"Yes, I want you to promise that you will never interfere in my personal life again."
"Don't take this the wrong way, please. I don't mean to sound rude, but it's time for you to step back now. A few days back, you told me how you wanted to live life your way, and now I'm asking you to return that favour..I know you meant well, but I don't need help from this point onwards. You have always been there for me, you have been my biggest support, and you know that..but now, it is time for us to go in different directions..Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do. You are asking me to do the same thing I asked of you before. How can I not understand? But you have to believe me, I never meant to interfere after this wedding. Yes, I was always involved in the plan, right from the beginning. It was Nani's idea, but I made my own decision to take part in it. Shyam was hesitant, but I managed to convince him. He didn't like it, though. Whenever he returned from Gupta House, he would stay agitated for hours, struggling with feelings of betrayal, even though it was all just pretence. And do you think it was easy for me? Watching my husband pursue another woman right under my nose was horrible, even though I knew it was all a lie.. I have suffered through this to make things happen for you! The only reason I'm telling you this is because I need you to know that I never ever want to do anything like this again. You warning is entirely unnecessary. I have my own life to live now, and you have yours."
"I had my suspicions right from the start, you know. When I found out about Shyam and Nani's plan, I couldn't believe that you didn't know what was happening. But I fully believed it only on the day of the wedding, when I heard you speak to them about it. But now, I just want to put this behind me and move on."
"Does this mean you have forgiven me ?"
"Like I said, it doesn't matter anymore, Di. You are free to make your own home with Shyam, and I will begin a new life with Khushi. Everything will be fine."
"I am really very happy for you, Chotey.. I have prayed for this day for so long, and I have to tell you this, Khushiji is more than I had ever hoped for. She is just perfect for you!"
"I know that, Di. Why do you think I fought so hard to win her?"
"We should go back. I'm sure Khushiji is looking for you by now."
"And so is Shyam, I bet."
They looked at each other, realizing that the strong bond they shared was still there, but was now overlaid by another.
Their paths would diverge, their lives would change, but the bond would remain.
They would always be there for each other, but their own loves would take priority now.
Which was just how it should be.
Khushi leaned back against the headrest and closed her eyes.
It had been a long day, and she was exhausted.
She remembered how she had felt when she had entered the huge event hall, intimidated by the splendor of it's interior.
Sparkling chandeliers hung from the ceilings, and white satin drapes covered the walls. Strings of crystals shone between the drapes, and the white colour was echoed in the carpets that covered the floor.
The stage itself was decorated with a burst of multi-coloured flowers, and two antique chairs occupied it's center.
No that they had a chance to sit on those chairs, the never-ending line of guests making it impossible to get any rest.
She had been very excited to meet the filmstars who had come to greet them, although her Salmanji wasn't one of them.
But the events of the past week had caught up with her,and now she couldn't wait to go to bed.
She sighed, and rubbed her forehead.
"No..I'm just tired.."
"We'll be home in a few minutes."
Khushi said nothing, thinking about how unlikely it was that she would get any rest even when they got home.
She had enjoyed his love-making, and craved that intimacy with him, but right now, she would do anything for a full night's sleep..
She sighed again.
A few minutes later, they arrived at Shantivan, and Arnav opened the front door for her.
The other members of their family were following them in a different car, so no one was home yet.
She stepped inside, and gasped when he lifted her in his arms.
"Sshh. I'll take care of everything,don't worry."
She buried her face in the crook of his neck, afraid that he would read the hesitation in her eyes. All this was new to her, and she had no idea how to refuse him, or even if she should.
When they reached their bedroom, she waited for him to place her on their bed, but he surprised her by heading towards the bathroom.
"Arnav, what are you.."
Her words trailed off as they entered the bathroom.
The lights were off, the only source of illumination being the scented candles that lined the huge bath-tub. The light flickered off of the black marble floors, and the sweet scent of lavender filled the air. As they passed the circular shower stall and approached the tub, she got a good view of what was inside.
A bubble bath filled the tub, and rose petals were scattered on it's surface.
She raised surprised eyes to his.
"I called ahead and asked the maid to prepare this for you. You looked exhausted, and I thought you might like this.."
"But I thought..when you.."
He lowered her to her feet and pulled her close.
"I know what you thought. I'm not a monster, Khushi. I would never force you to do anything. And you should never feel compelled to give in, specially when you are exhausted, like right now. I want you to tell me what you are feeling, always."
