Chapter 11: Lost II
“What happened?” Maan said, making a jerky movement, as if to move toward her. His hand was stretched out, almost as if he wanted to touch those scars. But he stopped, his lips tightening.
Geet stared at him, her skin heating as his eyes moved over her body, seeing bare skin that hadn’t seen the light of day in so many years. She wanted to cover herself, to hide those scars, but she held still wanting him to see and to know why she would never dare to attempt a seduction.
“I . . . Leave for now Ms. Handa,” Maan said brusquely, moving toward the connecting door. “I need to take care of Rahul right now.”
“But . . . sir,” she began hesitantly, appalled that her revelation had been for naught.
“We will discuss all this later.” Saying those words, he turned and moved through the doors and was gone.
Geet sat in the car, her eyes trained unseeing on the sights outside of the window. Her mind was still mulling over what had happened. Her hands clenched in her lap, as she wondered about what she could do. Everything had soured so quickly. How could she make them believe that nothing had been planned and that hug hadn’t meant the beginning of a seduction?
She frowned, forcing herself to breathe deeply and calm down. Getting agitated about it and driving herself into depression wasn’t going to help anyone. Least of all her.
“I heard her, daddy. I heard her say that she would come to you and hug you. She said that you would love her and only her. She said that this was why she was here. To make you hers and to steal you away from us.”
When Rahul had first said the accusatory words, she’d been surprised. There had been shock and a sense of unreality at that moment. Then the hurt had come welling up, as she’d tried to grapple with her disbelief over the fact that Rahul would distrust her so much. She’d seen the anger in his eyes, and his desire to hurt her when he’d flung himself at her.
But now that she’d had time to calm down, she could see beyond those words to the fear and hysteria Rahul had been suffering from. She could see the hurt. That little boy had lashed out because he’d been hurting himself.
She felt no anger. The things Rahul had said hadn’t meant to hurt her. He hadn’t thought; he’d only reacted to his fear of Sameera. He was young and incapable of processing the hug he had seen in a manner that would reveal the truth of it to him. Also, he’d had Sameera’s poisonous words still stuck in his mind.
But Maan was an adult, capable of processing and deductive reasoning. But he hadn’t taken a moment to think or doubt the information he had been given. Why had he been so ready to believe? He had turned everything between them, as little as it was, into a part of this great big conspiracy of seduction; he’d colored everything with his cynicism and had tainted every moment that she had spent with him.
She clenched her teeth, as tears appeared in her eyes once more. When she’d shown him her scars, he hadn’t said a word. He hadn’t needed to. She’d seen a certain emotion in his eyes. Now that she’d had time to think on it, she could almost identify it as disgust. The anger had continued to burn. She inhaled sharply, battling the sudden upsurge of hurt. He truly thought that she had tried to seduce him! His disgust had been for her efforts and her flawed body.
Her chin began to quiver as the pain overpowered her and tears began to fall one by one. She’d given her heart to the two of them, but Maan hadn’t even taken a moment to throw her out of their lives.
She roughly knuckled away the tears, stiffening her wobbly lip. Okay, so Sameera had been a crazy b****, and both Maan and Rahul had been burned. But did that mean that he could turn on her without a second thought or doubt? She had expected more from the man that she had come to know as Maan Singh Khurana.
“Geet, ma’am,” a voice intruded on her thoughts. “We’ve arrived at your home.”
Geet turned to the open door, and saw the driver peering inside from the open doorway. His face wore an open expression of sympathy.
“Thank you,” she said huskily, getting out from the car. She trembled slightly in the cold air, becoming all too aware of her wet clothing.
“Dadi Ma wanted me to come pick you up tomorrow,” he said. “What time should I come?”
Dadi Ma. Geet remembered how worried the older woman had been when Geet had left the house. Not being able to see that wonderful woman again. That was just one more thing she regretted.
“I won’t be coming back,” Geet said quietly. “Maan Sir has already made his wishes clear.” Saying those words, she hurried up the steps of her home and walked inside. She ignored the calls of the man she had left standing behind. Maan Singh Khurana could make all the explanations.
Greeting her parents, she quickly moved past them, choosing to ignore the worried looks on their faces. She knew that her face was red and her eyes swollen. They would know that she had been crying. But she didn’t have the courage to explain right now.
Going to her room, she resolutely closed the door behind her. Quickly throwing off her soiled clothes, she fell into bed, pulling the covers over her head. It was then that she allowed herself to breathe deeply, forcing her body to relax.
Pulling down the covers, she glared at the ceiling. She wouldn’t go back. Why bother? He would only fire her when she showed up. It would be better to end it now on her own terms. School was going to start in a week anyway. She had more important things to worry about now than two males who did not trust her.
“Aapka humsafar aapki zindagi mein aaj hi aane wala hai . . . yeh lo taveez. Isse usse pehna dena, phir dekhna. Babaji ki mehar aap dono par hamesha rahe gi.”
Geet stared at the taveez in her hand, smiling sadly for the young girl who had actually believed that fortuneteller’s words. When the man had said that she would meet her soulmate on that day, her heart had begun to beat furiously, as she tried to imagine the man. Despite the reality of her life, she had allowed herself to dream foolishly. When the fortuneteller had given her the charm, telling her to give it to her soulmate, she’d clutched it to her, imagining how she would put it around this faceless man’s neck, so that the charm would protect both her and him.
That sunny day, when her papa ji had agreed to take her and her cousins to the festival, had started out as a happy day. They’d bought trinkets and taken rides, and Geet had been able to push away the darkness in her life. She’d been able to forget that her family was forcing her to quit school. She was able to forget, for a few moments, the man her grandfather and her cousin had found for her to marry. She’d been able to forget her nightmares, and dream a beautiful dream.
Her sister-in-law had been the one to see the fortuneteller, and she had eagerly urged Geet toward him. Geet had sat before the man, who crowed in delight when he had seen her fortune. Geet had actually believed him at that moment, taking some much needed courage from his words. Only . . . she had never meant that man. Her soulmate had never come. And the subsequent events had stolen away her ability to dream.
“I told you to stay near the family! How dare you shame us in that manner?” he bellowed at her, his facing turning red with the anger.
“But . . . Veer ji, I don’t know how it happened,” Geet tried to explain in vain. “One minute I was with Dolly bhabi, and, the next, I was all alone. I don’t know where she went,” she said in a small voice, knowing that the explanation wouldn’t suffice.
“What are you saying, Geet?” Dolly asked with a gasp. “It’s not my fault that you wandered off on your own. I was looking for you,” she hotly defended herself.
“There’s no excuse!” Brij shouted, advancing toward Geet, his hands clenched into fists. “You’re a woman and you know your place in this world. You are supposed to follow us. And when I found you . . . you were with those men,” he spat at her.
“But . . . they were chasing me,” she said, trying to defend herself. “I didn’t mean for them to come after me.”
“If your in-laws find out what happened today,” he said through gritted teeth, “They will break the relation. Then what will you do? Or was that your purpose?” he said in a dangerously soft tone, a hand coming up to grip the back of her neck.
Despite the pain, Geet raised her head, the anger beginning to sparkle in her eyes. The fortuneteller’s words were still running through her head, and she took hope from them. “I won’t marry him! They are not my in-laws.” She refused to wince, even as Brij Veer Ji’s hold on her neck became bruising.
“What did you say?” Daar Ji demanded from where he had been sitting. “You dare to question my decision?”
“I don’t understand . . . why do I have to marry that man? Are you so desperate to marry me off that you’d marry to a man of his age?” Geet asked, the tears welling up in her eyes. “I want to study. I want to go to a university and get a degree. I want to be able to stand on my own two feet,” she said, the tears beginning to fall. Seeing the closed expressions on her grandfather’s and Brij Veer ji’s face, she knew that they would never understand.
“Beta Ji, please don’t talk that way,” her father pleaded with her. She knew there was nothing her father would do to help her. He expected her to bow down to her grandfather’s dictates, the way he had done all his life.
“How dare you to talk to Daar Ji like that?” Brij growled, shaking her roughly. “You are a daughter of this house. You do what we say. You live the way we tell you to. You breathe, because we allow it. Don’t push me too far,” he warned her, shoving her away in disgust.
Geet fell back, stumbling against something. She stumbled and fell, hearing the shocked cries from everyone around her. Suddenly there was a burst of pain, it receded, and the world took on a hazy quality.
She was burning. She knew it. She could hear the horrified cries of her parents as they watched her burning before their eyes. She felt the hands rolling her on the ground, trying to douse the flames.
“Beta ji! Are you okay? Please, answer me. Beta Ji!” It was her father’s voice, filled with worry.
She couldn’t answer, no matter how hard she tried. Everything was receding, until there was only darkness.
Geet stared at the scars on her arms and chest. They were the direct result of Brij Veer ji’s anger. A result of her refusing to marry a man that was twice her age. A result of her being the wrong gender. It was also the reason why she had been freed from marrying against her wishes.
She’d been burned. She had scars. And that man had refused to marry her. She’d been saved, but her poor cousin had become the sacrifice. Not being able to give one daughter, when they had made a promise, Daar Ji and Brij decided to give Rajji instead. Rajji, who was two years younger than her and nowhere near ready for marriage.
When she’d been able to get up from her bed, she’d locked this taveez away, knowing that it was hopeless to dream. As long as there were men like Daar Ji and Brij in her family, she would never be able to accomplish any of her dreams.
“You’re disgusting now. No one will want you. Women truly are good for nothing. And you . . . you are the worst of the lot.”
A feeling of sickness grew inside of her, as she stared at those scars. There would be no one who could accept her with her scars. Not even him.
An image of that man appeared in her mind. Her hand curled around the taveez, her eyes closing in rejection. His eyes sparked at her angrily from the back of her eyelids. Her eyes flew open. There he was, smiling lazily at her from the corner of her room. He casually leaned back against the wall and crossed those arms across his chest.
She turned away from his phantom, staring resolutely at the wall. She gasped when the poster on her wall became his face. She groaned in disbelief, as she saw his half naked body, with him cheekily flexing his muscles at her.
She lay back down in bed, pulling the covers over her head.
He had no right being here. No right to be in her thoughts. She’d never been one wanting or hoping for useless things. And wanting to see him again was the most useless thing she could hope for.
“Beta Ji, you’re still awake?” her father asked in surprise, when Geet trudged into the living room. “You always tell me that you need a full night’s sleep since your charge has so much energy.” He smiled at her, leaving the way open for her to talk. He could see the worry on her face, and the traces of her tears. He knew that his daughter had been crying. But there was no reaction on his face, and his smile let her know that he was there for her.
