Secret Passion 13-18

07/29/2013
No copying/distributing/sharing allowed. I will take everything down and go back to writing for my close friends--which would actually make my life a lot easier. So don't attempt to plagiarize and keep ur eyes open for those that try to. Thanks to JB for keeping tabs on everything and letting me focus on writing--u and google alerts make my life so much easierBig smile

**NO COPYING, SHARING, OR POSTING ELSEWHERE ALLOWED. COPYRIGHT 2013 BY TINA.**
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Note: I'm getting lots of requests to write on other telly couples. I hate to be mean, but like I've said, it's only Arnav-Khushi for me. Period. So please don't ask.
Secret Passion by TINA & Satina
Epi 13: The Charity Ball
"Ms. Gupta, can you pass the file please?"
It took Khushi a moment to realize that Aman was speaking to her, his hand outstretched. Her mind had been elsewhere, frozen on a different man.
"Of course," she replied, handing the indicated folder to him while silently berating herself.
All morning, she had been trying so hard to remain focused on the last-minute preparations and meetings for the charity ball but it was as if she was powerless. Arnav was not with her, and yet he haunted her still. His tall, lean shape invaded her every thought.
After the cocktail party, Khushi had spent the night tossing and turning. His husky voice had echoed in her ears, the memory of his soulful gaze had left her restless.
By dawn, she'd given up on sleep, staring out the hotel room window. And just like now, the same question had struck her: Had she pushed him too much too soon?
Better than anyone, she knew how vulnerable he was behind that hard, icy facade. The past chained him still. And marriage--the word alone carried with it a sense of darkness to him, of nothing but pain and sorrow.
How could she show him that there was so much more to marriage.. a world of light and happiness if only he stepped across that threshold with her, and gave their love a chance.
Perhaps she should have approached the thorny subject with more calm, she mused. But in that life-changing moment when he'd stepped inside her suite, his gaze falling on the sindoor, all of her long pent-up emotions had burst forth.
And now, it was too late. He'd shut her out, let her go..
Once, being free of the contract and its bindings would have left her overjoyed--ecstatic even. It was the very thing she had prayed for countless times, cursing her fate.
But now that it was over, nothing but torn scraps and broken hearts remaining, she felt lost. Miserably adrift.
It was much more easier to hate someone than love them, realized Khushi.
Hate required little courage, but love.. that demanded that you give yourself entirely to another, to make yourself vulnerable, to hope and wish despite everything and everyone screaming otherwise.
Love had the capacity to hurt, to give a pain unlike any other. And right now, Khushi was feeling its full brunt--a confusing mix of love, anger, concern, hope and anguish.
"20 minutes for lunch."
Once more, Aman's voice interrupted her thoughts. She didn't feel the least bit hungry, but Aman passed her a carefully packed box before she could refuse.
It was from a local Indian restaurant and Khushi was surprised to see that it included jalebis too.
She bit into one, mechanically chewing. The syrupy dessert was the same as always, but she tasted none of its sweetness.
Before she could prevent it, a vivid memory came to her, from just days ago.
It was of his uncle's castle-like estate, the two of them sitting in the glass-paneled gazebo, listening to the rain fall outside. Arnav was the most vibrant part of the memory: a half-smile on his face, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he tentatively fed her a jalebi.
Tears came to her eyes, and she furiously wiped them away. Glancing sideways, she breathed a sigh of relief that no one had noticed. It was only Aman and a few aides today, and all three, unlike her, were focused on their laptops still.
Her gaze flew to the head of the table: Arnav's chair was empty. Today, he'd gone a step further in avoiding her: splitting them into two teams. Khushi had been assigned to stay at the hotel's conference room with Aman, while Arnav had left with Lavanya to meet the Bradleys.
It hurt to think of another woman so close to him while she'd been sent so far--from him and his heart. The distance felt almost unbridgeable.
Khushi had not missed Lavanya's roving gaze, her obvious admiration for Arnav. As she sat there, forcing herself to eat, for the first time she wondered if he'd ever drawn up a contract for another woman. Had she been just another name in a long list?
And yet, her heart answered for her. Something told her that she had been the first and only, that he had pursued her because while he may not have realized it--even now--his heart had recognized hers from that very first, fiery glance.
Arnav.. she whispered, glancing out the window. Where are you?
*****
On the opposite corner of Manhattan, Arnav Singh Raizada sat in the Bradley Group's luxurious twentieth-story office suite, his face a mask of control as he debated with the CEO. Deep within, he felt untethered and exhausted, but he never once gave a hint of that, his poise innately graceful and at once powerful. This deal would change AR's international position and he was determined to attain it at any cost.
"Mr. Bradley," he said. "This past week we've answered your every question, explained every reasoning for a merger between us. Everything points to this deal being a resounding success for both our companies."
