First, thanks everyone for the continued encouragement and support. I read through all of the comments and
each one means so much to me:)
Seeing so many familiar names was the best feeling!
Since many of you asked, Satina is doing fine and we've been in touch over the months, often discussing SP's future chapters.
Which brings to me the update...
I'm going to try something different this time. Instead of a crazy long chapter I'm posting part 1 of the chapter instead. This will make it less of a burden on me and I will hopefully be able to update more regularly. It'll also make some of you focus on details that you might have overlooked otherwise. Like I've said before, there are clues and links littered throughout this story.
So bad news: the update is not as long as previous chapters.
Good news: the next part is complete so once I get a sense that most of you have read it, I'll post the next block of the chapter.
More good news: this is a substantial & important part of the puzzle
Quick recap because it's been so long since the last Secret Passion update:
We ended the previous chapter (Episode 37) with Arnav struggling to come to terms with Anjali's sudden death (accident?/suicide?/murder?). He was battling the worst sort of guilt and in that state of grief decided that because all his loved ones end up dying, Khushi was better off without him.
Of course he did come to his senses and wasn't able to carry out the divorce as planned. Khushi being the amazing person she is forgave him and when he declared he wanted to leave Delhi and go off somewhere just the two of them, she agreed without second thought.
Please leave all comments directly on this post because the current Comments Thread is way over capacity.
I'll try to post a new one soon.
For those active on IF please let others know about this update. I won't have a chance to update there anytime soon.
COPYRIGHT 2016 TINA! & Satina
No part of this work may be reproduced, copied, paraphrased or tampered in any way.
All rights reserved.
Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 38: House of Glass
Lucknow, two months later...
If there was something she would never--ever--find any joy in it was definitely packing, decided Khushi as she struggled to close yet another bulging suitcase. She cast a wistful glance around the spacious bedroom she’d shared with her husband for the better part of two months now. Unlike Shantivan, it had a distinct Lucknowi touch, each wall encased in antique wood paneling and frames.
She’d been pleasantly surprised when almost two months ago, Arnav had declared that they would be leaving the stress and chaos of Delhi and heading to Sheesh Mahal, the place where not only he’d been born, but his father and grandfather before him.
She hadn’t been prepared for the grandeur of Sheesh Mahal. For a girl who’d grown up in a small two-bedroom home on the other, decidedly more lackluster side of Lucknow, the estate rivaled Shantivan in size and architecture. But she’d come to love the freedom it offered them.
Away from everyone, seemingly cut off from the rest of the world, Arnav and she had found their own little paradise. They’d grown closer, their relationship strengthening--if such a thing were even possible.
The last time they’d been in Lucknow, Arnav had been cold, arrogant ASR, armed with a contract and a determination to attain her at all costs. How she’d loathed him then! But time had revealed to her her husband's true nature. She’d witnessed his vulnerabilities, seen his courage under the most trying circumstances, and felt his love every time he took her into his solid embrace. Sheesh Mahal had brought them closer still. She’d come to realize that the man she’d once vowed to have nothing to do with had become something she’d never imagined: a friend.
A smile crossed her face as she recalled Arnav’s dumbfounded expression when she’d told him so.
He’d been lying with his head on her lap, his long legs stretched out on the grass. They’d been lounging in their favorite nook in Sheesh Mahal’s massive private gardens, a place they often returned to for long picnics, walks, and knowing Arnav, far more intimate pursuits.
Khushi had smiled down at him, gently weaving her fingers through his wavy hair. Gone were his tailored business suits and ties. Instead he was shirtless and his legs covered in only a pair of comfy black sweats. Her breath hitched as her eyes traced over his masculine perfection. It took considerable effort on her part to focus on his question.
“My friend,” she repeated softly. “You’ve become my closest friend. We do everything backwards, don’t we? Usually people go from friendship to love, but we went from hate to love to friendship. Although I never could bring myself to hate you completely, not even in the beginning.”
He looked up at her thoughtfully for a long moment and then smiled. “Friend, huh? That’s fine as long as you don’t start seeing me in a platonic way.” He grimaced as if the thought itself was painful.
Khushi laughed. “Baby, that is impossible. You are the love of my life. My stubborn, brooding, loveable husband. The father of our soon to be born children. My first and only lover.”
“Damn right.” His hand rose to draw her down to him and his mouth engulfed hers in a thorough, demanding kiss that left her gasping and yearning for more.
Much, much later, as they’d stood to leave, hand in hand, he’d murmured, “By the way, Mrs. Raizada, you’re my closest friend too... My best friend.”
Khushi could vividly recall how much his words had moved her. She’d known he’d meant it. She couldn’t imagine him having had the chance to make any friends growing up. RITA had certainly not been a facility that encouraged friendship. Tightening her fingers around his and swallowing past the lump in her throat, she’d leaned her head against his shoulder. “Ready for dinner now, friend? I’m starving.”
His large palm had smoothed over her expanding baby bump, his eyes twinkling. “You’re always hungry and don’t worry I’ll feed you first, but I’m hungry for something else after that, friend.”
And as always, he’d lived up to that promise, taking her to the heights of mind-numbing ecstasy night after night and often in the daytime as well. Without anyone to intrude upon their privacy, Khushi had never felt more cherished than she had these past two months at Sheesh Mahal. It stunned her how much she loved him. How unbelievably lucky she was to have him in her life.
A cool breeze of night air snaked its way inside through one of Sheesh Mahal’s towering glass windows and suddenly, the man she’d been thinking about so intently loomed before her, looking not at all happy.
He forced her hands off the suitcase she still hadn’t managed to close and did it himself, all in a matter of seconds. “You should have called me,” he scolded in his signature ASR tone, raising her hands to inspect them. The fingertips were slightly reddened from her wasted efforts, the faint imprint of the zipper evident. It was by no means a serious injury, but Arnav treated it as such.
Khushi rolled her eyes. “Baby, I’m eight months pregnant, not deathly sick. I can zip up a suitcase.”
“Sure you can,” came his sharp retort with an equally withering glare. “No wonder you were doing such a good job with that.” Before she could get another word in, he asked, “Everything packed?”
“God, I hope so. I packed your stuff with mine to save time.”
Her husband gave her another not-so-pleased look. “Dammit, Khushi it’s going to take forever to separate everything when we get home. Why didn’t you call me if you needed help?”
“Because you were busy packing in the study,” she pointed out as if it was common sense--which it was, clearly. “And don’t worry, Mr. Raizada, your designer ties will manage to survive alongside my maternity clothes.”
She could have sworn she heard his teeth grind together. “That’s not what I was worried about. Dammit, baby, look at your hands.” He raised them again, this time to his lips, gently pressing his mouth to each reddened fingertip.
Khushi used his support to straighten up, a task in itself these days. “I’m okay. Truly.”
His frown showed no sign of going away anytime soon. “You should be resting, not packing in this state. But this damn bridal show had to come up--” His jaw clenched. Ever since he’d gotten an urgent call from Aman the night before informing him that the sponsors were threatening to withdraw if the show didn’t go on time, he’d been in a perpetual bad mood.
Khushi smoothed a hand over his chiseled face, leaning up to catch his lips in a soothing kiss. “It’ll be okay, love.”
He gave her a doubtful look. “I wanted you to deliver the twins here. Away from that goddamn city. Nothing has gone wrong since we’ve been here.”
“But Bayaz Khan hasn’t found any leads either,” she countered. “We can’t remain here forever, baby.”
“The hell we can’t!” He dragged her into his arms, his expression blazing. “I just need you. Nothing else matters to me. I wanted to be with you every second till the delivery and after that too. But now with this show launching in a week, that’s going to be impossible. I’ll have to be at AR Designs. There’s no avoiding it.”
She looped her arms around his neck. “Then I’ll go with you to the office. It’ll be just like old times,” she said with a wink. “Maybe we can revisit the studio where you made me model a bikini for you once...and the soundproof conference room...or my personal favorite, your desk. Remember, love?” She tugged on his bottom lip with her teeth.
“As if I could forget.” He groaned and drew her to him for a far more intimate mating of their mouths, his hands sloping over her. Though he knew every dip and curve of her body and had made love to her countless times, it would never be enough. He wanted more of her. Needed it as badly as he needed his next breath.
Their faces were both flushed when they finally pulled away, his warm breath caressing her trembling lips.
“ I can recall each and every time I’ve been inside you, Khushi. Now, stop distracting me, we need to head out.”
“I’m distracting you?” she balked.
His eyes twinkled with a playfulness that never failed to leave her tongue-tied around him. “Yes you are, friend. It’s like you were born to distract me.” He picked up the suitcases and then leaned down for a quick kiss, a simple action that her body eagerly responded to. God, she wanted him!
“I was born to love you,” Khushi corrected.
Arnav’s honey-brown gaze scorched into hers. “You were meant to be mine. Now, stop distracting me--again! I’ve gotten all the bags I think, but can you do one last walk through of the rest of the rooms? I don’t want us to forget anything. I’ll get the jeep loaded by then.”
She nodded. “Meet you outside in fifteen minutes, baby.”
“No more than ten minutes. And if you’re not out there on time then…”
He smirked. “Then I’ll do what I always do. Come after you.” With one last kiss, he heaved the bags up and Khushi turned to the task at hand, her eyes skimming over the room. Finding nothing, she next checked the adjacent master bathroom, the kitchen, and then the gardens.
“Khushi! You have three minutes left!” His shout came from the front of the house along with the sound of the car’s engine turning on.
“Baby, please! I still have to check a few more rooms!”
Shaking her head, Khushi hurried back inside. Her footsteps slowed as she neared a door painted in a light pink hue. She hadn’t stepped inside here since the day they’d arrived and though she knew there couldn’t be anything possibly left behind here, for some inexplicable reason, her hands pushed it open.
Anjali’s childhood room was everything her adult self had never grown out of. It was a young girl’s fantasy, complete with shelves upon shelves of dolls that took up an entire wall, whimsical paintings, and stuffed animals that sat carefully arranged on the bedding. Khushi shivered as she stood in the space, mourning for the woman her husband missed every single day. She hadn’t known her well and Anjali had never accepted her, but Khushi suspected that had more to do with Dadi’s doings than anything truly grievous.
A piece of paper fluttered on the desk in the corner and with a trembling hand, Khushi raised it high.
It was a colorful drawing of the dolls in the room, Anjali’s childlike signature dotting one corner. Surprisingly, it was done with far more artistic talent than anything her despicable husband, Shyam Jha, had ever demonstrated, but something about the glint in the dolls’ eyes made Khushi’s hair stand on end. She was about to set the drawing aside when she happened to flip it over.
Horror crashed into her immediately.
This side too featured one of Anjali’s sketches but this one wasn’t done with any of the skill on the reverse side. Here, the lines were harsh and ominous-appearing. Using what appeared to be a black marker, Anjali had drawn a single stick figure, its long hair reaching past its waist, its eyes closed, tears of blood dripping down its pale face. Around its neck was a noose.
Their mother… Khushi realized.
She’d known that Arnav had suffered unimaginable horrors at RITA, surviving against all odds. His sister though hadn’t been so lucky. The proof of it was in her hands. Despite not being sent to RITA, Anjali had broken after her mother’s horrific death at the hands of her alcoholic father.
Khush could only wish that things had gone differently, that Arnav and Anjali had gotten the type of childhood every child deserved. Sighing, she turned to leave when she noted another oddity in Anjali’s old bedroom.
The dolls...just like in the sketch, their unmoving glass eyes were all pointed in one direction: toward the ornate dresser in the corner.
It had to be deliberate she realized. Anjali had to have positioned them in such a way for a reason. But what?
She padded over to the old dresser, hurriedly going through the contents. She found most of it to be empty and was about to leave when the last drawer revealed a small, leather bound book. It had no title, the corners badly frayed.
She grabbed it without looking further, chucking it into her purse. “Coming!”
“What took you so long?” Arnav murmured as he helped her into the passenger seat, clicking her seat belt into place out of habit.
She didn’t want to mention Anjali, not now when he was still fighting with feelings of guilt and grief, so she just told him she’d been checking the rooms as he’d instructed. His eyebrows furrowed as if he knew there was more to the story, but thankfully he didn’t push for answers, shifting the gears and steering them out of the main gates.
Keeping one eye on him, Khushi reached for the book and flipped it open. As soon as she read the first line, she knew she’d have to tell him about it and soon. She couldn’t keep this from him. Because this wasn’t just any book. It was a diary.
His mother’s diary.
A gentle hand shook her awake. “Baby...Khushi, wake up. We’re almost home.”
“Already?” she mumbled, yawning. She felt sore all over, her feet especially. Gazing out of the window, she was startled to see that they were parked not outside of Shantivan, but AR Designs.
“You slept most of the way,” Arnav told her, sliding her hair out of her face. His mouth covered hers gently and he moved away with obvious reluctance. “I have to grab some files from my office and then we’ll head home. I’ll be right back. Two minutes, okay? Lock the doors after me.”
She nodded, pressing down on the lock button as soon as he stepped out. She waved to the lone guard on duty at the front. He looked shocked to see them back.
Khushi was stretching her arms when an unexpected ringing sound stilled her. She dug in her purse, pulling out the phone she rarely used. She was even more surprised when she read the caller’s name. Her parents had kept in touch over the past two months, Babuji especially, but for the most part, they’d let her be, calling once every few weeks.
“It’s me,” Buaji said, her voice sounding oddly different.
Khushi sat up straighter in the seat. She knew at once something was wrong. It wasn’t like her aunt to be in tears. “What is it? Has something happened?”
“Oh Sanka Devi… Your mother has taken a turn for the worse. Her health’s been steadily deteriorating ever since you and Payal stopped talking, but this is the worst I’ve seen her. She’s barely eating ever since she learned of Payal and Akash’s pending divorce.”
“What? Buaji, why didn’t anyone tell me? Didn’t you think I deserved to know?”
“Of course, but your mother forbid it. No one was allowed to tell you or Payal.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Khushi told her. “Arnav and I will be there within the hour. We’re in the car right now in fact. He just stepped out for a minute--”
“NO!” Buaji’s voice grew louder still. “Do not bring that man here! Look, Khushi, right or wrong, but your mother blames Arnav Singh Raizada for all the problems between her two daughters.”
Khushi saw red at that. “He did nothing wrong! It’s Payal who’s conspired against us. And this isn’t the first time she’s stooped to dangerous lows. Remember that girl in her school? The one who died? How long can we be expected to ignore everything, Buaji? My husband has done nothing but protect me.”
Her aunt simply sighed. “I knew you would defend him, but fact is that Payal has not been found guilty of any of those supposed crimes. She hasn’t even been charged. And besides, right now she’s not even in town. Last I heard she was visiting a friend in Mumbai. Who your mother needs right now is you, Khushi. You’ve always been so sensible, so caring. Please understand how much seeing that ASR will upset your Amma. You must come here without him. We aren’t asking for much. Just stay a few days. It would mean so much to your mother.”
