We are dedicating this Night to our Mel. Without you there would be no FWN. Simple as that sweetheart.
AR Corps, New York
Arnav’s exhale was a long measured breath as he leaned back against the leather headrest. It was done. Preparation had taken four days due to AR’s prior obligations as well as the resources they had to extoll to keep relentless pressure over Daniels’ media sources. They were preempting Sheetal’s show by a mere nine hours, but the scope of news coverage Aman managed to privately garner for their press conference was sufficient to take the sting from her impact.
Regardless of willingness, today was sure to set into motion a multitude of changes on the professional and personal front. Glancing at the clock he was unsurprised to see the clock ticking close to seven am. That he’d spent all night in his office was not unusual, the female form curled on the long couch, however, was.
The last few days had shown Khushi to be Shashi Gupta’s daughter. She hadn’t balked at the punishing hours; instead, she’d jumped right in, revealing a mind that had soaked up far more than the teachings of dead Greeks. While she held her opinion in reserve unless he specifically asked for it, her ability to quickly gauge situations and handle those involved with dignity echoed some of her father’s greatest strengths.
Beyond that, she had effortlessly tapped into something instinctive within him, leading to decisions that he would have normally dismissed out of hand. Again, the thought should have jarred; instead he was filled with an undeniable sense of anticipation.
With a flick of his wrist, the screen before him went black. He moved towards the discreet glass closet that housed a selection of business suits for the occasion when he couldn’t spare time to return to the hotel.
Arnav ran a hand down his shirt front, making quick work of the buttons as his eyes drifted over the body he now knew as intimately as his own. His fingers halted as her eyes opened and their gaze met across the expanse of his office.
“Arnav, you should’ve woken me.” His body locked as her voice, husky from sleep, washed over him. She looked tousled and flushed and so fucking gorgeous it was all he could do not to close the distance and pounce.
Curious to see what she would do, he casually undid the last button. Shrugging out of the crisp white, he deliberately flipped the lock on his office door as he walked to her.
Her eyes widened as the lock clicked into place, a blatant announcement of his intentions. As he came closer, she inched back.
“Arnav, we’re in your office.”
“So?” He leaned down until his lips were within kissing distance, “I want you.”
“My building, my office, my couch, my woman,” he interrupted arrogantly.
Khushi’s eyes narrowed, “That’s a lot of possessives, Mr. Raizada.”
Arnav’s mouth tilted to one side. “Any of them false?”
The hands that taught her the meaning of passion slid around her, guiding her against his bare chest. “Well, are they?”
Her hands went up to frame his face, “No.”
Her honesty was richly rewarded. Arnav sealed her lips with his own, deepening their potent connection until they careened into the dark secret world of lovers. Their mouths melted together, torching away everything, but the sound of two thundering hearts.
Through the fog of desire, he sensed the tremor that swept through Khushi, one so slight he’d have missed it had they not been so intimately fused. Arnav recognized that shiver, felt it every time he had her in his arms, and it never failed to excite. It whispered her secret to him, betrayed a sexual vulnerability she reserved for him.
He had known the exact moment she made the decision to relinquish herself. That morning aboard The Jalpari, Khushi Lacene Khumari had become irrevocably his.
Khushi clung to Arnav as he molded her body lovingly, guiding her backward as he lowered his hardness over her welcoming body. His hand was easing the stretchy fabric of her dress out of the way when a brisk knock sent them jerking upright.
What the fuck.
“If it’s either of those two idiots, you are to inform the judge that the double homicide was justified,” Arnav muttered raggedly into her hair.
Khushi pressed her lips into the hallow of his shoulder as laughter bubbled forth.
“What?!” He barked.
On the opposite side of the door, his receptionist cleared her throat uncomfortably, “A gentleman is here to see you, sir.”
“Who?” Arnav snapped impatiently
“Mr. Trent Matthews.”
Arnav looked down sharply as he felt Khushi tense.
Great. Trent Fucking Matthews.
“Why are you here?”
“I wanted to see you.”
“There’s nothing left to say, Trent. Please go.”
He didn’t go. Instead, he came closer, lifting a hand with the intent to touch.
Khushi instinctively recoiled. “Step away,” she demanded.
“Khushi,” he said her name like a plea. “I’ll be a free man in less than two months. You and I can start again.”
She stared at him speechlessly. The words were simple enough, yet her mind refused to process it. At the moment, her thoughts were still tied up in Arnav.
The moment his receptionist had announced the name of their visitor, she had felt a menacing tension radiate from him. She was completely poleaxed when Arnav had issued instructions for Trent to be shown to the rooftop and then sent her up to meet him. Alone.
She hadn’t missed the clench of his jaw, the straight line of his lips, nor the shadows under his eyes as she walked out. Yet, he hadn’t stopped her. Why? Arnav’s thinking process was often a frustrating mystery, but she was determined to get an answer. After she handled this unavoidable confrontation with Trent, Khushi acknowledged.
She focused on the man in front of her, slightly surprised to realize that the blues she’d once thought of as piercing, did nothing for her now. His eyes carried none of the heat that kindled a response from deep within her.
“We never started, Trent.”
“The two months we had together, it’s all I had to hold onto all these years,” Trent said earnestly, “I love you, Khushi.”
She stiffened, staring at him incredulously, her eyes widening in disbelief. When the seconds kept ticking past in silence, she realized he was serious. “I don’t believe you.”
Trent flinched. “I deserve that. I made so many mistakes with you. I know I did. But I didn’t have a choice. My family, my future, I had to let you go and before I could find you again, I fell into marriage with the wrong sister. I paid for those mistakes, Khushi. In more ways than you can ever know.”
“We always have a choice, Trent. I’m making one now. Him. Faced with the choice between Arnav and any man, I’ll always choose him.”
“He’s not a gentleman, Khushi,” Trent started.
“Then, I don’t want one.”
“He made you cry. I witnessed it with my own eyes. You forgave him, why can’t you forgive me?” Trent demanded.
Khushi crossed her arms. “Yes, he did. However, it didn’t take him six years to own up to it.”
“Tell me what I need to do you make you believe I’m serious.”
Khushi looked at him thoughtfully. There was no anger or pain as she looked upon the features that had softened with age. This man had no power to hurt her, because he no longer mattered. Trent Matthews was merely part of a nightmare that lingered on for too long. One, she had finally woken from.
“Trent, do you remember the first time you saw me?”
“Of course I do. You were the most beautiful girl I ever saw.”
