Chapter 16: Part I
The early-morning sun peeked through the fluttering curtains. The chirping of birds and movement in the home could be heard in the silent bedroom. His moves economical, Maan put on his cream-colored vest and pulled a dark tie over his head. Tightening the knot, he gave one final glance in the mirror, ensuring that all was impeccable before striding out of the room. He was already on his phone, barking orders at Adi before he had stepped through the doorway. “No, Adi. I want you to schedule an appointment with the Saxenas in the afternoon, and Mr. Khanna in the evening.” Entering the empty dining room, he sat down at the head of the table. Eyeing the spread laid out before him, he grabbed a piece of toast, biting it, before turning back to the voice on the other end of the line. “No, not the prints. We need to work on-”
The phone was pulled from his hand abruptly. Maan turned to glare at the person who had dared to take the cell, ready to rain thunder on the individual. His eyes widened in disbelief when he saw the woman standing in front of him.
“Maan! Not at the dining table. This is family time! Even if there isn’t much of your family around yet,” she finished ruefully, glancing up the stairs. She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Oi! Hello up there! Why aren’t you down here yet?”
“Coming!” came the reply from his missing son.
Maan stared at the fragile hand still clenched around his cell phone, jumping slightly when she shouted. “What? Geet?” Or he tried to speak, but he seemed to have lost his voice. His eyes narrowed, trying to understand what was going on. How could Geet be …?
She pulled back a little bit and flashed him another happy smile. She posed for him and looked down at herself before looking at him enquiringly once more.
He shook his head in confusion. “What?” he finally asked, leaning back and folding his arms over his chest. “What are you talking about Miss Handa?” he barked at her, his confusion growing by the minute.
“Miss Handa, huh?” she murmured teasingly, crossing her arms over her chest, as well. “Aren’t we being formal today? Well, Mr. Khurana,” she murmured, moving closer, “you know that I haven’t been Ms. Handa for a very long time,” she finished, by now whispering into his ear. “Not since you made me your Mrs.”
“My Mrs. what?!” he demanded, flinching slightly as her moist breath touched his ear. He stiffened when he felt her hands moving up his arms. He then felt her arms wrap around his neck gently, enclosing him in her warmth. He choked, attempting to pull away, but he couldn’t seem to move. His lids fell slightly, as he fell under the spell of her touch. Her cheek, her silky skin, came to rest against his. He inhaled deeply, taking in that sweet scent that was uniquely Geet’s, allowing himself to rest for just a moment in her arms.
“Mrs. Khurana, there’s a phone call for you,” an embarrassed male voice intruded from the side, distracting Maan before he could fall further under her spell.
‘What the hell are you doing?!!‘ The mental shout pulled him back from the precipice. Jerking away from Geet, he looked around frantically for Dadi Ma. But no, that had been his own voice . . . his own conscience berating him. Dadi Ma wasn’t here. If his Dadi Ma had been here, how would he explain this scene to her?
“Ranjeev, I’ve told you to call me Geet Ma’am. The way everyone does around here. No one calls us Mrs. Khurana in this household,” she admonished lightly, before taking the phone from the servant. She waved him away before beginning to talk on the phone.
Maan’s jaw dropped when he realized that the man was calling Geet Mrs. Khurana. He looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. Was this some sort of prank that Geet was playing on him with Dadi Ma? Were the two, along with all the servants, colluding together to make a fool out of him?
“Hi, Pari. Yes. Really? Okay. I’ll see you in an hour,” she said before hanging up.
Maan stared down at the food on his plate, glaring at the now congealed eggs. Just what was going on? Where was Dadi Ma? Was she laughing at him from some corner. He glanced around once more, growing more irritated at his own confusion.
“Maan! Look at me!” Geet demanded.
“Since when has she started to leave off the Sir?” he muttered near silently to himself, still searching for his elusive grandmother.
So?” Geet asked again, coming back to stand in front of him. She grabbed him by the chin, pinching the flesh lightly, and turned his eyes back to her. “Well?”
Maan gazed at her intently, but could only be mesmerized by her radiant beauty. It was enough of a distraction that he couldn’t formulate a thought to save himself. “I don’t see anything,” Maan finally muttered in reply. ‘Besides how beautiful you are,’ he begrudgingly thought to himself. “What am I supposed to be seeing?”
“Maan, you are such a man!” Geet murmured in vexation. “Look at me!”
“I’ve done nothing but look since you came to our home!” he growled back. ‘What the hell did you just say?!” he shouted at himself, mortified by his outburst.
“At what I’m wearing,” she replied, unfazed by his temper or his admission.
His eyes moved over her body, finally taking in for the first time that she was wearing a sari. He’d never seen her in sari. A silvery-white piece of art that molded to her body lovingly, accentuating her beauty even more. Her arms and shoulders bare. Flashes of her belly. Her upper back, as she turned to throw a glance up the stairs. Geet had always been beautiful. It was a beauty he had found hard to ignore.
But now . . . she was ethereal. A goddess in human form.
His body tightened as he fought the surge of emotions welling up inside of him.
The jewelry around her neck caught his eye, and he was unwillingly fascinated by the intricacy of the necklace. Her hand came up to touch it nervously before falling away.
She smiled at him. “It matches my ring,” she said softly. “Thank you,” she whispered. She walked over to him and leaned down. Maan’s eyes wandered up her body to land on her face, which now seemed to be too close. His eyes widened at the emotion he saw in her eyes, He felt her breath against his lips, her sweet scent wrapping around him once more. And just like that, he fell under her spell once more. She leaned in a little more and planted a soft kiss against his lips.
“You look beautiful,” he muttered, watching her move to the other side of the table. “Absolutely beautiful.” He cleared his throat, disconcerted by the compliment that had escaped.
He glanced around once more. His eyes going to the window through which the sun peeked. The picture on the wall had his eyes widening again. He heard the shrieks of the children from the floor above. He gazed at the woman sitting across from him, his heart clenching at the love in her eyes. It scared him how much he wanted that to be true. Dadi Ma wasn’t here. She was still on her pilgrimage. Sitting back in his chair, he closed his eyes.
A dream. It was all a dream. He exhaled silently.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice distracting him from his disappointment. Geet sat down and pulled a plate of apples toward her. She began to peel them.
“But you know . . .,” he burst out.
She gazed at him questioningly.
“You are never wearing that sari in public,” he said sternly. “This beauty is-”
“Only for my eyes,” Geet finished with a roll of her eyes. “Maan stop being so selfish. The world-”
“Deserves to see my beauty,” he finished drily for her. He froze for a moment. ‘Now, how did I know what she would say?’ He felt himself falling deeper into this oddly compelling dream. And he didn’t want to fight it.
She laughed delightedly and reached out to pinch his cheek.
There was joyous laughter coming from upstairs. The two glanced up and then smiled at each other.
“The kids are having fun,” he commented, watching her push the apples toward him.
“Eat,” she commanded. “Well, it’s not often they have a chance to play with their cousins. So, I’ll let them be a little late for breakfast.”
Cousins? He sat back, wondering at that. Which cousins? Who were the parents?
“And of course our three,” she murmured. “Soon to be . . . four,” she whispered, placing a hand over her womb.
He choked on a bite of apple. “Four?” he gasped, once he was able to get the words out.
“Four,” she confirmed. “I just hope it’s a girl this ti-”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Ooph,” he muttered, as something landed on his bed, shaking the world around him. It was enough to pull him from his sleep.
“Daddy! Wake up!” Rahul grumbled, shaking him.
“Rahul,” a voice whispered fiercely from the other side of the room. Maan assumed that it was coming from the doorway to Rahul’s room. “I told you not to bother your father.”
“But, Geet Didi,” Rahul whined. “You said …”
“Rahul, come here, please,” Geet whispered back. “Your father was up all night working on his projects with Adi Jeeja Ji and Pari. You know this was the second night they have done this. Don’t you remember Pinky Didi was here the night before last? We even played games until you fell asleep. Last night they went to sleep at 4:00 AM. He needs more sleep!”
There was a moment of silence. “How did you know that Geet Didi?” Rahul asked inquisitively. “Were you spying on them while I was sleeping? Weren’t you bored?”
“Never mind how I know,” Geet shot back. “Now come over here and stop bothering your daddy. You think I don’t know that you’re hoping that he will wake up with you talking over his head?”
“Well, he should get up by now,” Rahul muttered, getting off the bed. He stomped over to Geet, his arms crossed over his chest. “Why should he get to sleep when I’m awake?”
Maan watched the two of them walk through the door, his eyes lingering on Geet’s figure, looking angelic in white. He nestled deeper into the pillow, and sleepily smiled at Geet when she took one final peek in his direction.
She gasped lightly when their eyes met and flushed a rosy red. Turning around, she scampered through the door and snapped it shut behind her.
Maan closed his eyes, tempted to go back to sleep and dream a little more. It had been a dream. A good dream. A wonderful dream. And seeing Geet first thing in the morning had been the icing on the cake. He closed his eyes, wondering when he had fallen so deeply. He opened them once more to gaze at the door that they had walked through.
“Can’t she be my mommy?” Rahul’s words, when he asked him that question two nights ago, still rang in his ears. He’d seen the trepidation his son had felt in asking. He had also seen the hope. Maan had fought the truth, but he didn’t want to anymore. He wanted to love without fear. He wanted to give someone his trust and know that she wouldn’t betray him. He wanted to go to sleep every night with her in his arms. He wanted to meet her in his dreams. He wanted . . .
“I want to see her every morning,” he softly admitted to himself.
“Maan beta, there you are,” Dadi Ma said, leaning up to plant a kiss against his cheek. “It feels like I haven’t seen in you forever,” she commented, hugging him tightly before stepping back. “Let’s eat breakfast. Geet beta and Rahul are already at the table. You came down a little late this morning?” she asked questioningly, as they walked toward the dining table.
His phone rang, and he automatically reached for it. But then . . . staring at the people waiting at the table for him, he pulled the phone out and turned it off.
This was family time.
“I just decided to have a lie in,” he answered quickly, intent on asking the questions that he needed answered. “Dadi Ma, when did you come back home?” Maan demanded, gazing down at his smiling grandmother. “Weren’t you supposed to come back this evening? If you had said something, I could have come to pick you up from the airport.”