“A few days? Buaji, Arnav would never allow that. I’m just a month away from my delivery date. He doesn’t let me go anywhere without him. There’s no way he would be okay with me being away for so long and besides, I need him too.”
There was tense silence on the line and then the sound of murmuring. When her aunt finally spoke, her tone was far from understanding. “Your mother says either you come alone or not at all. That man is not allowed in our home.”
Khushi’s hand fisted around the phone. “I’m sorry, Buaji, but I can’t do that. Arnav and I are a package deal. Even if he allowed me to go, I wouldn’t be able to leave him. I know how much he’d suffer without me. Amma has you, Babuji, and countless others but Arnav has no one besides me. I love Amma, but my husband is my everything, Buaji. He’s my heart and soul. Please, please tell Amma to reconsider. I can be there with Arnav in thirty minutes.”
“Then it’s better if you don’t come at all.” The line went dead without warning.
Khushi stared down at the phone for several moments. Tears blinded her vision, but she wouldn’t allow them to fall. Arnav would be returning any second and the last thing she wanted him to see was how hurt she was. He’d only blame himself for the distance between her and her family.
Sure enough, he was back within the minute, an apologetic look on his face as he slipped into the seat beside her. “Sorry love, it took more than two minutes. This damn bridal show has so much planning involved and of course, I have to approve every detail. They can’t even choose a banner color without me.” He shook his head.
She squeezed his free hand in hers. “Don’t worry, this time next week, it’ll be all over and you can go back to being on baby watch and scolding me about not resting enough.”
“Oh, that’s not going to stop no matter what.” His amusement faded as he got a good look at her. His hand cupped her cheek. “You okay? You seem a bit pale.”
“I’m fine,” she whispered, kissing his palm. She would be okay. They would be okay. Together. It set her teeth on edge when she recalled her mother’s unreasonable request. How could she have expected such a thing?
“Let’s get you home, beautiful. I’ll run you a bath and after a long and very thorough massage, you’re going to finally rest. Your feet must be aching, I bet.”
She was struck by how well he understood her and she was sure all the pregnancy books he’d gone through during their time in Sheesh Mahal had something to do with it.
She was still replaying the conversation with Buaji in her head when the looming shape of Shantivan appeared before them. But what astounded both of them was the red car parked before the gates, its headlights turned on and aimed right at them. As they neared, a familiar-looking man stepped out of its dark confines.
“What the hell is he doing here?” growled Arnav, swinging his door open.
Karan looked the least bit ashamed. In fact, he appeared strangely eager for something and it was only when Khushi came to Arnav’s side and laid a calming hand on her husband’s sleeve that his smile faltered.
“What the fuck are you doing on my property?” Arnav ground out, his hands fisting at his sides. Few things managed to rile him up as much as this lowlife and his disturbing fixation with his wife.
“You think you own everything, don’t you, ASR? Khushi, AR Designs, and now the roads too? I’m outside your gates.” Karan smiled, crossing his arms over his chest in a display of defiance. “Wish I could say it’s nice to see you again, ASR but that would be an utter lie. However, it’s truly a pleasure to see you again, Khushi,” he practically leered.
Arnav looked ready to pounce on the other man. “Watch your mouth and don’t you dare even look in my wife’s direction. It’s only because she’s standing here that you’re still able to breathe right now. What the hell do you want?”
“Her,” Karan simply replied, his eyes glowing.
“Excuse me?” Arnav snarled, every muscle in his body tensing with barely controlled rage.
“I want her. Khushi. She’s my fiancé.”
Arnav and Khushi exchanged a look of bewilderment.
“THE HELL SHE IS!”
“What are you saying, Karan? What’s wrong with you? Please, leave!” Khushi shouted.
But her childhood best friend just shook his head, his unnerving stare fixed on her. “It’s true, Khush. Your family and mine decided it. We both know that you were always meant to my wife. This man... ASR...he’s nothing but a rich womanizer who thinks he can own you just like everything else. He can never be the one for you. Sweetheart, I forgive you for your transgressions with him. I forgive you for sleeping with him and getting pregnant. I will even allow you to keep the kids and we’ll raise them as our own because you know why, Sweetheart? I love you and--”
Arnav stopped him then and there by charging forward and grabbing him by the throat, his expression blinded by volcanic, seething fury, his sole focus on destroying the man before him.
How could anyone have ever doubted his sanity when people like Karan existed, he wondered? It was Karan who’d never accepted reality, ignoring Khushi’s umpteenth refusals. More than his damn words, Arnav was irked by how Karan and Khushi’s family cast his wife’s wishes aside, time and time again failing to acknowledge her love and devotion for one man and one man alone. Him. Arnav Singh Raizada.
Enough was enough, he decided.
“YOU ARE FUCKING INSANE!” he bellowed, shoving the other man backwards until his back was right up against Shantivan’s main gates. “Your fiance? Khushi is my wife! My legally, wedded wife. You want to see the goddamn paperwork? And look at her stomach! See how pregnant she is? I put those babies in there. Those are my children! Hers and mine.” His eyes glinted dangerously, his hands tightening around Karan’s neck and lifting him clear off the ground. “You will never mention my wife or kids again. You will not step anywhere near them. Is that understood? Because one wrong move and I swear that I will fucking kill you.”
“You’re afraid she’ll leave you, aren’t you?”
“I’m not afraid of anything!” barked Arnav. “I know how much Khushi loves me. I feel it every time she’s in my arms, every time she looks my way. But do you see how she looks at you? It’s with pure hatred. She can’t even stand to be near you. You need to get it in your head that no means fucking no and Khushi has made her wishes clear. She has always and forever rejected you.”
Karan thrashed wildly, shouting and pleading for Khushi while Arnav wrestled with the growing urge to break more than a few of his bones. His wife suddenly appeared beside him, her face ashen in the dim light
“A-arnav... let him go. Now!”
“Please! You have to! I have to go with him!”
Her words stilled him with sheer disbelief, his hands falling away as he turned to gaze at her. She couldn’t possibly have said--No! It couldn’t be… He refused to believe it.
Karan struggled to stand beside them, his coughing giving away to a wide, knowing smile. Arnav though could only stare at his wife incredulously.
“What. Did. You. Say?”
His tone scared her more than anything else. Khushi moistened her dry lips, swallowing. “I have to go to my parents’ house with him. Amma’s fallen sick and I need to leave immediately.”
“Then I’ll fucking take you!” he shouted, his eyes wild, his control splintering apart.
“No...” She continued to shake her head, her gaze pleading as it met his. “You can’t… Amma doesn’t want you there. Please try to understand.”
“THE HELL I WILL! You expect me to allow you to leave with this psycho?” He shook his head with fervor. “Not happening, baby. Not while I’m alive.”
“WHY DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?” she yelled and then her face crumpled, unshed tears making her eyes look impossibly huge and lost. “Please, please, I beg you, let me go this time. I’ll call you soon.”
His mouth thinned even more. His jaw clenched with the effort to keep control of his fraying temper. “I said no and that answer is not changing. Get back in the jeep.” He would have hoisted her into his arms and taken her himself if not for her sudden piercing yell.
“You can’t stop me!” she cried, backing away from him. “I can go wherever and with whomever I want! Karan, will you please take me to my parents?”
As her husband swore, Karan nodded gleefully. “Right this way, Sweetheart.” He held open his car door for her, but Arnav slammed it close.
“What the fuck are you doing, Khushi? What’s happened to you? Get the hell inside the jeep! NOW!”
She swayed on her feet. “Arnav, please try to understand. You have to let me go. Please! I’ll call you.”
“The hell you will!” he growled, his blood roaring with red-hot anger. He grabbed her by the shoulders. “You will not be going anywhere with him! Do you understand?”
Khushi for the first time didn’t meet his gaze. “Fine, I’ll take a taxi then, but I need to leave.”
Arnav’s jaw hardened as he read something in her shifting eyes--quiet but unshakable resolve. She would not back down and he refused to give her up. “Go on and try,” he all but dared. “But understand something, Khushi. The moment you step inside that taxi, you’re effectively turning your back on me. On our love. And I will not tolerate that. You walk away from me, you lose me...Forever.”
Tears stung her eyes but Khushi forced herself to blink them away, her hands rising. Instead of embracing him as he’d hoped, Arnav watched with bone-chilling shock as she pushed him aside instead, hailing a taxi.
He stood there, observing her in stony silence. Even now his heart refused to believe it. Refused to admit she was truly doing this, walking away from him. Fuck, it hurt. Was it so easy for her? Did she not realize she was killing him? Destroying him where he stood?
“Why are you doing this?” he cried out with sheer frustration. “For your family? They’re nothing but a bunch of schemers and liars who’ve done their best to tear us apart from the start. Your mother is probably not even sick! And you’re falling for their damn lies!”
Her hand froze on the taxi door. “You have no idea what it means to have parents, do you? Oh, that’s right, I forgot...Yours are dead.” And with those words, uttered with a cruelty he hadn’t thought her capable of, and a final glance at his shock-still expression, Khushi slipped inside the taxi and closed the door.
Arnav was left alone, a gloating Karan laughing like a madman behind him. He turned and punched the son-of-a-bitch directly in the face, sending him crashing over his windshield. The laughter died then, but something else did too. His entire world.
Swearing, he ran back to the jeep, chasing after the taillights of the taxi. It was zig-zagging dangerously through the traffic and his hands tightened on the steering wheel as he realized his pregnant wife was being driven in that unsafe thing. She didn’t even have her phone on her, not even her purse.
What had Khushi been thinking? What the fuck had he been thinking? He couldn’t let her go no matter what. His heart wouldn’t allow it.
Khushi didn’t know how she managed to stay upright during the duration of the taxi ride and once inside her parent’s home. Her mother was overjoyed to see her and even more so when she discovered she’d come alone.
It had taken everything in Khushi not to recoil from her embrace. And yet somehow, she managed to stay at her mother’s side for over an hour, patiently listening. Neither mentioned Arnav nor Karan and Khushi did her hardest to pretend they were in the past, back to the days when she’d been a single young woman not having the faintest clue that a man by the name of Arnav Singh Raizada was set to enter her life and forever change it. Mark her as his and capture not just her heart, but her very being.
“You should go rest now, Sanka Devi,” Buaji said with a beaming smile, joining them. “I’ll take care of your mother. The guest room is all prepared for you and I left dinner and a plate full of your favorite jalebis for you there as well.”
Khushi nodded, carefully standing. She paused in front of the guest bedroom, her hand hesitating on the doorknob. Though she felt far from hungry, the thought of the twins being left in that state was enough to make her change direction and head for the kitchen instead. Though Buaji had mentioned leaving food for her in the room, Khushi knew it couldn’t be the type of healthy diet Arnav insisted she eat these days.
The mere reminder of her husband, ever present in her thoughts, hurt like a bodily slam. For the first time in months, he was not there to scold her and tell her what to eat, to wrestle away jalebis from her and insist she keep healthy even when heavily pregnant. She couldn’t imagine disobeying him even now. She didn’t want to.
She’d just approached the kitchen when she heard voices. All too familiar, hushed voices she had to strain to hear.
“It worked. I still cannot believe it,” whispered Karan’s mother.
Then came a voice that shook her to the core. “I knew it would. Our prayers have been answered. The plan worked perfectly.” How could Amma sound so healthy suddenly? There was no hoarseness in her voice, no sign of weakness. She sounded robust, energized even to Khushi’s ears.
“Yes Garima, but if she ever learns what we did...What we planned...She’ll never forgive us.”
“She will never know, Sarita. Neither of us will mention it after tonight. Soon, I will approach her with the prepared divorce papers and then she and Karan can marry as it should have happened all along. That ASR is nothing but an ugly chapter in her life and she will forget him in time. I will make sure of it.”
Karan’s mother laughed. “Even if she doesn’t, ASR will never forgive her. Being the womanizer he is, he’s probably in another woman’s bed as we speak. You have saved your daughter, Garima. Saved her.”
They talked on, laughing and congratulating each other for their clever planning. Khushi was shaking by the time she backed away from the kitchen. The turmoil of the past two hours crashed into her. Her head spun. Her stomach churned with volatile nausea. She would have fallen if not for the support of the wall behind her. Her hand settled on her belly with panic, but the twins were safe, kicking strongly against her palm.
It was that movement that gave her the courage to walk away. As much as she yearned to confront her mother and Karan’s, she realized how pointless it would be. Just the thought of seeing the two women again sickened her. What had they done? What kind of mother did such a thing? How could they stand there and celebrate when her world, her life, had just been ravaged, burned to the ground with a blaze she’d never foreseen coming.
It was only when she was left alone in her old bedroom, the door locked behind her, the dinner plate left untouched, that Khushi sank to her knees on the floor, sobbing her heart out. She closed her eyes but every time she did, all she saw was the desolation on her husband’s face as she left him, walking away, hurting him with the cruelest of words… Oh, baby...
She slammed her palm against the floorboards, crying so terribly she never heard the window in the corner slide open, never noticed the footsteps approaching her, drawing ever closer.
Her breath hitched and she nearly lost her balance as she looked up, right into her husband’s dark, turbulent gaze.
“Why are you crying?” he taunted even as he steadied her with his hands and drew her up. “This is what you wanted, right? You wanted to be here.” She had no reply and with an irritated growl, he grabbed her by the shoulders, dragging her hard against him. She set her hand over his mouth before he could get another word out.
“P-please… please keep quiet. No one can know you’re here. You shouldn’t be here.”
His gaze burned anew with fury. “Me being here doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t change anything. I’m furious with you. So mad I can barely think straight right now. Do you have any idea what you did to me? You fucking walked away from me! And for that, I will never forgive you. Never!”
“You need to leave, Arnav.” Baby, please…
Instead of moving away, he swore and pushed closer still, his mouth descending on hers with a suddenness that left her gasping. Her husband took instant advantage, his tongue penetrating her parted lips, his mouth slanting over hers with a roughness she’d never experienced in his arms.
As his hands tore at her clothes, Khushi struggled to step away. This had to stop. Someone would hear…
“Please, please don’t…”
He stilled against her. His mouth was wet and shiny, his jaw clenched tight. “You’re telling me you don’t want me? Another lie? Because baby, I can feel how much you want me. You’re soaked with it. You’re burning with it.”
She couldn’t deny it, not when his hand was pressed between her legs, hard and possessive. As he kneeled before her, pushing her remaining clothes aside and stared at her naked form, she found her fingers fisting in his hair, drawing him closer still. This was madness, absolute madness, but she couldn’t stop it. She’d never been able to.
As his tongue finally touched her in the most intimate of places and his mouth suckled hotly, Khushi bit down so hard on her lips she was sure she drew blood. He wasn’t simply touching her, he was consuming her. Devouring her. His hands lifted her toward his eager mouth, applying more pressure, more force. One hand rose to pinch her nipple, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger.
