This one is for Huma – Happy Birthday!!!
K & I hope you’ll have a blast celebrating the special day with family and friends.
Ahem and note the photo of the pool, a certain scene we mentioned is coming 😉
Fifth Ave, New York
His mouth hovered just inches above hers. Khushi knew she should turn her head away, so why didn’t she? Her body was still vibrating with anger at his baseless accusations.
“What do you think you’re—”
His answer was to lower himself over her, until it felt as if they were joined at every conceivable point. Then his head dipped and reason disappeared, replaced by insanity. Insanity tasted pretty damn good. The first touch of his lips were gentle, a silent apology, then he drew back.
Khushi opened her eyes. When had she closed them? Awareness of what she was doing washed through her and she struggled again, but Arnav was ruthless. He pressed her deeper into the sofa.
“No, you don’t. You want this just as much as I do.”
‘No!’ she panted. ‘I don—’
This time there was no gentleness, his tongue made a bold foray into her mouth. Arnav was determined to break through her defense. He kissed her for seconds, or what felt like hours. It was the vibration of his cellphone that finally cut through the madness that had taken them over. Arnav noticed before she did, pulling back with reluctance.
“We’re not done.” He said lazily, smiling as he sensed victory.
It was the smugness of the smile that made her react. It cleared the fog his kisses had wrought over her ability to think. This time when she shoved against him he let her go.
Sitting up, her eyes caught on the bright screen of his phone, the message from NK still on display.
“Fuck me, make that Robyn Marie Sinclair.”
What the hell.
Khushi made a grab for the phone the same time he did.
She opened the text, scrolled up and felt disbelief and fury war.
“You ran a background check on me?”
“It’s nothing, just a precaution.”
“A precaution.” She repeated. The laugh that followed was hollow even to her own ears. “And with a tiny scrap of info, you became judge, jury, and executioner.”
“That was a mistake.”
“No, this whole thing is a mistake. Do you do background checks on every woman Arnav, or am I just special?”
“You don’t know what it’s like to have women feign interest because they want money or bragging rights.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Why? Because I’m not filthy rich? Is that how you measure a person’s worth, Arnav?” she demanded scornfully.
He felt a surge of anger move through him at the challenge in her gaze.
“Drop it, Khushi. I said it was a mistake.”
“You can’t even bring yourself to offer up an apology, can you?”
“No one is holding you here against your will. You’re free to go.”
“Last night, you…”
“Don’t read too much into last night.”
“Don’t dismiss it!”
He turned away from her, his back ramrod straight.
“Who are you punishing, Arnav?
“Whose crime am I paying for?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you? This background check, it’s you running scared.”
He turned back to face her snarling, “Who the fuck do you think you are? I want your body, but it doesn’t give you the right over me. And now, I’m starting to think it’s not worth the trouble.”
She paled as his words hung in the air between them, cutting.
Arnav felt his chest constrict in regret. But something bigger motivated him, even if he was reluctant to acknowledge it.
“Coward,” she hissed.
His body stiffened, his eyes blanked before saying coldly, “Get out.
Khushi turned and walked to the door, her movements jerky. She had her hands on the handle before she turned and looked at him. Through him.
“Do you know what’s funny? I’ve let history repeat itself. All these years I’ve been so careful to avoid any connections …and within hours of meeting you I was already more involved than I’d ever been with anyone in my life. When I woke up this morning I was happy and terrified. The only thing that gave me the courage to come back here was Robbie telling me this was worth exploring. That this could be the start of something more, something real. She’s wrong because there’s nothing here. Nothing but a man locked up in an ice fortress of distrust. Enjoy your own company Arnav, no woman can bear the cold.”
“I said, get out!”
She opened the door and walked out.
Khushi kept her head down as she made her way through the lobby and pushed through the revolving door, escape the only thing on her mind. She had to get away, as far and as fast as possible from a man who was capable of flaying her with a handful of biting words.
The wind whistled around her exposed legs but even the brisk chill couldn’t shock her out of the stupor that seemed to have overtaken her body. She walked with no direction or destination in mind, weaving through the crowd of tourists browsing the shop windows along Fifth Avenue.
It wasn’t until she felt the vibration in her hand that Khushi realized she still clutched Arnav’s phone. The stupor passed and reality rushed in.
Caller ID showed that it was NK. She couldn’t go back to return the phone, so it was probably best to hand it over to NK. She pressed the green icon to accept the call, raising it to her ears.
“How badly did you fuck things up?”
“ ..NK, it’s Khushi.”
“Oh shit, are you standing over his body?”
Despite the heaviness in her chest, Khushi couldn’t help but respond to his quick wit. It wasn’t a smile, but her lips tipped at the corners.
“No. I ugh… accidentally left with his phone.”
“Are you still on Fifth?”
“Yes,” she took a look around, “about two blocks south from the hotel.”
“I’m at AR, it’ll take about 20 minutes to get there. Continue down the street another block then turn left, there’s a French bistro right on the corner. I’ll meet you there.”
Before she could respond he hung up. Khushi shook her head ruefully. Apparently Arnav hired people as bossy as himself. She took out her cellphone and quickly texted Robbie.
Something came up. Call me when you’re done with audition.
Robbie’s response came within seconds.
What the hell did he do? I’ll be free in an hour.Text me an address. We can take the metro home together.
Khushi sighed, knowing Robbie wouldn’t leave things be until they talked through every detail. She responded with directions, then slipped the phone into her coat, wishing to get through the next part quickly so she could head to bed and forget about today.
After giving the server her order, Khushi looked up to find NK’s narrowed gaze on her. He had insisted on sitting down for dinner despite her desire to just hand over Arnav’s phone and leave.
