FFY 06 – 10

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Chapter 6: No One and Nothing

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Geet sprang up once more, beginning to pace agitatedly in front of his desk. “Do you know how much Rahul suffered?” She shook her head at the pain that little boy had lived through. She turned to stare at the father. “How long was this Sameera Rahul’s nanny?” she demanded, wanting to know.

Maan opened his mouth to protest at her presumptuous behavior, but stopped before saying anything. He could see the anger and passion in her eyes. He could also see the worry in those . . . beautiful eyes. He abruptly shook his head, bringing his mind back to focus on the matter at hand. ‘All of that emotion is for your son,’ he told himself. He clenched his hands, conceding defeat. ‘Maybe, through her, you can find your way back to your son.’

“She started working for our family six months ago,” he replied quietly.

“Did you do any kind of background check on her?” Geet asked, gazing at him questioningly. She shook her head impatiently. “What kind of question is that? Of course you did. Who would just turn over their kid to a stranger, right? That never leads to good things. I’m just telling you, Maan sir, you have to complain to the agency that did the background check. They do some shoddy work.”

“There was no background check,” Maan admitted through gritted teeth, looking away from the incredulous surprise in her eyes. He sighed, “I knew her, Miss Handa. From my college days.”

“Just because you knew her!” she screeched at him. “You trusted her with your son because you were acquaintances in college?!” The incredulity in her tone angered him for a moment, before he realized . . .

“It was my mistake,” he admitted, having come to realize how much of a mistake it really had been. What more could he say that would justify his blithe ignorance of the damage that Sameera had done to his son, as well?

Geet was momentarily silenced by his quick admission. She saw the guilt in his eyes. She could see his shame at being so completely taken in by a woman. She narrowed her eyes as an unpalatable thought intruded. This Sameera seemed to be a woman that he seemed to have trusted too much for . . . some reason. She impatiently shrugged that thought away, not wanting to think about it. “At least, it’s good that she left on her own before she could damage Rahul any further,” she asserted. “Whatever it was that made her leave was a blessing for you.”

Maan sat back, stunned by her words. He had never thought that Sameera’s leaving had been a blessing. At least, not until now.

Geet came back and sat down, realizing that railing at him and pointing out his utter stupidity wouldn’t really solve things. And there really weren’t that many people that could get away with calling Maan Singh Khurana stupid. “That woman came into your house and pretty much told Rahul that you weren’t his father from the get go.”

His fingers clenched around the file in his hand, as he battled with the fiery anger growing inside of him.

“She effectively took you away from your son. She broke his heart!” Geet got up once more, and circled the desk, coming to stand in front of him. All of her good intentions to calmly talk about this fell away under the repulsion she felt in relating the damage Sameera had done. “She told him that if he didn’t ‘behave’, his real father would come and get him.”

Maan’s jaw tightened, as he leaned back in his chair to stare up at the angered woman in front of him. There was nothing he could do but listen.

Geet leaned over him, staring intently into his eyes. “She counseled Rahul not to talk to you. She told him to hide from you and cry if you came too close. Your son lost his father, and, for what?”

Mann gazed at her face, so close to his. He could feel her breath on his lips every time she spoke. Her eyes sparkled with her anger, and her cheeks were becomingly flushed. His eyes widened, when she suddenly reached out. His eyes widened even more when he felt her clutch at his collar, twisting it in her fury.

“What did she want? What kind of woman could torture a child like that? What could she want?” Geet repeated, wanting to know . . . to try to understand.

There was a moment of silence, as Maan thought about how he could answer that inflammatory question.

“It doesn’t mater,” Geet suddenly said. “Nothing justifies this,” Geet muttered, twisting his collar once more. “The biggest thing of all,” Geet muttered, “Do you know what the worst thing was?”

Maan shook his head mutely, letting her vent her fury. It was a fury that she felt on behalf of his helpless son. If she felt the need to vent at him, all the better, because he was the reason all of this had happened.

“When Rahul broke his arm eight weeks ago, do you know what he did? How could you know? You weren’t here. But he hid it for hours, thinking he had done something wrong,” Geet said brokenly, tears welling up in her eyes. She cleared her throat, forcing herself to continue because she knew that there could no longer be any secrets between father and son. “The truth only came out when Dadi Ma found out. She was the one who immediately called the doctor and then took him to the hospital. That boy tortured himself for weeks with the thought that his real father would now come to get him. And you didn’t know anything about it,” she finished sadly.

Geet breathed hard, having forced out the heartbreaking truth. Her hands continued to twist in Maan’s collar absentmindedly, as she stared entreatingly into his eyes.

You need to fix this,’ her eyes seemed to be saying to him.

Maan’s hands slowly reached up and gently pulled her hands away from his badly mangled collar. Pulling them down, he held them in his, all the while gazing at her.

Geet stared into his eyes, not noticing the hold he now had on her hands. It was only as he gently squeezed them, did she come to her senses. Pulling back, she hurriedly moved to the other side of the desk. She breathed a silent sigh of relief at the distance between them, and desperately tried to regulate her breathing and her furiously beating heart. Putting up a hand, she flapped it at her face, trying to cool her flushed cheeks. She stared down at her hands, realizing that she had just been holding Maan Singh Khurana’s collar! What the hell had she been thinking? She took a deep breath. That didn’t matter right now. What was important was how he was going to fix this.

Geet turned back to face the man behind the desk, who was silently fixing his collar. She glared at him, her lips forming a grim frown as she thought back to how Rahul had sobbed in her arms last night. It was as if a dam had broken, and he was finally allowing himself to express the worry and fear he had held onto for so long. Her heart hurt when she thought about how long that little boy had kept such a big secret.

“I . . . let my son down,” Maan admitted hoarsely, forcing himself to look into her eyes once more. “I should have protected him. I should have made sure that Sameera didn’t have ulterior motives when I hired her. There are a lot of things I should have done, and didn’t do,” Maan said.

Geet could see how much it cost him to say all of this.

Gazing at the woman that his son had trusted enough to open up and reveal his secrets to, Maan said, “You’ve gotten closer to my son in this one month than I have been for a long, long time. He trusts you,” he said in an exhausted tone. “Please.”

Geet’s eyes widened at the word. Maan Singh Khurana never said please! Especially not to a lowly employee like her.

“Please, help me to find a way to reach my son.”

Geet froze at the entreaty in his eyes. In all of this time, she had never seen Maan Singh Khurana so vulnerable and open. This man was the owner of all he purveyed and was always in control of his emotions, of his environment, and of every person in his vicinity. He needed no one and nothing.

But he was asking her for help.

She smiled tremulously at him, nodding her head. What else could she do?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

‘Just telling Rahul I love him won’t be enough, will it?’

“I know how we can prove your daddy loves you,” Geet whispered to Rahul, gazing into his worried eyes.

“How?” he asked eagerly, forgetting his crankiness over the aborted nap.

Geet was happy to see Rahul’s animated face. He had been too quiet on the trip home. When Geet had finally left Maan’s office, she had found Rahul sitting quietly at Adi Jeeja Ji’s desk. The traces of tears on his cheeks had only strengthened her resolve to assist Maan in getting his son back.

‘Seven months ago my shouting at Rahul would never have made him cry,’ he said in a frustrated voice. ‘He knows about my moods. He would have talked back to me. I would’ve laughed, and that would have been the end of it. I forget that everything has changed, and react in the same way.’ He shook his head. ‘Words can’t be enough. I have to show him that nothing has changed.’

Geet gently pulled Rahul off of the bed, and took him to Maan’s bedroom door. “In there.” She pointed to the door. “Remember what I told you about pictures and wallets?”

Rahul nodded.

“You can look in your daddy’s wallet.”

“But daddy never leaves his wallet lying around,” Rahul protested.

“It is in there,” Geet said, “Look.” She opened the door and pointed at the object of interest lying on the nightstand.

“But where’s daddy?” Rahul asked.

“Not here. I saw him go to the library,” Geet replied quickly, smiling at the fearful boy. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Doesn’t your daddy allow you to go in his room?”

“It’s not that,” Rahul finally muttered. “Do think it will be alright, Geet didi?”

“What?”

“If I go into his room, even if I’m not really his son,” he asked. “What if daddy gets mad?”

“Your daddy won’t get mad,” Geet said. “I promise.”

Rahul looked at her for a moment, frowning slightly. But the lure of the wallet was too much. Glancing at her one final time, he turned and tiptoed across the room. Reaching the nightstand, he gingerly picked up the wallet and opened it.

A big smile appeared on his face, growing by the second. He squealed with joy and began to jump around.

“Rahul? What is it?” Geet asked, knowing that he had found the picture she had seen of him in that wallet.

“It’s me!” he said, almost shouting in his joy. He turned the wallet around. “This is a picture of me and Dadi Ma on my birthday,” he said, pointing to himself in the picture to make sure that Geet didn’t miss him. He giggled, turning the photo around to stare at it once more. He looked up and froze, his eyes going wide.

Geet smiled at the silence, knowing that he had finally seen what else was in the room.

“You won’t have to think up a way to tell him how much you love him,” she whispered softly, staring at the walls. “Just show him your room and all these pictures. No one with the ability to see could doubt how much you love that boy and your Dadi Ma, Maan.”

“It was the only way I could be close to him when he was doing his best to stay away from me,” he replied simply.

“Just speak from your heart.”

There was a picture of Rahul on the nightstand. Rahul’s eyes flew across the bed. And another picture of him on the other nightstand. There was a big picture of him and Dadi Ma behind the bed. He turned around. There were multiple pictures on the other three walls. His face smiled back at him from every corner of the room.

