Before jumping to it – poll results! We’re delighted with where the numbers fell. For a FF on Arshi, your love for the others is something we cherish deeply. As for the hitlist…. Shashi’s numbers were a surprise! 😀
S & I would like to dedicate this final night to mints & sheelashanu. Thank you for the AMAZEBALLS comments & company ladies! 😉
Without further ado, we present to you – FWN’s final night.
3 days later
Bronx, New York
Payal sat at the edge of the chesterfield, one leg crossed over the other, her back ramrod straight. The posture had been conditioned into her since an early age, Garima’s strident voice hissing in her ears, “Sit up straight Payal and show them your breeding. No daughter of mine will embarrass me in front of others!”
Breeding, like a pedigree dog.
“I’ve signed the shares over to Khushi. I just came by to tell you I’m leaving.”
Garima’s expression was filled with derision, “Well this is an about face. Running away?”
Payal’s fists balled at her sides. “Do you know why I chose to stay at the hospital for my recovery? Because I didn’t have a home to do it in. And during those weeks there was nothing for me to do but think. Do you know what I realized? I have nothing. Nothing. No man to hold my hand, no family by my side, no friends to yell at me for being stupid. It was just me, loud thoughts and ugly truths.”
“Really, Payal, I’ve explained to you why I was delayed. There’s no need for the attitude.”
The tone was cool, condescending. She hated that tone. Payal’s mouth twisted bitterly, “I’m never going to be good enough for you, am I?”*
Garima sniffed, “You’ve always been too common Payal.”
“What I am, Amma, is a result of your upbringing.”
“Don’t pin your failures on me,” the older woman snapped.
“You’re right. It’s my own fault for allowing myself to be your pawn. Against Shashi, against Khushi.”
“You are nothing without me.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. I’m going to find out. And I’ll do it the fuck away from you.”
“Did hitting your head damage your memory? I didn’t force you to do anything.”
Payal laughed, the sound as hollowed as she felt. “No, you just manipulated a child to do your dirty work, but what do you know about being a mother?”
Garima paled as the barb hit home. “Get out of my house you ungrateful bitch. Just remember that it was me who took you in when no one wanted you.” Her eyes iced over, “Not even the woman who birthed you.”
The knot in her chest grew, threatening to choke off air. She stared at the woman she’d called ‘Amma’ all her life. The one who’d taken her in when her no one else had wanted her, then proceeded to direct every breath she took from that moment forward. To be fitting in Garima’s eyes required subjugating all individuality, and she had finally realized, all humanity.
She’d tried. God knows she’d tried. And she had nothing to show for it, but an empty life.
Payal stood up slowly, allowing her eyes to drift across the room, touching upon the lavish furniture, the prized artworks above them, the hand-tufted Windsor rug, the marbled floors that never saw a speck of dust. Luxury at its finest, and yet, the flawless walls had never housed a day of happiness.
She stared at Garima dead in the eye as years of suppressed resentment spilled forth, “You’re a snob and a cold bitch. Do you know what my biggest fear is? Looking into the mirror and seeing you. Before that becomes an unalterable reality, I’m going to go. As far away as I possibly can, from you.”
Garima reared back as if she’d been slapped. “Then go! Just know that once you walk away, you won’t be getting a dime from me.”
“I promise you, I won’t ever come begging. Goodbye, Garima.”
She pivoted and headed for the wide double entrance, her heels beating a steady staccato against the floor. It ended abruptly as she passed the threshold, leaving behind a lone woman and an empty shell of a house.
Hours after Payal left, Garima remained immobile on the sofa. Her bones weighed down by the ugliness. Why did it always spiral to spiteful words with Payal? A heavy silence answered her.
When the last ray of sunlight flickered out, she stood, making her way to the bedroom in the dark. She sat down before the vanity she’d been given as part of her wedding trousseau. Wrinkled hands reached for the far left shelf. Touching the gold knob, she paused. Her mother had been right. Cosmetics and good skin care masked the face, but the hands will always reveal a woman’s age.
Slowly, she pulled at the knob. Nestled within the lacquer was a single envelope, faded by the years. Her finger smoothed over the crinkled edges. It had been a very long time since she’d read its contents.
Time is a funny thing. You always think you have plenty of it, until mortality rears its head and you find yourself running against the final grains. The reaper is coming for me, Arnav. I welcome his visit, for he will take me to my Laramie. I have been dreaming of her lately. Beautiful dreams. Before he comes, I need, no I must, pen down these thoughts.
