Sunday, August 17, 2014

Baby Hold On 21-25

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Secret Passion: Episode 26: Club Indigo
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Tina


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Part 22: 9/16/14
Baby Hold On by Tina!
Part 21: Answer me, Raizada!
~Arnav~
Memories are tricky, finicky things. I thought I'd not forgotten a single detail about the woman standing before me. I mean, how could I?
Her gorgeous face had haunted me for three long months and I'd replayed in my head every memory I'd ever shared with her countless times. Surely, if you thought about someone all day and night long, forgetting even the slightest detail would be impossible.
But it was anything but.
As I stood there, gazing at Khushi, it hit me hard. I'd forgotten how much her wide, fiery eyes revealed their shifting emotions. I'd forgotten exactly how her hair curled at the ends when wet.
Rain was pouring down, but neither of us seemed to feel it. That sorry excuse of a police officer was striding away, muttering about complaining to his superiors. I felt like calling him back and explaining exactly how far-reaching my authority was, but I decided against that urge almost immediately. All that mattered to me was her.
Khushi Kumari Gupta. The woman I loved. And who now looked, by the way her hands were fisting at her sides, to be debating whether to embrace me or shove me away.
I didn't blame her, but in this moment, all I could think was: Finally. Dammit, finally I'm here, standing before her.
The wind sent a lock of her wet hair flying across her face. My hand automatically rose to brush it aside, but Khushi beat me to it, her gaze wide and watchful.
That slight action reminded me of the past...of another memory... I'd just gotten out of a suffocating, too warm taxi, cursing about how I'd been relegated to a small undercover job in Laxmi Nagar of all places when--Bam!--I'd collided with her.
That day of course, it hadn't been just rain soaking us both. There had also been milk. "Got milk?" I remembered Khushi asking, a crooked, embarrassed smile on her lips, her eyes twinkling up at me.
Those same eyes were guarded now. No longer as friendly. I'd prepared myself for this, but damn, it hurt. I didn't know where to start. So of course I opened my mouth and basically made things even worse--if that was possible:
"Hi..."
Her full lips parted and then clamped into a thin, too straight line. "Hi?" She took a step closer. "That's all you have to say to me?"
I shook my head. "What I want to say is that I've missed you...Missed you to hell and back." I drew her into my arms, cupping her face. "I need to kiss you." Voicing my greatest desire wasn't difficult. I'd hidden certain things from her, but my feelings for this woman had always been an open book.
There was no facade here. No duplicity. This was just us. As we were meant to be. Together.
My head lowered and before I could capture her softness, her hands rose between us.
"Explain first," she cut in, her eyes going from my mouth to my eyes and back again. Her chest heaved against my leather jacket, making me all too aware how damn long it had been since I'd last touched her like this. I wanted to crush my mouth to hers. To kiss and love every inch of her.
It didn't seem I'd be getting a chance to do that anytime soon though. Khushi was beyond furious. "Where have you been?" she exclaimed. "It's been three months! How could you just leave like that? Was it that easy to walk away from me? From our love?"
The accusations hit me like a bodily slam. I exhaled, my hands tightening on her shoulders. "I had to, Khushi. There was no choice."
Her voice rose. "But why? If it was work-related, why couldn't you tell me first? You walked away...without a single word." Her eyes sparked with fire. "And don't you dare tell me there wasn't enough time for you to speak to me just once. There had to be!"
I didn't lie to her. "There was enough time," I admitted slowly. "That night, I did come back to your room--just as I promised I would. You were sleeping..." I could still picture how tired she'd looked curled up on her side, how damn beautiful... It had been the toughest thing I'd ever done to leave her. My feet had felt rooted to the floor. And then as my phone buzzed again and I realized I had to go, I'd bent to kiss her lips one last time, whispering my love. She'd smiled in her sleep and I'd felt even more horrible. I'd known that in a few short hours, that smile would be gone. And it would all be one person's fault. Mine.
I swallowed. "I could have woken you up that night, but I didn't. I kissed you goodbye and left."
Khushi's breathing was even, her face ashen. "Why? What made you leave me like that? Just when everything was finally right between us..."
I hardened my heart, but it did no good. The hurt in her voice was palpable, and it stung more than any number of bullets ever could. Staring into her eyes, I said the words I knew I had to say. "I'm sorry, baby, but I can't tell you. I wish I could, but I can't."
*****
~Khushi~
I can't tell you.
There it was again. More secrets. More lies. I felt my temper flare as Arnav refused to explain, his face impassive. He was again the professional-appearing cop, distant and unapproachable. I didn't want that though. What I wanted--needed--was the man who'd bantered back and forth with me, who'd taught me how to kiss, and who'd showed me what love truly was.
He was behaving almost like a complete stranger with me now. That was the last straw. Marching up to him, I grabbed his leather jacket, shaking him.
"That's all you have to say? Do you have any idea how worried I've been? I thought something had happened to you! Something awful and--"
His hands rose to cover mine, his eyes suddenly steely. "Nothing happened. I just had to take care of something."
"For three months?" I shook my head. "I don't believe you. Not this time." I felt like the biggest fool on the planet. "Everyone told me how stupid I was for trusting you, for waiting for you. Everyone! But I never cared. I told myself that it had to be something important if it made you leave like that." Pulling my hands out from under his, I looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. "But it was nothing important, was it? You just left because it was the easy thing to do." Though my words were harsh, I clung to a small bit of hope. Please deny it, please...
The only reaction he gave was the slight tightening of his jaw line.
"ANSWER ME, RAIZADA!"
His eyes flashed at me, the straight, smooth line of his mouth compressing. "What do you want me to say? That I had a chance to tell you I was leaving, but didn't? Well, that's true. I'm not going to lie--I did have that option." His face visibly hardened. "But I chose not to. That was my decision and I'll have to live with it. We both will..."
My palm connected with the left side of his face. I didn't know who was more startled: me or him. Angry tears rose to my eyes.
"You are the biggest liar I've ever known, Arnav Singh Raizada. I want nothing to do with you!" Wiping my tears away, I pointed toward the gate behind him. "LEAVE! JUST LEAVE RIGHT NOW!"
He suddenly looked just as furious as me, hauling me into his arms. I pushed and shoved but he held on, his eyes hot and bright. "Listen to me, Khushi. Maybe I deserved that slap, maybe you have every right to tell me to leave, but I can't leave you. Not now. Maddy Bua has been taken. I'm sure it was that Jha's doing. Don't you see? You're in danger."
I scowled up at him. "The only danger I see near me is you. I want you to go. NOW!"
He tugged me more firmly against him, a familiar smirk appearing. My hands flattened on the leather jacket. "Unfortunately, baby," he purred. "Even if I wanted to listen to you, I can't. I'm in charge of this case. Until Buaji is found, you're stuck with me."
"I hate you," I told him.
The smirk on his face vanished. His eyes grew shuttered. "I know, " he said after a moment of pause. "And you have every right too. But I...I still love you. More crazily than ever. You mean everything to me, Khushi. Everything."
Those words again. Those words my heart had ached for so long to hear. But I was not going to be fooled again by this man. Not this time.
"I wish I could believe you, Raizada. But I can't. I don't think I ever can."
His eyes pierced me with their fire. "Then I'll do everything in my power to make you reconsider. You belong with me, baby."
My heart shook but I stood firm, not backing down an inch. "You're wasting your time and mine. It'll never happen."
But he was just as stubborn as me, if not more. "It can and it will."
"Trust takes years to build and a moment to shatter apart. And you, you've not just broken my trust, you've broken my heart." I pushed away from him, striding to the door before my tears got the best of me.
Arnav tried to take my hand in his, but Bumble was coming down the steps and I wrenched my arm away.
"Are you alright, bitiya?" Her gaze widened as it settled on the man behind me. "Arnav dear? You've returned?"
He came up beside me, nodding. I shifted away and I could feel his eyes on me. I forced my gaze to remain focused elsewhere.
"Yeah, just for a few days. I heard about Maddy Bua."
A few days? My stupid heart beat faster at that. You're the one who told him to leave, the rational part of me pointed out. Why did it feel like a kick in the stomach for him to say the same then?
I was still struggling to make sense of everything and meanwhile, Arnav was being his usual charming self. That jerk!
He smiled reassuringly at Bumble, patting her hand. "Maddy Bua will be found safe and sound," I heard him say as he led her back to the salon. "Don't worry. I'm here now."
I don't know why, but unlike the other police officer, I believed him. Shaking my head at my foolishness, I stepped inside the house, sat down on the sofa and mentally counted to ten.
I'd gotten to nine when I heard footsteps. My eyes opened and instead of the man I'd been expecting, it was a stranger. A stranger of medium height, with short, clipped hair and friendly eyes.
"Hi," he said, crossing over to me, his hand outstretched. "I'm Aman. I work with ASR."
So this was Raizada's right hand man, the one who'd pretended to be his editor. I'd heard about him several times, but his appearance startled me. I'd been expecting someone battle-worn and middle-aged. But Aman was actually quite young, Arnav's junior by several years.
"Khushi Kumari Gupta." I shook his hand cautiously.
"I know." He rocked back on his heels, his eyes wandering over the house like a hawk. "ASR told me everything..."
My mouth thinned all the more. "At least he doesn't keep secrets from you," I huffed. And then it hit me. My eyes rose to his. "Maybe you can tell me. Where was he for the past three months? Was it an important assignment?"
Aman gave nothing away and I realized that though he was young, he was good at this keeping secrets business too. "I can't reveal that."
I ground my teeth together. "Why? What is so important that neither you nor him can tell me? I have every right to know!"
"Actually you don't," a female voice broke in. My head swerved to the main door. It was that pretty girl, the one from the fair. Just great...
"Our work is strictly confidential," she explained, sitting across from me and opening a black laptop. Her eyes were fixed on the screen. "ASR can't tell you anything even if he wanted to. I'm Lavanya Kashyap by the way. Sorry about the fan drama that day at the fair. It was a last-minute idea I came up with."
"No!" I recalled Arnav telling me after I'd discovered his badge in the cologne bottle. "I took you to the fair because I genuinely wanted a proper date with you. Because I wanted some time alone with you.  I didn't know Lavanya would act like my fan and show up like that. I've never worked with her before. It's usually me and Aman."
So he hadn't lied about everything, my heart jumped to point out.
He's lied about everything else though, my mind retorted.
But what if it was something truly serious that kept him away?
Please. The man had the chance to tell you he was leaving and he didn't! He admitted so himself!
"Khushi?"
My head snapped toward Aman. He'd taken out a laptop too and by the way he was staring at me, it was obvious he'd called my name several times.
"Yes?"
"Can you tell me exactly what happened with your aunt? We need to know everything. Every miniscule detail you remember."
I told them everything I'd told the local police officer. "There isn't much," I mumbled miserably, slouching back on the sofa.
"It's enough." Arnav walked in, removing his sunglasses. The black leather jacket was draped over his arm and I saw that instead of his usual sweats and tee, he was instead wearing a sleek, designer suit. He looked suave and very sophisticated as he sat opposite me. Damn him! Did he have to look so handsome?
Another detail bugged me. As much as I didn't want to own up it, it irked me to see him sitting beside another woman and not me. You're hopeless, girl, I told myself.
"How is that enough, ASR?" Lavanya finally looked up from the computer screen, her eyebrows scrunching together. "She didn't even see their faces."
"But Khushi said they looked European, which correlates with the information we have. She also said it was an unmarked, black van which is just the type of car Jha and his people like to use. And most importantly, it all happened within minutes and nothing else was taken. That rules out local involvement. It was definitely Jha."
"But why?" Aman asked the question that was on the tip of my tongue. "Why would he kidnap her aunt for?"
Arnav's eyes sizzled into mine. "That I don't know. Either he wants to blackmail Khushi by using her aunt against her or Maddy Bua was not his actual target in the first place. In either case, point is, we need to find him. I want him arrested this time. Lavanya, have you found anything? Anything suspicious?"
Her fingers were flying over the keyboard, typing away faster than I could blink. "Not yet."
"Check every airport, train station, the whole nine yards. And Aman, contact our sources in Europe ASAP."
Arnav stood then, and I found myself asking, "Where are you going?"
"Checking the camera I installed."
"Camera?" I sputtered. "You installed cameras in my home without telling me?" I frowned up at him. Before I could yell at him, he yanked me up on my feet, leading me to the main door and pointing to a tiny, black dot in the upper rafter outside I'd never noticed till now.
"That's the camera I installed before I left. I had a bad feeling something like this might happen but I never thought it would be this serious. That toad has crossed every bloody limit this time."
I stood in shock as he took out a small chip from the device and stalked over to Lavanya. Within seconds, a high-definition video clipping appeared. My eyes widened as I watched my aunt open the door. There was no audio but we watched her accept a sheet of paper from an unknown man, her face turning pale almost at once.
And then the same man grabbed her, picking her up in his arms as she flailed and hit him over the head with both fists. As the man turned on his heel, Arnav paused the recording with the press of one, long finger.
"That's him. Memorize this face and search for it in the database. I want him found by tonight. Is that understood?"
The other two nodded, talking away while I stared at the unknown man. He was European-looking, just as I'd guessed, with dark brown hair and matching colored eyes. He also looked scruffy and dangerous.
Buaji, I whispered to myself. Please be all right.
By 11 PM that night, my life had taken yet another turn that I could have never foreseen. I was sitting at the dining table in my usual spot, a slice of pizza on my plate. Aman, Lavanya and Arnav had brought their files and computers to the table, searching through pictures upon pictures between bites of pizza.
"Eat, Khushi," Mr. Sexy told me, pushing my plate closer. "You haven't taken a bite yet."
I was surprised he'd noticed. He'd seemed so engrossed in whatever he was doing on his laptop, I'd assumed he wasn't even paying me any attention. I stared across at him, feeling confused, worried, hungry and plain exhausted.
He looked tired too. He'd lost his coat hours ago along with his tie. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows and if not for my aunt's absence, it was very much like those blissful days when we'd meet at the dining table every night, laughing and talking and struggling not to jump into each other's arms and make out crazily.
I swallowed, pushing the plate aside. "I'm not hungry."
He held up a slice with one hand. "Please, babe. Just a bite. For your Buaji."
My throat constricted and leaning forward, I took a small, tentative bite. Arnav looked pleased, a half smile on his sinful lips.
His mouth reminded me of things I didn't want to remember...of passion...of love...of that magical, all too brief night at the cabin. My body warmed.
I could have sworn his eyes narrowed on my lips, his smoldering gaze searing into me. How could this be? I asked myself. How could I want to scream and rage at him from dusk to dawn and at the same time, also yearn to rip apart his impeccable suit, send buttons flying, and push him down on the nearest mattress?
It was madness. Sheer, total madness.
To no one's surprise, Aman and Lavanya finished their dinner first, heading back to the living room. I just barely resisted the urge to call them back.
Arnav's thumb grazed my lower lip and my gaze jerked to him.
"Tomato sauce," he murmured with that usual, way too sexy smile.
I steeled myself against his oozing, masculine charm. "Stop it. Don't you dare forget how I feel about you."
"You hate me."
I forced myself to nod. "Yeah, I hate you, Raizada. I hate you so much."
"Good." To my surprise, Arnav raised the pizza to my lips again.
I was so startled by his "Good" I let him feed me. "What?"
"You heard me." He rubbed his thumb over my lips again, back and forth, ever so slowly but firmly. Something hot and throbbing pooled deep within me. I felt my nipples harden almost painfully, my heartbeat escalate. He just had to touch me--scratch that, be near me--and this happened. I couldn't help it no matter what I tried.
"Because you see, Khushi, as long as you feel something for me, anything at all, I'm grateful for that. I know I put you through hell." His eyes softened and he held up a familiar, red box. "Didn't I?"
My face drained of all color as I stared at the box of jalebis from my last large-scale order. A&K Sweets, it said on the cover, Always and Forever. I had a bad feeling Raizada could guess why I'd chosen those exact words, as well as that too bright red shade.
I felt like kicking myself for choosing his favorite color. There were even several hearts on the box, dammit! What had I been thinking?
"You did all this." He looked amazed as he stared down at the box and back up at me. "Even when you had every reason to hate me...to curse me...and forget me."
Glancing down at my lap, I bit into my lower lip. His fingertips glided along my chin and I shook. He'd moved so fast I hadn't even noticed but Arnav was now beside me, his gaze warm and distinctly tender as he cupped my cheek in his palm, bringing our heads closer.
"Baby, I'm so sorry. So damn sorry. But I need you to trust me. To believe in me. I had no choice, I had to leave."
My lips trembled. "You should have told me. I would have waited. Why didn't you?"
He kissed my tears away. "I'm sorry," he just said again.
I broke away from him. "That's not good enough. I need answers from you! I need the truth. But you're never going to tell me, are you?"
My tone was challenging and for the first time, Raizada did not meet me halfway. "No," he said with utter finality. "I won't ever tell you."
I opened my mouth to shout at him, but at the same time, the sound of Lavanya's shriek came from the other room.
"ASR! I've found him!"
We were both up and running. I came to a halt behind the sofa, staring down at the laptop's bright screen. It was the same man, but he looked younger in this picture by several years.
"He's Greek," Lavanya rushed to explain. "Works for a company that is suspected to be involved with a chain of drug cartels for years now, though they're very good at not being caught."
Arnav exchanged a look with Aman. "He'll be caught this time. They all will. Get everything together ASAP. And Aman, get us on the next plane to Greece. Jha, that damn toad, is hiding in Greece."
There was a mad flurry of activity as he gave out more instructions. I ran to my room and since my bags were for the most part still packed from my wretched trip to the airport, I just had to grab them and my phone before dashing back out.
The living room was already empty. The pizza boxes, laptops, and folders were all gone. For a second I truly thought they'd left me behind.
But then as I saw Aman and Lavanya outside, putting things inside a large, white jeep, I exhaled. Their voices carried in from the open window:
"ASR is changing out of the suit," Lavanya was saying as she slid black-tinted sunglasses up the bridge of her nose. "He said two minutes."
I didn't need to hear more. Leaving my bags near the window, I darted to the spare bedroom, throwing open the doors.
"Raizada, I--" My voice broke off abruptly.
As soon as I got my first good look at him, warning bells exploded in my head: DANGER. DANGER. DANGER. STEP BACK NOW IF YOU HAVE ANY SENSE AT ALL.
Of course, I didn't move even an inch back. My mouth felt unusually dry. My heart collided against my ribcage. He was standing shirtless, his eyebrows furrowing as he noticed me.
"Khushi?"
I didn't know what to say. All I could think was that along with his shirt, the matching pants were gone too, replaced by a pair of low-riding, dark blue jeans. They were unbuttoned and unzipped.
And he was making no move to change that very important detail, hands on his hips as he considered me. He did seem in a hurry to put on his shirt however. "It's good you're here. I had to tell you that I'm going to send you to a safe house. Just like that cabin in the woods. It's a secluded place just outside of Delhi. You'll be safe there."
I balked at that. "What? But I'm going with you."
Arnav shook his head. "You can't come along. It's too dangerous."
I charged forward, my eyes spitting fire at him. "You don't get to decide everything, Raizada. I'm going and that's it."
"I don't think so."
My frown intensified. "If you refuse to take me along with you, I'll find my own way to Greece." I looked at him challengingly. "And you know I will."
He swore, framing my face in his palms. "Dammit, Khushi! Why don't you understand? Jha and the people he works for are ruthless criminals. The worst sort of people. If anything happened to you--"
"You'd what?"
His gaze was hot and branding as it traced over my upturned face. "I'd f****** lose it! I can't handle anything happening to you! Why don't you understand that?"
My pulse was racing wildly but I tried to hide that. "Because it's my aunt whose life is in danger. I need to find her."
"And you think I won't?" Cursing, he drew me flat against him. His open jeans rasped against my salwar kameez. "I will find your aunt, baby. I promise you I will."
I laughed up at him, the sound hollow even to my own ears. "And I'm supposed to just believe you? Again? After all you've done? You might disappear again." I looked him in the eye. "But this time, I won't allow that to happen. I'm going to Greece. End of discussion. Understood, Raizada?"