His mouth dropped open, as he clutched the wallet to his thin chest. She had lied. Sam had lied. She had told him that his daddy didn’t love him, but that was a lie. His face on every surface of his daddy’s room told him otherwise. Geet didi had said that daddy loved him, and the pictures proved that she was saying the truth. Maybe, when she said that it didn’t matter if daddy wasn’t his real daddy, maybe that had been the truth, too.

“Didi, look at all of these pictures,” he said, turning with a happy smile at the approaching footsteps. His eyes widened when he realized his father was standing there instead of Geet didi. He stepped back quickly, the wallet falling from his hands.

Maan sat down on the floor, patting the floor beside him. Rahul hesitantly came over and sat down beside him. Putting an arm around his son’s small shoulders, Maan hugged him close. Closing his eyes for a moment against the painful rush of emotions, he opened them to gaze into the wide eyes of his son.

“When you were born,” he began, his voice hoarse with emotion, “A nurse put you in my arms and you grabbed my finger, just like you’re doing now.”

Rahul looked down, and realized that he had gone back to the habit of holding onto his father’s smallest finger.

“From that moment, until now,” Maan continued, “I have loved you as if you were my own son. I have never thought of you as anyone else’s,” he admitted. “From the moment that you were put into my arms, I took it as if I was blessed with my own little angel. That picture over there,” he said, pointing to the photo on the nightstand on the other side of the bed, “That picture was taken when you were two days old.”

Rahul nodded, contemplating the smushed face he used to have. He leaned his head against Maan’s chest, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“You are my son for all purposes that count. Your first steps,” he said, pointing to a picture, “your first words,” he continued, pointing to another picture, “your first birthday,” pointing to a third picture, “they are all important to me because I am your dad. They are important to me because I loved you, and I love you now, Rahul.”

He leaned down to drop a kiss on Rahul’s suddenly down bent head.

“When your mom gave you to me and went to heaven, I claimed you as my own,” Maan stated.

Rahul quickly glanced up at that, hope growing in his eyes.

“There is no one else who can claim you, because I made sure of that,” Maan continued, skipping over the fact that he had found out which man had fathered his child and paid him to sign over all of his parental rights. “There is no one else who has a right to take you away. I don’t know what that Sameera told you,” he said softly, “but I made damn sure that you were only my son. No one will show up and take you away just because you’re a little naughty or even a lot naughty. But I would suggest you not be too naughty, Miss Handa wouldn’t like it.” Rahul giggled softly at that.

Maan pulled Rahul onto his lap, and grabbed him in a bear hug. Rahul just collapsed against him, boneless in relief. Maan slowly closed his eyes, silently thanking whatever deity had sent them Geet Handa.

“Rahul, just remember that no one and nothing can ever take you away from me,” he whispered into his son’s ear.

“Promise?”

“Promise,” came back the husky reply.

Geet stood in the doorway, her eyes tearing. Rahul’s arms were wrapped tightly around his father, as if he would never let go. And Maan had a small smile playing on his lips, his eyes closed, as he held his son close to him.

Maan?’ She lightly smacked her head. ‘Just because we worked together today, doesn’t mean that you get to start calling him Maan,’ she scolded herself. ‘If he catches you doing that, he will fire you immediately. I think you’ve been presumptuous enough. You were shouting at him this afternoon, manhandling him right after that, and have already called him Maan to his face! Control yourself. He’s Maan Sir,’ she reminded herself.

But looking at that gently smiling man, it was hard to revert to what they had been before. She was seeing a whole new side to this hard and difficult man. Before now, she had been attracted. She could admit it. But it had been a superficial attraction, based on a mere physical pull. She might have stuttered and blushed when he was around, but it was an attraction that she could easily discount, and an attraction that would have gradually faded away due to sheer proximity.

She heard him chuckle softly, as he got up and begin to spin his son around. Rahul giggled helplessly, holding on for dear life. Geet smiled helplessly. She had never thought, from what she knew of him, that Maan Singh Khurana could have the ability to love so deeply and so tenderly. And he did. He was so obvious in his love for his son that it made her heart melt.

He stopped, ending with his face to the door. His eyes gradually opened and his gaze locked with hers. She saw all that love he felt for his son, only now it was directed at her and washing over her in waves.

She felt her heart skip a beat. A trembling hand crept up to her heart, and a sudden frown appeared on her face, replacing the smile. Worry clouded her beautiful features.

The love disappeared, and he smiled slowly. He nodded his thanks before leaning down to kiss his son’s head once more.

Feeling her heart begin to beat steadily once more, Geet relaxed, only to realize with dawning horror that there was something different happening.

It couldn’t be that it was now beating for . . . Maan Singh Khurana. She exhaled softly.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Maan.

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Chapter 7: In My Bed

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Maan closed Rahul’s bedroom door quietly and turned to gaze at the woman standing in the hallway. “You should have gone home by now, Miss Handa. Why are you still here?” he asked softly, leaning against the wall.

“I couldn’t just l-leave before making sure that Rahul was okay,” she protested, twisting a portion of her dupatta in her hands. She glanced at him and then quickly looked away, unable to gaze at him with these crazy thoughts running through her mind. There was a short pause, and Geet had to nerve herself to break it. “M-Maan Sir, you and Rahul will be okay now, right?” she asked hesitantly.

“Miss Handa,” Maan said, straightening up, “You were able to do something that two psychiatrists and I couldn’t do in the last five months. Ever since I noticed the change in Rahul, I have tried to find out what the problem exactly was. When I couldn’t, I took Rahul to a psychiatrist. Two of them, in fact, but that only caused Rahul to retreat further into his shell. Dadi Ma counseled me to back off, and I reluctantly had to agree. But I didn’t know that the reason for his withdrawal was living right under my roof. You helped us reach other, and I will never let anything happen to break that relationship again.” He stopped and took a deep breath. Smiling slightly, he held out his hand.

Geet stared at it, and then held out her own hand to shake his. The moment his warmth touched hers, she felt a current running from their joined hands to the depths of her heart. She frowned slightly, the sensation entirely unwelcome. His warm clasp was inviting, making her want to keep holding on.

She quickly pulled away, a trembling hand going up to cover her mouth. This was wrong in so many ways.

“This reconciliation is also why I wish that I wasn’t going on this trip,” Maan said ruefully, glancing back at the closed door.

Geet looked at him, surprised.

“I am going abroad for a week, Miss Handa,” he said, answering the silent question in her eyes. “That sudden trip was the reason for my bad mood this morning.”

Geet raised her eyebrows at that proclamation.

“Yes, Miss Handa, I had a reason. I always have a particular reason for each of my bad moods,” he responded dryly, noticing the raised eyebrows.

Geet laughed softly at that bit of humor.

“I found out this morning. Unfortunately, I have to leave tomorrow morning, before Rahul wakes up.” He gazed at her quietly. “I won’t be here to reaffirm the love I feel for him. I won’t be here to make him feel secure. You’ll have to do all of that. At least, until I come back . . . watch after my son, Miss Handa.”

“I will,” she said, slowly backing away from him. “I promise.” Barely waiting for his nod of acknowledgement, she turned and raced away, trying to escape her unwelcome emotions.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pinky squealed and landed beside Geet on the bed. “See, I told you it would be great to work with Maan Sir. He made my heart beat dangerously fast when I worked for him,” she revealed, playfully nudging Geet with her shoulder.

“Are you sure you want Adi Jeeja Ji listening to you talk like that?” Geet asked, embarrassed for her friend. Pinky had come over tonight, since Adi Jeeja Ji had had to work late, as he had been doing since Maan Sir had left for his trip. The two friends had caught up on all else that had been going on in their lives, and now it was time to talk about Geet’s job.

“Come on, admit it. You have a crush on him, right? Your heart beats frantically whenever he’s around, right?” Pinky teased with a grin.

Geet blushed a fiery red. “When did I say anything about my heart?” Geet demanded, exhaling heavily.

“You said that he was an ‘okay’ boss, and that he trusted you with an important project,” Pinky said. “I know when I said he was just ‘okay’, I had a huuuuge crush on him.” She clasped her hands together over her heart. “And he never trusted me with an important project.”

“I wonder why,” Geet murmured to herself. “Anyways, ‘okay’ just means okay in this case,” Geet retorted hotly. “It doesn’t mean that he stole my heart with his sexy looks, charisma, and loving ways with his son and grandmother.” Tears welled up in her eyes due to the hopelessness of those emotions. He’d been gone for three days, and she was missing his presence so much. ‘Who would’ve thought that I would miss that unsmiling face when it wasn’t around anymore?’ She sighed heavily.

Pinky’s eyes widened in shock. “Geet?” she asked softly, staring at the tears welling up in her friend’s eyes. “I was just kidding,” she whispered, putting her arm around Geet’s shoulders. “Don’t fall in love with him, please,” she said entreatingly.

“I said there was no love!” Geet practically shouted at Pinky. “There isn’t even a crush.”

“Geet, I can be an airhead most of the time,” Pinky said. “I get nervous, and can’t do the most basic of things when I’m confused, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind. It doesn’t mean that I’m stupid.” She gazed at her friend, her face wearing a serious expression. “Maan Singh Khurana is a hard man. He could never give you the gentleness and understanding you need and deserve.”

“What do you mean?” Geet asked, interested despite herself. The more she told herself to stay away from any mention of that man, the more her heart wanted to know.

Pinky jumped up and started pacing around the room. “The Khurana family has been hit by more scandals than you can imagine. And all of those just in the past decade,” she finally blurted out, turning to look at Geet. “And due to all of that scandal, there is nothing more important to Maan Singh Khurana than his family name.”

“What kind of scandals?” Geet asked.

“Maan Sir’s father had a mistress and a second family,” Pinky whispered, glancing around furtively before turning back to gaze at Geet.

Geet gasped, shocked by those words. She could never have imagined that Maan Singh Khurana had a skeleton like that in his closet.

