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"Kripa, spill it," Shilpa demanded. "I can't remember you ever taking a day off since you started here."
Kripa sank deeper into her wicker chair as she stared out at the activities going around her neighbourhood. "I have a really bad headache, that's all," she quickly explained. It was the truth actually. A headache that hadn't gone away since yesterday, well a major upset actually. And now here she was, waiting for Angad Khanna to pick her up for a makeover.
She was crazy to agree to this. Truly. No matter how they dolled her up, she wasn't sophisticated or chic. She was poor relation at best, and she wondered if she'd get through this week without serious damage to her self-respect.
If she could just forget this whole thing, she would. But last night she'd told her students that their class would continue. And this morning she'd called every last parent on her waiting list to tell them that their children would have a place to study and learn music. The deed was done.
She was so deep in thought that she barely heard Shilpa ask what was she doing for her birthday. " So Kripa, what'll it be? A movie night or club hopping?"
Birthday. Oh God. Sunday. She'd be in Amritsar. "I'd be hiding under a rock," she muttered, her mind searching in vain for another excuse when Shilpa came asking again-which of course, she would.
Shilpa snorted. " Why you hate birthdays I'll never know. Perky people are supposed to love birthdays."
"I like other people's birthdays. It's just when I'm the one getting older'"
"You're turning twenty-four, for goodness sake." Shilpa sighed.
Kripa laughed. " It's not a vain, getting wrinkles sorta thing. Its a productive thing. I really wanted to have a music school up and going by now. And-"
She halted midstream. Having her own music school was exactly what was happening. No more excuses or feeling sorry for herself. She was going to have her dream fulfilled-and all because of Angad Khanna.
"You'll get there, Kripa," Shilpa was saying. " One day at a time, you know? Hey, I know what would make you feel better."
"I'm almost afraid to ask."
"A date," Shilpa exclaimed. " Better yet, a man."
"What's the difference?" she couldn't help saying.
" A thousand miles hon." Shilpa chuckled. " A man sticks around'he's a boyfriend, a husband."
Down the street the wind kicked up leaves with a flourish, announcing the arrival of a gleaming black Mercedes that Kripa could only assume was Angad Khanna's. Kripa felt her heartbeat pick up speed as the car slowed to the curb in front of her apartment. The windows tinted in a light smoke colour, but she knew it was him. The driver's side door opened and he stepped out looking unbelievably handsome. Damn him.
You need a man, a husband, Shilpa had said. Kripa stifled a laugh. If her friend only knew that she was going to have a husband for seven days, and it was none other than the accounting department fantasy, Angad Khanna.
"Listen I'd better go," Kripa said, coming to her feet stepping back into her apartment. "I've got to take some, ah...some more aspirin."
"Will you be in tomorrow?"
"Ah...I'll see how I feel."
"Sure you don't want me to bring you anything? I have an hour for lunch."
Kripa's stomach dipped as she heard Mr. Khanna's footsteps heading down the hall. "No thanks. I'm good. Just lots of bed rest."
"All right. How about a birthday lunch with the girls and me on Monday, then? We'll continue the celebrating."
"And don't think you're getting off the man subject so easily."
A knock at the door caused her to jump. " Sure thing. Will call you later Shilpa."
She ran to the door, swinging it wide. "I'm sorry for not meeting you downstairs, sir, but..." Her words trailed off as she took in the man leaning against the doorjamb.
"No apology required," he said, his smooth baritone filling the space between them.
Her stomach dipped. " Would you...ah..like to come in?"
"Sure. For a moment." He inclined his head. " See how my wife lives."
Wife! Kripa cleared her throat, and tried to stop her gaze from raking over him as he walked confidently into the apartment. Black jeans encased his strong legs and ribbed black shirt moulded to his torso accentuating his muscled chest and broad shoulders. Some odd sense of pride welled within her, as though he belonged to her, but she quickly pushed such a ridiculous thought aside. Remember why this man's here'why he hired you, she chided herself.
"Can I get you anything, Mr. Khanna?" she said, trying to sound light and cheerful. " Coffee, soda?"