“You didn’t need to do that, Maan beta,” Dadi Ma assured him. “As for why I came home early . . . let’s just say that I got the answers I needed,” Dadi Ma replied gently. “I thought it was time to come home.” She stared around the dining room, her eyes moving over the cream-colored walls and the flowers that cheered up the room. “I see that Geet has taken good care of the house and both of you while I was gone. I knew that I could trust her to keep my home safe.”
Maan’s eyes went to Geet before flitting away.
“Maan, I was thinking that we should have a party,” his grandmother said suddenly.
“Party? Why?” Maan asked, gazing quizzically at his grandmother.
“Since when have the Khuranas needed a reason to have a party?” Dadi Ma replied with a smile. “I just think we need to have this party. A reason to celebrate. It’s important,” she stressed the words.
“Why is it so important, Dadi Ma?” he asked quietly, leaning in to hear his grandmother’s answer.
“I had a dream.”
Chapter 17: Kurbaan Hua, Part II
“I had a dream, beta,” Dadi Ma said, gazing at Geet and Rahul sitting at the table. “And in that dream I saw that you were happy again,” she said, turning to look at him.
“Dadi Ma,” Maan said softly, surprised at the tears he saw in her eyes. “I am happy,” he began, wanting to comfort away that grief. He took her hand in his.
“You were married,” she continued, squeezing his hand in return. “You had children. Rahul was there. Older. Settled,” she murmured, turning her head to smile fondly at her great-grandson. “But there were others. And you were so happy,” she reiterated, her gaze falling on Geet. “And that . . . that is cause for celebration,” she concluded cheerfully, turning to smile at him.
“Celebration?” Maan asked, blinking in surprise at the sudden mood change.
“We haven’t had a celebration in a long while,” Dadi Ma said. “Rahul’s birthday was ruined due to that misunderstanding between you and Geet. The boy wouldn’t come out of his room to cut the birthday cake! I assure you that cast a pall over the party. The kids went home early, and the two of you were brooding in your rooms the entire time and for hours afterwards. But a real party. . .where we get to show the world that the Khuranas are still here. We’re still a family. We’re happy. We need to do this, beta,” Dadi Ma repeated, entreating him with her loving gaze.
Maan nodded, turning to stare at Geet.
“And who knows?” Dadi Ma continued. “You might get a chance to even dance.”
“Dance?” he asked, turning to gaze quizzically at his grandmother.
“I think you should take that excuse, Maan beta. Otherwise, the way things are going, I don’t think that you and Geet will really move forward at all,” she finished.
Maan opened his mouth to protest.
“Now don’t say that you haven’t thought about it,” Dadi Ma admonished. “I’m your grandmother, and I know you.” She paused for a moment to muse silently about something. “Think about it,” she continued, tapping at her chin. “On what other occasion would you have a chance to hold that woman in your arms? Maan beta, don’t look like that! I may be your Dadi Ma, but that doesn’t mean that I’m past the age of any sort of romance. Not my own, of course,” she said hurriedly, seeing the shock on her grandson’s face. “But I can still meddle with the best of them in my own grandson’s love life.”
Maan watched his grandmother walk away, chuckling to herself. He stepped forward, wanting to stop her before she continued with this train of thought. He stopped, standing and staring at the people before him. Rahul and Dadi Ma were smiling at Geet, their eyes alight with love. Pari came and sat down beside them, yawning sleepily into the cup Geet cheerfully placed in front of her. Adi came into the room, flinching slightly when his eyes met Maan’s. He bobbed his head in greeting at Maan, and then quietly sat down at the table, keeping his eyes trained on the plate in front of him.
“Adi Jeeja Ji,” Geet called out, trying to get his attention. “Pinky called and said that she wanted to talk to you about something very ‘important’,” Geet related. Adi’s eyes lit up and he quickly pulled out his phone. In the next minute he was on the phone and talking excitedly with his wife.
This was the family that had formed from the ashes of the old. While his blood kin may have hurt him and those still left behind had found it easy to walk away, the people that were here today . . . they had chosen him. They had stayed by his side. Dadi Ma had always loved and supported him. Rahul worshipped him. Adi had remained true and loyal. And Pari had always been there as a friend and a confidante.
His heart softened as he continued to gaze at everyone sitting at the table. He had never acknowledged it, but they were his family now. At that admission, he felt something loosen inside of him. Something that he hadn’t even known was straining against a fear of abandonment.
And Geet . . . Geet was now a part of that unit. She had become a part of his heart. There was no reason to fight it anymore. But . . . His hands clenched as uncertainty flashed through him. Did she have the same feelings for him?
“Geet beta, a package came for you!” her mother called through the door.
“What is it, Ma?!” Geet called back, struggling into the only party dress she had. A tightly-fitted kameez. A churidaar pajama. She stared at herself morosely in the mirror, sighing at the old-fashioned design. ‘It will have to do,’ she told herself. ‘Since when have I ever gone to high class parties?’ She turned to glare in frustration at the invite on the bed. ‘Dadi Ma! Why did you have to invite me? What am I going to do there?‘ This was different from when she was preparing for Rahul’s birthday party. That had been a children’s party. And kids never cared about clothes, not even the children of the rich and famous.
She stared down at her kameez and sighed heavily once more. She gazed helplessly around her room, brightened by the sunlight coming in through the gauze curtains, as if the perfect ensemble would magically appear in front of her. She was standing in front of the only mirror in the room, trying to make herself feel better about the outfit she had ended up wearing. The bed behind her was covered with discarded outfits that hadn’t made the cut. She stared at the picture she made, and tightened her lips in annoyance. ‘Why are you making such a big deal out of this?‘ she berated herself. ‘It isn’t your job to look pretty. You will only be there to look after Rahul and his friends.‘
“What’s that, auntie?” Pinky’s voice could be heard through the door.
“Pinky, it’s a package for Geet. It came from the Khurana’s,” her mother responded. “Could you please take it in to Geet? I have to go check on the food.”
Geet heard her mother’s footsteps moving away from the door. She turned as the door burst open, wincing as it slammed against the wall, leaving yet another mark from Pinky’s enthusiastic entrances. Pinky was standing there, a bright smile on her face. And she had the mysterious package in her hands.
“Geet! Look what you got,” she sang excitedly, bouncing into the room. “It’s something from the Khurana’s,” she noted, glancing at the label on the front. “Aren’t you ready yet?!” she exclaimed, glancing at the room in all of its disastrous glory. “Adi said it’s time to go, Geet!” Pinky whined in a high-pitched tone. “We can’t be late to the party!”
“That’s why we can open the package later,” Geet muttered distractedly, “I have to get ready for the party. Pinky! Help me,” she ordered her friend. “I look terrible,” she muttered unhappily, staring at herself in the mirror once more. “I don’t know what to wear!”
“Geet, it might be something very important,” Pinky shot back, intent on the package in front of her rather than the angst of her friend. “Why else would they send something over when they’re busy with the party preparations? I’ve got to tell you, only people like the Khuranas can decide to have a party and then hold it the same night! They even sent out invites! Everything will surely look beautiful. And there will be actual guests who will have dropped everything else to come and attend as if they have nothing better to do.”
“Pinky,” Geet admonished, “It’s not the same night.” She turned away to glare balefully at herself in the mirror once more. She tugged at her outfit, trying to make it somehow look better, but sadly that didn’t work.
“Same night or the next night. Who is able to prepare everything within 48 hours?” Pinky demanded, her hands beginning to tear at the packaging. “Money does make the . . .,” her voice died away.
“Pinky?” Geet asked, surprised at the silence.
“Oh, Geet . . . it’s beautiful,” Pinky sighed in amazement.
Geet turned at the awe she heard in Pinky’s voice. Her eyes landed on the material in the opened box, widening as she realized what it was.
“Geet,” Pinky murmured, pulling out the frothy material, “You have to wear this.”
Geet entered the Khurana mansion’s spacious ballroom, her hands nervously smoothing down the fabric of her white and silver sari. She couldn’t believe that Dadi Ma had sent such a beautiful outfit for her. She looked around and relaxed. The room was filled with people, and while not a lot of women were wearing saris, enough were that she didn’t feel so out of place.
“Geet, you look beautiful,” Pinky whispered into her ear, tugging her down to relay the compliment.
“Pinky, this is the third time you’ve said that,” Geet said with a small smile. “Don’t exaggerate. I look okay.”
“Okay?!” Pinky exclaimed. “Geet you look like a goddess!” she said, glancing around. “Just look at everybody. They’re all staring at you and wondering who you are!”
Geet look around once more, only now her glance was more fretful than relaxed. She stiffened when she realized that a lot of the people were actually looking her way. She even saw a few of them whispering behind their hands, their gazes trained on her unblinkingly. Some of those gazes couldn’t exactly be called that friendly.
“Hey, Pinky,” Geet murmured distractedly, her gaze focusing on one such pair. “Who are those two over there?” she asked with a tilt of her chin.
Pinky glanced over and then made a face before turning to gaze up at Geet. “Those are just co-workers of Adi,” she informed her friend dismissively.
“But, why are they glaring at me?” Geet asked worriedly, her hands tugging at her outfit nervously, wondering if something was out of place. “They’re obviously talking about me, and I don’t think they’re being very complimentary. Look how one of them just laughed and flipped her hair over her shoulder! Maybe I should have worn my other outfit,” Geet muttered, her joy in this unexpected dress evaporating into thin air.
“Don’t worry about Sasha and Tasha,” Pinky urged, turning Geet to face the other way. “Those two girls have always been very nasty to us normal people. Sasha aimed to be Mrs. Khurana for a while, but Maan Sir never even looked at her,” Pinky declared gleefully. “She had to give up when Sameera came and then left. And Tasha? Tasha just follows Sasha around like a lemming. Ignore them. Look, Dadi Ma is coming this way.”
Geet turned to face the approaching woman and smiled. Her eyes softened even further when they landed on Rahul walking beside his great-grandmother, clad in a small tuxedo.
