Joined: 05 February 2009
Set in Manhattan.
Park Avenue Apartment-12C
Tenant: Riddhima Gupta, The proverbial girl-next-door
Scandal: Will she marry for Money?
Millionaire media mogul Armaan Mallik had 1 week to find a wife?.or lose his empire. But none of his current Manhattan flings met his father's stringent standards.Then Armaan noticed the innocent house sitter next door.. In tortoiseshell glasses and loose t-shirts, Riddhima Gupta surely had no skeletons in her closet. But how would she feel about?marital duties, so vital to a virile man like Armaan? Armaan had the money and the charm to convince her, but he had never spoken a word to Riddhima?. How was he going to ask, "Will you marry me?"
Both Have their reasons but to bring them to the forefront was ........BIG.
So will they make it to the altar...
They definitely will.............
The story has no Indian Connections. It's about 2 people born and brought up in Manhattan.
...wire one million dollars into an untraceable offshore bank account?.or else your past indiscretions will be exposed?
In the centre of his steel and suede office. Armaan Mallik leaned forwaed in his chair and tossed the letter into the trash bin. He felt no anger, no concern, just a desire to get back to work. He was no stranger to threats-e-mailed, snail mailed or otherwise. He'd received them from his father; from recently fired and subsequently pissed-off employees of his family's media empire, AMS; from women , past lovers who had refused to accept the end of a relationship.
The threats were irritating,yes. But impactful?
The thirty-one-year old media mogul knew who he was and what he wanted-in business and in life-and no amount of outside influence was going to change that.
Armaan signed a stack of contracts as outside the floor-to-ceiling windows to his left, the sun crept up the horizon bringing with it a hot new august day and an office building buzzing with activity.
"Good Morning Mr. Mallik"
Armaan's door was open, as it usually was before 7:00 a.m. He nodded at one of his new young executives as she passed by, a pretty and brilliant redhead who had just graduated New York University the previous year.
Armaan went back to work. She was pretty but he never dipped his pen into the company ink pot, not to mention the fact that she was way too young.
Armaan grinned.He loved women.He loved the way they laughed,smelled,moved-each so different , yet so similar in their belief that she was going to be The One.He had an ultrastrict dating code: four weeks max then all ties cut.
Armaan moved on to his computer and the must-see lineup for the following year.He was no insensitive ass when it came to his view of relationships.He merely followed a rule of order?..and maybe, if Armaan was forced to admit it, a way for him to have his cake and his ice-cream and his steak and his candy and eat it too-without getting a raging headache afterwards .
A relationship headache that would keep him from his one and only desire-his ascent to president of AMS when his father retired.
Now, much to Armaan's chagrin, his father subscribed to a very different view on the matter of relationships.According to Sudhir Mallik, a wife and children stabilised a man, made him stronger.A family man was respected by his peers and competitors. In the man's 1950'sview of things, a wife took care of the details and let the husband focus on the real issues.
A warning was very convieniently slipped in to his mind that Sudhir might decide not to step down as head of AMS until Armaan was settled into matrimonial bliss.
Or matrimonial hell, Armaan mused darkly.
Something as likely to happen, he mused, as uber-bachelor Armaan Mallik taking a bride anytime soon.
It was Sunday brunch in the Big Apple. A sacred event for all Manhattanites, who worked sixty-hour work-weeks and used Sunday midmornings to continue to decompress before they started again on Monday.
NormallyRiddhima Gupta celebrated brunch with her friends with all kinds of delacacies and if possible, booze. Unfortunately she had been too tired. Hell, she'd barely had enough time to stick her long, brown hair up in a ponytail. And forget about contacts. It was glasses allthe way today.
After a late night working on a few sketches of a logo concept for a graphic design job she was trying to land, she'd been woken up by one of "Armaan's Troops".
Armaan being Armaan, the dark haired, blue eyed, dimple cheeked tall drink of water who lived in the apartment next door, a man who had constant guests of female variety coming and going at all hours of the night. These were his "Troops". This name was given by Muskaan, one of Riddhima's 2 best friends, the other being Nikki.
The problem was that some of Armaan's lady friends hadn't learnt how to read yet and were mixing up Riddhima's pad, 12B with Armaan's 12C.
And last night around 1:00 a.m. another of Armaan's size zero glamazons, complete with red hair and plump lips, had come knocking.
Since she was thinking about her friends, she thought, how both of them couldn't have been more different from herself. Muskaan and Nikki , both were blue bloods, both graduates of the chichiIvy League school vassar, both impeccable dressers.
And then there was plain old Riddhima with her green eyes and mop of dark hair, her big breasts, curvy hips and a very anti-high-fashion tie-dye hippie dress. She was okay,cut maybe, but nothin like her her stunning friends.And she was fine with that. She was who she was.
A fine day. She opened the door and something was there on the door.She bent and picked it up and saw that it was a copy of The New York Post.She shook her head since she was a Times Girl.
Then calamity struck. Mr.Mallik. She yet again shook her head. "Unbelievable. Not only do I have to redirect his women, but I have to deliver his paper.I'm so ready to rumble. Grr." She said aloud as she walked down the Hall towards 12C.
Armaan had just laced up a pair of running shoes and was checking out the high octane playlist he had downloaded on his iPod yesterday when there was a knock at his door.