“What was I doing? Wearing?”
His face clouded, “Khushi, that was years ago.”
“True. But when it’s more than a physical love, you remember. That first moment is one you nurture in your heart, until it is imprinted on the mind, a cherished memory you call upon as you take your last breath.”
“Khushi, that is romantic notion that has no basis in reality.”
“It was that way for my mother,” she responded proudly.
“Do you think it’s that way with Raizada?” exasperation edged his retort, “He’s a playboy enjoying the novelty. Once he’s finished, he’ll dismiss you like all his other wh-”
“Finish that and I won’t be responsible for where your body ends up on the Hudson, Matthews.”
This came from behind her, each word threaded with violence. The world righted itself, as she felt his body close in on her back. Khushi didn’t resist, she leaned into Arnav, his solid strength the only reassurance she needed.
The air snapped with tension as the two men faced each other.
“You should have heeded my advice, Matthews. Instead of panting after another man’s woman, it would have served you better to pay attention to the company that funds your upkeep.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Trent demanded through clenched teeth.
“Check your email,” was Arnav’s cryptic response.
Khushi glanced questioningly at Arnav as Trent pulled out his phone, unsurprised to see his public mask firmly in place. Spending time at AR, she finally understood what NK and Aman meant when they said Arnav was a different man in her company. With his executive team and staff, he was economical with words to the point of being rude. He didn’t foster friendships, didn’t seek female attention, although both were frequently offered. AR was his work place, and he expected everyone to work.
Trent’s vicious curse interrupted her thoughts. “Is this a fucking joke, Raizada?”
“Only if you consider marching orders comical,” Arnav replied with deceptive lightness.
“I’m not one of your employees.”
“Actually, as of last night, you are. One I don’t care to keep on payroll.”
Trent’s eyes flashed at that none too subtle insult. “That’s impossible. The Board would have known if you were planning a hostile takeover.”
“Your Board members were paid handsomely to keep the knowledge to themselves.”
“You manipulative son of a bitch!”
A shudder of relief ran through Khushi as she watched the handsome face consort into an ugly mask of hostility. She’d one been fooled by the veneer of charm, but this, this was the real face of Trent Matthews.
When Trent charged forth in a threatening blur, Khushi stepped forth in an instinctive gesture of protection.
“Khushi, move dammit! I don’t want to hurt you.”
Halting, Trent glared at Arnav over her head. “Are you going to hide behind a woman?” he demanded disdainfully.
“Khushi.” That was all. Just her name.
“How can you protect that bastard? He just stole Gupta and Co!”
“No, he just saved it,” she answered quietly. With her focus on Trent, she failed to see how Arnav’s eyes warmed at her complete trust.
Trent’s face tightened, “Khu-”
She cut him off, “I know Arnav. He doesn’t act without valid reasons. It’s over, Trent. You’ve lost.”
Trent looked at the woman standing proudly within the arms of another man, fiercely defending him, and it came to him just how much he’d lost. She could have been his, all that beauty, that passion, that loyalty. Now, it belonged to the man behind her. And within their business circles, Arnav Singh Raizada had the reputation of holding on to what he considers his.
There was a burn of deep envy as his shoulders slumped, the fight suddenly drained out of him. Since seeing that glimpse of her after all these years of wondering, he had clung desperately to a hope. That life would right itself, if he could just go back to that juncture and take the right path. Now, he knew he had waited too long, drifted too far.
“We’re done, Matthews. Any further contact will be between our lawyers. My team will be at Gupta and Co. first thing next Monday,” Arnav informed him coolly. “I’ll have someone escort you.”
“No need, I can see myself out,” he glanced at Khushi with hesitation, throat working. “I need to say something.”
“Say it and go,” Arnav allowed impatiently.
For the first time since that wretched day in his parent’s home, Trent met her eyes squarely. Khushi could see the hint of remorse flickering through the blue depths as he held her gaze. “I… I loved you. I did. In some ways, I still do. Just not enough. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
No words were spoken as Trent turned his back to leave. Khushi felt Arnav’s arms tightened around her shoulders, curling her into embrace as she laid this prolonged chapter to rest.
The door barely closed on Trent before Arnav spun her to face him, eyes searching.
“Since when?” Khushi asked him.
There was a certain grimness he didn’t try to hide as he answered her, “Roughly three years ago, Payal started selling Gupta and Co.’s smaller subsidiaries. I had Aman look into it.”
At his pause, Khushi urged, “Tell me, Arnav. I need to know.”
“She was starting to liquidate. Your father was well respected, but goodwill only extends so far in business. The company was underperforming and several key investors were already making noises of pulling out. When Payal started making discreet inquiries for buyers, we found them for her. She never cared enough to check that the oversea corporations she was selling to belonged to AR.”
Khushi arched her neck to look at him fully. “Why?”
“Gupta and Co. is Shashi’s legacy. AR would not exist without him. I owed it to him.”
“I’ve kept up on news coverage of Gupta and Co., and this never made headlines. You must have exerted a lot of influence to keep it from being public knowledge, so why the hostile takeover?”
“I started this for Shashi, but I ended it last night because of you.”
Her eyes rounded, “Me?”
“Khushi, you’ve given yourself to me and that mean no one fucks with you. Ever.”
Khushi sucked in a breath. “Arnav, that happened before I met you.”
She almost smiled at the fiercely punctured words. “Will this be part of your announcement at the press conference today?”
“We weren’t sure until last night, but yes. After that, everything from their camp will come off as spite.”
Khushi bit down on her lips, “Payal will not take this well.”
“She has a lot to answer for. Everything she sold was without the knowledge of the Board. They will not be forgiving.”
“What happens next week?”
“That’s up to you.”
Confusion marred her brows, “I signed away my shares to Garima years ago.”
“As of last night, you’re the owner of 15% of the voting shares,” Arnav stated carefully.
Khushi was stunned. “Arnav, what did you do?”
“She essentially blackmailed you. Since you refuse to entertain a lawsuit, I secured them through a different means. Your father spent his life building up the company, how do you think he would feel if it all fell apart within a few years of his death?”
“It must have cost a fortune!”
“Yes,” he acknowledged, “In total, we obtained 55% of the voting shares. It’s an even split of 20/20 between Aman and NK. The company’s image has suffered greatly under mismanagement, but recovery is possible. Putting it under AR’s umbrella will expedite the process. The members of the Board recognizes the importance of legacy. That is why they tolerated Garima and Payal. They didn’t realize they had another option. You’ve shown repeatedly that you are capable. You lack experience, but Aman is ready to be CEO. A few years working alongside him as well as AR’s top execs will be the best training for you. The only question that remains is your willingness.”