He looked as if he wanted to either throttle me or kiss me senseless. "Fine," he finally ground out with conspicuous exasperation. "If you don't want to listen to me, what's the point in discussing anything anyway?"
"Don't take that tone with me, Arnav Singh Raizada."
"What tone, Khushi Kumari Gupta?"
"That tone!" I shouted. "As if I'm a child who doesn't know any better."
"That's just it. You don't know! You don't know anything about my line of work. About the dangerous world outside of Laxmi Nagar. I've done my best to keep you away from it and now you're charging right into the middle of it!"
We were nose to nose now. "Well, good! I think I need to know! Because you will never tell me!"
He shook me. "BECAUSE I WANT TO PROTECT YOU!"
"I DON'T NEED YOUR DAMN PROTECTION! I'm not some damsel in distress. I put others in distress! And you, Raizada, are at the top of that list."
His eyes narrowed on my face. "Really? And here I thought it would be that man who KIDNAPPED your aunt!"
"Don't bring Butterball into this. That's not the same!"
"The hell it isn't." Jealously slurred his words, his tone growing husky. "You hate me more than that damn toad, don't you?"
"Yeah, I do!" I smacked my hands against his warm chest.
He caught my hands, lacing our fingers together. "Why, Khushi? WHY?"
"BECAUSE I NEVER LOVED SHYAMJI! I NEVER EXPECTED ANYTHING FROM HIM! BUT YOU--YOU I LOVED!" I shoved him backward--hard.
I felt him slide backward and then, as if in slow motion, I saw him fall back on the empty bed. I landed just as ungracefully, spread over him on all fours. A squeak of surprise left my lips.
I didn't know what it was from, the fall or from that unmistakable hardness I felt against my lower stomach. Raising up on my elbows, I stared down at him with wide eyes.
Arnav met my gaze without any pretense, his eyes dark and scorching. My hair was like a thick curtain, tumbling down and shielding us from the rest of the world. His hands curved upward from my bottom to the back of my neck, drawing me down. I felt helpless as he tugged me closer still, our mouths a breath apart. At the last possible moment, my good sense returned.
What the heck was I thinking letting him kiss me? Why couldn't I keep away from him as I'd promised myself I would?
Pushing him, I tried to rise but slipped again. Not saying a word, Arnav rolled me beneath him and shifted sideways, trying to get out of the bed first.
I stared up at him, trying to ignore how intimately his body was pressed to mine. "I'm going to Greece. You can't stop me."
He paused over me. "Fine, but if you are, you're going undercover...as my wife."
My mouth fell open in a wide "O". "The hell I am! I don't want to be your wife--real or fake!"
Arnav smirked down at me, a glint in his eyes. "It's safer this way and I'm not backing down on that. Take it or leave it, baby. You're coming to Greece as Mrs. Raizada or not at all."
I bit back all the five-six curses I knew, scowling at him. "Fine."
"What was that? I didn't hear you..." He leaned closer, the smell of his cologne enveloping me.
"Fine," I gritted through my teeth.
Mr. Sexy grinned. That had me seeing red. Was he laughing at me? After all he'd done? Well, two could play that game.
Batting my eyelashes at him, I tugged him down on me, looping my arms around his neck and running my hands through his wavy hair.
"Kiss me, baby," I purred, moving sensually against him and rubbing my breasts against his chest.
He looked taken aback by my quick turn around, but as I shifted again, he groaned, grinding his hips into mine. I heard myself moan and my perfect plan suddenly seemed on the brink of splintering apart.
"Khushi," he mumbled, his hand sliding over my stomach to my chest. "Baby, how much I've missed this. I need to make love to you. I ache to..."
"I need you too." The words tumbled from my lips, startling me. Arnav dipped his head and just as our lips were about to graze, I shoved him as hard as I could.
He landed on his backside on the floor, shocked for once. Grinning, I narrowed my eyes at him.
"Did you really think I'd let you kiss me? I will not fall your charm this time, Raizada. But I will make you regret ever putting me through three months of absolute hell and all the lies before that."
His eyes flashed. "And I will make you fall in love with me. All over again. And forget about kisses, you will beg me to touch you...take you..."
We both straightened, our expressions resolute. "Game on."
I turned to leave but his voice stopped me. "Let's shake on it."
"I know what you're trying to do. That's just an excuse to touch my hand."
He smiled. "So? I'm a man in love. And I'm not going to leave any opportunity to win you back. Ever heard of redemption tracks?"
"What tracks?"
"Never mind. You'll find out soon anyway."
Rolling my eyes, I tossed my hair over my shoulder. Pausing at the door, I stared back at him. "And fake husband, zip up your damn pants please!"
*****
Next Morning
Greece
The plane landed on the tarmac with a loud roar of sound and speed. It was the only plane there, the landing strip specifically constructed for just this purpose. For the man dressed in a white polka dot shirt and beige pants, every moment felt endless, a missed opportunity to be near his dear Khushiji.
"Remember to start singing the moment my princess arrives," he told the line of twenty musicians and singers he'd arranged. Each had a violin poised on one shoulder. As the plane's engine slowed, two other men rolled a red carpet to the door while a second tossed colorful rose petals after them.
Shyam rubbed his clammy hands, feeling his breathing speed up. He closed his eyes, envisioning Khushi racing into his arms. He'd dreamed of making her his for so long and after so many delays, that moment was here. Finally.
He'd already arranged it all. Tonight, Khushi Kumari Gupta would become his legal, lawful wife. He knew she might be a bit upset about having to leave Delhi on such short notice, but he was confident once he explained, she was sure to understand. Khushi was, after all, the most sensible, most beautiful girl he'd ever come across.
Besides, once she learned how much money he'd earned these past few months, she was sure to jump into his arms. He now could pamper her just as she'd told him at the Fu King Chinese Restaurant. With massages, shopping trips and no cooking for a lifetime. She'd be his princess.
"And that annoying undercover cop," Shyam muttered to himself, laughing, "That ASR, he actually though he could come in the way of our true love. Hahaha."
The door of the plane swung open and he saw the men he'd hired struggling to bring out his soon-to-be wife.
He couldn't see much of Khushi but he saw some very beefy looking forearms and hands. Shyam frowned. It seemed Khushi had gained some weight since he'd last seen her. Probably, missed me so much she only ate butter for months. His smile widened all the more.
"Darling, stop acting so coy! I'm waiting for you down here."
The Greeks were still fighting tooth and nail with his spitfire. They looked distinctly disheveled, their faces bruised and scratched up in several places. He laughed at them.
Turning sideways, Shyam scowled at the musicians. "Why are you all silent? Whatever you do, don't stop singing that song. Otherwise, you won't be getting one Euro from me."
The tunes of a familiar, Bollywood song immediately sounded. Smiling, Shyam closed his eyes, swaying romantically, his arms spread wide.
"Khushi, darling come down here and embrace your destiny. I've missed you so much, my love!"
A shoe struck the top of his head. Baffled, Shyam gazed up. There was the sound of ear-splitting shrieks as Buaji kicked the two hired men square in the ribs, sending them tumbling down the plane's steps.
"YOU!" she shouted as she spotted Shyam, her eyes bulging. She charged down toward him, her other shoe held aloft in one hand. "So this where you disappeared off to.YOU DID THIS!"
Shyam backed away, his eyes round and suddenly afraid as his face turned sickly white. He blinked several times but the vision refused to fade. It was Buaji! Not his beloved Khushi but Buaji!
"What have you done!" he shouted to the Greeks. "Why have you brought her for? Where's my Khushi?"
"This is your Kooshi, Jha. You said the woman who doesn't have a braid and this one doesn't. Her hair is shorter than mine. So don't complain. And you better pay us quadruple what you promised. This woman has troubled us so much! She gave Demetri a black eye and ripped my hair out! Look, I'm bald here!"
A vein throbbed on Shyam's temple. "I WANTED KHUSHI! NOT HER! YOU'VE GOT THE WRONG WOMAN, YOU IDIOTS! YOU NINCOMPOOPS!"
"Don't you dare say my neice's name with that filthy mouth of yours!" Buaji screeched. "So this was all your plan to trap my Sanka Devi! You rotten piece of dishwater scum! I will make you pay for even thinking of harming my niece!"
As "Tujhe dekha to yeh jana sanam..." (When I saw you, I realized, sweetheart...) played on, Buaji chased after Shyam. He stumbled on the tarmac and yelling like a madman, ran as fast he could.
"...Pyaar hota hai deewana sanam," (...That love is crazy).

Baby, Hold on by Tina!
Part 22: Behave, Mrs. Raizada
"You rat! You snake! You dim-witted COCKATOO!"
Buaji would have rattled off every animal in the encyclopedia if not for the two Greeks trying to haul her off Shyam. Looking up, she glared at them. "Don't forget what I did to your friend's hair, Demetri dear. The same can happen to you too!"
The dark-haired man visibly swallowed, his hold loosening a tad. Buaji went back to whacking Shyam over the head with her dainty slipper.
Shyam cried out and in the next second, sneezed. The shoe carried with it what seemed to be a good amount of dirt and mud from Laxmi Nagar. It was raining down on him. He coughed, or at least tried to, but his lungs seemed to be collapsing.
"Geturoff."
The Greeks paused, leaving Buaji to come on either side of his head. "What was that, Jha?" one asked.
Shyam struggled to get the words out. He felt like an enormous weight had descended upon him. Which it had. Buaji was at the moment sitting on his back, squashing him to the tarmac.
He panted, trying to jar her off of him but she was holding on with a grip that would put most people twenty years younger than her to shame. "Get her off of me!" he managed, glowering at his men. "How dumb are you!"
Buaji's shoe came down extra hard. "Watch your language! Maybe you've forgotten that I'm still here."
Shyam wanted to tell her that he couldn't forget that very important fact even if he wished with all his heart. Instead of Khushi, it was Buaji who'd been taken from Delhi. And it was also very clear that it had been Buaji and not his dear Khushiji who had been eating all the butter in his absence.
"Get her off!" he screamed again. "What is taking so long?"
The Greeks were wondering the same too as they struggled to lift Buaji. It shouldn't be this difficult, both realized. But it was.
"You boys can try, but it will be a challenge," Khushi's aunt remarked with a wide grin. "In my heyday, I was Laxmi Nagar's first female wrestler you know. I'll give you an autograph later, boys. Busy right now with this double-crossing crocodile!"
"Buaji!" howled Shyam, trying to dislodge her. "GET OFF!"
She sat down harder instead. Shyam felt like a bug being crushed by a giant fly swatter. "Get help," he told the Greeks, his right cheek flat against the ground. "And tell those musicians to stop singing already!"
The romantic song finally stopped and more hands joined the two men he hired, prying Buaji off of him. But she didn't go without a fight, aiming her shoe with startling precision.
"You've lost, old woman," one of the Greeks snarled.
"Old?" Buaji was so bowled over by that taunt--and huge, enormous lie in her mind--that she shoved the man back, sitting back down on Shyam as if her life depended on it.
"Get her off of me!" he was screaming, flailing his arms. The other men were tugging on her frantically. One managed to grab her slipper and throw it aside. Buaji saw that she was moments away from losing.
An old memory flashed past her eyes. Of her wrestling coach...who'd once told her: "When you're going down, Madhu...When you see victory being snatched from you, there's only one thing left to do..." She would never forget his next words or the sharp intensity that had taken hold of his eyes as he'd uttered them: "Surprise your opponent and wrestle with destiny. Now rise up, Madhu, rise up and win this time!"
Those wise words rang in her ears like the distant beating of a drum. Her face knotted with concentration and then with a great cry, she did as her coach had once said. Surprised the enemy. Surprised them so much that everyone literally froze with shock.
The rumble of the fart was like a cannonball being launched, so loud and unexpected. Shyam felt its vibration clear down to his spine. The Greeks immediately dropped her arms, backing away with hands rising to their noses.
Grinning triumphantly, Buaji leaned down to whisper in Shyam's ear: "I will make you regret for even thinking of kidnapping my dear Sanka Devi! You rat! You dog!  You smelly frog!"
Then again, maybe she would have enough time to mention every animal in the dictionary after all, lamented Shyam. It was easily the worst day of his life.
*****
"Khushi, baby, why are you crying again?" murmured Raizada in a much too caring tone, setting my bags in the back of the jeep and slamming it close. "I told you, we'll find Maddy Bua. Besides, we both know her. She's a fighter. That toad will have his hands full with her. Please stop crying."
Sniffling, I glanced away. "I'm not crying," I lied.
His finger flicked over my face. "Really? Then what is this called?"
I looked from the tear on his fingertip to my house. It had been locked, the camera reinstalled just in case. "It must be raining."
Arnav leaned against the jeep, staring at me with one eyebrow cocked. He was wearing his leather jacket, a thin shirt, and thankfully some buttoned up jeans. "Really?" he asked. "Because I haven't felt one drop of rain on me yet. It's only coming down on you, is it?" The corner of his mouth curved.
He was actually teasing me! "I'm crying and you're laughing!" I smacked his chest. "And you claim to love me!"
I tried to sidestep him, aware of Lavanya and Aman waiting for us, but Mr. Sexy had other plans. He hauled me back into his arms. "Slow down there, my little fighter. I do love you. More than anyone."
"Well, you don't act like it! If you loved me, you wouldn't be making fun of me. You wouldn't be forcing me to be your pretend wife and you most certainly wouldn't be keeping secrets from me."
Raizada had the nerve to sigh. "Back to that again?"
"Yes, again!" I frowned up at him, hitting his chest as my aunt had once taught me. He seemed to feel it, rubbing the muscles there and I gave myself a mental pat on the back. Buaji would have been proud. "I will keep reminding you until you tell me the truth. That's a promise, Raizada."
I swear the man actually rolled his eyes at me behind his sunglasses. "We'll see... Now come on, Mrs. Raizada, we're getting late because of you."
"Because of me!" I said with outrage. "It was all you. And stop with the whole Mrs. Raizada. I'm not your wife!"
"From this moment to the time we get back home, you actually are." He tipped up my chin, pecking my cheek lightly. "Got it, Mrs. Raizada?"
"Stop kissing me!"
His smirk was downright toe-curling this time. Damn him! "That's not a kiss, babe. Do you want me to show you what a real kiss is? Have you forgotten?" He stalked closer and closer, backing me up against the jeep. I swallowed as he covered me with his length, his hot breath fanning across my face. "Should I, Mrs. Raizada?"
It was that reminder that I was only his fake wife for this trip and not real that had me shoving him back with a glare. The weight of the diamond ring against my heart had never felt so heavy. I'd tied it onto an old chain and wound it around my neck. I wouldn't have him thinking I'd kept that ring like a lovesick fool. That for some inexplicable reason I couldn't let it go--even now. "No, thanks, Raizada. Keep your hands and mouth away from me."
He began to say something, but I just ignored him, turning away with a swing of my hair. Sitting in the backseat next to Lavanya, I managed a friendly smile for her. She stiffly nodded, but otherwise didn't react, looking bored as she gazed down at her phone again. Great... I was not just going to be stuck dealing with Arnav and all our...umm issues, but I wouldn't even have a friend along on this trip. I really missed Sheena then. She would have surely understood me. Would have seen how confused, angry, hurt, and plain tired I felt.
The ride to the airport passed rather uneventfully. I heard Arnav and Aman talking a few times, but their conversations were always so brief, I couldn't really get a sense of what they were discussing. It could have been about anything: secret missions, redemptions tracks (whatever that was), baked potatoes. I had no idea.
Though Mr. Sexy didn't say a word to me, his focus on the road ahead, I did sense his gaze settle on me quite a few times. Every now and then, our eyes would meet in the rearview mirror. I was always the first to look away--not without a glare first though.
Instead of going to the airport I was familiar with, Arnav steered the jeep to some different direction all together. It was outside of the city, in some hilly, secluded area I'd never been before. After driving around in what felt like circles, the jeep turned into a lane marked with a sign so small I almost missed it: PRIVATE. TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT.
Well, that wasn't too welcoming. I tapped lightly on Mr. Sexy's shoulder. "Umm...did you see that sign? I'd rather not be shot today, honestly."
"As if I'd let that happen." Raizada shook his head. "Relax. This is our airport."
"What?" It didn't look like an airport. Animal reserve, maybe. But airport? Not by a long shot. Didn't you need planes to be considered an airport? Where was the plane? Almost as soon as I voiced that thought, the jeep turned and I saw a wide runway, lights flickering. A small private plane stood at the opposite end.
Aman pointed it out too. "We have special clearance to fly to Greece from here. It's all been arranged."
"This is where you fly out from? Every time you're in Delhi?"
Arnav's eyes rose to mine and I knew from a glance that he understood what I was asking. "Yeah. Three months ago, I flew out from here."
I bit down on my bottom lip, wondering about that night. Why had he left? Where had he gone from here? From the steely bent of his mouth, I knew Raizada wouldn't be revealing that information anytime soon. I'd have to find out the truth some other way.
I sighed, still sulking as we parked next to the plane. Little good it did though. Mr. Sexy was suddenly all business, opening my door and closing it just as quickly. "I'll get all the bags, you can go on up."
I wanted to tell him I could carry my own bag, thank you very much, but I didn't want the other two to think all I did was fight and argue with him. Besides, he'd already turned away. Instead, I focused on the plane before me.
I'd never been on a plane before. Carefully, I set my hand on the railing, taking the stairs one at a time after Lavanya. The outside was a bit battered looking, but it was a lot nicer inside: plush carpet covered the floors and there were ten chairs, each with a small, round window next to them. I plopped down on the one in the first row, gazing about. My eyes went to the cockpit door. There were all sorts of buttons in there.
"Want to take a look?" My head snapped up so fast, it actually hurt. Aman smiled.
"No, thanks," I told him, rubbing my neck. "I don't think it's allowed."
But Aman wouldn't listen to that common sense. "The pilot won't mind. Come on."
Shrugging, I began to follow him, pausing only to turn toward Lavanya. "Do you want to come along too?" My voice trailed off. She had her earphones in place and was snoring lightly. "Never mind. Of course not..."
"Sit down," Aman said, pointing to the pilot's seat.
He was so sweet and friendly, I had a hard time refusing. Maybe I could make a friend on this trip after all... It was with that thought that I gingerly sat, gazing out the wide windows. I was sure the view from here would be incredible once we were in the air.
Someone cleared their throat behind us. "Excuse me, you're in my chair."
My mouth dropped open as I glimpsed Arnav Freaking Raizada. "Yours?"
He nodded, grinning sexily. "I don't mind though. You can sit there or better yet..." His voice lowered as he bent, whispering in my ear: "On my lap. What say, babe?"
I shoved him back as Aman laughed. "Told you the pilot won't mind."
Arnav nodded, arms crossing over his chest as he considered me. By the narrowing of his eyes I knew he was up to something. Something sure to give me more heartburn.
"Aman, you're tired from our flight in this morning, aren't you?"
I saw him gaze pointedly at his friend, who nodded at once. He yawned--scratch that--fake yawned.
"I really am, ASR. Now that you mention it."
"I thought so. And Lavanya is sleeping. I guess I'll need a new co-pilot..." His gaze bore into mine as his friend slipped out of the cockpit.
I looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Your co-pilot? Dream on!"
I would have darted past him but Arnav caught my wrist, twirling me back into his arms. I hated when he did that. It did strange things to my heart and umm...other places.
"Raizada! Let go!"
"Not in this life."
I stomped my shoe on his foot, grinning as he flinched. "I'm not staying here with you."
He had the gall to smirk at me. "If you want this plane to take off and reach Greece, you will be my co-pilot."
My eyes shot fire at him. "That's blackmail."
"It's a deal. I'm giving you a ride to Greece, aren't I? Taking you along just as you wanted? The least you can do is keep me entertained on the way there."
"Entertained?" Unbelievable!
He nodded, trailing a finger over my lips. I tried to bite him but he was too quick. Grinning, he asked. "So what will it be, babe?"
"I hate you," I told him as I sat down in the co-pilot's seat.
He tilted my face up, pecking my forehead before I could shift away. "And I love you."
Time seemed to stand still for one breathless moment and then this rude voice interrupted us out of the blue: "AK398, you're cleared for takeoff."