“Rahul! You look so cute,” Geet squealed, leaning down to plant a kiss on the boy’s forehead, ignoring his little pout. “Namaste, Dadi Ma,” she murmured, leaning in to lightly hug the older woman.
“Namaste, beta. You look lovely tonight,” Dadi Ma said, smiling appreciatively at the silver and white sari that Geet had worn to the party. “Perfectly angelic in fact, beta. I love the earrings.”
“It’s all thanks to you, Dadi Ma,” Geet murmured. “I want to thank you for sending such a beautiful gift.”
“What do you mean?” Dadi Ma asked in confusion.
“This sari,” Geet responded, gesturing at her outfit. “Didn’t you send it over?” Geet asked after a small pause, when she noticed the confusion on the other woman’s face.
“I wish that I could say yes, but beta, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her eyes moved over the outfit, noticing the intricacy of the work and the richness of the fabric. It wasn’t the type of outfit that Geet usually wore.
“But it came from the Khurana mansion . . . My mom said . . . ,” Geet’s voice trailed off, as her gaze landed on the man standing across the room, his eyes focused on her to the exclusion of everyone else. The room was filled with the upper echelon of society, but his attention was focused entirely on her.
“I see,” Dadi Ma murmured, her eyes following Geet’s gaze.
Find me here
And speak to me
I want to feel You
I need to hear You
Geet was utterly mesmerized by the man who had slowly begun to make his way toward her. The world melted away . . . it was as if there were only the two of them in this entire ballroom. Her gaze traced over his features, his sharp gaze, that perpetual five o’clock shadow darkening his face, the tuxedo he was wearing today.
He was gorgeous.
Her heart clenched. She fought for breath, trying to fight the emotions welling up inside of her. But no matter how much she knew that this was all wrong, she couldn’t look away. Her eyes wanted to feast on the vision in front of them.
Her mind jumped back to the first time she had seen, striding across the lower floor as she had spied on him from the balcony above during her interview. His aura . . . he . . . had stolen her breath in those moments. When he had been even closer, as she had tried to give him his milk, the affect he had on her had only tripled.
There was a slight buzzing next to her as he came to a stop two feet away. His hand slowly came up, reaching out to her. She tilted her head, unable to understand what he wanted.
Her lips opened slightly as her eyes focused on the smile that had begun to play across those scrumptious lips. She blinked when her hand was lifted and placed in his. She turned her head in a daze, noticing that Dadi Ma was still there and smiling benevolently at the two of them. Dadi Ma still had Rahul’s hand clutched in hers, and the little boy’s free hand was waving at them, as if telling them to do something. Geet’s gaze refocused on Dadi Ma’s face. Geet saw her lips move and she could almost read the words.
“Dance, beta. Dance with Maan,” the older woman urged the two of them.
Geet blinked in surprise.
You are the light
That’s leading me
To the place …
Where I find peace . . . again
“But there’s no music,” she heard her voice say, as if from far away. The feel of skin on skin, her hand being cradled in his, was too much for her senses. She felt herself falling into a dream and didn’t know how she could stop herself.
Music began to play.
His fingers clenched around hers, tugging at her, urging her to move.
The magical haze had deepened, and she felt herself moving free from the restraints that had held her confined.
Her mind flashed back to the first time she had touched him . . .during that game of hide and seek. While trying to find Rahul, she had hugged this man, feeling for a moment those dizzying sensations that were invading her senses once more. At the time, they had been alien and unwanted. They had been shameful because she had felt them for a man who was a stranger.
But now she could only think of one thing. It was time. Time for him to hold her in his arms again. Time for them to touch. Time to . . .
You are the strength
That keeps me walking
She was pulled across the floor. Her gaze, as it flickered around, saw that other couples were coming onto the dance floor, joining them in this moment of abandonment.
She knew no more beyond him. Maan Sir. Maan. Her Maan.
Her fingers tightened around his, forcing him to stop in the center of the dance floor. He turned to look at her questioningly, his warmth seeping into her body to chase away the cold that had been deep inside of her heart.
She tugged lightly at him, silently telling him something her lips wouldn’t allow her to say.
Maan smiled slightly, the movement of his lips barely visible to her eyes.
He pulled her into his arms.
She stumbled slightly, falling into those arms too quickly.
Her mind jumped back to the moment that she had fallen into those arms during a game of hide and seek mixed with tag. He had prevented her from falling, holding her close for a moment. The same thoughts raced in her mind now as they had then.
Too close. He was too close. His arms wrapped around her. She was being engulfed in his scent. She couldn’t help but breathe it in deeply, her heart stuttering at the sensations that had begun to course through her body from the continued contact. His scent was as intoxicating now as it had been the first time she had breathed it in.
She stiffened slightly, attempting to fight the spell once more, but no. It was too powerful. His pull was too strong. That moment of dissonance disappeared, and then her steps began to match his. Her breath slowed down . . . her heartbeats began to beat in rhythm with his.
He moved closer still, his eyes gazing silently into hers. It was his hand that tightened around hers. His hand warm against the side of her waist, heating her through the gauzy material of her sari.
You are the hope
That keeps me trusting
His eyes gazed into hers, his face a few inches away from her. He pulled away slowly, twirling her around before swinging her back into his arms, and closer still to the heat of his body.
She breathed deeply, her heart stuttering when she felt his hand slip under the material of her sari and gently rest against her naked skin.
“Maan,” she whispered in protest, the sir falling away as if it had never belonged between them. The intimacy of the moment had pulled her under, and she no longer wanted to fight the tug at her heartstrings.
“Geet,” he murmured in reply, letting go of her hand and slipping his other hand to rest against the small of her back, intertwining his fingers there. His fingers were heating her very naked back. He pulled her close enough to rest her entire length against his strength.
Geet’s suddenly free hand fluttered helplessly in the air, but then stealthily moved up his arm and came to rest on his shoulder. She glanced up at him quickly before glancing down, hoping he wouldn’t notice her daring.
You are the light to my soul
You are my purpose
The world was no longer there. It was the two of them . . . alone out on that ballroom floor. No one could intrude. No one would dare to intrude.
It truly was a moment out of time and that silent voice that controlled her . . . protected her from missteps like this . . . really had disappeared.
Her hands began to move up his shoulders and cupped the nape of his neck, her fingers shyly fluttering up to touch his hair.
His eyes widened slightly at the gentle touch, that small smile reappearing on his lips.
It was as if the sun had come out and the world had brightened once more.
Fire burned in her cheeks from her temerity, and she unthinkingly buried her face in his neck.
His musky scent engulfed her with force. His scent that had surrounded her before, now drugged her with its proximity. Without volition, her lips moved infinitesimally and touched the skin at the base of his throat.
Her eyes closed in bliss, knowing that she was where she wanted to be. She belonged in this place and in this man’s arms.
And how can I stand here with you
And not be moved by you
Would you tell me how could it be
Any better than this
How long had it been? How long since he had felt so at peace?
His heart beat in rhythm with hers. His breaths in tandem with hers. And he was at peace. This was where he belonged and he knew it.
The world stopped when he saw her enter the ballroom in the outfit that he had chosen for her. The outfit that he had dreamt her in. And she had looked exactly as he had imagined. She was an angel. A goddess. His demure goddess, he noted ruefully when he saw the blush on her cheeks from all the gazes that had fallen on her. His eyes narrowed at the male gazes that were taking a little too long to drift away.
His hand had clenched around his glass, wanting to break something, but then her eyes had fallen on him, acting as a balm to the fires that had sprung up. The petty jealousy had washed away.
Geet was here. She had accepted his gift.
He felt a nudge against his back, but he refused to turn his gaze away from the goddess in front of him.
“Maan, go,” Pari’s voice urged him. “Ask her to dance before someone else does.”
His eyes narrowed when he saw the speculation in some of those male gazes. He began to move forward, his eyes warning all those others to look elsewhere.
He stared down at the top of her head, stiffening slightly when he felt her breath coasting over the pulse at the base of his throat. His steps faltered when her lips touched the sensitized skin, making him pause for a moment before the music forced him to continue. Geet’s head remained lowered, as if she was too afraid to meet his gaze.
Dadi Ma placed Geet’s hand in his, knowing that this was why he had come to her. Her eyes silently encouraged him to act today. And Maan had nodded in response, knowing that today would be the day he would risk his heart.
Gazing down at Geet’s down bent head, he knew that she wouldn’t disappoint him. This was the woman who had cared enough about his son to challenge him and to help him reach out to Rahul. She was the woman who took care of his grandmother. And made friends with Pari. She was the one who had been with him as he grappled with the ghosts of his own past, and she was the one he could see himself with for the rest of his life.
He closed his eyes, and once again her scent reached out to pull at him, drugging his senses. She was within him. He could feel his heart beating for her . . . beating with her. This was what he needed. This was what he wanted. His arms tightened around her, causing a squeak to escape from her.
He quickly loosened his hold.
She would be his.
Her kiss . . . her lips upon his skin . . . had sealed her fate.
Cause you’re all I want
You’re all I need
You’re everything, everything
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Would you tell me how could it be
Any better than this?
The music stopped. The sudden silence jarring enough to break the spell his touch had woven around her. Geet found herself dazed by the moments in his arms, her body still plastered against his. She stepped back, but he came with her. Her eyes widened when she felt those hands against her skin, with nothing between their touch and her.
She stepped back once more, her hands placed against his chest and holding him in place. Slowly, so slowly, she reached down and put her hands over his to pull them away. Her eyes closed involuntary as she felt their raspy withdrawal.
When she opened her eyes once more, they were back in reality. He was standing a foot away. But still too close. Her eyes swept across the room, and she realized the entire room was full of people who were staring at them. Some with delight. There were Dadi Ma and Pinky smiling at them. But there were glares. And frowns. And glaring curiosity.
It was too much. Geet stepped back further, wanting to distance herself from the magnetism of the silent man in front of her. All of the reasons that this was a bad idea were flooding back in . . making her realize how BAD of an idea this dance had really been.
She bit her lip and forced herself to gaze into his eyes. His silent eyes. He had said nothing this entire evening! She opened her lips, wanting to demand something, but the world intruded.
