Fifth Ave, New York
Khushi let out a soft dreamy sigh. She was having the most delicious dream, too delightful to wake from just yet. A hard mouth was moving over hers temptingly, softly coaxing. It felt so good, so right. When his tongue boldly sought entry to explore, she smiled against his lips in a haze of pleasure. She arched up, wanting more…
At the groan of male approval, her body tightened in response. Hold it. She didn’t have these kinds of dreams.
Khushi’s eyes flew open. At the same time she became aware of her heart racing and her breath coming out in staccatos. Having sensed her wakefulness, Arnav’d moved back slightly, his eyes intent on her face.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
His mouth twitched and everything from last night slammed into Khushi at once, including the events that led to her sleeping in this bed. Before she could orient herself, Arnav leaned in until his tantalizing scent filled her.
The shrill rings of the landline along with the vibrations from his cellphone on the nightstand interrupted the descent of his head towards her. Arnav bit off a curse.
“Your phones are ringing.”
“I know. I’m ignoring it.”
His expression was so disgruntled; Khushi couldn’t hold back the burst of laughter.
“What if it’s important?”
“It’s Saturday,” he glanced at the digital clock, “not even 7 a.m. They can wait. Besides, NK will handle it.”
“I took you more for a female personal assistant kind of guy.”
“Too much trouble,” he muttered.
“Too busy falling for her gorgeous boss to make good coffee and keep the schedule?”
Humor lit his face, “I’m too smart to answer that.”
“You think I’m gorgeous?”
Khushi rolled her eyes. “Don’t fish for compliments. It’s ridiculous, especially when you know exactly how hot you are.”
“I was beginning to think I’d lost my touch. You’ve been…challenging.”
She looked up then into near black, saw the devilish grin on his face and suddenly felt the air sucked out of her. Arnav sensed the change and with a groan, bent to kiss her.
The rattle of someone opening the front door froze them in place.
“I leave you alone for one night, one fucking night, and this happens,” a voice boomed, followed quickly by footsteps heading straight towards the bedroom, “Arnav, hope you’re decent mate, I’m coming in.”
Khushi starred dumbstruck as a giant of a man walked through the doors. He was tall, deeply tanned, with long blond hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail, his dress shirt paired with dark denim. It wasn’t until he sat down on the bed that she came out of her Arnav induced stupor and made a grab for the sheets, raising it up to her neck.
“NK, what the hell are you doing here?”
Khushi was stunned. This was Arnav’s personal assistant? He didn’t look anything remotely like one. He looked like he’d walked in directly from the set of a Wrangler ad. All he was missing were the boots.
NK ignored Arnav, his entire attention on Khushi. A look of surprise registered before a grin stole over him. “Fuck me. It’s her!”
“You know him?” Arnav asked, as he did an ab curl and sat up.
Khushi shook her head.
NK cocked an eye towards Arnav, his grin growing even wider. “Was that a giggle I heard coming in?”
“Get out. I’ll meet you in the kitchen. And start the damn coffee.”
“Why? We can talk here, I don’t mind.”
Khushi inched off the bed, keeping the sheets close, “Umm… I could use a shower. You two go ahead.”
NK took a moment to appreciate the view as she darted towards the bathroom, but he swallowed the low whistle when he felt the heat of Arnav’s glare.
“Was that your Harvard tee?”
“Interesting night, mate?”
“Get to the point as to why you’re here at 7 fucking a.m. instead of in Monte Carlo,” Arnav snapped.
“Don’t worry, business is wrapped. As for my vacation hours, I’m charging you overtime for this.” NK pulled out his iPad, handing it over to Arnav.
There, in full color, under the trite headline ‘Fashion Magnate’s Midnight Kiss – Who’s the Girl?’ was a photo of him and Khushi on the sidewalk with the fireworks from Times Square exploding above them.
NK started pulling papers out of his briefcase. “Here’s the letter demanding a retraction, it just needs your signature. PR’s been notified, they’ve been instructed to field all media calls until we have a press release prepared.”
Arnav continued to stare at the photo. He waited for the heat of anger in face of the intrusion and was startled to realize he was only mildly irritated. Ever since AR became a global powerhouse in the fashion industry, he had learned to cope with the press’ voracious appetite for his personal life.
It was made clear to every woman he was seeing that any attempt to publicize the relationship would not be tolerated. Those who ignored the warning learned how vicious he was with retaliation. He valued his privacy, guarded it fiercely, for once he had been too young, too weak to face the onslaught of media hounds, but never again.