“What is it?”
“Care to explain that?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“The menu’s in French.”
Khushi froze. Shit! How could she be so careless?
“There’s no translation, yet you just ordered, and quite well too,” NK continued, his eyes watchful.
“Are you interrogating me? Because I just went through it with an asshole and don’t care for a repeat. Besides, you didn’t have any problem with this menu,” she snapped.
NK raised his hands up in mock surrender.
“I’m only curious. You don’t have to answer. As for my limited French – AR supplies fabric to several major fashion houses in Milan. After several trips, it was either pick up some words or remain at the mercy of our host, whose taste bud doesn’t extend to salt.”
Feeling contrite, Khushi hesitated only briefly before sharing. “My mother was French.”
She was rewarded with a chuckle.
“Was that so hard? That explains those gorgeous eyes.” he winked at her.
Khushi relaxed into her seat. NK was charming, he was being sweet, and it wasn’t his fault he worked for a first rate distrusting asshole.
“You’re thinking about him.”
“How did you know?”
NK grinned, “Don’t play poker; your eyes give everything away.”
She looked down, starring hard at the silver utensils as if they fascinated her.
“Khushi, how badly did he fuck up with you?”
“Is he usually like this? With… other women?”
Her head jerked up at the firm answer.
“He was different today. When he’s at AR, he’s in his element, giving one hundred percent of his energy and concentration. It’s what makes him so successful. Yet, since this morning, he’s distracted, and I’m sure it’s because of you. He even got physical with a reporter over you.”
Her eyes widened as NK shared what happened with HP Daniels.
“I can’t believe he did that.”
“Either can I. Not his style.” NK paused before asking, “Khushi, how straight can you take it?”
“I think you can tell that Arnav is more than an employer to me. He’s a friend. And for that I care when he screws up his life due to his inability to trust. There have been a lot of women, the paparazzi documents it, so there’s no point in shielding you from that. He is used to easy. He always had women lined up at the door gagging for it. Women willing to do just about anything to get their hook into him and he knows it.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you’re not them. And as his friend, I’m fucking thrilled. This morning I saw an Arnav I’ve never seen. He was possessive and protective. Two words I would never have used in context with him. Yet, because he is used to easy, he’s going to fuck up.”
She didn’t want to hear any more about Arnav. It was time to change the subject.
“How did you end up as his PA? You don’t …fit the part.”
“You mean I’m not in four inch heels and a tight skirt?”
“Well, yeah.” She said, smiling in response to the laughter in his eyes.
“Started as his security detail. About six or seven years ago, AR was really taking off and Arnav was getting some serious threats from rivals. It was my first month in New York, still finding my feet. Luckily a friend of a friend was in charge of hiring, although I’d like to think my height and physical demonstration played a part. My first year, he went through eight assistants; all of them so busy trying to capture his attention the office was a damn mess. Coffee was always cold, meetings double scheduled, paperwork backed up at least a month. Anyways there was one bitch – she was crazier than the rest. He came in one morning and she was naked on his desk. He had to call me in to throw her out.”
“Naked?!” Khushi exclaimed, stunned by the woman’s daring.
“Not a stitch on her.”
“Anyways, I was bored most of the time, unless he was out, we just stood around looking intimidating. Since his PA’s weren’t doing jack, I started taking calls, made some appointments. I think it took both of us by surprise when his associates started asking for me. A few months after that, he stopped hiring and offered me the job. Thought about it some, he doubled his offer and… well I decided being a PA in New York was a calling. Deal was he had to get a secretary for filing, since I was not going to spend my time putting shit in alphabetical order.”
Their food arrived then, and Khushi found her stomach rumbling softy. She gave NK a slightly embarrassed smile.
“Bon appetite,” was all he said.
Allowing her time to enjoy the Soupe à L’oignon and Coquilles Saint-Jacques , NK didn’t press until halfway through their meal.
“You unnerve him.”
Recognizing that he would persist until they talked through the matter, Khushi laid down her utensils.
“NK, he told me to go. Whatever it is you think he feels, he doesn’t want it.”
“This is about the background check isn’t it? I told him he was digging his grave.”
“No, I just feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster since I met him and I want off.”
“Ah, but it’s the best damn ride in the park sweetheart.”
Khushi whirled around to see Aman standing beside their table.
NK scowled, “Seriously Aman, don’t you have shit to do?”
“Friends to drink with? A fiancée to woo?”
“First, since she’s a fiancée she’s already been wooed. As to friends- now that I’m an engaged man those bastards treat me like a diseased cow.”
He waved to the maitre d’ who obviously recognized him.
“Another chair please, Philippe.”
“Of course, right away, Monsieur Raizada.”
He sat down and grinned at her.
“I knew he’ll screw up so I kept tab on NK here.”
“How did you find me?” NK demanded.
“I had the techies install GPS tracking on your phones ever since I took over purchasing.”
“Arnav is gonna chop your balls when he finds out.”
“If he finds out.”
“Whatever,” Aman turned to Khushi, “I saw the giant tear out of AR, figured Arnav either ran out of condoms or he fucked up.”
“Are you trying to help out big brother or to dig his grave deeper?”
Khushi watched in amusement as the two men looked up and swallowed their tongue when they took in all that was Robbie Sinclair.
“Gentlemen, this is Robbie, my roommate. Robbie, this is NK and Aman.”
“Fuck me,” was NK’s response as he stood up and held out a hand.
“Hello, Handsome.” Robbie responded easily, slipping her slender hand into his, he gave it a light squeeze, before letting go.