“Geet, are you ready for some food, now?” her mother, broke in with worry. “You have been in your room for hours and haven’t eaten a thing. I can bring you som–”
“Maa,” Geet began, looking at her calmly. “Papa Ji,” she said, turning to gaze at him, as well. “I . . .” she took a deep breath, “I won’t be going back to work,” she finally found the courage to say.
“But why?” her mother asked in surprise. “You said that you loved working there, and it was a great way to make some money for school. They were even willing to accommodate you once school started.”
Geet inhaled abruptly, tears appearing in her eyes once more. She was exhausted. She’d thought that there were no more tears, but they kept coming.
“Geet, you love that little boy,” her father murmured, looking at her in worry. “How can you just abandon him without any notice? Doesn’t he need you? That’s what you told us,” he reminded her.
Geet bit at her lip, wondering how much she could tell her parents. She wasn’t in the habit of hiding anything from them, but the truth would only hurt them. They adored her, the same way that she loved and revered them. It would hurt them too much to know what she’d had to face today.
“Papa Ji, something happened this evening, and Maan Sir told me that it would be better if I not come anymore,” she finally said, hoping that her parents wouldn’t ask any more questions.
“What could have happened?” her mother asked in wonder. “Why would they fire you? They loved you.”
Geet’s lips trembled at that word. “There was an issue with Rahul,” she said with difficulty. “He’s had some issues with his previous nanny. I told you about that, right? There was a misunderstanding, and he had a bad reaction to me today. Maan Sir said that it might be better for him to not have a nanny for a while. That’s a-all,” she said, her voice breaking on the lie.
“But what happened?” her mother asked gently. “What misunderstanding?”
“It’s okay, beta ji,” her father quickly said, as he saw the tears threatening to fall. “I’m sure that you have made your peace with this decision, no matter why or how it came about. We won’t question you any further.”
Geet nodded gratefully, smiling thankfully at her father.
“Maa, do you wan–” She broke off when there was a knock at the door. She looked at her parents, silently questioning them if they were expecting someone.
Her father shook his head, wearing a look of confusion.
“Who could that be?” her mother murmured, gazing at the clock and back at the door. “This late? I hope everything is alright.”
“I’ll get it,” Geet murmured, striding down the hallway to the front door. She opened it and stood gazing in surprise at the person on the other side.
“Geet?” a voice murmured.
There was a short pause. “I’m sorry for coming at this late hour.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Geet responded, smiling tremulously. “Please, come in,” Geet murmured, moving aside. “You know you’re always welcome here, Pammi bhabi.”
Chapter 12: His Scars
“She’ll forgive us, right daddy?” Rahul asked anxiously, cuddling close to his father for comfort. Maan stared down into the worried eyes of his son. He had already explained to Rahul how he had shouted at Geet. He had wanted to ready the child for Geet’s possible refusal to return. He closed his eyes, his lips flattening in regret. He could still the soul deep hurt in Geet’s eyes. He was responsible for that pain. He couldn’t confidently say that she would ever forgive him. He had wanted Rahul to realize that if Geet did refuse to return, it would entirely be Maan’s fault.
“I don’t know, Rahul,” he replied again, unable to give his son another answer.
“It’s okay, daddy,” Rahul said, grasping his father’s finger. “We’ll say sorry until Geet didi forgives us. She always tells me that it’s okay to make mistakes. But if my mistakes hurt someone, then I have to say sorry. We’ll say sorry.”
“Rahul, she was really hurt. She might not forgive me.”
“Oh, she will,” Rahul said confidently.
“How can you be sure?” Maan asked in exasperation, worried about his son’s sunny optimism.
“She loves us, daddy,” Rahul said, snuggling into his father’s arms.
Maan stiffened at those words.
“Geet didi tells me that she loves all of us every day. And you have to forgive the people you love, right? Don’t I forgive you when you shout at me to go play somewhere else? Doesn’t Dadi Ma forgive you when you don’t listen to her?”
Maan closed his eyes, exhaling heavily, wrapping his arms around his son. He needed comfort, too. His arms still remembered the silky feel of her body. There was a certain emptiness in those arms, as if they yearned for her warmth. When had he gotten used to her landing in his arms? When had her clumsiness become his habit?
Her innocence . . . her pain . . . her scars . . . they all called out to him. Why he had been so harsh? His cheeks flushed slightly as he silently berated himself over his arrogance. Why had he been so sure that she wanted him? And even if she had, why had he slapped her down for daring to dream?
When had he become so cold?
He stared out into the dark night, refusing to remember the one moment that had turned him into this man today. He had become a man who was so closed off and untrusting, that he had hurt the innocent creature under his protection.
Rahul glanced up at his father for permission before reaching out to ring the doorbell.
Maan took a deep breath, readying himself for the ordeal ahead. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to be here, but he had made a mistake. And his mistake had hurt someone that had done no wrong. He needed to atone for his error, and she would need to hear his apology. He would beg if necessary. His son . . . they all needed Geet in their lives. She had to forgive him.
The door flew open, and the woman on the other side blinked up at him before glancing down at Rahul. A look of confusion passed across her face, before she turned her eyes back up to stare at him once more. She gasped, her mouth dropping open.
“Can we please see Geet Didi?” Rahul requested, going over to tug on the woman’s arm. She remained silent.
Maan cleared his throat. “We’re looking for Geet Handa,” he said brusquely.
She remained silent.
He cleared his throat once more, and then sighed in exasperation.
“Daddy, what’s wrong with her?” Rahul asked worriedly.
Maan shook his head at his son, and then pulled out his cell phone. Punching in the first number on his speed dial, he waited for an answer.
“Adi, we’re at Geet’s house, and there’s a woman standing in the doorway refusing to respond.” He turned away slightly and lowered his tone. “Does Miss Handa have a mentally disabled relative?”
“N-n-not that I know of s-sir,” came back the quick reply.
Maan cocked his head in confusion. “I can’t understand you, Adi. There’s some sort of echo.”
“I’m s-s-so sorry, s-sir. I will move outside,” Adi said. “There might be better cell reception out there.”
Maan heard the footsteps, his eyes widening when he saw the man walking down the hallway.
Adi dropped his phone when he saw his boss standing at the door. His eyes moved to his dumbstruck wife standing in the doorway and then back to his exasperated boss.
“What are you doing here?” Maan barked, striving to ignore the woman who was still gazing up at him. Rahul stood silently by him, his eyes locked on the silent woman in front of them. She now had her hands clasped to her heart, and she seemed to be murmuring dhak dhak to herself for some reason.
“Pinky, please move out of the way,” Adi said, gently nudging his wife to the side. “I’m sorry about her, sir,” he said. “My wife has her moments of silliness.”
“Your wife?” Maan said distractedly.
“You came to my wedding, sir,” Adi reminded him reproachfully.
“Of course,” Maan said quickly. “She wasn’t so silent then, right? Now, I asked you for Miss Handa’s house. Why are you here?”
“I d-don’t know why you’re here, sir, but Pinky’s father lives here. And we’re visiting,” Adi said apologetically, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose in his nervousness. “Geet’s house is that one next door. You’re at the wrong house, s-sir,” he said, his voice dying on those last words.
“Right,” Maan said, turning to go. Rahul was right next to him, as the two moved across the path and up the steps to the next house.
Maan rang the bell this time, hoping that he was at the right address.
The door was yanked open by a woman in sky blue. It took him a moment to realize that it was his Geet.
His Geet? What was he thinking?
“Pinky, I can’t understand what you’re saying. Are you sure you’re not hyperventilating? Look, there’s someone at the door, we’ll talk later. Stop saying dhak dhak!” Clicking off the phone, she turned to look enquiringly at the visitors. Her mouth dropped open when her gaze landed on Maan and Rahul standing in the doorway.
“Geet didi,” Rahul squealed in delight, throwing himself at the shocked woman. Geet’s arms opened automatically, catching Rahul’s body with ease.
“We’ve come to apologize,” Rahul said, snuggling into Geet’s arms. Maan saw the cold gaze she threw his way before turning away. He took another deep breath, knowing that this wasn’t going to be easy.
“Beta Ji, who was at the door?” a man’s voice called out from another room in the house.
“It was nobody important, Papa Ji,” Geet called back, covering Rahul’s ears for a moment.
Maan knew that she meant those words for him.
“But who was it now?” a woman’s asked, as the owner of that voice appeared in the hallway. “Oh. Who’s this, Geet Beta?”
“This,” she said with a big smile, nudging Rahul forward, “Is Rahul.” Rahul giggled happily, running over to shake Geet’s mother’s hand.
“And who’s that?” her mother asked, when Geet refused to pick up the silent hints her mother had been throwing her way.
“Maa, it’s my boss. Maan Singh Khurana.”
Maan nodded his head in greeting, uncomfortable at the curious attention he was getting from the Handas. An older gentleman, who he assumed was Geet’s father, had appeared in the doorway, along with two others. They all stood there, staring silently at him.
“Well, he used to be my boss,” Geet continued coldly. “I don’t know what he’s doing here right now.”
“I’d like to talk to you,” he said softly, hoping that no one would hear.
“What is there to talk about?” Geet shot back, her fiery eyes revealing the anger that was still burning inside of her.
“Miss Handa, please,” Maan gritted out, aware of his silent audience. He could see the worry growing in Rahul’s eyes.
“Can’t you see that I’m busy?” she retorted, turning to look at the man and woman standing at the end of the hallway. “We have guests. And I don’t have time to listen to any more of your accusations,” she whispered to him before moving away.
“Miss Handa,” Maan began.
“Geet, feel free to talk to him,” the woman said hesitantly. “I’m going to go rest.”
“Beta Ji, why don’t you talk to Mr. Khurana in the living room?” her father suggested gently.
Geet glanced at her father, knowing that his words were more than a suggestion. He knew that something bad had happened today. While he would never pry, he wanted his daughter to be happy. And for some reason, he thought talking to Maan Singh Khurana would make her happy. She frowned at him.
He smiled back and glanced meaningfully at the living room.
Sighing heavily, she gestured to the living room, her movements angry. “You have five minutes,” she said softly, wanting him to know that she wasn’t going to make this any easier on him.
“I’ll take it,” he replied.
“Maa, please take care of Rahul,” Geet told her mother. “Rahul, why don’t you go and have a glass of hot chocolate? My mummy Ji makes the best hot chocolate in the world.”
“Even better than you?” Rahul asked, intrigued.
“Even better than me,” Geet replied, leaning down to plant a kiss on the child’s forehead. “Your daddy and I will be talking in the living room.”