I leave this life willingly, save one worry. My daughter, my happiness, my Khushi. The daughter I never publicly acknowledged, could not acknowledge, because I was weak.
Never take the easy road, Arnav, because once you do, you’ll find yourself taking it again and again.
You are the son I always wished for. Knew it the day you entered my life. Many others came before you, fancy laptops in their smooth palms, the promise of the moon on their lips. Saw right through those eyes that reflected only greed. I’ll never forget the day you walked into Gupta &Co., sans appointment, four sheets of paper in your hands, the burning determination in your eyes spitting at anyone who cared to look.
Wanted you for my girl. Always have. Signing the documents that puts Shantivan into your hands tonight is bittersweet. When I lost my Laramie, I wanted it to be a wedding gift to you someday. The only man I could entrust with my life’s most precious cargo.
You must wonder why I never introduced her to you. While I’m willing to bet my fortune that Khushi will touch your heart, I cannot risk hers. When my love died in my arms, our unborn son still in her belly, she asked one thing of me- to never allow Khushi to become a Garima.
I had a mentor Arnav, owed my success to him. When he told me he wanted me as his son-in-law I was flattered. Took the easy road and that’s where life went wrong. 31 months. Had I waited 31 months, I could’ve had her freely, could’ve had everything. Instead, I lived in hell.
Knowing you, you will find out about Laramie and I’m sure it will echo unpleasantly of your past. If nothing else, I ask that you do not judge me too harshly. Not all men can brave trial by fire and I failed mine.
I tried loving my wife. Gave as much of myself as I could . A man and a woman coming together is like two halves of a circle, but there are gaps between the edges. Children. Children completes the circle, cementing the bonds of love and lust. Someday, I hope you will experience this joy, for I cannot imagine more worthy a man. Perhaps then you will fathom the full scope of this confession.
My heart burns something fierce to think of the trials my Khushi will soon face. I’m afraid my sins will take its due on this beautiful child. But she is strong, Arnav, stronger than I. With a purity that shines from deep within. She is her mother’s daughter and I’m thankful for it.
Look over her for me. In any capacity you are able to extend. As I lay myself down to this eternal rest, peace will only be delivered in knowing I leave her with a protector.
I love you, son. And I pray that one day you will read this with a good woman by your side, one who will show you that there are bigger rewards than contracts and deals. That between the black and white, there are not only gray, but a vibrant range of colors.
Wait for her, Arnav. I promise you, she will be worth the wait. And when she comes, give yourself over to the warm embrace that will teach you the true meaning of life.
She carefully refolded the letter, returning it to the drawer.
Garima raised her eyes to the mirror.
You’ve won, Shashi. You’ve won.
2 weeks later
Fifth Ave, New York
She missed him. With Aman away on a month long honeymoon, Arnav and NK had to make up the difference. He’d left four days ago for the week long conference in Los Angeles, leaving her satiated in their bed with the command of ‘miss me’.
Impossible man, as if she had a choice.
At least her days were productive. He’d sent his top executive team to Gupta & Co. and with their guidance she was learning the core business structure of the company, along with their position within the dynamic market of retail. It was fascinating and demanded her full attention, thus allowing the hours to tick by quickly.
But the nights were a different matter. They had become so bad she’d taken to wearing his shirt to bed, taking comfort in the subtle male scent that lingered on the fabric- although that drove her crazy in an entirely different way. She still had three more nights to get through.
He hadn’t even called. Not once. NK had phoned and texted to check in, asking if she needed anything. How could she tell him that the only thing she needed was his insensitive boss?
At the sound of the door Khushi turned, stunned to see said insensitive man at the threshold. His eyes locked on her just before he prowled across the room. The muscles of his body were bunched, rippling under the charcoal suit. He looked strained and irritated. And so gorgeous she wanted to launch herself at him.
Instead she forced herself to remember how he had withheld from her. Consequently, the first words out of her mouth after days apart were angry indignant ones, “You couldn’t spare the time for one phone call? I waited to hear from you ev—”
Her grievance was abruptly halted as he pulled her flushed against him, tilted her head back and kissed her. The smoky taste of him hit her system, sent her senses reeling, made her weak-kneed.
“Arnav,” Khushi protested, pushing at his chest.
The arms around her tightened. “Being away from you is pure hell. My focus was already shot, I didn’t need your voice making it worse,” Arnav rasped.
As far as retorts went, that was a good one. Very good.
