Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Chapter Thirty


Sitting beside a quiet Arnav in the SUV, Khushi stole a glance at him. She was dangerously attracted to this man. She shook her head, the push and pull of wishes and fears tearing her apart. She felt awash with guilt at the lie they were living. Her feelings for him were increasing every day, and na├»ve that she was, she still could feel herself falling in love with him. Falling in love with a man who professed to have no heart … who did not know what love meant. Yet he had said the words to her so easily a little while ago.

And now, this insistence to drive her to Aman’s hotel. Did he not even trust her this much; first his assumption that she was willing to marry his brother-in-law, then his anger over Harry this afternoon, and now changing his plan to escort her? Yet a voice inside her chided her to not think too much and just enjoy being with him. A voice telling her slyly, ‘you know you want to be with him … every minute that you can.’

And that was true. Still, she knew she ought to be resisting all of this.
Lost in her thoughts, Khushi was startled when the car suddenly stopped and there was a valet opening her door, waiting patiently for her to get out.  Before she could react, Arnav was beside the door, holding his hand out for her. Too surprised to put up much of a fight, she quietly put her small hand into his, and let him help her step down gently.

The tinkling of a water fountain in the lobby greeted Khushi, calming her ruffled nerves immediately. Forgetting that she still held his hand, she looked about her fascinated by the cool marble interiors of the hotel lobby. Squeezing his hand excitedly, she all but dragged him towards the wall of bay windows at one side over looking the hotel pool.

Arnav looked at her indulgently, viewing the lobby that he would only cursorily glance at whenever he came here through her eyes, enjoying her pleasure more than anything else. He looked towards the coffee shop where he had told Aman they would meet him.

Khushi was still, unconsciously clutching his hand, and much as he hated the thought of stifling her discoveries, he needed to call Aman to let him know that they had arrived.

‘Khushi’, he tugged at her hand gently pulling her away, from the pool and towards the house phones. Realizing that she was hanging on to him for quite some time now, Khushi pulled out her hand from his with a jerk, stepping back from him a little.

Staring at her for minute intently, Arnav turned his heels and walked towards the house phones, where he had a quick chat with Aman and walked back towards where she was still waiting.

‘He’ll join us in the coffee shop,’ he told her holding her by the elbow and leading her towards the glass doors at the entrance of the lobby they had just entered.

Once inside the coffee shop, Khushi looked at him while he spoke to the manager, requesting a table, and stating his preference for one with a poolside view. His handsome face was tanned and lean and his nose classical in profile. She liked the humorous gleam in his brown eyes, liked the way his strong fingers still held her elbow gently, liked the way his collar opened to his muscular chest. A rush of pride filled her. She was proud to be married to this man.

She did not realize that he had stopped talking and was now watching her. Their gazes met and the sudden electricity flared between them. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart began to beat wildly. Had he asked her something, she mused?
Catching her fluster, he smiled and dropped a quick kiss on her lips. Her lips tingled, but a small circle of dread began to grow in her chest. She took a deep breath and cleared her mind. This was just getting too confusing.

‘KAYYYYY!’

Aman’s loud voice distracted her as she turned back towards the main door a warm smile on her lips. Forgetting where she was and whom she was with, Khushi rushed towards her best friend instinctively – straight into his extended arms. He swung her up and around and even though Arnav was aware of their closeness, he could not help the slight tinge of envy that rushed through him as he looked at them, a small frown marring his forehead.

‘Arnav!!!’ Aman had put Khushi down and was now walking towards him, his arms extended, a warm smile on his handsome face. Not being a very emotional or demonstrative person, Arnav reeled under the onslaught of the warm embrace that Aman engulfed him in. From over Aman’s shoulder he watched, surprised, Khushi eyeing them with a similar distracted frown.

‘What’s up dude?’ Aman had moved back a step, still holding Arnav’s shoulders firmly. ‘All okay between the love birds, finally?’ he whispered, giving a startled Arnav a conspiratory wink.

Accha chalo,’ Aman swiftly changed the topic turning back and including Khushi, who had walked up to join them. ‘Jaldi se baitho … I want to share something.’