She nodded, overwhelmed by his concern and feeling guilty that she had misjudged him.
He started taking off her jewellery, and placed it on the countertop. Her saree followed, and soon, she was naked.
He lifted her and placed her in the water, smiling as she closed her eyes and sighed.
She opened her eyes the next moment as she realized that he was taking his clothes off, too.
"I thought you said we were not.."
"Relax, Khushi. I'm just joining you for a bath."
He got into the water behind her, and leaned back against the side of the tub. Pulled her back against his chest, he started massaging her taut shoulders.
She sighed again, and relaxed against him, the stress of the past few days disappearing under the magic touch of his hands.
She closed her eyes, the warmth of the water combining with the heat of his body to make her drowsy.
A few minutes later, Arnav smiled as he watched her sleep. He rose out of the water slowly, taking her with him.
She stirred, and opened her eyes when he wrapped her in a towel.
"Go back to sleep, Khushi."
She closed her eyes again, and he carried her to bed, placing her under the quilt before straightening up to dry himself.
He got in beside her, pulled her close, and smiled again as he closed his eyes.
As the rays of morning sunshine lit the room, Khushi opened her eyes and blinked, looking for him immediately.
She heard the water running in the bathroom, and was about to get out of bed when the sound stopped. A minute later, he came out with only a towel wrapped around his waist.
"Are you leaving for work?"
"No, not yet."
He came back to her, discarding the towel along the way. He took her in his arms, and kissed her lips.
"I just went in to shave. I didn't want my stubble to bruise your cheeks like yesterday."
He kissed her again, and pushed her back against the bed gently.
"Are you still tired?"
He smiled, and kissed her again.
"Khushi, can you pass me the pooris, please?"
Khushi passed him the plate, startled when he held on to her fingers longer than was strictly necessary.
The look in his eyes brought back memories of their tender love-making this morning, and she looked away,blushing.
"Did Manorama call from the airport?"
Nani's voice brought her back to the present, and she tried to focus on what was being said as Anjali replied.
"Yes, Nani. I spoke to both NK bhai, and Mami. They were about to board the flight, and everything was fine."
"That's good. Manorama will have a good time with her sister. But NK is not staying in Sydney after he takes her there, is he?"
"No, Nani. He has just received a job offer from a company based in Paris, and he is going there soon."
Nani turned to Arnav.
"Chotey, after Anjali bitiya and Damaadji have left, why don't you take Khushi bitiya to her mother's house for the pag-pheras?"
Arnav nodded, then looked at Khushi.
"Is that okay with you?"
She nodded, and smiled at the thought of meeting her family.
"We'll do it, then."
An hour later, Khushi stood in the living room, wiping away her tears.
Naniji had just left, and Anjaliji was upstairs, getting ready to leave as well.
Arnav had gone upstairs as well, busy with a conference call.
She turned to find Anjali beside her, a silver box in her hand.
"I wanted to give this to you before I left the house."
Khushi opened the box, and saw the wide antique gold Kangans inside.
"They belonged to my Mother, and she wanted them to be given to her daughter-in-law."
Khushi looked up, surprised.
"Before you refuse, please listen to what I have to say. Chotey told me the whole truth about what actually happened with our mother all those years ago.. And I understand how you must feel about her.. But I wanted you to have these anyway, because they rightfully belong to you.. If you can find it in your heart to forgive her for what she did, and accept these as a blessing from your mother-in-law, it would make me very happy.."
Before Khushi could say anything, Arnav appeared behind Anjali.
"Di, that decision will be made by Khushi. She will take them only if she wants to."
"Arnav, it's okay..I..I don't know what to say right now. Can I just..take some time to think about it?"
"Of course! I'll leave them with Chotey, and you can wear them whenever you want!"
Shyam joined the group, and placed an arm around Anjali.
"Shall we leave now?"
Arnav drew Khushi aside, and took her hands in his.
"I mean that, you know.You don't have to do anything you don't want to."
"Unless I say so, of course."
"Laad Governor kahin ke!"
A half hour later, Khushi was on her way to Gupta house.
"What are you thinking?"
"Nothing..It's just..I was wondering if Shantivan would feel empty when we get back."
"Akash and Payal are still there."
She trailed off as they arrived at her house, and looked out the window.
"When will you come to take me back?"
"Missing me already?"
"No! I just wanted to know how many hours I could spend here.."
"Take as long as you like. You can call me when you are ready to go home."
She smiled, and unstrapped her seatbelt.