Khushi felt as if everything was spinning apart, her sole focus on him, the man who meant the world to her, the man who right now was so furious with her he was shaking with it even as he made love to her.
He’d never forgive her. Never.
As that paralyzing thought struck her, his skillful mouth and fingers sent her crashing into the abyss of savage passion. She would have screamed his name if not for her hands covering her mouth. She slumped against him, her body limp and utterly spent.
And then he was rising against her, his lips moist and reddened. Clenching a hand in her hair and pulling her to him, he kissed her heatedly, laving his tongue over the bead of blood on her bottom lip.
“Don’t you ever lie to me again. Now, get on the bed.”
She wanted to tell him that she didn’t think she was physically capable of walking after what he’d done to her, but he seemed to read her mind. The next moment he’d lifted her in his arms as if she was still her former weight, not even a slight grimace apparent on his chiseled face. Setting her down on the bedding, he pulled back, his disapproving gaze falling on the plate full of food she hadn’t touched.
He passed it to her with a glass of water and a gruff command. “Eat.”
“I don’t think I can,” she whispered truthfully. Not after all that had happened.
His scowl intensified. “You can and you will. You haven’t eaten in hours. Eat, Khushi. At least drink some water. Now. Or I swear to God, I will shout so loud, not just your parents and aunt, but this whole goddamn neighborhood will hear me.”
More than his threat it was the charged look in his eyes that forced her to take a small, tentative sip of the water. It felt difficult to swallow, her throat feeling uncomfortably constricted. As his hands went to his own clothes and he undressed, her eyes drank him up as if he was an oasis and she, a parched desert. Her heart beat painfully, her throat tight with the knowledge that this time, it would be he who’d walk away from her.
“Y-you need to leave,” she managed, her voice barely above a whisper.
His furious glare settled on her like a thunderclap. Flinging the last of his clothes aside, he stalked up to her in all his hard, masculine glory.
“Why?” he demanded, his hands fisting at his sides. “Why do you want me to leave so badly? What the hell is going on Khushi? And don’t you dare tell me another lie. I know how much you love me. I can see it in your eyes right now, dammit!”
Cursing as he witnessed tears slide down her pale cheeks, he kneeled on the bed beside her, cupping her face in his roughened palms. “Baby, I’m here. With you. I’m angry beyond words, but I’m not going anywhere. You hear me? You are stuck with me. I don’t care who the hell objects or whatever happens, but you are mine. Only mine. Now, please, dammit, tell me the truth.”
Khushi could hold herself back no longer. She threw herself into his arms, shaking uncontrollably, sobbing as if her heart had broken in two. Arnav was surprised for the briefest of moments and then he gathered her to him, his mouth tenderly kissing her tears away and finding her lips. They kissed as if they’d never have enough, as if the other would be snatched from them any moment. But that would never happen, Khushi vowed. Not now. Not ever.
“I’m so sorry,” she said against her husband’s mouth, her arms wound tightly around him. “I know I put you through hell tonight, but please know that I died a thousand times inside every second. When I walked away from you, when I said those awful, terrible things, I wanted nothing more than to turn and run back into your arms. To beg for your forgiveness. To be held by you as I am now. I love you, Arnav. I love you more than anything, anyone. You mean everything to me. Everything.”
His hands smoothed over her wet cheeks, his eyes trained on her face. “Why?” he gritted out, fighting not to let his temper get the best of him. “ Why did you threaten to go with Karan? Why did you walk away from me? What the fuck caused you to behave that way suddenly?”
She drew in a shaky breath. “I didn’t want to, baby. I...I was forced to.” She felt his entire body still at the admission, each muscle coil with tension.
Khushi nodded, holding onto him with a death grip. “When you were arguing with Karan, screaming at him, I was right behind you. But then someone...someone grabbed me. He came up so silently I didn’t even hear any footsteps. And you were so focused on Karan that you didn’t notice. You couldn’t have. There wasn’t enough time. One moment I was there and the next I was behind the jeep, a masked man holding me at knifepoint.”
Arnav’s face whitened with every word, his eyes filling with shock as he stared at her. “Someone grabbed you? A man with a knife?”
She nodded helplessly. “He… he had a gun too, baby. He said I had to get away from you immediately and go back to where I came from. He said if I didn’t leave Shantivan right away he’d… he’d kill you.” Tears slid down her face as she recalled her terror following those threats. Never had she been more fearful.
Arnav swore. “Who the hell was he? This is all my damn fault! If I’d only been paying more attention. But my anger got the best of me and I was so focused on what that goddamn Karan was saying, I didn’t even notice. I thought you were right there, behind me every moment.”
“It happened so fast, love, you couldn’t have noticed. And that man was so much stronger than me, I couldn’t even call out to you.”
Her husband’s face tightened. He drew her onto his lap, searching her eyes for something. “Did he hurt you, Khushi? Did he touch you?” She hesitated in answering and his heart pulsed with a wave of violence he’d never experienced. He fought to keep control, his voice lowering. “Khushi, you can tell me. You can tell me anything, you know that, right? Nothing could ever change what I feel about you. Love is too small a word to describe it. All I know is that you’re my everything too. I couldn’t go on without you.”
Khushi knelt up, hushing him with a firm kiss. “He didn’t touch me, but his knife...” She drew back her hair over one shoulder, revealing a shallow, jagged cut against the side of her neck.
Arnav stared at it with horror and then laid a finger near its reddened edge. Khushi couldn’t help but flinch, more from the terrible memory of it than actual pain. Her husband retracted his hand immediately, looking like he wanted to murder someone.
“Fuck! I should have kept an eye on you. I should have killed that son of a bitch that very moment!”
Clapping a hand over his mouth, Khushi gazed worriedly toward the door. “Please keep your voice down.”
“Don’t!” he reprimanded, his eyes flashing. “I will not keep calm right now. I can’t!” He frowned, his hands sliding into her thick hair and holding her to him. “Some fucker cut you. He dared to touch you, my wife, my love. I will find him and I will destroy him, I promise you.”
“Baby please, keep your voice down! They can’t hear us!”
“Why the hell not? Let them hear! Let this whole damn city hear!”
Khushi shushed him with another kiss. Tears were in her eyes as she drew back, whispering, “You have to stop shouting because they’re the ones who did this. They hired the man who grabbed me. It was all my mother and Karan’s mother plan and I think he was in on it too. There’s no way he could have missed me being grabbed behind you. Karan purposely distracted you, baited you.”
He went shock still against her. “W-what? When...when did you figure this all out?”
“A few minutes before I walked into this room. I heard them talking about it in the kitchen.”
Arnav sprung off her, yanking on his jeans and striding toward the door with purpose. “Baby, please!” Khushi pleaded, grabbing his arm. “Please, don’t.”
“Don’t, what?” he snapped, enraged. “This has been a long time coming. This time they didn’t just cross the line, they fucking burned it. They could have seriously harmed you and the twins tonight. They will pay for this! I will make sure of it!”
“Please don’t! This is why I wanted you to leave. Don’t you see? You’re still in danger here. That man… he could be nearby. He could be watching the house.”
Arnav didn’t seem at all concerned. “And that’s exactly what your mother and Karan’s will have to answer for. They didn’t just send Karan after you, they hired a criminal, a person who attacked an eight-months pregnant woman without hesitation.”
She clung to his arm, blocking him from leaving the room. “Please, listen to me. Please, love. I don’t think they realized how dangerous that man was. I think they just wanted you out of my life and for me to marry Karan so badly that they hired the first man who’d do the job.”
His gaze singed her with its throbbing intensity. “Don’t you dare make excuses for them.”
“I’m not. I know what they’ve done this time is unforgivable. They didn’t just attack me, they attacked our children, our love, our marriage. I will never forgive them. Trust me when I say that they have no place in my life anymore. And that fact won’t change if you confront them or not. Baby please, just take me home. I can’t deal with anymore of this. I only want to be with you. Please!”
He looked ready to argue, but seeing his wife all but fall apart before his eyes, he forced himself to focus on her, not on the vengeful thoughts ravaging his mind. He pressed his mouth to hers, their tongues tangling.
“If that’s what you want--”
“I do,” she insisted. “I don’t want to hear their excuses, their lies… I don’t think I can even bear to look at their faces. Whatever they say won’t change anything.”
Arnav finally nodded. “Lift your arms up.”
“Why?” she asked even as she raised her arms high.
“I’m getting you back in your dress. We need to leave. I can’t stomach another second in this place. Thank God you didn’t eat anything here.” He frowned at the plate full of food he’d tried to make her eat earlier. “It’s probably fucking poisoned.”
As soon as both of them were decent, his jacket wrapped around her, he lifted her in his arms and carefully stepped out of the window onto solid ground. He deposited her in the car he’d parked in a darkened corner, dialing Bayaz Khan’s number as he steered them home, his worried eyes falling on Khushi every few seconds.
“I need answers, Bayaz. Find that bastard. Use any means possible..” Cutting the call, he threw the phone aside, his hand tightening around his wife’s. “Almost home, love. Just relax. I’ve got you now.”
Khushi couldn’t look away from him. “I’m sorry for all I said to you earlier. So sorry. I didn’t mean a word of it. I could never hurt you in any way willingly. That man had a gun, Arnav. And I think Karan did too. If I hadn’t walked away from you, they’d have shot you.” She shuddered.
“Oh baby… I’m the one who should be apologizing, not you.” He raised her hand to his mouth, kissing it. “We walked into an ambush tonight. Right outside of our own home. Karan will pay for this. So will that masked man, whomever he was.”
“His voice...it sounded familiar, but I can’t figure it out.”
He squeezed her hand. “Don’t stress yourself, love. It’ll come to you. Please, try to rest now. It’s been a hellish couple of hours, but we made it. And it’s all because of you. You did this, Khushi. You.”
She shook her head. “It was your love guiding me. My love for our children not letting me falter. And you… you said you’d never forgive me and yet, you came after me.”
He gave her a rueful grin. “That’s because I’m head over heels times infinity in love with you. Like I told you this morning in Sheesh Mahal, I’ll come after you always. You are stuck with me.”
“Then I’m blessed,” she replied, smiling back at him. “Because I’m head over heels times infinity in love with you too.”
This time as they made their way past Shantivan’s gates, there was no sign of Karan. Bayaz Khan and his men were circling the perimeter. He met them at the front entrance.
“Everything’s been checked. No one has entered the house or tampered with anything. The security system you have on is the best money can by. Trust me when I tell you both that few places are as safe right now as your home.”
Arnav kept a secure arm around Khushi’s waist. “That’s all good, but we need more than that. Karan, Payal and the masked man tonight. That’s three dangers alone and that’s unacceptable.”
Bayaz nodded. “I’m working on it. We need a bit more evidence but I’m sure we can get a hold of it. Try to rest tonight, I’ll be touch in the morning.”
Arnav nodded, setting the alarms on as he led his wife to the kitchen. They ate in silence, finishing the meal quickly and walking hand in hand to the master bedroom. Khushi was still quiet and reflective and Arnav wondered if it was her mother’s betrayal that hurt more or her husband’s failure to protect her tonight.
But she seemed to understand his inner turmoil. As soon as they were warm, naked and together on their massive bed, she pulled him into her arms, stroking the tense lines on his face.
“Please baby, stop blaming yourself. I was taken from you for a matter of seconds. You couldn’t have anticipated it. No one could have.”
He dropped a soft kiss over the bandaid now covering the cut on her neck. “That may be, but I won’t rest till that bastard’s caught.”
“I know.” She sighed, her fingers gliding over his face. The need to touch him and make certain he was whole and safe was all-consuming. “Arnav?”
“I don’t think I can sleep tonight… I don’t think I want to.”
“You need to sleep.” His signature ASR tone was back.
“No…” She angled her body toward him, guiding his hands to her heaving breasts. “I need you to hold me...touch me...”
He observed her for a long moment and then he was drawing her to him, his mouth latching onto her breasts as his hands eased between her legs.
“The rest of the night we won’t think about anyone else...about anything else,” he murmured, stroking her. “Except for this. Except for us.”
And then as Khushi shuddered in his arms, the sounds of their merging moans replacing the silence, she knew that she’d been wrong to worry if they would weather this storm too. Their love was unstoppable, uncontrollable, completely theirs and theirs alone.
The next morning Garima wheeled herself carefully over to the guest bedroom, struggling to steer the wheelchair she’d rented a week ago. It had been yet another detail of the brilliant plan Sarita and she had began working on weeks ago.
She had been skeptical at first, but Sarita had convinced her. Khushi hadn’t been in any true danger and now she was safely home and far from that ASR, a man who did not deserve her love or loyalty. He was after all a womanizer and if recent news articles were to be believed, certifiably crazy too, having spent time in a mental asylum of all places. Yes, thought Garima, she’d done the right thing. Getting her daughter and unborn grandchildren out of the clutches of that madman had been worth every risk. She smiled.
“Khushi? Bitiya, it’s time for breakfast. I made your favorite.” There was silence and Garima knocked on the door, more urgently this time. “Khushi?” The ominous sound of silence remained, making her heart hammer with sudden anxiety. Standing, she reached into her pocket for the spare set of keys and pushed the door wide.
It was empty.
Her daughter was nowhere to be seen. The room smelled strange, of man and sex, which was impossible. But the sheets on the bed were rumpled and Garima’s nose wrinkled as she discerned the unmistakeable scent of a male cologne. It couldn’t be…
And then her stricken gaze narrowed on the piece of paper on the floor. It was just a few lines long but it shifted her world. The blood drained from her face as she raised it up in her shaking fingers.
I know everything.
I heard you and Karan’s mother talking last night. I heard every word. I know you hired the man who held me at knifepoint tonight, who cut my neck and threatened to shoot my husband if I didn’t do what he demanded... It was you behind it all along! You purposely did that to me! Part of me still can’t believe it. How could you stoop to such lows?
You know, for the first time in my life, I’m grateful to be an orphan. To have no mother or father. After my parents’ death, you and Babuji took me in. You treated me as a daughter more than a niece and feeling beholden to you, I ignored so much of what you said about my husband, my marriage, my life… But today you’ve proven that you are no mother of mine. After tonight, you are are dead to me. Do not even think of contacting me--ever.
Ps. He came for me. My husband. Arnav Singh Raizada. The man you never attempted to accept or understand. Even without knowing about your treachery, he still came for me. Because he truly loves me. And I love him and will always love him and ONLY him till the moment I breathe no more.
Garima didn’t realize she was weeping till the jarring sound of a knock came. She threw the letter aside, hurrying out. The men at the front door made her pause in her tracks. The only one not in uniform stepped forward.
“Mrs. Gupta, I’m Detective Bayaz Khan. You have some important questions to answer.”
Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 39: Fallout
45 damning seconds.