“Mr. Khurana,” a voice called out.
Geet flinched as the stranger came between them. She watched the man shake Maan’s hand, distracting him for a moment. It was enough. She moved back even further, intent on leaving the scene of her crime. What had she been thinking?
“This is Miss Handa,” Maan stated, halting her retreat.
“And Miss Handa is…?” another woman asked inquisitively.
“Miss Handa is t–,” Maan began.
“I am the nanny,” Geet interrupted, her cheeks turning fiery under the speculative gaze of the group before her. “I am just the nanny.” Geet began to walk backwards, away from all the eyes. Away from the judgment she saw in those faces. Granted she had not been acting in the best possible manner. She had forgotten who she was in the delight of being in his arms, but that did not mean that anyone had a right to judge her.
“I tell you, if she was my child’s nanny, I’d spend my days at home,” she heard a male voice mutter as she walked past.
Those words stung. Tears began to form in her eyes as she raced down the hallway and into the first open doors . . . it was the library. She slammed the doors shut behind her, needing to get away from it all. From everything.
“Geet. Geet! One Moment! Stop!” Maan had tracked her retreat into the library and followed, intent on not letting her escape. Not this time.
“Sir, what are you doing here?” Geet asked, keeping her back to him. She didn’t want him to see the tears in her eyes. “I think I should go.”
“No!” Maan uttered quickly.
“Let me leave, sir,” Geet pleaded, wiping the tears that had fallen from her eyes. She turned to face him. “I shouldn’t be here. I don’t belong here.”
“Then why did you come here? Why did you wear the sari that I sent to you? The one that I carefully chose hoping that . . .?” he stopped helplessly, unable to finish that thought as he met her blank stare. He took a deep breath, shaking his head. “I know . . . why you’re here today. You say you don’t belong. You say that you should leave, but you came, Geet. You came to this party. You stepped into my arms.” He moved closer, his gaze intent on her trembling lips. “You don’t have to be scared,” he murmured, reaching out to cage her between his arms, trapping her between himself and the shelves behind her. He laughed slightly. “You don’t have to be scared. I would think that you would know by now that you have nothing to be afraid of. Not when the girl in my heart . . it isn’t anyone else but . . .”
Geet remained silent, the words of protest caught in her throat. He couldn’t be saying what he was about to, right?
“You won’t ask . . . who she is?” he prompted, his own heart in his throat.
“I don’t want to ask anything,” Geet finally got out hoarsely, her hands clenching into fists.
“But . . Geet, listen to me. Listen to me at least once,” Maan urged. “Please, listen to me.”
“I don’t want to hear anything,” she muttered thickly, her body beginning to shake from the force of keeping all of her emotions hidden. She attempted to step forward, but fell back against the shelf behind her when she realized that he wouldn’t move.
“I know, Geet, you want to know who she is,” Maan whispered against her ear, his breath tickling the sensitive shell.
She shook her head violently in rejection.
“No, Geet, you want to know. Because it matters to you who I am with. I’m not wrong. It matters to you.”
“No, sir. I can’t do this. I don’t have the right.”
“That I feel anything for you.”
“And her name is . . . her name is … her name . . .”
Geet pushed him away abruptly, her violent rejection of his words evident in that act.
Maan fell back, his breath caught in his throat. His shocked gaze appealed to her silently, trying to understand what had just happened in a way that wouldn’t break his heart.
“It doesn’t matter to me.”
Those words rang in his ears. He saw the tears running down her cheeks and the heartbreak in her gaze. And he felt his own heart breaking inside of him.
“Do you understand?” she asked, turning to glare at him, hating him at this moment for making her say those words.
He stepped back further, the pain indescribable.
“It doesn’t matter at all. Why did you have to come so close to me? I . . . no matter how far I have tried to get away from you, you come that much closer to me. I’m tired. Leave me alone. Let me go. Ple-ase.” Her voice broke on the last words, her lips beginning to tremble once more.
Maan looked away, unable to bear the desperation in her eyes. Taking a deep breath, he decided to try once more. He moved closer, unable to help himself. “I thought that you fel–”
She stared off into distance, unable to look at him.
“Geet, but I just wanted to know. . .”
“What did you want to know?” she demands hopelessly. “Why do you ask these questions? Questions for which I have no answer.”
She looked away, crying harder.
He moved closer still, shaken by her words. Had he been so wrong about her feelings?
“Stay away from me! Don’t come closer to me. I can’t bear it any longer.” She looked at him entreatingly.
Maan fell back at those words.
“Let me leave,” she pleaded brokenly.
“Geet, why . . .” he begins, unable to stop the words once more.
“You can’t. Because we can’t! I don’t belong here, and you . . . you have responsibilities. You have . . .”
“What are you talking about?” Maan demanded, a hot burning anger growing inside of him. He felt as if he had lost his entire world before he’d even had the chance to truly live. “Geet?” he prompted when she remained silent.
“Pari . . . Pari is pregnant,” Geet blurted out, hoping that this one last thing would stop him from making a foolish mistake.
Maan gazed at her quizzically, not understanding why THAT would keep them apart. “What does that have to do with anything?” he muttered helplessly, staring at the woman he KNEW to be his other half.
“She’s pregnant with Vicky’s child. Maan,” Geet said, reaching up to grab at his collar, “She’s pregnant with your brother’s child and he’s abandoned her!”
Chapter 18: Romance
“Now the question is …”
Geet glared at the books in front of her. Romance. No famous plays. Not romantic literature written by the greatest authors. Not Shakespeare and his Romeo and Juliet. Not Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Not even gothic writings and their sprinkling of romance.
An actual class on the romance novels of today.
She sighed, her mouth forming into a pout. She sat back and folded her arms in silent rebellion. Why did she have to be here? What kind of university offered classes on this subject matter? Since when were romances even considered a “subject matter”? And just her luck that she had been stuck with taking THIS class when it came to fulfill her elective requirement. She was going to be a teacher! When was she going to ever use romance novels in her career? She sighed once more. With it being her last semester, she had had no choice but to take what was on offer. The only other option was to delay graduating another semester, and she would not let a romance novel do that to her.
She didn’t want to be here anyways. Not after what had happened two nights ago. But to have to be here for a class like this? She huffed slightly, ruthlessly tuning out the professor’s lecture. She was sure that there was nothing that woman had to say that would be worth her time. Her gaze focused on the lurid covers in front of her. The bared chests. The women almost falling out of their miniscule bodices. The two wrapped in each other’s arms . . . gazing into each other’s eyes.
This was love, huh? “Please,” she scoffed to herself.
“Miss Handa, did you say something?” a voice called out, snagging Geet’s attention.
Geet looked up, jerked out of her mini tantrum. “I’m sorry?” she asked, knowing that she was in trouble. The other students were staring at her. Some in amusement. Others in disgust. But none of those looks helped her figure out what the question was!
“I was asking the class what they thought about the assigned reading and what their views were on Samantha’s actions. I believe that you had something to share?” the professor asked, tilting her head in inquiry.
“I . . . don’t,” Geet admitted, hanging her head in shame. Despite the fact that she thought that this was a pure waste of time, that didn’t mean that she could just ignore the professor. Just because she thought that none of this could be useful to her, didn’t mean that she shouldn’t learn it while sitting here. “I apologize, Professor,” she admitted. “I wasn’t paying attention. I will do better.”
The woman smiled and nodded in understanding before turning back to her lecture.
Geet sighed in relief. She could have been in some serious trouble there. But despite her promise to pay attention to the lecture, she couldn’t control her thoughts from flitting away to more important things. Things like her conversation with Pari.
“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.
Geet stared at Pari in shock, unsure of what to say. Would you say congratulations for the life that was about to come into this world? Or would you say sorry for the fact that Pari was unmarried and alone at this time? What could she say to comfort her friend? Geet reached out a hand and gently patted Pari on the shoulder, keeping silent.
“It’s Vicky’s baby,” Pari continued unhappily.
Geet’s eyes widened in horrified surprise.
“Yes, that Vicky. Another damned irresponsible Khurana who chose to run away with another woman, leaving me behind to suffer the consequences,” Pari uttered bitterly. “We were in love, Geet!” Pari blurted out defensively at Geet’s continued silence.
Geet opened her mouth, wanting to protest that her silence wasn’t condemnation, but Pari continued on.
“Or so I thought,” she finished helplessly. “Things . . . just happened. I thought he was going to propose, but when I came in on that Monday, I was faced with the truth that he had run off with Sameera. With his brother’s girlfriend. Oh, we all know that Sam was a bitch, and that he really did Maan a favor . . . but he left me behind without a second thought.” Tears began to slide down her cheeks, and she struggled to stop them, blotting at them fiercely.
Geet’s heart clenched at the heartbreaking pain she saw in Pari’s eyes. She leaned forward and hugged the woman, wanting to share some of that crushing pain.
“I thought that I had overcome it. I came back from my time off, knowing that I had to work. I had to keep myself busy. And then I find out about the pregnancy.” She placed a protective hand over her womb. “I want this child. It’s my child, but how am I going to . . . “
“I’m sorry, Pari. Not for the child,” Geet hastened to say, “But I am sorry that you are in this position.”
“Do you know what one of the worst things will be?” Pari said, turning to glance at Geet with pained eyes, knowing that this next part would hurt Geet, as well. “Maan is my friend. He cares for me. We have been through a lot of stuff over the past few years and that brings a kind of closeness in our interactions . . . greater than what a regular boss and his assistant would have. Did you know that when I came to work for him, I was in love with him?”
Geet shook her head, startled by that fact.
“I met him during a school awards ceremony and it was love at first sight,” Pari admitted unashamedly. “I swore then that I would graduate and go to work for him. Which I did. But by the time I got here, he was already married to Naintara, and working with him and seeing him grouchy as a bear on a daily basis . . . well that love, which really was just a mix of hero worship and lust, just kind of died,” Pari finished drily. “We became friends instead. And I was there when Rahul was born. And when Annie left Maan. I was here when Vicky . . . left.”
