So judging by the comments and view counts over the past couple of days (yes I keep a close eye on them lol) plus the sorta-kinda cliff hanger ending last time, I think it's more than time for an SP episode :)
Thank you for all your wonderful, thoughtful feedback *hugs*
You all keep me sooo motivated to make SP the best it can be.
Those wondering about other stories I've written like FL and DH, please see my comments on my last post below. I answered best as I can and more updates will be coming soon.
Special shout out to Lahana. I hope you're enjoying your new phone and the fact that the first thing you did after getting it was to type in this blog's address and leave me a comment because you never could before... well, you made me speechless and really made my day *hugs*
Before I post the link to the extra long update, word of fair warning about Secret Passion--this chapter in particular. I know most of you are regular readers and know this already by now, but I want to reiterate that from the start this one has been a mature, increasingly dark story.
It is not meant to be light and romcomy like Baby Hold On. Trust me, this is tough stuff for me to write and probably for you all to read as well sometimes but as in life, there's darkness but always a glimmer of light... eventually. Please be forewarned that this story is not just about romance and passion, there is violence, language, tragedy and aspects of horror.
That being said, I think there's something sad and beautiful about this story and how far these characters have come from Episode 1. Hope you stick with SP till the end and after that too :)
LINK TO UPDATE: Episode 41 Death & Loss
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By TINA & Satina
Episode 41: Death & Loss
Nearly thirty years ago…
The squirming, black-haired infant gave a mighty wail, surprising for one his size. Bending, Samaira pressed a kiss to his clammy forehead, hushing him with soft murmurs.
Her husband pulled his gaze from where their six year old was playing in the shrubbery nearby, shooting her a knowing grin. “I think he’s hungry again.”
They were having their breakfast on Sheesh Mahal’s well-maintained lawns, a habit they’d formed since the first days of their marriage. Usually it was just the two of them, but in recent weeks, a guest had taken to joining them so regularly the cooks knew to prepare three cups of chai without being told.
The man in question raised an eyebrow, his gaze flying from Samaira’s delicate features to the red-faced infant in her arms and back again. “Again? But he was just fed, wasn’t he?”
Arav Singh Raizada’s mouth twisted in a familiar smirk. “He’s my son, of course he won’t be satisfied so easily. Wait till you have kids, Horatio, you’ll understand then.”
His best friend bristled. “I wish you’d stop calling me that. It isn’t my name.”
“Horatio was Hamlet’s most faithful friend and you’re mine. Just accept it and stop blubbering about it, will you?” He didn’t wait for a reply and his dear friend didn’t give any, frowning down at his tea.
Arav’s gaze swept again to his daughter. She was now scooping out dirt from the ground and leaving such damage behind the gardeners would be none too happy. Not that he much cared about their likely indignation. He spoiled his daughter rotten and he knew it. But he couldn’t seem to help himself. She was a miniature Samaira after all. His eyes flew to his wife and his heart pounded as it always did when she was near.
Her lovely eyes darted up to him as he suddenly stood. “Where are you going?”
“To our daughter. It looks like any minute now she’s going to take a bite out of the dirt cake she’s made.”
Samaira craned her neck to look. “Oh God. Hurry, love.”
He did hurry, but not before swooping down on his delectable wife and stealing a kiss from the corner of her mouth. She flushed and glanced at him warningly.
“Relax,” he said with a grin, kissing her again. “It’s just Horatio.”
Before she could say a word, he was walking away, calling out Anjali’s name. Samaira, her face still hot, smoothed a hand down her son’s back, rocking him gently. Though her husband would never understand it and call her silly, she was too embarrassed to even glance at his friend.
If she had, she would have seen that the man in the lawn chair opposite hers had gone rigid, his hands fisting on the wicker armrests. His greedy, hungry eyes traced over her, lingering on the faint moistness on her lips. Red fury clouded his vision for a moment and he had to force himself to relax.
Just the sight of them near one another these days made him want to attack the other man, draw his blood out till Arav could no longer lay one filthy finger on Samaira. When he imagined all the intimacies they had shared and would no doubt share again later tonight, he felt as if he would go mad. The pest in her arms wailed again and he had to fight to keep from snapping.
“It must be tiring,” he commented drily. “Taking care of two children.”
Samaira smiled, looking angelic in the morning light, her pale pink saree enhancing her delicate complexion. “It is sometimes, but mostly it’s a joy. I never imagined I could be so happy. I was quite content with having just Arav in my life, but he’s given me these two angels on top of his love.”
His smile didn’t reach his eyes, but she was too busy with her son to notice. “You love him very much, don’t you?”
Her face seemed to glow. “More than anything.”
He had no idea why he had asked the question, he had already known her response, but sometimes he revelled in the pain. There was something dark and terrible about pain, but he found a strange affinity for it. He wanted to wield it, master it…
“There’s something we wanted to discuss with you…” Samaira started to call her husband over, but he quickly laid his hand over hers, feeling the slight contact ricochet to every one of his nerve endings.
He swallowed thickly. “Arav’s busy. You can tell me anything yourself surely. We’re friends now, aren’t we?”
“Of course…” She smiled down at her son. “It’s about Arnav actually. We want you to be his godfather.”
Godfather? Horatio was speechless for once. Oh, if only he’d been the boy’s father… Everything would have been perfect. He could see it so clearly… Samaira’s lithe body warm and soft against his, her lips parting beneath his as their children laughed and played in the distance. Children that had his features.
But no, those were most definitely Arav’s eyes staring back at him. The boy was almost a miniature of his father and Horatio had hated him on first sight.
“I would be delighted,” he said with a well-practiced smile.
The love of his life beamed at him, and then the pest caught her attention again, his tiny hands grazing her breasts. Horatio ground his teeth. He had to share her now not just with Arav, but two others. It was too much. He was descending deeper into hell every moment he was with her, but he couldn’t keep himself away. He had to have her. One day he would, he vowed.
“He really is hungry. I’ll be right back.”
Arav was suddenly beside her, a dirt-stained Anjali in his arms. “Wait, I’ll come with you.”
“Can I go to? I want to play with Chote.”
“Only after you’ve clean yourself up, Anjali.”
The small family was still fretting over the newborn that no one noticed the jealous, beady eyes trailing after them. Horatio swore out loud the moment he was alone. Forever alone.
His best friend had stolen the woman destined to be his, and Samaira appeared all too happy to follow after Raizada like some lovelorn puppy. She’d born him two children and even now it was he who had the privilege to watch her nurse the crying pest.
Standing, Horatio made a mad dash to his car. His driver knew better than to even glance his way. As soon as he was within the gates of his mansion, one in a long line of many his family owned, he was shaking with fury.
He bellowed at the servants, sent the beautiful arrangement of crystal flowers in the foyer crashing to the floor, and screamed out loud as tormenting images assailed his mind.
A young, white-faced maid caught his attention. She had to be new, the others knew better than to show any reaction. With a vicious curse, he grabbed her wrist and threw her onto the floor.
He gagged her with his handkerchief and then pulled out his belt, mindless in his fury. It was only then, in the dark, powerful realm where pain and pleasure mixed in a potent, dangerous brew that he found himself feeling a bit soothed.
But it was not enough. Nothing would ever be enough.
He had allowed the Raizadas’ silly marriage to go on far too long, he realized. He had to put a stop to it. He might have lost Samaira once, but he would not allow her to slip through his fingers so easily. It was time for drastic measures.
Horatio smiled for the first time all day and dropping the blood-stained belt on the marble tiles, almost skipped off to his music room. There was much to plan.
A haze of murderous fury surrounded Arnav. It was familiar and he latched onto it. Though his mind was engulfed with blazing fear and mind-numbing panic, he chose to focus on his anger first and foremost.
“You have ten seconds to get these handcuffs off of me,” he all but growled at the uniformed man before him.
The man ignored the warning, likely used to such bluster, but Arnav was making no idle threats. He made a move to knock down the other man when a voice called out his name.
“Don’t, Mr. Raizada! I have the documents for your release.”
G. Chambers came running, which for a man of his weight was no easy feat. He was ruddy-faced and breathing hard as he stopped before his client.
Arnav paid him no attention, his furious gaze drawn to the other man who trailed in after his lawyer.
“What the fuck are you doing here, NK? I told you to stay with Khushi!”
“Aman is with her at the hospital and someone had to get the lawyer. Khushi needs you right now more than anyone else.”
He swore, his body shaking. “Get these fucking things off of me or so help me God--”
“Release him!” shouted the lawyer. “You cannot keep him a moment longer.”
The head officer glanced over the files. It was as he had expected. Arnav Singh Raizada had pleaded not guilty to all counts. He had cited self-defense in the case of Akash Raizada’s death and no wrongdoing whatsoever in Payal Gupta’s suicide. The former would no doubt hold, but the second claim remained to be verified. Still, they had no way of holding him now. The signed and witnessed statements were all they needed for now.
A moment after the handcuffs loosened, Arnav was already out the door, running outside. G. Chambers could not of course keep up, but NK chased after him. Arnav slid into the driver’s seat, his face grim and taut with tension.
NK gave him the name and the jeep shot forward. They were breaking every traffic law that probably existed, but NK knew better than to ask his cousin to slow down.