That’s how long Khushi had been wrenched from him and taken by an unknown attacker. Arnav struggled to hold onto his restraint as he replayed the security video from Shantivan again and again. It was torture, all but driving him slowly crazy but he couldn’t seem to stop.
Every time he paused the video at the precise moment she’d been grabbed, a rough male hand slapping over her mouth. Every time the same mind-numbing fury washed over him as the man shook her behind the jeep, laying out his threats. His wife appeared remarkably calm in the video, only the stricken look in her eyes giving away her real fears. It was an image that would haunt him forever. He never wanted her looking that way. Ever. It was all his damn fault. If only he’d been more vigilant.
And then came the part that made him feel so violent he had no doubt whatsoever there would have been blood on his hands if only he’d been aware of what was happening behind his back. The man--whoever the bastard was--dangled a grisly looking knife before Khushi’s pale face. At one point it appeared he was directing it to her stomach but the next second it was against her neck, slashing the delicate skin there.
WIth a curse, he flung the laptop aside, not caring as it struck the wall and splintered apart. He shot up from his chair, body shaking, not giving a damn as he heard footsteps hurrying toward him.
Aman hesitated once inside the office door. “Everything okay?”
“What do you think?” Arnav snapped, glancing down at his phone. His hands itched for a cigarette but he’d made a decision weeks ago to quit and he’d stick to it. Even if it killed him, which was looking not all that unlikely a scenario.
“Bayaz Khan is on his way over.” Aman obviously meant for this news to calm him down, but it only riled him up further.
“It’s been ten hours! He better have caught that bastard. If not…” Arnav’s jaw clenched, his hands fisting at his sides. He looked down at the floor below, his expression severe.
AR Designs was a crowded, chaotic, colorful mess today. The annual bridal show was just two days away and as always, preparations were lagging too behind for his liking. And then to top it off, his blasted cousin had shown up to his cabin bright and early and escorted his wife off to some important meeting.
Khushi was laughing with NK below, back at that damn cubicle he’d first assigned to her nearly a year ago. Nevermind that he’d designed a custom office just for her, rivaling his in size and situated strategically close. But no, his wife remained as stubborn as ever, saying she preferred the old, beat up desk.
He wondered if he’d ever understand her. Not only did she insist she was fit enough to be working, but she refused to stay in his cabin. It was no wonder he was in such a foul mood.
At least she was sitting and not running around, he noted, watching her with hawk eyes. If NK had not followed those express instructions, he’d have been fired on the spot, family or not.
“Would you like me to summon Mrs. Raizada for you?” Aman offered, observing him obsess and stress over his wife. It was something he was quite used to no doubt.
“She’ll refuse.” Frustration gave away as he admitted, “I don’t want her fucking working like this. She’s eight months pregnant! She should be resting. But when I tell her that, I’m being nothing but overprotective and overly anxious according to her.”
“Sir, I heard you this morning as you both came in. You told her to stay in your cabin, not to pick up so much as a pen and not even think of moving out of your sight.”
Arnav gave him a sharp look of displeasure. “So? She was attacked last night for God’s sake! Of course I want her with me. Every second of the day.” He had always wanted that…
As if she’d sensed his intense focus on her, Khushi chose that moment to glance up. Her eyes softened as they found him, a gorgeous, wide smile appearing on her full lips. She waved to him, looking every inch her cheery self. He, however, did not wave back. He just stood there, arms crossed, a permanent frown on his face. It was the type of glare that usually had people scurrying away from him, but on his wife there was no damn effect. She appeared more amused than anything.
“Let me know when Bayaz arrives immediately. That’s all, Aman.” His tone was curt and dismissive and he knew if his wife had been around, she’d have rolled her eyes at his sudden rudeness. But she wasn’t around, was she? His jaw clenched.
His assistant gave a small nod and on his way out made sure to close the door. Days when ASR was in a volatile mood, strange things were known to happen. Unexpected things, shattered laptops for one.
Arnav remained standing before the glass window. Now that he finally had his wife’s attention, he motioned her to come up to him. She of course shook her head, pointing to the piles of designs littering her desktop. NK took that second to show her yet another dress and just like that, her attention flitted away. He scowled, deciding to call her directly. He would not be dismissed so easily. No way in hell.
Downstairs, Khushi glanced at her ringing phone, seeing his name flashing. She bit back a grin, not at all surprised. Some things would never change. He still hated her making him wait.
“I really think you should take that call,” NK murmured, glancing over his shoulder. “My cousin looks like he might shatter the cabin’s glass walls if you don’t.”
Khushi sneaked a glance at her husband and found him still there, his frown more severe, his eyes flashing at her. She quickly glanced away. “I’ll call him back in a while. We need to finalize the last look for the show.”
NK grabbed the pictures from her hands. “It can wait. Seriously, take the call, Khushi.”
Even as she reached for her ringing phone and clicked it on, she murmured irritably under her breath, “Why is everyone so afraid of him? He doesn’t bite.”
“Actually, I do,” came his arrogant reply. “Last night in fact. And Khushi, you have a hickey on your neck to prove it.”
Her hand automatically flew to the mark on the side of her neck though she knew it was well-hidden by her loose hair. The bruise was more prominent than the small cut there, which was already fading.
It was remarkable the difference between the two marks. One had been given in circumstances so terror-filled her heart shuddered to recall it while the other had made her moan and writhe in pleasure. Arnav had wanted her memories of last night to be wiped away as much as possible. Her neck throbbed slightly today from his efforts but it was comforting to know it was all from her husband’s doing and no one else’s. Her lips quirked.
“Baby, you’re distracting me. I need to finalize things here.”
“Is that why you ran away from me with NK?” He glared down at her. “Dammit, you can work up here. There’s no reason for you to be away from me for hours on end and--”
“It’s been fifteen minutes, Arnav. Fifteen.”
He didn’t so much as react. “So? That’s fifteen minutes too many. I want you with me. Hell, I’d cuff you to me if I could.”
She sighed. “Do you hear yourself? We can’t live in fear like this. I’m perfectly fine down here.”
“I’m not,” he argued. His rippling, intense gaze sliced into her. “Please. I need you.”
She tried valiantly to resist him even though she could feel her foolish heart melting. “This design requires my attention, love.”
“I require your attention far more.”
How he still had the power to make her blush was beyond her understanding but there it was. Her cheeks warmed as she glimpsed the sudden passion rising in his. Heart beating much too fast, she cut the call and eyes on him, carefully stood.
His answering smirk made her heart lurch in her chest and she wondered how she’d stayed away for even fifteen minutes. It had to be a record.
It was with a heady sense of deja vu that Khushi knocked on Arnav’s door, her palms feeling clammy and her pulse rather erratic.
“Come in, Mrs. Raizada.”
She slipped inside and stood there a moment, back pressed to the door. The expected clicking noise came and she knew he’d locked the door behind her. The thick gray curtains were already in place, blocking the view of the floor to ceiling glass walls.
Her husband stood before her, arms braced across his chest, his mouth unsmiling. He also looked sinfully handsome, dressed in all black today, his hair combed back, faint stubble highlighting his cheekbones. “You know how much I hate delays, don’t you? Or have you forgotten?”
She tried not to smile. “Maybe I need a reminder.”
His eyes smoldered and then he swept a long finger up and down her body. “Out of that dress. Now.”
Keeping her gaze locked with his, she pulled the side zipper down and pushed the floral maternity dress off her hips. His gaze remained fixed on her face for a heartbeat and then it dipped down, taking in everything.
Khushi fought the urge to cover herself. She was huge these days. So big she couldn’t even see her feet anymore when she stood. But her husband’s stare radiated such attraction and affection it didn’t seem to matter. She felt loved and unbelievably, sexy.
“The rest of it.” His voice was gruff, his hands already pulling at his black silk tie. “I want you naked. It’s been too long.”
“It’s been…” She glanced at the clock on the wall behind him even as she tossed her bra at him. “Three hours.”
He shrugged, the corner of his mouth lifting. “I guess your insatiable sexual appetite these days must be rubbing off on me quite literally.” She started to protest, but he held his hand up. “I like it, Khushi. Like it a lot. It’s almost as if you want me now as much as I always want you.”
She felt her chest heave as she stood before him, utterly bare. “I’d argue with that. I’ve always wanted you too...badly.”
“How badly?” he murmured, walking slowly closer, as if he had all the time in the world. Only the slight tremor of his fingers revealed his repressed urgency.
She pressed her body to his fully-clothed one, looping her arms around his waist. “So badly I fought everyone and everything for you. So badly you’re all I dream about, fantasize about. So badly I can’t even think straight right now... You have too many clothes on, Mr. ASR.”
He leaned down, kissing her expertly. “That can be fixed, love.” Thirty seconds later, he was against her, warm and bare. His hands and mouth were everywhere, claiming her, touching her stomach, her breasts, the ache between her legs, but as he began to lead her to the sofa, Khushi halted.
“I can’t wait. I need to touch you first.”
He stared at her a long moment and then laid down on the sofa, hands folded behind his head. “Have at it then, Mrs. Raizada.”
Smiling, she carefully straddled his hips, being careful to keep her weight on her knees. Her husband wouldn’t have any of that though. Clasping her thighs, he spread them wide and forced her onto him.
“I’m too heavy.”
“You’re not,” he chided.
She shook her head in amusement, her thick hair falling in a curtain about her. Scooting lower, she trailed her nails teasingly down his abs, watching the muscles tense.
“Khushi,” he said in that usual scolding tone. “Touch me already.”
She knew exactly where he wanted her hands but she grinned, tossing her hair over one shoulder. “I think you told me yourself I’m not supposed to so much as pick up a pen today. Isn’t that right?”
He took her hands in his, setting them on his hardness. “I’ll make an exception.” As she tightened her grip, his eyes closed and his head swung back against the sofa.
Watching him closely, reading his every response, Khushi moved her hands as he’d taught her, using everything he liked. As she pumped faster, she leaned down to take him into her mouth.
“What the--” Groaning, he held onto her hair, his hands fisting. The position was awkward with her advanced pregnancy and Khushi straightened sooner than she wanted, her hands sloping over him, stroking and molding.
“Just like that, baby.”
She increased the rhythm, her heartbeat raging wildly, when a loud knock sounded. From just feet away. Arnav’s eyes snapped open. Her hands slid from his pulsing erection. But the next second, his hands caught hers and put them right back where they’d been.
“Someone’s at the door…” she whispered, moistening her dry lips.
His eyes sizzled. “I don’t care. Keep going.”
The knock came again and again but Arnav sat up suddenly and took Khushi’s mouth in a hard kiss. By the time they surfaced, she was barely aware of the continued commotion outside.
“Touch me,” her husband mumbled against her lips, his hands smoothing over her stomach and then rising to her sensitive breasts. As he kneaded their fullness, Khushi’s hands took over and then she was lost, lost in him.
“I’m going to come,” he ground out, his face buried against the side of her neck. Biting lightly, he sucked on the delicate skin there, making sure his mark remained. “Lie down.”
Swallowing, Khushi did as he instructed, her body trembling on the sofa. Her husband towered over her for a moment, staring down at her with that usual intense, penetrating stare and then he lowered his body, straddling her hips. His weight was balanced on his legs and knees and Khushi struggled to breathe as he rubbed his hardness against the very heat of her, repeating the sinful motion again and again. She shivered.
“We can’t...” she reminded.
“As if I could forget.” Her husband’s eyes fixed on her chest. Reaching down, he drew her breasts together. “Keep them just like like that...Closer....”
Quivering, she followed his instructions, cupping her breasts and watching him slide up her body, his hands splayed and braced on the sofa. He adjusted her hold one final time to his liking and then lining up his hardness, surged between her breasts, groaning out loud.
Khushi felt herself losing control as she observed him, his face shadowed by dark, savage passion, his smoldering gaze locked on hers as he rocked atop her, using her breasts in a way she hadn’t dreamed of. Leaning forward, she kissed the glistening head of him that peeked between her breasts, matching his motions. It was hot, sinful and everything they needed. His movements grew more urgent, his thrusts more erratic, and Khushi knew her husband’s control was close to snapping.
As she watched him splinter apart, releasing himself on her chest, she cried out, feeling her own body jerk and spasm. He took her mouth then, swallowing her shouts and moans.
“You okay?” he mumbled against her mouth, deftly lifting her and setting her atop his lap. His eyes peered at her with growing concern. “I was kind of rough.”
Khushi kissed his collarbone, cuddling closer. “I’m fine. More than fine. It was wonderful...you were wonderful.”
His grin was one of pure masculine satisfaction. “I’ve wanted to do that to you for a long time now.”
“Why haven’t you?”
“Because there are other ways I prefer but it’ll do for now. Once the twins are born though, all bets are off. It’s been so damn long since we made love...properly.”
She nodded. “I’m waiting too for that moment, baby.”
Arnav tipped her head up, kissing her deeply. “Once we get the go ahead, I’m taking you somewhere we can be alone for a long while. Be prepared to be thoroughly and completely ravished. Frequently.”
“And what about the twins?” she asked with a giggle. “We’ll be struggling with feeding them, changing diapers, naps and general lack of sleep.”
“I’ll help you, love. But anytime you are not with the kids, I expect you in bed with me. I’m not budging on that.”
Khushi threw up her hands. “Between you and the twins it’ll be a miracle if I get any sleep at all.”
He laughed, his palms sloping over her protruding abdomen. “How soon till you can get pregnant again?”
She gave him an incredulous look. “I’m still pregnant, you know! And you already want more?”
He hugged her to him, kissing the top of her head. “I can’t help it. I love seeing you like this. I love knowing you’re carrying my kids... I love them more than anything already and I haven’t even met them yet.”
“You’re going to spoil them rotten, aren’t you?”
“Probably. You’ll have to keep me in check.” Pecking her lips, he glanced at the door. “I guess I should probably check why Aman was so set on interrupting us awhile back. It better be good.”
Khushi looked up at him with alarm. “I forgot all about the knocking. It’s all your fault.”
“Yes, you distracted me, Mr. Raizada. Very effectively too.”
“You weren’t exactly complaining. You were moaning and buckling underneath me and saying how you didn’t want me to stop and--”
Khushi cut him off with a firm kiss. Arnav smirked as he stood, cleaning her up and dressing her with startling efficiency. “There, all done.”
“I”m so embarrassed,” Khushi whispered once he was dressed too, clutching his hand. “What if Aman or whoever was out there heard something?”
“My cabin is sound-proof, baby. I thought we needed that in here.”
Leaning up, Khushi covered her husband’s mouth with hers. “You are really brilliant sometimes you know.”
He grinned, shaking his head. “Thanks, friend.”
They found Aman waiting for them in the conference room with Bayaz Khan. Nodding at the pair, Arnav helped Khushi into one of the leather-backed chairs and then took a seat himself at the head of the table. Reaching over, he grasped his wife’s hand.
“What have you found?”