Pari was silent for a moment, and then quickly shook her head, as if trying to shake away the bad thoughts that had taken over. She frowned slightly as that attempt failed. “And despite the fact that he isn’t in love with me and his brother has betrayed him . . . he’s going to ask me to marry him.” She grimaced at the words. “He’s going to insist on giving me the protection of his name. Why? Because he knows that even if it is the 21st century, there are people who will point their fingers at me for being an unwed mother. There are people who will call my child a bastard and make his or her life hell. We will be rejected by a part of society because I made the poor decision of acting on my love for Vicky Khurana outside the bounds of marriage. And that is going to hurt,” Pari admitted, placing a hand on her womb. “I don’t want to have to leave the country just to have my baby! It’s so unfair.”
“That’s an understatement,” Geet said, her throat tight with emotion.
Pari smiled slightly before glancing off into the distance. “I’m not going to let him do it,” she stated with finality. “I am not going to let his honor and his need to take care of every single person in his life make him sacrifice the chance he has right now.”
She turned to gaze meaningfully at Geet. Reaching out a hand, she grabbed hold of Geet’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “The chance he has with you Geet. I am not going to get in the way of your happy ending.” She turned to look off into the distance resolutely. “That man deserves a happy ending.”
“Not every story has a happy ending,” the lecture continued. Geet stared down at her fingers as they clenched around one of those books. “We’ve had countless tragedies held up to us as great literature, but the thing about romance novels is that they give women what they want. And what do we want? Women demand their happy endings. If there is no happy ending, then it isn’t a romance novel. The writing has changed. Values have changed. But despite it all, the bigger the rogue our hero is or the grouchier he is, it’s all the sweeter when he falls for his heroine.”
Geet smiled softly at those words.
“And our heroes have to have those qualities that are inherent in a good man. True that some of the romance authors have forgotten that or choose to ignore it, but how can a man be a hero unless he is upright, honest, strong, and capable of carrying the world on his shoulders? A man must be capable of sacrifice for the greater good. But there’s this tension between that call for nobility and a true romance novel hero . . . we want our heroes to put their woman first. Ahead of everything and everyone else. That’s just the honest truth.” The woman laughed softly, before turning to write on the chalkboard.
“Pari . . . Pari is pregnant,” Geet blurted out, hoping that this one last thing would stop him from making a foolish mistake.
Maan gazed at her quizzically, not understanding why THAT would keep them apart. “What does that have to do with anything?” he muttered helplessly, staring at the woman he KNEW to be his other half.
“She’s pregnant with Vicky’s child. Maan,” Geet said, reaching up to grab at his collar, “She’s pregnant with your brother’s child and he’s abandoned her!”
There had been silence. That . . . horrible . . . weighty silence. His eyes had turned bleak. His lips had firmed. And . . . he’d walked away. Maan hadn’t said another word to her. He’d walked away. Leaving her behind without a second thought. Her hands had almost reached out to grab him, wanting to hold on. She’d wanted to grasp the happiness she had seen in his eyes with all of her being, but she couldn’t be that selfish, could she?
Geet stared at the books in her hands, her vision blurring from the tears that had welled up.
He had walked away from her. And she knew that he wasn’t her hero. Couldn’t be her hero.
“I’d like to tell you a story about a close friend,” the professor continued, her voice softening. “When she was a young girl, she was gawky and awkward. No matter how much she wanted it, she could never be the belle of the ball. And that was what she thought she needed to be to catch the attentions of her hero. He’d been her best friend when they were youngsters, always looking out for her and taking care of her when she couldn’t take care of herself. But one day he was no longer there, and the poor girl had to learn to live without him. He had chosen someone else, and the young girl knew that. But she didn’t pine. She didn’t wither away. She gained confidence in herself. How? By making herself realize that she was worthy of love. She was a good human being. Just because she wasn’t flashy or incredibly beautiful, that didn’t mean that she wasn’t worthy of love. She decided that if he couldn’t realize that, then he wasn’t her hero. And thus began her search. And she began to look different . . . to be different to the people who had known her for all their lives. Guess what happened next?” the professor asked of her class.
The girls leaned forward eagerly.
“He came back to her,” she related smilingly. “Her hero came back to her, now worthy of her love. He’d needed to grow . . . to mature . . . to see beyond a woman’s superficial beauty. He left the other woman behind, and came to her. Leaving everything behind. Sacrificing everything for her.”
She was silent for a moment.
“I have to admit that I measure all love stories that I read to that girl’s story. And most of them come up short. Her love story wasn’t about changing herself to be worthy of love.” She took a deep breath. “It was about finding a love that was worthy of her. And that’s what I want in my romance novel.”
“What a great class!” a young girl raved, clutching her romance novels to her chest. “I can’t believe that our university is so liberal that they would offer courses like this.”
“I totally agree,” another young girl gushed. “Can you believe the story the professor told us? I bet you that was her story. She was just too dreamy-eyed when she was telling it.”
“True love,” a third girl sighed. “I want to meet my soulmate, too. I don’t want to have to marry the jerk my parents keep pushing at me!”
One of the giggling students bumped into Geet, hard enough to make her drop the books in her hands. “Damn it!’ she swore softly, kneeling down to gather the books. With a distracted ‘sorry’ thrown over a shoulder, the girl walked away, uncaring of another’s problems.
“Idiotic girls,” Geet muttered to herself, as she gathered up the novels. She tumbled forward when someone hit her from behind. “What the heck?!” she said, glaring over one shoulder at the oaf that had almost stepped on her. Her eyes widened to realize that he was standing on her dupatta. “Would you mind?” she asked in a grumpy tone, nudging at his knee with her fist.
“I’m sorry,” the man said, kneeling down to help her. “I didn’t see you there.”
Geet nodded, choosing to keep her eyes on the task at hand. She took the books he handed over with a small nod of gratitude, before getting up to go. She needed to get home. She had to go back to the Khurana mansion and face everything again. What she didn’t have time for was all this.
“Wait, you left this behind,” he called after her.
Geet turned around, her eyes landing on the syllabus for the class she had just left.
His eyes followed her baleful gaze to the syllabus and back up to stare at her quizzically. “How do you like the class?” he asked with a smile. “I’ve heard some good things about it.”
Geet made a face. “It’s completely worthless,” she said shortly. “After all,” she continued, grabbing the syllabus from his hands, “It’s nothing I can use in everyday life. There’s no real romantic love in this world. Who actually gets their happily ever after? Who really dreams of and expects a destined mate coming on a white horse, with flowers in one hand and a ring in the other, to propose?” Her words were bitter and the expression on her face heartbreaking.
She waited for a beat, expecting some sort of defense. But there was nothing. She frowned before turning to walk away. She didn’t understand herself anymore. Why was she so angry? Why the disappointment? When had she begun to dream? When had she dared to dream that she could have . . . him?
“You’re wrong, you know,” the man called out from behind her.
Geet turned to look at him.
“You’re wrong,” he repeated. “Love is real. It’s possible. It’s there for every one of us. If you would only open your eyes and look.”
“Really? I just open my eyes, and it’ll be there. Right in front of me. Waiting just for me?” she spat out. “It’s that easy?” She sat down on a nearby bench, unable to get her legs to support her any longer. Everything was just becoming too much!
“I never said it was easy,” he replied. “Nothing worth having is easy,” he said softly, sitting down beside her to impart the next bit. “And I can tell you that love is definitely worth having.”
“Some love,” she muttered. “What good is love if all it does is leave you hurting?”
“Anything that beautiful will hurt just a little bit,” he promptly replied. “And pain just reminds you that you’re alive.”
“I think happiness would do just as well,” she shot back. “What good is love if it seduces you into being selfish and forgetting all else?”
“Love isn’t selfish,” he replied, sitting back and folding his arms over his chest. “Only those who love become selfish in order to protect it.”
“I don’t agree,” she said helplessly. “Love expects a sacrifice. And sometimes that sacrifice just might be too much.”
“You have to sacrifice for love,” he said, staring off into the distance. “It demands it. You have to forget who you are . . . leave it all behind . . . every other person in the past . . . in order to prove that you deserve that love. When you find something true, it’s really, really hard to let it go. It’s hard not to fly . . . despite whatever else you may have holding you to earth.”
“So, it leaves you with regret?” she asked, turning to stare at him. “You regret it.”
“Yes, it can leave you with regret,” he replied. “But I certainly don’t regret it.”
Geet turned away, her thoughts turning back to the man that had touched her heart. The man that she yearned to love freely . . . but could she demand that sacrifice from him? It was his honor that made Maan Singh Khurana the man he was. Could she demand that he sacrifice that honor to love her? Especially when she had her own horrible secrets that demanded some sort of sacrifice.
“Dev! How long have you been waiting?” a woman’s voice demanded from across the courtyard.
Geet froze, her eyes widening. But no, she shook her head. It couldn’t be. What was she thinking? That man wouldn’t have the nerve to come back.
“You’re finally out, Mrs. Khurana,” the man beside her called out. “I was just talking to one of your students,” he said, smiling down at Geet before standing up. He pushed up the glasses that had been sliding down the bridge of his nose and gestured for the professor to come over. “It seems that she really likes your class. It might even change her worldview, Meera,” he said softly, gazing into his wife’s eyes. “I know that you changed my world,” he murmured, leaning down to gently tap her head with his.
Meera laughed softly, before pushing away from him. “I’m glad that you’re liking the class, Ms. Handa. But I am surprised. It didn’t look like you were enjoying yourself too much during the lecture.”
“Just some personal problems,” Geet replied shortly.
Meera nodded sympathetically before turning to Dev. “Shall we go Mr. Khurana?” she asked softly. “I think it’s time that we start working on the reason you returned to this country.”
The smile disappeared from the man’s face for a moment before he forced it back. “You’re right. Let’s go. It was a pleasure talking to you,” he said turning to look at Geet. “I hope you do find something of value in what Meera says. I know I did. Her words . . . her love for me helped me to face my own demons. They were my motivation to escape the prison I had built for myself.” With one final wave, the pair turned to go.
Geet stared at the couple walking away. The two laughed loudly, drunk on their own love for each other. She watched as he put his arm around her, hugging her close to him. She snuggled closely, uncaring of how she might appear.
Carefree. . .
