Joined: 31 July 2012
Joined: 31 July 2012
A/N: All flashbacks are in Italics.
This one is for Lazyleaves, who sang her way to this dedication.
Arnav sat down heavily on the recliner, one of the books still clutched in his hands.
He couldn't take his eyes from it, as all the implications slowly dawned on his disbelieving mind.
He still couldn't completely believe it.
He looked down again.
Was he mistaken?
No, he wasn't . There could be no doubt that this was exactly what he thought it was.
So what was the meaning of all this?
This could change everything.
It was obvious to him now that Khushi had been hiding another secret that he had been unaware of.
One she had been hiding before they ever got married.
How had he not seen the signs?
He knew the answer to that, of course.
He might have suspected something if only he had been with her.
Over the last seven days, he had made it a point to spend as little time with her as possible.
Of course, he had his own reasons for doing so, and the tense situation at work had provided an acceptable excuse..
He couldn't be with her, and not touch her.
He couldn't stay near her, and not give in to the feelings he tried hard to suppress.
And so he had chosen the easy way out by avoiding her at work, and staying away from her at Shantivan.
Although easy wasn't a good term for what he was going through..
The nights were the worst, though.
There was a pattern he followed every night, one that was unknown to her..
He waited until he was sure that she was asleep, and listened to the even rhythm of her breathing before turning towards her.
And then he spent hours gazing at her calm, peaceful countenance, although he knew that it actually hid a deep level of turmoil within..
The sparkle of tears through the glass that separated them..an unspoken plea, an unheard reply..
As he stared at her, he allowed himself to slip into a land of fantasy where there were no deceptions, no lies, and no secrets. He gave himself permission to dream about her as she had existed in his imaginings..
When his eyes finally drifted shut, her face was the last thing he saw.
But when morning came around, the bright rays of sunlight wouldn't allow him to deceive himself any longer. He would remember everything that had happened, and the pain of betrayal would force him to leave his bed before she awoke.
At A.R, it was easier to avoid her, because his meetings never included her anyway. But he still knew exactly where she was, every minute of every day. Several times, he had stood in his office upstairs and watched her leave with the driver, her gaze turning towards the office again and again as if she was waiting for him..
He had to force himself to turn away then, but ignoring the appeal in those eyes was getting more and more difficult.
In fact, this whole situation was driving him crazy.
He didn't even know what he felt for her anymore.
Anger and hatred were his ever-present companions, and frustration at this charade was eating away at his equilibrium.
And now, there was this latest discovery.
He looked down at the book again, and tried to imagine just what had gone through her mind when she had done this.
There was an obvious answer, of course.
But he wouldn't allow himself to believe in that, not just yet.
Because if he did, he would open himself up to the probability of more pain, and more heartache..
But he had know why she had done this.
The easiest way would be to ask her, of course.
But would she tell him the truth?
And even if she did, would he able to believe her?
No, he couldn't ask her about this.
It would probably be better if she didn't even know that he had seen these..
He gathered the books together and placed them back on the shelf before closing the wardrobe .
Even though he turned away immediately, the memory of what he had just seen wouldn't leave him, and he walked out to the pool to try and think this through.
Why was it important for him to know the reason behind this latest lie?
In all his life,he had never been less than honest with himself.
And now, that honesty compelled him to admit that it was important because..he still cared.
He still cared for Khushi Kumari Gupta.
He whirled around, and looked around for something..anything..
His eyes fell on the pitcher of water sitting on the table.
He picked it up , and stared at it for a moment.
And then he smashed it against the wall, the tiny, sparkling fragments giving mute testimony to his frustration.
What the hell was wrong with him?
How could he still care for someone who had betrayed him?
But his conscience wasn't done yet.
It brutally reminded him that he had probably never stopped caring for her.
His family, Di's pregnancy, A.R, her Buaji..all these were mere excuses.
He had forced her to remain married to him because he hadn't been able to face the alternative.
He hadn't been able to let her go.
He swiped his hands through his hair, his mind and heart warring within him.
So that was the truth.
He had done all this just so that he could keep her with him.
His honesty with himself now compelled him to demand the same from her in return.