"Roger that." Helping me with the seatbelt, Arnav sat next to me, pressing buttons and spinning dials. I couldn't keep up if I tried.
"Ready?" he asked as the plane shot forward on the runway.
My knuckles were white as I gripped the arms of the seat. "Are you sure you know how to fly this?"
He winked at me. "You're about to find out, aren't you?"
I stuck my tongue out at him and he laughed again. As the plane gathered speed, I chanted a prayer Buaji had taught me when I was six, saying the lines again and again. OMG surely it wasn't supposed to move this fast! I felt as if I was being launched into outer space.
"ARNAV!"
I barely heard his voice over the noise. "Baby, hold on."
I closed my eyes and the next moment, I knew we were no longer touching ground. Gasping, I gazed out of the window. The trees were getting smaller and smaller below. In the distance, the lights of Delhi were just discernable.
We went higher and higher and my heartbeat started to slow down. I had no one to compare Arnav too, but he handled the plane with the same finesse that he'd once handled a motorcycle. I clicked off my seatbelt, turning to face him.
"Khushi, keep that on. I haven't said you can take off the seatbelt yet. See that lit up sign?"
I rolled my eyes at him. "I'm the co-pilot and I say it's fine. Relax."
He didn't look too amused to see me saying the lines he loved to say so much. Relax, Khushi. Hold on, Baby. Forget all the lies and my three-month disappearance and just love me, baby. My teeth gnashed together.
"My neck feels sore," he muttered after a while.
"So? What am I supposed to do? You're a writer, cop, and pilot apparently. Who knows? Maybe you're a doctor too?"
He appeared amused as he shook his head. "I just had some very rigorous survival training but what I need is a masseuse right now... A beautiful, sexy masseuse."
I remembered all the sinful massages he'd given me. My mouth clamped at those memories. "Too bad there's not one here."
"Actually, there is, babe. You."
My frown intensified. "If you think, I'm going to give you a massage, you're crazier than I thought."
"Come on," he bid with a boyish pout. "Just for a minute. It's so sore back there."
I shook my head, gazing out the window. "Not happening."
"Khushi..."
I pretended not to hear him and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him frown and then smirk. Not a good sign. What was he up to?
I didn't have to wait very long to find out. The plane suddenly dipped. I shouted as he righted it.
"Raizada!"
"Massage or no massage, love?" The plane bobbed again.
"I hate you," I told him. With a stern frown, I stood behind him, working my fingers into the muscles of his neck. I was surprised to see that he hadn't been lying. His muscles were tight and as my hand started to slope downwards, he shifted away.
"That's enough. I don't think I can take more of your touch without wanting to..."
"Wanting to what?"
He shrugged, pointing to the water. "Landing on some random island down there and making wild love to you."
"Is that what you say to all your fake wives?"
He shook his head. "You're the first and only."
The earnestness in his gaze surprised me. Holding my gaze, he put the setting on autopilot.
"Khushi, is that what you think? That you're just some passing infatuation for me? That I'm not serious about you? About us? Baby, I've never mixed my professional and personal life before you. I always kept a distant from clients and I sure as hell was never attracted to any. But you...the moment I saw you, I knew there was something between us. Something more than attraction...something deeper..."
"Like a web of lies?" I threw in.
The muscle at his jaw worked and then he shut me up as only he could. Not by a kiss--I wasn't allowing that and he knew it--but what he said next struck me speechless. Which was a very rare occurrence, let me tell you.
"The lies are meaningless. They don't matter."
"Don't matter?" I echoed with renewed outrage and indignation.
He didn't back down, nodding. "What matters is that we both missed each other more than either of us can ever explain. What matters is that our love didn't diminish but only grew. That you named your business A&K Sweets and I renamed my plane AK398. Don't you see, Khushi? We're meant to be. There's no running away from this."
I had a bad feeling that what he was saying was not a total lie, that there was some hard-hitting truth to it. But I was so afraid to trust him again...to love him again... My heart wasn't ready for any more heartache.
I didn't realize I'd spoken aloud till I saw him flinch. His hand rose to mine but I wouldn't let him touch me. Looking him in the eye, I told him: "I'll run. I'll run from you as far as I can." From all these confusing feelings and emotions you stir in me. From everything.
"Really?" he said in a husky voice that would have left me melting once. It killed me to admit it still affected me. "We'll see."
I stared at him as one eyes their opponent in a boxing ring, sizing them up. It would be a clash worth the watch. "Yes, we will." He let me have the last word--this time.
Nothing too exciting happened after that--at least from what I can remember. I think I must have dozed off because the next time I opened my eyes, I was somewhere as far from Delhi as possible. Shimmering ocean wave crashed below, the prettiest shade of blue I'd ever seen.
"We're landing soon," came Arnav's low voice.
Stretching, I turned toward him, finding myself tongue-tied all over again. He hadn't slept I knew but unlike me, he didn't look at all worn-out. He was more attractive than ever. Damn him! I was sure I looked beyond horrible, my hair in a tangled mess all around me.
"We're in Greece already?" The hours had flown by.
He smiled as he saw me rub my eyes. "Not Greece, but Turkey."
"Turkey? But Buaji is in Greece!"
"I know, love, but Jha and his men may be tracking planes coming in. I don't want them to be tipped off and shift her somewhere else. So we're landing in Turkey and taking a ship to Greece. We'll be there soon."
"Buaji...she'll be okay, won't she?"
He reached over and squeezed my hand. This time, I let him. "You know your aunt, Khushi. She'll handle it like a pro. And in a few days time, you'll be with her again. Don't worry."
It was hard not to worry, but I tried. The plane swooped lower and I clutched my seat belt.
"We're too high up! How good are you at landing this thing?"
"Pretty decent...I hope." His smirk was back and I felt my temper rise all over again.
"This isn't funny, Raizada. If you mess this up..."
"You'll kill me?
"Yes and make you eat butter for the rest of your life."
He made a face at the reminder of Butterball and I grinned. The landing was very smooth and I mentally patted myself on the back. I was sure half the credit belonged to me though I'd been a pretty useless co-pilot all things considered.
As Arnav shut the engine and we stood, he suddenly took my hand in his. I raised an eyebrow at him. Had the man overlooked everything I'd told him? Why didn't he get it?
"We're husband and wife, remember? Newlyweds. It would look odd if we weren't holding hands."
I grumbled about his sneaky ways, but he was already leading me out. Aman and Lavanya were already at the bottom of the stairs outside with our bags in tow. A black jeep--exactly like the ivory one Arnav had driven in Delhi--stood waiting.
Aman took the steering wheel this time and pulling my hand out of Arnav's snug grip, I sat in the backseat.
I'd expected Lavanya to sit beside me but instead, she sat in the front seat, which left--oh shit--
"Hey, wifey. Mind if I sit here?"
I scrunched my nose at the playful look on Raizada's face. "Do I have any other choice?"
He pretended to think about it. "Not really."
"So why ask?"
"Because I'm a good husband."
"Husband?" I choked over the word. "Stop it already! There's no one here you need to act for."
"Still," he insisted, sitting way too close next to me. Our thighs touched and I tried to scoot away, but he curled his arm over my shoulder as if we truly were newlyweds, unable to keep our hands off each other. "We should stay in character at all times. For the mission..."
For the mission. Why did those words sting so much I wondered? Why did I keep wishing that we were truly on our honeymoon in Greece? I felt like kicking myself and my stupid, wishful heart.
The ride to the docks was quiet and though Arnav kept glancing at me, he never said anything. We stopped only to buy some breakfast and snacks before parking in front of a monstrous cargo ship.
"We're going in this?"
Lavanya nodded, eyeing the vessel. "It's managed by a very discreet, little known company. They ship mostly furniture around the Mediterranean but each trip, they take on board a handful of tourists too. We're lucky to have found it." Sharing a look with Aman, she stepped out. They were pretending to be husband and wife too.
My eyes widened as I saw Lavanya smile and giggle like a newlywed bride. The change was instantaneous. Aman was a natural too, waving his arms and talking excitedly to the crew on the planks.
If I didn't know they were undercover cops, I would have never guessed that they weren't what they appeared. They seemed so ordinary. So real.
"We have to be like that," Arnav whispered in my ear, his voice jarring me. "Actually, better than that. I know you're furious with me, you have reason to be, but we can't afford to raise any suspicions. Not here. The moment we step out of this jeep, we're husband and wife."
"Do we have to be?" I pouted.
His hand swept my hair behind one ear, his gaze suddenly intense. "You loved me once. It shouldn't be so hard to pretend you love me still."
I couldn't move as he slipped out of the jeep, getting our luggage. Why did loving someone have to be so confusing? Why did it hurt? Steeling myself, I opened the door and took my first step as Mrs. Arnav Singh Raizada.
"Baby." He was instantly at my side, gazing at me with such love I felt a bit awed by it. I had to remind myself it was all an act. "I was going to get your door. But you just couldn't wait, could you?" He pulled me into his arms. "Neither can I, love. We're finally here. On our honeymoon."
I was conscious of other eyes on us, most simply curious. Looping my arms around Arnav's neck, I nuzzled my face against the side of his neck. His hold tightened, crushing me to him. "I demand a honeymoon every year, husband."
"Deal." And then in full view of everyone, he brought his hands on either side of my face and gave me a full-on, lusty smooch.
I was too shocked to respond and I might have, but the sounds of whistles and claps stopped me. Forcing myself to smile at him, I deliberately stepped on Raizada's shoe, stomping off toward the ship.
"I can't believe you kissed me!" I whispered furiously the moment we were alone. "How dare you!"
His hand kept rubbing circles on my lower back. "Hush, love. That was hardly a kiss. There was no tongue involved."
"So? Your mouth was on mine."
"Dammit, Khushi, don't argue."
I paused at the railing, my hair blowing in the wind as I studied him. "Did Aman kiss Lavanya too?"
Mr. Sexy smirked. "I'm not sure," he mumbled vaguely. I knew he was lying.
"You're such a devil, Arnav Singh Raizada."
His breath was warm against my neck as he caressed me. "Mmm, and all yours."
*****
You would think that after that kiss, Arnav would try or at least attempt to not annoy me more, but the man seemed to be on a mission to make me curse and scream.
"What do you mean we're sharing a room?" I screeched.
He gazed at me as if I was slow or something. "We're married, love. If we didn't share a room, it would make people suspicious."
I pointed a finger to the room we'd been given. "But this room? The honeymoon suite? Why couldn't we get a room like Aman and Lavanya? They have two bunks. I saw it as we walked by."
"This one might too. After you, Mrs. Raizada."
I highly doubted that but I knew there was no point in arguing with him. Pushing open the door, I felt myself freeze.
The room had paneled walls and floorboards just like Aman and Lavanaya's but that was where the similarity ended. Instead of the bunk bed, the space here was dominated by a spacious, queen-sized bed. The rest of the room was filled with roses and candlelight.
"Make love and memories for a lifetime," read the pillowcases.
"See it's nice..." Arnav said at my elbow.
I scowled at him--little good it did though. "It's not nice, it's tacky! And tiny! We have barely any room to stand, how will we ever spend the night here?"
"Two nights," he corrected.
"Yeah, two nights! It's impossible."
Arnav pointed to the bed. "You're making this more difficult than it needs to be. I'll sleep on this side and you sleep on the other. Simple."
My mouth opened and closed several times. "Sleep together? I don't think so. You're sleeping on the floor."
He looked at me and then to the nonexistent floor. "Umm there really isn't any room for that, love."
I threw my hands in the air, raising my finger toward him. "Don't act so innocent. I know this is all your doing! I just know it!"
He didn't even try to deny it, hands in his pockets. "I promise you I won't touch you tonight unless you ask me to...though I'd love to...I'd love to peel those clothes off of you and love you...Remember that night at the cabin? When I made you moan and writhe beneath me? When you straddled me and took control? When I had you on your hands and knees and--"
I covered his mouth with my hand, my eyes wild. "Stop it!"
He paused seeing the tears in my eyes and before he could grab me, I ran to the only place I could hide in this outrageously small room. He pounded on the bathroom door.
"Khushi...love, open up. I didn't mean to upset you. I was just reminding you of how good it was between us."
"Leave me alone!"
"You can't always lock yourself in a room and hide you know."
"I'm not hiding!"
"Then what are you doing?"
"Taking a shower."
I could picture him shaking his head on the other side of the door. "I don't hear any water running."
I twisted the knob so hard it almost broke. "Hear it now?"
"Fifteen minutes," came his retort. "In fifteen minutes, I want to talk to you. No more excuses then." I heard his footsteps fade and exhaling, I slouched against the door.
The minutes felt long and I got tired of standing eventually. I was about to step out when I realized I was totally dry. Unless I wanted to be proven a liar, I had to take a bath.
The water was icy cold and I hopped in the too-tiny-to-possibly-be-real shower stall, shivering. I'd just managed to tie a towel around me when the door swung open and Mr. Sexy stood before me.
Eyes wide, I grasped the towel to my wet skin. "What do you think you're doing? How dare you just walk in here without so much as a knock?"
His gaze traced over me, missing nothing. His hands fisted at his sides. "I thought you were pretending to shower and just hiding in here."
"Well, you thought wrong." My eyes wandered to the door behind him. "How did you get in? I locked the door."
He held up a bobby pin, smiling. "It's not just you who knows how to use this."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "I think our little chit chat is over. Can you please leave now?"
"Are you sure? I wouldn't mind staying and drying you off..."
Part of me was tempted but my good sense had me shaking my head. "No, thanks. I don't need your help and--" I took a step forward and slid almost comically on the wet tiles.
I don't know what happened then. All I knew was that in the next second, I was plastered to Arnav's chest, his arms breaking my fall. I didn't think it could get any worse but then I noticed the towel on the floor. Ohmy---
My eyes swung to Arnav. He was watching me, his gaze so hot I could feel my skin tingle and burn. I shifted against him. "Raizada..."
His grip tightened at my voice. It was soft and breathless sounding. I swallowed as I felt his fingertips glide down my wet back. I had to move. I had to step back. I knew that was the right thing to do, but I felt utterly powerless to pull away.
It had been so long. So long since I'd been in his arms like this. As Arnav realized I wasn't running away this time, he groaned, his hands descending lower and splaying over my bottom. My eyes fluttered close as he grasped me, bringing me hard against his front. The feel of him against me was intoxicating.
His hands were busy rubbing circles on my skin, kneading my flesh and I found myself matching his movements, the tips of my breasts digging into his T-shirt. It was so amazing, the sensation indescribable. Arnav felt it too.
"Behave, Mrs. Raizada," came his husky whisper.
I glanced up at him, licking my dry lips. His gaze froze on my lips, his big body seeming to shudder. His hands hauled me harder against him, moving with deliberate purpose now. I found myself leaning up, our lips a breath away.
But all he did was kiss my forehead. I didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved. I blinked as he reached for another towel, winding it around my shoulders. Our eyes remained locked the entire time.
"I'll get your clothes."
I nodded weakly, shaking myself. What was wrong with me? How had I been on the brink of falling into his arms, into his bed all over again? What had taken over me?
My breathing was harsh and my heartbeat was out of control. I accepted the clothes he brought without looking at him, changing fast. As soon as I was dressed, I hurried out, heading straight for the door.
His hand caught my wrist. "Where are you going?"
"Out," I managed.
He sighed, seeing more of my tumultuous emotions than I cared for him to see. "Khushi...I think we should talk. Don't run away."
"I'm not," I lied. "It's just that I want to spend time with someone else other than you."
"Like who?" he cut in, his eyes flashing. "You know no one here except me."
"That's not true! I know--" I struggled for ideas. "--Lavanya and Aman! I'll talk to you later."
"Khushi..." The note of frustration in his voice was hard to miss. "Babe--"
I ran out before he could catch me again and throw my every emotion into a toss. Instead of Aman and Lavanya's room, I ended up on the deck. It wasn't too hard to find a secluded spot. I just had to climb a few stairs down. The air was cool and crisp as it washed over me, the smell of the saltwater pungent. In the clear blue sky above, birds screeched, dipping low over the water.
As I sat there on a random metal barrel, I had to admit that the view was lovely. Picturesque. The sort of scenic beauty I'd previously seen only on postcards. But I couldn't focus on it.
The sensation of being naked in Mr. Sexy's arms would not leave me alone. I groaned, covering my face with my hands as I recalled how wonderful it had felt. How right. Like we were two missing halves finally joined.
I shook my head against those crazy thoughts, reminded myself what a huge liar he was. What had come over me? Was my control so weak I couldn't stay even a few hours away from him?
Buaji was missing for crying out loud! She'd been taken, and here I was struggling to keep my distance from Arnav Freaking Raizada and not make a fool of myself by tumbling into his passionate embrace--again.
I stayed out on the deck for a very long time. I'd left my phone in the honeymoon cabin so I had no way of knowing how many hours passed, but it must have been a lot. The sky gradually darkened and overhead, stars were beginning to twinkle and shine.
I realized then that I could not keep Arnav waiting any longer. Husband dearest was sure to be not pleased.
As I made my way back to our room, my feet hesitated. The door suddenly swung open and Arnav loomed before me, looking more furious than I'd ever seen him.
"Where the hell were you?" He grabbed me by the shoulders, yanking me inside even as he slammed and locked the door behind me. "And don't tell me anymore lies about visiting Lavanya and Aman. I checked with them hours ago. I know you didn't go there. So the question is, where the hell were you?"
"I don't need to answer your questions," I snapped, trying to turn away.
He swore, flipping me right back around. "Yes, you do! Do you have any idea what I went through? I thought maybe someone took you! That maybe you fell overboard! I've been--"
"Worried? Going out of your mind with horrible thoughts?" My eyes fixed on his face. "I was gone for five hours and you couldn't bear it, Mr. Raizada. How do you think I felt when you left me? Left me for not a few hours, but three months? How do you think I survived each moment? Breathed without you?"
His jaw worked and without a word, he drew me into his arms. I struggled to free myself but it was half-hearted at best and we both knew it. Tears rose to my eyes as he crushed me to his chest.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled against my hair, holding me tight as I cried. "I'm so damn sorry, Khushi. I wish I could change things. So many things..."
I drew in a shaky breath. "Me too."
We held each other for a long time. My tears eventually slowed. Arnav ever so gently brushed them aside, his gaze warm. "Where did you go tonight, babe?"
"Out on the deck," I explained tiredly. "I found a quiet spot."
He rocked me in his arms. "It must have been. I searched the whole ship for you."
I pulled slightly back, gazing at him with open-mouthed surprise. "You did?"
"Why are you so shocked?"
I shrugged, gazing into his intense, chocolaty brown eyes. "Arnav..."
"Hmm?"
My heartbeat thundered as he cupped my cheek in his large, calloused palm, stroking lightly. My eyes threatened to close but I wouldn't allow myself to look away from him. "I answered your question, now answer mine. Where did you go three months ago? Please, I need to know."
He looked like a man torn between his heart and his soul. "To hell," he finally whispered.
BHO by TINA Part 23: Confession
To hell?
Those cryptic words echoed in my ears as Arnav broke away, the bent of his mouth hint enough that he would not be disclosing any more information.
But I wouldn't let him leave that easily. Grabbing a hold of his arm, I gazed into his eyes, searching for answers. "What does that mean?"
I felt him tense. For a split second, it seemed as if he would confess everything, but then his gaze grew shuttered all over again and he stubbornly glanced aside. "Whatever you think it means. That's the only answer you're going to get from me." He stalked out of the room as if he could not bear to be there a second longer.
I followed after him into the ship's narrow hallway outside. "Raizada! Stop!"
To my surprise, he did stop, the muscles of his back hard and rigid as he stood there, refusing to look at me. I couldn't help but notice how his hands were clenched in tight fists. What could he possibly be fighting? I wondered.
"That answer's not good enough. I've been waiting three months for you." My voice trembled. "Three months of sheer hell wondering what happened to you. I need answers. I need you to be honest with me. Tell me the truth, baby. If you ever loved me--"
His gaze was wild as he spun toward me. "If I ever loved you?" He grabbed me by the shoulders, drawing me backward.