“The truth came out after Maan Sir’s father and mother died in an accident. The other woman came forward with her kids, demanding their share.”

“Maan has siblings?” Geet asked, surprised by the mention of these siblings. She had seen no sign of them in the Khurana mansion.

“Maan Sir,” Pinky said, emphasizing the ‘sir’, “Has two siblings, Vicky and Anvesha, and two half-siblings, Dev and Kamya. When Maan Sir’s grandmother refused to accept that woman in her home, the mistress made a lot of noise in the media. Not to say that Maan Sir didn’t have a good relationship with those other siblings. He ended up giving the half-siblings their share seven years ago.”

“What happened seven years ago?” Geet asked.

“Seven years ago, Dev Singh Khurana ran away on his wedding day, leaving Maan Sir to take responsibility for everything.”

“What do you mean?” Geet asked, startled by the sinking sensation in her stomach. A part of her could guess what would have happened.

“Maan Sir had to marry the jilted bride. She dragged the Khurana name through the mud. There are even rumors that Rahul isn’t Maan Sir’s son.”

Geet sat back at those words. “Don’t say that,” she said sharply, frowning at the still pacing Pinky. “That adorable little boy doesn’t deserve to have rumors flying around about him.”

Pinky nodded, chastened by the reprimand. “But you can see why it wouldn’t be a good idea to love him. Because of all that has happened in the past, his name and his family’s reputation are really important to him, Geet,” Pinky pointed out.

“How do you know all of this?” Geet demanded.

“Well, Adi’s family has been working for Maan Sir’s family for decades,” Pinky said with a shrug.

“Adi Jeeja Ji?” Geet asked in surprise.

“Well, yeah. Adi’s grandfather worked for Maan Sir’s grandfather. Adi’s father assisted Maan Sir’s father and then Maan Sir. And now Adi assists Maan Sir.”

“No wonder Adi Jeeja Ji works for him,” Geet murmured thoughtfully. “I always wondered why he worked for a boss that made him so afraid.”

“It’s tradition,” Pinky said with a shrug. “Plus which, even if he is a little scared of him, Adi does respect Maan Sir. When Maan Sir took over the company, he was only 20 years old. He had to go to school, take care of the company and take care of his siblings at the same time,” Pinky said, counting the various tasks on her fingers. “That’s why there is such a strong bond between grandmother and grandson. They’ve been through so much together. And there’s so much more that I haven’t told you! Did you know th—”

“Pinky!” Geet quickly interjected. “I don’t want to know anymore,” she said, putting her hands over her ears. She frowned at her friend. “I know that it would be stupid to fall in love with the man. Give me some credit. My feelings have just gotten a little confused. It’s probably the adrenaline rush from being around a man who might shout at me at any given moment.” She grinned impishly when Pinky giggled at that. “I just need time to sort it out.”

There was a knock on the door, and the two friends turned to see Geet’s father standing at the door. “Beta Ji, someone from the Khurana house is on the phone for you. I think something’s happened.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Thank you for coming, Geet beta,” Dadi Ma said, holding out her hand.

Geet came and sat down on the bed beside her, reaching out to squeeze the older woman’s hand comfortingly. “Are you okay, Dadi Ma?” she asked. “I didn’t know you had problems with your blood pressure.” She stared in worry at the woman that she had come to like and respect.

When Nakul had called to ask Geet to come over and spend the next few days at the Khurana mansion, she had been uncertain of the consequences of such a request. She wasn’t sure if she trusted herself to be in a place where that man’s presence could be felt in every corner. But when Dadi Ma had explained her condition and that she needed someone she trusted to be with Rahul, Geet had readily complied. Getting her parents’ permission, she had packed a bag and raced over to the Khurana mansion.

“It’s just gone a little high,” Savitri Devi said calmly. “But the doctors insist that I rest. I don’t want Maan beta to cancel his trip for such a little thing, so I asked you to come instead. I hope that I haven’t imposed too much on you, Geet. You’re the only one that I could call; the only one that I trust after my grandson.”

Geet’s thought about that for a while, wondering where all of her other grandchildren were. She stared at the tired woman before her, and didn’t have the nerve to ask. “I’ll be happy to help out,” she said softly, squeezing Dadi Ma’s hand once more. “I love Rahul. School is starting in a couple of weeks, and, although I’ll be taking care of him after my classes, I’m glad I get to spend a little extra time with him now.” She smiled at Savitri Devi. “Please, rest for now. I’ll take care of Rahul.”

Geet made her way to Rahul’s bedroom, dragging her bag along. “Rahul! Rahul, where are you?” Geet called out, walking into the room. She looked around, but it didn’t take her long to realize that the room was empty. “Rahul! Stop hiding. It’s almost bed time, and you have to be in bed.”

“Geet didi!” a voice called out through a half-open door.

Geet’s eyes widened. She’d never been through this door. A part of her had always assumed that it was another closet. She peeked through the door, and saw Rahul on the other side, sitting on his father’s bed. It was Maan Singh Khurana’s bedroom.

“What are you doing in here?” Geet asked, smiling at the excited boy.

“Geet didi, are we really going to have a slumber party?” Rahul asked. “Dadi Ma said that she needed to rest because she is getting too old, and that she was going to call you over for a slumber party.”

Geet nodded, and came to sit down by Rahul. “Yep. We can watch a movie. Eat popcorn. Anything you want, within reason,” she said, knowing that she had to add that caveat for her own peace of mind. “But what are you doing on Maan Sir’s bed?” she asked, going to pick up Rahul.

He quickly shot out of reach and frowned at her. “We’re going to have a slumber party here,” he said mulishly, staring around the room. A smile appeared on his face when he saw his pictures on every surface. “Daddy said that if I missed him too much, I could sleep on his bed whenever I wanted. I’ve been sleeping in here for the last two nights.”

“But surely it’s not okay when he’s not here?” Geet asked, worried by the direction this conversation was going.

“Even when he wasn’t here,” Rahul said, pouting at her. “I want to sleep here tonight, too. Why isn’t daddy home? Dadi Ma is sick, and he’s not here.” His small face took on a worried look, as he gazed up at her.

“Well, okay,” Geet said, thinking frantically. She did not want Rahul focusing on how sick Maan’s grandmother might or might not be.  “Let me go put my bag in the guest bedroom, and then I’ll come back and we can have our slumber party here.”

“No, Geet didi,” Rahul said insistently. “We have to sleep in the same place for it to be a slumber party. You have to sleep here, next to me. It’ll be fun!”

Geet sighed, knowing that she couldn’t give this child grief over such a thing, when it was her own discomfort causing the problem. She nodded and forced herself to smile. Besides, what could it hurt? She would be spending tonight in Maan Singh Khurana’s bedroom. She would be spending the night in his bed. She could only thank Babaji that she wouldn’t be spending it in his arms.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

She was thanking Babaji for that, right?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Geet stretched lightly, enjoying the whole waking up process. Yawning, she sleepily stared to her left and saw Rahul snuggling close. She smilingly hugged him close, worried about the lack of flesh on those bones. She nodded to herself. Her next project would be to make sure that this little boy started eating more; no more eating like a bird for him.

She blinked her eyes, as they moved over the room. Her eyes fall on the stack of DVDs on the floor in front of the television, and the empty bucket of popcorn lying on its side. She patted her stomach. They’d spent a couple of hours watching the latest cartoon flick and gorging on lots of popcorn. Rahul had fallen asleep first, and Geet had lugged him to the bed. While she had been tempted to go sleep elsewhere, she did not want to disappoint this little boy by ruining his idea of a slumber party.

Stretching once more, she realized that she was surprisingly well-rested. She hadn’t had such a peaceful night’s sleep for so long; she couldn’t even remember the last time she had slept through the entire night. Closing her eyes, she turned over and hugged a pillow close to her. She wanted to rest a little bit more before facing the new day.

She jumped when she felt the pillow moved beneath her. Gasping in fright, she pulled back slightly, staring incredulously. Her eyes traveled over a naked torso, over strong male shoulders, and over a face that looked so innocent in sleep.

What is he doing in my bed?! Okay, so it’s his bed, but does that mean he’ll just hop in, even if there is an innocent, young woman already sleeping in it? What is wrong with him? When did this happen? When? When?’ Her brain had stopped working.

She scrunched her eyes closed and opened them again, hoping that she was dreaming. But she wasn’t that lucky. Her hand was placed over his heart, her cheek once again resting against his shoulder. What the hell was she doing? She quickly pulled back and yelped, as she now realized that her hair was trapped beneath that same muscular shoulder. She cursed her long hair, desperately trying to pull it out from under that all too naked torso.

As she watched him warily, those incredible eyes popped open and his eyes were suddenly trained on her.

She gasped once more and stopped breathing. She tried to speak, but could only squawk like a chicken. She quickly shut her mouth, slapping a hand over it for good measure.

His eyes narrowed.

Gulping, she sat up slowly, not wanting to startled him into any actions that she might come to regret later.

“What are you doing in my bed, Miss Handa?” he asked angrily.

“Oh.” There was a sleepy, little boy murmur. “Daddy, you’re home!” Rahul cried out, jumping up to sit by Geet’s side. “Did you sleep with us all night?”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 8: In His Arms

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Careful. Careful,” a woman’s voice said softly, helping him to sit on the couch. “There. We’re finally home.” She took a deep breath of relief, stretching her arms above her head to work the kinks out of her shoulder muscles. “He is way heavier than he looks.”

“Maan Sir, what happened?” Nakul asked, turning to the woman in inquiry when he got no answer from his employer.

“Well, when Maan found out that Dadi Ma was sick, he insisted on coming back immediately,” she said with a shake of her head. “I told him that Dadi Ma was fine. I mean Adi would never hide anything big from him. I reminded him that she would want him to take care of business before returning, and that she’d feel bad about ruining his deals.”