Sitting in that classroom, listening to her lecture. . . having that conversation with that man and hearing his words . . . she hadn’t known who they were.
Meera and Dev Khurana.
The brother who had run away without a second thought to the troubles he was leaving behind.
Careless . . .
Chapter 19: Letting Go
“Hello, Nakul,” Geet murmured, nodding absently to the man after entering the house.
She hadn’t wanted to come back. Not for a while. Not until she got control over her disappointed heart, but that hadn’t been possible. She owed it to Rahul to stay and take care of him. He did not deserve to have another person disappear from his life without warning.
She briefly rubbed at her heart, wondering when the pain would go away. It was unlike anything she had suffered before. Not even when her world had imploded and she had had to deal with the fallout. Not even then … she blinked the memories away. What was the use of thinking about what the worst pain had been when pain was pain. Geet sighed softly, shaking her head. She needed to stop thinking about what had happened. She couldn’t change anything. And it was no use thinking about the what ifs.
“Geet Ma’am,” Nakul’s voice called out from behind her.
Geet turned to look at him.
“You dropped this,” Nakul said, holding out his hand.
Geet looked closely and saw her necklace.
“Darn it!” she muttered, plucking it out of Nakul’s hands. “Thank you, Nakul!” she said, flashing a quick smile.
Geet quickly put it on, silently instructing it to stay in place with one final pat. She turned and ran up the stairs, eager to see her little charge.
“Rahul, let’s do your homework!” she called as she entered the little boy’s room. “Rahul!” she called again, surprised to see the room empty. “You can’t hide from me. And believe me, you can’t hide from homework. Come on! I know that you have that book report due.”
There was a moment of silence. She then heard laughter from the adjoining room. Her brow furrowed in confusion. She knew that Maan wasn’t home, so why the laughter from his room? Was there someone else in there with Rahul?
“Rahul Saab, come out of there right now,” she ordered, pushing open the doorway to enter his room. She hesitated for a moment. What if he was there? But no, it was the middle of the day, so he had to be at work.
She shook her head decisively. She wouldn’t see Maan today. She nodded her head at that logical thought. Which was good, right?
She nodded again. She couldn’t face him . . . not after what happened two nights ago, and definitely not after what happened this morning. Would she tell him … could she tell him that she had seen his brother today; the man whose desertion had sentenced him to years of a hellish marriage? What would she say? Was it her place to say anything?
Her heart clenched again. Only this time it was for him … for the pain that Maan would go through if he had to face his brother once more.
Her thoughts were interrupted by another giggle. Swooping into the room, she saw a laughing Rahul on Maan’s bed. He was surrounded by all of his toys. And the room was a mess. “Your daddy’s not going to like this,” she muttered under her breath.
“Geet didi!” he squealed joyfully. “You’re here!” He got up and began to jump delightedly on the bed.
“And you’re here,” Geet murmured, with a mock frown. She rested her hands on her waist. “What are you doing in your daddy’s room when he’s at work?”
“Daddy’s not at work!” Rahul shouted back. “He sa-”
“So, why are you here?” Geet insisted, coming to stand next to the bed. Rahul was just confused. Of course, Maan Sir was at work. She caught the giggling boy, as he launched himself at her. She hugged him close, her heart filling with love as she cradled his little body close. Breathing in his little boy scent, she set him back on the bed. “Maan Sir is at work and we should get to work, too, right? Come on.”
“Didi,” Rahul said, tugging at her dupatta. “We had a slumber party last night,” Rahul said in a whisper. “Daddy came home and he sat downstairs for a loooong time. I know because I was spying on him. I must have fallen asleep, because he just brought me into his room. I woke up when he set me down here,” he said, pointing at ‘his’ side of the bed. He paused for a minute, pondering something else. “He smelled funny. He had that in his hand.” Rahul motioned to a glass on the side table.
Geet turned to stare at the near empty glass. Picking it up, she sniffed at it. Her eyes widened when she recognized the smell of whiskey. She had close familiarity with that drink. She set it back down, backing warily away from it.
Geet moved toward Rahul once more, intent on getting him out of here and focused on doing his homework.
“No, I don’t want to do homework!” Rahul shouted rebelliously, jumping off of the bed. “Geet didi, I don’t want to do it now!” He backed toward the door.
“Rahul, if we do your homework now, we can play later,” Geet promised.
“No! Let’s play now and homework later,” he yelled, darting through the door.
“Rahul! Stop right there, mister!” Geet shouted, running after him. She exited into the hallway, scrunching her brow when she couldn’t see the young boy anywhere. “Rahul!” There was no answer. She moved through the mansion, her eyes searching for her charge.
“Naughty boy. Watch, when I catch you, you’re going to be in so much trouble. I’m going to make you read two books,” she muttered to herself, unable to believe that she had been looking for the brat for 10 minutes. “How big is this house?” She heard thudding noises in the distance. Smiling to herself, she made her way toward the noise, knowing that she was about to get her hands on Rahul.
Sneaking into the room, her eyes widened when she realized that she was in a courtyard, the sky visible in the center. She hadn’t been in this area of the house for so long. Not since she and Rahul had played in the rain. She shook her head silently at just how big this house really was. Sidling over to one of the pillars, she peeked around it, knowing that she would find her charge engaged in some sort of mischief. And she was going to jump out and scare the daylights out of him.
Her eyes widened when they landed on the figure standing in the middle of the courtyard. She let out the air that she had just inhaled, coughing slightly. Maan sir? What was he doing at home? What was he doing glaring at the wooden … figure or whatever in front of him.
She jumped slightly when his hand shot out and hit the side of the wooden figure, and then moved in to do some work against the different bars sticking out.
As he moved through a shaft of light, she saw that he had no shirt on, leaving his upper half bare to her hungry gaze. Her mouth fell open, running dry as her gaze lovingly traced over the muscles of his back as they moved under his glistening skin. Her eyes followed a drop of sweat as it made its way down the middle of his glistening back.
She jumped slightly as a dove set down on his shoulder and then flew away. She snorted softly at that, quickly covering her mouth before she could make any further noises. She didn’t want to interrupt this any sooner than she had to.
“Geet Didi! Where are you?” Rahul shouted in the distance. “You were supposed to be chasing me! I don’t want to chase you! Where are you hiding? Come out,” came the petulant demand.
Geet gasped, the noise loud enough to catch Maan’s attention this time.
He turned his head sharply at the sound.
Geet silently gasped once more, quickly hiding behind the pillar. What had she been thinking? If he caught her here, how embarrassed would she be? She looked from left to right, trying to find a place to hide. She sidled behind another pillar, peeking out to see him where she had just been. Her heart jumped at that. So close. Her hand clenched at a filmy curtain. Moving stealthily around the pillar, making sure to stay out of his sight, she moved one pillar closer to the doorway.
And another step. And then another. She was so close.
Looking behind her, she turned and made a mad dash to the door.
“Eeek!” she shrieked, slamming against a body … his hard body. Gasping she put out her hands to brace herself, but they slipped across his wet skin, and her face smashed into his very naked shoulder.
There was a moment of frozen silence.
Geet pulled back, gasping slightly to see an imprint of her lips on his shoulder. “Sir, I’m so sorry,” she muttered, grabbing a corner of her dupatta to clean at the offending mark.
His hands arrested her attempts.
Silently he held up a chain.
Her eyes widened when she realized that her necklace had fallen once more. She reached out a trembling hand to take it.
He pulled it back, shaking his head. Letting go of her hand, he stepped closer.
Geet began breathing quickly, her heartbeat quickening at his proximity. She wanted to lean in closer. She wanted to place her lips against his skin once more. Her eyes closed, as his fingers touched the back of her neck as he fastened the clasp. She wanted to inhale deeply, taking him inside of her. She wanted to . . . she wanted him so much. Her body shuddered as she felt his breath against her lips. She cried out softly when she felt a touch against her forehead.
Her eyes popped open. Had he just kissed her?
She pulled back, her eyes heavy as she fought the sensual feelings trying to pull her under. She couldn’t forget why she needed to keep her distance. There were so many … so many reasons. Sobbing softly at that cruel reminder, she pushed him away, stepping back at the same time.
She turned to go.
“Geet . . .,” he began, grabbing her wrist.
“Have you talked to Pari?” she asked abruptly, her voice breaking at the end.
He gazed at her for a moment, trying to read her eyes. His mouth tightened when he saw that her lips were trembling.
“Tonight,” he responded, his hand falling away.
Geet stared at the wrist that had been in his hand a moment before. Her other hand came up to cradle it. Her eyes filled with tears, and she quickly turned away. She closed her eyes, trying to stop them. She couldn’t do this anymore. She swallowed with difficulty. She couldn’t see this man, knowing that he would never be hers. She’d never said anything. With her past, nothing had been possible. So why was her heart broken? When had she dared to fall in love? She began to walk away, knowing that he would never stop her.
And he didn’t.
He watched her walk away, his hands clenching into fists. Her figure grew smaller in the distance, until she completely disappeared from his sight. He sighed deeply. Rubbing at his heart, rubbing away the mark she had left behind, he turned his thoughts away from her. He was hoping the act would be enough to remove her from his heart. Knowing that it wouldn’t be.
He hadn’t told Dadi Ma anything. He hadn’t wanted to, not until he talked to Pari. Not until he found out what was going on and what she wanted.
Pari moaned softly, her hands patting the barely perceptible bump that her baby made in her stomach. “I know you’re worth it,” she said softly, “but mommy still doesn’t feel too good.” She hadn’t been feeling well all morning, probably owing to the morning sickness that had kicked in over the past few days.
“Well, back to work. These contracts aren’t going to review themselves.” She sat back down at the desk, taking a gulp of her ginger ale, before turning back to the papers in front of her. She looked up when the door opened to the study, her eyes falling on Maan standing in the doorway. Her eyes widened at the look in his eyes.
“No,” she declared, getting up and moving towards the doorway.
He grabbed her by the arm, stopping her in her tracks.
“Yes,” he replied implacably. “We have to talk about this.”
She turned and stalked toward his desk, thinking that they needed some space between them for the upcoming conversation.
“I can’t believe that Geet told you,” she said suddenly, struck by that betrayal. “I told her not to say anything! I told her that I would take care of it.”
