Saturday, August 4, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 22

Friday.

The elegant quietness of the dining room was only broken by the tinkle of china and the soft murmurs of the diners. Sergio and Khushi were in the middle of dinner, rehashing some of the work that needed to get done in the next few weeks. He would be returning to San Francisco after Akash’s engagement. Although he couldn’t stay for the wedding, he obviously understood that Khushi had to stay back. It would also allow her to continue with the work here in India and be his eyes on the ground, so to speak. Their laptops stood open amidst the crockery and cutlery. Arnav and Lavanya were supposed to join them but were running late, so they had already started.

Her phone buzzed and she picked it up. Arnav.

‘Where are you?’

‘In the dining room. Having dinner with Sergio.’

‘Good,’ he said and hung up.

Two minutes later, she saw Sergio glance up and smile. ASR was walking towards them with the gorgeous Lavanya at his side. She felt a pang of jealousy as she saw how familiarly the other girl held ASR’s arm, but she quickly doused it. They were, after all, colleagues and she had never seen anything in Lavanya’s behavior to indicate otherwise.

Sergio stood up holding out his hand. ‘Arnav,’ he shook his hand, ‘Lavanya, my dear,’ he beamed, raising her fingers to his lips. She simpered at him, her dimples out in full display. He pulled out a chair for her, next to him. Arnav had to sit next to Khushi. Neither of them looked at each other.

Sergio looked at their faces. He’d noticed the tension between the two, although they had both hidden it very well. But he knew Khushi. His lips turned up at the corners, before he turned to Lavanya.

‘Así que, mi querida,’ he said. ‘Glad to see you could make it’

‘Well, ASR had some stuff to catch up on, so we got delayed!’ she exclaimed. ‘But you’ve already started,’ she pouted.

‘No importa. We will join you for dessert. Khushi and I are done with work, anyway. ‘

ASR ordered dinner for himself and Lavanya from the maitre’d who’d been hovering in the background. ‘What would you like for dessert, Sergio?’ he said.

‘Surprise me, amigo. Let’s see what this hotel has to offer,’ he smiled to take away the sting of his words. ASR tilted his head in acknowledgement.

‘A chocolate gateau for the gentleman and…’, he paused looking at Khushi. He held her eyes for a second and then said, ‘Jalebis for the lady.’

Her eyes popped wide open, her mouth rounded in that adorable ‘O’

Oh not again! Said the imp. Dude, you gotta find new adjectives for the ‘O’ - how about kissable? Huh? HUH?

Will you shut up already? He answered back.

‘How’d you know I love jalebis?’ she said.

He shrugged, ‘Just a guess’.

‘Oh!’ she said, but didn’t contradict him.

Their dinner companions were looking at them, Lavanya with a brow raised at ASR. He glowered back at her. First the imp, now her. Sergio on the other hand had an amused smile on his face. So his amigo was feeling a little atracción for the little senorita now, was he?

The rest of dinner passed uneventfully. They studiously avoided addressing each other, unless absolutely necessary. He wanted to watch her eat the jalebis, but kept his head averted. He knew she was enjoying them, what with the ‘mmmm’ that she made every now and then. Did she know what that was doing to him?

They finished dinner and ordered coffee. Khushi poured for them all, handing him his black coffee without asking about cream and sugar. Lavanya noted it, hmmm…so little Ms.Gupta even knows about his sugar-free diet, she thought. ASR baby, just how much were you interacting with her in San Francisco?

Thankfully she missed the little caress his fingers gave hers as he took his cup from her. Sergio and he were deep in discussion about the coming collection, when Lavanya popped in with, ‘I think we should have a theme to it. Something that speaks to both the Western and Eastern cultures. I mean, AR Fashions is already well known for its mix of Indian and Western, but I think this collection has to be different. It has to have the added signature haute couture style of Sergio’s and we have a winner here. The fabric should be Indian, the thought haute couture!’