Seated that the table with Aman on one side and Arnav, disturbingly close on the other, Khushi turned excitedly towards Aman. ‘Haan toh …’ she began, ‘kya keh rahe they...

‘Diya and I are getting married’ Aman all but shouted reaching out and clutching Khushi’s hand that was on the table beside him. ‘And I want YOU … no … both of you to be there next month in Mumbai.’ Turning to Arnav he added, ‘I’ll mail you the details, dude.’

Khushi stared at Aman open-mouthed for five full seconds before launching herself at him, almost knocking over the table and Aman himself. Engulfing her in a bear hug, Aman barely managed to keep them both from falling over while he laughed ‘…er that is if I don't fall over and break my neck right now!’

Khushi swatted his arm while settling back into her chair, clasping his hands with both of hers and gushed in excitement ‘So you did it finally… told her you loved her…’

Arnav turned towards her incredulously. ‘What the...’ he thought to himself. He had just told her he loved her this afternoon. And there had been no reaction at all from her for that, he muttered to himself irritated with her constantly rushing to hug Aman.

‘Congratulations’, he muttered instead to Aman, as Khushi settled back in her chair, bombarding him with fifty-three questions about the how, what and where of his proposal.

‘Thanks dude,’ Aman muttered instead, looking at Arnav sheepishly. ‘Ek minute,’ he turned back towards Khushi, ‘shall we order first, and then I will answer all your questions.’

Settled with their teas and coffees, Aman detailed the wedding plans adding that amma and the rest of the family needed to be there too. He would send out the cards later, but Khushi had to let everyone know the dates etc. once Arnav received the email.

‘And you both need to come a little earlier, of course,’ he added with a twinkle in his eye, ‘you…’ pointing at Arnav, ‘for my bachelor party and you…’ pointing at Khushi, ‘for my moral support.’

Bachelor party! Khushi’s eyebrows went up. Adding two and two, she wondered if a girl’s bachelor party had male strippers, would a boy’s have women doing the same instead. Her brow furrowed at the thought of her husband watching some beautiful scantily clad women dancing in front of him. She felt angry suddenly at the thought.

So lost in her thoughts was she that she missed Aman and Arnav making a plan to move up to Aman’s room instead of the coffee shop. ‘Dude, it's late already, but knowing you, do you have to get back to work? I can drop her off later, if you want,’ Aman was asking Arnav. ‘No, I don't think there's anything pressing in office today, we can…’ Arnav started, only to be interrupted by Khushi.

‘Aman... kal karenge? Bahut der ho gayi .. ghar pe sab intezaar kar rahe honge..’

Arnav frowned turning towards her quizzically. Sensing the tension between them, Aman shrugged and said "Of course ... call me tomorrow... I'm here for another day. We still need to celebrate my news’. Looking at Arnav, he winked.

Rushing through a quick goodbye, Khushi started walking towards the entrance, leaving a puzzled Arnav and Aman staring at her back and then at each other.

‘She seems to be upset,’ Aman mused ‘You may need to feed her,’ he advised Arnav mock seriously.
Patting Aman gratefully on his shoulders and promising to catch up soon, Arnav rushed after Khushi, taking long strides to catch up with her.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Chapter Twenty Nine


Standing at the door, with the tea tray in her hands, Khushi peeped inside apprehensively. In the past, she recalled, he had always been angry after any show of emotion that he believed would be a weakness. His hiding behind a harsh mask of insults and temper, was something she was quite used to by now.

He was still standing where she had left him, his back towards her, staring out into the pool. Khushi felt a shiver run down her spine, as she crept quietly into the room, depositing the tray on the table near where he stood. She sat and poured his tea, uncomfortable with the silence in the room.

‘So, what has this … er … Harry? … been teaching you?’, Arnav asked calmly.

Khushi nearly dropped the teacup that she had been holding out towards him, as his voice suddenly broke the silence.

He turned slowly to look down at her, enjoying, but purposely ignoring her discomfiture. He moved nonchalantly closer towards where she was sitting and taking the cup from her now shaking hand, sat comfortably next to her on the small settee.