She rested her head against his chest, “I hated it,” she admitted, “Our bed was empty without you.”
Arnav grunted in agreement. He bent and slid his arms under her legs and shoulders. As soon as she looped her arms around his neck, he lifted her, moving them to the sofa where he settled her over his knees. A borderline painful sense of relief filled her as she curled into him and felt his long sigh of contentment echo her own.
Khushi jerked up as she remembered he wasn’t supposed to be here, “Arnav, there are two more days to the conference.”
“Yeah and we’ve got three hours before I need to board the jet.”
She stared at him. “You flew across the country for me?”
“No, I flew across the country because it’s the sane thing to do after a ten hour conference. Because I enjoy flying in the middle of the night. Because- ”
This time, his words were cut off as she moved to straddle his lap before melding their lips. Hard, hot, and openly hungry. Her fingers spearing into his hair as they shared a breath, alternating between air and kisses because they needed both.
It was while he feathered a caress over the hollow where her pulse throbbed that he made the observation. Arnav lifted his head, “Are you wearing my shirt?”
Faint red tinged her cheeks as her lids swept down. “It smells like you,” she mumbled.
Arnav eyes glittered as he looked down at her bent head. “You didn’t ask my permission, Khushi.” He hooked his fingers in the neck of the shirt and pulled her closer, “I want it back. Now.”
Heat invaded her body, “Now?”
Arnav ran a hand down her spine. “Strip.”
With the intoxicating knowledge that he’d flown across the country for a few hours together coursing through her, Khushi was compelled to fulfill this demand.
So slowly, as if they had days instead of hours, she took his hand and rested it at the edge of the shirt. When it fisted on the cotton, she laced hers over them. Keeping her gaze steady on his, she moved their joined hands upward, revealing herself inch by inch.
Once the shirt was tossed unceremoniously to the ground, he held her within the bounds of his arms, looking his fill.
“You’re coming with me in the morning,” Arnav muttered as he buried his face in her throat.
4 days later
She shook her head in disbelief as she hung up.
The sneaky bastard. He wasn’t fighting fair.
His sister, and not just any sister, his eldest! In her sweet Australian lilt, Noami had shared, as in shared. The way you would with someone who was about to become family. Of how pleased their father was when her little brother was born because that meant finally having another dose of testosterone to ‘balance out the scales’, stories of him running around in nappies, funny as hell anecdotes of his teenage years, and the heartfelt wishes of all his sisters that he would bring a girl home.
She’d rung off with the promise-threat that Nyssa, Nora and Nadyne would be calling to introduce themselves.
Robbie picked up the phone and quickly hit the speed dial. “Khushi!” she wailed the moment the call connected.
“He’s launching a full scale attack!”
“What are you talking about?” Khushi asked in confusion.
“He had his sister call me. His sister, Khushi!”
“Was she rude?”
“She was amazing! And ruthlessly charming!”
“Ruthlessly charming?” The question was heavy with amusement.
“It’s an open siege!” Robbie declared.
There was a thick pause before Khushi’s voice drifted softly to her. “From here it looks like a beautiful war, Robbie.”
Damn. It was. The kind where you felt like the winner, even while waving the white flag. Her defenses were already shot batting against one Ryan. Add four ruthlessly charming women to his side?
She was totally screwed.
Gupta & Co, New York
Khushi looked up as NK breezed into her office. By the size of his grin, she was sure he’d heard the last bit of the conversation and knew exactly who had been on the other line.
“You’re not playing fair,” she accused lightly.
“She’ll get over it. My doll likes to play games with me.”
Khushi smiled at NK’s possessive emphasis. She loved that for Robbie. “They’re good games, NK.”
“Yeah, the best,” he agreed readily, “but it’s time she gets that I’m not playing anymore, Khushi.”
She sucked in a breath. Laying both of her hands over his arm she looked up at him, “NK?”
He peered down at her, saw concern battling with hope in the green depths. It was then that he realized she was also in his heart. Not because of what she gives Arnav, not because of her bond with Robbie. No, she was there because Khushi Lacene Khumari was a good woman.
“We took different roads sweetheart, doesn’t mean we’re not heading in the same direction.”
“Fuck,” NK muttered as her eyes filled.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, wiping at the corners of her eyes, “I’m just happy. For both of you.”
Yeah, a damn good woman.
“That’s good, because I need some arsenal here.”
“Don’t give up on her, NK. She’s built up a defense because she’s been hurt, but she’s in there, waiting for a prince to scale the walls.”
