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The note that had been taped to the door of her apartment was permanently tattooed in Kripa's mind.
Unfortunately due to increase in the complaints from other owners regarding the noise level the management has decided to ask you to either discontinue the music lessons or to cancel your lease on the apartment. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Royal Heights Management Co-operation.
What else could go wrong today? Kripa wondered as she waited for her students to come for practice. First she'd spilled coffee all over her boss's desk, and then he'd proceeded to ask her to pretend to be his wife for a week. And, worst of all, for just a moment when she'd been hypnotized by his gaze, she'd actually been tempted to say yes. With the way her life had been going lately, a week of adventure with her gorgeous boss just didn't sound like a fate worse than death.
But that was her lonely heart talking. When her brain wrapped around the face that this guy was not only a cocky Casanova , he was also her boss, she'd straightened out.
It would just be business, he'd told her earlier that day. Well, of course it would be just business. The man went out with supermodels and actresses who wore Gucci and smelled like eight-hundred-dollar perfume, not a clumsy accounting nerd like her who wore clothes from a discount store and considered Ivory soap her signature scent.
But one question still lingered: Why her? With all the women who drool over him, why had he asked her?
Kripa sighed and shook her head. It would remain a mystery. By now Mr Khanna had probably forgotten her name'forgotten she even existed--and found someone else to play his wife for the week.
"Everyone here?" she asked the class when the room seemed quiet full.
They all nodded.
She exhaled heavily as she starred at the dejected expressions on their faces. "Don't worry guys I will figure something out, i will find a place for us where we can practice music anytime we want and there will be no one to ask us to quiet down. I promise, just give me a week."
"I can't afford lessons anywhere else," one student said.
Kripa nodded, " I understand, but--"
" What if they were free?"
The husky baritone came from the direction of the doorway. The entire room turned to stare, including Kripa. Her eyes widened and he heart slammed against her ribs.
Angad Khanna stood in the doorway, his eyes set on her.
Gone was the pinstripe suit. Jeans and a simple shirt had taken its place. Simple. Hah! Nothing on or about Angad Khanna was simple, Kripa thought wryly, wishing she'd fixed her hair or worn something nicer, something from a boutique...
" My name is Angad," he informed the class. "I'm a friend of Kripa's."
" Go Kripa," one female student hooted.
Everyone laughed. Kripa's cheek burned.
"He's not a--," she stuttered, then frowned at him, whispering, "I haven't changed my mind sir."
"Hear me out, Kripa," he whispered back. "There's an element to this proposal that might interest you." He plunked down beside her on the desk and addressed the class. " I'm here to offer all of you," he glanced over to Kripa, " and you, too, of course, a building where you can hold your music classes. As for the rent--"
" Here it comes," muttered one of the students.
"It will be Rs.10 every month," Angad finished.
Silence. All twenty students stared open-mouthed at Angad, then at Kripa, then back again.
Kripa's muscles felt like water, but her temper was piqued. The man had some nerve. How dare he come in here and raise her students' hopes like this. How dare he come in here and make their teacher's pulse race. She jumped off the desk and motioned for him to follow. "Come with me," she said, the sound of hoots and catcalls following them as she pulled him out of the room.
Once out in the hallway, Kripa whirled on him, ready to give him what for. But her heel caught on the doorsill and she pitched forward into his arms.
Her cheeks flamed. Why did her clumsy nature have to show itself every damn time. Angad Khanna was near? Was she cursed?
"I got you," he said in a husky whisper, tightening his hold on her.
Man, he felt good, she mused, steadying herself on her feet. All solid muscles and formidable strength.
Get a hold of yourself, Kripa. The guy's a corporate jerk.
"What are you doing here Mr.Khanna?" she asked, once she was free from his grasp and a few feet away.
He grinned. "Well it looks as though I'm saving your neck'and your class. Now they have space."
She glared at him. " How did you know we needed a space?"
He shrugged. "Does it really matter? The point is you need one."