The detective passed them a color photograph. “We caught the man who grabbed you, Mrs. Raizada. He’s a petty criminal, well known to us. He was hired by your stepmother and her friend, Sarita. Sarita’s son, Karan, handled most of the dealings with him. We found him as he was trying to leave the city. He’s pleaded guilty.”
Khushi frowned down at the photograph of a burly looking man with an unkempt beard. He was the right height and size, but something seemed off. “Are you sure this is him? I was so sure I’d heard his voice before. It sounded so familiar. But this man is a stranger. I’ve never seen him in my life.”
“His clothing matches the surveillance video and we found a few strands of your hair on the clothes as well. It was definitely him.” Bayaz hesitated. “As for your stepmother, Sarita, and her son, what have you decided? Will you be pressing charges?”
“Yes,” Arnav replied without hesitance.
“No,” Khushi said at the same time.
They turned to look at each other, Arnav’s frown intensifying as he stared at his wife. Without looking away from her, he said, “Give us five minutes. I need to talk to my wife in private.”
Aman and the detective stood to leave and it was only when the door shut behind them that Arnav’s control snapped. His hand slammed down against the desk, the sound loud and harsh in the massive conference room. Khushi grimaced, her eyes closing. How would she ever make him understand?
He could still feel her.
Pressed against him, her body shaking, her eyes wide and fearful. For one minute, Khushi Raizada had been in his grasp. His.
He could still smell her.
The scent had been intoxicating, a heady mixture of roses and soft dewy grass. He’d wanted to bury his face in her neck. To kiss and lick every inch of her body. To tie her to his bed and claim her like a wild beast.
But then his gaze had inevitably fallen to her waistline. There was really no avoiding it. She looked big enough to burst. His lust had subsided then, giving away to disgust.
She swelled with ASR’s children. He’s been prepared to use the knife and stab her then and there, right over that obscene bump. ASR would have been brought to his knees by a single swipe.
But he’d kept his control. He had plans for Khushi Raizada. Plans that involved her pressed against him again. This time there would be no jeep. No ASR. No damn pregnancy. Not even that clown called Karan would be around.
No, it would be only him and her. He’d take his time in undressing her, chaining her, gagging her… A.J. smiled as he envisioned it
“They make the arrest yet?” he murmured to his associate, his eyes fixed on the knife in his hand. It was still coated with her blood, a dark crimson bead dripping from the edge.
Akash nodded. “They went after him just as we knew they would. They have no idea he’s been paid off by us.”
Akash swallowed, looking suddenly nervous. “Are you sure she didn’t recognize you? You’ve spoken to her before. The night of the party at Shantivan…”
A.J.’s grin widened. “I changed my accent a bit. She won’t be able to figure it out. There’s nothing linking me to the scene.”
Akash blew out a deep breath. “Good. Payal has already been taken care of and Khushi is next. The Guptas will have to pay for what they’ve done to me and my family. I won’t be made a fool of.”
“They tried their best though, you gotta admit, especially your ex-wife. She married you just to get close to your cousin, the man she really wanted to fuck. It’s pretty insane.”
“And that ASR must have known all along. He has no idea who he’s messed with.” He glanced at A.J. “You will attack his wife again, won’t you?”
His lips curled. “I’m your friend, Akash. Of course I will help you. I’ve already destroyed Payal. She’s an absolute wreck these days. And once I get my hands on Khushi, there will be nothing left for poor ASR to even mourn over. At least with Anjali there was that black bag of bones. With Khushi...there will be nothing. She will vanish into thin air. Just like that.” He snapped his fingers.
Chuckling, the two men clinked their glasses of liquor, toasting to their first attack on the Raizadas. It had been unequivocally successful.
Payal was moaning.
She shivered and writhed against the sheets as Master Horatio rained down the whip, marking her skin. He was being especially brutal today and she ached for more.
“You know what you must do, pet.”
“Tell me,” he growled, sending the whip crashing down again.
She arched toward its loving caress. “I must...obey you...in every way.”
He rewarded her words with an even harder swing. “Very good, pet. Very good indeed..."
Hurt to look his way and see the anger and confusion brewing in his dark familiar gaze. It was all her doing, Khushi knew. She couldn’t blame him either, her adoptive mother and Sarita had committed terrible crimes. Unforgivable actions that carried no excuse, no explanation.
“What the fuck do you mean you’re not pressing charges?”
His growl struck her like a physical blow. She’d almost forgotten how volatile his fury could be. She’d never been able to bear it quietly and this time was no exception.
Steeling herself, she met her husband’s turbulent gaze head-on. “I can’t go through with it, baby. Please try to understand.”
His jaw clenched as he read her expression with uncanny ease, no doubt realizing she would not be swayed. Not this time. His jaw hardened. “So you’ve made up your mind already?”
She gave a stiff nod.
He gave her an incredulous look before anger took over again, washing away any hint of the man who had made love to her with such passionate ferocity mere moments ago.
“Then what the fuck am I doing still here?” He pushed out of his chair, standing. “You’re wasting my time.”
She stood unsteadily, managing to catch his sleeve before he could storm past. “Baby, please…”
“NO!” Arnav all but roared, pulling himself free. “Don’t! Don’t you dare make any more excuses for those people! When will you understand, Khushi? When will you get it that they are not your family? They’ve never accepted us! And this time they’ve gone too far. They tried to hurt you, dammit. Tried to harm our unborn kids... I will not tolerate that. I want them behind bars. Do you understand me? I want them nowhere near us.” She tried to interrupt, but his mocking smirk silenced her, jarring her to the core. “But you don’t give a damn about what I want, do you Khushi? I’m just your husband after all. Why the hell should my opinion matter to you? But let me explain something. For you it may not matter what I want, but this isn’t just your decision to make. Those are my children that could have been harmed by your fucked-up family.”
“Your children?” She looked up at him stricken, part of her not able to comprehend that this was her Arnav being so cruel. She hadn’t ever imagined him capable of it. “They’re our children and I care for their well-being just as much as you!”
His gaze was pained and hollow-appearing. “You have no idea how much I wish I could believe that.”
As he brushed past her and slammed the door closed, this time she made no move to stop him, no last minute plea for understanding. Her body sagged to the floor and a ragged sob broke out.
It was a long time later that Khushi straightened, the only evidence of her crying the redness in her eyes that refused to fade and her pale, almost sickly complexion. As she stepped out into the corridor, she sensed someone watching her. For a moment, she thought it was him. Hoped and at the same time, dreaded it was him.
But it was only Aman, dressed in a gray tailored suit and armed with a bottle of water. He passed it to her wordlessly. She was grateful for the silence, too mentally and emotionally exhausted to participate in any sort of conversation. Swallowing some of the water, she laid a trembling palm over her abdomen. “Please call the driver. I want to go home.”
“Boss said you need to stay here till he gets back.”
Aman nodded even as he began escorting her back to Arnav’s main cabin. “Everything you may need has been brought over from Shantivan. If you require anything else, please let me know. I will be in my office just down the hall.”
Khushi wanted to protest, wanted nothing more than to disobey the orders of Arnav Singh Raizada, but as she entered the room where just hours ago her husband had taken her, she found her every objection melt away. She heard the click of the lock as the door automatically closed behind her but she barely heard it, her attention focused on the sofa. She wished she could reverse time and slip back into that moment when he’d lavished attention on her with his forceful thrusts and lingering touches.
Taking a shaky breath, she sat delicately on the edge of the sofa. Though she’d never realized it before, it was a pull-out sofa with the plush cushion seats now gone and a wide, comfy mattress in their place. Someone had covered it with her favorite set of sheets and the pillow she favored so much. Only one man could be responsible. The one whose pillow she’d taken over months ago.
Her gaze drifted to the mahogany desk and the empty leather chair just beyond it. There was no escaping the lure of her husband here. Even in his absence, every inch of the cabin seemed to scream his name. Tears burned her eyes all over again, but this time she forced herself to stay upright. She would not cry. She refused to be daunted by his temper any longer. He’d had every reason to be angry with her, but he’d gone too far this time.
He hadn’t even given her a chance to explain.
Khushi swallowed and laid back against the pillow that smelled distinctly of his cologne. Stacks of her favorite books, DVDs and snacks were neatly piled on the side table. She rolled onto her side, not interested in any of that. Someone had placed her purse on the opposite side table. It was half open and as she moved to close it, a hopelessly bent, leather-bound book caught her eye.
Pulling out the old diary, Khushi flipped to the first page, her mind still focused on the argument in the conference room. But as the story enfolded, her surroundings seemed to fade and it was almost as if she was sitting beside Arnav’s mother, listening to her quiet voice…
Today I met him.
The man that everyone says is perfect for me. The man my parents cannot seem to stop gushing about and my grandmother claims with all seriousness was made for me. Our fates were entwined from birth, she says.
I don’t truly believe that. Of course everyone would find Arav Malik my ideal match. He is after all father’s best friend’s only nephew and of marriageable age--whatever that implies. So naturally, they arranged a small tea party today and invited him and his family there as well.
I found out all about this devious plan from Ma. She can’t keep secrets from me and neither can I from her.
Thanks to her, I had ample time to be prepared for the party. I entered it with my opinions already formed and set. I would meet his Arav, behave politely and then just as politely reject him. I expected myself to dislike him instantly, to find him sorely lacking in some way. What I did not expect in the slightest was to be utterly mesmerized by him. I don’t know how it happened, but the moment I saw him, I was thunderstruck. Me! Can you believe it, dear diary? Me, a girl who’s never fawned over any boy before couldn’t form a proper sentence around Mr. Malik.
In my defense, he was not at all what I was expecting. I thought he’d be young, nervous and well, bumbling like many of the other boys I’ve been introduced to. But Mr. Malik was far from the boyish image I imagined. He was a man. A sinfully handsome man.
He was taller than me, so tall that when I gazed up at him, I felt both overwhelmed and enraptured by his proximity. It felt as if he was enveloping me, swallowing me whole. To my surprise, I learnt he was not my age, but my senior by a good eleven years. I find the age difference to be inconsequential. If anything, it draws me more so to him. He is so wise, so intellectual. A proper gentleman.
I thankfully got over my nervousness around him quite quickly and we managed to have a very nice conversation. He told me about growing up in London and how much he’s missed his ancestral home, Sheesh Mahal. He said he wanted nothing more than to return to Lucknow now and raise his own family there.
Blushingly, I changed the topic and told him all that Delhi has to offer. On Dadi’s behest, I gave him a tour of Shantivan. He was charmed by our gardens especially and said Delhi has such beautiful flowers, he had to take at least one home with him. And then he looked at me, meaningfully.
I never expected him to be so direct or so charming. Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately, Ma interrupted us then and I didn’t have the chance to reply to him. I don’t know what on earth I would have said...
Till next time, dear diary. Ma’s calling me for dinner
The next entry was nearly a month later, the page bordered with hand-drawn hearts.
I am so so sorry, dear diary. I never meant for the delay to be so very long indeed, but I can’t seem to help it. So much has happened in the past month. So much happiness has come my way that I scarcely know what to do with it.
Last evening, I was formally engaged to Arav or should I say Mr. Malik. I love to tease him with that name. It’s one of the few things that manages to annoy him. Otherwise, he is carefree and well, ridiculously charming and handsome.
I sometimes find myself pinching myself that he should care for me so. But he does, dear diary. Yesterday, hours before our engagement he snuck into my room and told me exactly what he feels. “I find myself where I once least expected to be: standing here before you, madly in love with you, Samaira,” were his exact words. Then he went down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It’s the English way and quite common in London he later told me. I found it rather romantic and was so choked up, I could barely manage a yes for him.
I’ve yet to confess how much I love him too, but I think he knows. He wouldn’t have kissed me otherwise and I certainly wouldn’t have kissed him back.
Gosh, dear diary. That memory of that kiss haunts me. I hardly recall our engagement ceremony because of it, but Mother says everything went splendidly, so I assume I behaved okay. It’s another matter I could barely gaze at Mr. Malik without blushing. How embarrassing.
All because of a kiss. A tender, soul-shattering kiss that robbed my senses and unraveled me to the core. He was so tall and sturdy against me, his muscles so taut with tension, and yet his mouth was gentle, his hands trembling as he grasped my face, tugging me closer. I could tell he was holding back and I can hardly bear to imagine what will happen on our wedding night...
I’ll try to write again soon, dear diary. Perhaps after the wedding. It’s just a few short weeks away but the wait feels endless... I miss him. I love him. (There! I said it… well, sort of).
Dear Diary, you would scarcely recognize me now. I am finally a married lady. Mrs. Samaira Raizada Malik. And it’s not just me that’s changed, my surroundings have to. I’m now in Lucknow and though I terribly miss my family and Shantivan, Sheesh Mahal feels more and more like home every day. Mr. Malik is the best husband any girl could wish for. Romance is not his forte, but I can see past his charming, gruff exterior to the kind, tender soul that resides within.
I shake my head ruefully at my last entry. All that worry about our wedding night and for no good reason. I fear I won’t be able to share too many details about that magical night or the ones that have followed since then. For one, it’s simply too personal and more importantly, I’m petrified I may lose this precious diary one day and it may end up in a stranger’s hands. I hope never to face such a scenario.
So all I will say on the matter is that Mr. Malik made my every dream come true and even those I was too ignorant to dream up of on my own. Last time, I wrote I loved him. This time I can proudly proclaim that I am hopelessly and all too happily in love with him. That man has taken possession of my heart, body, and soul and I tell him so frequently.
Despite our recent marriage, I have already attained quite a few responsibilities at Sheesh Mahal. Arav’s parents prefer to remain in London so most of the household matters fall on my shoulders. I don’t mind much. Though it feels a bit evil to admit, I am secretly pleased that his mother has chosen to reside in London. She’s the one person in his family I have not warmed up to. How cliche it seems on paper, but in this case, how very true. My mother-in-law has such a cold, hard demeanor I think not even the news of grandchildren one day will brighten her perpetual frown.
Other than her, I am on friendly terms with most of Arav’s family. His younger brother is as mischievous as they come and away at his boarding school most months. His father is rather quiet and I sense him to be deeply shaken by something, but I don’t think it would be right for me to question him. It must have been a great loss, whatever it was… Then there is the household staff all whom are kind and friendly enough. Oh and of course there is Arav’s best friend. He was raised in London too, but born in France. He’s quite easily the most eccentric man I’ve ever met. The first time I met him was at a gala reception he held in our honor following our honeymoon. He was dressed in shades of violet and burgundy, his hair slicked back and his moustache curled with great twists at the ends. He was as funny in his appearance as in his personality and almost as charming at Arav. Arav tells me his friend has always been this way. The one who stands out in a crowd. A bit obnoxious, but with a heart of gold. I told him at the reception I was pleased to meet him and he shook my hand, promising to be a friend to me as well and apologizing profusely for missing the wedding. Arav gazed at his best friend with amusement and then literally snatched my hand away and said with a laugh that his wife would only be friends with one man: him. I’ve never seen my husband behave so possessively, but if the results of what followed in our bedroom that night are any indication, I can’t say I’m all too displeased by it (Blush!).