For moment he stared at her. Seconds later, a beautiful smile stole over the strong features as he burst out laughing.
“NK? Are you going to fill me in on what you found so amusing?”
Still grinning, he leaned down and gave her a peck on the forehead, “Nope. I need the element of surprise. But I promise you, Khushi, I’m sending those walls tumbling down.”
1 week later
Manhattan, New York
Anjali pressed her lips together as she looked at her brother. Since Aman started speaking, his face had gone stone cold. She winced when his eyes sliced to her, the betrayal in them crippling, “You fucking told him? You fucking told him?”
“Watch your tone, Shyam,” Aman inserted warningly.
Shyam ignored the warning, he also ignored her flinch when he blasted, “You had no fucking rights, Anjali!”
No rights. For some reason those two words set her off. Suddenly she was mad, no she was furious. It washed away her guilt, wiped away the sympathy. She’d taken his coldness for years. Had quietly allowed herself to be the punching bag between him and their father. Because she loved them. Because she was a Jha.
Well, she wasn’t just a Jha any longer. Her eyes went to Aman, his were suddenly dancing as he saw the rare spark of temper flame to life.
She stood up, leaning over Shyam. “No rights? What about the right of a sister? What about the right of someone who loves you? I’m acting on my rights because I can’t bear to see you hiding who you are anymore!”
Shyam rocked back at the force behind her words. This was an Anjali he had never seen. That he hadn’t known existed within the mild mannered girl. “Anjali-“
“This is me doing the only thing I know to do so you can be free to be you! It’ll take you away from here, from me, from our family, but maybe,” her voice broke, “just maybe, I’ll have my brother back someday.”
The tears burst forth as she finished. Aman rose from his seat, shooting Shyam a look that clearly said ‘fix this’ as he gathered his wife into his arms.
Shyam sat starring at the folders for a long time, Anjali’s quiet sobs drumming at his ears, her words ricocheting in his head. The folder containing documents that would put him in charge of AR’s latest venture, launching the company into Spain’s flourishing markets.
He shifted his gaze to Anjali. Noted the way she was nestled protectively in the younger man’s arms. Her protector. Once, that had been his job.
Spain. An ocean away from the pressure of being Mohit Jha’s only son, from being compared to the Raizada brothers, from the little sister he’d allowed himself to become a stranger to. Fuck.
“Does your brother know?”
“No. And it’ll stay that way. As far as anyone’s concern, you’re simply the best candidate for the job.”
Spain. Thousands of miles away from New York. A fresh start. Where maybe, he can figure out who the hell is Shyam Jha. His little sister’s gift. Fuck.
He slowly reached for it. Tucking the documents to his side, he stood.
“Anjali.” He waited until she looked at him. In a gesture he’d made since the day she was placed into his arms by their mother, a gesture he hadn’t made in years, he swiped the tears off her cheeks with his thumb.
She froze, but said nothing as he exchanged a nod with Aman and left them.
Her hands tightened around her husband. Her eyes shone as she gave him a tremulous smile.
While Shyam hadn’t said anything beyond than her name, it was enough. She’d seen a glimpse of the brother who’d loved her all her life. The bond was still there. They can’t ever go back, but she felt hopeful for the future.
3 weeks later
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York
Robbie starred at the paper in her hand. Her eyes jumped from the “Notice of Intent to Demolish” to the signature at the bottom.
NK fucking Ryan was a dead man walking.
On cue, she heard the brisk knock.
“Robbie, open the door.”
“You’re unbelievable!” she shouted at the wood panel.
There was a brief silence before she heard his curse. “We need to talk.”
“Open the door or I’m kicking the damn thing down.”
Robbie crossed her arm, “When pigs fly!”
Her mouth fell open at the sound of splintered wood. Half a second later, NK barged through the unhinged door, towering over her, his broad shoulders blocking out the light.
“You broke my door!”
“Considering the building is getting demolished, you’re not focusing on the important fact right now.”
Arrogant and completely unapologetic. Unbelievable. Her anger hitched up several notches. She waved the notice at him, “I can’t believe you’re doing this because I won’t move in with you! Other people live in this building NK! People who can’t just go out and rent one of your posh apartments because they can’t afford it!”
The air around them went static. His face shuttered as his eyes speared her. “That’s your opinion of me? That this is some fucking tantrum? Because if it is, we’re done.”
Robbie felt her stomach lurched as he spun around. NK had never turned his back on her. Never. Compelled by genuine fear, she darted after him, throwing her arms around his waist from behind, “Don’t go.”