The CEO seemed impressed, but his son had that same unsatisfied air about him, his mouth furrowed. For some inexplicable reason, the man had never approved of AR or its head.
"Yes, it does appear that way," answered the older man, before glancing sideways. "However, my son has some doubts. You see, Mr. Raizada, unlike us, your company is very new--a newborn really. We would be putting a lot at stake, don't you think?"
Arnav leaned forward, his eyes glinting slightly. "There's no denying the Bradley Group is older than AR. However, unlike you, we have been turning profits every quarter. This merger makes absolutebusiness sense."
He deliberately put emphasize on that one word. Personally, Mr. Bradley nor his son had to like him. They could hate him even for all he cared, but the business deal should not and would not be affected.
Before the pair could argue, he turned to the woman to his right. For a moment, he saw Khushi, dressed in an elegant sari, but as he blinked, her beautiful image vanished.
Instead of the woman he longed for, it was Lavanya, sitting in a burgundy wrap dress, her gaze shrewd. Arnav looked away, his hands clenching beneath the teak, oval table the only outward sign of his inner turmoil.
"Ms. Kashyap, can you go over the latest analysis once more?"
As she nodded and launched into another round of explanations, Arnav tried his best to remain focused. He'd just taken a sip of ice water when his eyes fell on the clock on the far wall.
12:45 PM it read.
Discreetly, he drew out his phone, pressing a button while his gaze remained fixed on the Bradleys.
As a beeping noise suddenly sounded, he stood at once. "Excuse me, everyone, it's an important call. Ms. Kashyap, please continue."
Without a backward glance, Arnav strode out of the office, dialing the first number on speed-dial.
Through the glass doors, he noticed the Bradleys watching him, no doubt wondering if any of their rivals were calling him or if something important had come up. He didn't care to explain to them that it was indeed a very important call--much more important than any deal or contract. Turning his back to them, he stood rigid, the phone pressed to his ear.
Aman took his time in picking up, leaving the conference room as soon as he saw his boss's name flash across the screen. Khushi barely noticed, busy with the charity ball's preparations.
"Yes, Mr. ASR?"
Arnav asked the question that had been plaguing him all morning, torturing him with uncertainty. "How is she?"
His assistant didn't have to be told who 'she' was. "Ms. Gupta is fine. She's working very well and the ball--"
"I don't give a damn about the ball," cut in Arnav, his voice harsher than he intended. "How is Khushi? Did she eat her lunch?"
"Yes, she finished everything except for the jalebis. I kept an eye on her, just like you told me."
Everything except jalebis? Arnav frowned, his eyebrows knitting together. She loved jalebis, he knew. In fact, he had personally requested the restaurant to pack them for her. It made no sense.
Shaking his head, he took a deep breath, wishing he could go to the hotel that very moment and check for himself. "Aman, just tell me clearly: Are you sure she's okay?"
"Yes," he repeated. "She's just fine. A bit pale, and more quiet than usual, but she's absolutely fine."
It wasn't good enough for Arnav. Creases lined his forehead. "Okay, just watch over her. Make sure she has everything."
"Of course, boss. Don't worry."
As the call disconnected and he walked back to the meeting, he couldn't help but worry. It was instinctive. A gut reaction.
He'd told her that it was over. That they were done. But the truth was that he'd never walked away from her.
He hadn't been able to.
Khushi.. I don't deserve you, but I miss you, baby.. miss you so much..
*****
By 3 PM, both of their respective meetings had finally finished, though Khushi had no inkling as she rose from her chair, gathering all the material.
The ball had been planned to the last detail. Everything would be perfect.
"Your dress should be ready in your suite for you," said Aman, startling her completely as they walked out.
"What? But I wasn't planning on going."
He shrugged. "It was arranged when you checked in. As a part of AR's delegation, you're expected to be there."
She hated to argue with him. He'd been very nice to her all morning, almost friendly even. It was very different from his usual somberness. "But it's not mandatory, is it? I'll think about it."
He simply nodded, murmuring 'see you later, Ms. Gupta' as they parted ways.
As she arrived back in her hotel room, Khushi paused a moment at the doorway, struck by the dress awaiting her.
The white lace and tulle was designed impeccably, sleeveless and form-fitting and yet innocent and fairy-like. It was the very same dress Arnav had gifted her in Mumbai. Little did she know that it was also his inspiration for the charity ball. 'Snow and ice' was the theme of the evening.
Khushi laid a hand on the full skirt, feeling the silkiness of the white fabric. It was beautiful, and yet she was torn if she should wear it.
The day had been long and tiring already. Could she stand to watch him from a distance again, and keep away from the very one her heart called out for? Was she that strong?