He stopped her before she could step out, and she looked at him questioningly.
"You need to know the rules."
"Yes. Whenever I'm leaving for work, I need a kiss."
A naughty glint came into her eyes, and she quickly leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek.
"That's not what I meant! That isn't even a proper kiss."
"It's all you're going to get!"
She stepped out quickly, but managed to walk only a few steps before he caught up, pulling her back into his arms.
"Arnav! Everyone can see us!"
"When have I ever cared about that?"
Vimla Maasi leaned close to her window.
Maybe she should speak to Garima about this..
Or maybe not.
She watched as the couple kissed again, and finally drew back from her window when Khushi went inside the house.
She decided to keep a close watch on her window.
He had to come back to pick her, didn't he?
Khushi looked at the clock for the tenth time.
It was evening already, and she was ready to go home. She had called Arnav, but his phone was busy, and his P.A had informed her that he was in a conference call.
She had enjoyed spending time with her family. Amma and Buaji had made all her favourite dishes, and Bauji had made fresh jalebis for her.
They had all laughed as she finished an entire plate in just a few minutes, and then moved on to the halwa poori.
She had also spent a few hours visiting her neighbours, and her friend Preeto as well.
Yes, her day had been enjoyable.
But it hadn't been perfect.
Because he wasn't here.
She looked at the clock again.
When would he get here?
Had his P.A given him the message?
How long would she have to wait?
She straightened suddenly.
Why did she have to?
"Amma, I'm leaving!"
"What? Is Arnav bitwa here?"
"No, I'm going to his office!"
"Hai re Nandkishore, you cannot do that! It is a part of the rasam that he should be the one to take you home!"
"He will take me home from the office, right? That's why I'm going there!"
Khushi hugged both women and ran out of the house before they could say anything else.
She heard Buaji say something about Sanka Devi, but she didn't stop to hear the rest.
A short rickshaw ride later, she stepped into AR Designs.
She recalled the last time she had been here, and blushed.
As she went up the stairs, she noticed that the office seemed to be almost empty. It was almost seven, and most employees would have left for the day..
She reached his cabin and knocked lightly.
He pulled open the door, and his eyes widened in surprise as he saw her.
The next moment, he placed a finger on his lips, and indicated his bluetooth headset.
She nodded, realizing that he was still on the call.
He pulled her inside and led her to his chair, making her sit on it while he remained standing.
As he looked down at her, a wicked light entered his eyes.
She watched warily as he leaned back against the table and pulled her chair close to his body.
She was trapped in the chair, and she leaned back, unsure about what he was going to do.
He continued talking.
"I don't care if we lose this contract. Tell them that they can sign it within this next week, or go to hell. "
He leaned forward, touching her lips with one hand. His fingers moved from her lips to her neck, and he continued touching her, even as he spoke.
"You know I won't be here next week. And I don't want to be disturbed on my honeymoon ."
He had already planned one?
His fingers moved down to her neckline, and he toyed with the pale blue silk of her pallu.
He placed a finger on her lips immediately, silencing her.
He shook his head, pointing to his bluetooth again.
When she leaned back again, he moved his hand back to her neck, then trailed his fingers over her breasts.
Khushi understood his game now.
He was taking advantage of the fact that she needed to be quiet during his conference call.
He was trying to make her lose control.
And so far, he was winning.
She held her breath as he cupped her breast, and looked up to find a smirk on his face.
She couldn't let him win!
Arnav watched her straighten up, dislodging his hand in the process.
She stood up, and leaned forward.
Her lips touched his, a soft caress that left him aching for more.
As she leaned back again, he realized what she was doing.
He opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly realized that Aman was still talking.
"What was that? If they want to insist on that clause, then I..."
He stopped abruptly as he registered the feel of her fingers on his chest.
She was unbuttoning his shirt while he spoke, and now she looked up at him, even as she gently caressed his chest.
He caught her both her hands in his, holding them against his chest.
"Look, we can discuss this deal later. For now, just let them know that I'm going to be unavailable next week. And I'll call you later about the destination for my honeymoon. You can book...what the!"
She had taken advantage of his distraction and pulled her hands away from his, and now they were at his waist, toying with his belt.
He caught her hands again, holding them in a tight grip before she ventured further.
"Aman, I'll have to call you back."
He cut the call and whirled her around in one smooth motion.
"Using my own tricks against me, Mrs.Raizada?"
"You started it first, Mr.Raizada."