“Get Aman on the phone! Now!”
Aman picked up as always on the first ring. “NK! Where are you? Is boss--”
Arnav made a grab for the phone. “How is my wife?” he ground out.
“I have no idea. I got her here, but they’ve kept me in the waiting room. They won’t tell me a thing because I’m not a direct relative.”
Arnav cursed viciously and threw the phone aside. The drive should have taken them thirty minutes, but he managed it somehow in ten. He barely took the time to brake, tearing out and taking the steps to the hospital’s stately front entrance two at a time. Aman stood up as he entered the crowded waiting room, but he ignored him, charging toward the first white-coated person he saw.
“Where the hell is my wife?”
The man gulped, recognizing him. “This way…”
Arnav followed the man with growing impatience. “Walk faster, dammit! My wife is alone and giving birth. I need to make it on time.”
The man cast a wary look at him. “She already has…”
“What?” He skidded to a halt and fragile hope surged inside him for a moment. “She’s alright then? They’re all okay, aren’t they?”
The doctor did not answer and Arnav felt his control tear apart. “ANSWER ME, DAMMIT! ARE THEY OKAY?”
“S-she… she is… They’re not…”
He grabbed the man’s pristine collar. “What the hell do you mean by that? They’re going to be okay, aren’t they? TELL ME!”
“I-I’m sorry,” he stuttered. “They… they didn’t make it. Your wife’s fall and the premature births were too much…even with the emergency surgery, we couldn’t save them...”
His voice trailed off, but Arnav was no longer listening. Everything stilled within him, his surroundings blurring into a distant roar.
They… they didn’t make it… We couldn’t save them...
He felt his body go numb, his heart lurch in his chest. No… No… NO!
He hadn’t realized he’d shouted till the man backed away from him, watching him cautiously.
“Y-your wife is just through those doors...”
Arnav didn’t recall moving, but he was suddenly pushing the doors open. It was a private room, white-washed and sterile in its appearance. There was no crib in sight, no hint of color, no sound of newborn wails.
There was only a terrible, hollow silence here. A void nothing could fill.
His gaze was drawn immediately to the small, bundled figure lying on the bed. She was pale as the sheets covering her, her dark hair sweaty and tangled about her face.
Khushi. His Khushi.
But the woman he approached looked almost nothing like his wife. All her glow, her vitality seemed to have been snatched away. She appeared very young, fragile and utterly broken.
The sight was jarring. He wanted to blink it away. To rip apart everything in sight.
This couldn’t be real… could it? This couldn’t be his Khushi. His Khushi should have been smiling across at him now, two babies balanced in her arms, her face tired but joyful as he approached. The room would have been packed with so many flowers and balloons, she would have laughed and complained to him there was no way to walk around amidst it all.
This room was all wrong. It was blank and silent.
His children should have been here. He could picture them so clearly… their flailing arms, scrunched up faces, Khushi’s adoring gaze, his absolute state of awe.
No… no… this couldn’t be his wife.
But it was. God help him, it was.
His hand shook as he reached for her. “Khushi…”
She made no response, not even seeming to breathe, her eyes oddly glazed as she stared up at the ceiling.
Fear choked him and he cupped her face urgently in both palms. “Khushi! Khushi, look at me. Love, I’m here. I’m here.”
Something in his voice reached her and as if sensing his wild desperation, she turned to gaze at him, her eyes filling with tears.
Her voice broke on a sob and he threw aside the covers. The next moment, she was in his lap, her arms closing around his neck as her body shuddered against his.
“ARNAV!” She scratched his chest, fighting to get closer, her tears wetting his shirt and seeping to his skin.
He had no words of comfort to give her. He felt in that moment he had nothing at all left to give her. Closing his eyes as if to block it all out, he held her tight against him, his body shaking.
“T-the babies… Our babies…” she sobbed.
His grip tightened and he laid fervent kisses on her brow, her face, every part he could reach. “I know, love… I know…”
She shook her head against him, her gaze suddenly focused and defiant. “It has to be a lie! They can’t be… No, Arnav! NO!”
He wanted nothing more than to tell her it was all lies, some terrible mix up, but there was no way to explain this. To fix this. He felt utterly powerless as he sat on the hospital bed, his wife broken and weeping in his arms.
“I wish I’d died too,” came her soft whisper.
He froze and then pulled away so he could see her clearly. Tremors racked his body as he tilted her chin so she had no choice but to meet his stormy, almost violent gaze. “Don’t you ever say that! Do you hear me? Don’t ever even think that! I will not lose you too!”
She didn’t reply, going limp in his arms, and Arnav couldn’t help but feel it was already too late. As if he’d lost her too.
Khushi felt as if she’d entered a nightmare, a world she no longer recognized. She woke sometime later to find the hospital room dark and Arnav pulling away from her.
“No…” she mumbled, tightening her hold on him.
He was silent as he let her draw him back into the bed. His lips brushed over hers briefly and his arms wound around her trembling body. Their bodies moved all too easily to their usual position: legs tangled beneath the sheets, fingers entwined, her back against the solid, reassuring heat of his chest.
She could recall countless times they’d slept like this before, his body spooning hers, his mouth teasing her nape as his hands teased her breasts and reverently stroked her rounded belly. Her fingers trembled as she laid them on the same spot, tears streaming down her face and into her hair.
She must have slept some time after that because when she next opened her eyes, light was streaming in from the sole window in the room and her husband was gone, his scent lingering on the hospital sheets. Before she could begin to panic, he walked right in, looking strikingly different from the man she knew and loved. He appeared to have aged years overnight, his face haggard, the twinkle in his eyes long gone.
“The paperwork’s done. We can go home now.”
Home? She wanted to tell him there was no home now. There was nothing. No place of peace. No means of escape.
A nurse entered with a wheelchair, but Arnav waved her off, striding to the bed and drawing her up into his arms. He carried her out and Khushi buried her face against the side of his neck.
She heard Aman and NK, even the Khans were there, but she had no energy to face them.
“I’ll drive, Naanav.”
For once, Arnav didn’t argue, sliding into the back with Khushi draped over his lap. Aman took the passenger seat while Bayaz and Tasneem followed in their car.
Arnav smoothed a hand down her back, his mouth soft and achingly tender as he pressed it to the side of her face that remained exposed. His touch was familiar and wholly comforting. It was the only thing that seemed to pierce the painful fog Khushi found herself in.
She didn’t speak a word till they reached Shantivan and were left finally alone. She stared up at her husband as he carefully lowered onto their bed. “D-did you see them?”
His face was grim as he nodded.
“I want to see them too. What did they look like?”
His mind flashed to the image that would forever haunt him. Earlier this morning, he’d stared down at their babies for what had felt like an eternity and at the same time, only a matter of seconds. His eyes had hungrily studied their tiny, too still bodies, the closed eyes, perfect little toes, cementing each detail to memory till his hold had given out and he’d run out, shudders racking his frame.
“T-they were beautiful… two little angels…”
Khushi felt her breath catch and tears slipped from her eyes. “I always thought there was a boy and a girl.”
But she’d been wrong. She’d been wrong about everything, it seemed.
Her husband brushed his lips over her forehead. “Sleep, Khushi. I’ll wake you when it’s time.”
She remembered very little of the harrowing hours that followed. Arnav did wake her, his touch gentle. She was taken in his arms out to the back gardens where a solemn service had been arranged. Despite her husband’s hesitance, he’d let her see their children for the first and last time. Shaking, she’d approached the two, small coffins feeling as if a part of her died with every step forward.
She’d only just gotten a glance at them when the world had spun and darkness had enveloped her in its tight folds.
She’d woken to find the funeral over, their babies buried in the cold, unfeeling ground where she’d once imagined holding them, teaching them to walk and play in the crisp summer grass.
She felt sapped of all energy, as if her very soul had died and left a feeble shadow of her former self behind. There were no more tears left to cry, nothing left to say. The world that had always seemed to her so bright and full of hope and possibilities was now long gone. Every star in the sky seemed to dim until only pain remained.
Lia Stumpost was used to feeling alone. She’d been raised in a series of foster homes, some tolerable but most far worse than others. She had no memory of her real parents, not one clue about who they might have been. Discovered on the mud-stained steps of Stumpost Orphanage at around three months of age, she’d spent the next twenty-two years in various homes, none of which had wanted her completely. Some had simply wanted a nanny, others a servant, and the nicest ones had wanted a companion for their growing children--temporarily though.
She was used to being alone, so she had no idea why it bothered her now. She’d been lucky, incredibly lucky, to find a job like this, she reminded herself. The massive mansion she now called home was unlike anything she’d ever imagined. There was finery in every corner, gilded walkways and marble veined tiles under glittering, crystal chandeliers.
And yet, the home was mostly empty, reminding her of a giant tomb. The team of servants kept to themselves and not one had introduced themselves to her thus far. When she’d approached one--an elderly woman with hawkish eyes but a motherly look about her--she’d been told in a rather nasty tone to mind her business and stick to her work. Since then, she had avoided any further interaction and done her best to keep out of the way.
So she’d stuck to her wing of the mansion. It was far emptier than other parts and no one came by without express permission. Her bedroom was awe-inspiring, something she’d never dared to dream of, but she used it seldom. Most of her hours were spent in the adjacent nursery.