“Geet Didi,” Rahul called out, grabbing her hand. When she turned to stare at him in question, he pulled her down.
“Sorry,” he whispered in her ear.
“What?” Geet asked, pulling back to look at Rahul in confusion.
“We’re here to ‘pologize,” Rahul said. “I’m sorry, Geet Didi. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I shouldn’t have tried to hit you.”
“It’s okay,” Geet murmured, patting his cheek with a loving hand. “I know that you didn’t mean to hurt me. You were hurting.”
“Didi,” Rahul murmured.
“Hmm?” Geet asked, gazing into his eyes.
“Please forgive daddy, too.”
Geet pulled back, staring down at the little boy. Smiling reassuringly at him, she walked into the living room, not waiting to see if he would follow.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Maan stared at the woman who was standing on the other side of the room, her back to him. His eyes traveled over her body, lingering on the curves that were usually hidden under the tents she wore to work. Today, she was wearing a short-sleeved, fitted kameez over her shalwaar, and a miniscule dupatta, wrapped around her neck, completed the ensemble. His eyes traced over her naked arms and her half-naked back. The scars were barely noticeable, but he knew that this woman was aware of them every second of her life. He could see it in the way she hunched her back and rubbed at her arms, but she was too proud to cover herself in front of him. He smiled slightly at that show of strength.
He cleared his throat, realizing the silence had continued for too long. “Miss Handa, please, Rahul needs you. Dadi Ma needs you,” he said for the 20th time, running a frustrated hand through his hair. “You won’t have to be around me. I will make myself scarce during your work hours. Please come back for them.” He hoped that this time the words would have some magical effect on this stubborn woman and she would agree to come back. When had this meek little creature become so stubborn?
His ‘I’m sorry’ had flopped badly. His efforts to explain the misunderstanding had fallen flat, with her turning a deaf ear and then her back to him mid-explanation. His efforts to defend Rahul had gotten an incredulous look, as if she couldn’t believe that he thought she would blame a child. No, she had placed the blame entirely where it had belonged. And she still blamed him, refusing to cut him any slack for his harsh words. He knew that he didn’t deserve such easy forgiveness, but his son would suffer if he didn’t convince her to return. His soul couldn’t stand being the cause of Rahul’s suffering once more.
She sighed and turned to gaze at him. Maan straightened, hope awakening for a split second before he saw the grim look in her eyes.
“Just leave, Mr. Khurana. There is nothing you could say that would make me come back,” she said sadly. Geet turned her head away for a moment. ‘Why wasn’t he leaving?’ she thought frantically to herself. ‘Why did he insist on hurting her even more?’ She forced herself to turn her eyes back to meet his. “Today might have been a mistake in your eyes, but it wasn’t in mine,” she continued. “I was able to see the precariousness of my position. Why would I go back to a household where I know that my employer doesn’t trust me? Why would I put myself in such a vulnerable position?” She put up a hand when she saw that he was about to speak. “You said that Rahul needs me, but he’s a child. He will forget. And you . . . you can hire someone who you will be able to trust. You won’t have to worry about not being welcome in your own home. You won’t have to put up with my untrustworthy presence,” she finished bitterly.
“Miss Handa, I don’t want Rahul to be hurt more than he already is,” Maan tried to explain, a coldness growing inside of him as he began to realize that Geet might not return. He refused to call it panic. He absolutely refused to call it fear.
“He’s young. He’ll recover. He’s not like you.”
“What do you mean by that?” he asked, that unacknowledged fear turning into frustrated anger.
She firmed her lips before speaking. “Just because a woman hurt you, doesn’t mean that you get a get-out-of- jail-free card,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “Why should you get to hurt me,” she said, taking a deep breath, “Just because Sameera hurt you?”
“Miss Handa,” Maan began, trying to find the words that would make her stop.
“You’re a cold, harsh man, Mr. Khurana. You might excuse that away with Sameera’s betrayal, but nothing justifies how you behaved today. And nothing you have said has made me change my mind.” Striding to the door, she yanked it open. “Please, leave,” she said, refusing to look at him.
She knew that if she looked at him even once, she would break. While her brain was telling her this was the right thing to do, her heart was weak. It still loved the man she had thought him to be. It still loved Rahul. How could she be refusing to go back to these two? She took a deep breath. She had to be strong. If she wasn’t, she’d only end up hurting herself even worse later on.
“It wasn’t Sameera’s betrayal that turned me into this man,” he finally said through gritted teeth, knowing that nothing but the truth would get her to bend. He had hurt her too much. He realized that now. She had shown him her scars and he had backed away. Worse, he had ignored the gravity of her revelation. She would never trust him, not unless he showed her his own scars.
Geet turned to look at him, surprise in her eyes. She hadn’t expected him to continue. After her last outburst, she had expected him to walk away. ‘Why are you still here?’ she asked him silently with her eyes.
He turned away, his eyes staring blindly out through the window. “She was just a woman that I . . . thought I loved. She couldn’t have broken me.”
Geet moved closer, drawn by the pain in his voice. His voice rubbed harshly against her ears, as it broke around the words he was forcing himself to say. She wanted to stop him, but the part of her that still stung from his reaction to her scars told her to remain silent. That part of her needed him to reveal his demons.
“My father betrayed my mother and left me to face the fallout from his selfish decisions. I weathered that storm. My mother chose to die in that hospital bed when she realized that my father had passed away, and I had to hold my siblings through their grief. No one gave me that luxury.” His hands clenched into fists, his shoulders stiffening.
Geet bit her lip. The pain in his voice, the pain that she couldn’t see in his face called to her. She wanted to cradle him in her arms, aching to give him solace. She wanted to tell him to stop . . . stop reliving these painful memories . . . stop hurting. But he wouldn’t listen. He had fallen too deeply into the past.
“Dev ran off,” he continued after a moment of silence, “Leaving me holding the bag, and I took it like a man. I married Naintara, thinking that she was pregnant with my brother’s child.”
Geet’s eyes widened in shock, and she gasped loudly at that revelation.
“My wife turned out to be a woman of loose character, whose only pleasure in life was to darken the Khurana name; the name that I spent my life idealizing and then working to build up in the world’s eyes. Anvesha, my sister, chose to marry Arjun, Naintara’s brother. But I made my peace with her decision. To a certain extent,” he tacked on wryly. “I had my Dadi Ma. I had Vicky, my brother. I had Rahul. I was content with the life I had.”
He turned to glare at Geet balefully, blaming her for all that he had revealed and hating her for what he would reveal next.
“You ask me why I find it so hard to trust? The moment I found the woman I thought I loved . . . the moment I decided to marry her . . .”
Geet flinched at those words. Their relationship had gone that far?
“That was the moment that I found out that my brother, Vicky, had run off with her,” he revealed, turning to stare at her.
Geet fell back at those words, unable to comprehend what he had just said.
“Can you imagine the effect of that final betrayal after you’ve lived through so many others?”
“Brij veerji! You can’t! If you don’t stop . . . ”
“That was the moment I lost my ability to trust, Miss Handa.”
Chapter 13: Unexpected Feelings
Geet’s unconsciously moved forward, wanting to get closer to him. Her hand was halfway to his back, ready to give comfort; her fingers inches away from his warmth. She stared at that strong back, the muscles and bones that revealed his hidden strength. It was the back of a man capable of carrying the burdens others had forced on him, but she had never thought about those burdens. She had never questioned his strength and his ability to handle everything.
She bit her lip, a film of tears appearing in her eyes. This was the man she had come to like, and she hadn’t known this much about him. Her heart ached to comfort him and let him know that everything would get better. It would take time, but one day all of the bitterness and pain would wash away, until only the scars were left behind. And those scars would slowly fade away, too.
Her heart trembled, and her other hand came up to smooth over her own scars. These scars would never fade, but she was learning to live with them. If his scars didn’t fade, at least he could learn to live with them the way she had.
Her eyes focused on his back once more, watching his muscles flex beneath that tight shirt and vest. He leaned slightly back, and Geet backed up a half-step, wanting to touch but still too afraid. She bit her lip, wanting to tell him that she would stay by his side, but her words could mean nothing to him. She wasn’t anyone special to him.
But she had to say something. The silence had grown too long. As her fingers drew closer to the warmth of his back, he turned around to glare forbiddingly at her. His arms were folded over that big, strong chest.
Her hand, continuing its trajectory, landed against it. Geet, having seen him begun to turn, had only had the chance to curl those traitorous fingers into a fist. And that fist landed gently against his heart, which, for some reason, was beating furiously.
Geet’s gaze fell to her loosely curled fist, watching it rise with every breath he took. Her eyes widened in surprise, when she saw his large hand covers her, completely engulfing it in his grasp. She tugged lightly, but his hold tightened, keeping her hand against his chest.
The two had frozen, startled by this moment between them. A flush began to appear on her cheeks, and she began to breathe rapidly, her heart beating furiously in tune with his. His warmth, the feel of it beneath his thin shirt felt strangely intimate. She wanted to stay here forever. And, because she did, she tried to pull away once more.
His hand tightened again, keeping her there.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, worried that he could feel how rapidly her pulse was beating beneath his fingers.
“Trying to hit me, Miss Handa?” he asked with a smirk.
“I would never!” Geet protested hotly.
“Then what were you doing, standing there so closely behind me?”
Geet’s eyes widened in shock, her gaze flying to the window behind them. She saw their reflections clearly in the glass. He had seen her standing behind him. He had seen her hesitating, with her hand raised halfway to his back. He had seen everything!
‘That rat,’ she thought to herself. ‘He knew exactly what I was about to do!’ She seethed silently to herself, hating him for putting her in this situation. She ignored the fact that she was the one who had felt too sympathetic in the first place. It was that sensitive heart of hers, she thought darkly, a hand absentmindedly coming up and lightly pounding on her heart. Her lips formed into a tight line, and she glared at him.
She couldn’t tell him the truth. She just couldn’t.
“Yes,” she blurted out, blinking at him rapidly.
Her response caused him to step back in surprise, his hand falling away from hers, and his arms falling to his sides.
“Do you have any idea how much your words hurt me?” she demanded, poking at his wide chest with her now freed hand.
The smirk fell away from those sexy lips, and he opened his mouth to protest.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Geet interrupted, holding up a hand imperiously. She turned away from his too handsome face when she felt herself melting. She was afraid that the longer she looked at him, the faster she would give in. And Maan Singh Khurana already had too many people in his life letting him get away with too much.
“Mr. Khurana, I am sorry that all of those horrible things happened to you. No one deserves to suffer such betrayals in their lives, not even someone like you.”