He had been so lost in her it hadn’t registered how they would appear to others. Looking at it captured in print, he saw how well she fit in his arms, almost as if she belonged in them. He didn’t date fragile women, preferring those who can handle themselves. Yet this morning waking up wrapped around her, her hair spread over his pillow, the protectiveness he felt nearly beat out his arousal. Nearly.
“You want to send a stronger message? Our lawyers can probably angle for a libel suit.”
“Are you a fucking parrot?”
“Are you Arnav fucking Raizada?”
“What did I miss?” a relaxed, barefooted Aman strolled through the kitchen archway, he settled casually against a kitchen counter and smirked at Arnav.
“What the hell, Aman. Since when do you have access to my place?”
“NK leaves a spare in his office, I made a copy.”
“Hand it over.”
“Well good morning to you too.”
“I’m not in the fucking mood to deal with you right now. Why aren’t you with Anjali? Aren’t we marrying you off?”
“Yeah, like Mohit Jha would allow his daughter to spend the night, engagement ring or not.”
“Don’t tell me you guys haven’t…” NK trailed off at the look on Aman’s face, “Fuck, man, I assumed…it’s been two years and still no home run? What the hell have you been doing on those dates?”
“Don’t even go there. It’s like being a born again virgin. Do they give out medals for yearlong celibacy?”
“A year? You’ve been with Anjali for two.”
“Yeah well, we weren’t exclusive that first year. Her decision.” Aman replied defensively.
“Jesus, Aman.” Arnav interjected, “If Shyam finds out and kicks your ass, he’s welcome to it.”
“He’s welcome to try. I could use a rush of testosterone. My dick probably forgot it has a second function.”
“Move up the wedding date.”
“Feel free to speak to Mrs. Jha on my behalf.”
“…Right, well, it’s just like riding a bike, your dick won’t forget.” NK grinned.
“Asshole. Speaking of Jhas, Shyam is pissed. Seems like your little headline pushed the news of him joining AR’s Board of Directors to page two.” Aman grinned.
“I swung by AR earlier, the building is surrounded by reporters. Not asking about Aman’s engagement to Anjali. Not asking about a possible merger between the Raizadas and the Jhas, but demanding to know who your mystery woman is.”
“Tell them it’s none of their damn business.”
“It was on the streets, Arnav, public domain.”
“Not to mention New Year’s Eve!” Aman chimed in.
“You never hold a woman’s hand in public, you never hug before an audience, hell you probably have a minimum six inches personal space rule or something, and you sure as fuck don’t kiss one out on the street so that anybody with a cellphone can snap a photo!”
“Tell PR to handle it, I pay them to keep this kind of shit contained. And I don’t want them harassing her here.”
A sly grin stole across Aman’s face as he exchanged a look with NK, “She’s still here?”
“In the shower,” NK responded helpfully.
“And I want the two of you gone by the time she’s out.”
“Hold the fuck up, she’s staying? What about one dinner, one night, no repeats?”
“What about it?” Arnav snapped.
“What did you give him to drink last night?” NK asked Aman.
“Must have been laced with more alcohol then I thought. Tell me honestly,” Aman demanded, “That last physical, what did the doctors really say? How long do you have?”
“Jesus Christ. I’m not drunk, I’m not dying. Now get the fuck out.”
“Shit, she must be hot.” Aman turned to NK, “Is she hot?”
“Not his type.”
“You mean she isn’t tastefully tall, built and bland?”
“Petite. Decent rack, sweet ass. Fuck me eyes.”
“I’m staying,” Aman declared.
“No you’re not. Get out before I call security.”
Ignoring Arnav, Aman went to pour himself a cup of coffee before settling on one of the island stools.
“So how was Monte Carlo, NK?”
NK smirked at Arnav’s dark scowl “Got the deal after they made a lot of noises. Won a nice bundle in the casino and had a very sweet piece in my suite when the emails started coming. Should’ve seen her. Legs up to her fucking ears, perfectly enhanced breasts-”
“Did she have a face?” Arnav asked dryly.
“One that went just fine with the body. Got bitchy and did some damage when I told her I had to leave,” NK tapped where two red scratches scored his left cheek. “Had to toss her out before she tore me to pieces.”
“Was she naked?” a female voice chimed in.
“Birthday suit, but I did remember to chuck her dress out after her.” NK responded before he realized the question hadn’t come from neither Arnav nor Aman.
Khushi stood with arms crossed as three pairs of eyes swung towards her. She’d only remembered she didn’t have a change of clothing with her when she stepped out of the shower. After wrapping herself in one of his giant towels, she had been debating digging through Arnav’s drawers when she heard voices and followed it to the kitchen.