I suddenly found myself pinned to the ship's shifting wall. It was the strangest sensation, but I was too caught up in the man before me to hardly notice. Our bodies were pressed more intimately than was decent and though my mind told me to push him away, my crazy heart said: Stay. Hold on to this man you love so much.
My breathing sped and that only heightened the sensation. We were standing so close my chest felt crushed against his. Our heartbeats seemed to align as our eyes met and clashed.
His voice was gruff and distinctly strained as he ground out, "I have always loved you. I've never stopped loving you." Those eyes that had captured my heart from the very start traced over my face. "I couldn't stop loving you, Khushi, even if I wanted to."
I swallowed against the tide of emotions this man brought up in me. "Then tell me the truth. Please..."
Mr. Sexy looked at once frustrated and more than a little annoyed. "Why the hell don't you understand? I can't tell you and even if I could, I wouldn't."
For some reason, that confession tore into me just as much as him saying he loved me. "So that's it?" I whispered, my voice rising as my chin lifted up. "You're never going to tell me? You're always going to keep these secrets? These lies?"
His eyes glinted like the hottest of coals. "There are no lies involved. I've told you all I could tell you." He paused as he considered my stony glare, the defiant tilt of my chin. He knew me so well, he could recognize exactly what was on my mind. "And don't go looking for answers on your own, Khushi. You're only going to get hurt."
I didn't respond and his hold on my shoulders hardened. "Khushi, this is important. Promise me you won't go searching on your own."
My eyes flashed at him. "I'm not promising you anything. Why should I? All you've done is hurt me. Again and again. And lie to me. I don't know why I don't hate you. I should. A man like you deserves no one's love."
This time I saw the blazing pain in his eyes before he could conceal it and I wanted nothing more than to take back the harsh words I'd said in my fury. I ached to throw my arms around him and tell him I didn't mean it. But I was too hurt and too angry. My hands fisted at my sides uselessly.
Arnav didn't argue with me, his expression impassive. "Think whatever you like about me, but don't go looking for trouble. I need you to promise me that."
"And I need the truth from you. Neither one of us is going to get what we want, will we?"
Our gazes warred and then with an oath, he swung away, striding down the corridor. I almost called out to him, but the words died on my lips. Blinking back tears, I returned to the honeymoon suite, flopping down on the lumpy mattress with a loud thud. Curling into an almost fetal position, I hugged my bent knees.
I was angry with everything. Him. Myself. This whole situation. What had Arnav Singh Raizada done to me? Why couldn't I stop thinking about him?
Because you love him, my heart whispered. You love him so much it's killing you being away from him for even a moment. It's killing you that you probably hurt his feelings just now.
I frowned. He deserved much worse than that. He'd gone crazy by my disappearance for a few short hours and I'd lived three whole months longing for answers. No one had understood what I'd gone through, though Buaji had tried.
But even she, I sensed, had doubted Raizada's intentions. Heck, some times, even I'd doubted him and his so-called love. Because logic said that handsome strangers did not just waltz into your life and show you what love was all about out of the blue. The most likely reason for his disappearance was that he'd simply used me. That he'd faked his love, taken me to his bed, and a few days later, left me. Ditched me.
That possibility was one I'd faced right from the night he'd left. But I hadn't believed it. I'd stubbornly refused to. Because that love I'd felt nestled in his arms, our bodies warm and bare as our hearts beat as one, couldn't possibly be fake. Our friendship, those endless kisses, his proposal couldn't be meaningless. Even though there was a ton--and I mean a ton--of doubt and uncertainty in my mind both now and then, my heart refused to believe anything else.
Our love was real. It was true. Like in those romance novels I secretly read, only better. It amazed me that even after all that had happened, I still believed that truth.
You love him. He says he loves you. What's the problem? my wishful heart questioned. Go to him, you lovesick fool.
I just want the truth from him. How hard can it possibly be? Why won't he tell me? Why doesn't he see that if he just explains everything to me once, I'll be able to move on? All this bitterness and distrust between us will disappear. Why can't he understand that?
Because he's stubborn like that.
My lips compressed. Well, if he's stubborn then I could be stubborn too. I'd force Mr. Sexy--who really should be called Mr. Stubborn--to confess.  But the question was: how?
I spent the next hour brainstorming ideas, but nothing seemed to click. Getting Raizada to confess began to seem like a hopeless cause. Around 7 PM, a very kind-looking, old Greek woman came by with two trays.
"Dinner, dear."
I thanked her, feeling a sharp pang in my heart as she walked away. She reminded me so much of my aunt.
I leaned back against the door, closing my eyes. "Buaji, I miss you so much. If only you were here to tell me what to do. How do I get that Raizada to confess? How?"
The oddest thing happened then. I swear I felt as if my aunt was near, telling me in her no-nonsense tone: "What is the matter with you, Sanka Devi? When have you not been able to get your way? You have a PhD in that and you know it. Plus, you are at an advantage. You know Arnav dear better than anyone. Just compel him to tell you."
"But how?"
Buaji sighed in my head. "Remember when I had that awful cough last winter and refused to take the medicine. Remember what you did then?"
My lips curved. I'd annoyed Buaji so much that time by cooking only her least favorite foods and shutting off the cable connection that she'd relented within hours.
"Of course... Thank you, Buaji!"
"Anytime, Sanka Devi."
I was smiling as my eyes opened, but the glow on my face quickly dimmed. With Buaji, it had been easy to coerce her into agreeing because I'd known exactly how to push her buttons. Food, TV, and her daily outings to Bumble's hair salon.
But Arnav had no such weaknesses. The man needed nothing. He could be at ease in a luxurious five-star hotel and just as comfortable staying in a tree house probably. Feed him anything and he'd eat it without complaint, though he was partial to Italian. Clothes didn't matter to him either. Though he looked nothing short of sinfully attractive in formal suits, I knew by experience that he was most comfortable in nothing at all.
Sighing with frustration, I sat cross-legged on the water mattress, nibbling on my lower lip. My plan seemed doomed already, but then my eyes fell on the two dinner trays. My smile was back at once.
*****
~Arnav~
As the clock struck eleven, I put down my glass, paying the bartender with a handful of bills. The Greek sailors looked up surprised.
"Going already, Raizada? The night's still young."
Though I'm fluent in Greek, I deliberately replied to them in English. The last thing I needed was to raise unnecessary suspicions. "I should get going."
"But why, Raizada?" asked a burly man to my right, his double chin nearly covered in an untidy beard.
His friend beside him hit him in the ribs with his elbow. "He's on his honeymoon, you idiot." He winked at me. "Your pretty wife must be wondering where you are. Can't keep a woman like that waiting."
Something about his tone and the lusty twinkle in his beady gaze annoyed the hell out of me. In my mind's eye, I saw myself leaning forward, grabbing him by the collar, and slamming my fist into his too-smiling face so hard he'd be out cold before he even realized what had happened.
I didn't act on that impulse though. The mission, I told myself. Can't give anything away. Relax, dammit. Breathe.
My jaw flexed as I forced myself to turn away. By the time I made it back to the suite, my bad mood had only marginally improved. Khushi though was smiling.
Sitting up against the headboard in a maroon terry bathrobe, she was focused more on her dinner than me, licking her fingers clean. Chocolate ice cream stained the corner of her mouth. "That was so good..."
I found myself hardening as she moaned loudly, her tongue flicking out again. A vision of her from the log cabin assailed my mind. Hell, I wanted that again. That passion. That love. But I knew I'd have to work for it. A lot. My "wife" was furious with me.
I tried a casual, friendly approach. A truce of sorts. "You can have my dessert too. I'm not allowed to eat it."
For a second, she looked at me as if she didn't need to be reminded of my diabetes and then she froze, her cheeks reddening. I eyed her curiously as she set her tray aside.
"Khushi?"
"Umm...actually, I ate your dessert already."
I shrugged. "So? What's the big deal? I'd have thrown it away anyway."
She shook her head. "No, you don't understand... I finished your whole tray."
I glanced at the two empty plates on the nightstand, surprised. I wondered how someone as petite as Khushi could have possibly eaten meals designed for two or three hefty sailors.
"Sorry," she murmured, looking not the least bit guilty. "You can try calling the kitchen for another tray. Although it's so late, I don't know if anyone will be there."
"Relax, Sushi. It's okay. I have an apple."
"An apple?" Her eyes bulged as I pulled out the fruit from my back pocket. "But...aren't you upset at all?"
My eyebrows puckered. "No. Why should I be?"
She didn't reply, but I thought she murmured something about "hopeless cause," as she sauntered to the bathroom, her hips swinging enticingly.
By the time she came back out, I had my body's reaction to her somewhat under control. But Khushi was dead set on making me lose my mind today. As I stood to call housekeeping and request a roll-in bed, she caught hold of my wrist.
"We'll share the bed," she said matter-of-factly.
"But you said you didn't want that."
She shrugged. "I see now that it's the only way. Getting an extra bed would be bizarre. We're newlyweds, don't forget."
As if I could forget. I was just adjusting to the fact that we would be sharing a bed tonight when Khushi suddenly peeled off the fluffy bathrobe she had on. My mouth dropped open.
"What the hell are you wearing?"
I swear she grinned, her gorgeous eyes twinkling. "What? Don't you like it?"
I swallowed, eyeing the barely there red slip she had on. My socks had more material to them than that thing. Hell, I could even see the faint outline of her nipples through the flimsy material.
"Where did you get that?" I knew Khushi had nothing like this in her limited wardrobe at Laxmi Nagar.
Her smile widened all the more at my terse question. "Sheena gave it to me on my birthday. Well, what do you think?"
My jaw tightened as she turned this way and that. "Khushi. What are you up to?"
"Who me?" She batted her eyelashes in a too-innocent manner. "Whatever do you mean, hubby?"
My blood pressure soared as she crossed her arms, leaning closer and closer to me. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but it really appeared as if she wanted nothing more than for us to kiss. Which was ridiculous. She was furious with me. Why would she be trying to come close to me? Her sultry voice broke into my thoughts.
 "Are you going to sleep or just stand there all night? Turn off the lights. I'm sleepy," she pouted.
It was with some concentration that I slipped out of my jacket and under the covers. My breathing was audible and I had to fight to keep away from Khushi. She was all I'd ever wanted. The woman I loved. And to have her beside me, clothed in just a wispy bit of silk and not much else, was temptation in every sense of the word.
I was counting to a hundred when she suddenly turned towards me, hugging me tight. I jerked. "What are you doing?"
She rubbed her cheek against my chest, draping one slim leg over my waist. "I'm freezing." She shivered, cuddling closer.
Hell... Now I'd never claimed to be a gentleman, but I'd been trying. For her. But now, to lie there, with her warmth enveloping me and her full breasts pressed to my side was something I could not overlook.
"I know what you're doing," I drawled.
"What?" She snuggled some more. "I'm just cold. Don't think too much into it, Raizada."
"So you don't want me?"
I felt Khushi still against me. We were so close that I could see her tongue peek out, stroking over her dry lips. The sight unwound me. "No," she stubbornly maintained. "I don't want you."
My control was in tatters. My hand swept up her leg and thigh, cupping her bare bottom. "No?"
Her breathing grew uneven. "No."
That denial didn't affect me. Because the truth was, regardless of all her anger and doubt, she was in my arms, letting me touch her. Caress her. She hadn't even attempted to scoot away, arching into my touch as if she wanted nothing more. It was that knowledge that was my last straw.
Khushi gasped as I turned toward her. I moved so fast, she wasn't quite prepared for it. Her lips were soft and pliant as I covered them with mine, tasting her deeply. Her lips softened and very slowly, she returned my kiss.
I smiled against her mouth. God, I'd missed this. Between increasingly hungry kisses, I demanded, "Do you still claim you don't want me?"
Her chest rose and fell beneath me. "I...I don't want you. I don't want to want you."
"But you do." My hand covered her breast and before she could quite react, I dipped my head, capturing the peak in my mouth. The sound of her moan hit my ears like the sweetest music and I suckled harder, ripping the flimsy slip in two. Only a tiny triangle covered her now.
Khushi was moving restlessly beneath me, her nails scraping at the back collar of my shirt. I stilled, gazing into her desire-glazed eyes and then moved off of her, breathing harshly. In the darkness, I could sense her confusion.
"Arnav?"
The muscle at my jaw flexed. "Go to sleep, Khushi."
"But... why did you stop?"
I sat up, pulling on my shoes. "Because it's not the right time. I want to make love to you when you love me. When there's no doubt in your mind about me or my love for you."
"The doubts will be there till you confess. Please, baby..." Her hand settled on my forearm. "Tell me--"
I threw her hand off, striding out the door before all my defenses crumbled. I couldn't tell her. Not yet. Like I'd said, it wasn't the right time.
*****
~Khushi~
Arnav didn't return that night and I ended up barely sleeping--no surprise. My mind was in a jumbled mess as I turned on the nightlight, sitting up. 5:30 AM read the clock.
Though my head was pounding and my eyes felt heavy with exhaustion, I couldn't look away from the empty spot beside me. I was so angry with Mr. Sexy, so confused, and well, so lost. What had happened in that magical instant I'd been in his arms? What had taken over me?
My plan had been to annoy him. I'd first decided to finish all his dinner, but that hadn't worked. Arnav hadn't really cared and I'd been left with nothing but a stomachache and a guilty conscience. Phase two of my mission had been to bother him with the sexy slip.
That had seemed to work, but as soon as we'd gotten into the bed, I hadn't been sure who was seducing whom. All I'd known was that I wanted him. That I needed him. That I wanted nothing more than to drown in his touch.
My face heated as I recalled his smooth mouth tracing over me, missing nothing. We'd been so close to making love and then he'd retracted. My eyebrow bent as I recalled that moment. None of it made sense.
I rose, sliding my feet into the fluffy pair of slippers that came with the honeymoon suite, when everything seemed to tilt. My stomach heaved.
As I vomited--twice--I could only scold myself. Eating two huge trays of food had really not been a good idea. I felt terrible beyond words. Falling weakly on the bed, I clutched my stomach. No, I couldn't be sick today. My plan...his truth...our love...it was all on the line.
But as my stomach rolled again and I ran for the bathroom, I realized I had no choice. Mission Confession would have to be delayed.
An hour or so later, the door opened and husband dearest walked in with a breakfast tray and red roses in his hands. He'd never brought me flowers before, and I felt too sick to inquire how he'd found them on the ship in the first place. Instead, I threw the blankets over my head and willed him to leave me alone.
The bed jiggled as he sat beside me. "Baby? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Everything's perfect," I ground out through my teeth.
"The hell it is. Look at me." His hand tugged on the blanket but I held firm.
 "Go away, Raizada. Maybe you've forgotten, but I'm mad at you. Furious actually."
"You can be furious later. Let me look at you. Why are you hiding?"
"Because I don't feel well!" I exclaimed with impatience, fighting to keep the blanket over my head.
"Dammit, Khushi, relax."
We struggled with the blanket for a few more seconds and then Mr. Sexy wrenched it off. I threw my hands over my face, wishing I could disappear. There was no doubt in my mind how awful I must look. Buaji always said I looked like a sad, pitiful mouse when I was sick.
"Go away." Of course he didn't listen. Instead, Arnav drew my hands away and I steeled my jaw, glaring at him. "Happy now?"
His gaze softened as it settled on me. His hand rose to my forehead. "No fever. How do you feel?"
"Horrible," I murmured. "The walls keep moving."
"The walls?"
I nodded miserably. "One of the hazards of being on a ship. It really doesn't help with dizziness."
The familiar line of his lips compressed. "I think you're just seasick. It'll get better. Come here. Maybe a massage will help." His hand sloped over my stomach but I wouldn't allow it, the memory of his tantalizing massages in Laxmi Nagar still fresh on my mind.
I turned onto my side, presenting my back to him. "Thanks, Dr. Raizada. Now can you please leave me alone?"
To my surprise, he did leave. I didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved, but then the door swung back open and he walked back in.
He wasn't alone though. That sweet, old Greek woman who'd delivered dinner the night before was with him. I blinked stupidly at the pair.
"Good morning, dear. Your husband tells me you're not feeling too well."
I nodded as I sat up, running a hand through my tangled hair self-consciously. "I'm just a bit seasick."
"I'm not a doctor, but I take care of the sailors whenever one doesn't feel too well. I have other experience too. Lie down and I'll examine you."
I glanced at Arnav pointedly and for once, he didn't argue. "I'll be right outside."
I laid still as the old woman bent over me, checking my eyes, my throat and finally my stomach.
"Does that hurt?"
My eyebrows scrunched as she massaged my lower abdomen, back and forth. "Not really...it just feels strange."
She nodded. "Just as I suspected."
"Excuse me?"
Her green eyes twinkled. "Congratulations dear, I'm quite certain that you're not seasick."
"Not seasick? Oh no, don't tell me it's the flu."
She shook her head. "Much happier news than that. A honeymoon surprise. You're pregnant."
"WHAT?" My voice came out like a high-pitched, mousy squeak and I swear my heart stopped beating. It couldn't be!
The woman nodded, not seeming to realize how her announcement had just changed my world. "I'm quite certain and I've never been wrong in over forty years."
It took me a moment to calm down enough to find the right words. "That might be true, but in my case, it's simply impossible. I can't be pregnant! And how can you be so sure? You just felt my stomach--nothing else."
"I have experience with these matters. My sister has six daughters and I've delivered all their children. Trust me dear, you are most definitely expecting."
I shook my head. "It can't be... It just can't."
The woman sighed patiently. "Are you truly so certain? Because I'd say you're a few months along. When was your last monthly?"
My eyes got rounder and rounder as I did the calculation. It had been just before my birthday and that fateful night at the cabin. The confession was difficult to voice aloud. "Three months ago..."
OMG! Could it be? My hand settled on my abdomen with a tremble. I'd thought I'd been irregular and gaining weight due to stress. But could I really be... Really be P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T?
My world tilted and explosions sounded. But by the way the old Greek woman's head snapped up, I realized something had actually happened. I wasn't imagining it. The door slammed open and Arnav charged in, a dangerous looking gun in his hands.
"Some of the sailors are working for Shyam's boss," he explained in a rush as he crossed to my side. "They've found out that we're on board. We need to get out of here."
I was too startled by everything to react and Mr. Sexy shook me by the shoulders. "Khushi, are you listening to me? We need to go. Now."
The Greek woman was already hurrying out the door and I was shocked to see her remove a gun from under her apron. What in the name of jalebis was going on?
There was the sound of gunfire coming from somewhere nearby. The nice, old lady wasn't exactly who she appeared and most mind-boggling of all, I was pregnant. Oh my---
"Khushi!" Swearing, Arnav lifted me up in his arms, racing down the hall.
I held onto him, my body quivering. Gunshots, dust and debris rained down on us. I heard myself scream, but Raizada was calm. He moved faster than I could have imagined, taking turns at lightening speed. Every now and then, he'd turn and shoot a few rounds.
I didn't know who was behind us, but whatever Arnav was doing seemed to keep them at bay for some time. But I heard footsteps edging closer with each passing second. Someone was close.
"Arnav..."
"Hush, baby." He kicked open a rusty metal door and we found ourselves outside. The cargo ship was moving erratically, waves crashing against the side.  More gunshots exploded behind us and we ducked behind a box of crates.
"Don't shoot her!" I heard a familiar voice cry. "Stop!"
My eyes widened as I recognized it. "Shyamji?"
Butterball, I saw, was smiling, his arms open wide. "Khushiji! How long I've waited for this. Come here, love. We're finally reunited."
I looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. Which he clearly had.
He didn't notice the look of revulsion on my face, smiling all the more. "That's it. Come on out of there. It's not you whom we're after."
I tensed as I saw his frog-like gaze land on the man behind me. Going up on my tiptoes, I shielded Arnav with my body as best as I could. "Don't even think about coming near us!"
Shyamji held his hands aloft. "Relax, Khushiji. I don't want you to be hurt. Our enmity is with that Raizada. He's been after me for months!"
"Khushi," ground out Arnav. "Step out of the way."
"No."
"Dammit, Khushi, move."
"I said no!"
Butterball's head moved back and forth between us as if he was observing a tennis match. He growled with frustration. "Khushiji, what are you doing? Come to me. I'll keep you safe, darling."
I made a face at him. "I'm not your darling."