He frowned at those words, his brow wrinkling when he realized that she had just insulted him. He opened his mouth to say . . . something, but she didn’t give him the chance.
“You’ve been let down by more than one family member in horrible ways. These people have hurt you,” she said, turning back to look at him in sympathy. She reached out a hand and briskly patted him on the shoulder, quite forceful in her efforts to proffer comfort.
He stared at that hand for a moment, his brow raised. She smiled weakly at him, and quickly pulled her hand away.
“Their egregious behavior gives you the right to be wary and cautious around strangers. It gives you the right to protect yourself and your remaining family. And it probably even gives you the right to withhold your trust until that stranger has earned it.”
“That’s what I was trying to sa—,” he began, smiling at how quickly she had gotten his point without him having to jump through any more hoops.
“What their behavior does not do,” Geet continued, ignoring his efforts to speak, “Is to hurt everyone else that remains in your life . . . it doesn’t give you the right to withdraw your trust from those few that have remained loyal to you and by your side. These past betrayals don’t mean that you distrust someone despite everything they have done to earn your trust.”
“Miss Handa,” Maan began, speaking softly when he saw the tears in her eyes.
Geet turned away. “I like you, Mr. Khurana.”
Maan was silenced by her words, his voice dying away. A small smile appeared on his lips, as he heard those words. He turned away for a moment, unsure of how to respond to that surprising sentiment.
“You’re a good businessman. You work hard and fulfill your responsibilities,” she continued quickly, wanting to drive home the fact that hers was an impersonal preference. “I respect you and the love you have for your son and your grandmother. But you can also be quite rude and arrogant. And when you get angry . . . you don’t think. You just lash out and hurt the first person that crosses your path.”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting, Miss Handa?” Maan asked through gritted teeth, turning back to glare at her. The smile had suffered a quick and silent death. “I might have misunderstood the situation a little and mishandled a few things, but that doesn’t mea—”
“You hurt me,” she said again, her voice breaking in the middle of that admission. She stopped and swallowed, trying to get her emotions under control. “What did I ever do to deserve the poisonous words you threw at me? You made me feel this small,” she said, holding her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “So, from everything you said today and how betrayed I feel from your betrayal, am I supposed to go off and scar the next person that presumably betrays me?” she demanded, poking a finger at her chest. “Do you think your actions are justified just because someone else did that to you in the past? When does that stop? When will you stop punishing others for the betrayals in your past?”
“Others?” Maan asked softly, moving towards her, closing the distance that had grown between them during her tirade. He towered over her, attempting to intimidate her with his size.
But Geet stood her ground, leaning back only slightly in the face of his aggression. “Adi Jeeja ji has worked for you for years. Why do you still treat him so horribly? You would think a man who has shown how loyal and trustworthy he can be deserves some respect in return.”
“Miss Handa,” Maan began, grinding his teeth at her continued presumption.
“And Rahul. You say you stepped back because Dadi Ma told you to give him space, but wasn’t it just an excuse? Hadn’t you become afraid of leaving yourself vulnerable to more hurt? You were afraid to get close to your own son, Mr. Khurana.”
“Geet,” Maan barked angrily, reaching out to grab her by the shoulders. He shook her lightly. “You are overstepping your bounds.” He leaned in close, and stared into her eyes. “How dare you call me a coward?”
Her eyes widened at his anger. What right did he have to be angry? “Why can’t you just say you’re sorry?” Geet demanded, closing her hands around his collar and twisting the cloth between her fingers. She felt the tears begin to fall. She had thought there weren’t any more left, but she’d been wrong again. “Do you see these?” she asked, angrily wiping a wet cheek against her shoulder, refusing to let him go for the seconds it would take to wipe those tears by hand. “Do you have any idea how much I’ve cried this evening because of you and your words? Tell me you’re sorry!” she shouted at him, trying to shake him in return. He barely moved.
Maan took in her disheveled appearance and the tears in her eyes. He saw her trembling lips and the hurt that still lingered. Maan’s hold softened against her shoulders, until he was no longer clutching at her. His hands began to smooth up and down her arms, as if to soothe her inner turmoil.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered softly, gazing into her tear-drenched eyes. “I am sorry.”
Geet was silenced. She fell back a step, her hands falling away from his collar.
“Does that make you feel better?” he asked, stepping closer to her once more. His hand came up and his fingers gently cradled her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. “When I realized how wrong I had been, the anger fell away. It was only then I could see how I had torn you apart,” he said harshly. His thumb smoothed against her trembling lower lip, soothing its quivering movement. “I tore at your vulnerabilities, called you a gold digger. I ignored your scars. The look in your eyes has been tearing me apart ever since.”
Geet’s lashes fell at that, concealing her torment from his inquisitive gaze.
“Saying a mere sorry would not be atonement enough for my actions,” he uttered, pinching her chin lightly to get her attention.
She jumped slightly and lifted her lashes once more, gazing at him with her hurt gaze.
He froze for a moment, mesmerized by her beauty. His head unconsciously tilted to the side, and he forgot for a moment the words he’d intended to speak. Shaking his head forcefully, he brought himself back to the subject at hand. “I had to show you my scars and reveal my vulnerabilities. I had to open myself up and let you do your worst.” His hands dropped away from her chin and he stepped back. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. ‘Why are you so short of breath?’ he asked himself silently. He had no answer.
He turned his attention back to the lost woman in front of him. He had been the cause of her pain, and for that, he could try to be a little jovial. “You really go for the jugular, don’t you, Miss Handa?” he said with a small smile. “I really thought you’d try to comfort me,” he revealed.
“I strive to be different,” she muttered in a small voice. She bit her lip, as his eyes caught her gaze once more. She couldn’t look away from that small smile. She wanted to say something . . . do something that would make that smile grow bigger. He was always so somber, and it was strange, but seeing him smile, even in this situation, made her heart sing. She could feel herself melting, and she didn’t know if that was such a good idea. She moved forward unconsciously, wanting to bask in that smile a little more.
“Miss Handa . . . Geet . . .,” he began hesitantly, wanting to prod her for a response. Where did they go from here? He wanted to hear her say that she would come back. He paused for a moment, unsure of why he cared so much. ‘Don’t become so involved that you forget everything that’s happened before,’ he cautioned himself. He turned away abruptly, remembering the pain and embarrassment those other women had dealt him. Despite what Geet had said, he couldn’t help but be wary.
The door slammed open behind them, causing the two of them to startle in surprise. Geet jumped away from him, putting distance between the two. Rahul barged inside, screaming for his Geet Didi.
Geet turned to smile at Rahul, happy to see him become the same joyful young boy he had been earlier in the day. Her eyes widened in surprise when Rahul lunged at her. He slammed into her half opened arms, and Geet stumbled from the impact. She fell back and felt her foot catching on her dupatta. They were going to fall. She knew they were going to fall, and she wrapped her arms protectively around Rahul, ensuring that he wouldn’t be hurt.
But instead of meeting the hard floor, she fell into strong arms that caught her carefully and cradled her within their warmth. She looked up and saw Maan gazing at Rahul admonishingly.
“Rahul, how many times have I told you to be careful?” Maan said to the young boy.
“Sorry, daddy,” Rahul said penitently. He hugged Geet close, largely unrepentant of the chaos he had caused within the heart of the woman he was hugging. “Will you come back, Geet Didi?” he asked, looking up at her expectantly.
Geet struggled, trying to get out of Maan’s hold, but he refused to let go. Her back was plastered against his front, and she could feel his warmth through the thin clothes covering her body. She stiffened her body, fighting against the instinct that urged her to melt against him.
“Let go,” she whispered furiously to him. She struggled in his arms, but he only tightened his hold until she could barely breathe. He stilled her efforts with a minimum of fuss, remaining silent all throughout.
“Geet Didi,” Rahul said insistently, “Will you come back?” He tugged at her hand, trying to bring her attention back to him. “Have you forgiven us?”
“Tell us, Geet. Have you forgiven us?” he murmured in her ear. Geet flinched at the sensation of his breath against her ear. She squirmed inwardly, wondering what he had thought of her telling reaction.
“Geet?” he murmured again. She could feel his face inches away from the side of hers.
Geet did not answer, refusing to be seduced by Maan’s proximity into agreeing to something that might end up hurting her in the long run. Did she want to go back, only to find herself falling even more deeply in love with these two? Did she want to risk heartbreak when they rejected her once more?
“Let go,” she muttered again, trying to unwrap the arms he had placed squarely around her waist. She struggled, growing frustrated by his refusal to let her go and her own worrisome reaction. “I’m not playing with you,” she uttered softly, not wanting to bring Rahul’s attention to them. She stopped for a moment, waiting for him to let her go, but his hold didn’t loosen. She was surrounded by his scent . . . by his warmth, and it was seductive. She closed her eyes and inhaled strongly, trying to shore up her weakened defenses.
She began to wriggle once more, once she realized that he wasn’t going to listen. What had gotten into him? When had he become so touchy feely with his employees? She could see Rahul begin to notice the situation. His eyes were growing wide in his small face, as he stared up at his father hugging Geet.
“Maan!” she shrieked in frustration. “Let go! I’m not playing,” she said roughly.
He had frozen the moment she spoke his name, his eyes widening at the feelings her voice calling his name provoked. He slowly let her go, realizing just what he had been doing to his own employee . . . a woman he wanted to willingly return to his home to work. What had been going on in his mind?
Why had he thought, even for a moment, that this would be okay?
He moved back, putting some much needed distance between them. “I’m sorry,” he said, his face reddening. He rubbed at his forehead in confusion, wondering what had gotten into him. He glared blackly at her, knowing that this was all her fault.
“Don’t you glare at me,” she snapped at him, her cheeks still red from his proximity. “It’s not my fault. Are you drunk?” she asked suddenly, her eyes narrowing as she stared into his eyes.
“I . . . might have had a drink or two while I was . . .,” he muttered in response, his voice trailing off at the end of that admission.
“While you were what? Brooding over your incredibly bad behavior?” she snapped at him.
He opened his mouth in protest.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she said with a glare. “I cannot believe you! You came to my house in this drunken state?” Geet squealed in horror. “What were you thinking?” she demanded, folding her arms across her chest, unconsciously mimicking him.
“I wasn’t thinking,” he snapped back at her. Why was she talking so much? “Are you coming back or not?” he demanded, folding his own arms across his chest.
“Geet Didi, it’s okay,” Rahul said. “I’m not mad.”
“What?” Geet asked, turning to look at him.
“Daddy was just hugging you, so that we could show you how I won’t get mad at you anymore,” Rahul explained impatiently.
Geet turned to look at Maan in silent query.
Maan nodded quickly in agreement.