"Just a sec," he called, walking into the hall, distracted by the strange and unwelcome addition of Yani to his iTunes playlist.
When he swung the door wide, he saw a petite woman in her midtwenties standing there. She was wearing a tie-dyed dress with the same colour grass green as her eyes, which incidentally were vieled behind a pair of tortoiseshell glasses. Her long brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her full lips were set in a pissed off line. She was cute, curvy and he had seen her in her building before.
"Hello" he said.
"Hi", she said , without even a hint of a smile.
"I know you," he said, cocking his head to one side as if that would help him place her. It didn't. "How do I know you?"
She rolled her eyes, shook her head, then thrust the New York Post at him. "Here you go."
She didn't say much but there was something about her.Maybe it was the way her lips moved.He could watch that for a while.He took the paper from her.
"Are you the paperboy?"
"Good, becoz it's 2 o clock in the afternoon and if you were the paperboy I'd have to fire you for being so late."
"That's not very nice."
"No, but I'm not very nice."
"Good to know"
"You live in the building?"
This question made her smile. Not a happy smile, but a knowing, almost irritated one."Down the Hall, actually."
Oh, yeah."Right". He grinned. "So, why was my paper delivered to you?"
"Habit, most likely", she said drily, those pink plump lips remaining parted as if she were going to say something more.
When she didn't, he repeated, "Habit?"
"Your paper is not the only thing that gets lost by way on my door, Mr.Mallik."
Mr.Mallik. That was not good. No women, except the ones who worked for him called him Mr.Mallik.He racked his brain trying to recall a reason this particular woman might have for disliking him. It took him a moment but then it dawned on him. His female guests, late nights??wrong apartments.He leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest. "12 B, right?"
She nodded."In the flesh"
Heat stirred inside him at her words. Hell, he was male after all. Women with fire, women who didn't like him, women who were totally and completely unaffected by him were few and far between. Not his type, but he'd definitely have to see her again.
"Thank you for the paper,"he said "And I apologize for the frequent late-night intrusions.I meant to come and apologize in person."
"Sure you did."
"I've just been busy."
"We're all busy, Mr.Mallik."
"Ofcourse.And again, I apologize. I'll make sure my guests know exactly where to go from now on. But if not, please don't hesitate to stop by again and give me another kick in the----"
"You think this is funny," she said curtly.
He dropped the easy, lighthearted air. "No"
"Yes, you do."
"I assure you that I do not think being woken up in the middle of the night is funny," he said in all seriousness.
She lifted her chin."Good"
"Unless it's for a very, very good reason."
Her eyes narrowed and she looked ready to pop him in the stomach. "I expect you to take care of this problem immediately, tonight."
"I don't have a date tonight"
She exhaled loudly. "Maybe you supply your guests with a map." She paused, then said with barely hidden sarcasm, "Or maybe not. They always seem a little flustered with directions!."
He liked this woman. Liked her a lot. Maybe he needed to widen his scope of women.
She nodded. " I actually had to walk one of them to your door."
He grinned. "What can I say? Smart girls don't go for guys like me."
She sniffed, looked away. "Yeah, right," she muttered under her breath.
"Excuse me?" he said, even though he had heard her. Hell, any excuse to watch those lips move.
"Nothing. I've gotta go." She gave him a wave which sort of resembled a military salut, before taking off down the hall.
"Thanks again" he called after her.
She glanced back. "I'd say anytime, but I'd be lying."
He chuckled. "Hey. Wait a second."
"If I see you in the hall or in the elevator?.."
"Yes?" She arched her eyebrows.
"Can I call you 12B?"
This time she smiled, a real smile, a playful smile. " Not if you expect me to answer."
His mouth turned up at the corners." What is your name?"
"You're a smart girl, Riddhima Gupta?"
Again, the smile. "I'm afraid so."
Armaan watched her walk back to her door, her round, firm backside swaying from side to side as she moved. Part girl, part woman. Very nice. She was pretty, sexy in her way?but definitely not his usual fare. He had'nt been lying when he had said that smart girls did not go for him. It was'nt that he did'nt love smart women or love to be challenged by them, but right now he had all the challenge he could handle at work.
For now, he wanted uncomplicated and simple.
He walked back into the apartment, dropped onto the couch and opened the paper, completely forgetting about the run he had just been amping up for before Little Miss Next Door had shown up.
He flipped through the paper. News first, then sports. Damn Yankees and hiding injuries. Loses credibility , loses Respect.
Disgusted and pissed off at his favorite baseball team, Armaan turned the page ---and got an eyeful.
"Shit," he muttered
Large and loud photos of himself and Anjali, the woman Armaan had dated a handful of times?the woman who had jumped off the roof of his apartment building over a month ago?stared out at him from the Entertainment section of the paper.
The headline read:Suicide Victim Canoodling With AMS Playboy Right Before Her Death?
Armaan tossed the paper aside and grabbed his BlackBerry off the glass coffee table.As expected, his inbox was filled with requests for interview.
Ten minutes later, his phone rang but it was a totally different kind of interview request.
"Mr.Mallik, we'd like you to come down to the station and answer a few questions."
From age 14 to 17 , Armaan Mallik had run with a questionable crowd. Perhaps it was the sheltered, yet pampered life he'd lived with 2 absent parents, a pressure cooker of a prep school, and 1 overly protective nanny, but when puberty set in, he found himself battling a magnetlike attraction to trouble.