Khushi felt her breath caught as all three men peruse her. They made a picture – three exceptional specimens of maleness. She focused on the younger, smoother, version of Arnav. His mouth was curved and his eyes flickered flirtatiously at her. He looked gilded, she mused. Thick black hair styled just so, a light grey suit tailored to a long, fit body that must see regular workouts, flashes of wealth at his wrist and cuffs.
He lacked Arnav’s intensity, but it would be a mistake to be taken in by the careful packaging. His eyes were watchful, even if his manners were easy.
“Hi, Beautiful, I’m Aman.”
“Hi.” Her lips curved in response. That intrinsic charm would have no trouble raising the blood pressure on a corpse. Providing it was female. “I’m Khushi.”
“Aman, try to remember you’re off market.”
“No harm in looking… and appreciating.” Aman turned a devastating smile.
NK snorted, before putting out a hand towards her, “Sorry for barging in earlier, Happiness. Arnav rarely has company. I’m NK.”
“Do you speak Hindi?”
“Fluently.” Before she could guess his intentions, he wrapped an arm around her waist, bent down, and murmured a highly charged and explicit suggestion in her ear. NK pulled back grinning, fully expecting a slap on the face.
“NK, remove your hands or I will render you unable to biologically procreate.”*
“Arnav is saying ‘I’ll kill you’ in an articulately ambiguous way,” Aman supplied helpfully.
While Khushi turned pink, she shocked them by tucking a wet strand of hair behind her ears and smiled sweetly up at NK. “The accent’s mediocre, but your imagination is commendable.” She gave his arm a light pat before extracting herself. “However, I’m not interested.”
NK chuckled. “Well I’ll be damn. You keeping this one, Arnav?”
Arnav was struggling to keep his temper in check. A host of conflicting emotions and wants were battling just under the surface. Aman and NK’s flirting had never bothered him. Hell, there were women who found the idea of capturing the attention of both Raizada brothers a personal challenge, and over the years he and NK had shared a few women. He had never cared. Yet, he was learning, damn fast, that he cared if this woman found them interchangeable.
She was wrapped only in his towel with beads of water clinging to her body. Arnav’s eyes followed one droplet as it ran down the column of her throat, gliding right between…
He needed her clothed before he did something reckless, like punch his brother and NK in the face for looking at his woman. His woman. Fuck, where had that come from?
An image crashed into his head of her naked body under his, those sea-green eyes drowsy with arousal, as she would slowly bring his head down to hers, where their mouths…His whole body seemed to be igniting from the inside even as he tried to crush the mental image, but its eroticism lingered. He wanted her. Now. Arnav shot out from the behind the kitchen island and moved until his body shield hers completely.
Khushi peeped up at him from below thick lashes. “I don’t have anything to wear…” her words were so soft he had to bend lower to hear them. The scent of her shower drifted to him, on her skin his soap was somehow feminine, mysterious. That blending of their scent snapped the last of his control.
Unmindful of their audience, his fingers clamped around the back of her neck, pulled her face toward his. He heard her breath catch when he paused just before their lips touched. She leaned into him, her fingers speared through his hair, fisted. And they forgot where they were. Mouth to mouth they strained against one another until the kiss turned visibly carnal.
“Well, fuck me, is this really happening?” NK demanded.
“The hell if I know. But if he draws this out any longer, I’ll need a cold shower,” Aman replied.
Arnav surfaced abruptly, shaking his head to clear it. “Get lost you two.”
“You need to come into the office, Arnav. Board wants to hold an emergency meeting.”
“Dammit,” Arnav bit off, “Fine, tell them to come in at eleven.”
“Guess it won’t be a quickie.” Aman muttered.
Khushi flushed as NK gave her a wink.
“It was a pleasure, Khushi,” Aman took her hand giving it an exaggerated kiss before heading out with NK, “Let’s go get you your own woman, NK.”
“Working for your brother, who has time?” NK responded with mock frustration.
Khushi wasn’t sure what to expect the moment Arnav closed the door on them. Yet, two seconds later, she found herself breathless as Arnav maneuvered her against the door, his eyes heated as he played with the edge of the towel.
She starred at his mouth, and licked her lips in anticipation. His fingers came up to trace the movement.
“There’s not enough time for the things I want to do you.” He murmured hotly. “So for now, breakfast.”
“Yeah, I have a need to sink my teeth into something.” He starred in satisfaction as her pupils dilated.
“There’s a bathrobe in the top drawer of the dresser, put it on, then call room service. I’ll take a quick shower and join you.”
“Kay,” she breathed and his eyes warmed.
Chelsea, New York
In an Italianate townhouse off West 22nd Street, Chelsea’s most refined block, a woman sat with hands clenched tightly to quell the intense urge to hurl something as she watched the news feed.