“Now you guys can hug all the time,” Rahul said happily. “I won’t get mad.”
Geet gasped at his words, and turned to look at Maan. She noted that his cheeks had turned slightly red, as well.
“Enough talk of hugging,” she said briskly to Rahul. “We won’t talk anymore about what happened today, okay?”
“But . . .” Rahul began worriedly.
“What is it?” Geet asked gently, taking his hand in hers.
“We won’t talk about it from now on, right?” Rahul said, clasping her hand close.
“Why?” Geet asked suspiciously.
“I kind of told Pinky auntie that I got angry at you for hugging my daddy, and that’s why we had a fight.”
“What?” Geet said, her eyes growing wide. “There was no one else there, right?” she demanded, jiggling Rahul’s hand.
“No . . . Adi Uncle was there.”
She turned to glare at Maan, as if reprimanding him with her eyes.
He crossed his arms across his chest, and shrugged his shoulders. After all, it was only Adi and Pinky. He could intimidate Adi into remaining silent.
“And your mommy and daddy were there,” Rahul continued in a chirpy tone.
Maan’s arms fell to his sides.
“Maan Sir, why don’t we go talk to my parents?” Geet suggested through gritted teeth. She was kind of surprised that no one had come barging in after that story. Only, when she gazed down at Rahul, she realized they had chosen the best distraction. Clutching Rahul by the hand, she moved to the door.
“Geet,” Maan called out from behind her.
She turned to gaze at him.
“Are you coming back to us?”
She turned back toward the door.
“Please,” he murmured from behind her.
She stopped at the door, frozen for a moment by that surprising word. She turned her head to look at him once more and allowed herself a small frustrated smile. “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” she finally said. “But yes, I’ll come back.”
Chapter 14: Bare Naked Truth
Geet sat in her room, her face flushed from thoughts of the past half hour. Flapping her hands in front of her face, she tried to talk herself down from the embarrassment she had had to face when they had gone back to face her family.
“This is what happens when you let your fears get the best of you,” she muttered to herself. How long? How long was she going to let her past keep a hold on her? If she hadn’t let her fears get the best of her in that room, none of this would have happened. There would have been no hug. No Rahul getting hysterical. No Maan firing her and then coming over to apologize. And then no precocious kid telling her friends and family about that impromptu hug.
She moaned, falling over to hide her burning face in the pillow. She couldn’t believe that Rahul had told her parents that she had been hugging his father! Turning over, she lay on her back with a pained huff and stared up at the ceiling.
Her parents hadn’t doubted her for a moment. They’d had faith in her. She’d only had to mention that the electricity had gone out when she was all alone for them to understand. A bleak look had passed over her father’s face, a moment of regret in her mother’s eyes to make her realize that they still blamed themselves for not protecting her in the past.
Geet huffed out another breath of exasperation. Admittedly, Pinky had teased her about it, but even she hadn’t thought anything shameful had gone on between her and her boss. How could she tell her best friend the thoughts she had about Maan Sir day and night. How could she ever admit the dreams she’d begun to have?
She growled at the thought of that man. Mr. Maan Singh Khurana. A man who was so confident and powerful in every other aspect of his life. She snorted at that. The coward had raced out the door, with hardly a pause to grab his reluctant son. He’d left her to make all of the explanations.
She pouted, fingers coming up to touch where his fingers had grasped her chin a while ago. She could still feel his warm grip on her sensitized flesh.
Letting her fingers fall away from her face, she firmed her lips. She was going back to work. Now that she had made that decision, she would wholeheartedly throw herself into it, and . . . she locked away those tremulous sensations his touch had evoked . . . she had to keep her heart safe. She had to keep those two at a distance. There was no use falling for them when she would only have to leave at the end.
There was a soft knock on the door. Geet got up and called out for the knocker to come in. Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw that it was Pammi Bhabi. “I thought that you had gone to sleep a while ago,” Geet murmured. “Is everything alright? Did you need something?” She quickly got up and went over to Pammi, who was still hesitating in the doorway. “Please come in,” Geet urged, pulling at Pammi’s elbow.
“I don’t want to intrude,” Pammi said softly, gazing at Geet for a moment. “You were in bed,” she said with a sigh. “We can talk later.”
“No!” Geet protested. “I wasn’t sleeping. I was just driving myself crazy thinking about this evening. In fact you’d be doing me favor by coming in and distracting me.”
Pammi smiled faintly at the petulance in Geet’s voice. They sat down and Geet stared at Pammi. She noticed the sadness in the woman’s eyes and it made her wonder what had driven this woman from her home.
“I’m sorry, Pammi Bhabi,” Geet said.
Pammi looked at her in surprise. “For what?”
“You are a guest in our home, and I haven’t been the host you deserve. Along with my father and mother, it is my duty to look after your comfort. Not to mention Lucky Bhai’s. I haven’t been doing that.”
“Well, we haven’t been the greatest guests, have we?” Pammi replied. “What kind of guest just shows up without any warning?” she asked. She looked away from the questions in Geet’s eyes.
“Is . . .,” Geet hesitated for a moment. “Is everything alright at home?” she asked Pammi, noticing the tears that had welled up in the other woman’s eyes. “How are Teji veerji and Beeji?” she asked, asking about Pammi Bhabi’s husband, a man who was also Geet’s cousin, and Pammi’s mother-in-law. “And how is . . . ?” her voice trailed off, unsure of how she could ask about them.
Pammi put her hand on Geet’s in understanding, squeezing it in an effort to give her comfort. “Your aunt and uncle are well,” she said. “Rajji and Titu are busy with their studies.”
“Rajji is going to school?” Geet asked with tears in her eyes. Rajji and Titu had been her closest friends, along with being her paternal cousins, as she grew up in Hoshiarpur. They’d grown up in the same household. Circumstances had separated them, but Geet still ached for that closeness they used to share. And she was especially happy to hear this news. “She’s leaving the house and doing things again?”
“She wanted to finish her studies,” Pammi replied. “She wanted to be like her Geet didi.”
Geet winced at those words. “I guess that didn’t go over too well with aunt and uncle.”
Pammi shook her head sadly. “But they also wanted their daughter back. So, they gave in and she’s started again. Teji and Beeji are fine, as well. Still as busy as ever trying to protect their reputation in our small community. Despite everything that has happened,” Pammi finished off, a faint bitterness flavoring her words.
Geet’s eyes became somber at those words. “How is Nandini?” she asked softly.
“You know what happened with her and Daman,” Pammi said sadly. “After he took her dowry and abandoned her on their wedding night, she was in shock.”
Geet nodded sadly, thinking about the pain her cousin had gone through. Although Geet and her parents had not been invited to the festivities, she had been truly happy to hear about Nandini’s marriage. It would have been the first happy moments after everything that had happened in Hoshiarpur. But Daman had run off after obtaining Nandini’s dowry, and Nandini had been left heartbroken.
“She wouldn’t come out of it no matter what we did. She just couldn’t believe that a man could betray her like that. And you know that she’d only agreed because Teji and her mother wanted her to get married. She wouldn’t go back to school. She didn’t read. Until finally, her mother and brother decided to quietly get her married again.”
“Nandini agreed to that?” Geet asked, shocked to the core. “Why would they push her into another marriage?”
“I tried to speak up, but who listens to me,” Pammi responded softly. “They thought they knew better.”
“And is she adjusting? Is she any better?”
“She’s . . . content, I guess you could say,” Pammi concluded. “She will never be the Nandini she was before,” Pammi asserted, gazing at Geet. “She won’t ever allow herself to be happy. The fear has set in too deeply. But she is accepting, if a bit more harsher. And her husband is a good man. He cares enough for her to handle her bitterness.”
Geet nodded, understanding the fear that held Nandini in its grasp. While she was still dealing with her own pain, she was no longer bitter. She wouldn’t let anger and fear keep her from forging a happy life for herself and her parents. And nothing, not the pain she had suffered in the past, nor the fear she suffered from even today would keep her from fighting for her happiness.
“Lucky Bhai seems a lot more quiet nowadays,” Geet commented in a questioning tone. She remembered her cousin and how fun-loving he used to be. He had always had a kind word for his younger cousins, and would always take care to keep them entertained when Geet’s family went to Amritsar to visit. He would also protect them from Brij Veerji’s unreasonable anger and had been hit a time or two in his quest to keep Geet safe.
“Lucky,” Pammi sighed. “He confessed to Beeji that there was a girl he liked about three years ago,” she whispered in a confiding tone. “It was right around the time they were setting up Nandini’s engagement with Daman. Beeji shut him down and refused to listen to another word.”
“And the girl he liked?” Geet asked, staring at Pammi.
“Her father married her off a couple of months later. Beeji made him attend the wedding, since they were the premier family in Amritsar and they had to keep up appearances,” Pammi said unhappily. “I tried to . . . but there was really no point, was there?”
“Why are you here, Pammi Bhabi?” Geet suddenly asked, a fear growing inside of her. This woman was the perfect housewife and daughter-in-law. She never put a foot out of line, but to suddenly show up out of the blue . . . something had to have happened for her to have taken this step. “What’s wrong? You would never have come here if everything was alright.”
Pammi looked away for a moment and then turned back, obviously forcing herself to meet Geet’s eyes. “I’m pregnant, Geet.”
A smile grew on Geet’s face and she moved forward to hug Pammi. “Congratulations!” she exclaimed, pulling back. The smile left her face when she saw that Pammi wasn’t smiling.
“I’ve spent years in that household listening to Beeji’s stinging remarks on my inability to become pregnant. I’ve been married for over a decade, getting married when I was only sixteen, and I already feel used up at 28.” She sighed unhappily. “When I found out I was pregnant, I was so happy. Not because I was finally going to give that household an heir. That never came into it. I was happy because I would have someone that I could love unabashedly and no one would criticize me for that. That little being would be mine as no one in that household has ever been,” she muttered disjointedly, turning her eyes away when she saw the shock in Geet’s eyes.
“Pammi Bhabi, what happened?” Geet asked. “When did everything become so horrible for you?”
“I know that this is hard for you to hear,” Pammi replied unhappily. “I know that they are your family, and who would like to hear or believe such things about their own family?”
“Believe me,” Geet quickly interjected, “I know how important it is to see when someone is doing wrong. It’s important to fight back,” she said fiercely, “Regardless of whether they are your family or not.”
“I’ve never been happy in that household, Geet,” Pammi confessed. “I was brought into that household at such a young age so that Beeji could mold me into the perfect daughter-in-law. But no matter how hard I tried, it was never enough. Do you have any idea how hard it is to not have the respect of your husband? To see the disgust in his eyes every time you fail to live up to his expectations or to his mother’s unreasonable demands?” Pammi asked fiercely, the look in her eyes bleak as she thought about all those times she had tried and failed. “They’re too harsh. Too strong. They have never tried to understand the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of a mere mortal like me.”