 ‘Khushi? …’ He asked softly turning to look into her face which was now just inches away from his.

He watched, with a satisfied smile, myriad emotions flit crossed her face, as she tried to figure out just what was going on with him.

‘Huh…’ she focused on him, ‘Aap … Harry…?’ she repeated incoherently instead.

Haan … I asked you what has he been teaching you?’ Arnav asked her patiently, sipping the tea, all the while watching her intently, above the rim of the cup.

Vohume …’ Khushi continued to mumble, not knowing where this conversation was going. Was he going to scream again? Why was he asking her these questions? ‘English …’ she said instead, ‘English sikha rahe hain vo…’

‘And he has a girlfriend, you told me … Shruti?’ Arnav probed.

‘Sakshi…’ Khushi looked away from his penetrating gaze, uncomfortable at his closeness and the ease with which he was conversing with her.
Haan ... the one who took you for the strippers party.’ He mused, remembering their night spent at the farmhouse.
‘Strippers party nahi tha vo’. Khushi burst out hotly, quelling down the same memories.
Arnav looked at her, raising an eyebrow, a smirk on his lips. ‘Achcha? So those men there…’
Aa-aap’ she interrupted urgently, not liking the direction this conversation was taking. ‘Hum... matlab hum pooch rahe they ki aap jaldi kaise aa gaye?’

Arnav bit back a smile at her obvious attempt to change the topic. ‘Haan woh … I just took a break. I'll be heading back now.’

‘Oh’, she said flushing prettily, hoping that he did not notice the disappointment in her voice.

The sharp ring of Khushi’s mobile broke the moment as they both turned towards the sound. Khushi rushed, eager to escape his disturbing proximity, to the bedside where she noticed, with a smile, Aman’s number flashing on the screen.

‘Aman’, she gushed into the phone, unaware of Arnav’s sudden stiffening shoulders.

Hearing the warm jocular voice of her friend at the other side, she immediately forgot the brooding presence in the room behind her, missing his sharp intake of breath, on hearing the joy in her voice.

Arnav watched her make herself comfortable on the bed, chatting merrily to her friend. It seemed that he was in Delhi for some work. 

Bilkul!’ she chirped ‘Hum abhi aate hai! Kaunsa hotel?’

Arnav frowned, willing her to look at him. It seemed like Aman offered to come and pick her up. ‘Achcha theek hai’, she continued still unaware of his rigid presence in the room behind her. ‘Hum tayyaar rahenge.’ 

He clenched his fists trying to bite down on his rising annoyance while he noticed her shoulders stiffening slightly, before she spoke again, looking at him from the corner of her eye. ‘Er... vo... er... vo abhi office jaayenge. Tum raat ko hume chodne aaoge toh mil lena.

‘Oh, is that so?’ Arnav thought angrily. ‘We'll see about that.’

He waited for her to hang up and turn towards him. He refused to make this easy for her by acknowledging what he got from the conversation and looked at her pointedly, waiting for her to speak.

Er hum... vo,’ she started, suddenly feeling unsure.

Arnav tried to keep his rising temper in check at seeing Khushi being so jovial with Aman one minute and stammering in front of him the next. ‘Vo Aman yaad hai naa aapko? Humaara dost? Vo Delhi mei hai kuch kaam se. Toh hum...’

He knew he should say something, but he stubbornly refused to do so. She will have to tell me that she just asked Aman to come and pick her up, he thought.

Kya?’ he said tonelessly.

Fiddling with her palla, she continued with increasing trepidation, ‘Vo humse milne aa raha hai toh…’

‘Oh that's great. He's coming home?’, Khushi completely missed the disbelief in Arnav’s sarcastic voice.

 ‘Nahin... matlab haan... matlab... ghar pe toh sab aaraam kar rahe hai, toh... matlab he said he'll come and pick me... vo... er aapse bhi milna... toh ... you're going to office, so I said he can meet you when he drops me back..." she finished in a rush of words.

‘Call him back.’

Ji?’, Khushi looked up at his abrupt command, stopping her fidgeting.

 ‘You have his number, right? Call him back. Now.’ Arnav ground out patiently.