He hung out with the boys from town, proving his antimoney, antiestablishment claims by drinking too much, knocking down mailboxes and hot wiring cars.It wasn't long before he found his way to the cold, unfriendly walls of the police station.And obviously Sudhir Mallik was not fond of seeing the Police Station.
But, now he sported no fear and had nothing to hide. He had however brought his attorney, Abhimanyu.
Armaan was confident, not stupid.
"Thank You for coming, Mr.Mallik."
"Of course."He said it politely even though it was a pain in the ass to be in a police station on a Sunday Afternoon.
The questions came on him, emotion free and quick.
"Did you post your pictures yourself?"
"Did you date Anjali?"
"A few times."
"Could you be more specific?"
Armaan paused. "Two times."
"Why did it end?"
"It never started."
"Why? She wasn't into you?"
"We weren't into each other."
"Have you received any threats lately? Threats, E-mails or Letters?"
Abhimanyu looked up from his BlackBerry. "What? I was never informed?"
Armaan continued quickly. "I got a letter."
The officer probed. "What did it say?"
"Not a clue. I threw it."
"What do you think now?"
"I think someone out there really wants me to sit here and talk yo you about Anjali's murder."
The detective got up and left the room. Armaan narrowed his eyes at the door. What the hell had the letter said? In the meanwhile, his cellphone rang.
"What a fine position you've put us in, Armaan"
His Father. Armaan turned around and glared at Abhimanyu who just lifted his brows before returning his attention to his BlackBerry. Clearly, Armaan had to hire his own counsel here on out.
Armaan released a breath. "Hello, Sudhir" He hadn't called him Father in over 15 years and He certainly had never used the word dad ever.
"I had assumed that phone calls to jails were over."
"I'm not in custody.I'm here to answer questions."
"About the woman you were seeing."
"The woman I dated a few times." Armaan said with mild irritation.The convo went on for a few minutes until the old man mentioned the words- "A Wedding"
Armaan remained silent.
Sudhir paused, then said tightly, "Annonce your engagement by midnight tomorrow and I will annonce your new position to the media. Ignore my desires and I'll take that as a verbal resignation."
Fury coursed through Armaan's veins and he, much to his relief, saw the detective coming back."I'm hanging up now."
"One more thing, Armaan, the woman you choose cannot be your usual fare. Permanently tanned bottoms and jiggly implants are fine for play but we are talking about a life partner here---"
Armaan cut him off and said before hanging up "You are talking about one. I haven't started yet."
The detective stared at him without blinking "How bad were you as a kid, Mr.Mallik?"
"Not that bad.But I gave it my best effort."
Armaan's easy comeback garnered a half-ass smile from the detective and a nod.Then he dropped his gaze.
"What you have to do now is to tell me whatever you remember of the threat letter that was sent to you and I would let you go."
It was close to five that evening when Riddhima hailed a cab and tossed out her mother's TriBeCa address.She had tried hundred times to get her mother to move in with her but Padma Gupta would hear none of it. Padma would get too agitated if she was away from her things for too long. Riddhima was not about to force the issue of moving.
The solution was to make her mother as comfortable as possible as she battled through her disease.As she entered her mother's apartment with her key, she saw the artwork done by her mother on the walls. It ranged from bold to simple, and covered nearly every inch. Art was the reason they had moved to the city. Well, one of the reasons??.
Riddhima saw her mother in her room and went to sit beside her on the bed. Tucked under a bright red comforter, Padma looked very unhealthy.
Padma stared at her, her bright hazel eyes searching.
"You look like my daughter."
"I am your daughter."
"What's your name?"
"I'll get you something to drink. Be right back."
The first time Padma had said "You look like my daughter.", Riddhima had escaped into her bathroom and after several quick breaths had vomited into the sink. It was something a daughter was never supposed to hear from her mother.
Fortunately, not every day was a bad day. Some days were wow when Padma remembered Riddhima perfectly.Those were gold star, blue ribbon days.
"Here you go." Riddhima said as she gave Padma iced tea.
"I don't want that."
"You love iced tea."
The next few hours flew by with Padma forgetting who Riddhima was exactly 12 times.
It was close to 9 when Armaan steeped into his building's elevator, his coat slick with rain. He'd left the police station a few hours ago but instead of heading back home, he'd gone for a quick dinner.
As the doorwas about to close, someone stuck an umbrella between the metal doors causing them to stutter, stop and reopen.
Armaan nodded at the woman who walked into the elevator. "Hey 12B"
When the pretty brunette lifted her head, saw who was addressing her, she rolled her lips under her teeth, giving him a really half-assed smile in return. "Hey"
"Got caught in the storm?"
"Definitely" was the sharp reply.
Armaan watched her as she tried to dry her long dark hair with a tissue from her purse.She was no flashy, in-your-face beauty but with her pouty lips, small, curvaceous body and don't-mess-with-me attitude she had this thing, this quality about her that made Armaan want to pull her into his arms, drop his head and kiss her. Kiss her until she forgot the reason which was making her act so pissed off.
Maybe a good, solid kiss would make him forget about his afternoon, too.He leaned against the wall of the elevator and attempted to curb some of the irritation he felt coming from her.
She looked over at him, confused, "For what?"
"The 12B thing, when you got in the elevator. I was just playing around."