He had every right to know why she had done this.
He had every right to know the truth behind what he had just seen in the books.
And he wouldn't rest until he had figured it out.
No matter what.
He felt that sense, that sensation that he always associated with her presence.
Taking a deep breath, he turned to face her, but she wasn't looking at him.
Her gaze was fixed on the shards of glass at his feet, and she stared at them for a moment before looking up at him.
They stared at each other for a moment, until she finally looked away.
He didn't allow himself to think twice about what he was going to do.
He went inside and closed the sliding door behind him, then locked the main door for good measure.
She stared at him with a question in her eyes, but she didn't say a word.
"Khushi, I need to talk to you."
Now surprise replaced the curiosity in her eyes, and he knew what she was thinking.
After days of ignoring her and pretending she didn't exist, she was probably wondering why he wanted to talk to her at all.
"About..why don't you sit down first?"
"Sit down? Why? Hai Devi Maiyya, has something happened to Buaji?"
"What?! No! Of course not. I just wanted to ask you something, and I just thought you would want to..never mind. Just answer me now. And I would appreciate it if you would be honest in your replies."
She looked away immediately, and he winced at his choice of words.
But then she took a deep breath and faced him again.
"I have no reason to lie to you, Mr.Raizada. What do you want to know?"
Several questions rushed through his mind, but he chose the one that bothered him the most.
"Why did you marry me?"
Her eyes widened in shock, and her hand flew to her mangalsutra in an unconscious gesture that wasn't lost on him.
"It's a simple question, Khushi. Why did you marry me in the first place?"
"Why? I've already told you why! I wanted to avenge my sister by taking away A.R, and you provided the means for me to do so by giving me those shares in the prenuptial.."
"But that's exactly my point. I did not make the prenuptial agreement until a few days before the wedding. You had already agreed to marry me by then, and you had no way of knowing that I would give you those shares as a gift,so why did you come here to accept my proposal?"
"I..I wanted to..I mean, my intention was to try and destroy A.R as an insider.."
"How would you have done that? How did you know that I would let my wife work in A.R at all? Especially since I didn't even know that you were a business graduate? I might have asked you to stay home as a housewife, and what would have happened to your little plan then?"
He took one step towards her, and she took one back immediately.
"Why didn't you stick to your original plan of buying out the minor stakeholders?"
Another step, and one more back..
"Why did you even consider a marriage of any kind to a man who had supposedly destroyed your sister's life?"
He took one more step towards her, and she took one back, but she was now backed up against the wall.
Her eyes were wider than ever, and her breaths were rapid and uneven.
"Why did you let that man touch you, kiss you..if you hated him for what he had done?"
He placed his hands on either side of her, and leaned closer.
"Why, Khushi? Answer me, dammit!"
She stared at him, then shoved him away with a sudden move.
"I don't have to answer any of your questions! I'm here only because of your threats , and nothing else!"
"And you married me only to take revenge."
"Yes, how many times.."
"And you hate me now, just like you always have."
"How difficult is that for you to understand? Yes, I hate you, and I always.."
She stopped abruptly as he turned around and walked to the wardrobe.
He heard her shocked gasp as he pulled out the books, and held it out for her to see.
"Then what the hell is this, Khushi Kumari Gupta?!"
She appeared to be stunned for a moment, her gaze moving from the books to him, then back again.
"How did you..when.."
"It doesn't matter how and when I found this. What matters is why. Why have you done this?"
She stared at the books, then seemed to pull herself together.
"It has nothing to do with you."
"I don't believe you."
"That isn't my problem!"
"I think I might know the secret behind this. Do you want me to tell you?"
"No! I mean..I told you, it has nothing to do with you! I did it because..because.."
She looked at the books again, then back at him with panic in her eyes.
"I..because.. I hate you!"
She whirled around and ran to the door, unlocking it and running out before he could take a single step.
It didn't matter.
Because he now knew that no matter what she said, or did, hatred wasn't all that she felt for him.
The proof was in his hands.
As he turned to place the books back in the wardrobe, he did something he hadn't done for days.
Arnav Singh Raizada looked up, and smiled.