“But he didn’t listen?” Nakul asked ruefully. Everyone knew how stubborn Maan Singh Khurana could be.

“No, he completed all of his business before returning,” she replied in an acerbic tone. “He had all of the meetings set up for today. Back to back with no breaks in between,” she said with a sigh. “He didn’t eat. Didn’t rest. He drove himself to exhaustion taking care of business and worrying about Dadi Ma. And then on the plane an idiotic stewardess confused his drink with another’s and gave him vodka instead.”

“Oh no,” Nakul murmured in a deadpan tone, his calm voice belying the worry percolating inside. He knew that Maan Sir couldn’t handle his liquor. And that fact really, really bothered his employer. “He drank the entire glass?”

“He was really, really thirsty and thought it was water,” she said with a resigned shrug. “The man gets drunk on a sip and he went for the entire glass on an empty stomach. Anyway, how’s Dadi Ma?” she asked Nakul.

“She’s better,” Nakul said happily. “She’s sleeping right now,” he said almost apologetically.

“Well, it is the middle of the night,” she pointed out dryly. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning. Get him to bed before he wakes up complaining about your inefficiency.”

“I’ll see you to the door first,” Nakul interjected, hurrying after the retreating figure.

Maan groaned slightly and opened his eyes. Wincing at the blinding light, he half-closed them before any further damage could be done to his pounding head. He took a deep breath and forced himself to open them once more and looked around. He was back home. Glancing around carefully, not wanting to increase the pain in his head, he realized that he was in the living room.

The living room? They’d just abandoned him in the living room? He squinted at the clock. They had left him on the couch at 3:00 in the morning? Muttering to himself about getting that lazy Nakul, he staggered upright and began the long trek to his room. It was times like this that he regretted the fact that they had such a big house.

Closing his eyes for a moment to gain relief from those damned lights, he cursed softly when he bumped into something. Who had dared to put this . . . he opened his eyes, this wall in his way?

Why had he gotten drunk again? It was a never a pleasant thing, and he always ended up embarrassing himself in some way. At least, this time no one was around to witness his behavior. Shaking his head, he backed up carefully and walked around the offensive thing. That motion caused his head to spin alarmingly. And he was back against the wall, clinging to it as the world gently spun around him.

“Damn Nakul, leaving me on the couch like that,” he muttered once more. “He couldn’t help me to bed?” Moving carefully once more, he let go of the wall and began to walk down the hallway.

After moving about 20 paces, he stopped once more, cursing softly to himself. Glancing back over one shoulder, he balefully glared at his own bedroom door. Stumbling back to it, he placed a hand heavily on the doorknob.

“Sir! You can’t go in there,” a voice called out frantically from the end of the hallway.

Maan turned around and glared at the offender. “Shh,” he said, holding an unsteady finger to his lips. “Dadi Ma is sleeping. What are you doing here now? I found my room. I don’t need your help anymore.”

“But sir, you can’t go in there right now,” Nakul protested, ignoring the other question for now. “It’s being . . .”

“It’s my room, isn’t it?” Maan demanded.

“Yes, but, you don’t understand.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Maan growled. “It’s the middle of the night. Go to sleep and leave me to mine.” No sooner had the words left his mouth, he opened the door and slid inside. Ignoring the muttered protests of his employee, he resolutely closed the door behind him.

He frowned. It was dark inside. He turned the lights on, leaving them at a low setting so they wouldn’t hurt his eyes. Moving around in the dim room, he realized that someone had left the air conditioning on. Whilst muttering to himself about the inefficiency of the staff, he turned and stumbled to the bathroom door. Trying the knob, he realized that it was locked.

He paused, staring in shock at the knob. Now, even the bathroom door was acting like this? He tried again, with the same result.

Shrugging his shoulders, he walked to the bed. Standing at the foot of it, he took off his shirt. Letting it slip from his shoulders, he went to work on his pants and let them fall to his feet. Stepping out of them, he finally focused on the bed. They hadn’t even made his bed in the last three days?

Glaring at the disorder, it took him some time to see the small foot sticking out from under the covers. Staring carefully, he realized that it was Rahul’s foot. Tucking that small foot lovingly back under the covers, he made his way to the other side of the bed. Pulling the covers over himself, he closed his eyes, allowing himself the rest.

Rahul was back to trusting him. Dadi Ma was alright. He knew that because Nakul would not have left him on that couch if anything had been seriously wrong with his grandmother. That was all he needed to know for now.

The lights went out suddenly, and he felt the bed shake violently. He put out a hand to sleepily pat Rahul’s back. The boy calmed down immediately.

He exhaled heavily, letting go of all his tension. All was right with his world.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maan woke to the gentle tugging of . . . something. His arms were wrapped around a slender, warm body. A slender, wriggling body. It was a body that did not belong in his bed.

His eyes popped open in shock. He saw her lying next to him, her wide eyes pinned on him. She opened her mouth and squawked suddenly, making him jump. She slapped a trembling hand over her mouth.

He narrowed his eyes, incredulous at the woman’s temerity. She got up and moved away slightly, putting distance between them.

“What are you doing in my bed, Miss Handa?” he asked angrily.

He heard a soft “oh.” Turning his head, his gaze landed on his little boy, who had come scrambling to sit by Geet’s side.

A big smile played on Rahul’s lips, as he squealed happily, “Daddy, you’re home.” Pausing for a moment, he blurted out, “Did you sleep with us all night?”

Maan sat up brusquely, a frown growing on his face. His narrowed gaze remained on the woman sitting in front of him. She scooted back nervously, one hand pulling up the blanket to her neck. Her mouth dropped open and she squeaked before closing her lips once more. Throwing out a hand, she pointed at him before using that hand to cover her own eyes.

“Daddy,” Rahul suddenly said in an intrigued tone, “You slept in your underwear?”

Maan looked down at himself and realized that his boxers were visible. Clearing his throat, he grabbed the blanket and tugged it up to his chest.

“See, Geet Didi, I told you it would be okay,” Rahul said, tugging at Geet’s part of the blanket. Geet held on tightly, her knuckles whitening from the strength of her hold.

There was a quick knock on the door. “Maan, are you up yet? We need to get to the meeting site before 10:00 A.M.”

Geet turned her head to the door, and a beautiful woman standing at the doorway caught her eyes. The woman’s eyes widened at the tableau she had interrupted.

She smiled at them. “Oops, I hope I’m not interrupting anything. Seems like you’ve been busy since I left you here last night, Maan,” she said to the silent man.

Maan’s face grew stormy and a frown appeared on his face.

“You’re back,” Rahul suddenly shrieked, jumping out of bed to race toward the woman. She caught him close and hugged him to her.

Geet sat there, staring at her charge happily interacting with this other woman, and felt a little abandoned.

Planting a swift kiss on Rahul’s forehead, she looked at the couple still sitting on the bed. “I’ll leave you two to finish this,” she stated, before taking Rahul by the hand and leaving.

Maan and Geet sat alone in the bedroom. Geet looked everywhere, but at him, unsure of how to break the awkward silence that had fallen between them. What could she say when she didn’t even know how all of this had happened.

“You . . .,” he began in a hard tone, gazing at her. He tried not to be mesmerized by her beauty. It was the first time that he had seen her with her hair flowing free. He wanted to sink his fingers into those silky waves, but he knew he couldn’t. Clenching his fingers into a fist, he forced himself to focus.

Why was she in his bed? What had she been thinking with Rahul there? His anger began to grow. Had she tried to seduce him? Had he made another mistake? Underlying that anger, there was disappointment, because a part of him had begun to believe in her. A part of him had completely trusted this woman.

She began to move away, as soon as he began to speak. She was afraid of what he might say, and she still had no explanation for why she had awakened in his arms. She scooted back further and further, until there the bed was no longer beneath her. She shrieked loudly, trying to save herself. But it was too late. She was already falling.

“Geet!” he shouted, reaching out and grabbing her arm. His strong grip saved her from falling, but landed her right back in his arms. She crashed into him, knocking the breath out of her at the contact. Her lips pressed against his shoulders, and for a moment, she was utterly surrounded by him, helpless against the tide of emotions his warmth had evoked.

She sniffed and stiffened. She roughly pulled back, and stared at him. “Have you been drinking?” she barked at him, waving a hand in front of her nose. She moved back a little more, and asked, “How could you just be drinking like that?” She waved an admonitory finger in front of his face, utterly disappointed by his behavior. “You have a small child in the house to take care of!” She had really expected better from her Maan Sir.

“What are you doing in my bed?” Maan asked through gritted teeth. Pushing the finger away from his face, he awaited an answer.

“I was here first,” Geet muttered. “What gives you the right to come in and then blame me for us sleeping together.” Her eyes widened. “Sleeping in the same bed! I meant sleeping in the same bed.” She was breathing heavily, her fingers twisting the blanket in her agitation.

He moved toward her once more.

Her eyes widened, and Geet jumped back, this time carefully.

He followed, his gaze intent on her.

Geet backed up, trying to keep her distance from his almost naked form. Their dance continued until she was against his bedroom wall.

He moved closer and closer, until he was only inches away. His hands came up to cage her in. “Now, let’s talk about what you were thinking when you slipped into my bed.”

Geet looked around frantically, seeking escape. There was none. She brought the blanket up between them once more.

“Rahul wanted to have a sleepover in your room,” Geet said, staring up at him. She paused for a moment, losing herself in his gaze.

“And?” he demanded, when she remained silent.

