Fifth Avenue, New York
Khushi remembered little of their ride from Time Square to the front curb of the hotel. From the moment she’d found herself in Arnav Singh Raizada’s arm, insanity had invaded. She was in a dreamlike bubble, where words and actions were coated in enchantment. It wasn’t until she stepped out of the limo and was greeted by two striking sleek glass towers rising 80-story before her that reality intruded.
Shaken, her wide eyes slid towards Arnav. “We’re staying here?”
A smile ghosted across his lips, “Since I own it, seems as good a place as any.”
He owned the hotel. Perfect. She was aware this man was out of her league, but hearing those words reinforced the thought that she should have chosen the cold winter night over any promise of fleeting warmth.
“I’m not …prepared for this,” she faltered as he led her past the doorman, through the sleek lobby and toward the glass elevators. “I don’t have any clothes …or… ”
Khushi fought a panicked laugh. Even if she’d known, she wouldn’t have been prepared because she didn’t own anything that could possibly match the extravagant luxury surrounding them.
“You won’t need them.” Arnav’s calm delivery had her stumbling ungracefully into the elevator as her feet forgot their purpose. It was a minor miracle when her legs didn’t fold beneath her completely.
It would be wiser to tell him she’d changed her mind and walk back into the night, back to reality. Yet she was frozen by the awareness that arced between them.
As if he could read her mounting reservations, Arnav reached behind her, deliberately pressing down on the button to the top floor.
When the doors shut them in, he straightened, eyes darkening perceptively on her face, yet he didn’t say another word until the elevator came to a smooth halt. Before she could step off, Arnav put his arm out to stop her and pulled her flushed against him.
“Khushi, you have nothing to be nervous about.”
Pulling in a deep breath, she muttered, “If you say so…”
That earned her a smile. A million-dollar smile. Then again, everything about him spoke of wealth, right down to those John Lobb’s leather shoes.
Staring up at him, visions of Cinderella danced in her head. This would be her one-night fairy tale Khushi decided. She knew better than to pin dreams on happily ever afters. They provided pleasant daydreams, but they were far removed from her reality.
He gestured for her to proceed from the elevator, falling into steps beside her. A hand moved up to guide, resting lightly on the small of her back. Khushi hid her surprise at the unexpected intimacy, forcibly reminding herself that this was a few stolen hours, a means of forgetting. To get wrapped up in the fantasy would be dangerous.
She watched him slip in a keycard and punched in the security code, a moment later, the door opened to a sprawling suite. Heart pounding, she stepped inside, felt his heat behind her as the door click shut.
The penthouse was a showplace. Her eyes swept up to the vaulted ceilings catching briefly on the raindrop glass chandelier in the center of the room, her body tensing as she took in the decadent splendor. Across from the doorway, the south side of his apartment was nothing but glass looking out to the outlines of the Brookyn Bridge lit up by moonlight. The effect was both subtle and dramatic.
In between her and the windows, stream-lined designer couches and a frosted glass-topped coffee table were strategically placed on plush Persian rugs over the most gorgeous mahogany floor she’d ever seen. Nearby he had a fireplace with a slate mantel, and over it was a glass-framed painting she was sure belonged in a museum collection at one point.
Uneasy, she turned to look back at Arnav, who was casually discarding his coat and suit jacket onto a coach. “Do you live here?”
“Yes, when I’m in the city,” he replied as he walked over to the mini bar that held a mix of vintage liquor.
When he glanced back, his features were shadowed, “Would you like a drink?”
She shook her head jerkily and watched as Arnav poured himself a shot of something dark and burnt. He downed it in one before setting the glass down, the sound jarring the weighted silence. He turned to face her, the combined power of his body in the white dress shirt and the visible intent of his eyes were causing havoc on her senses.
“Come here,” Arnav commanded.
Responding to the urgent carnal need his tone aroused, she walked over to him, coming to a stop just a few inches away. Arnav closed the gap between them and brought his hands to the scarf around her neck, unraveling it without looking away from her. Then he reached for the coat, pulling it open and off her shoulders. She placed her hands on his chest to keep herself steady as both items fell to the floor.
Just as his head descended a brisk knock sounded at the door, “Room service, sir!”
“Damn!” He gave her an assessing look, lingering where the pulse beat rapidly under the skin of her neck before pulling away and striding to the door.
A group of servers dressed in spotless white came through, their arms laden with trays of silver. After murmuring a polite greeting, they went about setting out plates of food onto the polished dining table. Khushi’s mouth watered as the savory aroma hit her nose.
“Ready to eat?” Aranv asked after he’d discreetly tipped the servers and ushered them out.