"It's fine. I'm just having a hard time with people forgetting my name today."
"No. Just personal."
Personal, huh? He shifted against the wall. But not a guy''Why did that fact interest him so much?
"Well, I was just trying to inject humour into a humourless day."
"Bad day for you, too?"
Riddhima tried not to stare at him in an obvious way but it was'nt an easy trick.Armaan had also been caught in the rain but he looked amazing, even better than he had earlier in the day, when she had gone to drop the paper.How was that possible? How come she looked like something the cat threw up and he looked like the cover of Men's Health?
She fought the urge to ask him about his crappy afternoon, swap sad stories.After all, she hardly knew the guy. Odds were that Armaan's issues were about as deep as some hot blonde who stood him up!
When the elevator doors finally opened, Riddhima gave Armaan a tiny wave and walked towards her apartment. She knew he was behind her; she could feel him.
She was finally at her door.Thank God.
Again she gave Armaan a wave. "Night"
"Wait a sec"
Stupidly, she turned around. The doorknob pressed into the small of her back. "What?"
"I don't know. Maybe we could talk or something."
"I'm not in the mood to talk."
"We could go out. What are you in the mood for?"
She sighed. "Listen, I don't mean to be rude but I have a night planned'a lava-hot shower, then an entire loaf of pound cake. And if I don't feel ill by then, a bag of those fire-hot cheetos that turn your fingers red."
He smiled, and his dimples showed. "Wow"
"Yeah, I am wow. I'm also tired and wet and'"
She sighed again. "And nothing. I'll see you, Armaan."
He caught her hand. Riddhima stopped, stilled, listened to the sound of her heartbeat as it pounded against the walls of her chest. If his hand felt so good, then'
She never got to finish the thought. Armaan turned her around and pulled her towards him. His arms wents around her waist. She held her breath as she watched his head drop, felt his hair brush the side of her face, the stubble on his chin against her cheek.
She did'nt move as she wanted to know what he wanted to do next. He brushed her wet hair aside with his face and kissed that spot between her shoulder and neck. A soft, tame kiss but for Riddhima it was as though that spot were a dam, holding back every ounce of passion she'd been storing up. And when his mouth connected with thatspot, the dam broke and the flood of feeling was unstoppable. She closed her eyes and tipped her chin up, welcomed his mouth on hers.
No one led the kiss.Each had their own style and each gave in to whatever the other wanted.Armaan liked to nip at her lower lip then suckle it before kissing her deeply. Riddhima loved the playful feeling of his tongue in her mouth, just those soft, playful swipes against her lips, teeth, tongur, as her hands played in his hair.
She said quickly and without thought, "Do you want to come inside?"
He nodded. "Yes"
Then he said, "I cant"
His words made her freeze, her heart drop into her throat. She swallowed painfully and looked up at him.
His jaw looked tight, as if he was really pissed ut was trying to hold it in.
"I have to go."
"I have to go. Now."
She just stared at him, calling herself an idiot. A total masochistic idiot.What the hell had she expected from this guy? "Then please go.", she said caustically. She turned around and muttered the word jerk as she stalked into her apartment.
Riddhima was no drama queen, but on this night, she actually slammed the door. Then she proceeded to bolt it, turn her back on it and lean against it.
Yes, she'd been a fool. But she was'nt going to dwell. Not at all!
Then came a knock on the door, and her gut clenched and twisted.She opened the door and stared expectantly at the man on the other side of the threshold.
"Please tell me you're not back for more?" she said, her tone dripping with sarcasm as she tried not to acknowledge the horrific realisation that if her body had a brain of it's own it would walk straight for Armaan Mallik and lock lips with him right now.
"I'm such an ass."
For 1 brief second she thought of slamming the door in his face, but she was a New-Yorker. Arguing and sarcastic potshots that masked sexual attraction was much more her style. She sighed. "Add a 'hole' onto that word and you've got it just about right."
Her anger slipped just a notch and she nodded. "Apology accepted."
"Can I make it upto you?"
"Thanks, but I have everything I need."
"Pound cake and Cheetos?"
Pause. Rewind. Stop. Play. "That sounded really pathetic when you said it."
He took her hand then, and her legs threatened to buckle. His eyes were serious as he said, "I like you. Enough to stop things from going to far in the hallway of our apartment building." When she grinned, he followed, "Ther's something about you that fires me up, Riddhima Gupta, and not just in the sex department. I want to see you again."
"What do you have in mind?"
"Go out with me"
Her brows lifted. "A date?"
"Seven thirty." Not a question.
Riddhima attempted to toss in a little cold water sanity. "I hate to say it, but I'm not your type, Armaan."
He grinned widely. "Maybe you are. Maybe it's about time that smart and beautiflul was my type."
Well, then, Riddhima mused. Sanity could go take a hike!
She smile. "All right. Can we meet somewhere?"
"Sure. How about The Lexington Church?"
Her brows lifted. "A church?"
He paused for a moment and then looked slightly sheepish. "There's something I need to tell you."
Oh God. What now? "You're a priest."
He grinned. "No"
"No", she muttered. I didn't think so."
"It's actually something I need to ask you."
All of a sudden it felt as though a bag of bugs had been released under her shirt'a sensation that usually indicated that it would be a good time to run the other way.
"Riddhima 12B Gupta?"
"This is going to sound completely insane."
"Not the best way to begin a question."