“I said we’d do the slumber party in his bedroom, but he insisted on your bed. He said that you let him sleep here all the time and that he missed you. I had to agree. You said that I should take care of him. Well, last night taking care of him meant that I let him have a slumber party in your bedroom. We watched a movie,” she said, pointing to the pile of DVDs. “We ate popcorn, and then we slept,” she complete with a shrug. “We were in that bed all night. How could you miss seeing me?” she demanded, getting angry at the fact that he was blaming her for something that wasn’t even her fault! “How drunk were you that you missed a grown woman in your bed?” she asked, poking at him with one pointy finger. “Huh?” she growled at him, poking at him once more.

He grabbed the finger before it could do further damage. Unconsciously, his fingers intertwined with hers and held them still in his grip. “You weren’t in the bed. I wasn’t that out of it,” he argued back.

“I was in there all night,” Geet insisted. “Except for when I went to the bathroom.”

He paused for a moment, flashes of last night coming to his mind. He’d been trying to get into the bathroom and failing to open it. He hadn’t cared enough to figure out why. Gazing into her worried eyes, he lost track for a moment. His eyes moved over her flushed cheeks, and his fingers itched to move the hair away from her face. As he tightened his hands, attempting to fight that urge, he realized that he held her soft hand in his.

Turning his eyes away, he forced himself to concentrate. It took that moment to tell himself that he needed to let go of that hand and back away. He carefully let it go, and moved away from her intoxicating presence. But he couldn’t control his gaze, which flew back to her immediately.

“That’s why the lights were on. And I tripped over your pants last night,” Geet murmured, gazing at the pile of clothes on the floor. “You were already in that bed when I came back from the bathroom. I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she said after a pause. She gazed at him helplessly, silently entreating him to understand. “There’s no way that I would ever . . .,” her voice trailed off.

He nodded shortly, forcing himself to look away from her mesmerizing eyes. As he finally began to pay attention to other things around him, he realized that he was standing in front of this woman in his boxers. He cursed softly, realizing that he had forgotten he’d been only in boxers. Swiveling his eyes back to her and her flushed cheeks, he realized that she hadn’t.

“We will not talk of this. Let’s forget it ever happened,” he declared. “It was a simple mistake.” Saying that, he turned and strode to the bathroom.

Geet followed his retreating form with her eyes, her gaze moving slowly over his powerful physique. He should’ve looked foolish, but her crazy heart refused to believe him anything but the epitome of manliness.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Rahul, no running!” Geet called out, following the energetic boy to the breakfast table. Dadi Ma and Maan were already there and eating.

Geet’s steps slowed when she saw the same woman from this morning sitting next to him. She had a gorgeous face and a sophisticated style. She made Geet feel gauche and awkward. Her eyes widened when that woman’s hand came to rest on Maan’s arm, almost caressing him. She began to breathe heavily, her lips forming an unconscious frown. Sitting down beside Rahul, she stared at the two at the other end of the table. They seemed to be whispering sweet nothings to each other.

Who is she?’ she thought to herself, disheartened by how close they seemed to each other.

“Geet beta,” Dadi Ma’s voice finally penetrated the haze of Geet’s preoccupation. “I was thinking that we should have a birthday party.”

“Whose birthday is it?” Geet asked in surprise.

“Rahul beta is turning six in three days,” Dadi Ma said with a huge smile to Rahul. “I think we should be celebrating that momentous occasion, don’t you?”

“But Dadi Ma, are you sure?” Maan asked in worry, interrupting the two. “You just had an attack. And I don’t want you stressing yourself. I’m sure that Rahul would understand.” Rahul nodded at that, wanting to make his father happy.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Dadi Ma stated implacably. “Nakul and the staff will be doing all the work.”

“But the organization is a headache, too,” Maan protested.

“I have Geet for that. You’ll help with that, won’t you, beta?” she asked, turning to Geet.

Geet nodded quickly. “I’d be happy to help.” Geet glanced over at Maan and caught the gaze of the beautiful woman at his side.

“Hello, we haven’t met yet,” she said, standing up and coming to Geet’s side. “I’m Maan’s personal assistant. Have been so for longer than I would care to remember,” she said dryly, throwing a mocking glance in Maan’s direction.

“Oh, but . . . ,” Geet began in confusion. Hadn’t she been applying for that job almost two months ago?

“I took some personal leave for a while,” the woman explained, understanding Geet’s confusion to a certain extent. “Adi had to take over my duties, as well. And believe me, I’m the only one who should be dealing with Maan so closely on a daily basis.” She stuck out her hand, flashing a brilliant smile. “My name is Parineeta Singhania. But please, call me Pari.”

The two shook hands.

“Hi,” Geet said softly. “My name is Geet Handa.” Tugging at the hand she still held, she brought Pari close. “Please, don’t misunderstand what you saw this morning,” she whispered into the other woman’s ears.

Pari threw back her head and laughed. She shook her head when she saw the hurt in Geet’s eyes. “Don’t worry,” she quickly said. “Maan explained everything. He would never let something like that rest and hurt another’s reputation.” She gazed at Geet for a moment, clearly pondering something.

Geet looked at her quizzically, wondering at the thoughtful silence.

“I hope I get to see more of you,” Pari finally stated.

Geet smiled half-heartedly, her heart sinking at the realization that this woman was a big part of Maan’s . . . Maan Sir’s life. Not that Geet had ever really hoped, but this reality was like a slap in the face. Seeing how close they were, there was no way that this could just be a platonic relationship.

Glancing at him, she caught his gaze. A flush grew on her cheeks, and she had to look away. Turning her attention to Rahul, she forced herself to focus on the task at hand. It would be a busy three days.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Geet beta, have the goody bags been prepared?” Dadi Ma asked from the sofa, where she was arranging the flowers. There was only half an hour left until the party, and there was still so much to be done. It was surprising how much it took to just plan a child’s birthday party.

“Yes, Dadi Ma. I’ve placed them in the kitchen. We can bring them out at the end of the night,” came back Geet’s harried reply.

“What about the entertainment? I know that Rahul couldn’t decide between the clown and the magician,” she asked, placing some roses in the vases.

“Not to worry. Isn’t that what the Khurana wealth is for?” she teased Dadi Ma. “I’ve booked the clown for earlier in the evening. And the magician will come in after the kids have eaten and the cake has been cut,” Geet said breathlessly, racing across the room. “No, Mukesh! Put the streamers the other way. No. Not like that. No. Here, let me do it,” she said, motioning for the man to get down.

Climbing the ladder, she craned her neck and contemplated the wall. While the rest of the decorations were done, this was the location of the cake cutting, and she wanted it to be perfect. She reached up and began to tape the streamers up exactly how she wanted them to be.

“What about the cake?” Dadi Ma asked.

“Rahul’s favorite ice cream cake has been bought,” Geet called down and moved up the ladder some more. She reached to the right to cover more blank space with the streamers, softly cursing at her short height. “We can bring it in at 6:00 P.M. That will leave us enough time for the entertainment afterward. See, this is how I want it done,” she told Mukesh. Moving down the ladder, she turned to answer another question thrown at her and felt her foot slip.

Her body was suddenly falling, and there was only air beneath her. The landing would hurt. She closed her eyes in resignation, even while futilely reaching for something to prevent the fall. But, instead of falling on the hard, unforgiving floor, she landed in someone’s arms.

“Mukesh, you have fast reflexes,” she said, smiling. She gazed up at the man, and her smile faded away. She was in her boss’s arms. As he cradled her close, she looked away, her cheeks flushing at the realization that she was back in his arms. Glancing up once more, she caught him gazing down at her with a reprimand in his eyes. She felt his chest move with every breath he took, and she struggled to hold herself away from him. This proximity could only lead to more confusion.

She began to wriggle frantically, trying to get free.

“Geet beta, are you all right?” It was Dadi Ma’s concerned voice that broke the frozen silence between the two.

Maan slowly put Geet down, his arms encircling her for a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. She stepped back, and nodded in thanks before turning away. There was no way she could speak to him right now.

“I’m fine, Dadi Ma,” she said, hyperaware of the man still standing behind her.

“Maan beta, you haven’t changed yet. The guests will be here soon,” Dadi Ma said in an admonishing tone.

“I’m going up to change right now, Dadi Ma,” he said from behind her. “Let the servants do that sort of work,” he instructed her in a low tone before turning away.

Geet whirled around to gaze at him, but found him already striding away. She smiled, and, with her eyes still trained on him, she turned to the next task on her list.

She crashed into another servant, and felt cold liquid soaking her clothes. She gasped at the cold shock, and stared in horror at her clothes. She’d already changed for the party, and had just ruined her only party dress.

“Oh, my,” Dadi Ma murmured, staring at the poor girl standing in front of her. “Geet beta, please be more careful,” she said. “What if those drinks had been in glasses? You could’ve gotten seriously hurt.”

“What do I do now?” Geet asked. “I . . . I guess I could go home and change, but that will take me more than hour. I won’t be around to help,” she murmured.

“Why go home?” Savitri Devi asked, smiling at her comfortingly. “We can find something for you.” She thought for a moment. “Don’t worry, you can wear my granddaughter’s clothes. It’s not like she will mind.”

“But, are you sure that will be okay?” Geet asked. “Won’t Maan Sir have a problem with it?”

“He won’t even know,” Dadi Ma assured her. “Go ahead to Rahul’s room. I’ll send Nakul up with the clothes.”

Geet nodded and made her way up the stairs. Fifteen minutes later she was sitting on Rahul’s bed, staring at the clothes in her hands. She already had the blouse on, but couldn’t make herself put on the rest of the outfit. Dadi Ma had sent up a sari, with an embarrassingly scanty blouse. It was scanty for a woman like Geet, who never wore such clothes.

Getting up, she moved over to the mirror and winced at her image. Holding the sari in front of her, she knew that she couldn’t wear these clothes. Gazing closely at her bare shoulders, she shuddered slightly. There was no way.