Rage vibrated through her as she recognized the woman wrapped passionately against one of New York’s wealthiest men.
She had done everything, sacrificed so much, to ensure that trash stayed in the gutter. How had she managed to capture the attention of Arnav Singh Raizada? It was unacceptable. A reminder of her status was necessary and this time she would deliver it in person.
Upstairs, in his private study, a man touched the image on his phone. His hands trembled as he traced the pale flesh he had never forgotten.
“Khushi,” he whispered achingly.
Fifth Ave, New York
After calling room service and stammering her way through ‘Mr. Raizada’s usual breakfast’ order, Khushi dumped out the coffee NK had made earlier to make a fresh pot.
She had expected to wake up embarrassed after last night’s confession. Instead she felt taken over by the whirlwind that was Arnav. Twice now, she’d found herself pulled completely out of reality the moment his lips touched hers. He seemed intent on smashing down the walls that she’d built around her sexuality, and she felt helpless to resist the attraction that crackled between them.
Concentrating on the stream of java filling the glass pot, she startled when she felt the warmth of a body against her back. Khushi looked over one shoulder to see Arnav had her fenced in.
He was already dressed in graphite trousers paired with a white dress shirt that he’d left mostly unbuttoned. His hair dripped with wet and wild provocation.
“Breakfast will be up soon.” She managed to get out before his hand disappeared and a second later she felt it sweeping her hair over to one shoulder before he leaned in, making her jump at the intimacy of the gesture.
She inched forward to grab two mugs and filled them with coffee, taking a sip from her cup to calm her electrified nerves before asking, “Arnav…. is there a reason why you have me pressed up against the counter?”
“Trying to figure out how you smell so damn good.”
Khushi blinked at the unexpected response. She picked up his mug and shoved it towards him.
Arnav gave her a knowing smirk as he took it, stroking her hand lightly before he moved back against the opposite counter.
“I need to be at the office for a few hours, but I’ll be back before six. I’ll take you out for dinner before we come back here to sleep.”
“Sleep?” she squeaked.
“Not like last night, we’ll both be naked and certain… acts will be included.”
Khushi’s mind went blank.
“I’ll expect your participation.”
“Your keen participation.”
Shit! Shit! Shit!
“I… I..what if I’m not good at it?” she blurted out.
She turned away embarrassed.
Arnav took a few moments to study her. He’d had no intention of making his needs so obvious to her. He’d wanted plenty of women, yet he couldn’t recall anyone ever coming close to igniting this avalanche of desire. It was a relief to know he wasn’t alone.
“Khushi, give me your eyes.”
She turned towards him, allowing him to see the distress lingering in them.
“It’ll be my pleasure to take care of you tonight. No memories, no expectations. Just us, okay?”
“I told you last night, we’re going to happen.”
Unable to verbalize a response, she nodded.
“There are plenty of boutiques down the lobby; I have a charge account in all of them. Pick out something you like for tonight.”
She froze at the words.
“I have clothes.”
“As much as I enjoy seeing you in my robe, you’re going to need something else for dinner.”
“Fine, I’ll stop by my place and get something.”
“Why bother? Just..”
“I won’t be paid for sex, Arnav,” she said sharply.
“Khushi, that isn’t-” he protested.
She shoved away from the counter. “It’s a deal breaker. No money, no gifts.”
Arnav was at a loss. When had a woman ever turned down his offer of a shopping trip? Never.
“I mean it. I don’t need you to buy me anything.” She rested her hands on his arms, as her eyes implored him.
“If that’s what you want.”
She sagged against him in relief. “It’s what I want.”
“I’ll leave you the driver.”
“No need. I have a few errands to run.”
“You’ll come back won’t you?” the question was asked lightly, yet his eyes were serious as he waited for her answer.
“Maybe it’s a better that I don’t.”
“You promised me you’ll stay the weekend.”
“You’re much better off without me.”
“Let me be the judge of that,” he turned the full effect of his gaze on her,” If you’re not back here when I return, there will be hell to pay. And Khushi, you won’t like how I collect.”
“Do you realize how bossy you are?”
“Promise me you’ll be back.”
AR Corps, New York
Arnav’s mind was still full of Khushi when the limo pulled up to the entrance of AR’s headquarters. He hadn’t liked the idea of her going off to her own place, even with her promise to be back. He made a mental note to call the hotel manager to personally escort her up as soon as she entered the lobby.
Forcing himself to focus on the hours ahead, he sent a text to NK, notifying his arrival. There were paparazzi everywhere outside, a barely civilized mob being held back by a barricade of security guards.
As soon as he stepped onto the curb, flashbulbs exploded in his face. Automatically his arm went up to protect himself from being snapped, but to little avail. They were quick to converge on him.