“Oh fuck, did you tell Arnav she was living with a Robbie in that background check?” Aman asked.
Robbie’s eyes narrowed. “Background check?!”
She turned to Khushi her voice rising with each word, “The asshole pulled a background check on you?”
She glared at NK and Aman in turn before pulling Khushi out of her seat. “You did right sweetheart in walking away. What a dick! Come, we’re leaving.”
Khushi took out Arnav’s phone and held it out to NK, “Please give this back to him.”
Aman quickly snatched it out from her hand. “Oh, allow me. NK has enough to do.”
“Thank you for dinner, NK. Goodbye.” Khushi managed to get out before Robbie pulled her away, not bothering to say another word.
Aman looked at their retreating figures speculatively. He smirked when he saw where NK’s eyes were.
“You always were an ass man.”
“Shut up. How the hell are those two still single?”
“She said less than five words to you, how do you know she’s single?”
“No ring means she’s fair game.”
Aman laughed. “What are we going to do about my idiotic brother?”
NK nodded towards the phone. “You seem to have a plan.”
“I’m not going to ask.”
“You definitely shouldn’t.”
Arnav stared at the closed door. Dammit! Hurt. He had seen it in her eyes when she turned from him, had heard it in her voice. He had hurt her. Fuck.
He stalked across the room, snatched a glass from the bar shelf, and splashed in another healthy dose of scotch, his hand a white-knuckle grip around the glass.
A bleak expression crossed his face and he rubbed a weary hand over his eyes. Why should it bother him that she left? It was just physical frustration. That was all. He’d never been denied a woman he wanted before now.
Liar. Arnav cursed the inner voice that mocked him.
He heard a sound come from the door and felt incredible relief. She’d come back. Thank fuck.
“Khushi…” Arnav clamped his mouth shut when he saw it wasn’t her.
NK stood by the door eyeing him with interest, taking in the shattered tray alongside the crushed fruits.
“Was this you or her?”
“You fucked up, NK.” Arnav snarled.
“No, you did. I told you chicks don’t dig background checks.”
Arnav poured out the remaining liquid into a second glass, handing it to NK. “How was she?”
“Do you really need to ask me that?”
Arnav shifted his shoulders in an effort to relieve his mounting tension.
“Where’s my phone?”
“Aman has it.”
“What is he planning?”
“I was afraid to ask.”
“She went home safe?”
“Yes, her roommate showed up. You’re not their favorite person at the moment.”
Arnav looked towards NK, saw the amusement in his eyes, but also the concern.
“Do you think she’ll…”
“I don’t know. Never understood women out of bed. But either way you’re definitely fucked.”
“I think you should expect to crawl.”
“I don’t crawl.”
“Never too late to learn, mate.”
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York
A shower didn’t help. Pacing the floor didn’t help. Even talking things through with Robbie didn’t help. Khushi gritted her teeth as she called herself every type of name she could think of.
Her mind was in turmoil as she tried to process NK’s words at dinner. Why couldn’t she stop thinking about him?
The man who blew hot then cold. How many of his kisses would it take for her to lose herself completely?
His first kiss had stolen her reason. His second kiss stole her secrets.
Each subsequent meeting of their lips had her falling into his arms, breathless and yielding.
They were destructive kisses, she decided. They shouldn’t leave her wanting more. But if she was honest with herself, she knew she did. She wanted them. She wanted him. She just didn’t know what to do with this want.
Just who was Arnav Singh Raizada? The man who kisses her as if she could matter to him? Or the stone faced billionaire who didn’t allow anyone within touching distance?
Exhausted, Khushi headed to bed and buried her face in the pillow. Tomorrow, she’ll decide what to do.
It wasn’t until she wrapped herself in the scratchy wool blanket, that she recognized the source of her restlessness. One night, and already she missed the warmth of his arms.
Forcing her eyes closed, she tried to shut out thoughts of him and failed.
Khushi woke to the sound of the doorbell ringing. She frowned, who could be at the door at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning?
“If someone got the wrong address, kill them.” Robbie grumbled from the other side of the room.
Grabbing her sweater off the chair, she quickly slipped it on before heading to the door.
Checking the peephole, she saw a man in a formal suit carrying a large box.
Could it be something from Arnav? Heart pounding she opened the door. “Yes?”
“Miss Khushi Khumari?”
He handed her the package. “Have a nice morning, ma’am.” He left before she could respond.
Weird. After locking the door, she walked back to the bedroom.
Robbie sat up, “Who was it?”
“A delivery, for me.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well open it!”
Inside the box were a gigantic breakfast basket from Bouley and a smaller box.
Ignoring the basket of baked goods that smelled incredible, she reached towards the second box.
Nestled inside soft tissue paper was a phone. The moment she held it up she recognized it was Arnav’s. Beneath it was a keycard and a folded note.
I wanted this handwritten, but I figured calling up my secretary at 10 pm on New Year’s Day would be inviting a lawsuit.
Someone whose namesake is happiness is responsible for spreading it, wouldn’t you agree?
Within my sphere of acquaintances, my brother needs it the most. And after what I witnessed yesterday, I firmly believe it needs to come from you.
Since he paid an exorbitant amount of money to send me to law school, allow me to demonstrate my case.
Exhibit A – Yesterday morning I saw a glimpse of a brother I haven’t seen in fifteen years. Despite his reputation, he has never in his thirty one years kissed a woman in front of me. Never.
Exhibit B – He’s contained, controlled, compulsively neurotic really. A borderline alcoholic but he would never admit to it. There’s been a lot of beauty in his bed, yet none of them sweet. Women see the package, but never the man.