Suddenly, the world went dark. She could hear voices in the distance, but they were silenced by her own fears. She froze, unable to bear this new development. She whimpered. She was all alone in the dark here. No one to touch. No one to call for help.

It was too dark. She could handle it when she knew light was one click away, but to be completely deprived of all light? That was not something that she could ever bear again. She whimpered once more, before covering her mouth with her hand. She needed to get a hold of herself.

Her heart was beating rapidly, and she found it hard to breathe. She scurried to the corner of the room, the only corner with a window, and crouched in the moonlight. She wiped at the sweat that had appeared on her forehead, and felt tears welling up. She whimpered once more, the sound appearing around the hand covering her mouth.

“Brij veerji, open the door. Please!” Geet cried through the heavy door.

The terror grew, as the darkness closed in around her. The moonlight wasn’t enough to soothe her fears. She couldn’t breathe.

“I won’t do it again. I won’t go anywhere without your permission,” she pleaded. “Please, trust me.”

She whimpered once more. Despite trying to fight the fear growing inside of her, she couldn’t shake herself from the stupor. The horrors of the past were too strong.

“Please let me out. It’s dark in here. I can’t see anything,” this time her voice was weaker. She gathered her strength to plead once more, hoping that this time someone would hear her and set her free.

“Help me, please!” she shouted, the past and present melding until she no longer knew if her cries were all in her head or had she screamed them out loud.

“Veerji, I won’t talk back anymore. I won’t. Please let me out,” she pleaded hopelessly, knowing that her brother wouldn’t come.

She whimpered once more. She’d been locked in there for hours, hearing the rats scurrying about. She’d been scared out of her mind, but no one had come. No one had dared to defy her Veerji.

“Is anyone in here?” a masculine voice asked from the doorway. It came from the connecting doorway between Maan and Rahul’s room.

Maan.

She tried to open her mouth to speak, but no sounds would come. She tried to move, but could not do it. She was frozen in place, and her biggest fear was that he would leave her there in the dark. She whimpered once more.

“Geet?” he asked softly, coming over to the window. He gazed down at her in consternation. She sat in the moonlight, unmoving. It was dark, but he could make out the fear in her face. He leaned down and reached out a hand to shake her.

She jumped at him, wrapping her arms tightly around his body. His body stiffened at the contact, surprised by her actions.

But she didn’t care. Someone had come. He was here.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

She was safe.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 9: Blind

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maan’s hands come up instinctively to push her away. She was too close, her arms wrapped too tightly around his waist.

He had just gotten out of the shower when the lights had gone out. He’d quickly exited the bathroom after pulling on sweatpants, wanting to find out what had happened. The complete darkness had surprised him.

While looking for a flashlight, he’d heard the smothered shriek and muffled whimpers coming from Rahul’s room. Without a second thought, he’d raced to his son’s room, afraid that he would find his little boy frightened out of his mind. He’d come in expecting to find his son. He’d ended up finding Geet crouched down in a corner of the room. Her figure had been visible by the moonlight shining through the window above her head.

He shuddered slightly as her soft body molded itself to his, and a soft cheek came to settle against his chest, right above his furiously beating heart. He flushed slightly at the close contact, his body stirring at the feel of this woman in his arms.

His lips firmed in resolve. There was nothing that could happen between him and his child’s nanny. She was too important to Rahul for him to jeopardize that relationship with something that could only ever end in disappointment and bitterness like all relationships did.

A frown grew on his face, his features hardening with resolution. It was a soft sob that stilled the hands that had already curled around her shoulders in rejection. It was the way her body shook as she silently cried, that made his hands fall away in defeat. It was her wet tears, falling on his skin, which made his arms wrap hesitantly around her slim body, his fingers sliding over the naked skin of her upper back. He stilled, and then his hands quickly fell to her waist, only to encounter more bare skin. He began to pull his fingers from her waist, his fingertips burning at this unexpected contact. Ultimately, it was her soft sigh of relief that compelled him to clutch her close, his fingers now digging into that naked flesh at her lower back.

Geet’s arms tightened around him in response. As she snuggled against him, he could still feel that slight tremble of her body and hear the hiccups she couldn’t control. She still cried. He knew it because he felt those warm drops falling upon his naked skin. They seared his skin, urging him to find out what had gone wrong and make it all better for her.

Staring at her down bent head, he silently wondered what had caused this panic and fear. What had caused tears to fall from those beautiful eyes?

He shook his head impatiently, closing his eyes in quick rejection of that traitorous thought. Now was not the time to think about her beautiful eyes or her silken skin. Especially, not when the woman was in his arms!

“Geet,” he whispered, loosening his hold. “Geet?” he repeated, prompting her to say something.

“No!” Geet protested, clutching at him, her nails biting into his slick, bare back. “Not yet, please.”

One of his hands unconsciously came up to smooth the hair away from her face. His fingers gradually sank into the silky locks, reveling in how the strands seductively wound around his fingers. His hand involuntarily clenched into a fist, trapping those locks within his hold.

He stared down at her once more, his eyes trained on the side of her face that was now revealed. He could see the silvery tracks of the tears that had already fallen. This woman seemed so fragile now. She had always seemed so strong and fiery.

She was a mama bear, roaring protectively over her cub. She was the saucy woman who refused to be cowed, even after waking up in her boss’ bed and in his arms. She was the young innocent, who blushed whenever he got too close. And she was the compassionate woman that cared for his beloved grandmother.

But now, she was the one who needed care and comfort, and he was reluctant to get too close.  He bent his head slightly, placing his lips at the same level as her ear. He opened his lips, but no words escaped. What could he say to her? The words that she needed to hear wouldn’t come. He exhaled heavily, feeling her slightly shudder in his arms.

He realized that those words could never come from him. He had become too hard after the betrayals he had lived through. Raising his head, he stared out the window at the moonlit garden below. He didn’t have it in him to be gentle anymore. At least not to anyone that wasn’t Rahul or his grandmother.

The lights came on suddenly, blinding him with their brightness. He put up a hand, covering his eyes.

She froze, her body beginning to stiffen. Flinching, she let loose a shocked gasp. Her head jerked up to meet his gaze, her eyes wide with horror.

“What? . . . What are you doing?” she demanded shrilly, the color flooding her face.

“What am I doing?” he asked incredulously.

Her fingers came up to her cheeks, and she bit her bottom lip, trying to prevent it from trembling. When she saw the wet drops on his chest . . . his very naked chest, she turned an even brighter shade of red.

“No!” an angry voice cried out from the doorway.

Maan and Geet turned to see Rahul standing in the hallway, outside of the bedroom. He had a stricken look on his face.

“No, Miss Geet!” he shouted again. “You can’t have daddy! He’s my daddy. You’re not going to hug him and make him love you,” Rahul shouted, running over to Geet. His hands were clenched into fists, and he raised them suddenly, as if to hit her.

Geet fell back, shocked to the core at the hatred and fear she saw in his face.

“You weren’t supposed to be like her! You’re not here for daddy. You’re my nanny!” he yelled tearfully, lunging at her.

“Rahul, no,” Maan said forcefully, pulling the boy away quickly. “You can’t be like that,” he murmured, running a gentling hand over the little boy’s head.

Geet turned away, her heart breaking at the disgust she saw in Rahul’s eyes. Her hands shook as she reached for her dupatta, picking it up to cover herself completely. ‘What were you thinking?’ she thought to herself, half hysterically.

That was the problem, wasn’t it? She hadn’t been thinking. Her fear had washed away all the reasons why she shouldn’t go anywhere near this man. She’d hugged him! She closed her eyes in embarrassment. She’d clutched at him when he’d tried to pull away. ‘Do you have no shame?’ she berated herself silently. ‘And now you’ve hurt this little boy,’ finally understanding a little bit of what Sameera had been trying to do.

She turned to stare at Maan comforting the little boy, and wondered why it had taken her so long to realize that Sameera’s ultimate goal had always been Maan Singh Khurana. Knowing the kind of man he was, she wasn’t surprised that Sameera could have wanted him that much. But she had overstepped the bounds of decency by hurting an innocent Rahul. Seeing his reaction to this scene revealed that those old wounds were still fresh.

Just because she’d hugged Maan, didn’t mean that she’d been trying to seduce him. But, they would understand. They would. They knew that she would never do something so low as to . . . they would understand.

“I heard her, daddy,” Rahul said hysterically. “I heard her say that she would come to you and hug you. She said that you would love her and only her. She said that this was why she was here. To make you hers and to steal you away from us.” Rahul began to sob, his face turning red from the exertion.

Geet whirled around, her mouth dropping open. Moving forward, she reached out a hand to comfort the badly frightened boy.

Maan jerked his head toward her, his narrowed gaze freezing her in place.

“I . . .,” she began, flinching under his hard scrutiny. “I never . . .”

“Not now, Miss Handa,” Maan said harshly, turning his attention to the little boy. Picking Rahul up, he strode toward the connecting doors between the two rooms and walked in, slamming the door shut behind him.

“I would never do that,” Geet whispered to the empty room. “I would never dare to dream that you both could ever be my family,” she said to the two males that had stolen her heart. She sat down on Rahul’s bed, the life going out of her.

They had to understand.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The door opened suddenly, making Geet jump in surprise. She could see that he had taken the time to put on a shirt. If he had done that, he must have also taken the time to calm down, right?

Maan stepped into the room and then turned to close the door. She waited for him to turn around, but he didn’t move. She cleared her throat, and she saw him stiffen for a moment.

“Maan Sir,” she finally began, impatient to defend herself. “I have never plotted to get close to you. Rahul made a mistake. He’s suffered at Sameera’s hands, and he is afraid that I might have the same intentions. I don’t,” she said insistently at his continued silence. “I have never thought to . . .,” her voice trailed away. Could she really lie to him, when her heart still wished for so much more? “Please, believe me, there was nothing calculated in what happened here,” she beseeched him. Her gazed moved around the brightly lit room. “I’m afraid of the dark, and when you came, I saw you as a refuge. Nothing more . . . Maan Sir? Why aren’t you sa—?”