Geet reached out and clasped Pammi’s hands in comfort. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered softly, not wanting to see this sweet woman in pain any longer.
“When I found out that I was pregnant with a girl, I had to leave. They would . . . that family would poison my daughter. Ruin her life out of outdated notions of what a woman’s place is in this world. Look at what they did to Nandini . . . to Rajji . . . to you. I couldn’t turn to my own family. They married me off when I was 16 years old. I wanted to study. I wanted to do something with my life and find my identity. Only then did I want marriage. But my family wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t go to them for haven.”
Geet made a noise of protest.
“You know the kind of environment we grow up in, Geet,” she gently reminded her. “When I found out my child was a girl, I knew that I needed to get away from them. They weren’t happy about the fact that she was a girl. And I’m not going to let my daughter suffer from the same slights and contempt that I have had to suffer because of my sex. Lucky was willing to bring me. He was always different from the others.” She looked at Geet entreatingly. “There was nowhere else I could go,” she confessed in a choked whisper. “I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Geet insisted. “You will always be welcome here. I had no idea that things were so bad for you. You never complained, Bhabi.”
“I never felt like I had that right,” Pammi whispered. “I never felt I had the right to demand anything. But,” she placed a hand on her womb, “I will do anything for this child. I’m going to fight for her rights like I never fought for my own. She’s not going to learn that her in-laws don’t have to respect her. She’s not going to learn that might is right.” Her face twisted in pain, and she took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. She turned to look at Geet with a smile. “I want my daughter to be like you.”
Geet’s eyes widened in shock, her breath catching in her throat. “Pammi Bhabi,” she tried to say, but there was no sound. Tears welled up in her eyes. “How can you say that?” she said hoarsely. “Even knowing what I did.”
“You saved yourself and countless others,” Pammi said softly. “I don’t want my daughter to be the one who needs saving. I want her to be the one that does the saving. Like you.”
Geet stepped into the Khurana mansion the next morning, eyeing the empty hallway with trepidation. ‘Do you expect him to jump out at you?’ she wondered to herself. ‘Stop acting weirdly. Everything is going back to normal. Nothing has changed. He is just your boss.’ She lectured herself as she made her way down the hallway.
Geet squealed in surprise, a hand going up to her furiously pounding heart.
“Dadi Ma,” she said smilingly, moving into the living room. “Good morning.”
“Geet beta, I’m so happy that you’re back,” Dadi Ma said, reaching out to hold Geet’s hand. “When my idiotic grandson misunderstood you yesterday and sent you out of here with those grief-stricken eyes, I could have disowned him,” Dadi Ma proclaimed. “I couldn’t believe that he would doubt you,” she exclaimed. “Haven’t you proven how much you care for all of us repeatedly?” she demanded.
“Dadi Ma,” Geet cried out. “It’s okay. I understood. I was hurt,” she quickly stated when she saw that Dadi Ma was about to protest. “I was incredibly hurt, but Rahul was hurt, too. He caught me hugging his father,” she admitted, the heat flaring in her cheeks. She looked up and saw Dadi Ma hiding a smile.
“It wasn’t with any nefarious purpose,” Geet quickly explained. “I have a fear of the dark,” she defended herself, when she saw that Dadi Ma continued to smile knowingly at her. “When the electricity went out and Maan Sir came in, I just reacted to having someone near me and grabbed him. Rahul witnessed that and thought I was another Sameera. Maan Sir reacted to Rahul’s fear and lashed out. There really wasn’t anything going on,” she assured the other woman.
“A pity,” Savitri Devi muttered.
“I’m sorry?” Geet asked.
“I said it was a pity my grandson exploded at you without thinking about it first. I’m sorry that you were hurt, beta.” She patted Geet’s hand. “I’m glad that you are giving all of us another chance.”
“I couldn’t break Rahul’s heart,” Geet admitted. “He’s already been hurt too much by his previous nanny. He made his peace with the hug. In fact, he’s given us permission to hug as much as we want,” Geet said shamefacedly. “I’m going to explain to him that it was just a one off and it’s not going to happen again.”
“Pity,” Dadi Ma murmured.
“I’m sorry?” Geet asked again.
“I said that it would be a pity,” Savitri Devi said with a soft smile. Reaching out a hand to briefly caress Geet’s cheek, she said, “Thank you for coming back, beta.”
Geet blinked at her, tilting her head to the side. A look of confusion appeared on her face.
“Forgive an old woman for her ramblings,” she continued. “I don’t know what my grandson would have done without you in his life.”
“You mean your great-grandson, right?” Geet asked hesitantly.
“Him, too,” Dadi Ma said complacently.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Dadi Ma, are you alright?”
“Rahul, wake up!” Geet called, as she sailed into her young charge’s room. There was no response. “Time to get up,” she said, moving over to the bed and pulling back the covers. Her eyes widened in surprise when she realized that he was missing. Her brow wrinkled in thought. He had to be in his father’s room. Glancing at her watch, she realized that Maan Sir would have already left the office. There was no danger of meeting him today. Not even if she went to his room.
Although, she frowned lightly, it wasn’t a good thing that the man even worked on the weekend. When did he ever have time to relax? She shook her head quickly. It was none of her business what he chose to do when the rest of the world was resting.
Swiftly walking toward the connecting door between the two rooms, she opened them and sailed through. Her eyes widened at the mess of toys on the floor. Yep, Rahul had definitely been here last night. And, from the lump she could see under the blankets, he had decided to stay.
“Rahul, it’s time to get up,” she sang out. The little figure grumbled before covering his head with the blanket. “Rahul, it’s late. You can’t spend the entire day sleeping,” she reprimanded him. “You have to get up and be active.”
“What, didi?!” Rahul complained, jerking down the blanket. “It’s Saturday. People are supposed to rest on the weekends!”
Geet silently nodded her head in agreement at that statement.
“Can’t I sleep a little bit more?” he wheedled, his eyes remaining closed.
“Fine,” Geet said with a chuckle. “You have another half hour, but that’s it. When you get up, we’re going to do your homework before we get to play. Promise?”
“Promise,” Rahul said grudgingly before pulling the blanket back up once more.
Shaking her head at the mess around her, she got down on her knees. She began to pick up the toys, putting them in Rahul’s toy wagon. They would move everything over to Rahul’s room once he got up. Her hands were reaching for a toy under the bed when she heard a door open. Geet froze for a moment and then peeked over the top of the bed. Her brow wrinkled in confusion when she saw the bathroom door was now open. “Who . . .?” she murmured to herself.
Her eyes widened and she gasped silently when a half-naked Maan Singh Khurana strode out of the bathroom. Geet’s mouth dropped open when her eyes fell upon his naked chest, her gaze focused on the water that still glistened upon that mouth-wateringly tempting expanse. She stopped breathing when she saw he had only a towel wrapped around his waist.
She quickly closed her eyes, crouching back down behind the bed. She wondered frantically what she could do. ‘Crawl out of here, Geet Handa,’ she silently ordered herself. ‘Crawl out of here before he sees you and misunderstands again . . . All that golden skin,’ she moaned to herself, distracted by his beautiful physique. ‘He looks like a golden God! . . . What is wrong with the man? Doesn’t he have any sense of propriety? Why does he insist on always parading this way in front of me so?’ she thought to herself, purposefully forgetting the fact that the two times she had seen him thus, he had been in the privacy of his own bedroom and she had been the intruder.
She kept her eyes closed, not wanting to chance any further glimpses that could sear themselves into her pure mind. She hmphed silently. She was an innocent girl, and she did not need these kinds of images circling around in her head, especially not when the man was tempting enough fully clothed.
She tried to move swiftly and silently, cursing when the hand that held the toy landed against the floor, causing the toy to squeak in protest when it was squashed beneath the weight of her hand.
“Geet didi,” Rahul growled, glaring at her from over the side of the bed, “You promised me another half hour!”
“Go back to sleep,” she ordered him tightly, her eyes staring helplessly at the man standing on the other side of the bed, his arms now crossed over that magnificently naked chest.
She took a deep breath, opening her mouth to say something . . . anything, and ended up squawking like a chicken.
His eyebrows rose at that familiar noise. “This is becoming quite a habit, Miss Handa.”
She got up, her knees trembling. “You were supposed to be at work,” she whispered accusingly at him.
He raised an eyebrow at that. “It’s Saturday,” he replied.
“You don’t ever seem to know that there’s a difference between the weekend and weekdays,” she argued back at him in a fierce whisper. “Why now? Why today?”
“My prerogative,” he said with a shrug. They gazed at each other for a moment. “Geet?” he finally prompted in a low voice. “Do you plan on leaving anytime soon?” Though the words were sardonic, his eyes remained helplessly riveted to the creamy blush covering her cheeks, and the manner in which she nibbled at her lip in embarrassment.
The toy Geet still held clutched close to her chest squeaked in protest when her hands tightened around it. She closed her eyes for a moment, before stepping back. “I’m sorry,” she said in a strangled whisper, and raced to the door, her eyes closed once more. She didn’t know why she thought that closing her eyes would help this time. She stumbled over what was probably another dratted toy, and felt herself falling. The squeaky toy went flying as she clutched at air trying to save herself. She was going to fall. She knew it.
But instead of landing upon the floor, she landed in the arms of Maan Singh Khurana. Her eyes popped open, and she clutched at him in a compulsive effort to be safe. Her heart began to beat furiously at his proximity, her eyes gazing into his.
She heard the rustle of cloth, and the weight of something falling across her legs. Her eyes began to lower, wondering at the sudden weight.
“Uh uh, eyes up here,” he ordered softly.
Her gaze flew back up to meet his. “What . . . ?”
“I’m afraid in my efforts to catch you,” he explained, “my towel lost the struggle and has now fallen at your feet.”
“You’re . . .,” she swallowed nervously. “You’re naked,” she was finally able to squeak out. Her eyes began to lower once more, unable to believe this truth. Realizing what she was about to do to her innocent eyes, she snapped them back up to meet his gaze.
A flush appeared on Maan’s cheeks, his eyes moving away from hers for a moment before turning back to look at her.
Geet began to struggle against him, needing to place some distance between her too warm body and his nakedness. Drops of water had begun fall upon her face and chest, each one with stinging coolness to her overheated skin.