The children, a boy and girl, were newborns. Her job was to care for them, to feed them and keep them as ordered to do so.
So far, she’d stuck to that. Her employer--whomever he or she was--never entered the nursery. She could not understand how any parents of such adorable babies could possibly keep away. But no one ever came by.
She shrugged it off as the peculiar but hardly unexpected behavior of the uber wealthy. They were probably off to some social event in Morocco for all she knew.
The twins, and they had to be twins, so similar were their features, were the only source of warmth in the stifling mansion.
She had grown attached to them from the moment she’d laid eyes on their cherub-like faces. Though her duties were clearly laid out in a binding contract, complete with a non-disclosure agreement, she often stretched the boundaries of those black and white letters, singing lullabies to the twins, finding toys for them on the sly. All things considered, these were the happiest moments in her life.
And then everything went wrong.
Nearly five weeks since she’d started working, she noticed the babies reacting badly to the milk. They hadn’t ever fussed over it before and something had made her place a drop of the concoction on the back of her hand and try it herself.
She spit it out almost at once.
What was this? It looked like milk but it had been mixed with something. What?
She went to the kitchens to complain, but the batty woman who’d spoken nastily to her the first week waved her off, insisting that was what the twins must be fed.
“Master’s orders,” she claimed.
Lia didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t even allowed to leave the mansion or she would have gotten them milk herself from her meager earnings. Every bottle she requested that day tasted like chemicals and she could not bring herself to feed a drop of it to the twins. They were growing hungry and cranky and her own eyes filled with tears as she held them to her chest, crooning softly.
By the morning of the second day, she knew she had to break the contract. Though snooping and any suspicious behavior was most definitely not allowed, she stealthily made her ways to the servant kitchens. As she’d suspected, it was empty, the servants busy in the main kitchen this time of day. Hurrying to the sink, one eye on the doorway, she dumped the formula down the drain and rinsed the bottles out thoroughly. She filled them quickly with some of the milk kept on reserve. She smiled when she tasted how normal it tasted, hurrying to secure the bottles
The twins latched onto the milk with eagerness, but even as Lia felt a wave of relief, she worried. How long could she keep this up for? She would be discovered eventually and they’d surely fire her and replace her with some mindless drone who had no conscience, no love in their heart for the twins.
She needed help, but who could she contact? And how?
Horatio leaned forward in the elegant wingback chair, frowning sympathetically. “I can well imagine Khushi’s state, but you need to take care of yourself too, Arnav.”
He was sitting with his godson in Shantivan’s main room. The room looked much as it had when his Samaira had lived there, but the warm airiness was distinctly absent. Thick curtains blocked out light and the room appeared to be in perpetual darkness.
Even in the dim light, he could make out enough of Arnav to see that his plan was working and beautifully too. He looked gaunt, as if he hadn’t slept or eaten in weeks. His cheeks were hollow, his eyes dead appearing.
The scent of smoke clung to him and Horatio noticed several empty cartons lying about. There was no liquor of course in sight, but Horatio knew well that if not for his father, Arnav would have been a raging alcoholic by now.
He laid a comforting hand on his sleeve. “Are you listening to me, son?”
Arnav pulled away. “I’m fine, Uncle. It’s Khushi that concerns me.”
“She’s not any better?”
He shook his head, plunging his hands in his thick hair like a man brought to his lowest form. “I can’t see her like this… It’s like living with the ghost of the woman I love… She hardly leaves the room now, barely talks to me. It’s a struggle just to make sure she eats everyday.”
“You both need time to heal. It was so awfully tragic…”
Arnav grimaced, glancing away. “It’s difficult for me to discuss it. The only person I can talk about it with is my wife.”
“Of course. I understand.”
“She hasn’t spoken a word to me in over a week. She can’t stand to be touched by me either now. I have no way to comfort her. I feel so powerless, Uncle. So powerless…” His head lowered in anguish and he missed the devious look of delight on his godfather’s face.
“Perhaps if you leave Shantivan, take a nice break somewhere…”
“I’ve suggested that, but Khushi refuses. She won’t leave this house. The babies are buried here.”
“You can at least leave the house for awhile. NK tells me you haven’t gone to AR Designs in weeks.”
Arnav waved that off. “Aman’s handling it and I could care less about profits and business right now. I also can’t bring myself to leave Khushi. Even though she doesn’t want to see me right now, I can’t keep away… I love her...”
“I know you do and I’m sure she’ll come around one of these days.” He stood, reaching for his cane. “I’d best be off. I have a Shakespearean conference in London day after tomorrow and there’s a lot left to do. You will keep in touch, won’t you?”
Arnav walked him to the door. “Best as I can.”
Horatio knew this was the moment he should embrace the younger man and offer him some comfort but he couldn’t bring himself to. Looking at Arnav was like gazing into the face of Arav Singh Raizada, so alike were their likenesses.
“Take care, Arnav.”
“You too, Uncle.”
Arnav locked the door and watched in the security camera as the luxury car reversed. Shantivan was empty once more. He’d dismissed all the help weeks ago. A woman, recommended by Bayaz and his wife, kept the refrigerator well stocked with food, but it usually ended up in the dustbin. Neither Khushi nor he had much of an appetite these days.
His feet hesitated at the staircase. He ached to go to his wife, but he knew she’d react badly. He didn’t know how many more times he could handle her turning away from him. If only she would talk to him, share with him her grief.
“Khushi? Love, are you okay?” he called out.
No response and by now, he hadn’t expected any.
“I’ll be in the downstairs study if you need me.”
He went back to the dark-paneled room that had become his hell and his sanctuary for weeks now. Exactly thirty-eight days, in fact. He rifled a hand through his wavy hair, settling into his usual place before the fireplace.
He could hear the faint noise of the traffic outside, beyond the gates, and he marveled at it for a moment. Nothing waited for anyone. Though inside Shantivan nothing had changed, everyone else appeared to have moved on from the sensational events at the fashion show. The media had jumped to a new story, having rung out every drop of ratings from Payal’s suicide and the twins’ fate.
His hands shook as he reached for the pack of cigarettes. He remembered a time when he’d vowed never to touch another. Only for his kids’ sakes. It felt a lifetime ago. The musings of another man. A man who had thought he’d known pain, but hadn’t the faintest clue.
Arnav didn’t know how long he sat in the darkness, burning through another carton, but it was just after 2 AM that he forced himself to stand.
He took the stairs slowly, his feet hesitating at their bedroom door. He hadn’t slept there in over four weeks, since the moment Khushi had decided she wanted to be alone. He’d fought against it, adamant he would not leave her under any circumstance, but she’d threatened him with the one thing he would never risk: her own well-being.
He’d relented and taken to sleeping on the floor in the room they’d decorated with so many dreams, only to see each one fall apart. The walls were a pale blue, the carpet green like summer grass while the cribs stood out stark white. Hand-painted murals of animals filled the space, stars hung from the ceiling and toys littered the room.
By now the toys should have been quite dusty, but they were not. Though Arnav had no idea why he did it, he kept the room clean and pristine as if the twins would be carried in any moment.
It was a place that should have brought him nothing but pain. But it was actually the only place he found a slivering of peace these days. He treasured the nursery. He always would.
Instead of heading off in that direction, he did then what he did every night. Though Khushi was never awake to notice him, he had taken to watching her like a fucking stalker. Even in the darkness, the sight of her always undid him.
How he ached to take her into his arms, to hold her, to kiss away her every tear… It was torture not to give into that all too powerful instinct. To keep away when he could see her growing thinner, weaker and paler every day.
How long was this was going to go on for? It had to end. But how?
He carefully pushed open the door. His eyes took a moment to adjust and at once, panic assailed him like the sharpest of claws. He flipped on the lights, but it was no trick of the night.
The bed was empty. The sheets rumpled.
He ran to the bathroom and finding it empty, slammed his way out.
The utter stillness and silence of the house seemed to confirm his every worst fear. For a split second, the memory of Payal’s body swinging from a noose flashed in his mind, only this time it wasn’t Payal, but Khushi… His Khushi…
He swore, banishing the thought away. Khushi was not her cousin, he told himself. She would never resort to such an extreme. Yet the fear that she had harmed herself, perhaps unknowingly, persisted, gnawing at his fraying control.
Holy hell, he was going to lose it if he didn’t find her soon. Part of his mind was still functioning outside of sheer panic and it was what guided him back to the study. He turned on the monitor at the desk and scrolled through the security recordings.
He’d had a camera arranged in the bedroom just in case and he was grateful for that now, his fingers shaking as he found the footage.
There she was. 12:29 AM. Curled on the bed in an almost fetal position.
He fast-forwarded through the rest of it, his fingers pausing at 1:27 AM.
In the video, Khushi suddenly flung the sheets aside and jumped to her feet. Her waist long hair swung about her hips, her body appearing painfully slender beneath her thin nightgown. She seemed to sway for a moment before finding her bearings. As he watched with his face drained of all color, she raced down the stairs, past the study where he’d been, and out the back entrance. He suddenly knew exactly where she’d gone and he was already halfway out the door, his breathing unsteady.