Khushi nodded as she seated herself. Overwhelmed by the array of colorful platters, she lightly curled her fingers around a bottle of amber ale to disguise their shaking. Taking a sip, she immediately set it down when the alcohol hit her empty stomach. She should’ve started with something solid.
Arnav nudged a steaming bowl of fragrant soup towards her before he folded his frame into the chair beside her. Knowing she needed to feed her gnawing stomach, Khushi picked up the nearest spoon and dug in. A soft moan of delight escaped unconsciously as the heartiness of the vegetable minestrone quickly dispelled the lingering cold from her body.
Raising her eyes, she noted how Arnav ignored the dishes and reached for the wine. His hands sure and steady as liquid red splashed into another glass.
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
He sipped without expression, a man in possession of a jaded palate.
“Do you disapprove of a liquid dinner?”
“As long as it sustains you,” she replied lightly.
Hyper awareness of his perusal forced Khushi to restrain herself, taking each spoonful with conscious care.
She wanted to ask him questions about himself, feeling the need to bring in the distraction of conversation. Yet, she instinctively sensed her curiosity would be unwelcomed. He was a private man; from what she’d seen of the suite, there wasn’t a single personal item of his, no family photographs, no travel mementos – as if such items would give too much away.
“You’ve hardly ate,” Arnav noted when she pushed back her bowl. Khushi eyed the laden table regretfully. She wanted to savor all of it, but her stomach was accustomed to far less and had started to rebel.
“It’s delicious, but I can’t eat another bite. Thank you.”
Thank fuck, Arnav thought.
Sitting next to her, hearing the unconscious moans as she went through her food was obliterating what little control he had. There was something strange about her reaction to the meal, but he dismissed it to a long night of being on her feet.
He wasn’t interested in dinner. He wanted her. To know, rather than imagine, if she would ignite for him.
Khushi stood, automatically stacking up the plates when Arnav’s hand stopped the motion. He pointed towards the hallway leading to the closed double doors of the master bedroom. “Go in, I’ll take care of this, and join you in a few minutes.”
Their eyes met and held. Throat suddenly dried, she nodded. It was only a small movement, but it seemed to satisfy him. She turned and walked away towards the doors he’d indicated, feeling the heat of his eyes with every step.
His bed was made up in silky black sheets. Shit, shit, shit!
He said he’ll take care of their dinner and join her in a few minutes. How long did she have? Two minutes? Ten? What is he expecting? What the hell is she supposed to do now?
This gnawing uncertainty was why she avoided men. At twenty-three, she was finally taking a second lover. No, the loss of her virginity doesn’t count; it had been one big fat joke. A cruel one. Khushi rubbed her arms as the involuntary shudder swept her body.
Biting her lips, Khushi caught a glimpse of herself reflected in the large dresser mirror. Walking closer she saw a too pale woman with wide eyes staring back. She saw the washed out jeans, the frayed hem of her secondhand blouse, knowing beneath them were practical underwear meant to cover not seduce.
Her eyes moved towards the sheets. Throwing an apprehensive look at the closed door, her hands went to the top button of the shirt. Taking two shallow breaths she began undoing them.
Arnav wasn’t sure what to expect beyond the doors, but it was impossible to ignore the driving sense of urgency. The thought of her in his bed had blood pounding through his veins.
Why? He had met hundreds of beautiful women. What was it about this one that literally robbed him of breath? Shoving aside the uncomfortable thought, Arnav walked in, the rug muffling his steps.
She stood silhouetted by the city light coming through the glass balcony doors. They flickered, kissing the ebony strands that tumbled over one shoulder. Her feet were bare, and she was wrapped in nothing but his sheets.
Desire slammed into him.
As if she sensed him, her green eyes turned from the view, meeting his. He felt poleaxed by them, by her. She was like a mermaid, all creamy skin and alluring eyes. And suddenly all he could think was, finally, what the hell took you so long?
She made him want. Badly.
“Let go of the sheet.” The words were issued softly, but no less of a command. He saw her hands fisted, crushing the silk.
“I want to see you,” Arnav continued, softening the demand. This time his tone held the huskiness of unabashed hunger. As it glided across her skin, the sheet slid from her loosened grasp. It glided down her body to gather at her waist, baring her body to his stare.
Khushi clasped her hands together, heart pounding. She’d never responded to a man like this, never experienced such an extreme physical reaction. She stood before him, filled with tumultuous want.
No more than a couple of feet separated them. The single step he took in her direction shrank that distance and intensified her reaction to him. His hand traced her collarbone, branding each patch of skin he encountered. “You’re fucking beautiful.”
