, it is sure to be one to remember.”
“Oh?” she said casually. “More than the last?”
“Definitely. The poor sucker selected tonight thinks he was rewarded with the red mask. He has no idea what it means.” The man laughed as he whispered the last bit of information to her.
“Not a clue?”
“None,” he said with glee. “Imagine how he will feel once they lay him out center stage and thrust the first of the knives into him... it will be delicious. Enjoy your night, Mrs. Not C.”
She didn’t respond, taking a tiny sip of the drink that was placed before her. Her fingers trembled and she quelled the fear welling up inside. Where was Lia? Had Aman been harmed already? She turned on the stool just slightly and found a pair of shrewd, hazel eyes watching her.
The woman was dressed in a striking gown of pure gold that seemed more a second skin than mere clothes, her gaze honing in on her. Khushi recognized the woman from Lia’s recordings and immediately stiffened. Had Mrs. X recognized she didn’t belong here? That she was not one of them?
She stood on shaky legs and walked to the nearest doorway. A masked man grinned at her. “Entering the maze, are you?”
“The what...” As his eyes narrowed, she quickly corrected the slip up. “Of course.”
He grinned, the sight making her hair stand on end. “Right this way.”
Khushi felt her heartbeat gallop as she was led out into a hallway and then through a heavy, wrought-iron door. The wind from outside whistled through the mammoth bushes surrounding her.
“Good luck,” said the man, “And remember, whoever catches you first, can do whatever they want to you. Don’t resist.”
But the man was gone and the door locked behind him. Khushi shuddered as she realized she’d have to go through with this... she could not return to the party without drawing more attention to herself. Mrs. X already appeared suspicious. Yet, none of that made her next few steps any easier. She pressed her back to the bushes, hardly breathing, as she turned the first corner.
A couple were on the ground, naked and entwined, and she quickly darted past. The man shot out his hand, grasping her ankle and Khushi yelped, kicking him. As she ran further into the maze, she heard his footsteps advance.
Her pupils dilated as they adjusted to the lack of light. Only the moonlight shone here. Hearing footsteps, she forced herself into the thick grouping of bushes at the next turn, ignoring the branches that tore into her dress and scratched her bare skin. The man who’d followed her howled as he found the pathway empty and it took everything in her to remain still, hardly breathing as he roared and cursed.
He ran past her and she felt her heart rate slow a tad when another hand caught her elbow from the opposite side.
Adrenaline kicked in and she punched and twisted in the man’s grasp as he bodily pulled her to him. Her lips parted to scream again and he covered her mouth with his large palm. Sliding his blue mask up, he faced her with stone-cold rage brewing in his inky gaze.
“Don’t scream. It’s me.”
All the fight in her evaporated as his voice hit her, as his face filled her vision before being covered with the blue silk of the mask again. Khushi trembled. “A-arnav?”
He kissed her then, his mouth hard and almost bruising. “What the fuck are you doing in this hellhole?” he ground out in a furious whisper. “Do you have any idea what would have happened to you if it had been anyone other than me just now? I’ve been losing my mind since I found out about your crazy plan!”
She could only stare up at him, unable to believe he was truly here. Standing before her.
“Say something, damn it!” he growled into her ear, pulling her flat against him. “I don’t think I’ve been this furious with you since that time I found you and that fucking Karan about to kiss.”
“Don’t,” he growled. “Don’t try to divert me by looking at me like that.”
“Like what?” she said innocently.
“Like you want me to kiss you and then peel that damn dress of you.” He frowned down at her torn dress, the exposed curves of her breasts.
Khushi suddenly remembered something far more pressing than her husband’s ire. “They’re going to attack Aman tonight. The person in the red mask is killed at these galas.”
He didn’t react, his gaze darkening. “I know. That’s why Aman and Lia were escorted safely out of here minutes ago and undercover cops took their place, masks and all.”
“Yes, it’s you, who’s not, damn it. I told you not to do anything and you went ahead and put yourself in danger.”
Khushi struggled to make sense of it all, holding him tightly. “I don’t understand. You knew all along what was planned with the red mask?”
“Of course not!” His mouth thinned. “I only found out earlier tonight when my mole inside this hellhole gave it away. For a big sum, of course. I rushed back home and found you gone. I felt like I died a thousand deaths in that moment, Khushi.”