Sergio looked admiringly at her and said, ‘ASR, I understand why you want to keep her to yourself, but mi amigo, this girl is a keeper!’

ASR smiled at Lavanya. Her glance flicked from him to Khushi, who was quietly smiling at the interchange, and then back at him. Is she a keeper, too, ASR? Her eyes were asking. He masked his eyes and just gave her that lop-sided smile before bringing his attention back to Sergio. But not before a quick glance at Khushi.

As they left he dining table, Khush trailed behind, picking up her laptop, and stuffing it into her bag. A voice impinged on her conscious mind. A familiar voice and a hated one! She stopped breathing for a few seconds, head bent, straining to hear it. There it was again, behind her. She looked around, only to see the pallu of a saree drifting away from the door.

Arnav had been following Sergio and Lavanya who had an openly flirting thing going on. Suddenly he felt a pull, an urge to turn around. Khushi! He spun around to see her standing staring at the door behind her. He could see her hands trembling on her bag. In three strides he was beside her, holding her elbows making her look at him. She raised large eyes to his, a faint sheen of sweat on her upper lip. His eyes searched hers. What is it? Tell me. She looked to the door, he followed her glance. He shielded her body from the other two and held her hands tight. ‘Breathe’, he said. She nodded, gulping in air, till she was composed.

They came up to the other two who were waiting on them, wondering what was going on?

‘What happened, ASR?’ Lavanya was the first to ask.

‘Nothing. Khushi almost dropped her laptop,’ he said, making it up on the fly. ‘I was just helping her.’

‘Oh okay,’ she said. Sergio nodded also accepting this explanation.

‘Ah, Lavanya, would you mind going ahead? I need to see the manager about something and it might take me a while’.

‘Sure, ASR,’ she complied.

‘I will see you to the door, Senorita,’ Sergio gallantly offered.

‘Gracias, Sergio’ she laughingly said, tucking her hand into his arm as they moved to the main doors. ‘Goodnight, you two,’ she waved.

Arnav caught Khushi’s elbow and hurried over to the elevators. They took it to her floor in silence. The body guards were still stationed at her door. They walked in to her suite and shut the door.

‘Khushi, who was it?’

‘I think it was Rani Sahiba’.

‘What?!’ She nodded. He held her shoulders, closing his eyes in frustration. ‘Khushi, you can’t stay here. The only place you will be safe is back at Shantivan.’

‘But my parents arrive tomorrow. How will we explain to them why I’m at Shantivan while they are here? What about Sergio?’

‘I’ll manage Sergio, don’t worry about it. I think your father will understand why if I explain to him’, he said.

‘Yes, he would, but the wedding is going to be here and I’ve got to be a part of it.’

‘I know.’ He started pacing up and down, his mind racing to find a way out of this conundrum. A wedding is such a huge affair. There would be hundreds of people around her, people that he didn’t know and couldn’t count on. But there would also be some people there that he could count on. He would have to organize this really carefully. Starting with the guest list. A plan was forming in his mind - something that would keep her safe, while he was busy with all the work that comes with a wedding.

He stopped pacing to see her standing there chewing on her nails, her eyes had been following him and now stopped on his face. She looked so nervous, he thought.

He cradled her face in his hands, ‘Trust me?’ he said.

She nodded, ‘implicitly’.

‘Good’, he kissed her forehead. That’s it? cried the imp in shock. He kicked its butt. ‘Go to bed. Nothing will happen while you are in this room. Tomorrow make sure you are ready and packed. I’ll pick you up at ten, okay?’

She nodded. She didn’t know why she was putting so much trust in him. She just knew that here was a shoulder that she could rest against. Almost as if he understood her thoughts, he wrapped her in his arms. They stood there quietly, each lost in their thoughts.

Then he remembered. He drew away from her, and turned her around to walk her to her bedroom. A gift bag lay on the bed. She looked at him, and he nodded. She picked up the bag, and inside was a small box. ‘More gifts?’ she said.