He dropped to one knee in front of her. "I've only known you for a day."
"Not much better, Armaan."
"But I think you're the one."
The one? Twilight Zone music began to play in her head.
He grinned, flashing those damn dimples. "Will you marry me?"
Stunned wasn't the word for it.
Freaked out did'nt quite cut it either.
Maybe massively pissed of'..?
It was like 8th grade all over again and Mr.Popular Hunk, had just brought an excited Riddhima to the homecoming football game, where he proceeded to hold her hand, kiss her with too much tongue and parade her infront of all his friends. But not because he liked her. He was looking to mess with her which he did by smashing chewed tobacco in her hair.
The feeling of that moment would live in her forever. Total foolishness, totally duped.
She tried to keep her voice even as she spoke to Armaan . "I've been out of junior high a long time now and I'm not into jock games."
He stood up. "What?"
"You NEED to go home now."
"I know this sounds'"
"I'm going inside." She turned and tried to close the door but Armaan stopped her.
"Riddhima, wait a second."
"I'm the ass.Again.I was trying to make light of a really odd position that I find myself in. I really do like you. I can expl'"
She shot him a venemous look. "Don't ever knock on my door again." Then she closed the door but this time, did'nt lean against it. She walked straight to the freezer where her pound cake awaited.
She loved NYC, but honest to God there were some serious nut jobs running free. And to think of it, she'd been attracted to him, had actually felt a connection to him, had seen a glimpse of what it would be like to have someone to share a bad day with'
That was, until his cruel side had surfaced.
Introducing Atul here. He is 12 years younger to Armaan which means he is in college.( Which means, NO LOVE LIFE! Haha)
Armaan looked up. There stood Atul in the doorway , a lopsided grin on his face.He was bold and unapologetic in the way he addresed the second in command of AMS, always was. To Armaan, the young man was entertaining, like a kid brother who was finding his way. A brother Armaan had always wished he'd had.
No one in the office knew it but Armaan had been paying Atul's tuition fees for the past 2 years.The guy was really sharp and would make a killer attorney someday.
Atul grinned as he entered." So, who is she?"
Armaan was silent.
"Supermodel or Actress?"
"You should go to class. It shows commitment" Armaan said.
"It shows I'm a serious nerd.But speaking of commitment, I cant believe you're getting married."
"Have a nice day, Atul" said Armaan and shot him a look that threatened to kill.
"All right, I'm going"
As Atul left, Armaan leaned beck and looked at the information in front of him.Riddhima Shashank Gupta, aspiring graphic designer, had attended public school and had been a great student. Mom was an artist, Dad not in the picture, attended The School Of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Boyfriends, marriages'none to speak of.
She was a good girl, that was for sur but here comes the glitch- Massive school loans and no graphic design job yet.She could do with some financial help.
Armaan turned around and saw the sky through his window. Could he do this? Could he be a married man?Could he make thedeal for a shorttime to appease his father and take control of AMS?
Yes. Being head of AMS was worth a year in jail'especially if the jailer kissed like that. He grabbed his phone and told his father that they had a deal.
Now all that was left was to persuade the lady.
The Park Caf was located near his building. When Armaan walked in, he spotted Riddhima right away. When Riddhima saw him, boy, did she look HOT!
Riddhima sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. "Are you here for coffee?"
He sat down beside her.She flinched. "I'm here to apologise"
"Does'nt sound like it."
He shook his head.
"Fine." She took a breath and said "Apology heard and begrudgingly accepted then."
The corners of his mouth twitched with amusement.Damn, he really liked this woman.He'd never met anyone like her, anyone who made him smile so much.
"Listen," he began, "the marriage proposal'"
"Okay, that one is seriously forgotten"
"The thing is, I'm not looking for you to forget the proposal-just the way it was delivered."
Before she could do anything, even smash his head, he continued. "I've a problem and I need your help. I'm this close to have what I wanted, the position at my company for which I've worked my ass off. But to get it I need to'" he lifted a brow, "get married"
She stared at him for a second and said. "Jeez, I'm outta here."
He entered her building as he said "Where are you going? I need to talk to you."
She headed for the elevator , he followed her, and pressed the button for their floor. When the door closed, Riddhima whirled on him with her best 'I'm an ass kicker' face, her finger jabbing him in the chest. "Look, I get that you're mister high-profile-make-a-lot-of-money-so-I-can-impress-the-women-then-play-mind-games-with-them-stud-wannabe"
"Wow" he muttered "that was a mouthful"
"And I'm sure that there are a boatload of women who are totally into that, but I'm not one of them"
Armaan decided to ease up on the back and forth, tit for tat play. No matter how much fun it was to watch his soon to be bride get all fired up, he did'nt have a lot of time.He leaned forward and stopped the elevator.
"What the hell do you think you are doing?"
"You talk a lot"
"So do you"
"That wasn't an insult. I like it. I love watching your mouth move and I look forward to watching it in the future but right now I need you to listen."
"You need to move and let me start this elevator otherwise I'm going to scream."
"I know your situation"
"Your financial situation."
She grew still and spoke with a lack of confidence he'd never seen "You had me checked out?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Purely professional.If you're going to become a Mallik I had to know your background."
She threw her hand in the air. "I'm not becoming a Mallik! Infact, right now, the idea of punching a Mallik sounds way more satisfying than marrying one"
"I think we're going to be good together. I need someone who will push me."