“Give me a break, guys,” he said resignedly as he tried to wade through them. “Didn’t you get enough pictures last night?”
“Who’s the girl, Arnav?”
“How long have you been dating?”
“Did you meet her at the party?”
“Bet she made a good New Year fuck.”
Arnav’s rushed footsteps came to an abrupt halt, and he whirled around to face the reporter who’d made the last comment.
“I said; bet she was a good fuck.” Arnav came face to face with HP Daniels. He should have known. He was looking into the bullish countenance of one of the most obnoxious and dogged members of the press.
Daniels worked freelance, but his pieces usually showed up in the tabloids that printed scandalous and damaging stories, whether they held truth or not. Arnav forced his face to an impassive expression as he faced-off with the photographer. His eyes raked over thinning, brown hair plastered to a pale, perspiring scalp to the camera dangling from his thick neck by a sweat-stained strap.
“Isn’t that all you require from your women?” Daniels continued belligerently.
“Give us a name, Arnav” another reporter demanded.
“No comment,” he responded, turning away, “Now, if you’ll excuse me—”
“Why are you hiding her identity? Daniels barred his path. For a heavy man he sure as fuck moved with remarkable agility. “Was she working at the party?”
“Get out of my way,” Arnav gritted through his teeth.
He pushed one photographer aside only to be blocked again by Daniel’s girth. “Let’s have one more picture for your swooning female fan base,” Daniels jeered as he raised his camera. The flashing blue-white light blasted Arnav’s eyes, momentarily blinding him.
It was unfortunate for Daniels that Arnav’s vision cleared in mere seconds. He yanked on the strap of the camera and pulled it from around Daniels’s neck. How the vicious jerking motion didn’t snap the photographer’s neck came as a shock to those who witnessed it.
Without a trace of remorse, Arnav dashed the camera against the steel wall of the building, and then threw it to the sidewalk. The crowd, murmuring, moved back.
Arnav, with his fists working at his sides, faced Daniels. “If you ever harass me again, I’ll see to it you never work. You won’t even be able to get an online tabloid to pick up any of your shit. Get me?”
“I’ll sue you for property damage and harassment first, Raizada!”
Arnav smiled coolly, “Do it. I want to know how far those pittances they pay you for trash will go against my billions. As of this morning I believe it’s close to fifteen. And Daniels? Don’t wait too long, my lawyers have never enjoyed roadkill.”
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York
Khushi grimaced as she walked up to the apartment building she’d called home for the last two years. For the first time, she tried looking at it through someone else eyes – Arnav’s.
Just before she’d moved in, the neighborhood received a face lift. Older houses were freshly renovated; several apartment buildings had been torn down and replaced with trendy condos.
Except for her building, it was old and run down. No attention was spared for the design when it was constructed; no attention was put into how it was now maintained. It was a blight on the neighborhood. On the bright side, rent was low and it was located near the metro station. Unfortunately, the neighbors hated it, hated the landlord and by association, the tenants.
She eyed the elevator that had a rope across it with a sloppily handwritten notice taped to it that read, “Out of Order.” It had been there for over five months and unlikely to be removed any time soon. Khushi considered the three flights of stairs to her unit good exercise.
She’d barely slipped a key into the lock when the door flew open.
“Well, well, well, where have you been all night?”
“Oh shit! Robbie, I’m so sorry. I…”
“Shhhhhh….” Her roommate raised up a palm. “Yes or no answers only.”
“Were you with a man last night?”
“Was it Arnav Singh Raizada?”
Khushi was shocked. “How do you..?”
Robbie raised up a copy of the National Enquirer. Splashed on the front page was a photo of her in Arnav’s arms, kissing. Oh shit! Was this why he had to go into the office today?
“It’s all over the news! The fashion mogul with his mystery girl,” Robbie made an exaggerated face as she fanned herself with one hand. “And to think I thought you couldn’t possibly have a better night than I did. But I sure as hell wasn’t kissed by a sexy billionaire.”
Robbie reached out and yanked her through the door. “Now, spill!”
If those two words didn’t sum up their relationship, Khushi wouldn’t know what does. Robbie Sinclair was six months older, they’d found each other one night when Robbie had showed up at a bar Khushi was waitressing at after a failed audition.
She was model tall, classically beautiful, but curved beyond what was considered fashionable for haute couture. The only companies willing to hire her were for lingerie ads, which Robbie’s Indiana farm girl roots wouldn’t allow her to accept. Although that resolve was chipping away each day.