Maan stood her up, turning her around by the shoulders to face the connecting doors. She gasped slightly when she felt his hands slide down from her shoulders, across her bare arms, to touch his hands to hers for a brief moment. Geet’s eyes closed, her body trembling lightly at the sensations coursing through her body from a mere touch.
He cleared his throat, and she felt him step away. Pushing her gently towards the door, his hand reached out from behind and opened it for her. Pushing her through the doors, she heard him begin to close it.
“While I don’t expect this to happen again, I would suggest you do a thorough check of the premises before you make yourself at home in my room, Miss Handa.” She could hear the amusement in his voice. “The first time you saw me in my boxers. Today it was a towel. Who knows what your innocent gaze might encounter on your next foray into my bedroom. Be careful.” With that final warning, he shut the door behind her, depriving her of any further views of his body.
A very small part of her, the distinctly wicked part of her buried deep within, was slightly disappointed.
Chapter 15: Light
“Maan, pay attention!” Pari barked at him, frustrated by his wandering attention. “You know, if you spend all this time being distracted,” she said pointedly, “Who will take care of your business? Adi Sir can’t do everything. Every time you leave the office, he gets so frazzled. I feel sorry for the poor guy,” she muttered to herself.
Maan glanced at Pari quietly before responding, “Who said I’m distracted?”
“My eyes work,” Pari replied curtly. She looked meaningfully to the end of the table before turning back to him. “I’ve known you too long. You don’t think that I’ve noticed the changes in you since a certain woman came into our lives?”
Maan glanced at the end of the table, his eyes alighting on Geet and Rahul giggling over the comics in the newspaper. Geet had insisted on introducing Rahul to the importance of a newspaper and being aware of the world around him. So far they had reached only the comics. She laughed once more, the husky sound causing his heart to clench. His eyes traveled over her happy face. The skin her short sleeves and low neckline left bare enticing him in ways that an employee’s skin should not be doing.
He saw her gazing at him out of the corner of her eyes. His eyes narrowed when he saw the flush that appeared on her skin, spreading from her neck to her face, until it was a fiery red. She lowered her head a bit more and whispered something in Rahul’s ear. His son eagerly nodded, and the two quickly got up and left the table.
“Where are you going? You haven’t spoken to me once today!” Maan opened his mouth, and then resolutely sealed it shut. His hands clenched around his coffee cup, a wrinkle appearing between his brows. Pari was right. He was too distracted by Geet. And tonight . . . tonight was going to be the hardest.
“You’re staying over tonight,” Maan told Pari abruptly.
“What? Why?!” Pari asked.
“We’re going to be working on the Kumar Project,” Maan replied. “We’ve gotten too far behind on everything.”
“It can’t wait until tomorrow?” Pari asked pleadingly. “I have plans tonight. Important plans. I have a life outside this job, you know!”
“No,” Maan replied. “We need to get this done.”
She huffed in indignation, then nodded grudgingly.
Maan turned away, his gaze landing on Geet’s empty chair. His hands clenched around his cup once more.
Pari’s eyes followed his eyes. “Dadi Ma’s gone, isn’t she?” she asked abruptly.
Maan frowned darkly. Dadi Ma had gone on another one of her pilgrimages, saying that she had to pray for Maan to get happily married since he wasn’t making much effort on his own. Maan had tried to argue, saying that Rahul needed his great-grandmother around, especially at night.
“Why don’t you have Geet beta stay and take care of Rahul at night?”
Nothing he had said had dissuaded his grandmother’s plans or her ill-advised idea to have Geet over. Alone. With just him and Rahul. He readily discounted the servants. And what would a child notice about the shenanigans adults could into over his head?
“Dadi Ma, you’re joking, right? How can a single woman stay over at a bachelor’s home?” he demanded angrily. “What will people say?”
“Since when have you cared about gossip?” she asked in a surprised tone.
“Since it could hurt Geet,” he blurted out without a thought. He flinched when he realized the words that had escaped his lips.
“Beta,” she finally said after a pause. “I know that your conscience is clean. There is nothing you would do to hurt that poor child. At least . . . ” Her voice trailed off, and she gazed at him questioningly. “Is there something you would like to tell me?” she asked gently. “A reason that you fear your ability to control yourself?”
Maan shook his vehemently. How could he confess to his grandmother the feelings that had been growing within him? How could he confess his weakness? . . . . . . . How could he say that he was afraid?
“Her parents have agreed,” Dadi Ma continued. “I will be away for two nights, and Geet will come over to take care of Rahul. The house will be full of servants. You needn’t worry. No one will talk.”
“So, that’s settled,” he said to Pari, ignoring her cheeky question. “We’ll finish up the details of the Kumar project and focus on choosing the next set of projects that Khurana Construction will be bidding for. You’ll be expected to stay over for both tonight and tomorrow night.”
“Maan!” Pari protested. “Just because you ca–”
“Tell Adi that I expect him to stay over, as well,” he said, interrupting her.
“It’s his two month anniversary tonight!” Pari protested. “They do this monthly thing. He’s been going on and on about the plans he has in place to surprise his wife! Do you ever listen to your employees?”
“He can bring his wife,” Maan stated through gritted teeth. “They can celebrate after we’re done working.” He got up.
“What about Sasha?!” Pari called out from behind him. “Shouldn’t she be coming over?”
“No!” Maan barked at her over his shoulder, refusing to make any explanations. He left the room, ignoring Pari’s dire muttering behind him.
Later that evening, Maan entered his home after a long day of work. He was exhausted, but he still had hours more to get through before he could rest. At least he would get a good night’s sleep tonight, even if she was sleeping down the hallway.
His eyes traveled over the foyer, and he saw that the house was dark. Surprisingly dark. He entered the living room, and saw there were candles placed on multiple flat surfaces.
“Nakul!” he called abruptly, pulling at his tie with quick, frustrated motions. “What’s going on?” he asked, when the manservant came up to him. He silently handed over his briefcase and his coat.
“The lights have gone out, Saab Ji,” he replied.
“I can see that,” Maan barked at him. “What happened to the lights?”
Maan’s eyes narrowed, as he glanced around, barely taking in the explanation that Nakul was providing. Where was Geet? He remembered the last time the lights had gone out. She must be so afraid right now. Was someone with her? Was Rahul with her?
“It should all be fixed soon,” Nakul said, finishing with his explanation.
“Where’s Rahul?” Maan asked suddenly.
“Rahul should be returning from his play date soon,” Nakul replied.
Maan sighed in relief. At least Geet wasn’t here
“Geet must be with him,” Maan mused out loud. “Pari and Adi will be staying over tonight. They’ll be here in two hours. We’ll be working all night on various projects. Make arrangements for food and sleeping quarters for the two of them. Make the same arrangements for tomorrow night, as well. Adi’s wife might be coming,” Maan said, beginning to turn away.
“Alright,” Nakul murmured.
“When will Geet and Rahul be coming back, Nakul?” he asked, turning back to look at him.
“Geet ma’am didn’t go with him,” Nakul replied. “Rahul will be dropped off by his friend’s father in about an hour.”
Maan stopped suddenly, his lips tightening at the revelation. “Where’s Geet?!” he asked quietly, worry growing inside of him. She wasn’t in the living room. She wasn’t on the landing upstairs. He couldn’t see any lights in any of the rooms above stairs, either.
“She’s in Rahul’s room, Saab Ji. She said that she should clean up before he came home.”
Maan hardly waited for the words to leave Nakul’s mouth. He raced up the stairs, heading directly toward Rahul’s room. What was she thinking sitting up there all alone? Why make it harder on herself? He opened the door quickly but silently, not wanting to frighten her even more. Turning his head frantically, he looked for her, his heartbeat increasing in tempo when he could not find her.
He heard a soft sound and the flickering light of a flame. His eyes narrowed, and he entered the room, leaving the door open behind him. His eyes were drawn back to the flame. He saw that it was the flickering of a lighter, not a candle flame. He frowned slightly, wondering why the candles had not been burning in Rahul’s room.
“It’s okay.” He heard a frantic whisper.
The flame went out and there was a frightened gasp.
“It’ll be okay,” her voice gritted out. “Everything will be fine. Stop being afraid, Geet. . . There are three candles in front of you!” She stopped talking for a moment. He could hear the panic growing in her voice.
He began to move forward, wanting to do something to make that fear go away. She was sitting on the floor, at the foot of Rahul’s bed. Her next words stopped him in his tracks.
“He’s no longer here,” she whispered.
His hands clenched into fists, his body reacting to the utter despair in her voice. Who was she talking about? Who had hurt her so much?
“He can’t make you suffer anymore. He can’t. How long will you let him control you?”
“Geet,” Maan murmured.
She turned, startled. Her heart began to beat frantically, fear overriding her common sense for a moment. She began to wonder whether HE was here. She took a shuddering breath, when he spoke again.
“Geet, what are you doing?”
It wasn’t him. It was Maan. Maan. Her body tightened, as if ready to spring forward. She wanted to jump towards him, grab him in her arms. She needed someone . . . him . . . to hold on to right now. She forced herself to relax, sitting back down on the floor. It was Maan SIR.
He came and sat down next to her, facing the toy chest placed at the foot of Rahul’s bed.
Geet took another deep breath. They weren’t touching, but he was close enough that she could feel the warmth from his body. She wanted to lean closer, to touch him. But, no. She definitively shook her head. No. She could not touch him.
“Why weren’t you downstairs with everyone else?” he asked after a moment of silence. “You know what happened the last time the lights went out.”
“I . . . I need to overcome this,” she said through gritted teeth. “I mean, what woman is afraid of the da-rk? Especially a person who is in charge of a small child.”
Maan put a hand over hers.
She flinched at the contact. He was touching her. Why was he touching her? She tried to pull away, but it was no longer necessary. He’d let go, having taken the lighter from her hand. Flicking it on, he saw the three candles on the toy chest. He quietly lighted them one by one.
She relaxed gradually, her comfort growing candle by candle.
Turning his head, he gazed at her closely. He saw her trembling lips. The tears in her wide open eyes. He watched as a single tear fell from one of those chocolate brown eyes, sliding down her smooth cheek.
Unconsciously, a hand reached out and cupped a flushed cheek. He gently brushed the traces of the tear away.
Geet’s eyes widened even more.
“You don’t have to prove anything,” he whispered to her. “You’re already strong.”
Geet pulled away, a gasp escaping her parted lips. “No! I need to show him. I need to show them,” she insisted.
“Who hurt you so much?”
Geet shook her head.
“Geet, tell me,” he urged her. “How long have you been carrying this pain inside of you? Until you open up . . . until you talk to someone, it’s going to keep on hurting you. Tell me. I’m here for you.”