"You're delusional." She pushed the emergency button and they went sailing upwards.
He turned serious. "Marry me, Riddhima. Stay married to me for one year and in return I will right all your debt and kick in five hundred grand"
The doors opened.
"I'm sure you could do something important with the money."
"An apartment of your own."
She ignored him.
"Someone you could help"
She stilled and thought of her Mother. Didn't move for one whole minute. Then she shook her hed and kept walking until she disappeared inside her apartment.
Meanwhile, Armaan cursed.
Padma Gupta had been an amazing single mother. Yes, she'd worked day and night and all the hours in between on her artwork. But even so, Riddhima had never felt neglected or unloved.Quite the opposite, infact. Whenever Padma was not working, life was boldly interesting and fun?a dark kind of fun, like waking Riddhima up in the middle of the night with several rolls of toilet paper stuffed under her flannel pajama top, and a sly grin on her face. "Let's go up to the roofdeck and give the trees some white. Pretend it's Christmas."
She took a breath. Would her mother be proud of a daughter who sold herself for money?
Riddhima headed into her room to change out of her best business suit. She needed to keep it in perfect condition for the next interview, because the meeting she'd had this morning was a no go, Not enough experience.She'd heard it 5 times in the past month.
As she sat, the bed dipped with her weight. She slipped off her shoes.She would'nt go there, not a chance. This insane idea of Armaan's.
How could someone even suggest being married for a year?Basically, a business arrangement.No sex, just for show.
Her school loans would be a thing of the past.She could actually afford to take up an entry level job and in the future, be able to afford to care for Padma long-term.
Riddhima sat there for a good 60 seconds before shegrabbed a pen and wrote a note.She couldn't do this face-to-face.If she did, she'd probably choke and back out.
Her heart slammed against her chest as she bent in front of his door and slipped the note underneath.
At precisely 7:00 a.m. the following morning, Armaan walked into the Park Caf, his gaze raking every table in an almost predatory eay.Then he spotted her, sitting by herself, looking at her coffee and biting her lip. She was nervous. Armaan wondered why. After all, she hadn't given him a specific reason to meet her at the Caf. Was she going to accept his offer?
A flash of heat moved through him, not sexual heat, but something altogether unfamiliar to him, something akin to possessiveness. Like an animal, beating it's chest and howling.She was his.The fierceness of his reaction startled the hell out of him.
"Do I have time to order an expresso or is this going to be half acup of the house blend kind of conversation?"
"I'm going to take the deal."
"Marrying you, for the 1 year."
He watched her drink his coffee, which was no doubt cold by now. Though she was without her glasses, she looked the same as she always did:cute, petite and casually dressed in jeans and a black peasant shirt.But as his gaze moved downwards, he realised that every inch of her seemed to glow.Her long dark hair which was pulled back to reveal those intense, probing, green eyes.And the full, pouty lips he could still taste.And the curves.
Every damn inch of her glowed underr his gaze.The barista came over and set a double expresso before him, then flashed him her sexiest smile.He hardly noticed.The woman infront of him was still glowing.Armaan finally said.
"I know I suggested that this marriage be a business arrangement, but you should know that I find you incredibly attractive.I don't know how easy it would be for me not to touch you, kiss you again, but if you don't want to go there---"
He shrugged and sounded as if her quick rebuff had not wounded his ego. "All right. I can respect that."
"Good. But I'll understand if you want to find?that-"
"Sex." She whispered the word as though they were in church and not a coffeehouse.
He couldn't help grinning. "Right."
"If you want to find it elsewhere."
His grin remained. "Thank You."
Armaan watched her expression, her pink cheeks and the unmasked sexual curiosity in her eyes.He was no fool.Riddhima Gupta liked him , a lot if he was not mistaken.
"You know, it's been my experience that women don't appreciate sharing their husbands."
"But you won't be my husband?not in any real sense.."
Again, the pull of possession moved over him. "Listen, Riddhima, even though you're cool with me getting my pleasure on the side, I'm afraid I can't allow you the same privelige."
He'd never seen anyone sit up in their seat that quickly before. "Allow me?" She repeated his words with slow gall.
"I don't follow orders, Armaan."
"Just think it as part of the deal."
"You can't just add anything you want to this deal anytime you want."
"We are going to be married for 1 year. Looking for pleasure outside our marriage would be humiliating and damaging to both our reputations. I swear right here and right now that I will not break my marriage vow to you."
"No other women?"
"That's right. For 1 year no other woman but my wife."
She said with the hint of a smile. "So, you're going to be celibate for 1 year, huh? Do you really think you can do that?"
No. He didn't think so. Especially with her walking around his apartment night and day, bathing in his tub, sitting beside him on the couch, glowing all the damn time.
Armaan took a swallow of his coffee and hissed through his teeth.
"What?" she asked, her concern not lost on him. "Too hot?"
"Could be. Could very well be."
They got married the following Saturday in a rushed affair at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. A wonderful location but far too large a space for their small party and only managed because of who the Malliks were and who they knew.
No rings and a nontraditional ceremony had been Riddhima's 2 major requests from Armaan.Since girlhood, she'd dreamed of the perfect ring and being married in a church.But since this was not her "real" wedding, she had insisted that she and Armaan exchange vows without the platinum and that the location is totally untraditional?yet public enough so that Armaan's father would be assured the affair would wind up in the papers.