They had bonded over aching feet and lemon drops. When money became tight, they had decided to share space. It was an adjustment for Khushi, who had by then grown accustomed to living by herself. Robbie was friendly where she was reserved, confident in her sexuality when Khushi struggled with male attention. Yet, the differences in their personalities had never hindered their friendship. It was Robbie’s policy towards secrets that drove Khushi crazy.
She couldn’t tolerate being kept in the dark about anything, whether it was a tiny insignificant event or a major life crisis. In the two years they’ve roomed together, Khushi had learned to open up and share. They’d spent many nights exchanging stories from the past, secret dreams and little disappointments. In return she gained a sister she had always wished for, but never thought she’ll have.
Moving towards the upholstered sofa Robbie had managed to pick up at a flea market, Khushi knew she was in for another session of sharing.
“What do you mean; it’s all over the news?”
“All the major gossip channels, print and digital, hell even the Times gave it a mention. Was he at the party? Did you guys…”
“What? No! I mean, yes, we… I…I … pinch me.”
“Not a dream, babe. Now, details!”
Letting out a sigh, Khushi spent the next hour ‘spilling’.
When she was done sharing their conversation from the morning she turned to Robbie, whose lips were parted and her eyes were glazed. “Robbie?”
“Shh, I’m having an orgasm.”
Robbie sighed, “Honey, you just told me, Arnav Singh Raizada, one of New York’s richest and hottest bachelor, kissed the hell out of you – in public, and then took you to his penthouse, where he kissed the hell out of you – in private, and after you spilled about that bastard Trent, he spent the night holding you and woke you up with a kiss. Thus, orgasm.”
“He wants me to spend the weekend, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea.” she trailed off.
“Khushi, I know you don’t follow the gossip pages, but when a Raizada asks a woman to spend the weekend, her overnight bag is packed before he finishes asking.”
“What do I know about handling a guy like that?”
“He seems more than capable of doing the handling.”
“Khushi, did you just listen to yourself? I’ve known you for two years, two! And it took half that time for you to open up and share about Trent, not to mention I had to pile you with lemon drops and tequila shots. You met this guy last night and a few hours later, you’re sharing. What does that tell you?”
“That I’m an idiot.”
“No, that you’re into him. And let me tell you something else. Out of the New York bachelors, Arnav is probably one of the most private. He’s sought after, so he gets photographed with his dates all the time, but I have never seen him touch one of them. He does not do PDA. You may not have been aware of the press, but he sure as hell would know they are there. So for something like this to happen,” her head jerked towards the tabloid, “it means he was so into you he forgot about them.”
Khushi sat quietly, digesting Robbie’s word.
She wasn’t done. “The guys you picked in the past,” Robbie shook her head, “not all that, especially when confronted by your wall of ice in the bedroom.”
“You’re telling me something I know already,” Khushi pointed out.
“What I’m saying is, you don’t have experience of men who are men. A hot guy in high school screwed you over, but Khushi, karma sometimes is a sweet bitch. You’ve caught the attention of one of the hottest guy in the State of New York.”
“He scares me,” Khushi confessed.
“Then take this weekend to figure it out.” Robbie returned, “Honestly, Khushi, with how beautiful, sweet, and funny you are, plus those eyes I would murder for, I can’t understand how you don’t know down to the bones you deserve to be swept off your feet. But that’s you and I love you, so…whatever,” she shrugged.
“Maybe I should explain more about his bossiness, he doesn’t ask Robbie, he tells me to do things.”
“Or maybe you should stop trying so damned hard to find fault in everything and just enjoy the moment. I get you can’t quite believe, after years of being fucked over by Trent and that bitch who shall remain nameless, that this can be real, but honey, believe it!”
At Khushi’s silence, Robbie pressed further. “Khushi you deserve happiness. He wants you, your company, your body – enjoy it – who knows where it’ll lead?”
Kushi’s breath caught at what Robbie said, allowing herself to process all it meant and just how true it was. “What do I wear to dinner?”
Robbie grinned. “Lunch first, babe. Then I have just the thing that will knock him on his ass.”
AR Corps, New York
For the third time in as many hours, Arnav hung up after confirming with his hotel manager that Khushi was still out. He strode towards the glass windows, hoping the unobstructed view of the city he had worked so hard to conquer would soothe him. He felt hot and frustrated. Hands deep in the pockets of his trousers he stared out at the view, not seeing any of it.
On his desk was a pile of notes from his secretary of calls he had to return, e-mails to respond to, proposals to approve. He had a video conference on Monday for the upcoming New York Fashion Week that he needed to prepare for, but his concentration was shot.