‘Arnav ji...’ Khushi started, unsure of what he planned to tell Aman now.

‘Khushi, I want to say hi too... aur uska number nahi hai mere paas’, He took the phone clutched in her hand and started dialing the last received number before she could react.

 ‘Relax Khushi, nikal hi raha hu ek minute mei’, Arnav heard the smile in Aman's voice at the other end.

‘Aman. Hey!’ Arnav said.

There was a pause before Aman replied in a surprised voice, ‘Arnav! Hi dude! I thought you'd left for work. How are you?’

Arnav couldn't help but reply warmly. ‘I'm good, Aman. Khushi said you wanted to catch up with me too. I realized I don't have to be at the office right now. Why don't you stay put at the hotel? I'll bring Khushi along. Where are you staying?’

‘Sounds great!’ gushed Aman, ‘I'm staying at the Oberoi. Room no 244.’

‘Cool, we'll see you soon then.’ Arnav said, before hanging up and turning to Khushi, who still hadn't moved, an unreadable expression on her face.

It was obvious that she didn't look too pleased to have him accompany her to meet Aman, he thought annoyed. ‘Well ... too bad, he thought to himself, ‘She was his wife, and they would visit any friends as a couple, whether she liked it or not,’

Taiiyaar nahi hona kya’, he reminded her silkily instead, when she continued to stay rooted to where she was, lost in her thoughts.

‘Huh …’ she looked up towards him, looking down at his extended hand where her mobile lay.

‘Chalna nahi hain kya?’ Arnav added patiently, putting her phone into his pocket when she did not reach out to take it.

Shaking herself out of her reverie, Khushi blurted accusingly, ‘par aap toh office vapas jaa rahe they na… toh…’

‘Koi important kaam nahi hain’, Arnav assured her. ‘Ab niklen?’

 Par …’ Khushi started again, unsure of what was going on here. Her joy at meeting with Aman suddenly turning into trepidation at this new turn of events.

Arnav just raised an eyebrow, stalling any further comments from her.

He watched Khushi walk slowly towards the cupboard, putting together her handbag, lost in thought.

Khushi started when she felt him walk up to stand close behind her. ‘Tum akele jaana chaahti hon?, he said, leaning close so that his warm breath tickled her ear.

Khushi turned around angry at the way he was playing with her. Not prepared for his nearness, her eyes widened in alarm as she tried to take a step back, only to find herself against the cupboard. His hands reached out to steady her, as he watched her falter against the door. Holding her between him and the door Arnav stared in fascination, forgetting his annoyance as he took in her flushed face and wide eyes. His gaze dropped to her lips and his eyes darkened. 

Hum …’ she began, her voice fading out, as she watched wide-eyed, his face close in on hers. She drew in a sharp breath as she felt his strong lips take her quivering soft ones in a sudden deep kiss. Forgetting what it was she wanted to say when Arnav’s mouth was so hot and his tongue was searching for a response from hers. The room faded and all she could concentrate on was the sense of him, so large, so strong, and so very delicious. 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Chicky's FF: Twenty Seven and Twenty Eight


‘We should go down and get some food,’ he murmured huskily against her lips. Khushi opened her bemused eyes slowly to look at his handsome face above hers. The dupatta from her head was somewhere on the floor, the chill of the night air now sharp on her exposed back. She was clutching his lapels, all thoughts of hunger or thirst forgotten.

‘ummmm…’ she murmured, not wanting to move out of his warm embrace.

‘You need to eat something...’ he reminded her gently, still from somewhere near her lips.

‘ummmm…’ she agreed, half listening.

‘Well then, in that case …’ bending to first pick up and drape the dupatta back on her shoulders, he swiftly swooped down and lifted her in his arms. Startled, she instinctively put her arms around his neck for support.

Chalen?’ he looked roguishly into her now wide eyes, his eyes dropping to her swollen red lips. ‘We can continue this after dinner…’ he promised, as he carried her down the stairs into the drawing room.

‘Did she faint?’ Jiji was the first to notice them, and stood up worried, joined by Anjali.