As he’d known, he found her on the grass outside, lying like a broken marionette doll beside the graves. She was stroking her hand over the grass, almost caressing the soil, her gaze unfocused and wistful.
The sight of her shook him to the core. He remembered once questioning her love for the twins, all for the sake of some silly argument they’d been having over her stepmother. How he wished he could take back those words now. To think that he’d ever voiced such a thought, even considered it for a moment. He loathed himself.
Silently, he walked closer. He didn’t raise his voice, didn’t drag her away as he’d planned to. Very carefully, he laid down on the opposite side of her, his hand descending and covering hers.
Grief-stricken, hazel eyes shifted to him.
“Khushi.” He brought her too cold fingers to his mouth, kissing the satiny skin. His eyes stung as he gazed at her. “What are you doing out here, love? It’s past two now.”
She stared at the ground between them. “I--I can’t sleep. Whenever I close my eyes, I feel like they’re calling out for me. Sometimes I can swear I hear them crying. It feels like they need me…”
His eyes flashed with silent anguish. “Love, I wish I could bring them back to you. You have no idea how much I wish I could change the past. It’s all my fucking fault…”
“No,” she cut in hurriedly. “It’s… it’s mine. I should have taken better care of them.”
He stood and drew her into his arms. She felt so slight in his arms, as if she’d break if he held her too tight that it took him a moment to recover. His hands were gentle but firm as he cupped her cheeks, angling her toward him.
“Listen to me, Khushi. Not too long ago you told me not to punish myself, you taught me to see that I wasn’t to be blamed for circumstances beyond my control. And that’s exactly what is happening now, love. We lost the twins and I don’t think either one of us will ever recover fully from that pain. But love, you cannot keep blaming yourself. You are the best mother I know.”
“I’m not a mother... Not anymore.”
“You gave birth to them. You loved them. You did everything you could. That makes you a mother as much as anyone else! Please, love, please talk to me. I can’t lose you too!”
At the charged desperation in his voice, her gaze flew to his face. Her eyes narrowed as they traced over him, taking in his every dear feature after what felt like ages.
“You won’t lose me. I can’t bear to be away from you.”
He threw his arms around her and held her as he’d yearned to. “Don’t then. I need you, Khushi. I need you so damn much.”
She pressed her hand to his cheek. He hadn’t shaved in so long his stubble was now a full beard. Leaning up, she brushed her lips over his, feeling his sharp intake at the touch. “I don’t know how to cope with this loss, baby. I don’t know how...”
“Me either, but we’ll figure it out together. Like always. Just don’t shut me out again.” He lifted her off her feet, stalking past the glass doors to the stairs and up to the bedroom.
Her hand caught his collar as he began to shift away. “Don’t leave me.”
He covered her mouth with his, his hands plunging into the thick mass of her hair. “Nothing could keep me away.”
Her hands tugged urgently at his shirt, pulling it out from his waistband with a yank. “I need you…”
“Are you sure? Is it too soon?”
“No and even if it were, I wouldn’t care,” she insisted. “I need you in me. Now.”
Their hands grew frantic as they struggled to be free of all barriers between them. His body followed her down onto the rumpled bedsheets, his mouth slanting over hers hard and all-consuming. She moaned and drew her arms around his neck, meeting him stroke for stroke.
She quivered as his hand slid between them, ripping her panties with almost savage impatience. The very next moment they were skin to skin and he groaned out loud.
“I can’t slow down. I want you so much…”
She welcomed his ferocity, feeling just as out of control as he. Their mouths tangled, hands becoming reaquainted with each patch of uncovered skin. As his mouth covered her breasts, his tongue laving the erect centers, she cried out. His skillful mouth drifted down her abdomen to the apex of her thighs. She felt the branding heat of his mouth, the familiar slide of his tongue and her body arched beneath him.
“Now, Arnav! Now!”
He rose up in the darkness above her, his mouth crushing hers and then thrusting forward, he filled her to the hilt.
For a moment, neither of them moved. Arnav was the first to speak.
“I love you,” he rasped against her parted lips, his charged gaze that of a man who’d reached the limits of his control. “I need you so much. Don’t ever turn away from me again.”
“I won’t… I promise you, baby. I… I love you.” She fisted her hands on the sheets, shivering and mindless with want and desire as he surged within her, over and over again. There was nothing slow and loving about it, it was the hard, almost violent joining of two shattered hearts. She screamed his name at the pinnacle of their unlikely passion, her nails digging into the flesh of his back as her body shifted restlessly on the sheets. He followed her, his body shuddering above hers.
Afterwards, she held him close, his head pillowed on her breast, his body still intimately joined with hers. He made a move to separate them, but she tightened her grip on him.
Arnav smiled against her smooth skin, his lips brushing over her nipple. “With you holding me the way you are, I don’t think I could leave even if I wanted to. All I want though is to be with you and hold you in my arms. I’m not going anywhere, love.”
Khushi found herself smiling back at him, weak though it was. Tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them away, her fingers stroking his sweaty temples, each beloved angle and feature of his face.
His watchful gaze traced over her. “Did I hurt you? I lost all control toward the end.”
She shook her head. “You could never hurt me, baby.”
He burrowed his head closer, his arms snug around her. She felt pain spear through her as she thought about the callous way she’d shut him out for weeks now. She hadn’t been able to stop it though. There had been nothing left of her old self to salvage. She started to apologize, but he hushed her with a single look, knowing her all too well.
“Don’t. You don’t need to explain yourself to me. I understand you better than myself most days.”
“I love you,” she whispered softly, meaning each word to the depths of her very being. “So much…”
She could feel his smile against her skin. “Right back at you, love. Now, close your eyes, it’s going to be morning soon.”
And then after what felt like ages, a dreamless sleep snatched all thoughts of death and loss away, leaving Khushi in a silent void she barely recognized any longer.
Lia knew exactly what to blame for the discovery the next morning: her absolute and total boredom.
The twins were napping and she’d been left with nothing to do. She somehow found herself cleaning out the nursery closet. It didn’t house very much and as usual she mentally cursed the twins’ neglectful parents. How could they live in such luxury and give their children rags to wear and spoiled milk to drink? How did such people live with themselves? She’d never have been able to face her own reflection if she’d done something so cruel to two such innocent souls.
Her gaze flickered over to the crib with quiet adoration. It was strangely beautiful how the two slept side by side, one arm flung over the other as if protecting each other. They had no idea, but they needed such protection.
She still had no idea how long she had left with them, she remembered grimly. The thought made her restless and she began cleaning with a vengeance, drawing out every last item.
And then she saw it. A small paper band. It looked as if it had been flung aside and forgotten. She picked it up with confusion, wondering how it had gotten here.
Her breath quickened as she dusted it off. Baby Raizada, it said. A date was recorded and a time. Even a small smiley sticker still remained.
According to the date, the twins were just over five weeks old. Raizada… the name was not entirely unfamiliar to her. Though Lia had never been one to follow any gossip magazines, she knew a bit about one Raizada.
Arnav Singh Raizada.
Not for his rumored philandering ways and ruthless business practices, but the orphanages he sponsored. She’d heard of his charity work and had even met him in the flesh almost two years ago.
He’d visited Stumpost Orphanage, armed with school supplies and a truckful of ideas to improve the place. She’d shared one fleeting moment with him. A brief handshake, a shy smile all she’d managed in response.
She hadn’t forgotten Arnav Singh Raizada and it wasn’t because of his looks either. Though undoubtedly he was a very handsome man and a thousand times more intimidating, she’d been touched by his kindness, his unspoken generosity. After he’d left that day, Stumpost had changed for the better in more ways than one.
Since that cloudy afternoon she’d met him, Lia had been unable to stop herself from following him in the media. She didn’t search out information like others, but she did keep an eye out for him. When she heard he was married, she’d wished him the very best in her heart. When she’d heard his wife, Khushi she believed her name was, was rumored to be pregnant, she’d hoped she was. Arnav Singh Raizada would make an exceptional father. She’d seen him interact with children and it was the only time the hardness on his face had eased somewhat.
Just before she’d started this job, she’d heard of his company’s disastrous fashion show, two deaths in his family, and then the loss of his children.
Khushi Raizada had been reported to have twins. Her gaze, wide and disbelieving, swerved to the sleeping twins. Could it be?
But why would the Raizadas keep their children in such a state? She knew better than to imagine a man like ASR stooping to such lows.
It could mean only thing: that the twins were under someone else’s control. But who? She had seen no one around except for the servants.
It made very little sense to Lia, but she jumped to her feet, knowing that there was only one way forward. Maybe she was wrong, but she had to be sure.
It took her nearly a day to find a cellphone she could use. She didn’t own one and the landlines were carefully monitored. She told herself she wasn’t exactly stealing, simply borrowing. She would make the call and then delete it from the records. The gardener who owned it would never notice, he was far too busy at this time anyway.
Her hands shook as she pushed open the doors of the nursery. The twins were napping after their bath, their faces soft and content for the time being. Hurriedly, she searched on the phone for a contact number. The Raizadas’ landline was listed private, but thanks to the internet, AR Designs was just a click away. Hiding in the closet where she’d found the hospital armband, Lia pressed the button and said a silent prayer to whomever was listening.
“AR Designs,” a woman answered after several rings, her voice coolly polite but all business.