He laughed--a crazed, too loud laugh that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. "Of course, you are," he insisted as if nothing was wrong. "I know you might be a bit upset about your Buaji, but trust me, she's okay. I've kept her in a safe location. I just want you to be safe too. Come to me, darling." He held his hand aloft.
"No!" I shouted. "I'm not leaving Arnav. How can you even think that I would?"
"Why wouldn't you?" Shyamji looked genuinely puzzled and I realized I'd overestimated him. He was actually far stupider than I'd ever imagined.
"Because I love him, you idiot!"
Both Shyam and Arnav froze. I saw the horror slowly dawn in Shyamji's eyes. "No, it can't be. You're just confused..." He smiled again, though it was strained. "We're meant to be together, Khushiji. Why don't you understand?"
"Did you not hear me?" I cried. "I LOVE ARNAV! ONLY ARNAV!"
"ENOUGH!" The vein on Butterball's temple pulsed. "Enough! I have heard enough of that nonsense. Now, you're forcing me to be mean." He motioned to the men behind him and guns were aimed upward--right toward Arnav.
"Come here," growled Shyam. "Otherwise, I'll kill him."
I took a step forward, but Arnav's hand settled on my waist, stopping me. His warm, chocolaty gaze locked with mine. "Do you truly love me?"
I swallowed. "This isn't the time for that discussion. Can't you see that?"
He wouldn't be dissuaded though. "Answer me. Do you love me? Still?"
I was silent for a moment and then I slowly nodded, my heart in my eyes. A grin curved Mr. Sexy's mouth and he hauled me against his side. "Then trust me."
Before I knew what was happening, he was drawing me over the railing. I was vaguely aware of Shyam shouting, of shots being fired, but everything flashed by in a dizzying blur.
"Climb down the rope!" Arnav screamed above me.
I tried, but my hands felt strangely numb. Some part of me was still in shock I realized. My feet slipped and I would have fallen if not for a hand that closed around mine.
I screamed one name. His.
"Arnav!"
His hand tightened on mine and then he was there, pulling me right into his arms.  I threw my arms around him as the flimsy rope swung and he murmured in my ear: "Baby, hold on."
Baby, Hold On by TINA!
Part 24: The Island
I was dangling.
Dangling above what had to be shark infested waters, my arms wound around Raizada's black leather jacket. His precarious hold on a thick, fraying rope was all that kept us from freefalling. I found myself contemplating how strong that rope could possibly be.
Strong enough to hold me for a minute or two? Maybe. Strong enough to support my weight and his for very long? Not likely.
The realization crashed down on me like a bucket of ice-cold water straight out of the Arctic. Before I could panic outright, something far more foreboding caught my attention. The men working for Shyamji stood at the railing, glowering down at us. One bent and aimed the gun in his hands--right at us!
"Arnav!"  I cried, trying to shield him.
But he'd seen it already, moving us deftly out of range. "Hold onto me, Khushi!" he yelled over the sound of the pounding waves. "Hold me as tight as you can!"
I didn't need to be told twice. I was already gripping him so hard my palms were beginning to throb and my fingers were starting to grow numb. I didn't know how much longer I could remain like this. The waves below our feet seemed unavoidable. I screamed his name as the rope swung again and I found myself pressed against the rusty metal of the cargo ship.
Raizada buried my head against the side of his neck, murmuring reassurances. I couldn't believe how calm he was. "Shush, they won't shoot us."
I gazed at him with disbelief. Was he really shushing me? "Are you not seeing what I'm seeing? That one there has his gun pointed right at us!" But almost as soon I'd spoken another voice broke in:
"Don't shoot!"
My head snapped up and I found Butterball standing at the railing, gazing at me with that usual squinted-eyed, frog-like stare. His knuckles were white--almost like his face. "Don't shoot, you idiot!" he screamed at the Greek guard again, wrenching the gun out of his hand. "You might accidentally harm my soon-to-be wife instead of that man!"
It took me a moment to realize he was talking about me. The nerve of that butter-loving toad!
"Told you he won't shoot," Raizada drawled almost lazily in my ear, his breath kissing my nape.
Leaning slightly backwards, I stared at him with a pointed glare. "For now. He won't shoot you for now. But do you realize how bad this is? We're hanging from a worn-down rope off the side of a cargo ship!" I stared down and gulped, my arms tightening around him. "There's nothing below us and above us, there are about 30 very dangerous men who'd love nothing more than to shoot you! This is bad, Raizada! Very bad."
"I agree it's not an ideal situation, but it can still be salvaged." His lips quirked and he slowly winked at me. "You see I have a plan, Sushi."
"Plan?" I swear if my hands were free, I would have pushed him right off the side of the boat by now. How dare he act as if we were chatting over tea and samosas in Laxmi Nagar? This was not normal!
But for him, maybe it is, my mind was quick to retort. I shoved that thought firmly aside, frowning at him. "If this is your brilliant plan, well then let me tell you that it's failing! Miserably!" I pointed above our heads where another rope was being lowered, a decidedly firmer looking one. One of the Greeks was on his way down, a gun poised in his hands.
Raizada sighed with boredom. "These idiots never give up."
"Why aren't you panicking, dammit!" It was the perfect time to panic. I'd already crossed panic and was at the gates of hysteria. Horrible, stomach-churning images swamped my mind: Butterball's men separating us, dragging me away as I fought, kicked and screamed to no avail, and most worrying of all: one of them raising a gun at the man I loved.
I wouldn't be able to bear it if anything happened to him, I knew. Yes, I was mad at him. Yes, I needed answers. And it was true too that I doubted I'd ever be able to forgive him completely. But the fact of the matter was, when it came down to it, Arnav Singh Raizada meant everything to me. Everything. I would rather take every pain aimed his way than see even a scratch on him.
"What is your brilliant plan, Mr. 007?" I shouted. "Because this would be a great time for it to happen!"
"Don't worry, it's happening. Won't be long now." His eyes swept over the rising ocean waves, but mine were focused on more pressing dangers. My heart shuddered as the Greek lowered himself further down. He was only a scant distance away now.
"Get away from Jha's woman!" he screamed in thick, accented tones.
Raizada's body tensed against mine and his grip on me hardened to the point of almost painful. A chilling look swept over those features I'd seen up till now mostly bent in warm smiles and laughter as he flirted, bantered and devised ways to catch me alone and sneak a kiss... or two... or thirty. He looked for the first time dangerous. Very dangerous. And the sleek, black gun he aimed at the Greek above us was like icing on the cake.
How had I ever thought this man was just a small-time writer? I wondered with growing incredulity. Everything about him hinted toward something far more deadly.
"That toad is mistaken," Raizada ground out. "Khushi was never his. And never will be."
"Give me the girl!"
Arnav didn't so much as bat an eye. Instead he cocked his finger and an explosion sounded. I would have fallen if not for his grip on me.
A loud, echoing splash sounded below. My eyes bulged as I saw the Greek's body land below us, spread-eagled. Crimson color stained the water. "Oh my--" Words seemed to fail me. My eyes swung to Arnav, wide and shock-filled. "You killed him! You've bloody well killed him!"
He slipped his gun back into his holster. "Relax, Khushi. It was just a minor graze to his hand. He'll survive, but he won't be able to shoot us now."
Gazing down once more, I saw that he was right. The man was not dead, but very much alive. He was shouting in rapid Greek and though he tried to shoot us again, his profusely bleeding hand was not cooperating. Arnav had shot him with flawless, too-perfect-to-be-real aim, I realized with a start.
"Ah, and here comes our rescue. Told you."
I blinked stupidly toward where he pointed. Around the bend of the ship, a sleek, silver jet boat was zooming our way. Lavanya stood at its helm while Aman was braced before her, two guns in his hands.
"I saw that boat when we were coming on board. Remember when I kissed you? Just before that. So I tracked it down. I had a feeling we might need it and I was right... Now, when it gets here, we need to jump," Raizada murmured in my ear as if nothing was out of place and we were at the annual summer fair in Lover's Park, about to bungee jump from a safety cord. Except there was no cord. There was nothing except probably some very hungry sharks below, my panic-filled mind was quick to point out.
Raizada was prattling on and on about something or the other, but I couldn't seem to focus. I caught just that end of his instructions. "--and whatever you do, don't let go of me."
I looked him in the eye and then promptly, shook my head. "I'm not jumping! Maybe you're out of your mind, but I'm not!"
His mouth dropped open and then compressed into a stubborn bent. "You have to jump, Khushi. Do you understand? You have to."
"I said I won't!" My heart galloped as I stared down at the choppy, dark waves. Maybe I'd survive the fall, but our baby... what if something happened?
Raizada looked as if he couldn't believe we were seriously arguing over this. "Look, babe, there are not any other options. As much as I love holding you like this, we can't stay in this position for the rest of our lives. And the toad isn't going away anytime soon." At my mutinous expression, he sighed, trying another approach. "Look, we're not even that high up. It'll be over so fast, you won't even realize it."
"I said no!"
His teeth gnashed together. "Why the hell won't you jump?"
Because I might be pregnant with your baby! I almost shouted, catching myself in the nick of time. I wasn't even sure if I was pregnant, but I couldn't risk it.
"I'm not jumping into the water," I said in a firm tone. "There must be another way."
"Khushi Kumari Gupta," Raizada ground out, his eyes glimmering. "Have you been listening to me at all? There is no other way!"
The jet boat was bobbing below us now. "Jump!" Aman and Lavanya cried, their guns keeping Shyamji's men at bay. "Now!"
My heartbeat was out of control. I could sense Mr. Sexy's impatience. "I can't," I whispered to him, gazing into his eyes and willing him to understand. "Please..."
His jaw tightened and for a moment I thought he'd refuse, but then he shrugged. "Fine, but don't say I didn't warn you."
With a swiftness that startled me, he lifted me up and spun me around so my feet were pointed upward and my head swung below. I screamed as dark, ominous waves crossed my vision, coming closer and closer.
"Reach for Aman!" Raizada yelled.
I glanced back at him and my shout died on my lips--mostly from shock. He was holding onto my legs, his own scissoring the rope and keeping us from falling. It reminded me of a trapeze performance I'd once seen at the circus as a child, except this was real and there was no safety net anywhere close to catch us. One mistake and we'd fall and likely break both our necks.
"Khushi, now! Grab his hand!"
The urgency in his voice spurred me into action and I reached out toward his friend. Our fingers almost touched but the rope and the winds swung me away. On the second try, we missed completely. I could see Lavanya growing agitated, her brow puckered with tension. She was not just maneuvering the boat, but also firing at the men at the railing.
"Now!" Aman shouted.
I stretched as far out as I could, extending my arm more than what my petite frame allowed and this time, my hand met his. Aman pulled me into the jet boat and I straightened quickly, swinging back around. Raizada was just barely still supported by the rope.
"ARNAV!" I shouted as the men at the railing aimed their guns at him. "NO!"
Several things happened like a dizzying blur then. Gunshots exploded and my heart ricocheted in my chest as I realized who was their target. But thankfully, Mr. Sexy was faster than I or Shyamji's men could have imagined. As soon as he saw I was safe, he dove into the water like an Olympic swimmer, elegant and effortless.
I lost sight of him almost immediately and panic assailed me. My eyes swept over the crashing waves. "ARNAV!"
No reply. I was too overwhelmed and too distraught to realize that the jet boat was chopping through the water, maneuvered by Lavanya firmly out of range of the bullets. I gazed into the murky depths, screaming his name.
"Arnav Singh Raizada, don't you dare do this to me! I will kill you! Do you hear me? I WILL KILL YOU!"
There was no movement for several long, painful seconds and tears burned my eyes. Where was he?  Oh God, if anything had happened to him-- I couldn't finish the thought, my whole body trembling.
The floor beneath me swayed and this time I noticed that Lavanya was actively steering the boat away. As I turned to scream at her--how dare she think of leaving Arnav behind!--a familiar voice broke in:
"You okay, beautiful?"
Gasping, I saw Arnav pull himself out of the water, running a hand through his wavy hair. Aman passed him a large towel and he took it as if he'd just climbed out of pool after a relaxing swim. He even had the gall to grin at me. "That was fun, wasn't it?"
"Fun?" I echoed incredulously, my emotions shifting from knuckle-biting fright to blinding fury. "You almost died!" And clearly, if anyone had a right to kill him, it had to be me! The rest could just wait in an endless line, thank you very much.
"Almost being the key word." With that usual, insufferable charm, he dried his hair off and then folded his upper body in the mammoth, white towel. "But honestly, it wasn't all that bad. I had everything under control the entire time."
"Really?" Marching up to him, I grabbed a hold of his drenched shirt, shaking him as hard as I could. "That's what you call under control? That toad--"
"--cut short our stay in the honeymoon suite. I know. I'm upset about that too, wifey." Even as Raizada spoke, he wound the ends of the towel around me, drawing me indecently close to him with a slow, lazy grin. The jet boat was moving at top speed now and before I could say anything, Raizada yanked me flat against his front. My eyes widened as I felt an unmistakable and all too familiar hardness against my lower stomach.
Mindful of Aman and Lavanya at the front of the boat, I whispered furiously: "Are you honestly aroused? This is not the time for--"
"Mmm..." His lips glided along the side of my neck, peppering kisses.  His hands settled on my bottom. "I know that too but I wish it was." The pressure of his hands increased and I stifled a gasp as he tilted his pelvis deliberately against the apex of my thighs. "You're so damn hot when you're all angry with me, Khushi. So sexy..."
I struggled to free myself. "Let go. Are you out of your mind? Aman and Lav--"
"--are busy. They're not even paying us any attention. And besides, we're covered by this towel."
I saw that he was right--damn him! The other two were busy navigating toward what looked to be a shadowy island in the distance. Thankfully, the cargo ship was no match to the jet boat in terms of sheer speed and I could no longer spot it.
"Still, I don't want you--" My eyes threatened to close and all my good intentions flew out of the window as Mr. Sexy rubbed himself in all his wet glory against me again, more slowly this time. It was so erotic, so intoxicating I found myself arching into him, my traitorous heart melting. I swallowed back a gasp as he ground himself into me with utter deliberateness. My fingers instinctively clenched on his soaked shirt, the heat of the muscles underneath singeing my palms. Raizada swung his head and water droplets washed over my face.
"You're making me wet," I complained.
His grin was maddeningly attractive. "Good."
As I caught onto his meaning, my mouth dropped open. "That's...that's not what I meant!"
"Maybe, but it's the truth, isn't it?" His smoldering gaze locked with mine, not allowing any escape. "You want me, Khushi. You're aching for it, just like me. Aching for what we had at the cabin all over again."
I squirmed to free myself, but it was a half-hearted attempt at best and we both knew it. Raizada's voice lowered, making me shiver anew.
"I'd make it so good for you, Khushi. Just like how you like it. Hard, hot and just a bit on the dirty side."
His sinful words made my heart pick up speed and rather than tell him how wrong he was, I found myself leaning into his embrace, cementing his every utterance as fact.  Raizada's eyes fluttered close as my fingernails raked a path down his chest. He moaned just barely.
"Yeah, just like that. I need you to touch me." His hand sloped over my bottom, bringing me flush against his hardness. "I'm always like this after a mission. It does something to me, you know. All that adrenaline..."
His words made me freeze. At the same time, the jet boat struck the white sand of the island, but I was too preoccupied to really notice. Aman and Lavanya were already climbing out, grabbing some bags.  They had the good sense to leave us alone. My furious glare fixed on their team leader.
"What. Did. You. Say. You're always like this after a mission? With whom?" I jabbed him in the chest--hard. "Because this is the first time I've been with you after nearly losing both our lives, ARNAV SINGH RAIZADA!"
Raizada looked taken aback and I saw him swallow as he read the murder in my eyes. "Dammit, it's not like that."
But I wouldn't listen to him--not this time! With an oath, I shoved him backward. It was with such force that I lost my footing too and found myself falling after him. Raizada caught a hold of me in the nick of time--not that it did any good though. Instead of just him toppling overboard, I found myself plastered to his front in the two feet deep water, the white sands of the beach coating our clothes and hair.
"How dare you say that to me!" I yelled, smacking his chest again and again. "How dare you! But why am I surprised? You're such a liar. You probably have a different woman waiting for you in every damn city from here to Timbuktu!" I yanked on his hair and he yelped, rolling me over so he covered me with his length.  We rolled several more times on the sand and I fought against him, bucking out of control.
"Khushi, that's enough!" He grabbed a hold of my wrists and pinned them above my head, his breathing harsh. I did my best to ignore how intimately our bodies were meshed, my legs draped on either side of his waist. "Dammit, listen to me," Raizada said again.
"I don't want to!" I struggled against him, trying to hit and scratch him in every way I could. Raizada swore, his face contorted.
"Dammit, hold still!"
"NO! Why should I? Who the hell do you think you are, Mr. Arnav Stupid, Infuriating, Cheating Raizad--"
With what sounded like a growl, Mr. Sexy lunged forward and caught my lips with his. I froze and he took instant advantage, his tongue licking over my lips and delving deep as if he could not get close enough. He tasted amazing and as much as I ached to let him devour me, my better judgment kicked in--literally. I kicked him in the shin, glowering up at him.
"Don't think you can end this with a kiss. Maybe that might have worked once, but not this time. I heard you!"
"Would you let me explain, you wildcat? Give me two minutes. That's all I'm asking for."
I frowned at his too handsome features. "Thirty seconds."
"Deal." He angled my face up, his touch gentle. "First of all, I have been faithful to you. So there's no reason to be jealous."
"I am not jealous!" I fumed.
He silenced me with another firm kiss, ignoring my outburst. "Second, I didn't mean what you thought I meant, Sushi. What I meant was that I'm always full of energy after a mission. Usually I work out--boxing or swimming mostly--but this time--" His head lowered to my ear and his hips rolled into mine. "You know what I'd rather do."
"Well, you're not getting it!" Outraged, I knocked him in the chin with my head in a move that would have made Buaji and her old wrestling coach proud. As he jerked back with surprise, I pushed him back into the surf. Flinging an icy glare at him over my shoulder, I marched away, feeling like I'd just won a battle...sort of...
*****
An hour later, things had changed marginally and my jealousy and anger were somewhat under control. It was one of those this-can't-be-happening-to-me moments. Everything felt surreal. I mean me and pregnant? Just saying that word in my mind made my stomach swoop and flip. I wanted to deny it, to shout that it wasn't true, but there was a pesky, niggling doubt in my head that just wouldn't leave me alone. Could the old Greek woman/gun-wielding mobster have been right? Was I really pregnant?
I had no way of finding out. None in the current scenario--all thanks to a certain Mr. Sexy, I fumed. It was only because of him I found myself cut off from civilization, sitting in the middle of an abandoned beach on some nameless island. I pinched my forearm--hard--but the vision didn't fade. I was really here, as far away from Laxmi Nagar as you could imagine.
Seawater dripped from my soaked hair and clothes, making me shiver. I was wet, cold, hungry, and more than anything, furious.
The others, to my chagrin, appeared utterly unaffected by the turn of events. Lavanya was snoring away beside me on the sand as if she was on vacation at some resort and Aman and Arnav were busy cutting down trees and bits of shrubbery from what I could tell. Raizada--damn him--was actually whistling as he worked.
I glared at his T-shirt covered back. The man had no idea what I was going through! None at all! To think that I'd been out to make him confess and instead, I'd confessed--right in front of Shyamji and about thirty of his accomplices. And had Arnav Freaking Raizada mentioned anything about that very important fact since then? Anything at all? Hell no!
As if he'd sensed my focus on him, Raizada suddenly swerved in my direction. I pointedly looked away, pretending to gaze at the moon. The next time I glanced his way, I almost screamed. He was kneeling before me, his chocolaty, thick-fringed gaze locked on my face.
"Cold?" he murmured with that usual huskiness.
I crossed my arms over my chest as if to ward him off and the effect he had on me. "No, Mr. Dumbo, I'm perfectly peachy. Thanks!"
His lips tipped up and his insufferable, handsome features relaxed as he grinned at me. "Mr. Dumbo? I like that one." Bending low he picked up two rocks, just like how they show in movies and within minutes, there was a fire glowing near my feet. "You'll warm up now."