They settled her into a chair, next to where Arnav sat himself, after making her comfortable. Khushi embarrassed with all the sudden attention, blushed prettily, unable to articulate anything. The aromas drifting from the dishes laid out on the table, brought back the hunger pangs with a vengeance, and she gratefully accepted being served by Anjali, who was also seated beside her.

As both Arnav and she took their first morsels of food into their mouth, they heaved a sign of relief, simultaneously.

‘Why are YOU signing with relief, Arnav,’ Nani mocked him, ‘its your wife who fasted… er … though you did leave in the morning without breakfast …’

‘And you refused lunch too, bhai,’ Akash piped in, his mind putting two and two together and looking up at Arnav, wide-eyed.

‘YOU FASTED!’ he said in disbelief, his next morsel stalled mid-air.

All stunned seven pairs of eyes turned towards Arnav, astonishment, amazement, and surprise echoing in all them. Everyone had stopped eating, and was staring at him flabbergasted.

Arnav gagged on the food already in his mouth, and he started turning a shade of deep red. Khushi, forgetting her own food, immediately reached out to pat his back and offer him a glass of water.

Six pairs of eyes now watched with varied degrees of affection, as Khushi, oblivious of where they were, was busy asking him if he was okay, and lecturing him to eat slowly.

‘Enough…’ Arnav, embarrassed at suddenly being the centre of attention, firmly but gently, said aloud.
‘Chote…’ Anjali was not one to give up. ‘I cannot believe … you actually fasted with your wife… aur hume itna …’

‘Di… please…’ He was mortified beyond belief. ‘Can we all eat …’.

Haan, Chote, par ..

‘Di…’ he said warningly.

He had fasted with her … Khushi continued to stare at him shaken with the discovery. Why had he done that? And why didn’t he tell her earlier …

‘Eat …’ he commanded gruffly meeting her stare, with his own, and gesturing towards her plate with his eyes.

Six pairs of eyes smiled … knowingly.

**

He was not in the room, when Khushi came up after helping clear up and spending some time with nani in her room. She had once again stalled coming back to the room, not knowing how to react to this new information that she had just received.

He had fasted with her … and not made a noise too about it ... like you had, she reminded herself, feeling ashamed. But why had he fasted? He did not believe in all these fasts and rituals … yet he had returned in time for her puja, in spite of all that she had said to him earlier. She shut her eyes in humiliation as she opened the doors of their room.

Phir maafi maange…’ she chided herself …  how many times will she say sorry to him, for always thinking the worst.

Looking about the room, she saw the door leading to the poolside open and tiptoed out as softly as she could, her anklets surely giving her away.

**

The tinkle of her anklets as she tried to creep up to him from behind, brought a small smile to Arnav’s lips. He remembered how he had caught her doing it once long ago on some festival day … what was it? … she had even winked at him that day to play along with her for some excuses she had been making for La. He had been completely taken aback that day, he recalled fondly. What exactly had she been creeping up to him for, he wondered now, a slight frown marring his forehead. Come to think of it, he had never come to know, as she had run off as soon as he had turned around and questioned her. Yes, what had she been up to, he wondered again, making a mental note to ask her when he could.

But for now, he sat and waited patiently for her to come closer. Close enough for him to reach out and take her in his arms.

**

‘Khushi…’ he whispered, checking if she was awake.

‘Hmmmm,’ she mumbled sleepily, nestling into the crook of his arm.

She opened one eye, and looked up at his head resting on the pillow. Looking towards the clock, she noticed the late hour, recalling shyly of the amount of time they had spent earlier in the bed, before she had drifted into a deep sleep in his arms. Why was he still awake, she wondered drowsily?

‘You remember, that day, when there was some puja in the house, and there was that commotion about nani’s tulsi plant?’ he asked her softly.

‘Hmmm,’ she murmured again, wondering what he was talking about, her mind falling back into a haze as sleep slowly took over again.

‘Why were you creeping up on me … Khushi?’ he started saying, and hearing a small snore, stopped.