Khushi read attentively through the next twenty pages, each entry slipping deeper into the very private world of the Maliks. She tried to find the exact point where things changed for them, but she didn’t notice any cracks in the narrative. Each word seemed to echo with the sentiments of a woman happy, well-settled, and very much in love with her family. The first mention of Arnav made her pause. It was dated November 26th.
Oh, dear diary, if only you could see me now. I lay in my bedroom in Shantivan, surrounding by an overabundance of pillows and an outrageous amount of blue balloons (Arav’s doing of course). Anjali is playing out in the gardens with her father and I can hear their laughter echoing through the open windows. There’s no one she loves more on this earth than her father and I love the way he dotes on her too.
I am not lonely though.
Cradled in my arms is the most adorable, beautiful baby boy. My son. Just one week old but I already know that one day my Arnav will break a lot of hearts. He is perfection. As precious to me as Anjali. I can scarcely believe that these two angels are mine. Mine to raise and love. I was happy enough with Mr. Malik but I’ve been blessed thrice over now.
I pray we can raise these two angels well. That one day, many, many years from now when I gaze at Arnav all grown up and with a family of his own, there will be no regrets. Only pride and endless love.
My baby boy is fast asleep and allowing me to write, unlike his sister when she was his age. She was a rather active baby, always laughing or crying or demanding her favorite toy, but Arnav has already proven to be much different. He is quiet for the most part--almost too quiet--but when he does cry… Good Lord, it’s so loud the entire household shows up to quiet him down. He’s already so loved and pampered and he doesn’t even know it.
Arnav Singh Malik, may you always be so loved and cared for.
I love you. Always and forever.
Moistness fell on Khushi’s cheeks and with shaky fingers, she brushed the tears aside. When she closed her eyes, the words didn’t go away. May you always be so loved and cared for… Oh, he was. She loved him more than anything… anyone… He’d hurt her tonight with the accusations he’d hurled her way, hurt her badly, but she knew that was mostly because he himself had been hurting. Closing her tired eyes, she vowed to fix things at the earliest. She’d made him understand. Make him see that she’d never meant to hurt him with her decision.
“Arnav…” she whispered aloud in the empty cabin, the silence biting into her. “Where are you?”
“You might want to slow down,” Bayaz advised in a low, calm tone.
Arnav realized with a start he was going well over eighty-five on the otherwise empty highway. He forced himself to ease off the gas pedal, his hands relaxing somewhat on the steering.
“What did you and your wife decide about pressing charges?” Bayaz asked after several minutes of silence. “Have you both made up of your mind on it?.”
Arnav struggled not to show any reaction. A mutual decision? That’s what it should have been. Khushi and he should have sat down and handled the situation like husband and wife, partners, lovers… Didn’t she know by now he’d always be on her side, no matter what?
Clearly not though. She hadn’t even given him a chance. Forget about asking for his opinion, she’d already decided to give her family yet another clean chit. It was enough to set off his temper like nothing else. He’d yelled at her, screamed and shouted like a crazed man.
His temper had ignited like a grease fire and just as quickly, backfired on him too. He’d said some truly unforgivable things to her tonight. Something he couldn’t see her accepting an apology for anytime soon. He’d gone way too far this time… Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!
Arnav just barely managed to keep his tone civil. “My wife won’t be pressing any charges.”
The detective was smart enough not to further push the issue. They drove in silence toward the rougher side of Delhi, toward an area he usually avoided. AJ’s finances must have surely taken a major hit if he was slumming around here these days, Arnav mused.
“Are you sure about this? We’re going into this blindly.”
He nodded with confidence. “The man you caught isn’t the one that attacked my wife.” Khushi may have been wrong about a lot of things tonight, but she had been right about that. The small-time criminal currently behind bars was nothing more than a distraction--one he saw right through.
“How can you be so sure?”
“I must have watched the surveillance video a hundred times, Bayaz. The man in custody is a close fit, but he’s not him. I recognized something in the man from the video, something about the way he handled the knife. I’ve seen it before… at a club he once took me too… the sex club Payal frequents.”
“We’re still walking into this blindly. Just the two of us. We have no warrant. No reason to arrest him.”
Arnav’s jaw hardened. “We won’t need it. AJ will confess himself.”
“You’ll see, but for now just keep your people stationed around AR Designs. My wife’s security is my top priority.”
“Take this at least,” Bayaz insisted.
The handgun resting on his his palm appeared not all that different from a child’s toy, but there was no mistaking its deadliness. After much indecision, Arnav took it without comment, stowing it inside the front of his coat.
He hoped to hell his gut instincts were not off the mark. He would handle AJ and then he’d go back and do whatever it took to get Khushi to speak to him again. He would not lose her. Not now. Not ever.
Khushi woke to overcast skies and no sign of her husband. There were no missed calls on her phone. No text messages. No bouquets of apology. She dressed hurriedly, scarfing down the breakfast Aman placed before her and taking her morning supplements.
“Where is he?” she asked Aman as he returned to take the tray of food away. It was almost nine now and Arnav always arrived on time. Something was wrong, she just knew it.
Aman hardly reacted. “He should be here soon. He’s moved up--” Whatever he had been about to say was lost as the door burst open and NK charged forth, looking frantic.
“Khushiji! Can you believe it?”
His eyes all but bugged out. “You haven’t heard?”
“Heard what, NK?”
“About tonight! Naanav has moved up the bridal show a day earlier!”
“What?” Khushi turned to Aman who only nodded in response. “But why?”
NK shrugged dramatically, collapsing on the carpeted floor. “Who knows why, but it’s happening… O. M. G… Pinch me, someone!”
Khushi stared down at him with alarm. “NK, get up, there’s no time to waste. We have only hours left now.”
He froze, his body bent in odd angles. “How right you are… Just eight hours till the runway show. We need to go. Now!” He lept up and looked ready to grab Khushi’s hand when Aman stepped between them. NK’s jerked back as if scalded. “What the--! To borrow my favorite cousin’s favorite line, though I have no idea why he’s still my favorite at this moment, though that’s beside the point--”
“NK, breathe! Aman, what is it?”
Her husband’s assistant turned her way with a grim look on his face. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Raizada, but you can’t help with the preparations. Boss has forbidden it.”
“What? For real?” NK shouted with outrage and rising panic.
Khushi froze. Did he not trust her at all now? Not even with the show? “He can’t stop me, Aman. Besides, he’s not here, is he?”
Aman barely budged. “I will have to call him away from where he is if you do that and that’s not something you would want right now if you knew the facts.”
“Then tell me the facts! Where is he?”
“Yes, where is Naanav? It’s unlike him to be even five minutes late.”
Aman’s gaze remained fixed on Khushi. “He said you thought the man who attacked you behind the jeep was not the pickpocket they caught.”
Khushi frowned. “That’s true, but what does that have to do with anything?”
“Everything, Mrs. Raizada. Boss agreed with you and you know him. He won’t rest while the real culprit is still out there. So he went to track him down. Himself.”
Khushi went shock-still for a moment. “What? The police are supposed to handle all that. What exactly is he hoping to accomplish on his own? It could be dangerous!”
“Bayaz Khan is with him. They’re said to have a lead but I have no other details. Please, don’t make me call him back. He doesn’t want you working in this condition so close to your due date. He asked for you to give him until tonight. He said he’d be back for the show and Boss never goes back on a promise. He’ll be here. Trust him.”
Khushi swallowed. “I trust him with my life.” She turned back to the sofa, sitting back against the plush cushions and fighting to make sense of things.
“Why would Naanav move up the show with all this going on? I’ll never understand him… I could really use your help though, Khushiji. I don’t want you to overexert yourself either, but could you maybe look over some of the details? It would be a huge help.”
“I don’t think my husband should have a problem with that. And if he does Aman, you better tell him to speak to me himself.”
As the two exited the room, NK literally bounding down the stairs, Khushi picked up her phone. Still no word from him.
Are you ok?
The text received no reply and with each passing second, anxiousness bloomed to full-blown panic.
Arnav, answer me! Please tell me you’re ok.
I’m ok. Don’t stress.
Why do I not believe you? Where are you? I don’t understand what’s happening.
His reply was short, as if he was in a great hurry: I’m tracking fucking AJ. Can’t talk much now. Check the news in around three hours.
AJ? Khushi stilled as she recalled the man who’d pointed a knife her way, his threats, his throaty voice… AJ… of course. Her fingers flew over the screen.
It was him behind the jeep! It all fits.
I know. I’m following him right now.
You’re driving and texting all this?
Bayaz is driving.
Khushi frowned. There was something odd in that message. Arnav would never happily be sitting in the passenger seat. Why aren’t you driving?
His reply took awhile to come this time, almost as if he was stalling. I got a small scratch.
Khushi didn’t care if he was currently preoccupied with some high speed car chase or not, she called him up then and there. He picked up with a heavy sigh.
“I’m fine, Khushi. It’s just a scratch like I said.”
“You were shot! Don’t you dare tell me that’s no big deal. You should be in a hospital. Where are you now? Who shot you?”
“We’re here in Delhi, where else? The bullet barely grazed me. Don’t worry.”
“Of course I’m worried, dammit!”
His voice softened. “Why? You have every reason to hate me right now after what I said to you… Baby, I didn’t mean it. I was just so damn angry, I lost control.”
Khushi gripped the phone hard, tears streaming down her face. “Apology not accepted.”
“No?” His tone was playful, not giving any hint he was currently in an all too deadly situation. “What do you want me to do? Grovel? Because I will for you.”
“No… I won’t forgive you till you get back here to me in one piece. Is that understood, Mr. Raizada?”
He was quiet for a long moment. “Understood. I’ll see you soon.”
“Arnav, love, please hurry back. I’m dying here without you.”
“Me too… Don’t stress, nothing and no one can keep me away from you.”
As the call ended, Khushi stared down at the phone for a long time, tears blurring her vision. If she could only be with him in this moment. If only…
As he’d promised, three hours later, the news stations were reporting on AJ’s arrest and the long car chase that had led to his capture. Bayaz Khan was giving a live interview to a clamoring group of reporters, but Arnav was nowhere to be seen. Khushi felt her heart drop in her chest.
“Detective Khan, what can you tell us about this arrest? We hear it has something to do with Delhi’s own multimillionaire and AR Design’s CEO, Arnav Singh Raizada.”
“It has everything to do with him. The man that was arrested today stalked and threatened Mr. Raizada’s wife and evaded authorities by forcing a poor pickpocket to take the blame. We had not much to go on, but Mr. Raizada walked into Mr. AJ’s home with steely confidence and told him the pickpocket had confessed everything and he knew who was truly responsible. It was a blind shot, but Mr. AJ fell for it. He confessed to the crime and tried to escape, but we were ultimately successful in the arrest.”
“We hear an unidentified man has been killed in the encounter. Was it Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada?”
Khushi felt the blood drain from her face, but Bayaz was quick to deny any such thing. “Mr. Raizada suffered a gunshot, but that’s not enough to stop him. This is a man who would go to any lengths for his wife.”
A reporter in the front angled the microphone closer. “But there have been talks of infidelity and a possible divorce. Are the Raizadas truly happy? Is it possible this AJ was perhaps not a stalker but Mrs. Raizada’s lover who her husband had arrested out of jealousy? ASR is known for his temper and playboy ways after all.”
Bayaz’s gaze turned stone hard. “It’s a sad day when making up stories equates to journalism. I’ve laid out the facts of the case to you all with complete transparency. AJ attacked Mr. Raizada’s wife. Period. The two share no relationship beyond that. And outside of the gossip columns, as someone who has spent time with the Raizadas, I can tell you that very few couples share the type of love these two do. It’s rare and beautiful and perhaps that’s why so many constantly attack it. On Mr. Raizada’s behest, I request privacy be given to the family during this stressful time. End of questions for now.”
As the camera panned away from him, Khushi turned off the TV, holding her head in her hands. She felt exhausted, mentally and emotionally wrung out. All she wanted was one person and--
Her head snapped up and for a heartbeat she stared at him without so much as breathing. Was he even real?
Arnav crossed over to her within seconds, kneeling before her. He was sweaty, his face flushed, his hair in total disarray and his designer suit was stained with dirt and blood. She’d never seen him look more handsome than this moment, she realized with awe.
“Are you okay?”
Was she okay? She wasn’t the one who’d been shot. Her chin quivered. “A-arnav?”
Her voice cracked and he pulled her onto his lap, his arms winding around her in a tight grip. “It’s okay now... I’m here... I’m here...”
She gripped his coat and sobbed against him. “Where are you hurt? Where did AJ shoot you?”
His eyes were hollow appearing as he met her beseeching gaze. “It wasn’t AJ. Akash raised the gun on me. I rolled out of the way, but he struck me on my shoulder. Before he could try again, I fired with the gun Bayaz gave me. I wasn’t even going to take it initially, didn’t think I’d need it… but in that moment, I felt I had no choice. Maybe I did…”
She wrapped his shaking body in her arms, refusing to part with him. “What happened, baby?”
His dark brown eyes filled with tears. “I killed him, Khushi. I shot him dead.”
Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 40: Runway Show
Khushi didn’t know quite how they’d managed it, but somehow she’d been able to lead Arnav from his office and into the adjacent master bathroom. Her husband hadn’t spoken a word since his confession. He had barely seemed to breathe, his gaze unfocused and unseeing.
Trembling, Khushi undressed him with careful fingers, her every touch soft and gentle. He didn’t seem to feel it, his body rigid and unmoving as his dirty, blood stained jacket landed at his feet. He just stood there, utterly expressionless. And that frightened Khushi more than anything.
Deciding to forgo the rest of his clothes, which appeared to have been spared, no specks of blood on them, she pressed the button that operated the massive glass shower and pulled him into the awaiting spray.
The water was a soothing temperature but its unexpectedness seemed to jar her husband. He blinked up as if surprised to find himself there, with her…
She wound her arms around his waist in answer, nestling as close as the pregnancy allowed her. Her head fell back and she met his eyes. They were no longer dead-appearing. No, they were filled with brutal pain, the kind that shattered her very heart. How much she wished she could spare him this pain and take it upon herself instead. Nothing, absolutely nothing, would ever affect her as much as this man’s sorrow. This man whom she’d hated once with a passion and now loved with everything she was.
“Listen to me,” she said, her voice thick with emotion, but unwavering. “You did nothing wrong. Do you hear me, baby? You. Did. Nothing. Wrong. Akash--”
“Don’t say his name!” He tried to back away from her, to escape the shower as if it was the most luxurious of cages, but she would not let him. His jaw flexed and his hands fisted at his sides, his body tightly coiled with tension.