Exhibit C – He fucked up. No surprise since he doesn’t trust easily. Also, his pride and his fear won’t allow him to back down and go after you. I can guarantee he spent the night drinking and brooding.
Now A, B, and C are all about him, but D is just as important.
Exhibit D – Yesterday morning I saw a blushing woman with romance in her eyes. It was charming. And if I didn’t have an amazing woman I would want in there and to hell with Arnav. A few hours later, I saw that same woman hurting badly. This tells me you’re just as affected as he is.
So let’s talk options:
Smash the cellphone to pieces, it’ll annoy the shit out of him and give me a good laugh. Toss this letter aside and move onto someone easier. I say easier because I believe once you make your way past his guard, you will never find a better man (with the exception being myself).
Or take a chance, go back and fight. Fight with him, fight for him. Fight for the promise that you two can be. I totally approve of flying fruits if you need to go there. (For future reference, NK can’t keep a secret from me, I have collected too much fodder for blackmail).
Here’s the keycard. The passcode is our mother’s birthday (10.26.1958)
See? He’s a total sap.
Surprise him, Khushi. Don’t allow him to fall into routines. His entire life is mapped out and it’s boring as fuck.
Oh and a favor, I need to get the Aussie to shut the hell up, please have your hot roommate call him. He slipped a business card in her coat last night.
With all the sincerity of man about to tie the marriage noose knot,
Robbie came up beside her and snatched the note. She frowned, then smile and by the end was beaming. “Well I have a call to make, you going to put that bastard out of his misery or what?”
Khushi bit her lips. This was what she had secretly wished for, wasn’t it? If she braved his ice, what would she find beneath?
As soon as Khushi left, Robbie went to the nightstand and inhaled the fresh scent of baked goods from Bouley. Grabbing a croissant she bit into the buttery flakes before going to her purse and pulling out the business card she’d found in her coat last night. With a grin she settled onto the bed, punched the number he’d scrawled on top of the monogrammed print, and sent a text.
Robbie: Handsome. Explain how your card came to be in my coat.
NK: I’m a firm believe in advance preparation for emergencies. Would it be cliché to call you Beautiful?
Robbie: Yes, but don’t let it stop you. You mean emergencies in the form of women?
NK: Why ask when you know the answer? Nah, vixen probably suits you more.
NK: Beauty is innocent, a vixen knows how to bring a man to his knees.
Robbie: You don’t strike me as a man who kneels.
NK: Depends on the reason. There’s one activity I have no problem kneeling for.
NK: 😛 (note the tongue)
NK: Bet you are.
Robbie: As if you’ll ever know.
NK: Don’t bet money on that. You’ll lose.
Robbie: Arrogant bastard. Speaking of, she just left.
NK: Are we expecting another round of fireworks or flying fruits?
Robbie: Could go either way. She was … restless last night. Btw If you think I would let you get away with a background check you better get your last rites read now.
NK slammed the file he was reading shut.
NK: Never crossed my mind.
Robbie: Right. Now tell me, why the deliberate mistake?
Robbie: The lease.
NK: What about it?
Robbie: I checked last night. States pretty clearly that it’s in the name of Khushi Khumari and Robyn Marie Sinclair.
NK: This is a first.
NK: I’m turned on by a woman’s grey matter.
Robbie: You need to expand your circle of acquaintance. Now, explain.
NK: It was a feeler.
NK: You always this tenacious?
Robbie: When it comes to someone I care about.
NK: Good to know. Needed to confirm if she could be more than another one night stand to him.
NK: Unless they kill each other in the next hour, we will be seeing plenty of each other. Looking forward to the seeing.
Robbie: >.< You do this often?
NK: Never saw him act this way around a woman, gotta seize the moment.
She took another bite into the croissant. Yum.
Robbie: Thank you for breakfast.
NK: What makes you think it was from me?
Robbie: Khushi sure wasn’t going to stick around with that keycard burning in her hands. I know a double team effort when I see it.
NK: Jesus, you sure know how to turn a man on. How about a date?
Robbie: I don’t do dates.
NK: What do you do?
Robbie: Meet ups. And if you’re really good, maybe a hook up.
NK: Excellent. I’m really good, so can we go straight to hook up?
Robbie: Sex fiend.
NK: You tagged me. Well?
Robbie: If your Arnav doesn’t fuck up, then let’s do a group dinner.
NK: Didn’t realize you like an audience, but I’m game.
Robbie: Down, boy.
NK: Up is more fun.
NK: Fine. 7?
Robbie: You got it, Handsome.
NK: Pour yourself into some black lace.
Robbie: Why? You won’t be seeing it.
NK: I like a challenge.
Robbie: You just turned me on.
NK: Fuck me.
Robbie: I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
Fifth Ave, New York
Khushi starred resolutely ahead as the elevator doors dinged open on Arnav’s floor. She walked down the hall while straining to calm her breathing and her throbbing chest. A strange mixture of anxiety and excitement bubbled in her belly as she slid in the keycard and punched in the security code.
Gingerly pushing the door open she slipped inside. A few steps in, the scene that greeted her was upsetting, broken shards of glass, heavily bruised fruits, and two empty bottles of liquor. She winced at being confronted with the reminder of their last meeting.
Unsure what to do, she set down the canvas bag she had thrown together and was just about to call out to Arnav when her heels caught the edge of the rug, sending her tumbling over the sofa. Instead of soft cushions, she smashed right on top of a hard body.
Inwardly cursing at Robbie’s insistence on the ridiculous shoes, her eyes moved up resignedly to meet Arnav’s somber gaze.
“I think you can cross off a career in breaking and entering.”