Along with the announcement of Sudhir Mallik's retirement.
Riddhima wore a sweet, insanely expensive dress selected for her by the wedding coordinator. She had even worn her hair like the coordinator had suggested.After all, this was not her wedding in any 'real' sense.
Riddhima had not invited her mother or her friends.She had planned to tell them that it was a whirlwind decision and quickly executed much like an elopement.
At 4:00 p.m. she stood with Armaan who looked unbearably handsome in a black tuxedo.With his guests and stoic family behind, Riddhima and Armaan agreed to get married. There was music and an amazing spread but Riddhima ate little.
As she walked around the party, she felt uneasy, lonely.The only thing familiar?the only thing that had warmed her on this incredibly warm late afternoon in August?was Armaan's kiss, and the fact that his hand had never left hers since the ceremony had ended.
And then it was over.At 7 o clock they drove home with that kiss still lingering in Riddhima's mind, Riddhima wondered what next, how was she going to face being Mrs. Armaan Mallik in name only?
Riddhima spent her wedding night in the most romantic way ever?packing up her belongings and moving out of her apartment.
Armaan stood in the bedroom doorway, looking ready to work. He had abandoned his tux for a casual ensemble of faded jeans and a black argyle T-shirt with sleeves. When Riddhima nodded the 2 walked down the hall to Armaaan's modern 2-bedroom ultramasculine bachelor pad.
Armaan's place had the similar layout as compared to Riddhima's place, but the paint choices, dcor and "toys" were totally different. On her way to her new room, they passed the kitchen and Riddhima grinned and shook her head at the dishes piled up in the sink .
He might be a rich guy, but Armaan Mallik was a guy nonetheless.
Riddhima reached her room a nd first noticed the short, wide vases on each table that were filled with red roses, cut short and packed closely together.
It was a beautiful room.
"This used to be my office, but I think it'll be much better with you in it."
"Thank You." Her heart moved with the compliment. "That's a nice thing to say."
"I have more nice things."
"I'm sorry about taking your office away from you."
"No problem. But if you really feel bad about it, you can always move into my room and I'll put the desk and computers back in here."
"How about I just say Thanks and leave it at that?" He was damn charming, she'd give him that. Resisting him would be difficult but she had to.If she didn't, what would that make her? His for a year, and then done, out of his life?paid in full.
The idea made her cringe.
Sensing her discomfort, Armaan continued with the tour. "This room has it's own bathroom. There are fresh towels, and I had Hannah, my housekeeper, get you a robe and a few?girl things."
"I don't know. Come on, give me a break. You are my first true houseguest, Riddhima."
"Believe it or not."
"I used to giuide the poor lost lambs over here, remember?"
"I had women here, true. But no one stayed past 7:00 am."
She was appalled by his honesty. "That's horrible"
"I am who I am, Riddhima. I set up my life the way I wanted it."
"But, why not after 7:00 am?"
"It sends the wrong message."
Her brow lifted. "Breakfast too intimate?"
"Talking about what could be next over pancakes and eggs?"
"I'm an honest man. No one came into this house without that knowledge."
"Yes, you do." It happened in a flash. He took her hand and brought it to his mouth. "For 1 year." He then kissed her palm.
Riddhima's knees nearly gave out but some shreds of sanity in her head reminded her the decision. "I'm going to unpack now."
"And I'm going to let you." He said evenly. Though his gaze was heavy with heat.
He was halfway through the door when Riddhima said "This is a crazy thing we're doing here."
He turned. "What? The marriage or the attraction thing?"
Her eyes went wide. "Yes"
He laughed. "You don't do many crazy things, Riddhima, do you?"
"No . Not really."
"Well, the level of craziness is entirely upto you."
Perfect, she thought darly. Leave the decision of how much to drink to a chick who is dying of thirst. Smart move, Park Avenue Boy!
"I'm going to make dinner. You are welcome to join me."
"I'm really tired. It's been a long day"
He looked disappointed but didn't push. "Well, good night," then he closed the door.
And she was alone again trying to ignore the grumble of her stomach and the heat that smoldered just inches below it.
It was a dream.
She knew it was a dream.She just didn't want to wake up and have it end. Her body felt like liquid metal, cool, smooth, pliable the way it moved under his.But her insides, in contrast, her muscles, bones and blood all erupted in a blaze of heat.
The soft voice was not coming from his mouth though the voice was his.
And then he was gone in a flash of white and she could feel the sheets on her back and her hair on her face.She opened her eyes. Armaan was standing over her looking like the cover of a magazine. Suit, tie, clean shaven, eyes as blue as faded denim.
"What time is it?"
"Seven," he told her. "I'm sorry about coming in here and waking you up, but I didn't want to leave without saying goodbye and a note?seemed?well"
"Right." It was thoughtful of him and she smiled. "Thanks"
If she reached up and grabbed the lapels of his fancy suit, pulled him down on top of her and kissed him, what would he do? What would he think of her? What would she think of herself?
Then, another scent caught her attention, something earthier. Nuts and coffee? Her eyes then landed on some toast, coffee and fruit on her bedside.
"That looks like breakfast, Armaan."
He grinned. "I suppose it does."
"What happened to your rule?"
"That rule does not apply to you or us."
"You're really trying hard, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"To be a good husband"
He grinned. "I was always an overachiever."