I wanted nothing more than to scoot closer to the blazing flames. Their warmth felt like nothing less than my idea of heaven right now. But I stopped myself. Rising up, I glowered at him. "I don't need your help." Before he could say another word, I marched off toward the trees, passing a very confused looking Aman.
I didn't get very far. Hubby dearest caught up to me easily, grabbing a hold of my elbow with such intimacy we might as well have been truly married. He looked pissed off as he turned me to face him and I secretly rejoiced in it. Oh, so he was upset was he? Well, good, that made two of us.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" Raizada fumed. "You're as cold as ice, your hair's soaked and your teeth are even rattling! Stop being stubborn and come and sit by the fire."
I yanked my arm free. "I'm sorry my rattling teeth are disturbing you so much, but I'm fine. I can take care of myself. Leave me alone please!"
I took another step away from him and with a curse, he spun me around again, backing me up against a tree. His eyes clashed with mine. "Undress."
The command was so unexpected, I froze. "What?"
His mouth thinned. "Change out of those wet clothes right now or I swear, I'll do it myself."
I stared at him with open-mouthed surprise, but it was no joke. He was truly serious. Hands on my hips, I lifted my chin to meet his stormy gaze. "Look, I might have confessed something back there on the ship, but that doesn't mean I'm falling into your bed again. I'm--"
"Mad at me, not ready to forgive me, want to kill me... I know." His hands tightened on my shoulders and I was suddenly very aware that his body was pressed fully against mine. Deliberate or not, it made me oddly breathless to have him so near. My fingers ached to touch him, to stroke the dangerous looking line of stubble marking his jaw line, to hold him and never let go, but I forced myself to stay firmly put. My hands fisted at my sides.
Raizada drew even closer, his mouth a hairsbreadth away. My heartbeat escalated as he admitted, "I'd love nothing more than to make love to you, Sushi. All night long... But would you believe me if I told you that I honestly just want you to be warm? You're going to catch a cold if you don't get out of these clothes. Please, baby, just..."
I never heard the rest of that sentence. My brain turned to mush and my body seemed to shut down. A freight train might as well have zipped by and I wouldn't have noticed.
"DON'T YOU DARE SAY THAT WORD TO ME!" I smacked him in the chest--several times.
Mr. Sexy caught hold of my wrists, taken aback by my outburst. "What the hell is wrong with you? Did you hit your head or something?"
"No, but if you don't let go of me this very minute, I'll hit something on your head," I promised.
He rolled his eyes at me. "Baby, calm down and--"
There it was again. That same word. "STOP SAYING THAT!"
"Saying what, dammit?" He looked at me as if I'd lost my mind.
I grabbed a hold of his wet T-shirt, shaking him. "BABY! STOP SAYING BABY!"
As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I'd made a terrible mistake. Arnav's jaw had slackened and his eyes were wide as they met mine. I backed away, but I couldn't get too far. My feet felt rooted to the sands as I took a deep, unsteady breath.
"Khushi?" Raizada's silky voice beside me made me quiver. I couldn't look his way. If I could have run off at that point, I would have. But there was nowhere to go and I was honestly tired of running.
Arnav, of course, couldn't just forget about what I'd said. Of course not. "Why can't I say that?" he asked. And than a second later, added, "Why not, baby?"
I turned toward him so fast, my hair whipped over his face. He was grinning at me! Actually smiling! In fact, he looked on the verge of laughter. "Baby, baby, baby, baby..." he said in a sing-song voice. "BABY!"
All things considered, I thought any neutral spectator out there would agree that I'd handled everything with amazing maturity up till now. But the sound of his laughter was the last straw. I felt my temper soar and break apart.
Like a wild, out of control animal, I threw myself at Arnav, knocking my elbow in his ribs in the process of doing so. He grunted with surprise, and struggling to keep a hold of my flailing limbs, lifting me up in his arms as if I was a child. But I was no child and I wanted to prove that very important point.
"What's the matter, baby?"
"Stop saying that!" I raised my hand to pull on his hair, but he was never one to let someone take advantage of him twice. Drawing my arm away, he sat down cross-legged against a tall, frond-covered tree, keeping me draped over his lap.
"Hush," he crooned to me, rocking me in his arms. "Hush, baby."
I fought a few seconds longer and then all my energy seemed to sap. I slumped against him, feeling weak and thoroughly drained. His hands rubbed circles on my back.
"Sushi, what the hell's the matter with you? You still sick? I can get you something if you are."
"Out here?" I asked with sarcasm. "The middle of nowhere? Did they teach you how to make medicine out of coconuts in whatever special cop school you went too?"
He cocked his head sideways. "No, but I like to read, and herbal medicine has always interested me. Something about plants you know..." His chocolaty gaze swept over our surroundings. "If only you weren't so damn angry with me, but this right here, is very close to my idea of perfection."
"This?" My eyebrow shot upward. "Sitting on a muddy jungle floor with giant mosquitoes about to suck us dry of all our blood?"
He laughed. "That's why I said close to perfection. All we need is a nice bed with a mosquito net and then it would be perfect."
I wondered if I'd ever understand how his mind worked. "A bed? That's what you want? I thought you'd say a boat at least." My head fell against his jutting collarbone. "How will we ever get out of here? We're going to turn out like that family who lived in a treehouse for decades, aren't we? Except all we'll do is argue and fight."
"The idea is appealing, but don't worry, I've called for backup."
I froze against him, my head whipping up. "How?"
He held up his wrist and my eyes were drawn to the watch I'd till now, never paid too much attention to. I mean I just wasn't one of those who really found anything too exciting about watches. As long as it told me the time, I was good. Now, shoes on the other hand---
"This is not just a plain, old watch, Khushi. It has an advanced messaging system built into it. This was how I sent word to Aman to get the jet boat. And how I've alerted my higher ups. They won't be too pleased, but it can't be helped."
"So when are they coming?"
"No idea."
"What?"
He nodded, his mouth corking up. "You heard me. Their only reply was okay."
"Okay? O-K? And you didn't ask them for more information?"
Mr. Sexy stared at me hard. "I was going to, but someone knocked me into the water and the last of the battery died around then."
My cheeks reddened. "Oh..."
"Yes, oh."
I glared at him. "Look, I didn't know about your fancy watch. You should have tried to tell me."
"I was," he said, clearly exasperated. "But you were too busy trying to pull my hair out and break my damn teeth!"
I stared at him for a long moment and then broke into giggles. He smiled and then he too was laughing. I fell against him, my body limp.
"What are we doing, Khushi?" he whispered. "I don't want to fight with you."
"I don't either," I admitted in a small voice.
"Really?"
I nodded against his chest, lifting my head to meet his astounded gaze. "Let's call truce while we're on this island at least. We have enough problems to deal with, wouldn't you say?"
He nodded slowly and then lifted me up in his arms again.
"Uff...where are we going?"
He deposited on me a nearby rock. "Stay here. And whatever you do, do not move. I'll be right back."
"But I want to come along too," I pouted. "What if you forget where I am?" I studied the tall, looming trees surrounding me, imagining all sorts of wild animals in the darkness. It felt as if I'd gone from the set of Titanic to Jurassic Park in the span of mere hours.
Raizada smirked. "Trust me, I don't forget."
Without waiting for me to say something--anything--he was gone. I hugged my bent knees, shivering. Maybe his undressing suggestion hadn't been that wrong after all... My clothes felt like they were coated in icicles. Sighing, I gazed at the tall fronds, part of me still wondering how on earth I'd ended up here of all places. Just a few days ago, I'd been in Laxmi Nagar, clueless about what was to come.
Arnav was gone for what felt like forever, but I knew it had to be less than fifteen minutes. Footsteps sounded near the bushes ahead.
"Khushi?"
Sighing, I lowered the tree branch I'd found lying around, springing up. Mr. Sexy admired my weapon.
"Not bad... Almost as ingenious as that bobby pin."
I followed after him this time, my memories flying back to that fateful day... that day that had changed my life in more ways than one...
"Why didn't you arrest me then? I was breaking and entering, wasn't I?"
He shook his head. "It was your own house, Sushi."
"Oh. Right..." Feeling like an idiot, I jumped over a dead log. Clearly, my hunger had reached such levels by now that my brain was being affected. As if to say it was indeed so, my stomach growled just then.
"Catch."
I grasped the rectangular packet he threw at me with surprising agility. "What's this? Popcorn?"
"No, it's rice and something you'd rather not know about. Trust me on that too. It is edible though. I heated it at the fire. It was part of the emergency pack on the boat."
"And yours?"
"I ate mine on the way over here."
I rolled my eyes and then stopped myself. Hadn't I eaten all his dinner just last night? It strangely felt like a good week or two had passed since then.
The food in the packet was, to sum it up in one word: gross. Something sticky and pasty, like curdled milk. I squeezed my nose and downed it whole.
We'd reached the beach by now, but not quite where the boat had been anchored. I couldn't even make out where Aman and Lavanya were.
"About a mile or two that way," Arnav answered, noting my wandering gaze. "I thought we needed some privacy."
"Pri-va-cy?" I said the word as if I'd never heard of the concept before, my breath hitching. "And why would we need that?"
Arnav gestured to me. "So you can change out of those wet clothes. Now, are you undressing or not?"
My mouth fell open and I flung the empty packet aside. "I'm not changing in front of you! Though I'm sure you'd love that."
His lips tightened. "Khushi, I'm going to ask you one last time. Are you changing or do I have to intervene?"
Intervene? Had dare he! But I knew by the stubborn tilt of his mouth that he would not be refused. Using one of the curses I'd picked up from him, I raised my hands to my hips. "I can do it myself. But don't think I'm agreeing because you said so. I'm just cold."
"I know. Now, hurry will you, before you catch a real cold."
My hands went to my hemline and then paused. He was standing there, watching me. My mouth gaped. "Turn around!"
"What?" It was his turn to be flabbergasted. "I've made love to you five-six times, Khushi Kumari Gupta. Perhaps you've forgotten, but I know every inch of your body, baby."
This time, that last word didn't rankle me as much. I almost could pretend he hadn't said it. My hand instinctively curved over my stomach--something I thought I saw Mr. Sexy notice. I hurriedly shifted my hand.
"First of all, it was only seven times. Second, this time is different... I don't want you near me."
"You don't?" he purred, grasping me by the hips and hauling me against him. "Then why aren't you pushing me away, Khushi? Why is your hand holding onto my shirt? Why is your heart beating so fast and why, dammit, why are your eyes asking me to make you mine?"
Shuddering, I glanced away. "I can't help it... I don't want to want you, but..."
"But?" A long, tanned finger tilted my face back in his direction.
I wet my dry lips, knowing it was pointless to lie. He knew me too well. "But I do... I want you very much."
He stiffened for a split moment and then cupped my face with both hands. "Tell me you love me again. Like on the ship, but only to me this time."
My resolve was crumbling and fast. "I... I love you."
He groaned my name and then pulled me into his arms, kissing me heatedly. "I love you so much, Khushi. I want you so much..."
I knew it was wrong. Knew it wasn't the ideal thing to do, but I couldn't keep myself away from him a moment longer. Coiling my arms around his neck, I followed him down on the sand.
"Wait."
He broke the kiss to remove my dress and tossed it aside, along with the rest of my clothes. His eyes whipped over my bare form as if he'd never seen me like this before. I tried to take off his shirt, but his mouth was back on mine the very next second and everything in my brain seemed to shut down except for one name: Arnav Sexy Raizada. The man I loved to the moon and back...
His mouth was suddenly at my breasts, teasing and tugging and I was suddenly very thankful that Aman and Lavanya were nowhere near. The shouts coming out of my throat were loud and boisterous and before I could worry whether they'd carry in the wind, Mr. Sexy caught me by the hips, raising me up for a far more intimate kiss.
"RAIZADA!"
I yanked on his hair to keep him pressed to me, my legs draping over his shoulders. How much I'd missed this... yearned for this... I had to touch him too.
Pushing up against his chest, I turned him over. "My turn."
Before he could argue, I slanted my mouth over his. His hands slipped between us, kneading and rolling my heaving breasts. The kiss went on for what seemed like forever. By the time we broke apart, we were both out of breath and his jeans had been unzipped by my wandering fingers. Yanking up on his T-shirt, I pressed my lips to the gleaming muscles of his chest. He growled my name and emboldened, I kissed and licked my way down his torso, removing his pants without much trouble.
As I set an open-mouthed kiss against his hardness, he hollered my name, his hands fisting in my hair. I wouldn't be deterred though, loving him as I'd ached for months to do.
Only when I had him begging, did I rise up and fuse our mouths together. We rolled on the sand and then he was exactly where I'd ached for him to be. Deep within me. Buried to the hilt.
I cried out, my hands fisting on his shirt--which he still had on! His fingers caught mine and as our fingers entwined, he moved within me, setting a relentless, furious pace.
I was out of control, bucking and writhing beneath him, and rising up to meet him with bubbling urgency. As the waves kissed the shoreline and Mr. Sexy stretched over me, pressing me deeper into the soft sand, I cried out his name--and something more.
"I love you, Arnav! I love you so much!" My head tossed back and forth on the sand.
He caught my lips in a greedy, hungry kiss. "And I love you, Khushi."
Sometime later, I found myself on the sand, my eyes threatening to close. Above me, Mr. Sexy's face was relaxed in a warm smile. "Sleep, mi amor."
I didn't want to sleep, not yet. But my eyelids felt too heavy to possibly keep up much longer. Pressing my lips tiredly to his heartbeat, I held him in a snug grip as everything faded to blackness.
*****
The next time I opened my eyes, I knew something had changed. The sand didn't feel quite the same and there was no salty sea breeze washing over me. My eyes blinked open and immediately rounded. I was in an unfamiliar bedroom, lying on the middle of a queen-sized bed. There was an indent on the pillow beside me and from the smell alone, I could tell Raizada had been there not too long ago. Thankfully, he knew better than to leave without a word this time. A phone lay on the pillow. As I turned it on, a new message popped up:
Baby,
Sorry but I can't stop calling you that. You are and always will be baby for me... I've gone to take care of some important business. Be back around lunchtime. There's food in the refrigerator and clean clothes in the closet. And just in case, a gun underneath the bed. I hope you do not have to use it, but if you do, it's just like how you imagine. Point, pull trigger, shoot. Easy, right?
"No, Raizada. Not easy at all." Rolling my eyes, I read on.
You must be wondering where you are, so before you can scream and shout, let me be the first to tell you that we're finally in Greece. The rescue came around 3 AM. I didn't have the heart to wake you up so I just put some clothes on you and carried you to the helicopter. You slept in my arms the entire way.
Khushi, whatever you do, DO NOT leave the hotel. That's an order. I know you love to NOT listen to me, but I mean it this time. DO NOT TAKE ONE STEP OUT OF THIS HOTEL ROOM UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE (and stop frowning down at this phone, you look much more sexy when you smile).
Baby, I wouldn't stop you, but it's dangerous. Something is off... I've been thinking about how Shyam and his men found us on the cargo ship. There's only one explanation for it: we have a mole who is informing them of our whereabouts. Who that is, is what I'm trying to figure out.
And last but not least, last night was... everything and more. I know you have doubts and questions, but I need you to trust me. I love you, Khushi Kumari Gupta. Love you more than I ever thought was possible to love someone. You've changed me. Changed my world...
It kills me that because of me, you went through three months of hell. Rips my heart apart, babe. But I need you to trust me. Trust our love. Can you do that, Sushi? Just for a little while longer? I'll see you sooner than you think. Try not to worry.
---ASR
Tears stung my eyes as I lowered the phone. Not worry? It was just like him to say something like that. Not worry... as if I could stop it like an on/off switch. Love wasn't that simple.
I sat up against the headboard, closing my eyes. Memories of our intense lovemaking on the beach washed past my eyes and I quivered. Had it been yet another mistake? But why then had it felt so right?
I knew I should regret it, but strangely I didn't. Perhaps Mr. Sexy had his secrets, but then so did I now. Because truth was, I was almost 100% sure I was in fact pregnant.
There was only one way of finding out for sure, but for that I'd have to leave the room. I scribbled a quick message on the hotel's stationary:
I'm really, really sorry, love, but something important came up. I will hurry out and be back right away. I'm taking the phone along so you can call and scream at me whenever you get this. Sorry again...
--KKG
I felt like a teenager sneaking out after curfew, but there was no other option as I saw it. I dressed quickly. The clothes in the closest were new and unfamiliar, the tags still on, but each one was exactly my size--right down to the lacy, semi-transparent bra. Which was plain bizarre. My size had gone up slightly since Raizada had left. I blamed it on too many jalebis and too many sad, romantic songs. But still, how had he known what size to pick? How had he been so sure?
Because it's Mr. Sexy, my mind reasoned, recalling how he'd picked the perfectly sized nightgown on my birthday.
Closing the closet door with one last look of confusion, I headed to the door and then paused. Turning around, I grabbed the gun from under the bed and with a look of distaste, tossed it inside the empty purse I'd also found in the closet. Like Arnav, I could only pray I'd never have to use it.
It was strange being in a city I didn't even know the name of, being surrounded by faces so unlike mine. Each was a stranger. Thankfully, there was what looked to be a pharmacy just two streets away, adjacent to a business that claimed to be the "best and most authentic restaurant in all of Greece." It looked anything but, the walls chipped and cracked and the diners conspicuously missing. False advertising, I thought with a slight smile. At least some things could be relied upon, whether it was India or Greece or Timbuktu...
I bought an emergency pregnancy test without too much difficulty and clutching the plastic bag, raced back to the hotel, my eyes nervously darting around me. It felt as if that butter-loving monster would pop out from behind any given corner, throwing his arms around me and shouting: "Khushiji, finally we're reunited! Now we'll live happily ever after just as I dreamed we would."
I shivered with revulsion. Shyam Jha was truly insane. I'd known he was infatuated with me, but for him to go to such lengths caught me by surprise.
He'd become the legal mastermind of a notorious, international criminal, according to Arnav. His chief accomplice. And it hadn't stopped there. He'd also kidnapped my aunt and had even tracked me down to the cargo ship.  Why was he after me? How many times did I have to tell him I didn't love him and never would?
I was still asking myself those questions as I put the keycard in the door and slipped inside the hotel room, locking it just as fast.
"Well, well, well. So you finally return from whatever it was that was more important than your goddamn life."
I whipped around, feeling incredibly guilty. Mr. Sexy rose from the armchair near the window, looking tall and dark in the dim light. As I noted his furious gaze, I pressed my back into the wall behind me, wishing I could disappear.
"It was important..."
"Oh, really? And may I ask what the hell was so important?"
My hands curled uneasily on the pregnancy test behind my back. Raizada, of course noticed.
"What are you hiding from me? Show me."
"No!" I darted toward the bathroom door, but he caught me easily.
"Khushi! Stop! Do you have any idea how worried I've been! I had no idea where the hell you were. I was going out of my mind and you--"
I cut off his tirade by pressing my mouth to his. He growled and then hauled me flush to his front, his hand diving into my hair. As we fell on the bed, the pregnancy test fell from my fumbling fingers to the carpet and I gasped. But Arnav was already undressing me and that same urgency was taking hold of me, pushing everything else aside.
"Khushi," he groaned as he thrust deep. I cried out his name, my fingers knuckle white on his leather jacket as he grabbed my breasts, suckling with pent-up hunger. His mouth left wet imprints on the thin material of my dress.
I heard the sound of tearing fabric and glanced down at myself with wide eyes. Another dress ruined and yet, I wasn't complaining. Wrapping my legs around his waist, I met him stroke for stroke. As a shout threatened to push past my lips, Arnav took my lips in an all-consuming kiss, swallowing the revealing sound. Our tongues entangled and our bodies fused as passion crashed over us. The headboard I noticed, idly, was literally shaking. Holding onto Arnav's slick jacket, I let passion overtake my senses. Welcomed it.
We eventually fell on the sheets with a loud thud. I lay stunned in the aftermath of our lovemaking. It was always like this. Volatile as a volcano and just as scorching. My dress was in shreds, my hair was a wild mess and the bed was in no better shape, but Mr. Sexy of course, was the picture of perfection. He even had his leather jacket still on!