“Let me go.”
She shook her head vehemently. “Never.”
More pain speared those eyes she adored so much. He closed them almost in defeat. “I can’t do this right now... You may forgive me, but I don’t think I can do the same. I shot him, Khushi. I took his life.” The words seemed to break something in him, his control melting away.
Khushi cried out as he crumpled to his knees, his body shaking as the last moments of Akash’s life replayed in his mind. The sound of the gunshot. His cousin’s bellow of pain. He remembered running to him. Remembered the metallic taste filling his mouth as Akash, the cousin he’d for so long considered a brother, flailed in a pool of spreading crimson. Arnav remembered calling for help, screaming for it. Unlike him, his cousin had been accepting of his final moments, knowing what was to come.
“I hate you,” he’d gurgled through the pain, his eyes half filled with agony and half-crazed. “I will always hate you.”
And then behind the steely frame of his glasses, his gaze had seemed to become fixed and his body had gone utterly still.
Akash. Dead at barely 29. Because of him. All because of him.
I hate you. I will always hate you…
Khushi was shaking as she threw her arms around her husband, following him down onto the cold, wet tiles. He wasn’t responding again, his eyes glazed over by memories she wished with all her heart she could erase. She brought his head to her breast, holding on to him, running her fingers through his wavy, thick hair. Again and again she murmured to him. Told him how it wasn’t his fault. Told him how much she loved him.
She didn’t know how long they sat like that, but nothing and no one could have pulled her away from him then. As she whispered to him again how deeply she loved him, her voice sounding hoarse and scratchy even to her own ears, he stilled against her. His tear glazed eyes flashed to her face, drowning her in their inky depths.
“How can you love me? After all I’ve done? My time at RITA, my ruthless business practices. I didn’t just beat the competition, I squashed them. Without remorse, I ruined so many lives, including yours. I was lost in a fog of money, women, and drugs when I met you. You were the only light in my darkness and what did I do? I selfishly took you. Snatched you from your home and family and right into my bed.”
She tightened her grip on him, rubbing soothing circles to his temples. “Stop it. You know that wasn’t how it was. You never once touched me without me wanting it just as much. I fell in love with you. The real you. The man who has so much to give. Whose heart is pure, untarnished… You are my everything, Arnav. Everything.”
“I killed my own cousin. He was as good as a brother to me not too long back and I shot him dead. Most would call me a murderer.” His voice was strangely hollow, but Khushi noticed how his hands clung to her, his palms seeking her protruding baby bump.
She swallowed and covered his hands with her own. “You are not at fault, love. Ak--he didn’t give you any other choice. You simply defended yourself.”
He shook his head. “I should have done something else. I shouldn’t have fired.”
Khushi forced him to look her way. “If you hadn’t fired, he would have killed you. Unlike you, he would not have thought twice about it. He shot you first, baby. You reacted, just as any human being would. Why do you hold yourself to standards so high no one can hope to live up to them?” At his silence, she asked him softly, “If it had been me and Payal in the same scenario and I had shot her, would you blame me too?”
His eyes flew to her. “Of course not!”
She smiled sadly at him. “Then why are you punishing yourself?”
Arnav stilled and then studying her a long moment, offered her his hand. “Come on, the water’s getting cold.”
She allowed him to pull her up to her feet and stood silent as he drew off her drenched clothes, drying her with a gentleness that brought tears to her eyes. Only once he had her wrapped up in a thick bathrobe and placed matching slippers on her feet, did he undress and change into dry clothes himself.
Donning only a pair of black sweatpants, he took her hand as if it was all that anchored him and led her back out. Wordlessly, he pulled out the sofa bed and arranged the blanket. Surprising Khushi, he then lifted her clear off her feet and set her down on the sheets with heart-wrenching care. Turning the lights off, he followed her down, enfolding them in the downy soft confines of the blankets.
As he spooned her from behind, his hands smoothing over her abdomen again in slow circles, his mouth came down on the tender skin of her nape with ferocity. He suckled and nibbled, his hardness pressing into her, making her gasp and shift restlessly against him.
“Never leave me, Khushi.” His voice was a plea, ringing out with a vulnerability few would ever associate with him. But here, in their bed, he had nothing to hide. Not from her. “I can’t imagine life without you and the twins. You are all I have. All I ever wished for. All I need.”
She squeezed his hand, their fingers weaving together. “I’m not going anywhere, Mr. Raizada. Not now, not ever.”
He recalled their last argument. “Even if I insinuate some pretty terrible things? I never meant what I told you in the conference room, Khushi. I know you love our children more than anything. That you love me. I even know why you didn’t want to file a complaint against your stepmother.”
She glanced at him, surprised. “You do?”
He nodded. “It wasn’t for her sake, was it? It was for your father.”
Khushi nodded miserably. “She’s all he has. He won’t be able to live without her. I know him.”
“I can’t fault another man for loving his wife when I’m in love with mine to the point of almost insanity, but you would think other people would settle down with someone not so cruel.”
She pressed her lips to his. “I don’t want to talk about her ever again. She’s not a part of our lives and won’t be a part of the twins’ either.”
“Damn right.” His mouth slanted over hers, his tongue probing and drinking in her essence with an insatiable need. “You taste so good.”
“Mmm, so do you.” Her hand wandered down to the sweats he had on, tracing over his bulging erection, but he pulled away from her with a groan.
“Later, love. You need to rest now. The day’s not over yet.”
She tensed against him. “You mean the runway show, don’t you? Why did you move it up for? Why now?”
His hand slid under her robe, finding her pliant skin. Khushi struggled to keep from moaning as he grazed his thumb over her sensitive nipples, back and forth. His voice was low, roughened with emotion.
“Because I want it over and behind us. The sooner it’s over, the sooner we can leave Delhi and get away from this madness. It’s the last main event of the year. Aman can handle the rest of AR Designs with my instructions. I don’t need to be here physically for it.”
“W-where will we go? Lucknow again?”
“No…” He was still toying with her breasts, cupping their weight in his palm. Hell, he wanted her. Badly. But he’d restrain himself for her sake. “I was thinking New York, to the estate Uncle gave us. Would you be happy there?”
Khushi had very fond memories of the mammoth, castle-like home. “I’ll be happy wherever you are,” she told him truthfully.
Her husband grinned and the sight of that crooked half-smile felt like the greatest gift Khushi had ever received. He no longer looked as weighed down by guilt and needless burdens. His eyes were still troubled, but the hollowness had eased.
“When will we leave for New York?” she managed.
He slipped his palm from her breasts to her abdomen, moving his hand as if he were stroking the twins. His touch was gentle, reverent. “As soon as the twins are born. Three weeks, according to your due date.”
She nodded, turning her head to press another kiss to his mouth. “I can’t wait for that moment when they will finally be in my arms. I imagine I’ll feel much like what your mother felt when she held you the first time.” He looked taken aback by that and Khushi hastened to explain. “I found her diary at Sheesh Mahal and read some of it last night. Have you read it?”
He shook his head, nestling closer to her.. “Could never seem to get past the first sentence. It was too painful… But Di loved it.”
“I found it in her old bedroom. Your mother loved you both so much, Arnav. Her feelings leap off the page. She… was in love with your father too.”
She sensed his frown. “That was probably before his drunk days when we became an abusive bastard, always finding an excuse to lift his hand.”
Khushi struggled to reconcile her image of the man who’d upended her husband’s childhood with the man who’d romantically proposed to his wife, seeming so in love with her.
“They were happy for a while.”
“A very short while,” he corrected with a snarl.
“Uncle is mentioned too,” she said, hoping to sooth his temper. “Your father was already best friends with him, but your mother met him after her wedding and instantly formed a friendship too. She describes him as he’s now: fun, energetic, eccentric…”
Arnav’s brow furrowed. “I thought all three of them met during college. Uncle told me once…” He shook his head. “Maybe I heard him wrong.”
“Maybe…” A yawn escaped her before she could stop it.
Her husband gave her a displeased look. “Go to sleep, dammit. I can tell you hardly slept at all last night.”
“It’s not my fault if I can’t sleep without you. That was all your doing, Mr. Raizada.”
“Guilty as charged,” he said with no hint of remorse. His mouth pressed to the top of her head.
Intrigued, he lifted an eyebrow. “What about what?”
She nudged him. “You. I can feel just how much you don’t want to sleep. I really don’t either. I’d much rather--”
He silenced her with a very thorough kiss, amusement shining in his fiery gaze. “Your eyes are barely staying open and you’re asking me to make love to you. Sleep now, Khushi. Because tonight, I promise you I won’t let you.”
Her pulse leapt at the heated look in his eyes. “But--”
He tugged her into his arms, tucking her head under his chin. His palms settled on her belly, gently stroking. “Sleep. Holding you is enough...for now. After the show tonight though, all bets are off.”
“I will hold you to that, husband.”
Her eyes fluttered close then and as she grew limp in his snug embrace, Arnav smiled tiredly down at her, kissing her lips before he finally allowed himself to rest as well.
AR Designs’s seventh annual bridal runway show promised to be the perfect fodder for a gossip writer’s ultimate fantasy. Socialites, celebrities, temper tantrums, wannabees, designer gowns and amidst the chaotic mix, the possibility of a break out model. Last year, the spotlight had gone to the most unexpected of ladies, one who was no model but a last-minute, gorgeous intruder. She’d fallen from the stage and to everyone’s astonishment, landed right in the arms of the company’s aloof, brooding CEO. A man few dared to cross.
A hundred flashing cameras had captured the moment and since then, the media had closely followed the private life of the much in love pair. The Raizadas carried an air of mystery that not even the most zealous of journalists had been able to decipher. They guarded their privacy fiercely and yet nothing could stop the attention they inevitably seemed to draw wherever they want. The public wanted to know more about the two, whether it was true or in cases like Nicole James, utterly false. But the stories refused to fade. How the playboy of Delhi’s upper crust had fallen for a girl of no significant wealth or connections remained unclear. Therefore, it was no surprise that one poor soul had been assigned to monitor the venue for anyone hoping to be this year’s unexpected guest and gatecrash the venue.
The duty fell of course to ASR’s most trusted employee, Aman. As he stood at the entrance, personally reviewing each guest and their invitation for authenticity, he tried not to explode with a temper that would rival his boss’s.
“For the thousandth time, Ms. James, you are not allowed inside. This is an event by invite-only.”
Nicole swung her gorgeous, but plainly dyed hair over one shoulder, fluttering her eyelashes at him as if that would work. “But I am a part of the media. You have to let me in. This is unheard of!” Before he could reply, she plastered her red silk draped body to his. “Let me in and I’ll thank you for it later...alone.”
“Guards!” Aman shouted, pushing her off of him. “Get her out of here!”
“You will regret this!”
He didn’t so much as blink, motioning to the next guest in line to step forward. Oh the things he had to deal with as ASR’s assistant. No one could make this stuff up. The next person in line was a sobbing grandmother of seven, dressed in furs, that claimed she had mistakenly dropped her invite on the way over. Her brood of grandchildren, dressed too in furs and resembling little more than cubs, nodded emphatically in agreement.
“Sorry, I don’t see you on the list and no children are allowed in anyway.”
“What?!” the woman sputtered and then proceeded to curse him out in over five different languages rather fluently.
To think that he had dealt with so many things far worse and crazier that Aman realized he found the old woman’s anger not even momentarily upsetting. Anyone else would have quit this job in less than a day, but not him. Thought Aman was too introverted to ever admit it out loud, truth was he considered his boss an older brother of sorts. He was an orphan after all, and his boss and Khushi by extension were the only family he considered having. He would protect them--at all costs.
“Next!” he called, hoping the next person in line would not be as irritating as Nicole James.
Backstage, NK was bounding from one model to the next, adjusting a dress or two or ten, changing the order and then changing his mind the very next moment, all the while struggling to stay awake.
Dressed in a shimmering red saree with crystal beading, Khushi watched him with concern. “He looks like he’s going to vomit any moment.”
Her husband chuckled behind her, his arms wrapped securely around her waist. He couldn’t keep his hands of his wife and who could blame him? At eight months pregnant, draped in his favorite color, her hair left loose as he liked and her makeup done delicately, she took his breath away. His gaze reluctantly flickered over to his cousin. NK had worked hard on the bridal show, he had to admit. “Are you kidding me? He loves this.”
Khushi stared at her husband with no little amount of doubt. He looked sinfully handsome with slight stubble covering his cheekbones, his hair gelled back and his body encased in a tailor-made black tux, his tie matching the exact shade of her saree. Swallowing, she managed, “Are you sure? It looks like he hates this.”
Arnav outlined her mouth with his fingertip. “There’s a very fine line between love and hate, Khushi. You should know.”
“I never hated you.”
He raised an elegant brow. “Could have fooled me. You looked ready to snap my head off at the last bridal show.”
She grinned up at him, shaking her head. “I detested the way you operated, not you. I found myself maddeningly attracted you, which left me completely irritated and confused because you have to admit your ways were ruthless.”
He tugged her back into his arms. “I did what I did to have you in my life and I wish I could say I regretted it and would have done it differently, but who the hell am I kidding? From the moment I saw you up on the stage, looking so damn beautiful and unsure, I knew I had to know you better.”
“And asking me out for a dinner or something would have been too conventional?”
He smiled, pressing his mouth to hers. “Probably, but mostly it would have taken too long. You know how little patience I have.”
“Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t carry me off right from the stage, Mr. Raizada.”
“Very funny.” His eyes twinkled as he stared at her, blatant lust and love mixing in his inky eyes. “You look as beautiful as last year and I still can’t wait to take you to my bed, but…”
“But…” she cajoled.
“You don’t look unsure anymore. You look like you belong here. With me.”
She kissed him softly. “Nowhere else I’d want to be, love.”
As their gazes locked, communicating more than mere words ever could, the host outside announced their names.
“Please welcome on stage, the CEO of AR Designs, Arnav Singh Raizada, and his lovely wife, Khushi!”
The crowd roared and Arnav took Khushi’s hand in his. “Ready?”
She held onto him for dear life. After her last experience, a runway was the last place she’d ever be comfortable standing. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
He guided her forward effortlessly. “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you every second. And if you start feeling uneasy, just remember the last time we were on this stage.”
“When I fell and humiliated myself in front of God knows how many people?”
He smirked. “No, the last time we were on this particular stage, it was just the two of us and you were screaming my name and neither of us had so many clothes on. Actually, we had none on at all. Remember, wife?”
Oh did she. But before she could reply, the blinding lights were on them and the crowd was clapping wildly. And all Khushi could think of was how she’d moaned and writhed at this very spot as he took her again and again, thrusting deep.
As if he knew exactly what she was thinking about, her husband winked at her.
Arnav took the microphone and delivered his speech much as he had the year before. The words were nearly identical but the woman at his side was entirely different. He felt a pang in his chest as he recalled his Di’s excitement last year, the way she’d adored the lights and cameras. His wife, however, seemed to have more of a love/hate relationship with the media.