Chup. Bilkul chup,” he ordered, holding up an imperious hand. She flinched when she saw the fury on his face when he turned around and glared at her. “Rahul told me everything,” he said.

“Told you what?” she asked suspiciously, wondering why Rahul had said those things. What had he been thinking?

“Have you been planning this from the beginning, Miss Handa?” he finally said through gritted teeth, the anger growing in his face.

“I have nev—,” she began hotly.

“All those times that you just ‘accidentally’ landed in my arms . . . were they really accidents?” he continued, ignoring her interruption. Striding over, he leaned in close. “I have often wondered to myself how a girl could be so clumsy. How could someone have so much trouble walking and moving around, that they could literally trip over air and yet still conveniently land in my arms. How is that possible, Miss Handa?”

Geet’s face reddened. “It was never on purpose,” she said shortly, getting irritated by his constant insinuations. “I would never have the nerve or courage to do that.”

“Nerve? Courage? I’m sure you have more than enough to set this plan in motion. It wasn’t an accident was it?” he asked softly, his gaze trained on her.

She bit her lip, and shifted in place. “What wasn’t an accident?” she asked warily.

“You. In my bed. In my arms. You planned that whole night in my bed, hoping that I would be so overcome that I would fall at your feet and profess my love for you, didn’t you? Rahul was right, wasn’t he?”

“I would never,” she argued heatedly, her anger beginning to grow at his continued accusations. “He just made a mistake!”

“Sameera was exactly like you,” he said after a moment of silence.

Geet’s eyes widened in surprise at that revelation.

“She thought that she could seduce me, marry me and have everything she wanted in life. She came into this home with those intentions, and used my son to get closer to me.” He gripped her shoulders, bringing her face even closer to his. Glaring at her, her sneered slightly, letting his contempt show for the fake hurt that had appeared in her eyes.

“Well, she wasn’t exactly like you,” he said contemptuously. “At least she had class. Education. She was from the same world that I live in. And look at you,” he said, his gaze moving over her body. “You can’t even dress yourself properly. You are an insult to that expensive sari.”

Geet flinched at his words; each accusation was like an arrow tearing through her heart. Tears began to fall from her eyes once more, as she realized that he had no faith in her. None what so ever. Why had she expected anything more? Weren’t all men like this?

Why had she hoped that Maan Singh Khurana would be different?

“You are nothing but a scheming little virgin, who thought that one night in your arms would lure me into giving you my name and putting my wealth at your disposal,” he whispered coldly, his hand coming up to cup her cheek. “You are less than nothing to me,” he continued, shaking her once to make his point. “Don’t overstep the bounds of our employer-employee relationship, Miss Handa or I’ll fire you in a heartbeat.” His hand came back to rest on her shoulder.

There was a frozen silence in the room, as the two stared at each other. The words that he had spoken filled the air between them, hanging in the air around them. They made it hard for her to breathe. She forced herself to relax and take that badly needed breath of air. She slowly put up her arms and rested her forearms against his.

His gaze dropped to her hands, now clenched into fists. He shuddered lightly at the contact of skin against skin, but forced his body to freeze in place. He gazed into her hurt eyes once more, waiting for her to speak and defend herself.

She pushed at his forearms silently, until he was forced to let go or risk hurting her. The part of him that had begun to believe in her goodness was crushed. He could admit that to himself privately. But despite all that he had learned about her tonight, he still didn’t want to hurt her.

Having succeeded in freeing herself, she finally allowed herself to speak. “The last time I overstepped my bounds, Mr. Maan Singh Khurana,” Geet said hoarsely, forcing her voice out past the lump that had grown in her throat, “a man did this to me.”

She moved away from him. Putting some much needed space between them, she pulled off her dupatta, revealing the burn scars that she had always taken so much care to hide. They covered her upper arms and part of her chest.

Maan inhaled sharply, his eyes widening in shock.

“You have nothing to worry about, Mr. Maan Singh Khurana.” She glared at him defiantly, even as her lower lip trembled. “I would never dare to overstep my bounds.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 10: Lost I

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“What did you do?” she demanded, striding angrily into the room. The disappointment could be seen clearly on her face. She frowned slightly when he remained mute, his face turned away from her.

“Maan beta, what did you say to Geet?” she questioned, her voice gentling when he turned and she could see the confusion in his face. “She was in tears,” she said, quietly noting how he flinched at that revelation. “She tried leaving here wearing the clothes she soiled preparing for your son’s birthday party,” the accusation came despite that  momentary understanding. “If I hadn’t insisted on sending her with the driver, she would have walked home in those wet clothes! She didn’t even have her purse with her! By the time Nakul came rushing after her with her belongings, it would have been too late. So, I ask again, what did you do to that sweet girl?” She crossed her arms and glared at her grandson.

Maan moved over the fireplace, his eyes trained on the flames that burned in the hearth. He could feel the fire inside of him, burning away pieces of his soul. He clenched his hands, his jaw tightening in frustration. He was so tired and so afraid that soon there would be nothing left of that old Maan.

“Mr. Maan Singh Khurana, what do you have to say about the allegations that your father had a mistress and kids?! What do you have to say about the fact that she is demanding their share?”

The Maan he used to be before he’d found out about his father’s betrayal.

“Maan beta, what are we going to do? Your mother . . . my son . . . we’ve lost them both.”

The Maan he used to be before he had heard of his parents’ deaths.

“Bro, I can’t marry Naintara. I’m sorry.”

Before Dev had run away, leaving him to take responsibility.

“You might be dead inside, Maan bhai, but I’m not. I can’t hate everybody just because your wife betrayed you. I love Arjun. I’m going with him, bhai, even if choosing him means that I have to live without you.”

Before Annie had chosen Arjun over her family.

“I’ve always loved you, Maan, but you married that woman. I’ve waited years for you. Isn’t it our time yet?”

Before Sameera had come tearing into their lives . . . Before Vicky . . . He cut off that train of thought, warning himself to not go any further. The wounds of that defeat were still too fresh. He rubbed absentmindedly at his chest, wishing that the burning pain would go away.

“Maan beta,” Dadi Ma said insistently. “Was it because I gave her Annie’s sari to wear?” she asked suddenly, the surprise apparent in her voice. “Was that it? This whole thing was because of Annie? Beta, I know you can be stubborn, but to hurt someone like that over old memories?”

“Dadi Ma, please,” Maan said, turning to stare at his grandmother. “It has nothing to do with . . . don’t bring her up. It had nothing to do with her.”

“You can’t even say her name,” she noted sadly. Shaking her head, she inhaled and demanded, “Then why? Why was Geet crying? Why is Rahul in his room rather than at his own birthday party? Why won’t either one of you talk to me? What happened?” Her tone was steely, and Maan knew that she wouldn’t leave off unless she had some sort of answer.

“She’s just like Sameera,” he said vehemently. “She tried to seduce me when the lights went out. Rahul saw her and he’s heartbroken. That’s why he’s not at his birthday party,” he stated.

Her eyes widened in surprise. “Geet? Geet is like Sameera?” she asked incredulously, latching onto that ridiculous allegation. “Geet is a sweet, innocent woman, Maan! A woman of good morals. She is someone who has been scarred by the darkness of her past,” Dadi Ma said softly, shaking her head at his inability to see the good in the one woman who had no evil in her.

Maan sighed deeply. “We all thought that about Sameera, as well,” Maan reminded his grandmother. “She fooled all of us.”

“Not all of us,” his beloved grandmother retorted acerbically. “You were the only one.”

Maan’s eyes widened in surprise at that revelation.

“The truth is, beta, that we all saw through her gradually, but you . . . you were completely under her spell. Nothing got through to you,” she said, emphasizing the ‘nothing’ in her phrase.

“You’re saying that to me?” Maan demanded, his voice roughening with the pain that he couldn’t hide from the woman that knew him best. “When you know that I wasn’t the only one. The proof . . .” his voice trailed off.

“I don’t mean to hurt you, Maan,” she said softly, coming to stand by his side. Reaching out, she placed a loving hand against his cheek. “I saw through Sameera from the first week, but I never thought that she would do such harm to us all in such a short amount of time. If I had known, I would have asked her to leave.”

“Dadi Ma,” Maan began.

“And that is why I can say that you need to listen to me now,” she continued, ignoring him. “You didn’t listen to me last time,” she reminded him gently. “Don’t make the same mistake again.” Patting his cheek, she turned and exited the room, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

Maan stared at his grandmother’s retreating figure, wondering what he could do. He felt so helpless. He hadn’t realized, not until now when he had to grapple with the possibility of her leaving, how important she had become to him.

But the way Rahul had cried in his arms . . . his son couldn’t have lied to him. He had seen the pain and fear in those teary eyes. Beyond those first few words, Rahul had said nothing, no matter how long Maan had stayed with him. The little boy would only cling to him, remaining stubbornly silent in the face of Maan’s questions.

The hurt in Geet’s eyes was still making him squirm. What if …? No. He shook his head impatiently. Rahul wouldn’t lie to him. The boy had stopped talking to him due to Sameera’s manipulations, but he had never lied.

He wouldn’t doubt his son.

A pained look appeared on his face, as he fought his desire to believe in the woman he had come to know.

He couldn’t doubt his son.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“What did you do?” a voice demanded from the doorway.

“Get out,” Maan growled at the woman standing behind him, not bothering to look at her.

Pari strode into the room, ignoring his command. “She was so shaken, Maan,” she said, coming to stand in front of her boss. Folding her arms in front of her, she glared at him, waiting for some sort of response. “What did you say to her? What were you thinking?” she asked, when he made no effort to respond.