It seemed to Khushi the easier option was to stay the night in the hotel and then leave with everyone else back to Mumbai tomorrow.
New York.. her time here was almost over. She'd arrived with so much excitement. If only she'd known back then that she'd be leaving with a shattered heart.. a broken soul..
*****
On the other side of the connecting door, Arnav was changing into his tuxedo. It was still very early for the party, but he felt as if he had to get away. The day had been sheer torture, and now, being just a room away from Khushi, was too much to bear.
Aman's comments on her echoed in his ears even now: A bit pale, and more quiet than usual..
Something in his chest twisted and flinched. He was the reason for all her unhappiness, he knew. If she was silent and sickly appearing, it was all his doing.
I've singlehandedly killed her spirit. Just like Dad.. I've ruined everything.
He shook himself from that thought. No. He wanted to see her happy.. to see her smile once more--even if it was without him.
For the first time, Khushi had asked him for something and even that, he'd been unable to give.
No, whispered his conscience, You just bed her and left her, didn't you? Gave her nothing but pain and heartache. Forget love, you never even cared for her..
The words were cruel, shattering the last of his tightly wound restraint. His soul could take no more.
With a roar, Arnav slammed his fist into the mirror, breaking the glass into a jagged mess of sharp pieces.
Blood seeped from his hand onto the pristine, cream carpet, just missing his fine tuxedo. And yet he welcomed the pain, barely feeling its sting. It was nothing compared to what had consumed him all day.
When he finally spoke, his voice was a hoarse whisper, wrenched from deep within him.
"I do care.. I do.. that's why I let her go.."
*****
The sound of crashing glass reached Khushi's ears through all the barriers separating them. As she realized with dawning horror that it came from the room next door, she was bounding on her feet, knocking on the door frantically.
Her anger seemed to fade, all thoughts of pretense and indifference seemed frivolous. Right now, all that mattered was that he was okay. Her heart told her, he was not.
And that terrified her.
"Arnav! Arnav, open the door!"
There was silence from the other side.
Frowning, Khushi slammed her palm against the door, ignoring the throbbing in her hand. "Arnav, open this door! Right now. I'm not leaving, do you hear me? I'm not leaving till you open up. Arnav--"
It surprised her completely when the door swung open and he towered in front of her, his expression dark and unreadable. His eyes moved over, focusing on her reddened palm. His jaw tightened reflexively. "Stop it, Khushi. You're going to hurt yourself."
"Me?" She shook her head, "No, you've already done that job. Right now, I feel nothing."
His body tensed as if he'd been struck with full force.
Khushi hated to hurt him, but she had to make him see. "What was that noise?"
He didn't reply, blocking her from seeing the broken mirror. "I dropped something, no reason to panic."
But her eyes had just noticed a striking trickle of red blood on the carpet behind him. Her heart lurched. "You're hurt."
It was a whispered statement, her gaze flashing to him as she realized it. She could see no sign of injury. But he didn't deny it, beginning to close the door.
And then she noticed that his right hand was hidden behind the door jam. In a quick move that surprised him, she slipped into his suite, grabbing his arm.
"Let me see."
Arnav knew she wouldn't be stopped now. Swallowing, he carefully held his hand out: it was bleeding profusely, glass shards still embedded.
Her gaze widened with horror. She felt light-headed as a sharp pain riddled her heart once more. "How did this.. Wait, I'll get the first-aid box."
"There's no need for that."
But she was already racing to her room, rummaging through her suitcase. As she hurried back to his side, she forced him to sit on the sofa, carefully dabbing and cleaning his injury.
He said not a word as she tended to him, but she knew he was in terrible pain. His rigid posture proved as much.
Tears came to her eyes and she blinked them away, carefully wrapping the cuts with gauze.
"It must be hurting you so much."
He sighed. More than the glass, it was her teary gaze that pulled at his control. "Khushi, you shouldn't be here. We--"
"Stop it," she interrupted, her voice firm. "Just rest for a moment. You can argue with me later."
How could she care for him still, he wondered, mesmerized as he observed her. Surely he'd destroyed all that. She had every right to hate him.
In spite of everything, a small flame of hope lit within him. It took everything in him not to pull her into his arms and never let go. He ached, his control rapidly breaking down. And as he sat there, unmoving, he realized it was all her--her love and care was brushing aside all the darkness.
"Let me get you some water," she muttered after a pause, rising to stand. "I'll be right back."
Turning the bathroom faucet, Khushi washed her bloodstained hands quickly. She'd just filled a glass with ice water and headed back to his suite, when her eyes widened.
The room was empty. Arnav was gone.
*****
The breeze felt cool and pleasant as Arnav drove through the quiet country lanes. He'd left the city for the charity ball at once, convinced that another second alone with Khushi would tear down all his good intentions.