“Did you really think that she would keep it a secret?” Maan asked. “Her first loyalty is to me,” he pointed out with a pained look. “She needed to make sure . . . to make sure that you were taken care of.”
“And why should you be the one who makes sure of that? Why are you on the hook again?” she demanded, sitting down in his chair and staring at him across the expanse of the desk. She crossed her arms in front of her, waiting for his response.
He crossed the room and leaned over the desk, putting himself within reach of her.
“Because you’re pregnant with my brother’s child. I owe that child . . . I owe both of you my protection so that you don’t have to face the discrimination, the contempt that I have seen my siblings face. Do you have any idea how much ridicule Kamya and . . . Dev suffered for being my father’s bastard children? Do I want another innocent child to go through that? Especially when that child only exists because I brought you into my brother’s life?”
“What are you talking about?” she demanded, leaning back in the chair to put some distance between them. “You didn’t bring me into Vicky’s life! I came here chasing you! I came here because . . . ”
“Because of me,” he concluded quietly.
“But what happened between Vicky and me was my choice!” Pari shouted at him, jumping back up. “I fell in love with him. I made the choices I did that resulted in this situation. I got pregnant because it was me and Vicky in that room! You were nowhere to be seen! So why should you take responsibility for what happened? Why should you be made to suffer because someone else around you made a mistake?”
Her voice broke on the last few words. She turned around, unable to continue.
Maan slowly came up behind her.
“Pari,” he murmured, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I know that you never meant for this to happen, but it did. You can’t be alone. You can’t…”
“I trusted him, Maan,” she murmured brokenly. “I never wondered for a moment that there would be a day that I would turn around and he wouldn’t be there. Never wondered until I came back from my holiday, a holiday where he was supposed to meet me, and I found an email saying that he was leaving, and, oh yeah, that he was fucking sorry! Sorry? What the hell was that?” She turned and fell into his arms, needing some comfort. Where else could she turn?
“We’ll get married,” Maan murmured into her hair, squeezing her in his arms. “We can do it before anyone knows. Your parents won’t even need to know.”
“No! I’m not doing that. You’re not going to sacrifice yourself for me. I love you too much to do that to you. You think I don’t know how much you love Geet. Be with her!” she urged him, stepping back and shaking his arm in her urgency.
“She knows what my responsibility is,” he said, pulling away from her. He turned and walked to the window, staring out at the dark night with a bleak expression on his face. He couldn’t see any stars. There was no light. “She was the one who told me that I had to go to you, knowing what I needed to do. She has accepted that I need to do this.”
“Do what? Make a sacrifice?! You think that I want to know that the man I marry has sacrificed his heart and his love for a mistake that I made?”
“Pari… , “he began, frustrated by her intractability.
“Maan, in the years that I have worked for you . . . you don’t understand what our relationship has become. I came here because I had a crush on you. I became your assistant. I respected you … I came to like you, and not as just a handsome man. I came to love you.”
“So that means it shouldn’t be too hard…” he began.
“No,” she interrupted. “Let me finish. You know, I don’t have any brothers. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have someone to look after me . . . to coddle me and care for me. To worry about me when I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. To be my protector.”
She walked over and put a hand on Maan’s shoulder.
“You became my brother, Maan,” she said softly. “And I like to think that I became a sister to you.”
He turned to gaze at her, smiling softly.
“Maan, I can’t marry my brother. It would feel too incestuous,” she pointed out, shuddering at the idea.
He opened his mouth, about to object.
“No, Maan. I don’t want to discuss this anymore! Please. I have plans. Don’t worry! You’ll have a part in this, just not the role you thought you would have to play. You’ll be my brother and my child’s uncle. And those are very important roles, too,” she said with a smile.
There was a quiet knock on the door, interrupting him before he could say anything more.
“Who is it?” Maan barked at the unfortunate individual on the other side of that door. He folded his arms, glaring daggers at the individual poking his head in.
“Nakul, I told you that I did not want to be disturbed,” Maan ground out.
“I know sir,” Nakul said, sidling sideways into the room. “But it was . . . Maan sir, you have a guest,” he said plaintively.
“Who is it?” Maan asked, his arms falling to his sides. More than intrusion now, his attention was focused on Nakul’s worried demeanor.
There was a sound of footsteps climbing up the stairs in the distance and cries of surprise from other servants. “Sir, you have to wait to be allowed in. I don’t think . . .”
Sound of footsteps crossing the marble floor could be heard by the pair in the study. Pari’s eyes turned to the door, her stomach churning in anxiety. Why all the mystery? Why was Nakul so stressed by this guest?
“It’s me, big brother,” a slurred voice called out, revealing the identity of their visitor before the man had even entered the room. The lanky figure stumbled in through the doors and fell over a chair, landing on the floor in the middle of the room. The two stared at the drunken man practically lying down on the floor in front of them.
“It’s me, brother,” he repeated, staring up at them sleepily. “I’m home.”
He turned to look at the pale woman at his brother’s side. “Neeta, I’m back.”
She gasped softly. “Vicky.”
Chapter 20: Prodigal’s Return
Geet stared sleepily at the clouds covering the sun, and then looked down at her coffee. It was too early in the morning. She shifted on the stone bench, trying to get comfortable but it was impossible. If she hadn’t needed to escape the thoughts that were driving her crazy, she would never have come to school this early. Despite all efforts to the contrary, her thoughts veered back to the same truth that had been eating at her for the past few nights.
‘Have you talked to Pari, Maan … Sir? Are you already planning your marriage to her?’ The questions continued to race through her mind, and she couldn’t stop them. ‘Am I going to come home to a wedding invitation from the two of you? Would you be that cruel? Could you be that cruel?’
Her shoulders slumped in despair. Why would Maan…Sir think it cruel to send her a card? When had he said anything to her? I mean, really. He might have tried. But she’d stopped him cold. A feeling of longing shot through her heart, making her wish that she had allowed him to speak that night. If it had been a confession (and that was a big if), at least she would have had those words to hold close to her in the long, interminable nights ahead. Along with the memory of their magical dance together, she would have had those words.
She sighed, finally admitting consciously what her heart already knew. There would never be another such moment … another such confession. There would never be another love. There would never be . . . another Maan…
Tears welled up in her eyes. Her nails bit into the center of her palms, and a shudder ran through her body. She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. When that didn’t completely work to remove all the tension or magically make the tears go away, she lightly smacked herself on the head. ‘Stop going crazy, Geet,’ she ordered herself. Even if he was getting married . . . he would never send her an invitation. ‘Why would Rahul’s nanny get an invitation? Why would he invite me? Who am I to him? Who am I to any of them? Just an employee. Remember that.’
“Geet Handa?” a male voice called out from behind her, interrupting her torturous thoughts.
Geet turned her head to look at the man standing behind her, happy for any distraction from her unhappy thoughts. Her eyes widened when she realized who it actually was.
“You’re Geet Handa, right?” the man asked. “My name is Dev Khurana. I don’t know if you remember me, but we had a conversation two days ago.” He paused for a moment, waiting for Geet to say something. When there was only silence, he cleared his throat and began once more. “It’s a pleasure to officially meet you,” he murmured, coming to sit beside her on the bench. He held out a hand, as if to shake hers.
Geet pulled back, sidling to sit on the edge of the bench, shocked to see this man again. “How dare you?” she asked, glaring at him.
“You know, the last time we met, I had no idea of who you were,” Dev continued on, dropping his hand self-consciously when she made no move to shake it.
Geet’s eyes widened. How dare he ignore the question that she had asked him? Wait… had she even asked that question out loud? ‘Probably not, Geet. You need to get out of the habit of talking to yourself. People will begin to think you have issues.’ She shook her head and turned her attention back to what he was saying.
“—prise when I realized that you were working in my brother’s home. You’re his son’s nanny, right?”
Geet got up and began to move away. Her steps were quick, because she knew that if she stayed around any longer she would say something really mean. Not that he wouldn’t have deserved it.
“Where are you going?” he called out from behind her. He sounded surprised at her abrupt retreat.
Geet ignored the question, not wanting to hear anything this man had to say. ‘Why would he even come up to me? What is wrong with this man?’
“Wait! Please, Ms. Handa,” he said, sounding so much closer. And suddenly, he was reaching out to grab her arm.
Geet flinched at the contact and turned to glare at him. Staring at him mutely for a moment, she yanked her arm away. “What do you want?” she asked tersely, her expression anything but inviting.
“Look, I’m sorry if I frightened you?” he asked in a questioning tone, unsure of what the reason could be for her rude behavior.
“I’m not frightened,” she bit out through gritted teeth.
“Then what…,” he stopped unsure of how to deal with her strange behavior.
“You said I work for your brother?” Geet interrupted, her anger growing at his attitude.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “And who would that brother be?” she finally asked.
“I thought you might have guessed from my name,” he said sheepishly. “My brother is Maan Singh Khurana. Look, I’m not trying t—”
“Maan Singh Khurana?” she murmured questioningly.
“Yes,” he replied. “I…”
“I’m sure that I’ve never met you at his home,” she pointed out. “How do I know you’re really his brother? I mean what if you’re just pretending?”
“I assure you I’m no—,” he began in protest.
“But wait … didn’t he have a brother that ran away from his own wedding?” she asked suddenly, scratching her head in pretended befuddlement. “I guess … you could be that runaway brother?”
Dev blinked at the blunt statement. “I … am that brother,” he finally replied, clearing his throat to dislodge the lump that seemed to have grown in his throat. He pushed up his eyeglasses, a nervous tic he couldn’t seem to control in times of anxiety.
“So your brother must be the Maan Singh Khurana that ended up marrying the jilted bride?”
“Ye-es,” he finally said in a low voice.
She paused for a moment and then began again. “And wasn’t that jilted bride, thereafter the new Mrs. Khurana, notorious for the affairs she was having?”
Dev could only stand there quietly, his shoulders slumping at the diatribe directed his way.
“She dragged the Khurana name through the mud,” Geet said. “She made a fool out of your brother. She made Maan Singh Khurana an object of pity.”