“I--I need to speak to Mr. Raizada. Arnav Singh Raizada.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No, but it’s urgent. It has to do with his wife and kids…”
There was tense silence on the line for a moment. “Mr. Raizada is unreachable currently, but I’ll put you through to his executive assistant. If anyone has a way of contacting Mr. Raizada, it’s him. One second.”
An irritable voice picked up almost immediately. “This is Aman Mehra. What business do you have with Mr. Raizada?”
Lia spoke in a great rush. “I need to speak to him. It’s about his kids.”
Though she could not see the man, she could easily picture his displeasure by the snarl that came through. “Is this some sick prank? What kind of person are you to--”
“It’s no prank! Please, I must speak to him. Right away.”
Something in her voice must have struck a chord because the next moment Aman growled, “Stay on the line. And I swear to God, if I find out you are lying, I will personally make you regret it.”
“It’s no lie,” she began but he’d already cut her off.
Within approximately thirty seconds, the longest thirty seconds of her life, another masculine voice came through. It was tense, rough, and vaguely familiar.
“Who the hell is this? What do you know about my kids?”
She just blurted it out. “I… I think they’re alive. Actually, I know they are. I’m looking at them.”
There was a sharp inhale on the other end. “That’s.... that’s impossible.”
She quickly explained to him about the armband she’d found, sensing his disbelief.
“Where are you? Tell me where they are!”
His voice was so commanding she found herself reciting the address before she was even aware she had. “You must be careful though,” she warned. “There’s heavy security and I think if there was any hint of sirens or any authorities coming close, it might go badly.”
“That’s not going to happen. I’m coming on my own.”
“You can’t! It’s too dangerous.”
She heard movement on the other end and the roar of an engine. He was already on his way. “Given the circumstances, it would be safest for one man to enter and that man will damn well be me. What do you know about the place? What’s the best way in?”
She rattled off information about the streets nearby, a passageway the servants used and the code to enter the mansion.
“If you enter through the servants’ entrance, you should make it in undetected. Take the stairs to the third level and we are at the end of the corridor. Last door. It should be all empty up here around this time.”
“You better not be guiding me into a trap. If this is AJ’s plan, I promise you I will not let you get away unscathed.”
“I don’t know any AJ. I’m doing this for the babies. They’re not being kept well. The milk tastes funny and I don’t know how much longer I can keep them hungry like this.”
Arnav cursed, raking a hand through his hair. “I will be there in fifteen minutes. Stay on the line.”
Each strike of the clock ticked by with almost sluggishness. Lia sat near the crib, the phone clutched in her hand. How long would it take for the gardener to realize his phone was missing? How would ASR cross the security guards? Would he find his way? Her directions had been not all that helpful because she herself knew so little about the mansion. What if she unknowingly brought him into a trap?
Before she could work out all the worse-case scenarios, the door slowly edged open and a tall, lean man entered. She recognized him instantly.
Arnav Singh Raizada spared her a fleeting glance, much as he had the day at the orphanage. His glittering gaze flew to the crib and suddenly he was there, clutching the railing, his body bent and rigid with tension.
The twins chose that moment to awaken from their nap, not knowing their father stood so close, his breath suspended. As their eyes flickered open, it took everything in Arnav not to weep. His own eyes were staring back at him.
A boy and a girl, just as Khushi had always thought.
He didn’t have to be shown the armband from the hospital to know whom the babies belonged to. It wasn’t just that they had his eyes. He recognized the impish nose his daughter had, the lips on his son... They were Khushi’s. His Khushi’s.
His arms were shaking as he lifted the two into his arms, snug against his chest. He wanted nothing more than to keep holding them, but he had to get them to safety first. His eyes flickered to the girl. She looked barely eighteen.
“Come on,” he whispered, moving to the door. “We need to leave.”
“You want me to go with you?”
“There’s no other choice, is there? Once whomever has orchestrated all this finds the twins gone, you’ll be in danger too.” At her hesitance, he added, “I won’t hurt you. You have no idea what you’ve given me.”
“I trust you,” she simply said.
No other words were spoken between them. He walked like a sleek panther down the corridor, his hold on the twins unbreakable.
Lia held her breath as they reached the servants’ dining room. It was empty as expected and she guided him to the back door, her hands fumbling with the keypad.
She knew the mansion was watched day and night. What if the guards had discovered them? If they had, they would be arriving any moment, guns ablaze.
She suddenly heard the sound of footsteps and her face whitened. “They’re here! They’ve found us out!”
Arnav handed her the babies, his face taut. “Run to the alley. My car keys are in the ignition and the GPS is set for my home. Take the twins there. Go!”
“What about you?”
“I’ll hold them off.”
Lia noticed for the first time a dangerous looking handgun in his front pocket, one he drew out with practiced ease as he leaned his back against the antique gold wallpaper.
She saw his eyes rest on the babies for a brief moment, his gaze pained. “Go!” he mouthed.
And then she was running, darting forward into the cool, slightly chilly air. Each step was fraught with danger. She held the twins tightly, almost expecting gunfire to sound any moment behind them.
His car turned out to be a massive jeep. It was white and stood in the alley like a beacon of light. She raced toward it. She’d just slid inside when a force collided with her back. Her shout was stopped by a large hand.
“It’s just me,” Arnav ground out.
“Oh, thank God. I thought you’d never make it out alive.”
“For a moment, I didn’t either.” He helped her and the twins into the passenger seat, and took the steering wheel, looking entirely in control. In contrast, Lia found herself fighting off tremors of the worst sort, her heart racing even now.
“The guards must have been slacking off. For the first time in my life I’m grateful for people not working as they’re supposed to,” he said as the car pushed forward, past the dumpsters. “The footsteps you heard were just the cook’s.”
As he sped out of the alleyway, Arnav dialed Bayaz Khan and explained the situation. A bevy of police cars passed them from the opposing direction not long afterwards and then suddenly there was a booming noise, the ground seeming to shake from it. Lia gazed back over her shoulder, startled.
Bayaz called back immediately. “The entire place just blew up. I have no idea how it was triggered, we’re investigating.”
Arnav hung up on him, his eyes flashing to the twins. To know that they’d been so close to danger, in the clutches of some madman ravaged his mind.
He parked in front of Shantivan at an angle, jumping out. He was not at all surprised to find Aman awaiting them near the gates. He knew better than to disturb Khushi with what was likely a prank call, but he hadn’t been able to stay away.
He watched with astonished eyes as his boss pulled out two, tiny babies from the jeep, his every movement painstakingly careful. Holding them to his chest, he motioned his head toward the SUV.
“Take care of her. Don’t let her out of your sight.”
Aman frowned. Who was he talking about? His gaze widened as it settled on the girl who climbed out from the passenger seat. She was petite with flowing dark hair and too large, almost silver appearing eyes. Despite her size, there was a fierceness about her, something that called his attention to her. Hell, she was beautiful and this was not an appropriate time for him to notice that.
“Who the hell are you?” he all but barked in the manner of his boss.
Her face scrunched as if she recognized the sound of his voice and wasn’t at all happy about it. “The girl you thought was playing a sick prank you’d personally make her regret.”
She would never have come out their bedroom ordinarily, but something in her husband’s voice had her grabbing up her robe and darting out.
She froze at the top of the staircase. Arnav stood at the bottom, a sleepy-looking baby in each of his arms. Three faces, stunningly similar, turned her way. Her heartbeat thundered. She wanted to run to them, but she felt her knees give away, her breath hitching in her throat.
Could it be?
Her husband nodded, tears in his eyes as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. “They’re ours. Our babies. Come here, love. Come hold them. They need you as much as you do.”
Crying out, shaking all the way, Khushi crossed to the three people who meant everything to her.
SECRET PASSION by TINA & Satina
Episode 42: New Beginnings
Cherub-like faces, mouths spread in sleepy, toothless yawns.
Perfect little fingers and toes.
Khushi couldn’t look away from them, bending down to kiss each. Her husband seemed far more in control and deftly, he maneuvered them all to the sofa. She found herself sitting down, a baby in each arm.
Tears streamed down her face as they gazed back at her curiously, their eyes the exact shade of their father’s.
“T-they have your eyes.”
Arnav knelt on the carpet before them, one long finger caressing the children as if they were made of the most precious porcelain. At her words, he leaned forward and pressed a firm kiss to her lips. “And your mouth.”
Through her tears, she saw moisture clinging to his eyelashes, but it was overshadowed by his dazzling, wide smile, something she hadn’t seen for so long now. It struck her how much she’d missed it.
“H-How?” she whispered, her gaze shifting to the twins, taking in every detail, their tiny fingertips, the upturn of their ink-black eyelashes. “How is this possible?”
“I don’t know, baby… A girl called me.” He went on to tell her everything he knew about Lia Stumpost and the mansion she’d led him to.
“The place blew up?” Khushi instinctively drew a protective hand over the twins.
Arnav nodded, rubbing a finger down their downy-soft cheeks, his eyes charged with emotion. “Thank God, we got them out before that. Whoever owned that place meant to harm them.”
Shuddering, Khushi pulled their two miracles closer to her body, wishing she could shield them from every evil that existed. “W-what about the babies out back? They can’t be ours…”
“No,” he agreed, “I’ve already notified Bayaz. They are going to remove the graves and try to identify them.”