Looking down indulgently at her sleeping figure, tucked in the crook of his arm, her head on his bare shoulder, Arnav felt a gush of protectiveness, and tightened his grip on her shoulders. He smirked, recalling how she had rushed to the bathroom, gathering the bed sheets about her earlier. She had returned clad in her simple cotton salwar kameeze, and blushed when she had seen him tucked in bed, the sheet pulled up over his bare toned abs, arms behind his head. Seeing her discomfiture, he had naughtily lifted the sheet to show her his track lowers, winking cheekily.

Looking at her now, curled up against him comfortably, Arnav thought how far they had come from the day of that fashion show in Lucknow. A part of him hoped that she could grow to love him, like he did now.  He realized that he was not a very demonstrative person, shying from the idea of being too close to anyone. But she was slowly changing that in him, with her innocent charm, and interminable chutzpah.

Shutting his eyes, Arnav too fell asleep, a satisfied smile on his lips.

**

Er … why was she pacing the room and brushing her teeth? Arnav opened his sleepy eyes to see dawn breaking into their room, and Khushi muttering and walking up and down, toothbrush in her mouth.

He watched her, oblivious of his presence, leaning up on an elbow on the bed. ‘Kya kar rahi ho tum?’ he asked softly when she crossed close to where he was lying.

Khushi stopped pacing, and looked at him accusingly. ‘Aap hume roz late kara deten hain… I have to be down in the mandir for the aarti, and because of you I sleep late …’ her muffled voice trailed off as she saw the look on his face. Here she was agitating at being late again, and he was finding it funny, trying to control his laughter. Well, he did not have to face the knowing looks that would greet her when she did make it down.

‘You’re not late … you’ll make it’, he assured, glancing at his watch ‘if you stop taking your morning walk while brushing your teeth, that is.’ He added playfully.

‘Par hume sab se pehele …’ she started petulantly…

Accha … sorry,’ he cut her mid sentence. Funny, but he didn’t look one bit sorry. He looked quite pleased with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Ever since he had stared saying ‘sorry’ he just would not stop it seemed.

Khushi eyed him warily, and with a loud ARRGGGGGGGH stormed off into the bathroom.

Rushing out 10 minutes later, she went about getting her jewellery and kajal in place, all the while aware of him leaning back against the headboard, arms crossed over his bare chest, looking invitingly at her. His eyes twinkled, as if he could read her thoughts, and Khushi fumbled with her earrings, turning prettily pink.

‘Please stop looking at me…’ she muttered, dropping the earring for a second time from her trembling fingers. He really should stop smiling, she thought to herself. It transformed his stern face, and caused her heart to flutter out of control. She had barely been able to come to terms with his constant anger and irritation, and now this new side … that was much more difficult to cope with.

Main kar doon…’ breaking into her thoughts, he flung the sheet aside and started getting out of the bed.
With a squeak Khushi picked up the earring and scurried out of the room, hearing his roar of laughter behind her.

**

Arnav decided to come home earlier than usual, seeing that Khushi had been angry with him in the morning, and had avoided him throughout breakfast. He had even delayed his leaving for office, under some pretext or the other, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Till finally, Di asked him point blank what he was waiting for, and giving her a gruff answer, he had walked out of the house.

Looking at his watch, he realized that it was late afternoon and the rest of the family would be in their rooms resting, till teatime at least. That was good enough time to coax her out of her bad mood, in the privacy of their room, he thought with a smile, opening the main door and letting himself in.

The smile was instantly replaced by a small frown, when he heard Khushi’s peal of laugher coming from the direction of the dining table. Added to which was another baritone saying something in English and telling her to behave herself.

He stood at the door listening to the camaraderie, his frown increasing. Throwing his bag on the chair nearby, he walked into the dining room, coming to an abrupt halt.

**

Khushi struggled with the dialogue of ‘My Fair Lady’, that Harry was showing her on his laptop. She had earplugs connected to her ear through which she could hear and repeat, while Harry sat beside her pausing the film occasionally and laughing with her over some of her mistakes. She would laugh at something she was trying to repeat and he looked at her mock angrily, telling her to concentrate or behave.