Kripa couldn't refuse the inescapable logic. "I guess I don't need to ask why you're doing this. But right now my students are wondering why. And I'm sure some of them have some pretty...obscene guesses."
He raised a lazy brow. " Like what?"
"That's not funny."
" Why do you care so much about what people think. Kripa?"
"Why don't you care more?" She looked directly at him, choosing her words carefully. " Look Mr. Khanna, I don't understand this. Why me? You must have dozen women who would do this for you."
" I need a stranger," he said simply. "I have no wish for anyone to know about it, nor do I want my..." He hesitated a moment, as if searching for just the right word. "I don't want my female friends thinking the words Angad Khanna and marriage belong in the same sentence. Do you understand?"
She nodded. "I'm afraid I do."
"Here. Maybe this will help you decide." He pulled an envelope from his shirt pocket and handed it to her.
With great reluctance she took it and peeked inside with as much unease as if it held a snake.
"It's a contract and keys to a warehouse space." He rubbed his jaw. "You may pay me Rs. 120 in advance or at the end of the year. I don't care."
She pulled out small set of leys, shock slamming through her. A whole building for a year for Rs. 120. What on earth did he expect her to do for the week? There had to be more to this than--
As if reading her mind, he answered her silent question. " Seven days. That's it. I'll probably be down at the plant most of the time. You won't have to see me very much."
That should have reassured her, so why was every traitorous part of her balking at the notion?
"I'll sleep on the couch," he continued. " In the bathtub'whatever makes you comfortable."
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever makes me comfortable?"
Trust me Kripa, you have nothing to worry about." His voice was determined, his eyes sincere.
She buttoned and unbuttoned the collar of her shirt nervously.
He glanced down at the keys in her hands. "I'm sure you could find many uses for that space."
Darn right she could. That warehouse would save her music class. And with her own space she could hold classes on weekends for kids, for anyone who wanted to learn music. But at what price? She'd be breaking a vow made to herself years ago that she'd never let another Richie Rich invade her life. They were bad news. There was also the added discomfort of having to lie and deceive people she hadn't even met.
But the students, the kids. That was almost worth it.
"You'll sleep in the bathtub?" she asked sceptically.
He held up three fingers. "Scout's honour."
Somehow she doubted he'd even been a Boy scout. "Seven days?"
He nodded. "Plus time for your makeover and your briefing."
"I have to get a makeover?" she stammered in bewilderment . " What briefing?"
"You need to know about me, Kripa. My habits, liked, dislikes.: he hesitated giving her an appraising look from the tips of her vintage shoes to the top of her untidy mop of hair. "You're beautiful woman, Kripa. God knows why you'd want to hide it. But I think I know someone who can help us with that." He retrieved his cell phone from his jacket pocket. " I'll pick you at you place tomorrow afternoon at one."
A knot formed in her stomach. "What about work?"
"You have the next two days off." He regarded her with serious eyes. " Courtesy of the boss. Oh, and Kripa, I'd like to keep this arrangement confidential."
"Wait just a minute. I haven't said I would'"
He grinned. " yes you have. I saw it in your eyes when you held the keys to your new warehouse space."
She grounded her teeth, knowing he was right and wishing with all her heart that she could just toss those keys right back at him. But the students, she thought, glancing through the window. They depended in her. And not only that, if she agreed to this farce her children's program could start immediately.
She looked back at Angad. His brown eyes practically bored straight through her. Her pulse sped up and she felt sixteen and breathless. The kind of man she'd always vowed to stay away from was going to be her "husband" for a week.
"There will have to be some conditions," she said firmly.
"I'll give you a list tomorrow."
"Can't wait." And there it was. The damn half smile again. " Night Kripa."
She watched him as he walked down the hallway, cell phone to his ear. Completely unruffled and utterly pleased with himself.
She shook her head, pretty sure she'd just made a deal with the devil. And if he took her soul, she prayed he'd leave her heart intact.
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