Khushi met his suddenly hard gaze. “Who would do this to us? Who hates us to this extent to plan something so elaborate? So cruel?”
His expression was grim. “I wish I knew. I’d make that son of a bitch pay for what he’s done.” He took a deep breath, the iciness in his gaze thawing as it drifted to the twins. “Right now, we need to let the investigators handle it and count our blessings. We found our babies. A boy and a girl, just as you always imagined.”
“W-what will we name them?”
Arnav hushed her question with another kiss, his beautiful smile returning. “Whatever my wife wishes.”
Her heart threatened to burst as she drew him into the little circle they had formed. After weeks of loss and devastation, she couldn’t quite believe this was real. That this small family was hers, and no figment of her deepest hopes and longing. Her eyes closed as tears of thanks slipped down her cheeks.
She was so grateful.
For the twins.
For this future that she’d thought forever out of her reach.
Aman frowned at the woman seated across from him. She was beautiful, no doubt, but he’d long reached the point where outer beauty held no real meaning to him. Lia Stumpost, if she was indeed whom she claimed to be, had much bigger concerns to worry about. For one, her story was laden with holes.
“Let me get this straight… you never actually met your employer? How is that possible?”
She glared right back at him, that sarcastic lilt in his voice not helping matters. “He was so rich he had people to do everything for him. Why would he interview or even meet with a mere nanny? I was dispensable, just like any other employee there.”
The doorbell rang and she exhaled, welcoming an interruption to his police-like interrogation. She wasn’t a criminal! And damn him for treating her like one! She’d given her statement to an actual cop already, but Aman Suspicious Mehra wasn’t ready to move on.
He returned all too soon with an unfamiliar young man wearing a bright parrot green jumpsuit and a friendly smile.
“You didn’t tell me she was gorgeous, Aman. I’m N.K. by the way, ASR’s cousin and Aman’s next door neighbor.”
Her cheeks colored at his praise and his wide-eyed looks, but Aman just rolled his eyes and jumped right back into his cross-examination, taking a seat across from her.
“You never heard any names? Any places or addresses mentioned?”
A memory came to mind. Of the kitchen staff preparing tea just as “Mr. H” preferred it.
“Mister H… that’s all that I know.”
Her eyes flashed at him. “I’m telling you the truth!”
But it was clear that Aman had no inclination to believe her. He was the most cynical man she’d ever met.
Even N.K. seemed to be aware of the odd tension in the room. “Why don’t we take a break. I know a great restaurant, Lia--”
“She isn’t going anywhere.” Aman’s tone allowed no argument and it riled her up like nothing else. The nerve of him!
“Yes I am. Try to to stop me.”
A muscle leaped at his jawline, the first outward reaction he’d shown so far. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. ASR wants me to keep an eye on you and until he says you’re good to go, you’re not going anywhere. Is that clear?”
“You can’t just keep me here! I’ll call the--”
“Call whom?” he cut in silkily. “The police? They might help you out of this apartment building but where would you go from there? If what you’ve told me is true, you have no friends. No family. No income. No savings.”
He was right. Damn him.
N.K.’s head swiveled between them, his smile not dimming. “Cool down, Aman. I can order us all some pizza. How does that sound?”
“If Inspector General here approves,” Lia quipped.
His scowl was totally worth it. But it was gone a second later, replaced by a serene smile that irritated her like nothing else.
“Like I said, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t step out of this apartment till ASR gives the nod.”
She was under virtual house arrest with no other means of escape. Her options were limited, but she had started out with far less than what she currently had. The orphanage may not have given her the best education, but it had taught her life’s most valuable lesson: survival.
“Why can’t I stay with N.K.?” she asked.
“That would be fantastic,” he agreed with a beaming grin. “I’m just down the hall.”
“Absolutely not.” Aman stood and clasped her shoulders, jerking her to her feet. “You’re staying right where I can keep an eye on you.”
She struggled out of his hold. “You’re taking this too far. I don’t think ASR meant--”
“I’ve been working for him for years. I think I know what he means. You, Ms. Lia Stumpost, are my unwanted houseguest until further notice.”
Naked as the day he was born, the young man was celebrating his twenty-first birthday with three equally bare women in his bed. He was handsome with classic good looks and a hint of raw, barely restrained intensity. His thrusts were forceful as he took one of the woman from behind, his hands gripping her full hips. Only his eyes gave away the inner turmoil within him, dark and filled with shadows.
Master Horatio watched the recording with his pants unzipped and both hands on his turgid length. It was his personal favorite in his collection of over thirty such tapes. Years had passed, but he could still recall Arnav’s resistance to getting drunk that night. He’d thrown him a lavish party in a club in the heart of Paris, making sure both drinks and women were plentiful.
His godson may well have indulged in a number of vices after he’d left RITA, but he refused to touch a drop of alcohol. Supposedly, the scent alone was enough to make him nauseous.
It was a sign of weakness. A reflection of how lacking he was. Like father, like son.
Though Arnav hadn’t gotten drunk that night as he hoped, he had continued his downward spiral, indulging in drugs and becoming a man his mother would have failed to recognize if she were alive.
Samaira would have been horrified by her son’s depraved acts. She would have no choice but to admit how wrong he was. How he was never meant to be her son. Just as she was never meant to be Arav’s wife.
Only one man had loved her. Loved her to the point of madness. And that was him.
Crying out, Horatio found release as Arnav withdrew from the woman’s body on screen, another mouth latching onto his hardness, ringing it in dark red lipstick.
He clicked pause on the remote and went through his collection to the first tape. The first time he’d sent a whore to his godson’s bedroom a week after he was freed from RITA. The boy hadn’t been expecting it. He’d taken the woman with a volatile mix of lust and barely restrained anger, emptying himself onto her back and ordering her out of the room as soon as it was over.
The voyeur in him relished each second of the recording, playing it in loop.
On the TV screen, Arnav came with a roar on the unknown woman’s back, his face lined with something akin to pain or heartbreak.
ASR Fanclub Chatroom 9:01 AM:
ASRLover91: The announcement was just made. Did y’all see it?
TruLuvASR: I’m at work. What are the twins names?
ASRLover91: Angeli and Ahaan
TruLuvASR: Another generation of ASRs! Ahaan means dawn, right? What kind of name is Angeli though?
RabbaVe2: It’s a play on the word angel and his sister’s name. The one who died.
ASRLover91: *shivers* I can’t look at wood chips the same after that news broke out. Wish MrsChote would log in so we could get her views. It’s been so long. Wonder what happened to her...
RabbaVe2: I really miss her! But I think she would just be pleased that Khushi Raizada didn’t name the babies after herself lol. KSRs, imagine?
Khushi kept one eye on the sleeping babies and one on Arnav. He was whispering on the phone, much as he had been doing for a good part of the morning. Her heart turned over as her daughter shifted in sleep and then yawned, her eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks as her hands clenched and unclenched. Ahaan showed no such reaction, sleeping without a care.
It amazed her, but she was quickly realizing that the two had very distinct personalities, little quirks that she was learning about now, when it should have began from the moment they’d been born.
They’d lost so much time.
And for what reason? Who had been behind it all?
The police were still at a loss. The hospital could give them no answers. There were no leads, no suspects, no hope.
But one thing, Khushi knew, was that whomever was the mastermind behind it all had money and influence. Lots of it.
“Okay, keep me posted, Aman.”
She glanced up as her husband stowed away his phone, relinquishing his spot in the doorway of the nursery. “Any news?”
He shook his hand, raking a hand through his hair. “No new updates. He said though that the announcement went well. Several news outlets have picked up the story of the twins’ miraculous return.”
“Do you think that’ll be enough?”
“To make whomever orchestrated it all to mess up and reveal himself or herself? God, I hope so. Criminals, even the most prepared, tend to make mistakes when they think they’re close to being caught. We need one slip up and we’ll nail the bastard.”
Khushi could only pray that he was right. The twins had lived through enough hardship and they were under two months old. Her hands tightened on the crib railing and her vision blurred.
Strong arms wrapped around her waist and she was drawn backwards into the warm, comforting heat of her husband’s body.
“Baby, it’ll be all okay. I promise you.”
Her breath hitched as she stared down at the napping babies. “We have to protect them,” she whispered, “At all costs.”
Arnav nodded, nuzzling his head into the side of her neck. “We will. Nothing will go wrong now.”
“Do you promise?”
“With my life. Nothing, Khushi, nothing will ever harm our children again. I won’t allow it to happen.”
She ached to believe him, but part of her was dubious. “You said that before they were born. You said the runway show would go well. It turned out to be the most horrific night of my life.”
His body stilled behind hers and Khushi almost wished she’d never mentioned her doubts aloud. Arnav had enough on his plate. She knew he was doing the best he could. The best any person could possibly do in such circumstances.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--”
“It’s alright. You’re right. I failed you and our children at the runway show. I couldn’t protect you.”
Khushi turned about to face him, cupping his ravaged face in her palms. “I… I didn’t mean it like that. Nothing that happened that night was your fault. Neither one of us was prepared for it. No one could have known what was to happen that night.”
The image of Payal’s naked body swinging from a noose flashed past her eyes and she willed it away.