Arnav watched, his temper rising, as his lovely wife articulated something, carefully looking towards a young t-shirt and jeans clad … stud for approval. Arnav noticed that his bright neon coloured t-shirt hugged his bulging biceps and chest perfectly, and even though he was seated, it was not long before Arnav’s eyes narrowed in anger and his fists clenched as the young stud stood up, showing low slung jeans that hugged his slim hips, and looked as if they would fall any moment. ‘What the …’ Arnav muttered as he watched the dining chair, on which the young stud sat, thrown back; watched with rising anger that he stood, pulled off a shocked Khushi’s earplugs throwing them on the table and pulled her up into his arms, lifted her off the floor, and twirling them both around. Khushi shrieked placing her hands on his shoulder to steady herself, and laughed in glee, as the young man shouted ‘yessss … you did it!’ with every twirl of their embraced bodies.

His eyes narrowed to slits and fists clenched slowly, as he started at the scene before him.

Khushi felt an uncomfortable prickle at the back of her neck. Her body stiffened in Harry’s arms, and her laughter died on her lips as her eyes met the furious ones of her husband. Harry, also sensing her sudden rigid frame, stopped, and slowly turning around with her aloft, and also looked into a pair of furious eyes, that were looking at him as if they could kill him. He gradually put Khushi down gently, stuffing his hands into the pocket of his jeans and standing beside her, while he sensed her fear. So this is the husband, that Shakshi had been telling him about. Harry had heard in detail, how he had dragged Khushi out of that bachelorette party few days ago, like a caveman.

He turned to look at a cringing Khushi, and wondered if he should try and give an explanation. ‘Er … hi …’ he said sheepishly instead, reaching out a hand towards Arnav.

Giving him a smoldering glare and ignoring the outstretched hand, Arnav turned on his heels and stormed off towards their room, leaving both Khushi and Harry standing there like errant children.
‘Er …. hum … er,’ Khushi turned apologetically towards Harry.

‘Chill…’ he assured her instead with a grimace towards the rigid departing back. ‘You did well today, we’ll celebrate soon, okay…’ he added. Hearing a door bang upstairs, he turned back towards Khushi and asked softly, ‘you’ll be okay, na?’

Khushi swallowed and nodded trying to reassure herself more than him. ‘Haan, hum theek hain, aapse kal milenge … er … thank you.’

After seeing him to the door, she walked slowly up the stairs … ‘serves you right Khushi Kumari …. er … Khushi. You wanted the Lord Governor back this morning only …’ she made a face, ‘… didn’t like him smiling and speaking to you … well then … here he is now…’

Pata nahi … ab kya kya bolenge hume …’ she muttered standing outside the door for a minute, before going inside.

_____________________

He was standing with his back to her looking out towards the pool visible from their room. She looked at his rigid stance and actually felt the anger emanating from him. His coat had been flung across the bed; his sleeves rolled up, the bare muscular forearms and clenched fists held away from his body.

A sudden gush to run to him and put her arms around him from behind was immediately quelled when he turned suddenly, his penetrating glare pinning her to the spot.

He glared her for a bit, while she fidgeted with the corner of her palla.

Aap aaj jaldi aa gaye…’ she began weakly, wanting to break the awful silence.

‘You were not expecting me, I know,’ he cut her shortly, his cold stare not leaving her face. ‘How convenient, that every one else was also asleep…’

Kya …’ she looked confused, ‘kya keh rahen hai aap…

‘Don’t start with the innocent act again, Khushi,’ he warned menacingly ‘I just saw you with some … some … WHO THE HELL WAS THAT?’  He shouted suddenly pointing towards the door.

‘Harry?’ Khushi asked quizzically, looking towards where his hand was pointing.

‘Are you asking me?’ he sneered getting angrier by the minute at her stalling, ‘or telling me?’

Wo Harry … er … I told you ... he comes to…’

‘Comes to WHAT?’ He thundered again, making her wince. ‘What does he …’

Aap baat khatam karne deenge toh hum bataenge …’ she answered crossly, cutting him mid sentence.
‘LET ME FINISH,’ he ground out, livid at being once again cut off like that.