Overwhelmed the by sheer magnitude of what he’s done, it took Khushi several moments to find her power of speech. “You’ll be there with me?”
Arnav reached out, tucking a stray hair behind her ears, “Right beside you.”
Khushi felt a mixture of fear and excitement. She wanted this, she realized, the chance to discover what she was capable of. No more running from the past or herself.
Reading the answer on her face, Arnav grinned. She’s going to be chasing after your heels, Shashi.
Khushi’s expression grew thoughtful, “Arnav, why did you tell Trent?”
“That was personal,” Arnav replied with barefaced satisfaction. His look telling her clearly that by personal he meant her.
This time she did smile. “Robbie’s right you know. The caveman instinct is still deeply coded in the male DNA.”
A gleam entered his eyes. Before she could decipher it, Arnav had lifted her effortlessly into his arms, “Tell her, it’s important to pay homage to one’s ancestor.”
“Arnav!” Khushi yelped as he tumbled them into one of the rooftop’s daybed.
“What are you… I … … we can’t… we’re on the rooftop!”
“Yeah and security’s guarding the access door. No one will disturb us.”
“But- ” Her protests were lost as his hand came up to cup her jaw. With the lightest pressure, he swiped his thumb across her lips, mirroring the action with his eyes and finally with his lips.
To her surprise, and if she was completely honest, disappointment, Arnav pulled back after a few deep kisses.
His smile was heart stopping as he gazed down at her, “You would let me have you right here, wouldn’t you?”
She tried to look away, but this Arnav didn’t allow. “You don’t know what it does to me to know you’ll give that. It’s something I can’t explain to you, but it’s a gift. Yours to me. And Khushi, I think it’s fucking beautiful.”
It was disconcerting how attuned he was to her thoughts. Lifting herself she pressed her lips against his. A silent communication because the words were clogged in her throat.
He sat up against the frame, settling her between his legs and simply held her.
“You’re a fraud Arnav Singh Raizada,” she whispered into his chest.
Of all the things he’d expected her to say, that wasn’t even on the list.
“A fraud,” she repeated.
“Are you going to elaborate on that?”
“The image the world sees when they look at you, it’s not even close to the real you.”
“It’s part of who I am, Khushi.”
“It’s who you had to be,” she corrected him, “As adults, one of the first things we learn is how to defend our vulnerabilities. It’s necessary, but it locks us in as much as it keeps others out,” she snuggled into him, “Thank you for letting me in.”
Arnav’s arms tightened around her. They had to face the world at noon, but right now lying with Khushi above the city that never sleeps, he was content.
Dread rose like a twisted serpent as she mentally prepared herself for the conference while keeping a wary eye on the press. There was an oddly fascinating rhythm to the brisk shuffling of people and equipment – an organized chaos.
So far they haven’t caught sight of her in the shadowed end of the stage, although that likely had to do with the fact that AR staff members were charmingly encouraging the group of over fifty reporters and their crews to partake in liberal amounts of hors d’oeuvres and wine. A part of Aman’s strategy that he claimed to be crucial in cultivating a receptive atmosphere. But will they be sold on the half-truths? Half-truths, just like her life.
“They’re here,” her manager murmured.
Lavanya turned just in time to see flashbulbs explode as three towering frames entered AR’s auditorium. They made a formidable picture of unity. How she ached to be a part of it.
She kept an eye on Arnav as he ascended the stage, flanked by Aman and NK. She wondered if he knew how much he was giving away as his eyes searched and fastened on the woman sitting in a semi-private corner. The security team surrounding her delivered the clear message to keep a respectable distance.
As soon as Arnav and Aman took their seats, NK’s gaze zoomed in on her. Spending the last few days in his company, that keen sense of surrounding no longer took her by surprise. At his nod, she willfully forced motion on her shaky legs, feeling painfully conspicuous as she took the seat between the brothers.
When a firm hand closed over hers, Lavanya jolted. Looking up she caught Aman’s wink before he turned to address the wall of reporters.
“Good afternoon and thank you for joining us! Time is a precious commodity to everyone here, so we won’t waste it. We have several announcements today. There will be follow-ups from our PR department, thus each organization will be granted two questions. We urge that you do not waste it on the frivolous. I’m sure all of you are wondering why there’s a beauty amongst us today,” Aman flashed a dimpled grin, “AR is proud to announce that Ms. Lavanya Kashyap has agreed to come on board as the face of our new campaign for Asia.”
Murmurs traveled through the room.
“AR has never given such a large contract to a model outside of your agencies. How did Miss Kashyap earn this?” a male reporter from The Cut demanded.
Lavanya cringed at the insinuation. Her fingers unconsciously curled over Aman’s hand, seeking strength in its solid warmth. She knew him. A man nursing a year old grudge because she’d turned down his advance.
She knew it wasn’t lost on Aman either as he responded with cool emphasis, “AR prides itself on selecting the best candidates for every campaign. For our plans in Asia, Miss Kashyap is, without doubt, the best.”
“You can’t deny that rumors are swirling. What’s your relation to Mr. Arnav Raizada, Miss Kashyap?” Douglas Kern continued doggedly.
She could feel Arnav tense at the question, but they had prepared for this. Straightening her spine, she took Aman’s lead and smiled at the crowd.
“Isn’t it your job to read between the lines, Mr. Kern?” she asked sweetly
“Just making sure I know which lines to read between,” he rejoined caustically.
Lavanya took a bracing breathe, “Then try familial lines.”
Silence descended upon the room. She knew this was the calm before the storm.
“Miss Kashyap, are you saying you are related to the Raizadas?”
“How long have you known?”
“Why keep this a secret?”
She had expected the questions to be relentless, after all, who had a more voracious appetite than the Press? Each one battered at her brave front, but the last one held the power to break her.
Don’t crack, don’t crack, she reminded herself. If any of them sensed even a drop of blood in the water, there would be a feeding frenzy.
It was Arnav who put an end to it, face closed, his mouth a grim line, “You have the rights to know my business decisions, but I have the right to protect my family.”
Lavanya couldn’t hold back the small gasp. Lifting her eyes, she caught her reflection in Arnav’s. He seemed to understand her need for affirmation. His use of family, did it include her? A strange glint entered those dark orbs before they warmed.