"Well, you have definitely made me feel welcome here. So, do you have to go right now?"
Beside her, she felt Armaan's body tense. "Why?"
She took a sip of her coffee. "The comment you made last night about me and my lack of craziness?."
"I think it's time to get a little crazy."
"And how exactly do you plan to do that?"
With a grin, she pointed to the plate beside the bed. "You made thid bed so how about you feed it to me."
Armaan laughed his whole body relaxing. "I like you, you know that? I like you a lot." He reached over and picked up the plate. "Here you go." He slipped a lovely blackberry in her open mouth.
When she closed her mouth and smiled at him, he shook his head and muttered, "Damn you."
"Thank you for this", she said, sipping her coffee, "Seriously, it's very nice"
"I meant what I said in the Park Caf, Riddhima. You're the only one."
As her heart expanded at his words, Riddhima could not help but wonder why this major player in the dating world was so focused on her, why he was being a kind, considerate, husband-type.
But then he leaned in close to her mouth and whispered, "You are the only one?okay?"
She forgot everything she'd been thinking and whispered back, "Okay"
And then he kissed her. And she let him.
First, he kissed her mouth, so softly, then her chin, both cheeks, her eyes, her earlobes, then her mouth once more.
It was nothing charged or intensely sexual, but everythin made Riddhima beg for more. Where were his hands? His fingers?
But when she opened her eyes, he had backed up.
"I have to go"
"I'll cook," she said and smiled. "And I'll feed"
He inhaled sharply and looked away. "You are a devious and torturous woman, Riddhima Mallik."
It was as if someone had wrapped a hot towel around her and squeezed. Riddhima Mallik.It sounded too strange, wrong yet she wanted to hear him say it again.
He saw her reaction and smiled. "I'll be home around 8"
When he was gone, Riddhima leaned back in her bed and groaned. She was frustrated and unfulfilled, her appetite raging desperately for the man she had married?the man she had vowed not to touch.
Armaan was on top of the world.
At one thirty that afternoon, in conference room C, with every AMS top executive seated around the table, Sudhir Mallik had announced his retirement effective immediately. Taking over as chairman and CEO would be his son, Armaan Mallik.
No one seemed shocked by the news; they'd known that it would happen eventually. But for Armaan, hearing his father say the words had made his life infinitely sweeter.
After his father's announcement, Armaan announced who would be stepping in his previous position and subsequent other positions down the line, before unveiling his plan to rocket AMS into 1st place in the ever-present media wars before that year's end.
By seven thirty that evening, he was happily exhausted and ready to head home, to his wife.
With a confident grin on his face, he walked out of the AMS building into the hot August night. His company car sat outside waiting for him, the black paint gleaming in the fading sunset.
His driver, Michael, stood sentry at the door and nodded as Armaan approached. "Good Evening, Sir."
Armaan agreed jovially, "Very good indeed."
Michael opened the door and Armaan climbed into the backseat, where the surprise of a lifetime sat directly across from him.
"Riddhima, what the?"
She smiled at him in a warm, soft way that made his insides twist with desire. "Hey"
She looked different, though very much like herself in manner and realness.But there had been a definite change. Gone were the jeans, the peasant tops and dresses?all very good things, he mused but nothing like what was before him. He'd known she had amazing curves, but he'd never seen them before, not like this at least.
His gaze moved over her starting with her feet and the metallic high-heeled sandals that showed off ten beautifully painted toenails. Her legs were bare, but mostly covered by a long scarlet colored strapless dress that hugged her curves.
He was so turned on he could barely talk, barely hear anything going on outside the car or in. But through the buzzing sound of his body in heat, he heard her say,
"Do you want to know why I'm here?"
"Yes," he uttered.
"I thought I'd take you to dinner."
He stared at her, at her beautiful face that required so little makeup, at her long dark hair that hung loose about her shoulders.
She laughed at him. "Your big day, Armaan."
"Weren't you promoted today? The job you've been working for all your life. Any of this ringing a bell?"
He found his way back to reality and nodded. "Right. Of course. I'm just?.."
Yes, what was he? Desperate? Overwhelmed by her? What was he exactly?
In the end, he came up with, "Surprised"
"Well good." She looked past him. "To Babbo please, Michael."
"Very good, ma'am."
Riddhima turned to Armaan. "And just a few days ago, I was a 'miss'"
"You look stunning"
She blushed, full on. She looked down, then back up at him. "Thank You."
How he was ever going to go home with her and not touch her was beyond him. What an asinine promise he'd given her?going at her pace or not at all! What a jerk! He leaned back against the black leather. "What if I say to hell with dinner?"
"Then I think we'd be having our first big fight."
"I don't want that."
He smiled at her. "This is really nice of you."
She smiled back. "I, too, am an overachiever. And a good friend to have."
His smile fell at the friend comment but he recovered quickly.By the time they reached the restaurant, he had forced himself back into a good mood.
Armaan said, "You know that once we step foot in that restaurant you're going to be scrutinized."
"Head to toe?"
"Soup to nuts."
"They'll want to know everything about Armaan Mallik's new bride?"
"Yes. And honestly who could blame them?"
She smiled at him, took his hand and let him help her onto the stained, garbage scented, but ever magical New York City sidewalk.
They walked hand in hand into one of Manhattan's finest restaurants.
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