NK halted, but his body remained stiff and unyielding. “Did you read the entire notice?”
“I saw the important part and your signature,” her voice was pitched low, but the accusation was still there.
“Read the notice.”
“Robbie, read the fucking notice.”
She pulled back, waiting for him to turn around. Sure he wasn’t going to leave, she read the notice. Every word. Shit.
She winced as she glanced at NK. His eyes were hard. He was pissed, scary pissed. At her.
“We bought out your landlord. The building is going to be demolished because it’s a goddamn health hazard. The neighborhood is good so we’re going to rebuild. Decent-sized affordable condos that aren’t fucking airless boxes. Because this place means something to you and Khushi, and Anjali is part of that, the three of us are pitching in so you girls get the top floor. For girls’ nights, or whatever the hell you want to use it for. We’re doing this so we’ll have the peace of mind when you’re here, knowing my security’s keeping you safe. It’s a large scale project so it’ll take time to rebuild. That means current residents need to vacate. Those who need the financial assistance will get it from AR. You are going to need a place to stay. Right now, I’m of the mind to leave you to deal on your own.”
She face planted into his chest, “I’m an asshole.”
NK fought back a lip twitch. “I’m fucking furious at you, Robbie, so don’t you dare be cute.”
She groaned, pressing deeper into him. “I’m a total asshole.”
On a sigh, NK’s arms went around her. “You’re a pain in the ass with far too many suspicious bones in that body, but you’re not an asshole.”
She peeked up at him from under her lashes, “But I just fucked up.”
“Yeah, you did. But clue in, Robbie. Do I look like a guy who puts up with shit for no good reason?”
“My sisters calling you. You think that’s something that happens a lot?”
“If you think I’m so much trouble, why do you put up with me?”
“Because next to all the drama, you’re also gorgeous, got the best ass I’ve ever seen, and Doll, I’ve seen plenty. And when you’re not overthinking shit, you’re funny, loyal and the sweetest thing I’ve ever had in my bed.”
They were standing so close, he heard the sharp intake of breath before she blurted, “No one’s ever loved me back the way I wanted. They see the hair, the ass. They want that, until someone better comes along.”
NK looked at her, “Then they were fucking morons.”
“I survived them, NK. I survived them because they didn’t really matter.” She could hear her heart pounding violently. Swallowing audibly, Robbie plunged ahead because it was too late to turn back. “If I let you in and you walk away, I won’t survive. It’ll destroy me.”
He jerked at the unexpected confession. “You aren’t going to lose me.”
“You can’t promise that,” she snapped, “It’s easy to say now, but when you see someone- ”
“Yeah, I fucking can promise that,” he shot back, ruthlessly interrupting her.
“Life happens, NK, you can’t make those kinds of promises.”
“Shit happens, but life needs to be lived,” he retorted “Robbie, lay down the defenses, we’re done playing games.”
At her silence, he continued, “Never begged a woman. Never cared enough. For you, I’ll do it, but I’ll resent doing it. You need to give me you, so I can give you me.”
She sucked back another breath, and the vulnerability in her eyes was almost enough to make him relent. Almost.
“Say it!” he ordered, his arms tightening around her.
“Dammit, dammit, dammit! I love you, asshole!”
A smile built across his mouth until it became a full-fledged grin. “Damned right you do. Now say it without swearing at me.”
She scowled at him
“I love you.”
All of a sudden she was flying through the air only to land on the carpet with the full weight of NK on top of her. His mouth hovered just above her own. His voice was rough and deep when he informed her, “You just made me a promise and you better fucking believe I’ll be holding you to it.” Before she could respond, he kissed her, hard, and deep.
“You moving in?”
Her full lips moved into a pout. “You’re being a damn bully and your closet is tiny.”
“I have three bedrooms, convert one.”
Robbie rolled her eyes. Then her blues focused on him. “Well?” she demanded.
NK smirked. “Well what?”
“Do you love me?”
He bent close, until she could see the flecks in his eyes. “Hell yes, I fucking love you.”
Her heart flipped.
“Again,” Robbie demanded, “This time without swearing at me.”
His face softened, “Love you, Robbie.”
She closed her eyes, savoring. When she opened them again, her hands reached up and cupped his jaw, “Don’t settle.”