Khushi flushed, “I…I…did you spend the night on the sofa?”
Arnav studied her, taking in the dark smudges under her eyes. Was he responsible? The pang that struck him when he realized she had lost sleep over last night gripped him unawares. He quashed it with ruthless immediacy. He was a man who understood the art of negotiation. The next few minutes would determine their course and he meant to keep an upper hand. NK’s advice of crawling be damned. She had come to him.
Ignoring her question, he set her aside and sat up. Adopting a casual look, he asked, “Why are you here?”
“I came to return your property.”
“How did you get in?”
She paused before admitting, “Aman.”
“Interfering bastard,” Arnav grumbled, “What did he say to you?”
“Nothing that should concern you,” she replied.
“Why are you here, Khushi?”
“To return your stupid phone!” she snapped.
“You could have mailed it.”
“No, I should have smashed it to pieces you … arrogant ass!” she hissed in mounting fury.
He reached out, wrapping her slender wrist with his hand, slipping his thumb beneath the long shirtsleeves onto her warm skin. His own heartbeat spiked when he felt the responding throb of her pulse.
“Why are you here?” he demanded.
“Because I couldn’t stay away!” she cried, “Happy now?”
He felt elation at her admission, but quickly masked it. “Should I be?”
“What do you want from me, Arnav?’
“I’m still deciding,” he told her truthfully, running his thumb in a light caress over her wrist.
She jerked her hand back. “Don’t.”
Khushi felt at war with her desire to rush out the door and crawl into his lap. At the moment, neither was a smart option. She felt trapped by his sensuality; it made logical thinking a challenge. Khushi Khumari, however, was not in the habit of allowing a man to dictate her actions.
Squaring her shoulders she decided to lay it out. “Arnav, I made a decision earlier to come here. Now I need you to make one. Tell me to go or ask me to stay. If I go, I won’t come back, whatever this is,’ she gestured between them, “it’ll be over.”
His eyes flared with temper as they faced off in the silence.
Arnav felt at war with his desire to tell her to get the hell away from him and pull her into his lap. Some women a man knew to steer clear of. It was self-preservation, a male survival instinct.
Let her go and continue living in his grey world or allow her in and hope the vibrant hues that clung to her like a halo doesn’t obliterate his hard won control.
He had been silent for so long, Khushi moved to get up. His arm reached out, and despite her resistance, he pulled her against him.
“Stay.” The single word ricocheted through both of them, its impact devastating.
“Why?” she whispered, gaze trained on his chest.
“I …want you to stay.”
“I want it too.” She admitted quietly, still faced away from him, “It’s crazy, but I can’t help it.”
“I know.” He eased back, tucking a hand under her chin to lift her face to his. “I feel the same.”
“You told me to go.”
Arnav nearly smiled. “How long do you think it takes to change a security code?”
She blinked at him, “What?”
“I should think I know Aman and NK better than you. This has their stamp all over it.”
Unsure how to respond, she straightened, but didn’t move away from him.
“I’m sorry,” Arnav said baldly.
She looked at him, mouth falling open at the unexpected apology.
“For suggesting that you were setting me up,” he grimaced then continued in a muted tone, “I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“Hmmm, I’ll say. You were acting like a bully.” She retorted.
Arnav’s eyes flared with anger, but then he briefly closed them and exhaled.
“You’re right. I deserve that,” he said stiffly.
Her gaze narrowed as she angled her body so they were face to face. “It would have been one thing if you were just being a jerk. But you were intentionally cruel. Why?”
His eyes flashed in memory, a muscle twitched in his jaw. “Before I came back here, I had some words with my grandmother. NK’s text came at a bad time and I…”
“Jumped to conclusions?” Khushi finished.
“Yes, I jumped to conclusions.” He shrugged. “I knew I was wrong almost the second you walked out.”
“Why didn’t you come after me?”
He hestitated. “This thing between us, I wasn’t sure if I want it.”
Khushi looked straight into his eyes. She could see regret mixing with slight irritation. “And now?”
“You’re here aren’t you?”
She gaped at him.
“Your cockiness is epic!” she exclaimed in mixed amazement and irritation.
“Never failed before,” she was sure she heard him mutter under his breath.
“Your turn, Khushi, do you want to go or stay?” he asked, his gaze dropping slowly to her mouth in a way that she recognized from the other night. Heat rushed through her, batting against her weakening defenses.
“Last night, I told myself I was going to steer clear, but the moment Aman gave me an excuse, I found my feet rushing towards you.”
“Why?” he asked “I apologized, didn’t I? Are you one to hold a grudge?”
“No, it’s not that.” Khushi replied slowly, “It’s just . . . I think my heart is in danger around you, Arnav.”
His eyes widen at the admission.
She held up a hand, “I’m not in love with you, I don’t believe in love at first sight, but something also tells me that it won’t take much for me to fall. And everything I know about you tells me you won’t be an easy man to love.”
“But you still came.”
There was a minute pause before Khushi said quietly, “What if I regret this?”
“Sometimes risk is the only thing that makes life worthwhile. And Khushi… you’re not the only one in danger.”
Before she could respond, Arnav took her hand in his. Her breath froze and then burned through her lungs when he raised it to his mouth and place a soft kiss on her palm. A simple gesture, and yet intensely complex. Her body clenched at the sensation of firm lips pressing against her skin.
“Good,” she whispered shakily when their gaze collided.
At the hint of a smile pulling at his lips, she knew a logical decision was beyond her. An absolute impossibility with his kiss still burning her palm. Khushi had the uncomfortable impression that while she was unsure of how today would end, Arnav was one hundred percent sure.