Acceptance. She heard it, but more, she finally felt it. Through the roaring in her ears, she could barely focus on the next question.
“You are all public figures Mr. Raizada, we are exercising our rights to an honest answer.”
“True, but perhaps you should try exercising basic decency, I hear it gives the soul a good rinse,” Arnav tilted his head towards the young journalist, his tone was cutting as he continued. “You want your due? Fine, you’ll be given what you’re entitled to. I do hope you’re prepared to defend it when your editor calls our PR department and ask why Star Gazette is no longer invited to our conferences.”
Lavanya watched the woman wilt in defeat. Visibly forcing the traces of resentment out of her face, the reporter cleared her throat, “Our publication is interested in news, Mr. Raizada, not infringing on private matters.”
“Excellent, then you’ll be interested to know AR Corps has officially acquired Gupta & Co.”
Arnav’s words switched on an electric current in the room. This was headline news. He had their attention. All of it.
“When was the deal finalized?”
“Is there a plan of action in place?”
“Will you be replacing the CEO?”
“Would you call this a takeover?”
“Many of you are aware that the late Shashi Gupta was my mentor. Gupta & Co. has suffered due to poor management and changing consumer demands. The purpose of this acquisition is to preserve his legacy,” Arnav stated firmly, before giving Aman a nod.
“Within the coming weeks, we will continue to provide each of you with updates on AR’s plans for Gupta & Co. Change is inevitable and necessary; however, Arnav and I promise to do our best to make the transition as painless as possible. And with our track record, I can say with confidence that our best isn’t half bad.” That earned Aman an appreciative chuckle from their audience.
Lavanya observed both brothers with admiration as they deftly handled the press. The media had always been the aspect she found most insufferable as a model, even as she recognized it was a necessary evil. But here, Arnav and Aman were in essence dictating and the hardnosed crowd was eating it up!
“Payal Gupta has filed for divorce. Is there a correlation?” one bold reporter asked, with a sly glance at Arnav.
“You’re connecting the wrong dots,” he replied, a slight twitch on his lips indicating he’d found her question amusing.
“Please clarify, Mr. Raizada.”
Lavanya saw his gaze travel once more to Khushi. Something shifted in his expression as their eyes met. If triumph and tenderness could co-exist in a single space, it would most accurately explain that something.
“Not at the moment, but perhaps you should keep an ear out for a merger.”
Manhattan, New York
“Not at the moment, but perhaps you should keep an ear out for a merger.”
Her lips compressed as the camera panned to follow Arnav’s line of vision. It zoomed in on the rapt face of that woman.
Khushi Lacene Khumari. A fucking waitress. A secret heiress.
It burned that he was willing to go through such lengths to protect the other woman. The words were practically a declaration of intent. Marriage was on his mind. Arnav Singh Raizada was actually contemplating connubial bliss.
Sheetal jolted when someone rapped at the door.
She glared through the peephole as she made out the distinctive form of NK Ryan. Of course.
“I’m not interested in hearing from the lapdog. Tell your master to come himself,” she informed him as she opened the door.
NK gave her a bland look, “He’s otherwise occupied.”
“Catering to his whore?”
“You’ve been declawed Sheetal, so let’s save ourselves some time. I’ve been tasked to do this and trust me when I say it’s in your best interest to hear me out.”
“Ten minutes,” she allowed ungraciously, “I have to head to the studio.”
As soon as they were seated, NK took out his iPad. He deftly flicked through several screens before handing it over to her.
A shaft of rage lanced her, paired with heavy humiliation as she starred at the footage. It was a recording of her visit to AR, where she’d laid herself bare before Arnav in the conference room.
“He set me up!” she cried in outrage, as bitterness overrode pain.
“Did you really think he wanted a strip tease in his conference room?” NK asked drily.
“What does he want?”
“Replace Payal Gupta on your show.”
“It’s too late, the shoot’s in three hours and we have no backup.”
“With today’s announcement, anything out of Payal’s mouth will only come across as sour grapes. We have procured a replacement guest for you.”
Her lips twisted, “And if I refuse?”
“Sheetal, your credibility isn’t exactly built on solid foundations. This video goes viral? You’re done.”
“He wouldn’t,” she protested.
“You think you know Arnav, but you don’t. He doesn’t want to take this route, but fuck with him and he won’t leave you with anything. This is mercy. Don’t push him.”
Sheetal felt the color drain from her cheeks as the reality of NK’s meaning sunk in. She couldn’t afford to take the hit on her reputation, which meant she couldn’t afford to call Arnav on this bluff.
Swallowing back pride, she looked at NK straight in the eye. “I want Anjali and Aman. A pre-wedding exclusive.”
NK nodded, he’d expected such a request. “They’ll be arriving at your studio in an hour.”
“And the video?”
“As long as you keep your word, it doesn’t exist.”
Gupta & Co. Headquarters, New York
“No! I’m not giving that thieving bitch a damn thing,” she screeched vehemently.
Aman Singh Raizada loved women. They were beautiful creatures placed on earth to be charmed and wooed. He was prepared to walk the sacred seven circles and worship one for the rest of his life. Yet, at the moment he was dangerously close to throttling the one before him.
“You gain nothing by taking this stance,” Aman reasoned, frustration ripe in his voice.
“You want me to agree? You’ll have to fight me through the courts. She signed away the rights to those shares years ago.”
“She was coerced into signing away those shares,” Aman corrected, “Payal, out of respect to your father, we’re giving you the chance to walk away quietly. Sign this and we’ll handle the Board on your behalf. I’ll give you a few minutes to think it over.”
“I don’t need to think it over. The answer is no.”
“Then let me clarify, when Arnav gets here, this offer is off the table. I can promise you, his terms will not be nearly so beneficial.”
“That slut deserves nothing!”
“Call her a slut one more time and you’re not going to like what I’ll do,” Arnav’s voice cracked through the room with the sharpness of a whip.
Payal spun around to face six feet of livid male. It added to his raw masculinity, sending a base arousal coursing through her. The cold contempt in his eyes fueled the bitter hatred in her heart towards Khushi. Why her? What was it about her that drew out such fierce protective instincts in men?
Her words were defiantly pronounced as she glowered at him, “You’re mistaken if you think I’ll cower like my weak ex-husband or that spineless brat. She is nothing. I’m the Gupta heiress. Me!”
“Then start acting like it. Shashi was a good man, where the fuck did he go wrong in your upbringing?”