“Ma’s other advice before I left. She sat me down on the porch swings and told me my father is a good man. She had a good life with him, but it was her settling and she was always left wondering. When I moved to the city I was tempted. Then I would remember ma’s face when she told me to never settle. I’ve waited for a long time, NK. Waited my whole life for you.”
How did Noah Katlyne Ryan respond?
“Thank fuck there was no fairytale for you in Indiana.”
Robbie’s arms tightened around him, but when his head descended, she raised a finger to stop him, “You know, the prince scaled the walls for his love.”
“Doll, if he had a wrecking ball, he would’ve used it.”
He swallowed her giggle. This time his kiss didn’t end until there was nothing between them, just body to body, heart to heart.
6 months later
Fifth Ave, New York
Arnav took another sip of coffee, his eyes vacillating between the Wall Street Journal and the door. They snapped with impatience as he waited for the necessary ingredient that kick started his day to make an appearance. Upon the fourth round he was rewarded.
She stood silhouetted against the door frame, long hair tumbling over creamy skin, wrapped in nothing but black sheets. The drowsiness in her greens melting away as she met his perusal.
His mermaid, his woman, his Happiness. His. In every way but one.
Correctly reading the intent in his eyes as he rose from the chair and moved with purpose towards her, Khushi started backing into their bedroom. “Arnav, we’ll be late for work.”
“We’ll be late for work, again,” she emphasized.
“Work can wait.”
“Are you sure you’re Mr. Raizada?” she teased when he reached her.
His arms circled her waist, his mouth descended to her neck, “You’d better be sure I’m Mr. Raizada.”
“You have a Board meeting today,” she felt obligated to remind him.
He tugged the sheets from her, “It can wait.”
“Aman expects me at the office in an hour.”
Arnav took her in on a deep breath. If there was one scent he preferred over his soap on her skin, it was the scent of him on her. “He can wait.”
Arnav pulled back, tugging at her hair until her face was tilted up to his, “Are you trying to write a book?”
“100 Ways to Ruin a Romantic Moment.”
She bit her lips, knowing it would only encourage him if she allowed the laugh to escape, “Are we having a romantic moment?”
A none-too-gentle push sent her sprawling across the bed. He took a moment to remove his pants, eyes running over her nudity before joining her, their bodies colliding in the sweetest of impacts. “They can all wait, I can’t.”
Her breath caught and held when he parted her thighs and pressed between them.
“You need to stop foregoing your shirts in the morning.”
“Why? Too tempting?”
Her arms glided across his back, tracing corded muscles that she’d long memorized.
“Take me inside you, Khushi.” She lifted her hips and positioned him at her entrance. When she looked at him, she saw his gaze was not on her, but where they were about to be joined.
“Arnav,” his name was half plea, half demand.
A wave of tenderness rode over Arnav, mixing headily with the lust as he heard her, “Do you want me?”
“Yes,” she breathed as he filled her.
“Love me?” He thrusts were deliberately slow, ensuring she felt him in every part of her.
“Always,” she whispered.
His hands slid under her, gripped tight, urging her to meet the new rhythm. As he felt the intimate pulses of her release around him, the rightness of it settled to his bones. In filling her body, she filled his soul.
He had asked her to be his without specifying the length of time. The last six months had not been a test of her, but of himself. To fall in love with Khushi was the easiest thing he’d ever done. What many people didn’t understand was that to be in love was a different animal. The stakes were higher.
The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.
There were small moments where the old fears of being left still lurked in his mind, but after nearly a year of her tenderness, he finally tasted an unshakable truth. Being in love with Khushi meant being the man he was meant to be. Not the lost boy, not the hungry teenager, not the cold capitalist. Just the man he was supposed to be.
Thus, holding her as she came apart within his arms, Arnav had his answer. She’d given the promise of her on their first night. She’d given all of herself freely to him in the last six months. Now, he was going to give her always.
1 week later
Upper West Side, New York
Devyani looked across the dinner table at her oldest grandson. Peace surrounded him tonight. A peace she’d first glimpsed when he’d brought a girl named Happiness to Shantivan for the first time.
She’d held her tongue for the last six months, knowing that to push him too soon would be a mistake. Instead, she’d nurtured hope in her heart that living with Khushi would fix what his mother broke.
No matter how many years passed by, she could still hear his screams from that day. Still remember the sight that greeted her when she followed the animal like sound, of her daughter lying in a pool of blood.
The pain of losing her daughter was equal to the horrific knowledge that there was nothing she could do to shield him. Arnav lost his innocence that day and she’d lost him. He’d remained a boy only in age and that too was gone in a blink of an eye.