Arnav’s eyes, dark and layered with shadows, kept her grounded to the present. “I won’t allow anything more to happen to you or our kids. I need for you to trust me on that,” he all but demanded, those eyes tracing over her.
“I do, love.”
But she couldn’t help but worry.
Her husband knew her well enough to realize he hadn’t completely removed her fears.
Fear, as it turned out, was irrational and once gained, difficult to cast away.
Lia woke up the next morning with her stomach growling and her hair resembling a bird’s nest. A large bird’s nest. Maybe an ostrich’s.
The guest bedroom was functional more than decorative, but the mattress had been comfortable and she’d been just grateful to have a roof over her head to pay much attention to the lack of interior design.
It was a bachelor’s pad after all.
Aman, she recalled, was just across the hall, no doubt formulating more questions for her. Questions she would have no answers to. The stubborn man refused to see that she’d already told him everything! There was simply nothing left to tell. She’d racked her head all night and still come up empty.
A knock sounded and she dragged the blankets up to her chin.
“Lia… are you awake?”
“Now I am!”
He didn’t sound at all remorseful. “Good, ASR called. We’re to meet him at his house, Shantivan, within the hour.”
“Will I get to see the twins?”
He paused. “We’ll see… for now, get dressed.”
Get dressed? She’d slept in the same uniform she’d been given in the mansion. She had nothing else with her.
Aman must have realized the same because no more than a minute later he was back at the door, knocking. “Sorry, I forgot you might need some clean clothes. I’m leaving some for you right outside.”
She waited till his footsteps padded away before opening the door--a crack. As promised, a pile of clothes were sitting there. She grabbed them and quickly bolted the door.
Lia didn’t know what she’d been expecting, but it hadn’t been a gray pair of male sweatpants and a cotton white shirt.
Still, she was grateful to finally be able to get out of the uniform. It was a bit scratchy. She showered and pulled on Aman’s clothes, hoping the shirt wasn’t as transparent as it seemed when she held it up.
But what other choice was there?
Gritting her teeth and keeping her arms firmly crossed over her chest, she entered the main living area to find her captor waiting for her at the breakfast bar, his plate untouched.
“You made breakfast?” she asked, shocked for some reason.
He shrugged. “It’s nothing fancy. Not like the pizza NK ordered last night.”
She wanted to tell him that this type of food, home-cooked and lacking any pungent grease, was exactly what she loved, but something stopped her. They ate silently, side by side and she was relieved when it was over.
Her arms resumed their positions across her chest and Aman noticed the action right away. His brow furrowed.
“Are you cold?”
“Why are you doing that then?”
He demonstrated, hugging himself almost, and she couldn’t help but smile.
“Oh, there’s a reason for it,” she told him. “Nothing important though.”
“I can lower the AC.”
“It’s not the AC, Aman. Do you ever listen?”
He frowned and then suddenly, his lips parted. “Are you hurt? Is that what you’re hiding?”
“What? No, of course not!”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“Then show me!”
She refused to move and the next moment he’d somehow caught her hands and drawn them away before she could so much as say another word.
All his anger disappeared the moment he saw her… and her very visible red bra.
Lia grimaced and stepped out of his reach. “Satisfied?”
He looked a bit apologetic this time, his gaze averted. “Sorry… but you should have just told me. It’s not like you can go out looking like that.”
For some reason, his straightforward, no-nonsense manner made her act like a moody, rebellious teenager. “Oh, no? Watch me.”
She forced her arms to remain at her sides and marched to the door. 3...2...1
Like a viper, Aman darted forward and caught hold of her again, pressing her against the wall. His much larger frame easily dwarfed hers and for the first time in her life, Lia felt her body clenching, her breathing speeding up--all while he glared down at her, looking as if he’d reached the limits of his patience.
“You just have to fight me on everything, don’t you?” he murmured more to himself than her. “Wait here, I’ll get you something to wear over the shirt.”
She was too speechless, too confused by her own body’s crazy reaction to him to even begin to argue.
Aman returned within a black jacket draped over one arm. Against her feeble protests, he helped her into it, zipping it up himself.
“We’re going shopping before we meet ASR.”
“There’s not enough time,” she said.
His eyes narrowed on her face. “Let me worry about that. You just do something else for a change.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Try not to argue with me for once! If what you’re claiming is all true, we’re on the same side. I’d do anything for ASR’s children.”
Her heart felt as if it had shifted positions and lodged up in her throat. “So would I.”
And for the first time, Aman--whom she’d officially began hating the night before--smiled at her.
She wondered if he even realized it because the next second he was hauling her out the door and she was back fighting and cursing him. That odd breathless feeling though, remained, as stubborn as the man himself.
Khushi’s body shook as she embraced the woman who’d kept the twins alive single-handedly.
“I don’t know how to even begin to thank you,” she told Lia as she pulled away.
“You don’t need to. Everything I did was for them.”
“You love them…” Khushi whispered, blinking back more tears.
Lia nodded. “More than anything. I’m so glad that they have the type of parents that they deserve now. That they’re so well-loved and taken care of.”
“Still,” Arnav murmured, brushing Khushi’s tears aside and pulling her into his arms. “If it hadn’t been for you… that phone call… none of this would have been possible.” He exchanged a look with his wife, his smile widening. “Because of that, we both would be more than happy to have you continue being a part of the twins’ lives.”
He nodded. “My wife hasn’t left the nursery since they arrived. Whether she admits it or not, she needs her rest too.”
“There’s no one I trust more than you to take care of them,” Khushi added. “If you’d like to live here as their permanent nanny, we’d be so happy to have you, but the decision is yours.”
“Live here?” Lia’s eyes flew to Aman and quickly slid away. “I… I’d love nothing more. Can I see the twins?”
Khushi nodded, taking her hand. “I’ll take you to them. They’re sleeping right now.”
Aman and ASR were left alone and for a long moment, the two were silent. And then Aman seemed to lose his composure.
“Are you sure about this? She’s a stranger. We know nothing about her.”
“We know she risked her life for my children. That she’s taken care of them against all odds in that mansion.”
Aman was silent, his gaze shifting to the empty hearth.
Arnav studied the man who’d started off as his assistant years ago and over time, become his right hand, his closest friend. The realization didn’t bother him nearly as much as it had before. “I want to ask you something too, Aman… I’ve tried isolating my family, thinking they’d be safe that way. But I’ve realized the only way to ensure their safety is to bring everyone who loves them along as allies. To not shut out our friends and family.”
“You’ve never asked me for anything before.”
“No,” he agreed, “Usually I operate with orders, but this time I’m asking you. Would you consider moving into Shantivan? At least for a few months until we catch whoever’s behind this all? It would make it so much easier for me if I knew you were close by… that if something were to happen to me, my family would have you there.”
His friend frowned. “Nothing’s going to happen to you. Bayaz is already going through every lead. We’ll find the answers we’ve been searching for.”
“Still, having you and NK close would make a difference.”
Arnav nodded. “Khushi spoke to him on the phone this morning. He’s agreed to move in for awhile as well. I know I’m asking a lot of you--”
“No, not at all. Thank you, ASR.”
Aman shrugged. “For making me feel not like an orphan for the first time in my life, but part of a family.”
“You are. You always have been. I just…” He cleared his throat. “I have a hard time with friendships.”
“I know. After what happened with AJ, I can’t blame you.”
Arnav’s head snapped up. “You know about AJ?”
“I researched you a bit before I joined AR Designs. It was all in the Parisian newspapers… about your fight.”
Arnav found himself grinning. “I knew I did the right thing hiring you. Nothing escapes you.”
“Then find him, Aman. Find whoever did this to my family.”
His assistant could only nod, knowing he would do everything in his power to help the man who’d given him the two greatest gifts any person could receive: friendship and a sense of belonging.
Hours later, Arnav entered the bedroom to find Khushi nursing Angeli. “Where’s Ahaan? With Lia?”
Khushi nodded, smiling. “She’s giving him a bath, last I checked.”
He slid into the bed beside her, bending down to kiss his daughter’s head. “Is she all settled in?”
“Yeah, some clothes were delivered for her. She can’t go on wearing Aman’s clothes another day.”
He nodded, watching his wife nurse. His heart thundered with the knowledge that this was real, and no idle fantasy.
Khushi followed his gaze to their daughter, reaching for him with her free hand. “You’re happy with her name? You didn’t say too much when I suggested it.”
“Because I couldn’t seem to say a word then.” He raised her hands to his mouth, kissing the pad of each finger. “You continue to amaze me, baby. With your kindness, your thoughtfulness… What the hell did I ever do to deserve you?”
“You deserve everything, love. Every happiness.”
He stroked the top of Angeli’s head. “I am happy. So damn happy. I’m glad our little angel is named after my sister, but that the name is still all her own. Legacies are not easy to live with.”
Khushi drew him to her for a kiss, relishing the feel of him against her. “Now, if we could just figure out who tried to ruin our lives. That would end all the darkness. Forever.”
“I’m working on it, love. We should know soon.”
Khushi stared down at the tiny, beloved face nestled against her breast. Who could it be, she mused. Who hated them to such a degree to do something so heinous? To take their kids away from them?