"You know," he murmured, running a hand down the side of my face. "Seducing me isn't going to work every time. You scared the shit out of me."
I, of course, jumped to the word seduce. "I wasn't seducing you. It's always you who manages to seduce me," I huffed.
His grin made my toes curl, but it all too soon disappeared. "Where did you go, baby? What the hell was that important?"
I didn't know what to say. I'd never been a good liar. My mouth opened and closed several times like a fish out of water.
"Umm... well, it was important..."
"It better have been. What was it?"
"Umm..." My gaze flew to the bathroom door. Escape route, it seemed to scream. "I'll be right back." Before he could say another word, I darted to the other side of the room.
I'd just closed the door and leaned back against it when I realized the huge blunder I'd made in my haste. Spinning around, I slammed open the door.
Arnav was sitting up at the edge of the bed, the pregnancy testing kit I'd forgotten in his hands. He turned it over, his face half in the shadows as his stunned gaze rose to my shocked, too pale face. Oh my--

Baby, Hold On by TINA!
Part 25: An Unexpected Visitor
I blinked like an owl, but the vision didn't fade. There he was. Arnav Freaking Raizada. My Mr. Sexy. With the pregnancy test I'd gone through so much trouble for in his hands.
"Khushi? What is this?"
Licking my dry lips, I swallowed, running a nervous hand through my hair. My voice to my relief didn't shake nearly as badly as I imagined it would. Instead, it came out like an odd croak of sorts, which was arguably much, much worse: "Isn't it obvious?"
I could tell he didn't like my reply--not at all. Setting the box aside, he stood, advancing toward me with his mouth bent and his gorgeous caramel eyes burning into mine. I tried to move away, I really did, but he drew me easily into his arms, backing me up against the hotel room's faded wallpaper. Diving his fingers into my thick hair, he angled my head in such a way, I was forced to meet his shock-filled gaze.
"I'm going to give you thirty seconds to tell me the truth," he all but growled. "What the hell is going on?"
This was it, I realized. My hands felt clammy and my heart was beating much too fast. Part of me wondered if he could hear it too.
"Khushi."
I quivered as he said my name in that tone. The one that demanded answers. Staring up at him, I felt as if everything was on the line. Our love...our future...
"Are you really going to make me say it?" I whispered, trying not to feel dejected by his very obvious lack of happiness. How had I expected him to react anyway? Smile and twirl me in a romantic circle before proceeding to kiss me senseless? Tell me how he was going to quit his dangerous line of work and retire to a quiet, peaceful life in Laxmi Nagar with me, our junior Mr. Sexy or junior Sushi, and Buaji?
Happily ever after didn't happen that easily. Not in real life at least. I should have known. But still, it hurt. Hurt so much...
"Obviously, you bought it for a reason." Raizada spoke as if running through a list of incriminating evidence. "You left the room even after I warned you not to. After I all but forbid you to." His eye flashed at me. "Why, dammit? WHY?"
I jumped at his voice. Yup, definitely no senseless kissing on the menu tonight. "I had to be sure..." I murmured feebly. "It was necessary."
"Necessary?" Eyes glinting with fire, he suddenly crushed me against his steely chest, grinding himself into me like an untamed beast. I was so taken aback, I could only hold onto him as his mouth pressed to the side of my neck, hot and bruising, and one of his hands sloped deftly down the length of my leg, drawing my thigh up for better and far more intimate leverage.
When he spoke, his voice was hard and gravely against my ear. "Why the hell would I need that for?" he growled, tugging on my earlobe with his teeth.
"Because--" Wait. What? Though it was easier said than done to concentrate when he was touching me like this and admittedly, I had a bad habit of falling into a heady daze whenever he was near, but I could have sworn I'd heard him refer to himself. My hair swung as I stared at him with wide eyes. "You? It's for--"
"For me obviously." Swearing, he pulled away just as quickly as he'd neared, picking up the testing kit and practically shoving it at me. "Read it."
More confused than ever, I struggled through the Greek words. I might as well have been reading Japanese for all the good it did.
Arnav's frown had deepened all the more by now. His hands were tense and rigid on my shoulders. "Exactly."
"Exactly what?"
He exhaled. "What you just said. This box is for men with erectile dysfunction. And clearly, I don't have any such problem so why the hell would you buy it?"
Someone could have thrown a pie on my face just then and I wouldn't have been more surprised. "WHAT?" I yelped. "Erect-- Erect--" I was having far more trouble saying that word than I had with the Greek ones, for an altogether different reason of course.
"Erectile dysfunction," he cut in impatiently. "You heard me."
"No," I said, shaking my head as I glanced down at the box with wide eyes. It had to be some mistake. One huge, giant mix up. "This is--" The words died on my lips as I turned the box over.
O. M. G. It was clearly what he said it was. There was even a rather graphic cartoon illustration indicating its use.
I flung the box away as if ants were crawling all over it. How had it happened? I'd told the woman at the pharmacy quite clearly that I'd needed a pregnancy test. I'd even searched for the exact translation on the phone Arnav had given me and told her so in broken Greek, with hand motions and everything.
I chewed on my bottom lip. Now that I thought about it, she had seemed a bit baffled by my antics, but then she'd smiled and bought me the box. And stupid me hadn't even bothered to make sure it was the right one. I'd simply paid and rushed out.
"Khushi?"
Mr. Sexy's husky voice dragged me back to the present. For the first time in my life, I didn't know what on earth to say as I met his stony gaze.
"I don't need that damn box," he murmured darkly, reminding me of a sulky child.
"I know, baby." I found myself smiling and then a loud giggle escaped me. I couldn't help it, though I tried to stop, clapping a hand over my mouth. Little good it did. I was suddenly laughing so hard, tears were coming out of my eyes.
His nostrils flared and with a curse, he drew my hand away and crushed my mouth to his, briefly, but firmly. I felt the force of that kiss radiate right down to my toes like an electric current. Raizada, though, was still frowning.
"This is not funny. Stop laughing, dammit."
His furious command made me laugh all the more. I'd clearly wounded his male ego--unintentionally of course.
"Khushi, I'm warning you. Be serious. If you know I don't need it, why would you buy it then?"
I wiped the tears from my eyes. "It was a mistake. I thought I was buying--" Suddenly, all my amusement evaporated.
Raizada lifted my chin up, staring into my eyes. "Go on... Buying what?"
"Umm...that is...well..."
His breath caressed my face as he leaned closer, setting his forehead against mine. "What is it? What aren't you telling me, baby?"
"Who me?"
"No, the bellhop downstairs. Of course you!"
Crossing my arms over my chest, I glared up at him. "Don't speak to me in that tone, Raizada!"
"Then answer me for once in your life!" His jaw tightened as our gazes warred.
"I went to buy some medicine." Okay, honestly, I don't know where that line came from, but it was out of my mouth before I could stop it or think twice.
"Medicine?" Grabbing onto the word, Arnav surveyed me from head to toe. "What's wrong with you? Are you still seasick?"
If I didn't know any better it was as if he was actually baiting me, the corner of his mouth twitching.
"Of course not," I told him. "I'm... I'm..." Why was it so hard to admit it, dammit? But it was and so I stood there before him, feeling sillier and sillier by the second.
"You're what?" he drawled, his eyes twinkling.
"I'm...I'm jet lagged!" Sighing with relief, I could have patted myself on the back for coming up with that last moment.
Arnav didn't even bother to hide his amusement this time, shaking his head at me as if he was dealing with a troublesome child. "Jet lag? We've been here for several days, babe. I highly doubt it's jet lag."
"I think I'd know. Now, if you'll please step aside."
He was still smirking at me as I hurried past him to the bathroom. The sight of that smirk made my temper spark. I paused mid-step, turning to face him with a whirl of my hair. "On second thought, maybe you should keep that box after all," I told him with a pointed glare. "You might just need it."
He lunged toward me, but I'd been ready for it, bolting the bathroom door with surprising speed.
He pounded several times. "You know you'll have to come out of there eventually."
"Yeah, so?" What did he think of himself? If anyone could handle him, it had to be me.
"So..." I could sense the smile in his words. "Then I'll prove to you first-hand that I don't need that box and never will."
I knew him well enough to know that he meant it. Flustered, I told him to leave me alone for a while. I was actually lying again. What I really wanted was for him to barge inside and demand answers, but of course Mr. Sexy chose this to be the perfect time to listen to me for once. I sighed, leaning my head against the door as I heard his footsteps draw away.
His voice suddenly sounded and my hopes flared, only to come crashing down once more. He was all business suddenly. "I need to meet with Aman and Lavanya," he said in that don't-even-think-of-arguing-with-me tone. "Stay in this damn room. I mean it, Khushi. Otherwise, I'll--"
"You'll what?" I hollered, fuming outright. "Tie me down on the bed?"
"Yeah, perfect. I'll do just that."
Mouth agape, I scowled at the closed door between us. "You wouldn't dare, Arnav Singh Raizada!"
"Actually, I would. So for both our sakes, do not test me, babe. I'm telling you to stay here for your own safety. Is that understood? Do not leave this room no matter what."
I frowned all the more as I heard the door close. What was Mr. Sexy up to now? What did he have to discuss with those two that he couldn't discuss with me? Sighing, I bent over the sink, scrubbing my face none too gently. It was an old nighttime ritual I'd been doing since my early teenage years and normally it relaxed me, but not this time. My mouth bent as I considered my reflection in the mirror. There was no avoiding it.
Even when I tried to smile, it was a pathetic attempt. I looked plain tired and way too pale, my hair in a wild tangle about my head and my lipstick conspicuously missing thanks to Raizada. My gaze dipped to my waist and my hand trembled as I set it there. Was I really pregnant? I had to find out.
So even though I'd been forbidden from leaving the room by Mr. 007 himself, there I stood, my mind running through various scenarios on how to escape. Some were far crazier and more daring than others.
It surprised me that I'd begun to think a bit like Arnav. I was estimating how long it would take me to jog to the pharmacy, mapping out the fastest route in my head and pondering how long Arnav would likely take with his important discussion I was not a part of. Maybe I could sneak off right now and he'd never even notice. But then again, what if he was in the lobby downstairs? Did I want to risk being caught? Again?
That thought made me pause. I was in the process of debating whether climbing down from the window would be a good or bad idea when my eyes noticed something. The cabinet beneath the sink was slightly ajar. I opened it and my eyes bulged.
"A pregnancy test? Oh my--" I could have kissed the box. I didn't know how it had gotten there. Perhaps the last woman who'd stayed in this room had also been dealing with someone as difficult and perplexing as Mr. Sexy or perhaps the housekeeping staff had simply left it behind in their hurry.
Whoever it had been, I thanked them in my head and out loud. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." Trying to keep my nervousness at bay, I took a deep breath and tore open the cardboard packaging.
*****
~Arnav~
As I made my way downstairs, I couldn't seem to stop thinking about Khushi. Which was nothing new. She'd become a permanent feature in my thoughts since the very start. Feisty, crazy, selfless and endearing, she was the most intriguing woman I'd ever met.
It was no wonder I'd fallen for her so quickly. Even though God knows I'd tried to be strictly professional in what should have been just another assignment for me. Instead, I'd broken two of the cardinal rules of my line of work almost from the moment I'd stepped into her life. Number one: never get too close to the client and number two: if you happen to bed them, you damn well better not fall for them. Because love made you vulnerable and gave your enemies a means of killing you without wasting a single bullet.
I'd known all that. In fact, before coming to Laxmi Nagar, I'd prided myself in always sticking to the rules. Hell, I'd even scoffed at those who left the job for love and family. And yet here I was, in love with Khushi Kumari Gupta, now more than ever.
I couldn't have stopped it even if I wished to and curiously enough, I had no desire whatsoever to stop it. Perhaps love made some weak, but it hadn't been the case for me. Rather, it had made me survive three months of hell. My jaw tightened and I shook those thoughts away. There were more pressing dangers facing us.
Aman was exactly where he'd said he'd be in his text message. At the corner booth in the hotel's dimly lit bar. He was sipping his usual and mine was waiting for me. Sliding in opposite him, I took a tentative swallow.
"Where's Lavanya?"
"On the phone. Arguing as usual."
I didn't even bother to comment on that bit of news. It was nothing new.
"How's your Khushi?"
I paused for a moment and then shrugged casually. Heck, who was I kidding? She was mine--whether she admitted it or not. "Still as stubborn as ever. She's not telling me anything."
Aman's eyebrows rose. "Not even after you left the pregnancy test in the bathroom for her? I thought that was sure to make her confess."
"Me too... maybe it wasn't obvious enough."
"Are you sure she's pregnant?"
I glared at my best friend. "Like I told you in the helicopter, I'm damn sure."
"Okay, breathe. I was just asking." He took another sip. "Maybe you're going about this all wrong. She's probably hesitating to tell you because she thinks you might react badly. You know, like leave her or something."
"I would never leave her!"  Several people glanced our way and I forced myself to lower my voice, my grip tightening on the glass. "I never would have even left her three months ago if I had any say in the matter and you know it," I gritted through my teeth, my anger and frustration spilling out unchecked.
He nodded, his eyes thoughtful. After a long moment, he asked, "Would you have told me if I hadn't been there that night?"
I didn't have to think about the question long. "No," I replied. "Never."
He didn't seem at all surprised. "You have to tell Khushi, Arnav. She deserves to know."
My control was in tatters. "Do you think I don't know that?" I took a calming breath. "I will... eventually..."
"When?"
"When Jha's finally behind bars and we're not in any danger of being shot at. There's already so much going on. Khushi doesn't realize it, but she's completely overwhelmed. First, I leave without explanation. Then, her aunt is kidnapped before her very eyes. Then I return and we end up here, bullets flying and delusional men chasing after us. And now to top it off, she's pregnant. I'll wait till things are calmer and then I'll tell her." It made perfect sense in my head.
Aman though appeared far from unconvinced. "What if it's too late by then? I don't want you to lose her. I know how much she means to you."
My jaw hardened and I nodded shortly. That she meant the world to me didn't need to be said. It was understood.
"So," Aman broke in lightly, grinning, "Are you going to shift base to Laxmi Nagar after all this with your Khushi and pack of eight-nine kids?"
I rolled my eyes at the last bit of his sentence. "God no. Who the hell even said I want eight or nine kids?"
"You did."
A familiar voice, quiet and feminine and laden with accusation, broke in between us so unexpectedly, I froze. Half of Aman's drink sloshed over his mug and onto the table. Not that Khushi or I seemed to notice. I couldn't look away from her fury-filled eyes.
Oh shit.
*****
~Khushi~
You know that moment when everything seems to come to a screeching halt and you question everything in your life, right from your heart, your sense of judgment to your very hopes and dreams in the span of mere seconds? Well, this was it, except much worse.
I'd come down to the lobby to confront Arnav and entered just in time to hear Aman ask him if he'd move to Laxmi Nagar after everything was settled and we were no longer getting shot at. I'd smiled at the question, but the very next moment, it had melted away.
"God no," he'd replied, taking a casual sip of his drink. "Who the hell even said I want eight or nine kids?"
"What are you doing here?" Raizada ground out now, looking just marginally guilty. "I told you to stay in the room. You never listen to me!" He began to lead me out of the bar, but I tugged my arm free, my eyes wild.
"Why did I have to fall for a man like you?" I all but screamed. "All you do is lie! You lied about your job, your life, loving me and now this too?"
"Keep your voice down, Khushi. People are looking and--"
I poked my finger into his leather jacket, resisting the urge to do far worse damage. "Don't you dare tell me to be quiet, Arnav Singh Raizada! Don't you dare! So you don't want that life we spoke about? You've been just leading me on? You don't want kids? Well, newsflash: you're getting one!" I threw the pregnancy stick at him and he caught it with a look of dumbfounded surprise.
"Yeah," I said, tears stinging my eyes. "I'm pregnant." Before he or anyone else could say a word, I ran out of the room.
A few people stood waiting for the elevator, but at the sight of me, they all edged away. Oh yeah, nothing like a crying, hysterical female to scare off people. Worse than any butter-dripping monster for sure.
I tried to calm down, but it was all too much. Thankfully, the elevator decided to finally open just then with a ping-like noise and I hurriedly stepped inside, wiping my face with my sleeve. The door had almost closed when an all too familiar leather boot appeared out of nowhere, deftly opening it. Tanned, masculine hands pushed at the metal.
As I saw who it was, I jabbed the door-close button hard. But it was too late. Raizada had managed to get in with relative ease.
I pressed my back to the wall, glowering at him. "Get out! Get out of here right now! I don't want to see your face!"
"Well, you're going to see it, baby," he growled. "And a whole lot more than that." As the doors closed, leaving us utterly alone, he pulled me into his arms. I kicked and shouted, but he just held me against him, speaking with that usual Zen-like air. "Calm down, Sushi. Relax."
"Relax?" I frowned up at him. "How can you expect me to relax after what you did? I hate you, Raizada! I hate you so much!" I sobbed the last few words, tears streaking down my cheeks before I could quite hold them back. He held me tighter, lifting me up in his arms as I cried my heart out.
The elevator chimed as it opened on the tenth floor. Our floor. We were silent as we neared the room, slipping within just as quietly.
Arnav set me down on the emerald armchair by the window and then kneeled before me. His eyes were soft and gentle as he considered me, but I hardened my heart against him. I would not melt. Not this time.
"Do you have any idea how long I've been waiting for you to tell me?"
I was genuinely confused by the question. "Tell you what?"
His jaw flexed and he stared down at my waist. "Tell me you're pregnant."
What in the name of jalebis? The hits just kept coming tonight. One shock after the next. But there was no doubt in my mind what he was hinting to. My eyes widened as I read the truth of it in his eyes. "You knew..."
It wasn't a question, but a statement of complete and total fact. Raizada nodded slowly. "I realized it last night itself. The way you reacted to the word baby didn't escape me, Khushi. I thought I was reading too much into things, but when we made love on the sand and I touched you here and here..." His hand curved over my breasts and abdomen. There was a barely discernable bump there. "I knew you hadn't just gained some weight. You're pregnant, Khushi."
It was one thing to hear those words from that old Greek woman, but another to hear them from him. I swallowed.
"Why didn't you confront me directly?"
He cupped my cheek in his palm, brushing my tears aside. "Because I wanted you to tell me when you were ready to. I didn't think it would take you so long. Earlier today, I thought you were hiding a pregnancy test behind your back, but that turned out to be something else entirely." A faint grin curved his mouth at the memory. "I even left a pregnancy test for you in the bathroom hoping you'd see it."
"That was you?" My jaw slackened.
He caressed my cheek, nodding. "Khushi, what you heard downstairs... I was just joking with Aman. I thought you knew that."
I stared at him dumbly, too afraid to believe him. To put my heart on the line--again. He sighed knowingly, taking a hold of my hand in both of his.
"Khushi, the eight or nine kids may have been an exaggeration, but I wasn't lying when I said I wanted to marry you and have a family with you. That's actually become my greatest dream, baby."
I swallowed back tears. "But you said no to returning to Laxmi Nagar."
"I was saying no to the eight or nine kids, not that. When this is all over, I want us to go back home," he said with a warm smile.
"Home?" I repeated the word with barely held wonder.
He nodded. "Home. Wherever you want that to be. London, Mumbai, New York, Sydney or even Laxmi Nagar. As long as we're together."
I found myself gripping his hands. "I can't leave Buaji behind."
"I know. And don't worry, I've come to love your aunt too. Not as much as her niece, of course," he added with a wink.
Oh God. Someone pinch me. I didn't feel like blinking or even breathing, least this perfect moment be snatched away. "Really? And the... the baby?"
He hushed me with a kiss, his mouth soft against mine. "I love you, Khushi Kumari Gupta." He bent his head and placed his mouth against my stomach. "And I love our baby. More than I can say. I know we talked about this before, but I didn't think it would happen so fast. Least of all now."
My fingers trembled as I tilted his face up. "But you're happy?"
His smile was dazzling. He picked me up and lowered me on his lap, his mouth finding mine. "Insanely happy." Raising my hand, he set it over his raging heartbeat. "Can't you feel it?"
This time, I nodded, tears streaking past my eyes as I threw myself into his embrace, cuddling closer. He groaned, holding me just as tight.