Her heart gave a hard thump as he bent his head. A thrill of excitement rushed through her as she waited for him to capture her mouth with his. He didn’t make her wait, wicked lips moved over hers with unapologetic hunger, shaping the flesh to his, claiming it.
“I’ve wanted to do that since I heard the door open,” he said roughly next to her lips a moment later. “Your mouth is indecent.”
Before his kisses fried what remained of her ability to think, Khushi put her hands up between their mouths, “Nuh uh, you owe me a date.”
“OK,” he acknowledged readily, “but on one condition.”
“This isn’t a business contract, Raizada.”
He gave her a wolfish grin. “Everything is a contract Khushi, it just comes with different sets of terms and conditions.”
Khushi let out an exasperated sigh, her first adult relationship was with the CEO of an international conglomerate, talk about jumping straight into the fire. “Fine, let’s hear it.”
“You get today, carte blanche. Tonight is mine.”
At her look, he continued. “Technically you already promised me the entire weekend, but I’m willing to share.”
“Generous of you.”
“I try to be.”
“Ok, I accept. Go grab your swim trunks.”
“Are you a parrot?” She asked tongue in cheek. Indicating she had heard his conversation with NK.
“Anyone ever tell you eavesdropper never hear good things?”
“It isn’t eavesdropping when the exchange is loud enough for anyone passing in the hallway to hear.”
“True enough. Why swim trunks?”
“We’re having our date here.”
“Here, in the apartment?”
“Here, in your hotel.”
He blinked in surprise.
“Do you even use the commodities here?”
“That’s what I thought. That’s why I was late yesterday. I was being impressed by Evan.”
“Who the fuck is Evan?” Arnav demanded.
“Your hotel manager. You don’t even know his name?”
“It doesn’t come up.” He muttered.
She rolled her eyes. “Of course. You know it means something to people if you at least try to be on a first name basis.”
“They’re employees, paid to perform a job.”
“They’re humans, with feelings.”
“I think they prefer the big year-end bonuses,” he replied cynically.
“Never mind, I recognize when a retreat is required. Go get your trunks.”
“What are you changing into?”
“I uh… brought a bag.”
He smirked. “Pretty sure of yourself.”
“No, but Aman gave me some good advice.”
“Aman. As in my brother, Aman, gave you good advice?” Arnav roared with laughter, “I think you’re the first person to ever say that.”
With her canvas bag and his swim trunks in one hand, Arnav guided Khushi down to the floor that housed the hotel’s indoor pool. As they stood side by side in the lift, body brushing lightly, Khushi shut down the voice that question the current state of her sanity. She decided she was going to enjoy today, then reboot her brain in the morning.
Entering the three-story aerie she stopped short, taking in the grandeur of the room. The glossy brochure had not done it justice. A giant lap pool served as the centerpiece of the impressive space, natural light flooded in from the clear glass windows that made up the three walls, above them over a dozen rows of lanterns danced down from the ceiling, casting a warm glow over the pool as it reflected off the water and gold-flecked stone walls.
At one end a tempting hot tub competed with luxurious lounge chairs, their creamy white cushions inviting you to lay down for a leisure nap. On the opposite corner a champagne brunch buffet had been laid out. A table for two was next to it, replete with an elegant vase of fresh cut peonies.
She turned suspiciously to Arnav, “When did you have time to arrange this?”
He shrugged. “You choose the venue, I just happen to know the owner.”
“I can’t believe you kicked everyone out. What would your clients think?”
“The staff will guide them to other activities. I don’t share.”
The way he said it, Khushi felt he was talking about more than his personal space.
He handed her the bag, jerking his head towards the private changing rooms behind the massive marble panel.
He ran his eyes over her. “Hurry, I’m starving.”
Khushi stood frowning before the mirror as she tugged on the cherry bikini. It was from one of Robbie’s commercial jobs that she insisted was perfect for Khushi. Looking at her reflection she was forced to agree, unfortunately the tiny triangles held together by even thinner strings left very little to the imagination.
Her eyes lifted and froze as she saw Arnav wander nonchalantly into the room, his long strides eating away the distance to stand behind her.
Their eyes met in the mirror, the paired cadence of inhales and exhales the only sound in the room. His hands moved to rest on her shoulders, a dark contrast against the creamy gold of her skin. Her body was pulsating in time with her heart, while goosebumps made her skin prickle in anticipation as she took him in.
However impressive his physique was in his tailored suits; it paled in comparison to this presentation of nearly naked male perfection. Arnav Singh Raizada should come with a health warning she decided. Despite a genuine effort on her part, it was impossible not to take in that expanse of bare, well toned chest, the smattering of dark hair led down in a silky line to where his swim shorts…
Shit! Averting her eyes she looked up again to see a twitch on Arnav’s lips. He definitely had not missed where her eyes had traveled. Leaning close to her ears he whispered, “The bikini is goddamned foreplay, but if you want to keep it on, you better move.”
He took her hand, leading back out to the aerie where he seated her then proceeded to pile two plates with mushroom omelette, creme brulée-dipped French toast, and fresh fruits.
As they ate, Arnav discovered he enjoyed feeding her. There was something sensual in the way she ate, slowly, as if savoring each bite. By silent agreement, they kept conversation light and he allowed himself to relax into the easy banter.
Khushi possessed a keen sense of humor and was incredibly well read. After three rounds of debates ranging from pulp fiction to the current political deadlocks keeping the country from true progress, Arnav acknowledged that he may have finally found an equal. When his phone’s daily alarm reminder for lunch went off at noon, he was startled by how much time had slipped by. He couldn’t remember the last time he enjoyed simply talking with a woman, and never for nearly three hours.