“A good man doesn’t fuck around on his wife!” she snapped.
“There are justifiable exceptions,” Aman muttered.
Feeling cornered and wanting to lash out in all directions, Payal combed trembling fingers through her hair. “I want to meet Khushi. Face to face.”
“Why?” Aman demanded.
“She wants the executive chair she should have the guts to come forth from behind you to claim it herself.”
“She doesn’t want it,” Arnav responded casually.
Payal jerked her head towards the documents on the table. “Then what the hell is that about?”
“What she’s entitled to.”
“That bitch isn’t entitled to shit!” she snapped.
“You’ve been warned. Careful how you take her name, Payal.”
“Or what?” she challenged him.
Arnav’s smile was a cruel slant. “There are many hungry reporters, Payal. Give them a whiff of scandal and they’ll gnaw it down to the bare bones like a hound. I know you’re familiar with the practice.”
“You don’t have anything on me—” Payal began.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t make you bleed where it matters,” he countered, cutting her off without hesitation. “Sign the papers, but this time I’m not paying you a damn cent. Had you treated her right, you could have been equals, but you aren’t even worthy of being her shadow. Khushi will get what belongs to her. You stand in my way Payal, you’ll only incur damage.”
Her eyes narrowed to slits, “Go ahead! I don’t fucking care what they say about me, but damned if my last act as CEO of my father’s company will be signing over my shares to that little slut!”
Arnav nodded in acceptance, “You’ll be hearing from our lawyers.”
“Just remember, hungry hounds don’t care whose hand they bite,” she warned. With that parting shot, Payal spun on her heels and exited the room with deliberate steps.
Aman slanted a glance towards the grim countenance of his brother as he collected the legal documents, “She meant every word.”
Arnav grimaced. “I know.” Fuck.
“I had no idea that much crazy was buried there. What now?”
“I want her on 24 hours surveillance. Let NK know we’ll need him to dig. Deep.”
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York
“I agree with, Arnav.”
“Robbie! He’s pushing her into a corner.”
Robbie lifted her shoulder in a careless shrug. “So what? After the crap she pulled she deserves a full serving of Indiana retaliation. Since I can’t have that, at least allow me the pleasure of enjoying Arnav Singh Raizada’s cold dish of justice. A different flavor, but I must say your man definitely delivers.”
Khushi groaned in defeat, “You’re not helping! And since when did you start to see eye to eye with Arnav?”
“Since he got his head out of his ass and became total dream man to my girl.” Robbie grinned at Khushi’s shell shocked look. “I admit, it wasn’t easy, but Noah opened my eyes to some truths. Besides, I love how he’s taking your back.”
“So do I, but…. wait, Noah?!”
“Shit! He’s going to kill me.”
Khushi’s eyes brightened, “What’s the K for?”
“Oh no, that I’m taking to my grave.”
“You?! You are keeping a secret?”
Anjali’s sweet laughter broke through them. “Girls, let’s save this conversation once we’re properly dressed. It’s unseemly for me to laugh so much while wearing mere scraps of fabric!”
Khushi turned to Anjali, who was currently poured into a white and gold bikini set that vacillated between class and sex.
They were at the apartment, although the humble space had been transformed into a luxurious fitting room worthy of the most upscale boutique. When they had girl’s night, Anjali had confided about Aman’s honeymoon request. Being Anjali Jha, a shopping excursion that veered into bikinis and lingerie territory would be of high interest to every New York tabloid. A secret smile had stolen across Robbie’s face and she promised she’ll find a suitable alternative.
This morning Khushi and Anjali received calls from an excited Robbie, demanding that they head over– pronto!
Khushi had been stunned as she was dragged through the front door. A set of three-way mirrors anchored both ends of the living room. Their old furniture had been swept away, replaced by ivory chaise lounges and cocktail tables brimming with breakfast. Sinking her feet into lush rugs of pure silver, her eyes swept the walls, where sleek racks of fantasy lingerie and swimwear beckoned.
Robbie’s explanation? Victoria’s Secret Director was a close friend of NK’s, and he assumed NK was making the gesture to impress her. Anjali could safely shop without anyone being the wiser. She’d tossed Khushi a naughty look, adding that both Raizada brothers were aware of this little shopping adventure and that they were “anticipating” the results.
The first half hour had been awkward, particularly for Anjali, who had never bared herself outside the privacy of her own bedroom. Her shyness was quickly shed as Robbie started to share funny anecdotes from her modelling jobs, while casually stripping down. Before long, excited chatter and laughter rung out from the apartment as the women recognized they were truly amongst worthy members of the sisterhood.
“Anjali, you don’t understand,” Khushi informed her with mock seriousness, “Robbie’s favorite word is spill.”
“It is not!” Robbie protested.
Anjali grinned at their banter as she turned to the mirror. She bit down on her lips as heat prickled her face. The top barely covered her breasts, stretching across each slope with sinful daring.
“That bikini is going to send him to his knees,” Robbie declared gleefully, “It’s perfect!”
“You don’t think it’s too… revealing?” she took another dubious look at the swimsuit that was essentially interlocking triangles and strings. She didn’t have Robbie’s defined waist or golden glow. No, she was simply Anjali.
Something on her face must have revealed her inner the turmoil, for Khushi immediately asked if something was wrong.
“No… well.. it’s just…” embarrassment lodged the words in her throat.
“Anjali, it’s just us,” Khushi reminded her softly.
Anjali sat down on the nearby lounge and took a bracing breath. “I’m almost twenty five and well, other than kissing I don’t have any experience.”
“And you’re marrying a man whore in six weeks,” Robbie stated matter-of-factly.
Strangely it made Anjali relax. “I know he dated a lot of woman. This isn’t about that. When I told Aman I didn’t believe in making love outside of marriage, not only was he incredibly understanding, he agreed to wait. He did that for me and I don’t want to disappoint him on our wedding night.”
Robbie nodded thoughtfully, “Ok, since you’re sharing, how long has the guy been abstaining?”
“Damn, color me impressed!” Seeing the anxiety on Anjali, she quickly added, “Sweetheart, trust me on this. As long as you’re you, he’s going to be grateful as hell.”
“Robbie, I don’t’ have your confidence.”
At this Khushi spoke up. “Anjali, before Arnav, my one experience left me cold. Robbie also had her share of bad relationships. All of that made me realize that it isn’t about the mechanics, it’s about choosing the right lover. I think that in this room, there are three very lucky women. Share your fears with Aman. The kind of man he is? He’ll make sure it’s good for both of you.”