It was one of the most magical moments of my life, too perfect to be real, so of course Mr. Sexy had to say something to ruin it.
"Baby, you need to get out of Greece now. It's too dangerous. Especially in your state."
I wondered for a moment if I'd heard him right and then drawing back, frowned at him. "What?"
He nodded, smoothing my hair back. "I've already arranged it. You're going home on the first flight tomorrow morning."
I stared at him for a fleeting moment and then wrenched myself off his lap. "THE HELL I AM!"
*****
That night, I slept on the bed while he slept on the lumpy, pull-out sofa bed. I'd decided it would be best if he wasn't anywhere near me. Whenever Arnav came close, all my resistance threatened to turn into mush. He had this strange, powerful hold over me and the man knew very well how to use it. Damn him.
But he has a point...this time, the logical part of me argued. It is dangerous to be here. You can't pretend it isn't.
But I was also a woman madly in love, a woman who finally had everything I'd ever wanted at my fingertips. I wasn't walking away from that. I couldn't. Staring at his shadow across the room, I wished he'd stop being so difficult and understand that too. But we were at loggerheads once more.
He was dead set on me going to a safe house back home while I refused to even talk about the subject. No matter how many times I mulled over it all, there was no chance of compromise as far as I could see. None whatsoever. Sighing, I rolled onto my side, trying to figure out how to convince Mr. Stubborn even as my eyes drifted close.
The sun woke me up early the next morning and something else too. A muscular arm was draped over my middle and long legs scissored mine. Being careful not to wake him, I turned slowly in his arms.
Arnav looked extra handsome when he was asleep: his hair wavy, his lips faintly red and a 5 o'clock shadow darkened his jawline. I found myself staring at his mouth, feeling as if I was a much-denied dieter faced with a scrumptious chocolate cake. The man was pure temptation. So raw and appealing. My own Greek god, I thought with a faint grin.
"If you want to kiss me, you can," he suddenly said, his eyes still closed. "I won't complain."
I tried to move away, but he caught me easily, rolling me beneath him.
"You were awake all along, weren't you?" I accused.
He smirked and I didn't need to be told more. Of course, he'd been awake. His stubble tickled as he bent to kiss the corner of my mouth.
"How about we shower together this morning? It's been so long."
My pulse quickened as I noted the glint in his eyes. He wanted me. My mouth felt suddenly dry. "Only if you promise to forget all about sending me home. I won't leave Greece without you."
His mouth bent at my defiant tone. "I won't be changing my mind, Sushi. You can forget about that."
Before I could say anything, even that I'd shower with him whether he dropped his silly plan or not, he was out of the bed. Sitting up against the headboard, I grumbled under my breath about stubborn, hotheaded men who thought only they were right. Something told me, it was going to be a long day.
Gathering my hair up in a loose ponytail, I watched Arnav grab his clothes, striding over to the bathroom. "How did you end up in bed with me anyway?" I broke in. "I thought I told you to sleep over there."
He frowned at the sofa bed I pointed to. "I'm not going to sleep on that sorry excuse of a mattress when I can have you in my arms. And besides," he revealed with a crooked grin, "It was you that called me to your bed."
My eyes rounded. "What? I did not. You're such a--"
"Liar? I thought you might say that. So I recorded you."
I blinked at him like a barn owl again. "You did what?"
He raised his phone at me and pressed play. As the video began, my eyebrows rose to my hairline. He hadn't been lying, dammit. There I was. Tossing and turning on the mattress, my voice low and pleading. "Arnav... Mr. Sexy, please... I need you... Need you so much..."
He clicked stop, seeming ridiculously pleased by my flabbergasted expression. "So after that, I couldn't stop myself. I went to you, took you in my arms and then we made some wild, crazy love."
My eyes were wide as saucers by now. "We did not!" And then a moment later, in a much softer murmur, "Did we, really?"
Raizada grinned, leaning his head against the door jam. "If I'd have made love to you, you would have remembered it, Sushi. Vividly. Trust me on that." With a slow wink, he disappeared within the bathroom and I slumped back into the bed, trying to ignore the sound of the water running.
Images of a wet, irresistibly naked Mr. Sexy flashed past my eyes, making my heart lurch in my chest and my body hum with pent-up longing. Yup, it would definitely be a long day.
*****
As it turned out, the day was rather uneventful. I had a surprisingly romantic breakfast in bed with Arnav. Well... our type of romantic. We basically took turn feeding each other bites of syrup-drenched pancakes and arguing as usual.
In my humble opinion, Raizada had a long list of flaws--very long--but I had to admit, the man would just not give up. He was hell bent on convincing me to return home. Of course I wouldn't listen to him, shushing him with the best way I knew how: with a sound kiss on the mouth.
Aman and Lavanya were both unapologetically on Mr. Sexy's side. As we met for dinner in the hotel's bar later that day--the very room where I'd almost slapped Raizada the previous night and shouted I was pregnant--they told me so. Several times. Annoying or what?
Lavanya, especially, was adamant and rather blunt about it. "ASR is absolutely correct, Khushi. Frankly, I was against you coming along with us from the very start. You know very little about our work, how we operate. You get squeamish when you so much as see a gun, forget about actually using one. Don't you see? You're a liability for us. We have to worry each second about you and that takes away from the mission."
Her words hurt, but I couldn't deny that they were true. Beside me, Arnav looked far more upset by her tirade. Taking my hand in his, he squeezed reassuringly. "Khushi is not a liability, Lavanya. If it came to defending herself, I know she could, but I don't want it to reach that point. Ever."
Aman nodded in agreement. "I would have agreed with you, Khushi, but now that you're pregnant, it makes it all the more complicated. You need to go back home."
I pushed aside my half-eaten sandwich, my appetite nonexistent. No one understood me. Well, Arnav did, but he was so concerned for my wellbeing and the baby's that he wasn't even thinking of anything else. I didn't blame him. Our love was like that. While my heart didn't allow me to consider leaving him behind, his wanted me to be safe and unharmed at all costs.
Was I being selfish? I wondered. Maybe they all were right and I was wrong as usual.
"You might all have a point," I admitted, rising to stand. "But I'm not leaving him." My eyes clashed with Arnav, tears blurring my vision. "I lost you once. For three whole months. I won't lose you again. I won't!"
He called out my name, but before he could grab a hold of me, I sprinted toward the exit and in the same breath, ran head first into someone.
The woman was dressed in light yellow. "And where do you think you're running off to? Is this how you greet your best friend? Nearly knocking me off my feet?"
My lips parted with surprise as my gaze rose, taking in the woman's smiling features and perfectly styled pixie hairdo. It wasn't just any random person, but a most unexpected visitor.
"Sheena!" I squealed, launching myself into her arms. "What are you doing here? In Greece?"
She laughed, pointing to the man behind me. "Blame it on him."
Arnav was smiling as he set his arm on my waist, drawing me to his side. "I called her yesterday. I thought you could use some convincing from someone close to you."
I highly doubted his tactic would work and began to tell him so, but I realized then that Arnav had really thought this all through. Right down to the very last detail.
"Just listen to me. The two of you can go to London together," he explained. "I have a very secure hideout there. It's not too far from Greece and I'll be with you in a matter of days. What do you say, baby?"
"Do you really think I'll agree to this?"
He shrugged. "It's worth a shot. "
"We'll see, hubby."
"We'll see, wifey."
We grinned at each other bemusedly, falling into one of those strange, fantastic trances I'd mentioned before. A soft cough interrupted us.
"I can join the others if you two would like a moment alone," Sheena said, her eyes shining with amusement, "Or several."
Blushing, I shook my head. Leaning up to kiss Raizada's cheek, I told him I'd see him soon, dragging my closest friend in the whole entire world to the elevator. I couldn't believe she was actually here! Sheena though was busy staring at someone over my shoulder, but before I could check to see who, she pointed to the elevator.
"Let's go. You have so much to explain. Especially about this whole hubby, wifey thing. Did you really marry him?"
Laughing, I shook my head. "Not yet, but I will," I said with a wink. "Even if I have to propose to him myself!"
"Khushi!" She looked confounded beyond words. "So much has changed since we last spoke. Explain, woman."
I led her to the room I'd come to think of as my home away from home. We talked on and on and close to some three hours later, Sheena knew almost everything. Of course I'd left out some of the more--ahem ahem--private moments, like the frenzied lovemaking on the secluded beach.
Dazed, we sat together on the floor, our backs braced against the sofa. We'd often sat like this as young girls, but so much had changed since then. Life had grown so much more complicated than I could ever have dreamt it would be.
"Sheena?"
She sat silent and then her gaze swung to mine. "So let me get this straight: you're having Prince Charming's baby, he wants you to go home, but you don't want to, and on top of all this, there's a legit villain chasing after you?"
"He's more of a creepy, butter-crazed stalker than villain," I corrected, giggling, "But yeah, that's about it." I didn't argue about Arnav being Prince Charming. The man was full of flaws and he knew it too, but that didn't take away from the fact that I loved him, imperfections and all.
"I can't leave him, Sheena. I can't go through waiting around and not knowing what's happening again. Please try to understand."
She sighed. "He's going to kill me you realize."
I hugged her. "Don't worry, I'll save you from the dragon."
"Dragon?"
My eyes rounded as it swung to the door. Mr. Sexy stood with his hands in his pockets, his penetrating gaze on me. For the life of me, I couldn't look away from him.
He'd changed out of his leather jacket and jeans into something just as lethal, if not more. It was true what everyone said about a man in uniform, I realized then. Because Arnav in navy blue with badges and medals gleaming on his shirtfront was literally stealing my very breath. I felt strangely dizzy.
He grinned, seeming to recognize exactly what he was doing to me. How my body was reacting to his proximity, my heart melting, my knees giving away...
"I honestly like that more than Prince Charming, Khushi. Dragon suits me more."
*****
~Arnav~
I watched Khushi swallow. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Awhile," I mumbled vaguely, resisting the urge to smirk. Second to only the time when she was trying to knock my teeth loose, Khushi was absolutely stunning when she was all flustered like now.
"I think I'll see you two later," broke in Sheena, standing.
"You're leaving me to deal with the dragon alone?" Khushi stood too, mouth agape.
Her friend gave her a quick hug. "You can handle him, I'm sure. Sleep tight and try not to stress. It's not good for my niece or nephew."
I smiled at the mention of the baby. Our baby. Khushi was smiling too, her eyes light and shining.
"I'll be right back." I murmured, walking Sheena over to her room. It was down the hall, directly across from Aman's. "If you need anything, you can go to me or him," I told her. "I trust him with my life."
She fidgeted with the keycard in her hands. "Thanks, but I'll be alright. Besides, I don't even know your friend."
I knocked on the door opposite hers. Aman opened at once, dressed in his uniform too under a beat up leather jacket. His head swung comically between Sheena and me, reminding me of a pendulum I'd once seen in Belgium.
"What's going on? Who is... Who is this? Have we met before?"
Have we met before? Really? Was he honestly still using that cheesy line? I didn't have the time nor the patience to deal with his questions. If he wanted to behave like he'd never seen an attractive woman in his life before than that was his choice. A rather stupid choice in my opinion, but his.
But really, did he have make it so damn obvious? I felt a twinge of second-hand embarrassment as he looked this way and that, clearly not knowing what to say as Sheena shook her head, indicating that they had not in fact met before.
"Maybe in his dreams," I muttered dryly.
Ignoring my friend's scowl, I shot a look of apology to the woman next to me. Keeping the introductions brief and to the point, I explained: "Aman, this is Sheena, Khushi's best friend. Do not let anything happen to her. Sheena, now that you know him, don't hesitate to bother him--no matter what time it is. Midnight, 3 AM, whatever." Leaving them alone without another word or backward glance, I hurried back to my Sushi.
She was pacing. As I locked the door behind me, she swung to face me. "I'm not going! And Sheena agrees with me too."
"Great," I growled. "Now I'll have two women after me instead of one."
Her lips tipped up. "Exactly, baby. And you brought it all on yourself."
Her laughter came to an abrupt halt as I crossed to her. I was at her side in two breaths, lifting her up in my arms. As her back connected with the bed, Khushi blinked with surprise.
"Arnav? What are you--"
I silenced her with a rough kiss, my tongue slipping past her lips and entwining with hers. We kissed feverishly, wildly, neither able to get close enough.
The sound of a click made Khushi freeze beneath me. Her body went limp and her head swung to the headboard--which I'd managed to handcuff her left wrist to.
"You--" For a moment she was too startled to speak and then she began fighting me, just as I'd expected. I slanted my mouth over hers again and began working my way down her pliant body.
"Arnav, this isn't funny."
"Agree. It isn't. I'm not in the mood for funny."
Raising her dress high, I worked my way underneath it, kissing her belly, her breasts, the satiny flesh of her inner thigh. She was crying out my name, her head thrashing side to side as her free hand tugged on my hair, keeping me pressed to her. But I had no intention of moving away. Draping her leg over my shoulder, I set my mouth against her blazing heat, cherishing the sound of her loud moan. Rising up, I braced myself on my forearms, taking her mouth again.
"Untie me, Raizada," she bid against my lips.
"No."
Despite the rebellious spark brewing in her gaze, she kissed me back with the same dizzying need and unable to hold back anymore, I positioned myself, joining us in the most carnal way possible.
All her protests slipped away and she rose to meet my each thrust, her legs curling over my back. It was pure ecstasy.  A merging of far more than just our bodies. With hooded eyes, I watched as she broke apart in my arms, calling out my name.
"ARNAV!"
I followed soon after her, clasping her shaking form to me afterwards. Her breathing was uneven and a fine sheen of sweat covered her. As our lips met again, I adjusted her clothes, smoothed her hair back and tucked her in, drawing the blanket to her chin.
"Raizada, please. Uncuff me now."
Zipping up my pants and sliding my belt into place, I shook my head. "No. I warned you last time, didn't I? You are not to leave this room."
She looked taken aback. "But what if I need to leave? What if something happens?"
I set one of my extra handguns on the nightstand along with a phone. "These will be within your reach. The gun is loaded and the phone has only my number. It's untraceable so you can always call me, though try not to unless it's an emergency. Now, just ignore the handcuff and sleep, baby. I'll be back soon."
"Easy for you to say," she huffed. A second later, worry clouded her eyes. "Where are you going?"
"We might have a lead on the toad and his boss. I'm going with Aman. Lavanya is staying behind to watch over things here."
Khushi tugged on the handcuff frantically. "I want to go with you. Please."
"Sweetheart, no." I kissed her forehead. "Trust me, I'll handle everything better if I know you're safe here. If you came along, it would be nearly impossible for me to concentrate."
Her chin wobbled. "You better return to me in one piece. Otherwise, I'll..."
I smiled down at her. "You'll what?"
She drew me down so our mouths met. "I'll feed you all the butter in the world."
I made a face at that and we both smiled, though there was still worry darkening her pupils.
"I'll be fine, Khushi. Trust me."
"I do."
We kissed once more and then I forced myself to step away, locking the door behind me before I could change my mind. The gun in my back pocket had never felt more a burden.
*****
~Khushi~
I couldn't fall asleep. My mind was coming up with scenarios far more frightening than any horror movie I'd ever seen behind Buaji's unsuspecting back. I lay praying, my gaze falling to the pesky handcuff again and again.
I couldn't believe he'd actually tied me down just as he'd threatened he would. The nerve of that man! He was lucky I loved him so much. Very lucky.
Around 2 AM, an odd sound came out of the blue. I must have fallen asleep because it took me a moment to figure out what was happening. Snapping on the light, my heart pounded like a drum even though it was just the phone ringing--the one Arnav had given me. I pressed it to my ear hurriedly.
"Arnav? Baby, are you okay?"
"Wrong man," came a voice that was most definitely not my Mr. Sexy's.
My blood ran cold. "Who is this?"
The man chuckled, a sinister laugh that made my hair stand on end. "The man your lover wants dead so badly."
"Shyamji?"
"Nope, wrong again, but closer this time. You're hot."
I shivered and reached for the gun, its weight feeling unusually heavy in my hand. I aimed it the shadows surrounding me, but no one was there. Releasing the breath I hadn't even realized I was holding, I asked,  "What do you want? Why are you after us for?"
"Me?" he quipped in a mocking manner. "It's your lover boy that won't leave me alone. He's after me even now, chasing me. But don't worry, Khushi, my car is considerably faster than his."
My knuckles turned white and my heart lurched as I heard the sound of screeching tires and gunshots. "If you touch him, I'll--"
"You'll what?"
"Kill you," I said, meaning each damn word.
He didn't laugh as I'd thought he would. "Well, that isn't a very nice thing to say to a new acquaintance, now is it? Here I am trying to genuinely help you."
"Help me how?" Sitting up, I ran a hand through my hair. "Just shut up! Shut up, whoever you are." I began to hang up, but his furious whisper stopped me.
"Don't even think about ending this call," he warned. "Otherwise, I will have him killed. Right now."
Tears made their way down my pale face, but I kept my voice steady. "What do you want?"
The man sighed. "Like I said, I'm just trying to help you, Khushi. I could have you easily kidnapped, but I haven't done that, have I? Though Jha would certainly love that. He's my most trusted advisor and bizarrely infatuated with you. I wouldn't have to pay him for a good year or two if I just handed you over to him. It would save me thousands."
None of it made sense. "Why haven't you then?"
"It's much more fun this way. Let him work to find you. It's really none of my concern. But what does affect me is that ASR. He's ruining my business. Drug empires take decades to build, you see. And he took out a major partner of mine without so much as a sorry. Even after everything, he still hasn't learned his lesson. Now he's coming directly after me and Jha."
"He will find you and your faithful servant. And you'll both end up where you deserve. In jail."
This time, he laughed, that same dark chuckle that made my blood run cold. "Oh, Khushi, you really don't understand anything, do you? If he's stupid enough to come after us, it's he who dies, not us. You need to convince him to leave Greece. To forget all about this. I'll keep Jha away from you in return and we can all go back to our wonderful, separate lives and forget all about this nasty mess."
The man was a very seasoned liar, but he was a fool too if he thought I'd actually take him for his word. "You're trying to act so clever, but you're anything but. You're afraid, aren't you? Afraid of being caught..."
"SHUT UP, YOU B****! I will kill you! I will have your lover boy's brains blown out before your very eyes if you say another word!" He paused, seeming to reign in his temper. "It's not me who should be afraid, but you."
"I. Am. Not. Afraid. Of. You."
"You should be. Let me guess, ASR never told you about what happened three months ago, did he? He hid it all from you."
"Three months?" My world swayed. "How do you know about that?"
"I know everything. And I'll tell you too, unlike your lover boy. All you have to do is follow my instructions."
My grip tightened on the phone. "If you think I'll actually come to meet you, you're far crazier than I could have guessed."
The man snickered. "I know you won't meet me. You aren't that stupid, regrettably. But I'll tell you over the phone. On this same number. Convenient, isn't it? Wait for my call at 9:31 PM. On the dot."
I didn't reply and his serpent-like voice broke in again. "And Khushi, don't even think about telling anyone about any of this, least of all that man you love so much. I have your dear, old Buaji with me and I will find out if you tattle. My spies are everywhere, so close to you it would leave you stunned. Isn't that right, Madhu?"
"KHUSHI!" I heard Buaji scream. "Don't--"
"BUAJI!" I shouted. But I heard no more from my aunt, her last word echoing in my head ominously. Don't what?
"Till tomorrow night, Khushi Kumari Gupta," came that awful man's voice again. "I look forward to it."

To be continued...
Precap:
Baby Hold On by TINA
Part 26: Answers & Hideouts

TO BE CONTINUED...
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2 comments:

  1. wow....
    it was just awesome...
    arnav did tell her...
    khushi is pregnant....
    ohhh shit that shayam is idiot...
    he actually found them...
    ohh i love arshi very much...
    they were awesome....
    continue soon...
    take care....
    and please i really want to read DH . but where are the all part.... please help me with this. i m a new Reader...
    this whole story is awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fabulous update di... When u r going to post secret passion chapter 29..? I am obsessed with this story and arshi.. Plss post soooonnn... Plsssss

    ReplyDelete

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