Maan turned and walked over to his desk. Sitting down, he began to rifle through the files in front of him. All the while, he avoided her gaze, unable to answer the questions he knew her eyes would be asking.

“That was it, wasn’t it?” Pari said, coming to sit across from him. “You weren’t thinking. You didn’t think. You just became angry and began to spout all sorts of nonsense without a second thought, didn’t you?” she demanded, smacking the table with her hand.

“I would never do that,” Maan argued halfheartedly, flinching as Geet’s pain filled eyes appeared before him once more. ‘What if I was wrong? What if Rahul misunderstood something? What if . . . ?

“That is what you do, Maan,” Pari pointed out, settling back in her chair. “How many times have you gone off on me without knowing all of the facts? And you can’t even apologize! There must be something wrong with me that I put up with it.” She gazed at him quietly, shaking her head. “What is it with you Khurana men? Once you get a thought in your head . . .” she waved her hand, pushing aside that thought.

“What exactly do you know?” Maan demanded mulishly, refusing to concede anything in the face of her censor.

“I’ve been working for you for four years, Maan Singh Khurana,” Pari remarked, looking at him steadfastly. She refused to let him look away. “From the first moment I met you, I fell under your spell. I was infatuated with you,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.

He snorted at that. “Right. Infatuated. Then why the hell are you always questioning me and criticizing me?” he demanded, leaning forward in inquiry. “Where are the respect and the adulation that are supposed to come with that infatuation?”

“The pertinent word is ‘was’, Maan,” Pari pointed out drily. “You shot me down so quickly when I came to confess my love. I understood. I’m a sensible girl. How could I expect you to love me, seeing as how you were still married at the time. Two years later, when I started working for you, that infatuation wore away pretty quickly.”

“What, that fast?” he asked mockingly. “I guess you’re just that shallow, Pari.”

“You’re just that mean, Maan Singh Khurana,” she retorted. “I still can’t believe the hoops you made me jump through to impress you with my degree and qualifications,” she said reflectively. “But when I found out what a bear you could be, and how you had this tendency to get angry at every little thing . . . it was not very conducive to keep an infatuation going, you know?” she said, smiling at him. After a moment of silence, she tilted her head at him questioningly.

He shrugged and looked away from those damn questions. Pari had been around long enough to have an idea of his inner turmoil.

“When I came back and saw you again, you had changed so much,” she said softly, after a moment’s pause. “I was so surprised to see how much you had softened. Your relationship with Rahul had gotten better. You were taking care of yourself. And you were smiling.”

“Pari, you’re my employee,” he reminded her grimly. “Do you really think that you can talk like that to me?”

“I know you a lot better than you think I do. I’ve been here, Maan, through everything. I’ve seen how you act and react. And I see you now.” She leaned forward, her eyes glinting mischievously at him.

He mimicked that motion unconsciously, leaning forward to hear what she could say.

“This birthday today, you wouldn’t have allowed anything like that a year or even six months ago. You love your son, but you hate being put on display. You said yes when Dadi Ma suggested it. You came home early when you’re the worst workaholic in the office,” she said.

Maan frowned at her impertinence. Opening his mouth, he readied to blast her for her impudence. “Yo—”

“Geet did all of that,” she said in wonder, blithely overriding his attempts to speak. “She changed you as no other woman has before. Not in a good way, at least,” she said musingly. “That woman was good for you, and you just kicked her out.” She shook her head, her lips tightening at his continued silence.

Her hands clenched into fists when she saw the mingling looks of regret and stubbornness on his face.

“You made a mistake, Maan Singh Khurana,” she said, getting up abruptly. “I just hope that you have the brains to admit it before it’s too late.” Getting up, she turned and walked to the door. Throwing him a final pitying glance, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Maan sat staring into the flames once more. He had spent the last two hours trying to convince himself that he had done the right thing. His mind refused to stop circling around the events that had occurred earlier that evening. He had come to the only conclusion that he could. The trust between him and his son was too fragile for him to break it by refusing to believe Rahul’s words. It didn’t matter whether Geet had conspired to trap him or whether she was innocent, but he could not keep her in his employment if his son did not feel safe around her.

Warily settling back in his chair, he closed his eyes on a heavy sigh. Beautiful eyes flashed across the backs of his eyelids. Her eyes. The red flush of her cheeks. His hands clenched, as if trying to hold on to her ephemeral warmth. His body tightened, as her phantom softness landed against him once more.

He forced his eyes open, a muscled twitching in his jaw. She was everywhere. How was it that in such a short amount of time, she had invaded every corner of his home? Naintara hadn’t been able to do that in the years that she had resided here. And Sameera was barely a glimmer.

There was a timid knock on the door. He frowned slightly, deciding not to answer. He wasn’t in the mood for any more lectures. It was about Nakul’s turn to appear, and the man had a tendency to sulk right in front of you and a way of silently admonishing you with his eyes that got on his nerves. If he hadn’t been Dadi Ma’s favorite retainer, Maan would have put him in his place years ago.

He remained silent, wanting whoever it was on the other side of that door to go away. But the door slowly opened, and Maan’s eyes narrowed at the temerity of that person. He took a deep breath, ready to blast whoever was going to come through.

But the worried eyes peering at him from around the door silenced him more quickly than anything else could have. He forced himself to relax, making the effort to smile for his son. “Why aren’t you in bed? It’s way past your bedtime, Rahul.”

Rahul smiled instead of replying, and made his way to his father’s side. Stopping by his chair for a moment, Rahul stared up at him before climbing into his lap. His hand latched onto Maan’s smallest finger, and he rested his head against his father’s heart, listening contemplatively to his heartbeat.

Maan wrapped an arm around Rahul, and went back to his brooding.

“I’m sorry, daddy,” he finally said.

“For what?” Maan asked, gazing at his son’s down bent head.

“I cried,” Rahul said. “And I didn’t go to my birthday party even when Dadi Ma told me to. She worked so hard on it and I spoiled it.”

“Hmm,” Maan murmured, smoothing a loving hand over Rahul’s head.

“But . . . but you were hugging Geet didi,” Rahul said petulantly. “You’re my daddy. You’re not her daddy.”

“God no!” Maan blurted out, his body clenching in quick rejection of that thought.

“But why did you have to hug her?” Rahul demanded. “She’s going to become like Sameera! I heard her daddy,” Rahul said suddenly, clutching at Maan’s shirt. “Sameera said that she would hug you, and you would love her and only her. She said that this was why she was here. To make you hers.”

Maan froze at those words. “What do you mean?” he asked, forcing himself to speak past the constriction in his throat. “You heard Sameera saying all of these things?”

“She would talk to people on the phone about you,” Rahul mumbled. “And she would laugh about it.”

“And Geet said the same thing?” Maan asked, his heart beating furiously as he waited for the answer.

Rahul looked up suddenly. “Geet didi never said that!”

“But . . . when you saw me hugging Geet, you said . . .”

“Geet didi never said that!” Rahul said hotly, defending her despite what he had seen.

“Then why?” Maan asked helplessly.

“I saw her hugging you, daddy! She’s my nanny. You’re my daddy,” he said, confused by thoughts and feelings he couldn’t seem to express to his father. “You hugged Sameera, and Sameera was mean. What if . . . why did you have to hug her, daddy? Do you . . . do you love her more than me?”

“She was afraid, Rahul,” Maan murmured heavily, affected by the confirmation of his mistake.

Rahul had been confused and hurt. He had reacted to a vision straight out of his own nightmares, and had somehow mixed that up with memories of Sameera’s machinations. The ‘her’ in his words had never been Geet. He’d hurt that innocent woman out of a fierce need to protect his child, and to protect himself from more betrayal. But was that any excuse? He hadn’t even bothered to react to the revelation of her secrets. He hadn’t showed any compassion or concern. He closed his eyes, silently cursing himself.

“Daddy?” Rahul asked worriedly, knowing that something was wrong, but unsure of what it could be.

“When you have nightmares, don’t I hug you? And Geet does the same, doesn’t she?” Maan said hoarsely, forcing himself under control

“She had a nightmare?” Rahul asked brokenly, trying to understand. “She was scared?”

“She was afraid of the dark,” Maan muttered, remembering how she had clung to him when he’d come into the room. Maan pulled Rahul close once more. “It was nothing more,” he reassured the boy, realizing, as he said the words, he was lying to himself.

“Is Geet didi mad at me? I think she’s hiding from me. I looked for her everywhere. She’s mad at me, isn’t she?” Rahul asked morosely. “I was so mean to her. I tried to hit her,” he said in a horrified tone of voice.

“She went home,” Maan said in reply.

Rahul’s shoulders slumped in disappointment.

“Why don’t we go and find out if she’s mad at you?” Maan suggested.

“Right now?” Rahul asked in surprise.

“Right now,” Maan said resolutely, not bothering to fight against the sudden urge to go to her. He didn’t question the relief that was bubbling up inside of him.

He got up and strode to the door, Rahul still in his arms. Father and son made their way to Maan’s car, stopping only long enough to make a quick explanation to Dadi Ma and to put on their jackets. Half an hour later the two were in front of Geet’s door. Grasping Rahul’s hand, Maan strode up the stairs, ready to knock on her door. To apologize for his mistake. To beg, if necessary.

Maan took a deep breath, and realized, with surprise, that his hands were shaking.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

10 thoughts on “FFY 06 – 10

  1. Those are really harsh words from Maan and Rahul but I can’t blame them since they’ve been through this before. How did Geet get the burn? I’m totally hooked! Looking forward to your update. Thanks.

  2. Really loving this story. When din Maan Sir get home? How come he didnt notice them in the bed? Can’t wait…thanks for the update!

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