Anjali looked to her, “Did you…. with Arnav?”
“The first night I met him. It’s hard to explain, but it just felt like the most natural thing to share with him. And he- ” she flushed.
“Well don’t leave us hanging, spill the rest!” Robbie cried upon Khushi’s hesitation.
Khushi smirked at the outburst and immediately all three broke into laughter. She went over and sat down beside Anjali, “Arnav took away my doubts. All of it. But that only happened because we exposed ourselves to each other.”
Robbie crinkled her nose, “She’s no fun, but she’s right.”
“And I suppose you’re going to spill all that’s happening with NK?”
“The man is made for sex,” Robbie declared, “Although you’re right. Considering we have brothers and manly besties, better not compare notes. I might die from the orgasmic thought.”
Deciding that there was only one way to address her incorrigible friend, she teased, “Is there a reason all your choices of sleepwear are of the black lace variety?”
“What can I do? My guy’s got a fetish.”
Robbie moved towards them, grabbing Anjali’s hand and nudging her towards the mirror, “The minute the modeling career is over, I’m going to eat until I have your figure. You look like a woman and damned gorgeous at that. So, is Aman going to get the opportunity to salivate over this or what?”
Surprise flickered through her eyes at how accurately the other woman had read and understood her. Even close friends from her high school days never looked beyond the carefully projected image of Mohit Jha’s daughter. Genuinely delighting in her current company, Anjali giggled. “It also comes in turquoise and hot pink!”
Khushi smiled as she watched Robbie’s blonde against Anjali’s brunette. She had long considered Robbie a sister and it felt wonderful to add Anjali to this tight circle. Yet, it also made her heart ache for the woman that she did have blood ties with. She knew Payal, knew what she was capable of doing out of spite. It hadn’t mattered before, because then, Khushi had nothing to lose. Now, however, she did.
Arnav would not relent. This she knew. Which left her with only one choice – it was time to reach out to Garima.
Three days later
The years had been kind to Garima Gupta. Other than some grey at the temples, her face still retained the regal beauty of her youth. While many looked upon her unlined features with envy, those who’d experienced life’s zealous embrace viewed the lack of wrinkles and crow feet with pity.
“Thank you for coming,” Khushi said politely, lifting her drink for a fortifying sip. There was only a single table between them in the small bistro off 29th Street, but Garima’s cool demeanor added miles to the distance.
“Would I’ve been allowed a refusal?”
“Yes, but I’m glad you didn’t.” Khushi replied honestly.
“Arnav has become a formidable presence,” Garima noted, “Shashi would be pleased. Although, having his protégé fall for his beloved daughter would have been the bigger coup.”
Khushi was unable to contain her surprise, “He never introduced us.”
“Only because I asked him not to,” Garima’s eyes swept over Khushi, darkening as they took in her glow. She had seen this look of love once. Not in a mirror, but in another woman. The other woman. “I wanted Arnav for Payal, but you proved yourself to be Laramie’s daughter.”
Khushi tucked away the knowledge that her father had wanted Arnav for her. That was something to be examined in private, not before the woman she’d spent her teen years trying to please. Her innumerable efforts had not been met with scorn, but something far worst- indifference.
“All I ever wanted was to love and be loved by you!” she wanted to cry out.
Instead, Khushi drew herself up. “I’m sorry if my existence hurt you. However, I didn’t ask you to come for this. No matter how long we stand and look back, we cannot change the past. The only choice is to look ahead.”
“I’m aware of your reasons. However, I will save you the trouble of asking. The answer is no.”
“Please. I’m not asking for myself. Do it for Payal’s sake.”
A half smile ghosted the older woman’s lips, “Do you know it is your compassion that makes her hate you so much?”
“Then that’s on her.”
Silence marked the moment as they regarded each other.
Garima looked at Khushi carefully, “If I’m to convince Payal, I’ll have a condition.”
“You won’t like what I’ll ask.”
“Then we will negotiate.”
“If appears being in Arnav’s company has brought out the businesswoman,” Garima commented with amusement.
“Just state your condition,” Khushi replied, already weary from this encounter.
Khushi looked down, watching as her hands clenched and unclenched the fabric of her dress. It took her a few moments, but when she finally raised her eyes to Garima, they blazed with green fire. “When I was eighteen, you gave me an ultimatum. I never blamed you, nor regretted my choice.”
Garima strummed her hands over the wooden table as her eyes darted towards the doorway. “Then what is your answer now? Will you leave Arnav in exchange for my cooperation?”
“No?” Genuine surprise colored Garima’s voice.
“If that is your condition, I cannot meet it. In all the years I had to face your contempt and the hatred of your daughter, I learned one lesson well – to protect my happiness. Arnav is my happiness. It is not something you can put a condition on.”
Khushi was abruptly out of her seat and surrounded by steely arms. Arnav’s angry rasp entered her ears before the shock even registered, “You’re damned lucky I like what I just heard, otherwise you’ve earned yourself a spanking for this.”
“I know,” seeing the strain on her face, his voice softened, “but since I’m here, we do this together. Okay?”
Tension melted from her body, replaced by reassuring warmth. At her nod, he seated both of them, before turning to face Garima.
“You should know better than anyone, I don’t take well to games.” Arnav stated, not bothering to temper his anger.
“Arrogance has led to the downfall of many.”
“So has spite,” he threw back without hesitation.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you?” Arnav’s eyes bored into Garima’s “Khushi is no longer a defenseless girl you can blackmail.”
Khushi watched as her stepmother visibly blanched before she tilted her chin, her tone autocratic and cold, “I always knew you wouldn’t leave things be with Gupta & Co.”
“Had I wanted Gupta & Co., all I ever had to do was ask.”
“You weren’t willing to pay the price.”
“Let’s not pretend any longer, Garima. Shashi’s stipulation may have been marriage to his daughter, but you and I both know, it would have meant marriage to Khushi.”
“I know no such–”
“Yes, you do. Just as you know Shashi found something more important to him than the company he spent his life building. It is the reason why he asked you for a divorce every year since Khushi’s birth.” Arnav gave Khushi’s hand a squeeze, his eyes asking for her trust. Later, they promised her. So she held her silence, even as she reeled from the onslaught of revelations.
Garima’s laughter was brittle. “You’re very through.” she turned to Khushi. “There was no love between Shashi and myself. Our marriage was an exchange of wealth and connections. I upheld my end, but him?! He betrayed me with your mother. He made me a fool!”