With lithe grace he stood up, “I think I’ll go for a swim, join me?”
“Go ahead, I think I ate too much just now.”
“You’re far too thin, Khushi.”
“Bet you don’t say that to your models.”
“No, but AR is doing everything we can to change the stringent criteria of modeling.”
Khushi beamed up at him. “Really? That’s great, Arnav! I’ve gone to a few runways with Robbie, and the women are bone thin to the point of looking ill. May I share this news with Robbie? She’s wanted to do haute couture for years, but no one would hire her because she has more curves then what’s considered fashionable.”
“How much will the incident from last night cost me with your Robbie?”
Khushi grinned, “NK is already smoothing your way, I think. And she wants me happy. That’s all it takes with her.”
He nodded, “Nice to know NK earns his keep.”
He delved cleanly into the cool water then boosted himself with a strong kick against the wall. He didn’t surface until he’d gone halfway down the pool.
Khushi was mesmerized as she watched Aranv’s arms scissor powerfully through the water. She moved closer to the edge of the pool, riveted by the display of rippling muscles as he swam.
He did ten laps without taking a break. By the time he headed back towards her again, her body felt whipped into a frenzy of pulsing need. Arnav came within a couple of feet of her, rising out of the water like an ocean god. The air crackled with tension as they looked at each other.
Simultaneously his arms reached for her, and she felt herself gravitate towards him as if being pulled by a magnetic force until she was in the water in the circle of his arms. It felt right. Inevitable.
She instinctively wrapped her legs around his waist as Arnav brought her arms around his neck. She was completely out of her depth…in more ways than one. Khushi stared into the dark pools of his eyes, watching as lust, hot and wicked, filled them. His arms were like a steel band around her waist.
“Kiss me, Arnav.” She lifted her head, hunger sparking inside her as his head lowered. He stopped less than a centimeter away.
“You kiss me, mermaid” he suggested on a dare. “Show me how much you want me.”
“Mermaid?” she breathed.
He flushed, he hadn’t meant to call her by the name aloud.
“Your eyes,” was all he said.
“You’re an interesting mix, Arnav, hard all over, but surprisingly sweet.”
“No one’s ever accused me of being that before.”
“Of being sweet.”
“It’s definitely not one of your dominant virtues,” Khushi informed him, a playful glint in her eyes. “I think that’s why it throws me off when it comes through.”
“It’s exceptionally gratifying to throw you off.” His finger lightly traced the curve of her spine, igniting every inch he made contact with. “Now, kiss me.”
He tilted towards her, expecting hesitancy, but was delighted when she fused their body. She touched her mouth to his, her teeth nipped at his lower lip before drawing it between hers.
Her lips curved at the involuntary groan that came from him. Slender fingers moved up into his hair. They tangled in the long strands and tugged him closer. With boldness she explored the contours of his lips, testing their taste and texture. His hand moved up to the back of her head and he angled it, his tongue sliding between hers in equal fervent exploration.
Arnav tore his lips from hers and looked down to where her nipples thrust against the wet material of her bikini.
He brought liquid eyes up to hers and lift her into his arms, carrying her up the steps and out of the water. Khushi knew that if he had set her down her legs would have given out, so she clung to his shoulders, cheeks resting against his chest while taking deep shuddering breaths.
He laid her none too gently onto the lounge bed, before following her down. Bracing his arms on either side of her, his eyes raked every exposed inch. The bikini that had been barely decent earlier was positively sinful now drenched with water. It clung to every dip and curve of her body.
“Beautiful…” he groaned. The dull rays of the winter sun were blocked out completely as his head dipped again to take her mouth lazily, as if they had all the time in the world to explore. Before she realized what he intended, he had lowered his mouth to one peak, sucking through the wet material of her top. She gasp when he pulled the material aside. The sudden sensation of his tongue on her bare skin made her cry out with pleasure.
She could feel him drifting a hand down over her belly, to rest near the top of her bikini bottoms, moving in slow sensuous circles, before his fingers moved lower…
“Will you let me, Khushi?” he whispered hoarsely, “Will you let me pleasure you?”
Her body surged up in answer. “Ar-nav…” There was hunger, fear and desire resonating in the single word.
“Trust me,” Arnav urged. He had to touch her. Now. At the moment, touching her was as imperative as breathing. He moved his hand lower still, slid his fingers into the band of her bikini bottoms, a groan tore from him as fingers feathered over silky curls.
“Fuck!” Arnav bit out.
Khushi lifted closer, desperate as the pressure built inside her. She needed … something. Something only Arnav could give her. She held her breath, tensing as his fingers dipped into her aching core. He explored with a tender sureness that sent her body careening until she was sure she would burn alive in his embrace.
“This is going to be mine, Khushi,” he growled, “you’re going to be mine.”
“Yes….. yours,” She agreed, head tipped as his fingers moved again, fracturing her senses as she finally found release.
Arnav didn’t allow her any time to be embarrassed after she experienced her first shattering orgasm. He lifted her from the lounge chair, and carried her straight into the men’s shower. Twisting knobs until hot water jetted over them at full blast.
“Arnav, this is the men’s side.”
“So what, no one is going to come in.”
“I can’t believe ..I … we… oh god pinch me.”
“I’m better than a dreamlover, Khushi.”
“You know such arrogance is a sin.”
“But sinning is so much fun.” He retorted and then proceeded to strip both of them out of the wet suits.
Arnav looked down in amusement to see her entire body bloom into a rosy flush. His smile gentled as he recognized her genuine discomfort as she avoided looking below his waist. “Your sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, Khushi. It was beautiful and we both enjoyed it. Thank you for giving that to me.”