The Board meeting had gone south when Shyam had come in just long enough to turn on the clip of the run in with Daniels. Another reporter had filmed the entire exchange and uploaded it onto YouTube. No doubt it’ll be a feature of the evening news report on all major media outlets. And Arnav didn’t give one fuck at the moment.
All because he couldn’t keep his mind off of one woman. A woman he’d known for less than twenty four hours.
No woman had ever reduced him to such juvenile behavior of keeping check on her comings and goings. They provided temporary relief. Nothing more, nothing less. He felt resentment towards Khushi and although he would never admit it aloud, fear. He needed to take her. The sooner he burned himself free of this desire, the sooner he could get back to normal.
Head bent he tapped the first speed dial that connected him immediately to NK.
“Look, if this is another crisis, I’m gonna need a fucking PA.”
“NK, I want a profile on Khushi Khumari by the end of the day.”
“Well there’s the distrusting bastard we know and love.”
“A preliminary background check will do.”
“You sure you want this? Chicks don’t dig it when a guy pulls a background check on them.”
“I expect this to be discreet.”
“Your funeral, mate.”
Arnav looked up at the light knock against his office door, Nani stood with a severe frown marring her usually serene face.
“Arnav, a minute, if you don’t mind.”
“NK, Nani’s here. Text me the results as soon as you can.”
“Nani,” he greeted as soon as he placed the phone down. He had been expecting a visit from her as soon as NK showed up this morning.
“That photo of you and that woman is everywhere. AR can’t afford such scandals.”
“That woman has a name.”
“There’s a rumor that she was working at the party, a staffer for the catering company.”
“And if it’s true?”
‘Have you lost your mind, Arnav?” she demanded.
“I recall someone telling me that any woman would do as long as I settle down.”
“Now you’re being ridiculous. Handle it or I will.”
“And how do you want me to handle it, Nani?”
“Like the CEO of AR, not like your father’s son!”
Arnav’s body gave an involuntary jerk. The air in the room shifted, undulating with tension. He saw the immediate regret in her expression, but at that moment he couldn’t find it in himself to get pass the blow she’d just dealt.
Devyani walked towards him, arms out, “Arnav….”
He stepped back, his face stonily impenetrable. “You’re right, Mrs. Raizada. Forgive the lapse; it is sometimes difficult to deny one’s parentage. As much as we both wish otherwise, Mallick blood flows in these veins alongside those of the Raizadas.”
“Arnav, I didn’t mean…”
“I’m well aware of what you meant. Go home, it’s New Years. Monday will be soon enough to deal with business.”
Ignoring the snow and the icy fingers of the wind, Arnav sat on the lone bench studying the relentless flow of traffic moving through Brooklyn Bridge.
It was a private spot he had discovered by accident years ago. NK jokingly called it his thinking chair. In truth, many of the toughest decisions he had to make for AR had been thought out on the wooden seat.
He had dismissed the limo and driver, electing to drive himself. Yet, even the sleek grace of the Aston Martin failed to lift his black mood.
Nani’s words had burst open wounds he’d thought were healed. He was beginning to realize that perhaps the only way to exorcise old ghosts was to lay them to rest inside his own mind.
Fifth Ave, New York
Arnav stepped into the penthouse, bone-weary. Silence descended around him, a stringent reminder that he was alone. At that moment, he wanted to lose himself inside of a woman.
Where was she? He realized then he didn’t have her number.
Loosening the Windsor knot in his tie, he went to pour a glass of Scotch, and settled onto the sofa. It felt odd waiting for a woman.
His phone beeped as a text came through.
It was from NK.
Name: Khushi Khumari
Birthdate: September 17, 1992
Education: High School GED
Last place of employment: Kumar Catering, Inc.
Current Address: 26 Crown Heights Unit 312, Brooklyn New York
Apartment lease cosigned with a Robbie Sinclair as of two years ago.
… Should I look into Sinclair?
Arnav felt as if something had just punched him in the gut, and he had to breathe deeply to ease the sensation.
He stared broodingly at the level of Scotch in the glass as cynicism rippled through him. It might numb him enough to forget how warm and vital Khushi had felt under his hands, how that fresh scent of hers had gone straight to his head and made him burn.
The intensity of his reaction disturbed him. Resolutely setting it aside along with his phone, Arnav threw back the whiskey. Not too different from swallowing a mouthful of acid.
Curse her, no one made a fool of Arnav Singh Raizada.
It was half past six when he received a call from the lobby.
“Sir, a Ms. Khumari is here for you.”
“Send her up.”
The happy hello froze on Khushi’s lips and was never uttered when Arnav turned around after closing the door. He watched her with a face which terrified, the planes of it chiseled into sharp angles, the mouth a tight cold line, the eyes leaping with rage. His body was tense, the muscles bunched in anger.