She watched him walk around her apartment, looking at her artwork, furnishing and books, assessing. He stopped in front of one of her paintings. An abstract acrylic portrait of a man with normal features except his eyes. Where pupils should have been there was only a deep shade of gray.
"This is an exceptional piece," he said. "Who's the artist?"
She grinned in spite of her nerves. " I am."
He hesitated, his gaze remaining on the painting. " You're very talented, Kripa."
"You sound surprised, sir."
He shook his head. "Impressed. Maybe even the smallest bit envious. I mean you teach music and now an exceptional artist. I can recognize extraordinary art when I see it, purchase a gallery filled with it if I wanted to, but'" he chuckled "'I can barely draw a stick figure."
"Well some people have the art gene and some have the business one, I guess."
"You certainly have the art one in spades." He moved closer to the piece. " And who was the subject?"
"A man I knew a long time ago." Kripa went to stand by him. "He had trouble seeing."
"He was blind?"
She nodded. "In a way."
He turned to look at her then, his brown eyes probing, searching, making her uncomfortable in both mind and in body.
She swallowed and took a step back. " Shall we go?"
After a moment's hesitation he nodded, and Kripa went to gather her things.
They were out of the apartment, down the stairs and walking toward the car when Angad moved slightly ahead of her to open the car door.
"Thank you, sir," she said, trying not to sigh when she sat down on the plush leather seat. The interior of the car was immaculate: no candy-bar wrappers, no coffee cups. The leather looked polished, brand new, and nary a dust bunny lingered on the dash, or in any crevice for the matter. Perfectly in order, just like the man.
He slid into the driver's side and shot her a look. "You can't call me 'sir.'" He turned the key in the ignition and the car sprang to life, purring like a purebred cat. "I think it would be best from this moment forward if you called me Angad."
Kripa looked at him, he had his seatbelt on, his gearshift in first and his gaze on her. "For the next several days you aren't my employee, Kripa. That's certainly not the impression I want Mr. Shyam Kapoor to have of..." A smile tugged at his lips. " Why don't you call me Angad, or if you feel a surge of bravery," the smile widened, "honey or dear."
Heat surged into her cheeks at his suggestions, but she barely felt it through a bristling of indignation. "Excuse me for saying so, but I think it's vastly important to remember that I am you employee, air...ah....Angad."
"Sir Angad." He put on a good show of considering that as he let out the clutch. "I like it."
Kripa couldn't help but roll her eyes as he pulled away from the curb, chuckling.
They were quiet for several blocks, but when Angad entered the freeway, he broke the silence with business. " When we arrive at the house, you'll have your makeover. I've allowed two hours for this. Then we'll have a dinner meeting and get to know each other. I've decided that we will be newlyweds, just married and trying to keep it quiet. The press keeps tabs on my marital status, so I'll tell the Kapoor's we eloped." He barely stopped for breath. "Next week, I feel the conversations should be primarily on business, but feel free to interject...."
As he continued to explain the details and events of the following week, Kripa began to drift off. She couldn't help it'actually what she couldn't help was staring at how his muscles tightened against the fabric of the jeans when he shifted gears. She knew she had to get a grip and listen to his recitation on business protocol. She decided to find out some information that would be really helpful.
"So who's Shyam Kapoor?"
"Have you heard of the brand name Frabier?"
"Are you kidding?" she laughed. "Who hasn't, I mean they make everything from frozen vegetables to ice-creams. I have at least one bag of chocolate mints and one box of dark chocolate-covered cherries in my fridge all the time."
She had a nice laugh, Angad thought as his gaze swept over her lightly. It moved from high to husky like an ocean wave, causing his gut to tighten. But it was that kilowatt smile of hers'a smile that came from her eyes as much as it did her lips'that had him straying from him "this is just business" commitment. He'd have to watch that.
When the highway came to an end, Angad turned right'toward home'the sea and a beach to his left. Automatically he opened his window and breathed in the salty air.
"You must really love candy huh?" Kripa asked.
He shook his head. "Never touch that stuff."
"Then why buy the company I mean I read the Frabier makes most of its sale by selling candy and chocolates?"
She opened her window, as well. "Okay, so maybe that's a really naive question in your world, but I'd realli like to know."
He delivered his pat answer without giving it a thought. "It's a profitable venture."