“Yes, he did.” Arnav agreed readily, “Whatever his reasons, it was a betrayal. But he’s dead, Garima and the one you’ve been hurting all these years is the one innocent person in this mess.”
“You are just like him,” she accused, “Ruthless. You will force my hand for her, just like he did.”
“If you can’t see the difference, then there’s no point for me to explain.”
“Payal will fight you.”
“Then we meet in court. You are correct about one aspect. I will be ruthless. Do you understand your cost? Every media outlet will cover the trial. New Yorkers enjoy a good show, if your dignity is the price, they will deem it a worthy sacrifice for their entertainment. Or perhaps you wish to have your daughter nurse her hatred behind a cell? That is the reality you’ll be faced with, Garima.”
She seemed to deflate. In that moment, Garima Gupta looked every one of her years. Almost as if the aging process had waited for such a vulnerable moment to claim complete surrender. “If we cooperate with you, what will happen?”
“Payal signs over her shares to Khushi, that is nonnegotiable. You may keep your remaining shares along with an honorary position on the Board. If you choose to sell, AR will pay you market price for them.”
“Why couldn’t you have fallen in love with Payal?” Garima immediately regretted the unguarded question.
Dark eyes leveled on hers solemnly. The image of the fiercely determined young man she met all those years ago in Shashi’s office flickered through Garima’s head.
“Love cannot be found where it doesn’t exist, nor can it be hidden where it does. Speak to Payal.”*
Arnav rose from the seat and folded Khushi into his arms. As he led her out, Khushi was compelled to turn back. For a moment she thought she saw a glint of grief and was sorry for it. But too much had happened, too much pain laid between them, allowing for only one option. She faced forward, putting one foot in front of the other, and let go.
Khushi was still lost in thought when the Aston Martin eased into a stop. Glancing up, she was surprised to see an unobstructed view of Brooklyn Bridge through the car window.
“Where are we?”
“Where I go to think,” Arnav replied simply. “Now come.”
A half dozen steps took them to a wooden bench. Arnav brushed away the lingering frost as he took a seat and pulled Khushi into his lap. The move so natural, it was as if they had done this every night.
She curled into him, taking in their surroundings. Against his steady heartbeat, the distant roar of traffic was somehow muted. Thousands of lights burned a brilliant silhouette of the city above the inky black of the East River, but here only the soft glow of a single lamp post kept the dark at bay. It was the contrast that he came for she realized. A reflection of how he often felt when the veneer of the public figure melted away, leaving only the man.
“What’s going on in that head?”
“I thought you brought me here to think,” she murmured.
“Yeah. Aloud,” Arnav said pointedly.
Her hands inched upward until they touched the silky edge of his hair. “Do you come here often?”
“Only when necessary.”
“How did you find this place?”
He was quiet for a long time. “When sleep refused to come, I would drive. There were nights when I wished I could just drive beyond the reach of the city. Only to realize I had no destination. One of those nights led me here.”
She heard his unspoken loneliness and ached. Wanting to soothe, she cupped his face with gentle hands, dipping her head until their lips brushed. Once. Twice. Endlessly.
“Arnav,” she whispered his name softly.
“What?” he whispered back.
“Do you know why I don’t want to engage in this fight with Payal?”
“You’re too compassionate for your own good,” Arnav muttered as the reason for bringing her here came back to him.
“There is no halo above me, Arnav. There’s hurt, there’s anger, there’s hate.”
“Because Payal’s life led to Trent and mine led me to you.”
Arnav tightened his hold around her waist, burying his face in the curve of her neck. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Love me. That is all I need from you. Leave Payal her pride, it’s all she has left.”
“Khushi, I hear what you’re saying, but she won’t leave things alone.”
“What can she do to us, Arnav? Tell the world I’m Shashi Gupta’s illegitimate daughter? Those I care about already knows that, what does it matter if others do? Use Trent to get between us? We’ve already put him behind us. As for sabotaging Gupta & Co., I don’t believe she’ll do that. She is also his daughter. If that doesn’t count for anything, then you need to let me fight my own battles.”
“You really don’t care?” he asked her seriously.
Arnav had long been disenchanted with the word beautiful. There was hollowness to the term so often applied without discernment. But the woman before him, she didn’t just deserve the word, she embodied it.
His fingers tangled into her hair, angling her towards him. The kiss was long, deep. Catching his breath, Arnav pulled back until he could see her face.
“We do this your way on one condition,” he waited until he had her full attention, “Move in with me. We’ll work out your part of the rent with Robbie. With how things are going with NK, I doubt she’ll be there for much longer.”
“Arnav,” she balked.
He’d already seen the hope and pleasure swirl within her greens before fear joined them, “When you said home is within my arms, did you mean it?”
It mattered to him. Even within the shadows, she could feel his intensity. “Every word.”
“Then why would you want to lay yourself to sleep elsewhere?”
“I don’t. I just thought you might want the space.”
“Khushi, how have we fallen asleep every night since I took you to the Jalpari?” he demanded.
She focused on his throat, “Making love.”
“That the action of man who needs space?”
“Are you going to move in with me?”
He could hear her sigh, but her voice held only sweetness as she answered him, “Yes, Arnav.”
“Deal. Now let’s seal it. Kiss me.”
Khushi was laughing as she bent her head. She rained light kisses on his stubborn forehead, down the bridge of his nose, but an inch from his lips she pulled back teasingly, “Now, you kiss me.”
Her heart split open at the brilliance of his smile, “It’ll be my pleasure.”
The Eventi, New York
The banging was loud and incessant. It sounded like it was coming from right outside his hotel room. Fuck it was right outside his hotel room.
Trent threw back the sheets, cursing as he stormed towards the door. He really needed to move, but it felt imprudent to make such permanent decisions at the moment. Life had derailed spectacularly and he had no clear idea how to get it back on track.
“What the hell?!”
To say he was shocked to find his ex-wife on the other side of the door would be an understatement.
“What the hell?!” Trent repeated, startled to smell the alcohol on her. Payal rarely indulged, the loss of control wasn’t worth the small oblivion. Something must have really set her off, something to do with Khushi. Fuck, he didn’t need this.
Payal lurched forward, her arms flew out, grabbing onto him to steady herself. “Trent,” she slurred, “Have a drink with me.”
“I think you’ve had enough. Why the hell are you here, Payal?” he demanded impatiently.