Unable to help herself, Khushi whispered, “Arnav.”
His response came in a burst of movement, sweeping her into his arms, locking her against him until hips and thighs collided. Khushi gave into the urge and allowed her hands to tunnel into the thick waves of his hair as his spread across her hip and spine. Their lips met.
She felt singed by the connection. She couldn’t seem to get enough of him. His scent, his touch, his taste. His hands drifted upward, leaving teasing caresses that aroused feverish passion in their wake, replacing flesh with liquid heat.
Khushi gasped as he teased her lips apart and then slid inward, initiating a sensual duel that she wished could go on forever until laughter, distinct and unmistakable, reached her ears. In an instant the awful memory she’d tried to suppress vaulted through her. It warped viciously around her mind and lungs until she was sure she would suffocate.
Khushi jerked away from Arnav. The move startled her as much as it did him. She blinked in bewilderment as if she wasn’t quite sure what had happened.
Arnav ground his teeth in frustration. His entire body ached; his hands twitched, wanting the feel of her beneath his fingers again. “What is it?”
Khushi pressed shaking fingers to her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said weakly. “I … I can’t do this…”
He looked at her sharply. Only seconds ago she had been a live flame in his arms. Now she was visibly trembling, fear and shame were pushing for supremacy in her eyes.
Arnav forced a deep inhale to ease the ragged pace of his breathing. “Too fast?” he asked quietly.
“No. I thought I could… with you ..I … I can’t do this. Sorry. I’m so sorry.” She pushed against him and headed to the pile of clothes she’d placed on the nightstand.
“What the hell is going on?” Arnav demanded as she yanked on her jeans.
“The hell you are!”
“Please… please, I need to go.” She came to a standstill, jeans and shirt half on and unbuttoned. She looked almost childlike in that moment, vulnerable.
Sexual frustration was beating at him. For a brief moment, Arnav was tempted to just let her go, call a woman up and relieve himself. Most women weren’t worth the trouble and the one before him was trouble in full caps.
Damn her, but he didn’t want another woman. He took in her pale face, the pinched skin between her dainty eyebrows and her tear-soaked eyes. That last observation kicked him in the throat as it suddenly occurred to him why a woman might panic in bed. Fuck. He was an idiot.
Approaching slowly until he stood in front of her, he questioned. “Khushi, did someone hurt you?” The thought made him feel murderous.
“Force you to-”
Surprise registered on her face as she caught his meaning. Intense relief washed over him when she shook her head.
“No. I wasn’t raped Arnav. It’s just….my first time was…” she bit her lips, “are you sure you want to hear this?”
“I asked didn’t I?”
“I’m not sure where to start.”
“I’ll get you something to drink, and you can start at the beginning.”
“Arnav, I should just go. We can forget about this, and..”
He tipped her chin up with his hand. “Tell me this. Whatever it is, if it’d never happened, would we be in bed right now?”
“Probably,” she conceded.
“Then I want to know.”
Ignoring her, he gently buttoned up her blouse and to her shock reached towards the jeans and pulled up the zipper.
“We can’t talk here, the bed is damn distracting.” Taking her hands, he pulled her out to the living room.
Pouring two fingers of brandy, he handed her the tumbler before settling down beside her on the couch.
With nerveless fingers she took the glass from him and took a big gulp. Unconsciously, she reached for Arnav’s hand. He gave her a light squeeze before demanding, “Now, talk.”
“Khushi,” was all he said, raising an eyebrow.
Warmed by the brandy and wanting desperately to put to rest one nightmare that had haunted her for years, she started, “His name was Trent Matthews.”
“He was a transfer student from Chicago. He’d been at our school for five weeks before I ran into him, literally, right outside the auditorium after gym class. He was so nice, Arnav. And at school, most of the kids weren’t nice to me.”
“Why?” Arnav asked. It was difficult to imagine anyone not responding to her natural warmth.
“There was a group of girls in school… very popular, they didn’t like me, and made sure everyone knew the price for being my friend,” she shrugged, the casual movement failing to drown out the ache in her voice.
“What happened after you ran into that guy?”
“He apologized even though I was the one who bumped into him and asked to walk me to my next class.”
Fucking punk taking advantage was Arnav’s silent thought.
“After that, I kept running into him, in the hallway between classes, at the library, and at the auditorium. He asked me out a few weeks later… We spent every moment together. The only thing he asked from me was that I don’t share the fact we were dating at school. He didn’t like any PDA, and he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. He was the best thing in my life at that point, and I didn’t really have friends at school so it was easy to agree.”