“It was . . . my cousin,” she said in a small voice. The words were barely audible.
“He used to lock me in a small closet for hours on end,” she continued, her voice growing hoarse as the revelation continued. “It was always dark. He would not let me out,” she ground out. “No matter how much I cried, how much I begged.”
“Your family did nothing?” he asked darkly.
She laughed cynically. “He did it with my grandfather’s approval,” she said, staring into the flame of the candle in front of her. “It was punishment when I got out of line. If I laughed too loudly. If I was five minutes late coming home. If I lost my dupatta!”
“But your parents,” Maan began.
“We’re taught to respect our elders, Maan! No one would intervene,” she finished brokenly.
Maan reached out, and held her hand. She tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let her go.
“You don’t have to be afraid any longer,” he said to her. “I’m-we’re here for you.”
She blushed and attempted to pull her hand away once more.
Maan tightened his grip around her fingers, holding on. They sat in silence for a few minutes, resolutely gazing into the flames. “Why aren’t you looking at me?” he demanded, as the silence continued between them.
Geet shrugged, refusing to turn her head.
“It was an accident,” he murmured, referencing the incident that had occurred two mornings before. “I know that you weren’t intentionally in the room to catch a glimpse of my body,” he gently teased her.
“Let’s not talk about it,” Geet squeaked out. She jerked her hand away and shot up, seeking to escape him. But she hadn’t realized that her dupatta was caught underneath him. She fell back down, landing onto him with a shocked gasp. Her face planted against his broad chest, his arms coming around to save her from sliding down even further. In catching her, he lost his balance and fell back, landing flat against the floor. Geet was sprawled over him, her burning face buried in his chest.
There was a moment of silence, when time seemed to freeze. Geet slowly raised her head, struggling to put some distance between the two of them. Her hand landed against his chest, before going over his shoulder, and landing on the floor beside his neck.
Geet was inches away from his beloved features, and for a moment she allowed herself to thrill at the contact. She gasped slightly, when she felt him shift beneath her, the movement causing her body to shift and land between his legs.
She began to struggle in earnest, when she felt his warm breath brush across her lips. Everything was too slippery. Despite her earnest attempts to escape his hold, she was unable to do so.
His grip tightened around her body, forcing her to still. She gazed at him once more, trembling slightly at the fire growing in his eyes.
“Maan,” she mouthed silently, unable to make her voice work.
One of his hands began to journey up her back, pulling her closer in the process.
Geet jumped slightly when she felt the rough warmth of that hand against the back of her neck.
His hand gently cradled the back of her head, his eyes silently gazing into hers. They implored her to do something. They asked a question that she could not answer.
When she made to turn her head away, he grabbed her chin and gently turned her eyes back to meet his gaze. As she lay there, mesmerized by the fire in those eyes, he came closer. His breath touching her lips once more, making that skin feel unbearably tender.
Her lips parted, a breath escaping her.
He reached up, as if against his will. She answered by drawing closer to him.
And then the world was on fire.
Geet jumped slightly, startled by the harsh light surrounding them. The electricity was back on. And there were no shadows to hide what they had almost done. She quickly pulled away, her lips trembling at the thought of what he might be thinking of her. Jumping to her feet, she frantically began to blow out the candles.
“I . . . ,” Maan began in the silence, as he slowly got up as well.
She resolutely ignored him. What could he say? How could she justify her behavior? His actions?
“Geet, please,” he began again, reaching for her hand.
“Geet Didi!” Rahul’s voice shouted from downstairs. “I’m back!”
“I . . .,” Geet turned to look at him. “I have to go.”
Reaching out a hand, he smoothed back the hair that had fallen across Rahul’s forehead. “You will need a haircut soon,” he commented, pulling his son close for a hug.
Rahul immediately nestled close. “Geet Didi said the same thing,” he replied. “She said we should go in tomorrow for the haircut. I asked her whether it was time for you to get a haircut, too.”
“What did she say?” Maan asked, gazing down at his son.
His mind flashed to the incident in Rahul’s room, distracting him for a moment. The woman refused to look at him after what had happened two mornings ago, but now it was even worse. How could he justify his actions? How could he explain to her what had been going on in his mind? He didn’t even know himself.
“Daddy?” Rahul asked.
“What did she say?” Maan repeated.
“I already told you!” Rahul said. “Weren’t you listening?” His tone was aggrieved.
“I’m sorry, beta,” Maan said soothingly. “Tell me again.”
“She said that you could take care of your own hair,” came the prompt reply.
Maan smiled reluctantly, and then cuddled his son closer into his arms. It was that time of night where the two of them sat together and talked about their day. Rahul shared everything that he had seen and done on that day, and Maan listened avidly. It was something that he had truly missed when the distance between the two of them had increased.
“How was it having Geet here today?” he asked his son.
“I had fun,” Rahul replied, resting his head against his father’s chest. “I didn’t want to go on my play date, since Geet Didi was here. I can see my friends any time, but Geet Didi said I had to keep my promises. She said that I should never break promises.” He sighed heavily.
“You don’t miss Dadi Ma?” Maan inquired. “You used to when she went off before.”
Rahul shook his head. He was silent for a moment.
“I missed her because there was no one I could talk to when you weren’t here,” Rahul said quietly. “With Geet Didi here I always have someone to talk to. I’m happy that she’s here when you’re not,” he said, glancing up at his father. He looked worried for a moment. “Don’t feel bad, daddy,” he said, patting Maan’s cheek. “You didn’t know.”
Maan forced the frown from his face. He took Rahul’s hand and gently kissed it. “Geet Didi takes care of you,” he said softly. “I’m happy that she’s here for you.”
There was a moment of silence, the two lost in their own thoughts.
“I like Geet Didi, daddy,” Rahul finally said.
“I know, beta,” Maan murmured, kissing the top of Rahul’s head.
“I really like her, daddy,” Rahul said.
“I know,” Maan said with a smile.
“Dadi Ma likes her, too,” Rahul continued.
“Pari Didi calls her a good person,” Rahul said.
“I have heard her saying that.”
“Adi Uncle was saying that she’s his wife’s best friend.”
“They’ve known each other for a long time,” Maan replied absentmindedly, staring into the flames, their light reminding him of the candles in Rahul’s room.
“He also said that she’s his favorite sister-in-law,” Rahul said.
“She’s his only sister-in-law,” Maan replied dryly.
“You like her, too, right daddy?” Rahul asked, staring up at him. “Right?” he prompted, when Maan didn’t . . . couldn’t answer.
“I . . . do,” Maan replied.
“She’s pretty,” Rahul said, resting his head against Maan’s chest once more. “Isn’t she?” he said, when Maan didn’t answer.
“She is,” Maan said hoarsely.
“And she’s smart. She knows everything,” Rahul said delightedly.
“She’s afraid of the dark,” Rahul said, “But she’s fine if she has us there, right?”
“She loves us, daddy,” Rahul said plaintively.
Maan nodded silently, gazing into the flames.
“And I love her,” Rahul said softly.
“I do, too.”
Maan stiffened as those words popped up in his mind. Maan gazed down at Rahul, but Rahul refused to meet his eyes.
“Rahul?” he prompted in a strangled tone, afraid of what his son would say next.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Can’t she be my mommy?”
Geet strode purposefully through Rahul’s room, picking up all the discarded toys and clothes in her path and putting them in their proper place. Her eyes landed on the candles on the toy chest, stopping her dead in her tracks. A hand unconsciously went up to her lips; they were burning once more.
The incident that had happened two mornings ago. This incident now. What was she thinking? How could she even think . . .? After what had happened back in Hoshiyarpur, she’d stopped feeling anything. But working in this home, for these people, she’d begun to care. She’d opened herself to feelings once more. And now this. These feelings that were growing inside of her for that man. That tenderness, that excitement, the heat.
It was scary.
Pinky, Adi Sir and Pari were her friends, and all had place in her heart. She loved Dadi Ma. She loved Rahul.
She’d tried telling herself that it was okay to appreciate Maan Sir.
‘It is okay to like that incredibly moody man, who can be angry one minute and so loving the next. A man who has principles and ideas about how things should work. It’s okay.‘
But this was so much more. He’d made that last half hour in the dark bearable. He had made her forget the darkness. Because of him, she placed a hand over her heart, she was a little less afraid today.
How could she even begin to expect so much in return. She shook her head. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t. She needed to forget that anything had happened between them. Starting now.
Spotting the two books on Rahul’s desk, she muttered darkly about little boys who never put anything back where they were supposed to. Picking up the books, she made her way to the library. Maan Sir definitely would not like the books from his precious library lying about in a messy boy’s room.
When she opened the library door, she heard soft whispers coming from the other end of the room. Sticking her head inside, her eyes moved over the floor to ceiling bookshelves that covered all four walls of the room. There was a fire lit in the fireplace at the end of the room, the light flickering across father and son, who seemed to be intent on some sort of private conversation.
“Can I come in?” Geet called, already pulling the door open.
“No!” two male voices shouted back.
Geet stepped back in surprise.
“And close the door,” Maan called after her.
Geet shook her head at the moodiness of these Khurana males and went toward Maan Sir’s study. She’d leave the books in there instead. When she opened the door, she felt the movement of air. Her eyes moved around the empty room. Nothing seemed out of place. Gazing at the heavy set table in the center of the room, the filing cabinets and the seating area, she found no hint of anyone else.
Geet hesitantly went into the room and placed the books on Maan Sir’s desk.
Looking around once more, she tried to figure out what was out of place. But . . . her eyes traveled to the desk once more, and moved to the curtains behind. They widened when they landed on the feet peeking out from below the curtain. Geet stealthily moved forward, grabbing something from the table as an aid.
Moving up to the curtains, she reached out a trembling hand and yanked them aside.
“Pari!” she yelped, falling back.
“Are you going to stab me with that letter opener?” Pari asked with a sniffle, blowing her nose into the handkerchief she clutched in her hand.
Geet quickly dropped her arm and stared at the letter opener in her hand. Throwing it over her shoulder, she moved closer to Pari and patted her arm.
“What’s wrong?” she asked worriedly. “You’ve been crying? Is it Maan Sir’s fault?” Geet asked darkly, a frown growing over her face.
“No! God no,” Pari burst out, shaking her head vigorously in denial. She tottered over to one of the couches and sank down onto it.
“Then what’s wrong?” Geet asked after a moment of silence.
Pari stared up at the ceiling in silence, and her eyes filled with tears once more.
“Geet, I’m pregnant,” she blurted out suddenly.
“I didn’t even know that you were married!” Geet exclaimed in surprise.
Pari turned a bleak gaze toward Geet.