She hesitated and he wondered if she was going to press him for more, but she didn't. Instead, she looked back and forth from the sea to the coconut tree-lined, then turned to him. "You like in Madh Island?"
"You sound surprised?"
"I just figured you are more like a Cuffe Parade kinda guy, that's all."
"And what kind of guy is that?"
"One who likes to be close to town, close to the action and all the pretty'" she stopped short, her cheeks growing pinker by the second "-the pretty sights."
He couldn't help but chuckle.
She was silent for a moment before she said, "maybe you should tell me a little bit about yourself so I'm not guessing. Tell me about your family."
Angad didn't like talking about his family. Although he loved his family he couldn't give them as much time needed. He regretted those moments when he wasn't a part of his family celebrations, for him his work was important.
He cursed silently and told Kripa all she needed to hear. "I'm twenty-seven years old. I was born on January seventh in Mumbai. I run 10 miles every morning, prefer whiskey to wine and rarely go to bed before two in the morning."
"Jeez," Kripa laughed softly. "Talk about a thirty second life story."
That was unusually enough to satisfy most women he knew. Angad pulled into his driveway, clearly marked by the Private Property and Bo Trespassing signs. Certainly it would be enough to satisfy a women he was only going to know for the rest of the week. " All right," he said, sending her a sidelong glance. "How about this for a revelation'this is my first marriage."
She smirked at him. "No shock there, sir."
"Kripa," he scolded.
But he got no response. She was staring, transfixed out the windshield, her eyes wide, her lips parted. Full pink lips that he wanted to run his thumb over to feel, then his tongue to taste.
But he wouldn't.
He shoved all his thoughts of her and him and lips and tasting away and helped her get out of the car. "What do you think of the place?"
She raised a brow at him as they walked up the front steps. "But what?"
"I read peoples reactions for living, Kripa." He held the front door open for her. "I can tell when someone's not telling me the complete story."
"It's just so-enormous." She glanced around, taking in the black marble floor, chrome and glass accents and circular staircase. "You live here all by yourself?"
He nodded. Damn right he did. In fact, he'd never even brought a woman here. It was a place of solace, to relax, think.
He had a decidedly bacheloresque penthouse at Cuffe Parade that he usually used for entertaining. He could've taken Kripa there. But he had neighbors who liked to gossip, and the Madh Island house had just seemed more appropriate for her makeover and their dinner meeting.
He followed her with his gaze as she moved over to the fireplace and toughed the empty mantle gingerly.
"You mustn't spend too much time here." She glanced over her shoulder at him. "There are no pictures or mementos or'..anything." She shook her head. "You should so something about that. It's not fair to the house."
He frowned. Not fair to the house? What the hell did that mean? His house was exactly how it should be: comfortable, functional. Just because he didn't have a bunch of meaningless clutter on his mantel like at her place'art supplies everywhere, music notes all over the floor.
He shook his head at her annoying observations. Never in his life had he met anyone who just said whatever was on her mind or asked whatever question popped into her head like she did. People who didn't think before they acted were headed for disaster, didn't she know that?
Hell, it was good that this woman was only going to be around for a week. He nodded at the stairs. "Why don't you go up-stairs now, first door on your right, The team's waiting for you."
Her eyes widened. "The team? What team?"
"Your makeover team," he said, turning to go.
"Wow," he heard her say quietly. "It's going to take a whole team?"
With his back to her he couldn't help but smile at her guilelessness.
"Hey!" she called to him. "I thought you might want to ask me a few questions about myself."
"Later at dinner," he replied succinctly as he reached the door. "I have work to do."
It was only part lie, he thought as he turned in the doorway and watched her walk up the stairs, her hips swaying gently with the movement. He did have work to do, always had work to do. But this time he was using it as an excuse to get away from this pretty lady who was threatening to drive him crazy.
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Upstairs a door opened, and Angad heard several voices whisper and giggle. Then the sound of high heels on the wood stairs echoed throughout the foyer.
"Finally," he mumbled under his breath, then called out, "I don't know if you're a wine drinker, Kripa, but I opened two—"
His voice broke off midsentence as he stared openmouthed at the vision that was slowly descending the stairs.
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Joined: 30 October 2008
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