“Go on,” Arnav not liking where this was headed.
“A few months after we started dating, he took me to his house….” her voice had been steady as she spoke, but now they cracked with strain. “His parents were gone. He… he told me loved me and wanted to be with me.” Her eyes went to the ground. “I was uncomfortable, but I believed him and ….” she trailed off miserably.
Arnav allowed her a few moments before urging her to continue.
“As soon as he …was done, he just got up abruptly. I wanted to ask him what’s wrong when I heard voices.” Her hands clenched, not noticing how they dug tiny grooves in his skin. “That group of girls, all five of them, came into the room. They were laughing.”
Suddenly Khushi was no longer in the Arnav’s penthouse, but back in the tiny room where a tall slim girl with malicious eyes starred down at her, “Look at her! What a slut!”
“You were so right, Payal. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” another girl sniggered.
Hot shame filled her face at the mocking words. They stood around the bed, eyes raking as she laid there, exposed and humiliated. She’d brought her hands up to cover herself. Trent had pulled on his clothes, standing awkwardly to the side, looking embarrassed, refusing to meet her gaze.
She felt frozen to the spot. Blood was making a whooshing sound in her ears and she felt lightheaded. Finally, Payal moved. “Khushi, let me introduce you properly.” She went over to Trent, throwing her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a kiss. “This is Trent, my boyfriend.”
Payal’s eyes were trained on Khushi, eager to catch any involuntary hint of pain. That was the catalyst that finally got her feet moving. She jumped off the bed, tripping on a snag in the rug that sent her sprawling on the ground. Ignoring the scrapes on her cheek from the fall, she grabbed her clothes from the floor, rushing out of the room, out of the house. Yet, no matter how fast she urged her feet, their laughter beat at her eardrums, committing the vicious sound to memory.
“Who the fuck was she?” Arnav’s angry demand pulled her back.
“Your cousin had her boyfriend date you and take your virginity? Why?”
“To prove a point,” she replied dully.
“Fuck!” Arnav bit out. The women of his acquaintance had done some crazy things to get his attention or as revenge when he ended things, but this was a whole another level of fuck up.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone? Your parents?”
“They were dead.”
“Jesus. How old were you?”
“And you haven’t ….ever since?”
Humiliation burned behind her eyes, “No. I … I tried. Twice, but that happened,” she pointed vaguely towards the bedroom.
“Khushi, how old are you now?”
“And you’ve allowed a bunch of crazy bitches to control your life for six years?”
Her eyes filled, “I thought I loved him.”
Suddenly it became too much. Leaning against his shoulder, she allowed the scalding tears to pour out.
She sobbed even harder when she felt strong arms wrap around her and pull her close, holding tight.
“I thought he loved me” she whispered brokenly.
“Shhhh…. Shhh… don’t cry. Don’t, he’s not worth it.”
They sat for a long time, before she sniffled and backed away.
Feeling terribly exposed, Khushi wiped at her eyes while studiously avoided looking anywhere near Arnav.
“I’m sorry. I’ll just get my things and go.”
“Stop saying you’re sorry. And you’re not going anywhere.”
He brushed a finger down her tear-stained cheeks. “Khushi, what you just shared – I can’t say I understand why a group of girls would play such a twisted prank. Nor do I understand what the hell was going through that asshole’s head when he went along with it. I’m sorry you were hurt. I can’t change that. But there’s something I can do. I’m going to be your lover.”
She pulled away stunned, “Arnav.”
“Not tonight. You need to sort things in your head. But we are going to happen, Khushi.”
Khushi blinked. “I thought you only wanted tonight.”
“I’ve changed my mind. Spend the weekend with me.” Her eyes flew to his, she saw the mirrored surprise in them, he had not planned the words.
Wanting to allow him an easy out, she said, “This was only supposed to be one night.”
For a minute Arnav seemed to struggle with something, but he gave up the fight quickly and instead simply said, “Stay.”
“You walk out and they win. Every time it stops you from something you want, they win.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I don’t know. I know I want you. I want you to stay with me tonight and this weekend.”
Khushi felt her resolve wavering. He was right, if she left, they win. Yet, the man in front of her posed a different danger. Would she be able to guard herself against him if she stayed? Already he’s taken too much. Yet, she couldn’t imagine giving this up, to be so warm when she’d been cold for so long.
He sure likes his pound of flesh.
“Okay, I’ll stay.”
“The weekend?” he pressed.
A pause. “Yes.”
“I’ll sleep on the coach,” she offered quickly.
“Considering I’ve seen you naked, you just told me how you lost your virginity, don’t you think we can move beyond you sleeping on the coach?”