“She … did,” he finally ground out, anger flaming up in his eyes. “I never mea—.”
“So, you just left my employer to deal with your mess because you somehow thought that your actions would be okay? Did you see the mess he was in? Did you ever think to come back and stop him? Help him?” she asked pointedly. She added on another glare for good measure.
Dev fell silent at the accusation. He opened his mouth and then closed it, unsure of how to continue. When he had approached Geet Handa, he had never thought that he would have to defend his actions to this woman. Who was she to ask him all of these questions?
“Well?” she asked, placing her fists on her hips. She began to tap her foot impatiently when no answer was forthcoming.
He swallowed and nudged the eyeglasses up the bridge of his nose once more. “Regardless of what you think you know,” he began, “the truth is never what it seems. I’m sure you’ve heard some gossip.”
“I don’t listen to gossip,” she snapped back.
“Then you don’t really know the truth, right?” he said, trying out a conciliatory smile. “You don’t really know what happened back then. Not everything.”
“Well, I thought…,” she paused for a moment. “You mean you didn’t agree to marry Naintara?” she asked in a shocked tone. “You were actually forced into it?”
“No, I did agree,” he grudgingly replied.
“When you ran away, you didn’t just leave a note behind? You probably talked to your brother,” Geet said sarcastically.
“I did leave a note,” he finally replied. “You seem to know I did.”
“I’m sure you thought about telling your brother. It must have been such a hard decision,” Geet murmured in false sympathy. “You couldn’t have just run away, choosing a path that was least harmful to you, thereby ensuring that it would cause your brother the most harm?”
“I never intended…,” he began to protest.
“The path to hell is paved with good intentions, Mr. Khurana!” Geet shouted. “Sorry to sound trite, Mr. Dev Khurana, but it fits. You might not have meant to do anything, but you left your brother vulnerable to Naintara’s machinations. You knew the kind of woman she was. You had to have known since you were marrying her!” Geet yelled, incensed by all the pain that this man had caused his own brother. “You had to have known since you decided to jilt her at the last minute! What made it okay for you to choose your peace of mind over your brother’s?”
“What made it okay to push him into that hell? What made it okay for you to leave him behind to clean up your mess?”
He remained silent, which only made Geet angrier.
“What caused you to think that you had a greater right to be happy?!”
Dev clenched his fingers, stepping back as Geet moved in closely.
“Tell me!” Geet shouted again. Here was the man that had been the cause of years of misery for Maan. Not only had he saddled Maan with a viperous wife, but his cowardice and betrayal had deeply hurt Maan. Because it had been the betrayal of someone he had never imagined could hurt him. “What made your actions okay?”
“Nothing would have made my actions okay,” he finally replied soberly.
“Then tell me one thing,” she said. “What was your reason for making such a stupid decision?” she demanded.
“I’m afraid I was the reason,” a woman’s voice said quietly from behind Dev.
Geet’s eyes widened at the figure stepping out to stand beside Dev Khurana. Her eyes tracked their movements, as Meera reached out and briefly gripped his hand. She then looked at him and signaled with her head before moving toward Geet. Dev moved back and went to sit on the bench behind them.
“My name is Meera Khurana, Miss Handa. I am that man’s wife,” Meera said softly.
“I kind of guessed that the last time we met,” Geet pointed out acerbically.
Meera’s eyes widened. “You knew who he was the last time you talked?” she asked.
“Only at the end. I would never have talked to him normally if I had known,” Geet replied. She turned away, not wanting to see these people any more. What did they even want from her?
There was a moment of silence. “I am his wife,” Meera repeated, “And I have seen him suffer the guilt of eloping with me on that day. I … am the reason that he can’t sleep at night.”
Geet turned a startled gaze to the woman behind her.
“Yes. When I said I was the reason, I didn’t mean in some greater ideological sense he was looking for something more than Naintara. We were at university together. I was in their circle and in love with him long before Naintara caught his attention. When that happened, I moved on. And we met again one day and … fell in love. At that time it was days before his wedding. He … he could not think of any way to get out of his predicament. But he knew that what we had was love. What he had felt for Naintara wasn’t. We made a purely selfish decision and took that irrevocable step.”
“There were other ways. He could’ve told Naintara. He could’ve told his brother. He could’ve been around to tell his brother that Naintara was not pregnant,” Geet replied. Seeing the suffering on the other woman’s face had cooled her down a little bit. The fact that she was no longer seeing that man’s face had allowed her temper to cool, as well. “And he fell in love with you, but that doesn’t make it your fault. You know it’s solely on him. Why are you taking part of the burden?”
“Because I love him. What hurts him, hurts me. What hurts him, angers me,” she replied. “Just the way you are with Maan Singh Khurana.”
Geet paled at that statement. “I am no—”
“Why bother lying?” Meera replied. She crossed her arms across her chest, her gaze challenging. “I am one of the few lucky ones who found a true love. And I was lucky enough that he found me, as well. The circumstances weren’t the best. He hurt a lot of people by choosing his heart and his love above everyone else. And he has been hurting ever since.”
“Not as much as the ones he left behind. Did he ever thin—”
“He never thought that Naintara would entrap his brother like that, Miss Handa!” Meera interrupted, her pained gaze going back towards the man sitting on the bench with his shoulders slumped. “He once thought he loved that woman. Do you think that he could ever believe her capable of something that heinous?” Meera pointed out. “He believed that while Naintara was not the one for him, she was still a good woman. He never meant to hurt anyone. That might be a bitter pill to swallow, but it is the truth. Can you blame a man whose only mistake was choosing the wrong woman to marry? Even if it did have harshest consequences on those he loved? And he does love them, Miss Handa. ”
Geet turned away, unsure of what to say.
“He’s back, and he wants to make amends,” Meera stated. She took a deep breath. “I know you want to protect Maan, but he needs to know. Believe me, he will find out. Dev won’t give up. Not this time. Don’t you want to be the one who tells him this truth? That is why we approached you.”
Geet paused for a moment, pursing her lips. “Wait a minute. Does that mean you have a spy in the house?”
Meera stepped back.
“Wait! Just what did he say about me?!”
“Nakul, I need to speak to Maan sir,” Geet said hurriedly, striding past the figure that had opened the door.
Her thoughts turned back to the couple that she had met a few hours ago. Her hands clenched into fists as she tried to grapple with her emotions. She had never been this angry for another person. Or this angry with another person. She resented them for abandoning Maan in his time of need and coming back when they needed absolution. She resented Dev and Meera for putting her in the middle of all this. She resented them. But they had come back. And if there was anything she could do to make this easier for Maan, she would do it. Maybe the bitter truth would taste a little bit sweeter if it came from her.
“Geet Ma’am, you might not want to go in there,” Nakul suggested. “See, the thing is…”
“Nakul, this is important!” Geet insisted, her feet taking her toward the living room. She wasn’t going to let Nakul or anyone else stop her. She had fought with herself, but now that the decision was made, she needed to do this immediately. “It’s about his brother.”
“But, Geet Ma’am,” Nakul insisted. “How did you know? You don’t have to worry. He already knows!”
“What? No, he doesn’t. What are you talking about, Nakul? I just came from talking to them! They promised that they wouldn’t approach him until I talked to him,” Geet said, turning to look at the man. “Until I had the chance to prepare him.”
“Well, you said about his brother…” he finally said. “Wait. What do you mean they?”
Geet’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. Shaking her head, she turned towards the living room.
“Who is it, Nakul?” a male voice asked from the archway leading into the living room.
Geet gasped softly trying to stop herself from careening into the figure suddenly standing in front of her. Her body slammed into the intoxicatingly male figure, her arms coming up to wrap around his neck, saving herself from the fall she knew that would have come next.
“Maan . . . sir,” she finally got out past the knot in her throat. “What are you …?”
She fell silent, caught by the warmth of his beautiful eyes. The words just fell away. She couldn’t even bother to form thoughts when he was so close. She bit her own lip, as her gaze landed on his lips, intriguingly uplifted at the corners. Her eyes wandered up to meet his gaze, scrunching in confusion at the devilish glint she saw in his eyes.
“You’re here,” he murmured, so close that she felt the breath leave his lips and touch hers.
She leaned closer, wanting to give in for just a moment. For just an instance, she wanted to let go and touch a little bit of heaven.
“What is it, Maan bhai?” a voice called out from behind her.
Geet jerked at the intrusion of a strange voice.
She looked up at Maan questioningly, her fingers tightening around his neck.
Maan gazed back at her, and his arms tightening around her, almost squeezing the breath out of her body. His lips moved towards her.
Geet moaned silently, wondering if he was about to do what she hoped he was about to do. Would she feel his lips against her cheek? Her hair? Her ear? She reddened suddenly. Her … lips? She felt his breath at her right ear. She paused for a moment, wondering if he had an ear fetish. What was he doing in front of Nakul?!
“I wanted to tell you something,” he whispered into her ear.
She leaned in, almost nuzzling his cheek with her own, but he pulled away and gently set her on her feet. ‘Darn it.’ “I … I needed to tell you something, too,” she whispered back to him, pulling herself together. “It’s really important.”
“Who is it, bhai?” the voice asked impatiently. As Geet turned her head, she was able to match the voice to the man.
“Who is that? Why is he calling you bhai?” Geet asked suddenly, almost sure of what the answer would be. And he couldn’t have come at a worst time.
“Because I am his brother,” the younger man answered cockily.
Maan crossed his arms across his chest and glanced admonishingly at the stranger before turning back to look at Geet. “It’s my brother, Vicky,” Maan replied.
Geet’s eyes widened in surprise.
“The prodigal son has returned home,” he finished.
She tugged at Maan’s arm, her eyes widening when her fingers landed against warm, naked skin.
He turned to look at her enquiringly, one of his eyebrows rising in that sexy manner he had.
She shook her head, pushing that thought aside. This was not the time for such thoughts. It would never be that time again. Her face fell at that reminder. It didn’t matter if this man was back, Maan still had responsibilities.
His fingers gripping at her wrist interrupted her increasingly morose thoughts. She turned to look at him.
He tugged at her wrist gently and smiled. “What is it?” he prompted gently.
“He’s not the only one who’s returned.”