Angeli pulled away with a sleepy yawn and Arnav took her, balancing her carefully over one shoulder. His palm smoothed over the baby’s back in a move he’d practiced for months. Khushi pressed herself against his side and lost herself in their daughter’s sweet face.
Sometime later, there was a knock on the door and Lia poked her head in with Ahaan in her arms. Khushi set their son on her husband’s chest and they laughed as the babies seemed to fight for space. There was more than enough room for them.
“Thank you, Lia. Is your room to your liking?”
“It’s great, I love that there’s a door that connects directly to the nursery.” Her smile was wide and pleased as she observed the twins, reunited with their parents at last. “I’m going to go help NK and Aman get unpacked and then I’ll be back to get the twins ready for bed.”
“I’ll help you.”
Arnav shook his head, drawing his wife back to his side. “You’ve spent every moment with the twins since five a.m. You’re exhausted. Let Lia do her job, baby.”
She nibbled on her bottom lip. “You’re right. Could you give us thirty minutes, Lia?”
Lia left with a nod and Khushi settled in beside her husband, marveling over the two miracles on his chest. They laughed at their antics, hushed their cries and rejoiced in the quiet, simple moments other couples might have taken for granted.
They both knew now what they’d almost lost. And it was almost worse in a way now because no longer were the twins abstract ideas, but two, very real babies. Babies with her lips and his eyes.
Both were fast asleep by the time Lia returned. Khushi and Arnav followed her to the nursery, each setting down a sleeping infant with care.
“It’s a bit amazing, isn’t it?” Arnav murmured as they made their way back to their own bed. “I didn’t think it was possible, but it’s true. It’s basically like having your heart living outside of yourself. Those two have managed to change our lives and it’s just been a few days.”
She nodded as she slipped in beside him, dimming the lights. “They each are two halves of my heart.”
“Oh, and what about me?”
She pressed her lips against his smiling mouth. “You, Arnav Singh Raizada, own my soul.”
“Fuck, baby,” he growled, rolling her beneath him. Their mouths met with a hungry, almost insatiable desperation. Fabric tore as he bared her to his heated gaze, groaning her name.
Khushi arched and bucked into his embrace, eager to have his skin against hers. As his mouth tugged on her swollen breasts, she cried out, her fingers rifling through his thick hair.
She felt his hardness press against her and the next moment, he was deep, his hands lifting her to each driving thrust of his hips. As always, she had barely enough self-control to hold on, lost in his feverish movements, the fiery look in his eyes.
But something… something in the back of her mind intruded. Her voice was almost unrecognizable as she told him, “P-pull out. Please.”
His face hardened above hers, his thrusts not slowing. “Why?” His hands drew her closer still. “Don’t you want to get pregnant again? Don’t you want my child?”
She did. She’d always wanted his child, even when a real marriage between them had seemed impossible. But circumstances had changed everything. “P-pull out, Arnav,” she repeated.
His hand slid between them, knowing exactly where to touch, how to send her tailspinning into ecstasy. He soon followed and for the first time, released himself across her heaving stomach.
He wrenched himself away from her a second later, his expression cold and foreboding. “Why?” he barked.
She struggled not to react under the censure of that look, the accusation in his eyes. “Please… try to understand. I can’t get pregnant again. Bringing another child into our lives when everything, everything is a mess is not just illogical but wrong. I can’t do it.”
He cleaned her without speaking and then raised the blankets over her nude body. “I’ve asked you to trust me. Nothing, absolutely nothing and no one will harm our children again.”
She yearned to believe him, but there were no guarantees, were there?
The weeks that followed were some of the best of their married life. The calming, beautiful presence of their children seemed to blanket any concerns, to turn an ordinary day into a dearest wish come to fruition. Lia, Aman and NK were always close at hand and Shantivan felt to Khushi, more like a true home than ever before.
There was laughter and joy and a sense of optimism.
If there was something that was not quite as right, it was between them. Behind the closed doors of their bedroom, an odd and unwelcome distance had grown. Arnav couldn’t quite seem to forgive her unwillingness to risk another pregnancy and neither could she give in.
She knew her husband wanted another baby, almost desperately so, but her mind was made up. Until whomever was behind the upheaval in their lives was caught, it would be disastrous to consider another innocent child.
Arnav took this to mean she had no trust in him and though they never fought again after that first night, Khushi hated the tension that had sprung up between them.
It had no part in their marriage or their love.
As if to force her hand, Arnav took savage delight in their lovemaking, driving her to the point again and again when she wanted nothing more than to beg him to fill her with his essence. Birth control pills had never suited her and Arnav loathed using a condom with her. He wanted no barriers between them and on that, they were in agreement.
“Should I pull out?” he would ask each time, taunting her, driving her insane with each movement of his hips.
But her fears were never truly gone. They remained like iron chains on her person and she would nod and all but plead with him to pull out.
He always did.
But he was never, ever, happy about it.
As she drifted to sleep in his arms after a particularly rough bout of lovemaking, she clung to him, wishing she could erase all his doubts.
She trusted him with her life.
It was that faceless person, that monster who’d almost succeeded in snatching their kids, who wouldn’t allow her to relax. She ached for one second. One second to live without feeling as if the world would crash on their heads any moment.
The crash did come.
The very next morning.
Khushi woke early and as was her normal pattern, began snuggling into her husband’s warm side. But the bed beside her was empty for the first time in months.
She willed herself not to give in to worry. It was probably just business that took him away, a call from AR Designs. Perhaps Aman had needed him.
But the nagging feeling of panic didn’t disappear. It only grew and festered.
“Is everything okay?” she asked Lia, all but running to the nursery. “Are the kids okay?”
“Fine.” But she avoided her eyes.
Khushi spun about and raced down to the first floor. Aman and NK were arguing over something on the TV. As soon as she neared, they turned it off.
“What’s wrong? Where’s Arnav?”
Aman fiddled with his phone. “He’s giving a press conference at AR Designs.”
“What? But he hates those. He never even told me about it.”
NK cleared his throat. “It was a last minute thing, Khushiji.”
She frowned at the pair of them, their lack of honest responses making her fears spike. Stalking forward, she grabbed the remote control from where it had fallen, turning it back on.
“Don’t!” one or both of them shouted.
She heard them as if from a great distance. The headline flashing on the TV had to be a lie. It had to be.
ASR’s FOURSOME SEX TAPES RELEASED ONLINE.
“Turn it off, Khushiji.”
“Be quiet!” she screeched, her fingers shaking as she increased the volume. The channel was playing a segment of the tape on loop. Key anatomical parts were blackened out, but the faces were unhidden and the implication was clear. Sex and drugs.
She watched it till she could stomach no more, her heart sinking. “I… I need to speak to Arnav.”
“He’s at the conference--”
“I DON’T CARE, AMAN! I need to speak to him. NOW!”
He nodded and dialed his boss directly. A quick word was exchanged--her name--and the phone was set in her palm. She swallowed as she raised it to her ear.
“Khushi?” came his familiar croon.
She bit down on her lip, moving away from NK and Aman. Her voice lowered. “Is it true?”
He was quiet, too quiet.
“It’s from years ago, around the time I got out of RITA.”
Her hand clenched on the phone. She had known about his past, but to see it first-hand, to see all those women wrapped around him, pleasuring him… She wished to remove the hideous images from her mind even as she grappled to understand. “You taped yourself? With women?”
“No, baby. I promise you, I’ve never done that.”
“Are you sure? In the videos, you look pretty high. Maybe they taped you and you just weren’t aware.”
He swore. “It’s possible, but whomever did this, did it with stealth. I wasn’t aware of any cameras.”
“That you remember.”
“I didn’t ask for this, Khushi! Please try to understand.”
Her voice shook. “That’s all that I’ve done since I met you. To try to understand you. But it’s not just me anymore. Our children will have to deal with this one day. People are going to ask them about their father’s sex tape.”
His curse was violent as he revealed, “Tapes.”
“There’s more than one.”
“And they’re all online?”
“Most have been taken down, but you know how fast the internet works. Point is, it’s all out there now. There’s no changing it. Someone released these all deliberately today.”
She struggled to process that. “Who? Who would do such a thing?”
“Someone who’s been plotting for years. Baby, I have to go. I’ll speak to you soon. And I’m sorry, so damn sorry you and the twins have to go through all this shit because of me.”
The line went dead before she could get another word in.
ASR’s Fanclub Chatroom, 2:22 PM
TruLuvASR: I can’t believe what happened this morning. Someone pinch me!
ASRLover91: *pinch* Oh, it happened. That press conference was a disaster too. ASR lost his temper as usual. I don’t even blame him.
TruLuvASR: I can’t believe we actually have video--not just photos--but videos of him naked. Hours of the stuff. I have full links to everything without the annoying black spots if anyone wants them.
MyheartASR: Me! Please send them to me!!
RabbaVe2: It’s not just him naked in those videos though :/
MrsChote: Dont focus on those sluts… focus on his face, all that smooth, naked skin, those muscles, that ass...
RabbaVe2: MRSCHOTE? OMGGGG You’re back?!!
MrsChote: I never left :)
To be continued...
EPISODE 43: HELL IS HERE
Please leave your thoughts and comments below!
More Secret Passion madness soon... <3 Tina