It was then that Khushi felt a shift within herself. It was small, yet significant. The heavy weight of that long ago hurt was lighter, less sharp. She may never understand Payal’s deliberate cruelty, but she will no longer allow it to rule her.
As soon as he’d pulled out his Harvard tee, Khushi had swiped it out of his hands and rushed into the bathroom. Amused by the flush in her cheeks, he headed towards the balcony and startled at his reflection in the window. It was smiling.
Sliding open the glass panel he welcomed the gust of freezing air as it hit him square in the face. When he had asked her to leave the party with him, his only plan was getting her into his bed. When it came to women he found it easy to detach the physical from any other entanglement. Yet, right now he was feeling anything but detached.
Khushi. Something about her stirred him.
Trent Matthews was fucking lucky he was out of Arnav’s reach tonight. He felt a powerful urge to punch the bastard in the face. Repeatedly. He made a mental note to have NK look into Matthews, he may not get the physical satisfaction of fists meeting bones, but there were other ways to crush a man.
The restlessness he’d felt earlier had been tempered, Arnav realized with a jolt. He’d become so wrapped up in her, he hadn’t even noticed. While the thought made him uneasy, he couldn’t imagine letting her walk out the door. Not tonight.
He had asked her to spend the weekend with him. She won’t be the first one in the bed behind him, but she definitely was the first one he asked, hell demanded, to be there. He had never prized virginity, but the thought of a sexually unawakened Khushi intrigued.
They’ll have this weekend. He’ll show her the pleasures of the body, and then, he’ll let her go. Ignoring the pang of the thought, Arnav closed the door and headed back in.
Facing Arnav’s bathroom mirror Khushi almost gave a yelp. Her hair was a mess, her face blotchy from crying, and mascara lines streaked her cheeks lightly. She felt horrified that he’d seen her like this.
At the thought of him, Khushi felt her body warm. Earlier she’d found it easy to see him only as a player out for a good time, the attraction she’d felt intense and undeniable, but now she didn’t know what to make of him. His compassion had surprised her.
The other two attempts she had made in the past to be with a man had ended disastrously. They had been furious, uncaring why she froze and hadn’t bothered to stop her when she left. Now, she was fiercely glad it hadn’t worked.
Turning on the faucet, she splashed cold water on her face, washing away the remnants of tears and the memory that caused them. She then got out of her clothes, slipping into the shirt he’d given her. The oversize tee with Harvard blazed across the front reached halfway down her thighs. It was soft, and smelled faintly of him.
I’m going to be your lover, his words rang in her ears. She wanted it. Wanted him. She wanted to belong to this stranger, even if it was only for a little while.
Taking a calming breath she pulled open the door and walked straight into Arnav’s chest. His naked chest. He’d changed into PJ bottoms, but apparently decided to forgo a shirt.
At first she felt him rocking silently, then he roared with laughter, the movements of his body vibrated against her, sending a wave of lust straight to her belly.
Trying to recover loss ground, she shoved lightly against him and headed to the bed.
“Which side do you sleep on?”
“The middle,” came the prompt answer.
Of course, Khushi thought darkly, “Well tonight which side do you want?”
Arms folded, he smirked, “Lady’s choice.”
Reminding herself she was an adult woman and she planned to sleep with this man, she quickly slipped into the bed. Less than ten seconds later the mattress dipped behind her as Arnav entered it. He flicked the covers over them then stretched out on his back.
“Um… good night, Arnav.” She turned away, keeping her body rigid near the edge.
The moment she closed her eyes, his hands shot out and pulled her against him. Khushi yelped in surprise.
“Shhhhh” he murmured, urging her head down on his shoulder.
Her chest rose with a deep inhale, “I didn’t take you for a cuddler.”
“I’m not,” he replied. “Or I wasn’t until about three seconds ago.” Her heart flipped and she melted against him, the tension leaving her body.
“Move and you’ll just be right back where you are right now,” he warned.
Bossy, she decided. He was hot, unexpectedly sweet, but bossy. “Don’t think you’ll always get your way.”
“Hmm… we’ll see.”
After a few moments ticked by she called out softly, “Arnav?”
Khushi licked her dry lips, “Thank you.”
Arnav responded by simply rolling into her; pressing a knee between her legs as he gathered her into his arms. “Sleep.”
Cocooned within his arms, feeling warm and safe, Khushi gave in. Lulled by his even breathing, she closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep held close in the embrace of Arnav Raizada.
So… watcha think?
Was this worth Arnav getting a case of blue balls? 😉
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