An hour later, he decided that he had given her enough time to compose herself, and went down in search of her.
He looked through the living areas, but she wasn't there.
He was just heading towards Nani's room when he heard a voice from the kitchen.
What was all that muttering?
He moved closer, and now he could hear the words clearly.
"Who does he think he is? Asking me all those questions in that accent like a..like a..Laad Governor! Yes, that's it! He's a pompous, arrogant, hateful, Laad Governor, and I just hate.."
She stopped talking abruptly as she saw him, and her cheeks turned pink with an embarrassment that he hadn't seen in days..
But then his gaze dropped to what was on the counter in front of her, and it was his turn to be shocked by what he saw there.
"What is all this?"
"They are..jalebis, of course. Haven't you seen them before?"
"I know what they are. But why are there so many? Are we having a party that no one told me about?"
"No! There's no party, it's just.."
"Why did you make so many , then?"
"I..I made them because..because..it has nothing to do with you!"
"I never said that it had anything to do with me,Khushi."
Her lips parted as if she was about to say something, but then she turned off the stove and walked away briskly, throwing him an annoyed glance over her shoulder as she did so.
He just couldn't help it.
He laughed out loud.
If this was hate, then he was all for it!
Khushi watched in stunned silence as his face transformed with laughter.
And immediately, she was once again reminded of those days in Lucknow when he had smiled,and laughed..
She was still thinking about this as she prepared for bed that night, and was startled out of her reverie when he suddenly spoke to her.
"I was just asking if there is one side of the bed which you prefer to sleep on.."
She just stared at him blankly.
After one week of acting as if she was invisible, why did he suddenly care about her comfort?
"Uh..no, there isn't.."
"And do you want the night-light on?"
"Yes, I do.."
He turned the light on, then got into his side of the bed.
"Good night, Khushi."
She couldn't even reply to that.
But as she pulled the blanket over herself and settled in, Khushi knew a strange sensation was taking over.
A sense of peace..
And she had no idea why.
For the first time in days, she fell asleep within minutes of lying down on the bed.
And so did he.
Two days later, Khushi unstrapped her seat belt and leaned back against the headrest of the plane.
Their flight to Hong Kong had just taken off, and Arnav was busy in a discussion with NK.
The last two days had been very busy at work, and she had barely managed to pack her clothes in time for this flight.
This was the first respite she had been given from the hectic pace of her life, and she closed her eyes as she finally allowed herself to think about the two incidents that had happened over the last two days..
Incidents that had changed so much..that held so much meaning..
She walked towards her desk, her mind still occupied with the events of last night.
What would she do if he questioned her about those books again?
As she sat down on her chair, her eyes fell on the object that lay on her desk.
She gasped as she realized what it was, and who must have placed it there.
Why had he done this?
She had a suspicion , of course, but she needed to know for sure.
She tried to see if she could meet him, but he was tied up throughout the morning.
And when she finally saw him, the words he spoke shocked her, and she forgot all about what she had been waiting to ask him.
"Will you join me for lunch?"
"I'm stepping out for lunch, and I wanted to know if you would like to join me."
"But..I've already eaten.."
Was that disappointment in his eyes?
"Oh. That's fine, then. "
As he turned to leave, she suddenly remembered what she had been about to ask him.
"Did you put this here?"
He looked down at her desk, then back at her again.
"I..just wanted to know if..you brought this..for me.."
He stared at her for a long moment before he finally answered.
"I don't know what you are talking about."
He was gone before she could say another word.
She spent the rest of the day staring at her desk, and didn't know how she got any work done at all.
The other incident had taken place last night, when she had gone out to the poolside, only to find that she wasn't alone..
The cool breeze blew against her face as she stared at the man who was treading water in the pool, his eyes glittering as he stared at her.
She couldn't look away.
She didn't even want to.
They stared at each other, caught in a timeless moment where no past,and no future existed.
The web that always seemed to be around them was drawing them closer, and for just this moment, the thought of resisting never entered their minds.
He was standing on the step inside the pool now, and his gaze never wavered from hers.
And when he reached a hand out to her, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world for her to take it.