‘No,’ he smiled, ‘memories’.

The box contained a bottle of D&G. She smiled and he smiled back at her. Sniff! Went the imp. How clichéd! Dude, you really don’t have a clue, do you?

For a moment he stood looking at her from the doorway. The vast bed behind her was giving him ideas he didn’t want to have. She came over to him, and his walls started to crumble. Holding the door jamb tight, he leaned in and kissed her. She leaned into him and his arms came around her. The imp made a hand-washing gesture and walked away.

She was lost in the tenderness of the kiss, returning it fully with no restraint. Her fingers reached up to his hair, losing themselves in the softness of it. He drew back, and she lifted her heavy eyelids, drowning in the caramel gaze. He leaned in once again and kissed her softly this time, before letting her go.

Without a word, he turned around and walked out the door.

She stood there for a while, the taste of his lips still lingering on hers, before she started getting ready for bed.

She was wondering where this was going. Arnav Singh Raizada was notorious for his flings. She didn’t want to be one of them. And yet, somehow, he didn’t treat her like a fling. He had always maintained his distance with her around others. He was always respectful of her, although he was wont to tell her off if he had to! His concern for her was almost … she looked for a word.. the only one that fit was instinctive. From the first time she met him, she had known he was different than any other man she’d ever encountered. She’d kept her heart locked away after all that had happened. But it had taken Arnav Singh Raizada only days to start breaking down her defenses. And she hadn’t put up much of a fight, had she?

Now he wanted her living under the same roof as him! From a practical point of view it made sense. But from the point of view of her heart, she was wondering just how practical it would be.

With a sigh, she climbed into bed.

The phone rang. For a moment she lay there dreading the call. Then she realized it was her cell phone! She picked it up. Arnav.

‘I forgot to say good night,’ he husked.

‘Good night’ she said.

They didn’t say anything for a while, but she knew he was smiling. She heard it in his voice, ‘Are you in bed?’

‘Mmm-hmm..’

‘Good. Now go to sleep.’

‘You still didn’t say it,’ she reminded him.

‘What?’

‘Good night’.

Pause. ‘Good night’.

With a sigh she hung up, turned off the lights and curled up in bed. Two minutes later she was fast asleep.

7 comments:

  1. I loved this one so much,,,,great,,, looking fwd to more.. Jhalak

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  2. HMMMMM U know this is one of those .. snug in blanket .. with rain pouring out .. & a strong cup of tea or coffee with u or chocolates will do .. Kinda read .. very mushy .. very sweet .. & the first thot that came to mind .. was .. uff what it is to be in LOVE ..
    Incredible one .. once again .. now i am confused whats ur genre .. is it romance .. is it intrigue ..or is it dark sexual drama .. u seriously excel at it all .. Brilliant .. ur phangurl

    As usual .. waiting .. :)

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  3. Good one Madhu..........my imp is getting bolder!!!!!

    Eagerly waiting for the next chapter......Payal.

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  4. HI Madhu, beautiful! Loved it. This rani sahib a is scary man!!!! Thnks for the pm and awaiting further updates.

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  5. sigh.

    swoon that's the way a lover shoud say good night. i feel like i could curl up in bed and bask in their love.

    (can you tell that i'm trying really hard not to include awww in my comment? uff. failed again.) and special mention to the imp... before, arnav used to ignore it.. now he's kicking his arse and all? i'm loving this mental byplay inside ASR. now i know how he is not just a businessman, but a creative person, too. (i thik i am falling in love with this ASR.. but he loves khuhsi, and i'm okay with that!)

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  6. Oh this rani sahiba is still roaming about freely now, is she???? Well not for long, bitch...
    Loved the trust level between A&K...

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  7. This was awesome, Rani Sahiba is around, and Arnav is quite rightly making sure that Khushi is safe. Im surprised that although Shyam was bailed out, they havent traced as to who posted the bail money... maybe that would have been a clue.
    The last part was just Aaahhhh.

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