Taking a deep breath, she finally raised her eyes to meet his. “Six years,” she shared, “for six years I could never find pleasure without remembering my first experience with it. But just now, Arnav, nothing existed for me but you. Thank you for giving that to me.” She rose up on her toes, placing a light kiss on the side of his neck.
His arms convulsed around her and held. He bent his head to capture her lips with his. As the steam rose around them he hitched her up against the tiled walls, never breaking their mouth to mouth contact.
“Arnav…” she exhaled against him.
“You didn’t …. earlier… only I …”
He grinned. “That was for you. You can take care of me later.”
“Not… now?” she asked hesitantly.
He raised one hand to cup her jaw, “Tonight. Our first time will be in my bed. But later, I’ll let you play.”
“Later?” she gulped.
He flicked her nose before lowering her back down.
“Yeah, later. But now you can pay me back for the orgasm another way.”
He smirked, reached up towards a high shelf, nabbed a bar of soap and placed it in her hands, “Have at me.”
Arnav was still grinning as he walked back to the poolside after leaving a very dazed Khushi to put on her clothes. He took the towel around his neck and was starting to dry his hair when he realized he was no longer alone.
NK and Aman had commandeered the buffet table, fresh trays had been brought in along with large glasses of mimosas. They exchanged knowing looks as he approached.
“Have you two had much of an opportunity to talk yet? Or did we skip that step altogether?” Aman asked.
“Why the hell are you here?” Arnav demanded.
“We’re reinforcement in case you strike out again. And as co-owner of the hotel, just making sure body bags won’t be needed.”
“Jesus, how long have you been here?”
“Long enough.” NK smirked. “From the …sound of things, you did all right, mate.”
“Excellent, we can move ahead with dinner plans.” Aman announced.
“What dinner plans?”
“Group dinner at seven.”
“Roommate’s idea.” NK supplied helpfully.
“Fuck,” Arnav bit out.
“Right. Table for six at Del Posto.’
“Anjali wants to meet Khushi.”
“Anyone else you forgot to invite?”
“Well there’s Shyam…” NK smirked at Arnav’s dark scowl.
“Get the fuck out of here.”
“You have another five hours, use them well, brother.” Aman advised as he reached into the fruit bowl.
“Oh look, a cherry,” he plucked up the berry and popped it into his mouth. “Delicious.”
Arnav threw the wet towel over his grinning face, “Perv. And next time, just send a damn text.”
Chelsea, New York
Payal Gupta Matthews sat across the table from her husband. He was still as handsome as the day she met him, she thought resentfully, yet the warmth that had drawn her to him had long left his eyes. She knew his heart wasn’t hers, if it ever was.
She had learned to bury the hurt. A Gupta didn’t let something as inconsequential as a man’s defection destroy her, such feelings were to be left to the conventional class. So it was with calculation that she made her announcement.
“I’ve accepted the invitation to Anjali’s engagement party,”
His hand on its way to pick up the wine glass paused. “I thought you said you weren’t close enough to her to attend.”
“Aren’t I allowed to change my mind? We should go together.”
“It’s a busy week at the office; I doubt I can move any meetings around.”
“I’m sure your secretary will manage it, she does bend over backwards to please you.” Payal responded silkily.
Trent sighed. He had long given up on reassuring her that his relationships with the women at the office were strictly professional.
“Payal,” he hesitated, “Have you given further thought to what I asked?”
“I gave you my answer.”
“And I requested you take some time to think it over.”
“What is there to think over? There has never been a divorce in my family, Trent. I won’t be the first.”
“Why do you insist on this pretense?”
“Do you know that my mother hated my father for most of their marriage? But she lived with him, no matter how much he shamed her with his whores, until the day he died.”
“We’re not happy, Payal. You’re not happy.”
“You mean, you want to free yourself from this marriage now that you know where your little Khushi is.”
Trent’s jaw clenched. “Stop bringing her into our marriage.”
“Why not? You bring her into our bedroom!”
“It was one time Payal – and you asked me to do it!”
“But you didn’t say no!”
Payal’s mouth twisted as she looked into Trent’s stunned face. “You were supposed to refuse Trent, but you wanted her. You wanted her then, you wanted her during all the years of us being together, and now you want some kind of future with her.”
She laughed then, the sound shrill. “Like she’ll take you back now that she knows what it’s like to be fucked by someone like Arnav Raizada.”
She watched gleefully as he winced at her words.
“Payal, I have never been unfaithful to you.”
“That depends what you mean by faithful! Physically you may have kept your vows. With your work hours and stamina, you barely have the energy to fuck your wife,” she sneered, “But there are other ways of being unfaithful, Trent. You betray me in your heart, every day of our marriage.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you? Well let me share something from our honeymoon with you.”
Her throat felt parched as she prepared to drive another wedge into their deteriorating marriage. “After our wedding night, I woke up happy. So happy I was smiling to myself. I had married the man I loved, and I’d just spent the night in his arms.”
A muscle in his jaw jumped but Trent remained silent.
“Naked with you in our marriage bed, you pressed into me, curled your hand around my breast and said her name!”
She watched as his chin jerked back. “Faithful? You don’t know the fucking meaning of the word.”
He got up and rounded the table towards her, “Payal…”
“Don’t! The first time you made love to me as my husband and you called me that bitch’s name. And it wasn’t the only time. So I won’t hear any more talks of divorce, Trent. My heart broke and I’m fine. You will be too.”
She got up from the table.
“The engagement party is in two weeks. Schedule it in.”
So… watcha think?
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