When his eyes lifted to her, she knew. He was back. Arnav was back.
“Nani, will you get Ma’s kangans? I want to have them inscribed.”
From the other side of the table, Aman let out a whoop of pleasure. “About fucking time, brother! I thought I was going to lose the bet with-” he stopped abruptly at his grandmother’s glare. Clearing his throat, Aman hastily amended, “Not that marriage is a betting matter.”
“Welcomed news, mate,” NK grinned, “Should we draw up a prenup?”
“If Robbie goes after my balls, yours will be in harm’s way,” Arnav retorted.
Devyani closed her eyes as years of anguish purged from her heart. Yes, her boy was truly back!
“Nani,” Arnav called out. His face softening as he saw the emotions swimming in the eyes that were so similar to his own.
“Of course, Arnav. Of course. I’ll go get them now.”
Her heart warmed as she heard Lavanya’s soft congratulations. It had been no surprise when the young girl had quickly bonded with Aman, giving Arnav a wide berth. That self-imposed distance was lessening every day, but Devyani knew they still had miles to go before it was bridged completely. It would appear that life was determined to teach her patience.
She came back just in time to catch Arnav’s easy smile as Aman threw an arm around Lavanya, “That leaves you, little sis.”
She paused at the doorway, surveying the picture before her. To witness your child finding love was one of life’s greatest blessings, one she’d wished her daughter was still alive to see.
But you do see don’t you, beta?
She looked at them in turn. Aman, NK, and now Arnav, her work was nearly done. Nearly. Her aging eyes settled over Lavanya, sighing at the wistful look on her face.
It was Aman who looked to where she stood, wiggling his brows at her. He hadn’t missed it, her shark rarely did. She watched as he snuck a peek at Arnav, then gave her a slow deliberate wink.
Del Posto, 10th Avenue, New York
“Ohmygod,” she breathed, looking at the giant red gemstone nestled within the white velvet.
“Can I take that as approval?”
“Is it a ruby?”
“A radiant cut red diamond. Harry Winston,” he added on an afterthought.
“Your scoreboard just went up a hellueva points, Raziada.”
Arnav grinned, but his eyes were serious, “It’s traditional to ask permission from the head of family. So will you, Robbie? Will you give me Khushi? So we can both take care of her?”
Her body locked. Unmindful that they were in the middle of a crowded restaurant, she burst into noisy tears.
“Doll.” She looked up to see NK holding out a tissue. The man was prepared for any situation. She took it, then taking several breaths to calm herself, she laced her fingers in his before turning to Arnav.
“The first day I met Khushi, there was more hurt in her eyes than any woman deserved. I didn’t have a right to make demands. Then she became family. She shared some, but withheld much more. I hated that bruised look, but there wasn’t much else I could do. The morning she came back to our place after spending the night with you, that bruised look was gone. Gone. You know what replaced them? Dreams. Dreams you put there. And every day since, minus one bogus episode, you’ve made her happy.”
His eyes darkened and she knew he got it. Reaching across the table she gave his hand a squeeze. “So yeah, Arnav Singh Raizada, I’m going to give you Khushi, because you are better than the prince I wished for her.”
Arnav’s eyes met with NK’s. He’d decided to make this gesture because it felt right, but he had not expected to be humbled.
“Thank you,” he told her sincerely.
Robbie tilted her head back, “Are you going to make my girl the happiest woman in New York City?
“Good. As you are well aware, my guy has some serious muscles. You don’t keep that promise, we’re going to fuck you up.”
“He works for me you know,” he felt obligated to remind her.
“Yeah, but you don’t’ sleep with him,” she replied smugly.
New Year’s Eve, New York
Arnav took a moment to inhale the crisp air. A dozen handfuls of stars decorated the deep cobalt, but their faint distant light was no match for the carpet of diamonds spread out below the glass terrace.
Tonight, however, even New York with all her majestic splendor paled in comparison to the woman before him.
She was draped in a sheer ivory saree of the airiest chiffron. Stripped of embellishment, there was nothing to distract from the soft flow of fabric over her curves. It would have bordered on being plain if it wasn’t for the choli, the French silk dipped in vibrant crimson infused an undeniable sensuality.
It was a love letter to a woman. It was his love letter to Khushi.
He knew the message was read when she’d joined him, braving the cold in nothing else, those green eyes luminous with love. He looked down at their joined hands and felt a deep jolt. Once he had wondered how it would feel to have someone by his side, a woman with her hand in his, a gleam in her eyes as she glanced up to him with a smile gracing her lips.