Arnav looked down at her and his insides contracted. Damn her, he’d never seen a woman so gorgeous, cheeks reddened by the chill wind, long hair loose and wild. Her eyes shone with a fierce, vivid green and he almost forgot she was nothing but a fraud.
“Is he a good lover?”
Khushi stared at him, confused by the question, shocked by the bite in his tone. “Who?”
After a taut silence Arnav bit out curtly, “Robbie Sinclair.”
“Yes, Robbie,” he mimicked savagely.
At her silence, Arnav ground out, “Give it up, Khushi. You’ll find that no one ever lie to me and get away with it. Is this a game to you? Set up the sucker? That stupid story you sold me last night, was any of it true? Unfortunately for you, NK found out about your live-in lover.”
At her silence, his eyes darkened in stony accusation. “Say something!”
“I’m leaving.” She turned away.
With an abruptness of movements, he twisted her around and folded his arms about her, crossing them under her breasts and holding her wrists manacled. Just that easily, Khushi found herself subdued and fenced, his muscled body hard against her back.
Arnav settled on her heavily, “When he holds you, do you mold to him?” She bucked in an attempt to break away, but he was stronger. “When he kisses you, do you meet them with answering greed?” He tried to kiss her, but she jerked her head from him. His hand grasped her jaw and held her head immobile as his lips crushed hers brutally. She fought him, but Arnav’s hold on her was unyielding.
The pressure of his fingers on her jaw was so rigid, Khushi feared the cracking of her bones. “How could you respond to me like this, you faithless wh-”
“Don’t you dare say it!” She kicked backward, catching his shin with her heel. Arnav grunted, but she knew she hadn’t hurt him. Khushi twisted her body, trying to turn around so she could inflict real damage.
“Why? It’s the truth!”
“You wouldn’t know the truth if it bit you in ass you insufferable bastard!”
“Then tell me, who the fuck is Robbie Sinclair?”
“None of your business,” she said flatly.
“It became my business when you spent the night in my bed.”
Khushi couldn’t breathe around the fury knotting her throat. It was over. Already over, before it really began. The longer she existed in this fairytale, the worse it was going to be in the end. Better to end it now before she forgot what her life was really like.
Then she thought of the hours she and Robbie had spent with their closets, finding the perfect outfit. It had felt good to dress up for someone. They’d chosen a simple dress that fit her like a dream and lent the appearance of curves.
She was still thin—too thin from too many missed meals, but with light makeup, her hair loose floating freely down her back, she had felt pretty. The first time she went out of her way to dress up for a man. For him. It was a far cry from the tattered jeans and plain shirts she’d typically worn for so long. Actually, she felt . . . beautiful. Like a woman worthy of attention from a man like Arnav.
A man who gave her a taste of magic, who made her want. Now he was shredding it, and her, apart.
She whirled, seized the nearest object and hurled it. “You arrogant son of a bitch!”
Arnav gave Khushi credit for the aim as the flying candle whistled by his head before crashing into the wall. Luckily he was light on his feet.
“How dare you? How dare you make such assumptions about me? Demanding answers to things you’ve no right to know?”
She grabbed a vase next, and sent it flying towards him.
“Jesus, Khushi,” Aranv exclaimed in admiration, even as he was forced to catch the vase before it smashed into his face.
“Your overactive imagination is despicable!”
“I have a right to know, Khushi, because you gave it to me! Every time your lips yield to mine.”
Anger rushed through Khushi, gathering force, and she used it before it dissolved. She looked wildly for something else to throw at him and snagged a bowl of fresh fruits off the coffee table. She sent them sailing through the air.
“Do you know how happy I was earlier?”
Two oranges came hurling after it.
“Butterflies in my stomach like a stupid school girl on her first date.”
“I can’t believe I wanted you ….”
Then the ceramic bowl, but this time she feinted first before heaving it in the direction of his dodge. It caught Arnav just above the ear and had stars dancing before his vision.
“That’s it, game over.” Arnav made a dive for Khushi, caught her around the waist as he maneuvered and tumbled them both down to the couch.
“You… little… wildcat,” he said, panting with effort. “Get a hold of yourself before you kill me.”
She hitched her chin. “I want to kill you,” she bit out between gritted teeth.
Arnav looked at her glaring up at him and stilled, all the tension drained from his body. Obviously there had been a mistake; one he’ll deal with it later. She was beautiful. Her eyes flashing with temper, her cheeks were pink and her breasts rose and fell enticingly under her dress. No, she wasn’t just beautiful, she was fucking magnificent in her fury. And she was his.
So… watcha think?
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* adapted from Love So Life by Kaede Kouchi