She embraced him tightly, feeling the tremor that riddled his body even now. “I’m sorry, I had no idea. I love you.” So much...
“Don’t think that’s enough for me to forgive you, Mrs. Raizada.”
“No?” But she could already feel him softening, his hands splaying over the exposed skin of her back.
His head bent and she was sure he was about to kiss her when suddenly, her husband tensed. His gaze narrowed at something behind her. “We need to act our parts until we can get the hell out of here. Follow my lead.”
Khushi had barely nodded when his mouth slammed into hers, his tongue entwining with hers. Khushi found her back pressed against the thorny bushes but she didn’t seem to notice this time, her hands finding their way into his thick hair. Her husband kept her covered with his much larger body as he pushed her dress up and out of the way. Khushi tensed, the breeze cold and foreign on her exposed skin.
“Focus on me,” Arnav growled, sliding his palms beneath the flimsy silk and lace and seizing her breasts. “Focus on only me.”
Khushi found it easy to follow his directions, for he alone dominated her thoughts as he took her mouth again in a rough, heady kiss. She more than matched his fervor, molding her body to his, yearning to be closer still, skin against skin. The footsteps passed behind them, shuffling past and turning the corner. She sagged slightly, her mouth dropping open the next second as her husband lifted her up and plunged inside.
Khush cried out, her breath stolen as he pushed into her, his hands keeping her upright. She curled her legs around his waist as he kept the pace up, pounding into her, being far less gentle than usual. She welcomed it, pleasure threatening to overwhelm her as he held her gaze, his eyes warm and dark.
“I love you,” he whispered as he came within her, and Khushi cried out again, saying the words against his lips with reverence and fraying control as her body spasmed around his. He swore and held her as she fell against him, utterly limp.
“I’m sorry, love, but I had to take you like that,” he told her, smoothing his hand down her back.
“You didn’t want to?” She had more than wanted to.
He frowned down at her, setting her down on her feet and watching her dress fall back into place. “Of course I did! I always want you, Khushi. But not like this.” It was clear that even the lack of light and relative privacy of the maze’s high walls weren’t enough for him. He was far too possessive of her to share that side of her with anyone, Khushi knew. She watched in silence as he glanced around them.
“Thankfully, no one else saw your delectable body except for me. But make no mistake, there are cameras watching us and they would never let us out of this fucking maze until you’d been taken. Let’s get the hell out of here, baby.”
She wanted to take his hand as they walked through the maze but she knew it would look odd. The cameras were watching every minute. But her husband had no such qualms, curving his arm around her waist and leading her quickly out. A half-naked man approached them at the next bend, his leery eyes on her, but one glance from Arnav had him darting back into the hedgerow.
Khushi looked from the corner of her eye at her husband and couldn’t blame the man for scurrying away with such haste.
He looked like a sleek panther in his dark suit and blue mask. Attractive beyond words with that slight stubble marking his chin and cheekbones. And entirely dangerous.
“How do we get out of here?” she whispered.
“Shh, baby. We can’t talk. Once we enter the mansion again, remember there will be even more eyes and ears there.”
He pulled her out of the wrought-iron gate, past the guard on duty, and down another black and white tiled corridor.
A group of five masked individuals were coming from the opposite end, the woman in the center walking a step before the rest, her skin mingling with the gold of her gown. One glance at her and Khushi tensed.
“I told you not to disobey me!” Arnav screamed, shaking her out of her stupor. One look at his eyes and she knew he was only pretending, his temper all an act for the group watching. His hand fisted in her hair. “Time for you to be punished.”
Khushi didn’t resist as he dragged her through a second hallway, past a doorway and into an unoccupied bedroom. As soon as the door shut behind them, he was parting her hair and pressing his mouth to the spot.
“Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you, did I?” His gaze was so conflicted and gentle as he stared down at her that Khushi felt her heart turnover.
She kissed his fingers. “No, love. I knew you were acting.”
“Good.” He squeezed her hand and drew her to the window. “This room isn’t monitored.” He pushed the window open. “Go out from here and back onto the street. Aman and Lia are waiting for you there with Bayaz Khan, he’s in charge of the entire operation.”
“What about you?”