Now he knew. And it was critical that she knew as well. Arnav reached into his pocket for his mother’s kangans. His body heat had warmed them. The word he’d had etched along the inner ring were clearly visible. Hamesha. A promise within the symbol of eternity.
Before taking her hand again, he ran his fingers over the delicate inner skin of her wrist where life pulsed. Keeping their eyelock, he slipped the gold over it.
“A year ago I walked into a ballroom, so damn tired I just wanted the night to be over. Then I saw Anjali look at my brother. The devotion in her eyes disturbed me, because seeing it, I realized it was something I’ll never have. Fifteen minutes to midnight I found myself chasing after a woman. I didn’t understand the urgency, didn’t know why it mattered. I just knew I couldn’t let her disappear.”
Khushi’s eyes went liquid, “Arnav.”
“She made me want, she made me need, she made me love. And because of it, the man I was meant to be stands before her. She gave me her body, gave me her heart. Tonight, I’m asking her to give me one more thing.”
“Tell me what you you need, Arnav.”
He slipped the second kangan over her wrist. “Will you give me the promise of seven lifetimes, Khushi? To live each of them with a husband’s privilege?”
Khushi’s heart clenched tightly as she looked at him. She’d thought herself prepared. A part of her had filled with anticipation of what tonight promised when she’d dressed for him. She wasn’t. She was not prepared for the beauty of this man.
“Marry me, Khushi. Marry me, tonight.”
Khushi had finally found her voice, but the last word gave her pause.
“I don’t want another year to pass without making you mine.”
“But our family- ”
“Are waiting impatiently in the observatory,” he gave her a grin, “Now say yes.”
Her forehead dropped against his chest, laughter bubbling within. Of course. How could she forget? He was bossy.
“Khushi,” Arnav demanded.
She looked at the kangans he’d placed on her wrists. His mother’s blessing of forever. She couldn’t wait to start.
“There is nothing I want more than to be your wife,” she whispered.
Raw happiness flooded his face. “Then you’ve got yourself a deal.”
Entering the observatory on the 102nd floor, she found their family gathered in a semi-circle around a small flame. Khushi stood rooted in place as it hit her. Only her Arnav would have the arrogance to turn the Empire State Building into their mandap.
Robbie broke from NK’s side, her arms stealing around Khushi’s waist. “Always knew you’ll look beautiful in white, sweetheart.” She gave a deep squeeze, moving over for a glowing Anjali to offer her quiet good wishes.
Devyani’s eyes were wet when she drew Khushi into her embrace, “Thank you, Khushi, thank you!” she whispered fiercely to her ears. Looking up, she saw Aman give NK a fist bump before sending her a brazen wink.
The ceremony itself was kept simple. Their union did not require prompt and ceremony. Khushi knew that when she had the chance to catch her breath; she would pour over each detail, committing them to memory.
Now, however, her everything was centered on the man she’d just completed the seven circles with. She saw Arnav silently mouth ‘Hamesha’ before he placed a band on her finger, red fire set against white gold. She understood the difference, the gold bands marked her a Raizada, this ring was a declaration to the world that she belonged to him.
As his hands cupped her face, her lids swept closed, her mind bursting with memories as she waited for his kiss. He’d entered her life on one of the year’s coldest nights. Once, she’d believed that you had to say a farewell to winter to feel the warmth. Arnav taught her differently.
You just needed to open your heart for the warmth to seep in. The kind of warmth that made you feel secured in the love behind it, a love of seven lifetimes. Because if the heart was willing, one night, one kiss, can lead to forever.
As their lips met for the first time as man and wife, the night sky exploded in dazzling fireworks, celebrating the beginning of a new year.
So… watcha think?
If you’ve enjoyed the update, please let us know below. Your questions and comments helps us shape the story and also improve as writers. Thank you!
*adapted from Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown
A / N: We’ve reached the end ladies. Thank fuck! 10 months is a long time. When we set out on this journey, we didn’t know what to expect. Taking the plunge was nerve wracking, but we are so glad we did. If we made you smile, sent a tingle down your spine, drawn out a sigh of pleasure or two, than FWN was a worthy endeavor.
Thank you to everyone who joined us, (especially those who took the dip 10 months ago!). Thank you for the late nights, for the laughs, for the love letters, for lending your support on Arshi’s New York adventure towards happily ever after. To you – Cheers!