She took one step into the cool water, and then she hesitated.
"I..I don't know how to swim.."
"It's okay. Trust me.."
And she realized with a start of surprise, that she did trust him.
For this moment, at least.
She took the next step, and soon she was standing beside him in the shallow end of the pool, the water lapping against her waist as she stared up at him.
She had no idea why she was doing this.
She didn't allow herself to think about it either.
All she knew was that she wanted to be here, in his arms..
And when he leaned down to kiss her, the thought of refusal didn't even cross her mind.
He pulled her closer with one hand at the back of her head as he deepened the kiss, and she lost herself in the feel and scent of him..
When he finally ended the kiss, she opened her eyes slowly, trying to understand what was happening here.
But she had no time to wonder, because he swung her up into his arms as he stepped out of the pool.
Her wet saree trailed behind them as he entered the bedroom, and she clasped her hands around his bare, wet neck, loving the feel of the smooth skin under her fingers.
He put her down gently, and she looked up at him as he lowered his head again.
Suddenly, she was reminded of the last time she had been this close to him.
His rejection, the pain..it all came back to haunt her, and she abruptly pulled out of his arms.
She stared at him for a moment, then turned and ran for the washroom, locking it behind her as she stood there panting..
When she finally went back, he was already in bed.
She knew he must be angry, and disappointed..and she felt guilty about that..
And then she had seen what lay on her pillow.
Tears had flooded her eyes, but she had fallen asleep with a smile on her lips.
Khushi opened her eyes to see that he was still talking to NK.
Arnav Singh Raizada.
The sensations of last night were still fresh in her mind, but she had no clue about his thoughts.
He had never talked about what had happened, and had actually behaved as if nothing had taken place between them at all.
Was he ever going to speak about it?
But why did she have to wait for him to?
She had given this a lot of thought last night.
She still didn't know what was on his mind, and what he wanted out of this marriage.
She didn't even know what she felt for him..
But she did know one thing for sure.
The past two days had given her a small sliver of hope..a slight hint of possibility..
She had allowed herself to dream again.
Sh didn't even know if those dreams had any basis in reality, but she knew that she wanted to pursue them.
She owed it to herself, and to him.
She had allowed anger and resentment to rule her life for too long.
And recently,guilt and hatred had joined that list as well.
But she wouldn't let that continue.
This wasn't the life she wanted to lead..
She was going to try and reach for her one chance at happiness, even if that was still a distant mirage..
She knew that there was a chance that she might end up getting hurt in the process.
But she didn't care.
She had nothing to lose, after all.
And if she won, it would all be worth it.
She held on to that thought as she dressed for the evening at the hotel in Hong Kong.
This was a business dinner with the investors, and he had already gone downstairs to meet them in the restaurant.
She was supposed to join them in a few minutes, and now, as she looked at herself in the mirror, she wondered if she actually had the courage to go through with this..
She took a deep breath and stood up, knowing that she would have to call on all her reserves of strength in order to do so..
As she left the elevator, all she could think of was his reaction when he saw her this evening.
So far, he had only ever seen her in traditional, Indian clothing, and this was the first time she was wearing one of the dresses she had brought from New York .
A simple sheath dress in red that fell just below her knees, it was one of her favorites, a gift from a friend.
She had teamed it with black heels, and she wore no jewellery apart from the engagement ring he had given her.
She had almost taken it off after wearing it, but then she had remembered the look in his eyes last night..
What would he say when he saw her?
What would he do?
She knew that the restaurant had a dance floor, as well.
Would he take her into his arms for a dance?
A small part of her mind screamed at her to stop building these fantasies, but she didn't pay any attention to it.
She would go with the flow, and see where it led.
A small smile played on her lips as she entered the restaurant.
The hostess directed her towards the table reserved for them, but when she reached it, he wasn't there.
Where was he?
She couldn't wait until he saw her..
Her eyes searched through the crowd, and the smile fell off her lips as she saw him.
It was just as if her fantasy had suddenly turned into a nightmare.
Because he was already on the dance floor.
With a woman in his arms, entwined in an intimate dance.
PS: Three more chapters to go!
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