“I want to see this through its end. I’m going to find Master H with the detectives’ help and meet you outside. Don’t worry.”
“How can I not?”
He kissed her hard and quick. “No time to argue now. You scared the hell out of me earlier, but I know why you did what you did, Khushi. Why you put yourself in danger. For our children. For our love. For an end to this darkness in our lives.” He held her gaze, his hand curving over the side of her face. “It’s my turn now. The last thing I want is to put you through what I just suffered through and I’m so damn sorry I have to, but there’s no other way. I have to end this.”
She embraced him tightly. “I love you. Find that monster and hurry back to me.”
With one last, lingering kiss, he helped her out of the window. “Remember, Khushi, walk straight toward the road and do not stop for anything or anyone. I’ll be there soon.”
She took comfort in his words, in the steely resolve in his eyes, forcing one foot before the other. Time seemed to pass slowly and she could just hear the sounds of laughter and conversation drifting from the gala.
She’d nearly made it to the street when a hand caught her elbow. The mask was golden, just like the wearer’s gown.
“You... I know you...”
Khushi held her breath, her stomach churning as she faced the woman she knew to be Mrs. X.
“You’re mistaken,” she said stiffly, trying to free her arm.
The woman held on, her gaze hardening. “I don’t think so, Khushi.” And then she lifted the mask off her face.
Khushi froze, the woman calling her by real name not nearly as shocking as the face that was now revealed to her.
It was like looking into a dusty mirror, the features nearly identical, if not for the lines at the corners of Mrs. X’s mouth and eyes.
“How could I not know you?” said the woman. “I’d recognize my daughter anywhere.”
As the words rippled through the air between them, shattering all Khushi thought she knew, an ear-splitting sound suddenly erupted behind them. The ground shook and then a violent, explosive force pushed Khushi off her feet.
She landed on her stomach, hard, her breath knocked out. Struggling to stand, she raised her head to find dust and debri blanketing the dry air. Her body cried out as she stood on wobbly legs. Pain radiated from her lip and jaw, blood pouring from a cut on her forehead. And yet, she still managed to stand, still managed to turn and face the destruction before her.
The mansion... it was gone.
The window where Arnav had stood minutes ago... blown into smithereens.
Arnav. Arnav. ARNAV!
She pushed forward, only to have someone drag her right back.
“It’s gone, Khushi. Everyone is gone!”
“NO! My husband--”
“Is dead, no doubt.” Mrs. X’s face was calm, eerily unaffected by the destruction before her. “You need to calm down and focus on what matters now: saving yourself. Just like me, years ago, you need to put your children and yourself first. Your husband is gone.”
“NO!” Not her Arnav! She whipped back toward where he had to be, where he had to be fighting to get to her. “ARN--”
“I didn’t want to do this, Khushi. But you leave me no choice.”
And then before she could react, something hard and heavy hit the back of her head. Her body crumpled. Her last thought before darkness claimed her was a prayer.
A silent prayer for the man who was her heart and soul, her other half, her every wish answered, whose love wasn’t a weakness, but her greatest strength.
In the beginning, she had loathed him and yet, hopelessly been attracted to him, pulled to him like a moth to flame. Since then, he’d taken over every corner of her heart, of her world and the thought of him no longer in that world, threatened to unhinge her from reality.
The darkness was a relief, she realized, dazedly. The agony was so overwhelming, everything else paled before it. His parents’ love had been destroyed decades ago, their young family torn apart. Theirs was not doomed to end that way too, Khushi vowed. Not here. Not like this.
He had to be safe. Had to be alive. Please… please… please….
Little did she realized as she lost consciousness and held onto the prayer, her husband’s prayer from a mere handful of days ago had just been answered.
Please, please keep my family safe. And if anything bad has to happen, let it happen to me, not them. Please. That’s all I ask. Me—not them. Not my wife and children.
*End of Season 1*
Author’s note: this isn’t the end of this epic saga.
The next episode will begin after some time with a time jump and there will be more twists and turns as well as the continued duality of light and darkness which makes this story different from all my other ones. I've always wanted to explore more with Khushi's biological family and we are getting there with Mrs. X being finally revealed.
If you’ve followed Secret Passion for so long and made it all the way to this season finale, huge hug to you, I hope you continue to be with us in season 2!