Arnav looked down at her, her beautiful hair streaming over his desk as he leaned her over it.
Challenge glimmered in her eyes, and he realized that she would never back down.
She would always fight back.
She would always play to win.
And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I always finish what I start."
He bent his head to kiss her, even as her arms went around his neck.
"I like your way of ending a fight."
"This wasn't a fight."
His lips covered hers, and she forgot what she had been about to say as his arms tightened around her.
The only thought that remained was that this was where she wanted to be for the rest of her life.
Two months later..
Khushi Raizada was excited.
She had just received some news that had surprised her, and thrilled her, all at once.
She couldn't wait until she told him.
She entered her bedroom, and placed her purse on the nightstand.
Arnav wasn't home yet, but she knew she couldn't wait.
She had to call him, right now.
He knew that the possibility existed, of course. They had discussed it this morning, and he had been optimistic.
But she hadn't wanted to get her hopes up.
The confirmation she had just received had stopped all speculation.
She knew for sure that this was actually happening.
Her life was about to change.
She had to tell him now, it was important that he was the first person who heard about this.
She picked her phone up from the nightstand, and a framed picture caught her eye.
It was a photograph of the two of them, taken against a snowy background
Memories of that glorious time rushed back, bringing a smile to her face.
"A tour of Europe? Are you sure, Khushi?"
"I'm sure. I've seen pictures, and I think it will be magical!"
It had been magical, more than she had ever imagined.
The three weeks they had spent there had brought them closer in ways they had never imagined.
And she had experienced things she had never even dreamed of.
Staring in open-mouthed surprise at the beautiful buildings in the city of London..jumping up and down like a child when she caught a glimpse of the queen on the balcony of Buckingham palace...taking long walks through the English countryside..
In Italy, trying out different types of Pasta, because it was Arnav's favourite... and refusing to eat Pizza because her butter naans were better...
Watching a bull-fight in Spain, cringing whenever the bull hit a man...
Her first glimpse of snow...her many falls while trying to ski...Arnav's laughter as he tried to teach her..
And the nights they had shared, nights of passion, of desire...
Making love by the fireplace when they were in a ski-lodge.. Passionate kisses shared in the shadow of the mountains..
The discovery of new ways to please each other...
She would never forget those three weeks.
But one memory stood out, imprinted on her mind because of his odd choice of words.
The Eiffel tower in Paris..
"The view from up here is beautiful, Arnav! I feel like I can see the whole world!"
He pulled her close and kissed her softly.
"I would give you the world, if I could."
"Now you sound like Salmanji!"
He turned her around in his arms, and she was surprised to see the serious expression on his face.
"I want you to be happy, always."
She put her arms around him, resting her head against his chest.
"I'm always happy, because I'm with you."
"I want you to be happy even if I'm not with you."
She raised her head and pulled out of his arms.
"Why wouldn't you be with me?"
"Khushi, all I meant was..."
"I don't want to hear it!"
She turned away, walking to the viewing area.
Khushi came back to the present.
Why was she thinking of that?
Probably because he had never said anything like that before, or since.
She looked at the phone in her hands, smiling as she remembered what she had been doing before her day-dream.
She dialled his number, and waited impatiently while he answered.
"Khushi? Tum theek ho?"
"I'm fine. More than fine. I've just received confirmation!"
He was silent for a moment, and then she heard his husky voice..
"Are you sure?"
"Yes! It's a hundred-percent certainty!"
"I..I don't know what to say..This is unbelievable!"
"I know! Who would have thought it would happen so soon?"
"And how are you feeling about this, sweetheart?"
"Excited! And nervous...but I guess everyone feels that way when it's their first time.."
"I'm coming home right now. We need to celebrate."
"Can I tell everyone?"
"Wait until I get there. We can tell them together."
"Arnav, wait! Have you thought of any names?"
"Names? Isn't it too early for that?"
"It's never too early. We need to start thinking about these things right away.."
"Have you thought of one?"
PS: I am disappointed that I couldn't devote a whole update or two to their honeymoon. But time is not on my side, sorry!
And yes, Anjali was the obvious choice. But one of my big problems with the show was the way they portrayed Anjali as this foolish woman who blindly believed her husband's lies. I wanted to make my Anjali very different, a woman who used her brains to plan her brother's wedding. And my Shyam is very much in love with his wife, even though she forced him into agreeing to be a part of this scheme.
New readers, please buddy me for PMs when I update.