The cameras loved her, capturing her radiance, her delicate beauty, but she made no bones about how much she disliked being front and center. For her sake, he kept the speech short and before the applause had even begun, guided her off the stage and to a front-row seat.
He held her hand as model after model swept by in alluring wedding dresses. Many of the designs last year had not been to the mark in his view. Truth be told, the green lehenga Khushi had worn had been the only tolerable exception, but he found that NK and Khushi had struck just the right balance this year. The designs were minimalistic, but done with great tailoring and skill, the fabrics rich, the draping traditional. He ached to see his Khushi in each dress that swept by. He’d have her model for him, he decided. Just for him. And then he’d take his time and undress her. Slowly.
He glanced sideways at his wife to find her chewing on her bottom lip, looking a bit lost and upset if he didn’t know any better. He tugged on her hand, forcing her to look his way. “What’s wrong?”
She took her time in replying. “Each of these models is so perfect,” she whispered. “I was nothing close to their level last year and this year…” She glanced down at her waist. “...it’s out of the question.”
“You are the most beautiful woman here.”
His words were met with frosty uncertainty. “Really? Is that why you haven’t so much as blinked and taken your eyes off every model that walks by?”
Arnav gazed at her, startled and then he laughed out loud. She poked his chest. “What is so funny, Raizada?”
He raised her hand to his mouth, kissing her palm. “You and your crazy imagination. I haven’t been looking at the models, love. I’ve been imagining you in every single dress and what I’d do to you.”
Her cheeks reddened at the look he shot her way. “Oh…”
He curled a protective arm around her waist, tucking her against his side. “I thought you knew well that you’re the only woman I want. The only one I’d ever want.”
She sighed. “I do, but it’s hard not to be insecure with flawless models all around you while you’re eight months pregnant and struggling to see your feet.”
“You were beautiful last year,” he said for her ears alone, his voice all serious suddenly and the remnants of laughter long gone. “But this year, pregnant and glowing, you are the most stunning woman I have ever seen. Call me a primitive caveman, but it makes me so damn happy to see you like this. To know I’m the one who knocked you up. That you’re mine. Only mine.”
Leaning toward me, Khushi met his kiss half-way, ignoring the flash of cameras. “You do sound very pleased about it.”
“I’ll show you in a few short hours just how much you please me, love.” As his thumb stroked her fingers, Khushi hoped he knew that she, like him, was counting down the minutes too.
And then everything changed.
There were shouts. Screams. A terrible, crashing noise. The model on stage dove to the ground, just by Khushi’s feet. Khushi looked up and felt her entire body freeze, her face drain of all color.
Dangling from a rope that connected to the stage’s ceiling swung a body. She was naked, bruised, and lifeless. The thick rope around her neck reminded Khushi eerily of the nooses Anjali had drawn in childhood. But this wasn’t Anjali. As the crowd screamed and chaos erupted, the woman’s hair swung away, revealing features so familiar, she could not believe it.
Arnav was already pulling her out of the chair, shielding her from the sight of the swinging body. But it was too late. Khushi knew the sight would forever haunt her. It was real. Her sister was dead.
And then through the piercing confusion, a voice registered. Payal’s voice. It was coming from the speakers.
“ASR… ASR, you killed me. I loved you, Arnav, only you, but you drove me to this. You did this to me. Not me. YOU!”
Her husband didn’t react and she tightened her grip on his hand. She wanted to shield him now. Shield him from the throaty voice that made no sense. It sounded like Payal, but nothing like the sister she had known and once loved. This voice was angry, charged with barely controlled emotions and venomous in her fury. She claimed to love him, know him.
“I loved you first!” the tapeing continued. Khushi saw in the chaos, Aman emerging forth and charging backstage. “I loved you before her! You slept with me first and left me when I told you I was pregnant! ASR, I will not allow you to leave me! I’ll die first… I’ll die first…”
She sounded more and more crazed, less and less human. Arnav pulled Khushi toward the exit, ignoring the clamor surrounding them, the frenzy of the crowd, but before they could step away, Bayaz Khan appeared before them. His words chilled Khushi to the bone.
“The police are here. You need to turn yourself over,” he told Arnav without pause.
Khushi felt her heart drop. Her husband reacted with red-hot fury. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“I will believe you, Mr. Raizada, because I know you well and consider you a friend. But the justice system doesn’t work that way. It runs solely on facts and evidence. And facts are that in the span of less than nine hours, a man and his ex-wife, both your relatives, are both dead and you have been involved in the two deaths in some way. You need to voluntarily hand yourself over for questioning. It’s for the best. Trust me, things will be easier if you cooperate.”
“Fuck that!” Spinning away from the inspector, Arnav cupped his wife’s pale face in his palms. “You know I didn’t do anything, don’t you baby? Payal was lying. You know she was!”
“I know,” she was quick to tell him, not liking the visible sight of his relief. Why did he appear so incredulous? So stunned by her declaration? “Do you still not realize that I’m on your side? Always? I know the man you are and I love you. I know you had nothing to do with any of this.”
He crushed her in his arms, pressing kisses to every inch of her face. The recording had finally stopped and for a moment, Khushi closed her eyes and fought to pretend they were okay. Together.
“You need to step away from her,” came Bayaz’s voice.
“Don’t you fucking tell me what to do!” Arnav snarled, holding her even tighter. “I’m not leaving her.”
Aman and NK came running to their side. Aman was already on the phone with their head lawyer, G. Chambers. He ended the call with a look of extreme displeasure.
Arnav peered at him over the top of Khushi’s head, his grip on her not slacking. “What did Chambers say?”
His assistant frowned. “He agrees with Inspector Khan. You need to turn yourself in for questioning before they get a warrant for your arrest. It’s the only way now.”
Cursing, Arnav closed his eyes, inhaling the delicate scent of his wife. How much he ached to part with her even if it was only for a handful of hours. “I’ll be back soon,” he promised her. Let them question him, interrogate him all they liked. He’d dealt with far worse in the past. And besides, the truth was with him this time. As was his wife.
“No, Arnav,” she sobbed, cuddling into him as if their bodies could mesh and become one. “NO!”
He felt his own eyes sting. Pulling slightly back, he kissed her roughly, thoroughly. He’d wanted to be gentle but at the first touch of her lips, all his control exploded and he found himself thrusting his tongue deep within her, staking his claim as a fierce protectiveness swamped him. She threw her arms around his neck, meeting him stroke for stroke, her body trembling against his.
It took everything in him to let her go. Without meeting her anxious, tear-laden eyes, he guided her to NK. “Watch over her. I’ll be back soon. Don’t let her out of your sight. You either, Aman.”
“No!” his wife screamed, fighting NK as if he were her enemy, not her friend. “Arnav, no! Let me go with you!”
“My wife and children don’t belong anywhere near a jail. I’ll be back soon, baby. I promise.”
Tears streamed down her face as she faced him. “I want to go with you. Please… I love you,” she whispered brokenly.
His own heart threatened to cleave in two. “I love you, Khushi. More than anything. I promise you I’ll be back in a few hours.”
And then before his control could evaporate and he could rush over to her and take her into his arms as he ached to, he forced himself to turn away. Behind him, he felt her gaze centered on him. Heard the sound he hated most in the world. His wife was crying, sobbing quietly. His jaw flexed and his hands fisted at his sides.
Khushi watched her husband walk away and as she lost sight of him, something broke in her. She kicked back at NK and darted forward. Before they could reach her, she was running, heedless to the crowd exiting the fashion show. Bodies blocked her way and she could hear NK and Aman shouting after her, but she would not be stopped.
Through the flow of bodies, she noticed her husband standing beside Bayaz Khan and three uniformed officers. She watched with her pulse pounding as handcuffs were placed on her husband’s wrists. Stunned, for a moment, she could hardly react and then as they guided him inside the back of a police jeep, fear choked her.
What were they doing to him? Her husband had done nothing wrong. He didn’t deserve this. She would not stand by watching this. She would not!
Her husband had been entering the jeep but at the sound of her voice, he spun to face her, his face pale.
“Khushi! Khushi, stop!”
She ran to him, brushing aside her tears. And then just when she’d almost reached him, a pain erupted, flashing white-hot with its sheer intensity. She crumpled, feeling liquid seep from her body. Through the blurriness that suddenly engulfed her, she saw her husband fighting with the cops to be free. One struck him across the face, shoving him inside the jeep. As he banged his fists against the glass, Khushi set her hand on her abdomen.
Her husband’s horror-stricken expression matched her own. The twins… they were coming… now. But it was too soon. Much too soon…
Arnav was screaming through the glass window as he watched her collapse onto her side. Aman and NK reached her then before she could further harm herself. Never, not even when he’d been strapped to a table at RITA and faced countless injections and electrocutions, had he felt more powerless. He should have been there. She needed him, dammit. His children needed him.
Banging uselessly on the windows, he shouted his wife’s name until his hands felt numb and his voice grew hoarse.
Images flitted by Khushi’s eyes, sieving through the fiery pain that lacerated her insides.
Arnav’s anguished face. His fists slamming so hard against the glass, she feared he’d hurt himself.
Aman and NK shouting.
The wail of the sirens.
The clamor within the ambulance. A needle penetrating her skin. An oxygen mask.
Then the images shifted to a white-washed ceiling. Faces she didn’t now. And all the while, a deep, agonizing pain exploding across her belly.
Screaming. Someone was screaming and she realized dimly it was herself.
“This will help,” someone murmured at her side. She felt another needle, a burn, and then nothing. Only darkness.
Khushi could not guess how long it had been, but she felt nearly dead. As if she’d survived something no one was meant to survive. Where was she? Her hand moved automatically to her abdomen but she found it different. Wrong. Her breathing changed. Her heart lurched.
The twins… Their children…
The door made a low, squeaking noise as it opened and a kind-looking, middle-aged man entered in a white coat.
Khushi swallowed through the dryness in her throat. “M-my… my children…”
The man grimaced and his next words shifted Khushi’s entire world. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Raizada…They didn’t make it.”
In a massive, gated mansion in a highly sought after corner of Delhi, a man sat beside a blazing fireplace, his eyes glittering in the dim light. On the mantle were his line of masks, most in hues of gold and silver, though he was most partial to the purple ones. As Master Horatio, he’d had an unfathomable number of women under his control. So many he’d lost count years ago. He’d made each one dance to his own tune. Some, like Payal, he’d used for his own purposes rather ingeniously. He smiled as he recalled his last submissive’s weaknesses, her foolish love for Arnav Singh Raizada, her timely death.
Oh yes. He’d controlled more woman than most men could ever dream to. But one--the most important one, the only one he’d ever truly wanted--had flitted right out of his hands. He’d loved her madly. Loved her still, even now.
She should have been his, he lamented. She had been born to be his. But no, the woman in question had never seemed to reciprocate. She’d been taken aback by his affections, made clear long ago in a picturesque estate he’d designed to be a castle. For her.
She could have been his queen, but Samaira had rejected his proposal and quite swiftly too, claiming her heart belonged to only one man. The man he happened to hate more than anyone else: her bastard of a husband.
With her husband’s death, Samaira should have been his, but she’d refused him again and his hate and vitriol had transferred to the children. Those kids that reminded him so strongly of him. The man who’d defiled her and planted those children in her womb in the first place.
MINE! She was supposed to be mine!
Anjali and Arnav should have been his children by all rights. But instead they closely resembled their father, a man who’d never deserved them. He’d swooped down on them immediately after their parents’ funeral. Arnav had been sent off to the most brutal school he could find, the Rehabilitation Institute for Troubled Adolescents (RITA). It was a school that catered to cruelty and he’d paid hardly anything at all to have the schoolmaster discipline the young boy with the worst sort of torture. He’d been kept isolated, starved on occasion, beaten, experimented upon.
For Anjali, he’d chosen another route, a rather creative cocktail of drugs that had been injected into her regularly over the years. The drugs had made her lose her sanity bit by bit, till nothing remained but a feeble shadow of the girl she’d once been. The drugs, developed by his own pharmaceutical company, another one of his side hobbies, were designed to keep her in the mentally traumatized state she’d been in the night of her parents’ deaths. Outwardly, she may have smiled, prayed, played with her dolls and toys, but inwardly, Anjali Raizada had been screaming for help. Help that never came.
Arnav had been far more of a bother. He hadn’t accepted his circumstances with the ease of his sister. He’d fought back, no beatings at RITA seeming to quell his youthful rage. It had been another experiment to free him, to see him lose himself in a fast running current of money, sex, and drugs. RITA’s schoolmaster, a dear friend of his even now, agreed it should have all led to Arnav’s demise.
But no… Khushi had appeared in his life at that very moment. At the pinnacle of his ruin, she had brought him back, saving him in ways she didn’t understand.
He smiled as he recalled their wedding, the one he’d been the sole “family” member in attendance. “Uncle” they called him with such fondness. He laughed out loud. He was Master Horatio even now, pulling the strings of his puppets.
As wails erupted from the room down the hall, he danced over in his flowery robe, a jeweled mask held aloft. He set it carefully on his face as he entered, flickering on the light.
The boy and girl nestled in the crib were beautiful without question. They reminded him so strongly of Anjali and Arnav as children that he was struck by the similarity again, just as he had been when he’d taken them in the hospital’s grimy back alleyway. He hadn’t dealt with anyone directly of course, using a middleman as always, but within moments, the pair had been in his grasp.
Arnav and Anjali had been born with a gap of a six years, but these two were twins, born less than two minutes apart. His hands fisted as he recalled the times he’d gone to Sheesh Mahal at those brats’ births. Samaira had been so overjoyed each time, glowing with it, her child nestled to her breast with such love and adoration he’d been torn apart by renewed jealousy. The kind that made him want to choke the life out of something, preferably those she loved in his place.
These two, her grandchildren, were sniveling and crying horribly, all but ruining his good mood. Did they want their mother and father? He knew dear Khushi must be positively catatonic by now, having realized her children would not be appearing in colorful blankets of blue and pink. Not in this lifetime.
And as for Arnav… he’d essentially killed him with the same ease he’d killed Anjali with, though it had been a far less bloody affair. Arnav would die bit by bit when he saw the state his wife was in. He would blame himself for the deaths of his kids. It was the slowest death imaginable.
He grinned at the irony of it. The newborns cried on and he clapped his hands impatiently.
“That’s quite enough! Do you realize what you two are? Fresh canvases for me. Blank slates. I wonder what I should do with you… Send you off to a school like RITA? Your father would surely love that. Or perhaps we should weaken your minds like your dead aunt, Anjali? Oh, the possibilites… We shall have so much fun, you and I…” His too bright eyes glazed over and his fingers tapped a rhythm on the crib’s railing as if it were the keys of his grand piano. “Twinkle twinkle little star… How I wonder where you are…”
To be continued…