‘Finish? Kya finish … hum … I am only saying that you are not giving me a chance to say…’ she said irritated and also angry that he was once again blaming and accusing her without knowing anything.

‘What does ‘HARRY’ come to do… that requires him to hold you like that and …’ he shut his eyes, trying to control his rising temper as images of her laughing and holding on to that boy’s shoulders flashed before him again. HOW DARE ANYONE TOUCH HER!

Aap phir nahi sun rahe…’ Khushi tried patiently but firmly to get her words across to him.

‘KHUSHI KUM…’

Chillaiye mat’, she again cut him off, ‘sab aaram kar rahe hain ghar mein.’

She knew she had done it again, the minute the words were out of her lips. She watched in horror as he strode across to where she was standing across the room. Instinctively, she took a few tentative steps back as he reached her and grabbed her by her shoulders, shaking her forcefully.

‘Didn’t I just tell you to let me finish,’ his chilly voice sent a shiver down her spine, and she felt his fingers biting into her skin through the sheer fabric of her blouse.

‘And do not EVER tell me what to do and what not to do … SAMJHI TUM,’ he continued to shake her with every word he ground out.

Hum…’ not one to be put down, she started answering him.

‘WHO IS HE?’ Arnav asked again, ignoring her muttering.

She kept looking at him, her eyes slightly wet with the sudden tears at being hurt like that.

BOLO’, he gave her a violent shake.

‘Aap bolne denge toh hum kuch …

‘KHUSHI…’ he warned

‘Humne nahi bulaya unhe,’ she shot at him angry at being spoken to and rattled like a rag doll. ‘You speak with naniji, about that. She was the one who brought him here.’ She tried to shake off his hands from her shoulders.

‘She came up with the idea that I need to learn a few things, to be able to be called your wife,’ she all but sneered out the word ‘wife’ at him, missing the fury that was still glowing in his eyes.
‘He has become a close friend, I told you. When you left me and went off to … to Paris … he and Sakshi were … and YOU … ‘ she had managed to shake his hands off her shoulder and was jabbing her finger at him as she spoke, pushing him backwards. ‘I go through all this because of YOU … when YOU decide to save your sister … when YOU decide to deal with things … when YOU decide to marry me …’  she paused for a breath, continuing to glare back at him.

‘And for YOU I even agree to change my self … just so YOU Mr Arnav Singh Raizada are not embarrassed …’

‘ENOUGH’… he held her hands mid air, as they were about to poke him with the next ‘YOU’…

Taking her hands in his he twisted them behind her back, pulling her closer to his firm chest in the bargain.

‘I did not ask you to change ... I did not ask you to learn English ... I did not ask you to dress differently …

Par hum…’ she shot at him

‘SHUT UP AND LET ME FINISH …’ he pulled her closer his fingers pressing into her wrists painfully.

‘YOU don’t have to change for me … I LOVE YOU AS YOU ARE, DAMMIT!’ He shouted before a stunned silence engulfed both of them.

They stood like that in the painful embrace; both shocked at what was just said.

Khushi stared at him her mouth slightly open, as she was about to say something, her tear filled eyes wide with shock. The pain in her wrists abated, as she digested what she had just heard.

Arnav started at her intently, part of him glad to have that out, and a part stunned that he had actually said the words out aloud.

Seconds ticked as they just stood like that for what seemed like hours.
It was the sharp pain on her wrist where he was still holding her tight, that brought Khushi back, and she looked away from his penetrating stare, shyly, not knowing how to react to what he had just said. She tried to free her hand from his grip, looking up at him pleadingly.

The look in her eyes, jolted Arnav out of his silence, and he left her hand, abruptly turning away from her. Unbelievable man, he thought to himself, as he shut his eyes, aware of the awkward silence in the room. How could I just say that? What will she think now? Well, she was not immune to his touch, that he was sure of … and she was flustered whenever he was around … maybe … His heart skipped a beat. Yes, he decided suddenly, he would convince her to love him in return. He would make her admit it, whatever it took.

Er … aap … aap ke liye chai laaeyn…’ her hesitating question, broke his thoughts.

She saw him nod curtly, his back to her, and all but ran out of the room.