“Payal, other than waiting for a judge to put the official stamp on it, we’re divorced. I’m done with your bullshit.”
She leaned deeper into him, her arms sliding around his waist. “Please, Trent. There’s no one I can go to.”
“And whose fault is that?” he charged, even as he pulled her into the room. “One drink, then I’m putting you in a cab.”
“Can you lower the lights first? It’s so damn bright in here.”
Cursing, Trent shoved down on the dimmers. “I have gin or scotch.”
“Whatever’s convenient,” Payal replied, hoisting herself unsteadily onto the barstool.
Biting back the retort that she was inconvenient, he grabbed the nearest glasses, sloshing a healthy amount of gin into both. “Bottoms up.”
She didn’t touch the drink, even when he slammed down his empty glass.
“Drink and go home, Payal.”
“I don’t have a home.”
His brows drew together. “What drama are you playing out now?”
“There’s nowhere I can go, Trent. My own mother just told me to sign over my shares to her. To just quietly sign away the company to the bastard who is determined to screw me over for her. And you? You demanded that I sign those divorce papers for her. That’s what my life amounts to. A series of fucking signatures.”
A mixture of pity and exasperation filled him. “You handed me the divorce papers.”
She ignored him. “I wanted you to fight me! I wanted you to give a fuck! But you were only too happy to gain your freedom. They should warn you to check your heart before marriage. But they don’t tell you shit. You cheated. He cheated. All men cheat.”
“Payal. You’re drunk. In the morning, you’re going to regret this conversation.”
“I don’t care. I don’t care! I DON’T CARE!” she screamed.
“What the hell do you want, Payal? Do you even know the answer?”
“I want… I want to make her pay. Yes. I’ll be happy if she pays.”
“Khushi isn’t what’s blocking your happiness.”
“You say that because you love her. You’ve always loved her. Admit. For once in your life Trent Matthews, look at me straight in the eye and admit it!”
On a sigh Trent lifted his eyes, looking straight into Payal’s dark browns, “Yes, I love her.”
“Bastard! I hate you! Rotten bastard! Why? Why?!” Her small hands were clenched into fists as she pummeled weakly against his chest.
“Because she brings out the best in me.”
“Then why did you marry me?”
“Because I couldn’t have her and you’re the Gupta heiress. Is that what you want to hear? Why do you always push Payal? We could’ve had a good marriage, a good life.” Trent moved away from her, running an agitated hand through his hair, “But you never stop pushing!”
“A good marriage? A good life? Who are you lying to? Me or yourself? We had a mockery of a marriage. We existed in a half-life…. just like my parents. Does it kill you that she doesn’t want anything to do with you? But why would she? She has an Arnav Singh Raizada ready to kiss the ground she walks on.”
“Do you hate Khushi or are you jealous of her?”
“Fuck you, Trent! Of course I hate her! She ruined my family!”
“Your father ruined your family, Payal. It was your father who turned to another woman. It was your father who had a child outside of his marriage. The only man you’ve ever allowed yourself to love and he betrayed you. But I guess it’s easier to take it out on Khushi.”
“I loved you!”
“You used me! But knowing my reasons for marrying you, I figured it made us even. Now you need to grow the fuck up, Payal.”
Payal shook her head vehemently as if to clear it. “You’re wrong. It’s her fault.”
“Then tell me, in your head, why is it her fault?”
She stood up and started pacing, letting the years wash over her. It was Khushi’s fault. It was! She just needed to remember why.
“Payal,” Trent prompted.
“When she came to live with us she was always smiling. No matter how Amma treated her, no matter what I said to her she had a smile in place. All day, every day, it was the same smile. Like it was painted on her. I knew it was only for him. I knew it was fake. And I was right. As soon as everyone went to bed, that smile vanished, and then came the tears. Even muffled against her pillow, I could hear her. At first I hated it. It kept me awake, night after night.” Payal stopped and stared blankly beyond Trent.
“After a while I got used to it. It put me to sleep. I couldn’t stand it when she stopped. So I would do things to keep those green eyes flowing. You know what I realized? When she’s happy, it sucked the air out of my lungs. But when she’s sad, I could breathe easily. Only when she cries, can I find my laughter. Only when she’s broken, can I be whole.”
“Jesus fuck, Payal.”
She blinked at him. Trent watched the drunkenness clear as something profound and ugly sunk in, bringing with it fleeting clarity and she whispered, “You hate me don’t you? Of course you do. I ruined your chance with her.”
For the first time since he married her, Trent felt a raw ache for this woman. Her misery had never been more palpable, she’d never been so human. Whatever was between them was long dead, but tonight he could be her friend.
“I don’t hate you,” he replied gruffly, “I just never understood you. Payal, don’t take this the wrong way, but you should listen to your mother.”
Payal saw red. “I knew you would say something to protect that bitch. I knew it!” she hissed, shaking with fury.
“Sit down, shut up and for once in your life listen! This is not a way of winning favor with Khushi. There will never be another man for her outside of Raizada. She’s got him and he won’t shake loose. I had my chance with her. I fucked it up. That door is closed to me. Believe me or not, it’s your choice, but I’m asking for you. Did you listen to yourself Payal? You blame Khushi because you can’t blame your father. You hate her because you can’t hate your father. But do you really want to spend the rest of your life finding crumbs of happiness off another woman?”
“You weren’t there, Trent. You can’t understand. It’s her fault!”
“Payal, it’s because I wasn’t there that I can see this without blinders on. You can’t even think it can you?”
“Think what?” her voice was dipped so low, he could barely hear. Trent moved until he was within touching distance. Taking her hands into his he said as gently as possible. “You don’t hate Khushi, Payal. You hate Shashi Gupta.”
She yanked her hands back as if burned, putting them over her ears, “Shut up! I shouldn’t have come here. I knew you couldn’t be trusted!”
Trent flinched. “You’re right. And it may be years too late, but I’m sorry. Sorry I’m not the man you needed me to be. But in this one thing, I know I’m right. Payal -”
“I want to leave,” she interrupted, coldly.
Trent exhaled a frustrated breath, knowing it would take something beyond him to make her see. “I’ll call you a taxi.”
“No, I’ll be fine.” She moved towards the door, refusing to look at him.
“Payal, let go now and there will still a bend in the road for you. Keep on holding tight, it’ll lead you right off the cliff.”
Silence, then the firm click of the door. She was gone.
So… watcha think?
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*adapted from Kissing a Fool by Doug Ellin