For her sake, he had to let her go. She deserved someone far better than him. Someone who could give her a perfect family, a beautiful happily-ever-after.
As much as he wished it was not true, the fact was: he was a Raizada. Sorrow and pain ran in his blood. How could he risk her future--now that she'd come to mean so much? How could he make her a part of his broken family?
No, he could not be that damn selfish. Perhaps once, but not now, after all they had shared. Even if it killed him, he'd set her free. And one day, he was convinced, she'd thank him for it.
His uncle's estate loomed ahead. The sun was bright overhead and the house seemed to glow: its glass-paned windows shining against the beam of lights.
The driveway was crowded as planners and assistants ran every which way. White tables were being unloaded from a truck. Caterers had just arrived and a team of decorators was taking inside several ice sculptures.
Avoiding the chaos, Arnav walked instead toward the back gardens. The aroma of roses wafted toward him and he paused on the gravel suddenly: his eyes wandering to one spot.
It was where he'd slow danced with Khushi, her body warm and soft as the rain pelted down on them. She'd been so sensuous that night, neither of them holding back.
Stiffening, he turned away, walking further on. The pond was as he remembered it. Further in the distance, past the tennis courts, was the old tree house he'd spent hours playing in as a child. As he stood there, alone on the muddy banks, the sounds of the past rung past him--so real he could almost see it:
He was running, his legs pumping as he ran up the slope and toward the pond. To his eight-year old eyes, the water seemed vast as any lake. He was heading to it, when a hand caught his elbow.
"Chote! It's time for lunch, Ma's calling," informed his sister.
"But, Di, I wanted to swim first." His gaze grew wistful.
She laughed as she took him back toward the gardens. "Later, Chote. Come on."
Their mother was waiting for them, sitting beneath the shade of a weeping willow, a picnic basket kept open beside her. She smiled as she waved them over, giving them brimming plates.
As they ate, Anjali pouted for her favorite story: of a prince and princess and true love.
Their mother smiled indulgently as she told it once more, her face relaxed for once. But Arnav knew better: he could sense her sorrow, the glint of sadness in her gaze that she tried so much to hide.
It seemed it would never leave them. Even here in New York, the darkness remained. His absent father's shadow was as real as that of the branches overhead.
"It's all stupid," he broke in as his sister fawned over the fairy tale. "Love is a joke."
His sister frowned, arguing. "No, Chote. Love does exist. And one day, I'll have it. Tell him, Ma. I'm right, aren't I?"
His mother smiled sadly, drawing him closer. She patted his head, kissing his temple. "One day, Chote, you'll understand. You'll just close your eyes, and it'll all be clear."
He hadn't grasped her meaning back then. Truthfully, he'd forgotten her words as soon as they'd landed in Delhi.
Their father had been especially cruel that day, his abuse knowing no bounds. As his mother had screamed, her face black and blue as she fell to the ground, he'd darted in front of her, heedless of anything.
"Get back, Chote," screamed his mother, her mouth bleeding. "Go to your room!"
His dad was cursing, his breath reeking of alcohol. "Arnav! I told you never to come here!"
"I won't let you. I won't let you hurt Ma anymore!"
He never knew what happened after that. It was all blackness. He recalled his father lifting him, throwing him aside carelessly. A razor-sharp pain had exploded, sending him reeling. He vaguely remembered the sound of his mother's broken cry. And then there was nothing--except the gut-wrenching knowledge that he'd failed his mother.
He'd woken the next day with several bruises and sharp cuts. Several would later scar, but it was nothing compared to the scars within. Those would never fully heal.
Arnav shuddered as he gazed out at the pond now. How peaceful everything was, how surreal.. His hand absently brushed across the scar on his face, the pain stabbing through him.
He'd never felt more lost or alone. For years, he'd buried all these memories. But it had backfired too. Along with the darkness, he'd forgotten about the light and smiles--of his mother and sister, laughing and carefree in this very place.
For once, instead of his father's rages, his mother's quiet words came to him: "One day, Chote, you'll understand. You'll just close your eyes, and it'll all be clear."
Before he could stop it, his eyes closed on their own accord.
There was all darkness, and for a second, he wondered if his mother had been wrong. But a small light bloomed, growing brighter.
Images came to him, flashing past as clear and vibrant as ever.
They were all of Khushi--of her smiling, laughing, feeding him dinner.. blushing as she pulled aside her sari.. her face as ecstasy overcame her, her nails raking into his back as he found her mouth with his.. of her teary face and heartfelt eyes.. of her love and care..
Her voice floated past him, piercing through the stillness: Arnav.. I love you. Love you more than I'd thought it was possible to love someone..
His eyes snapped open.
He was breathing harshly, his mind still grappling with it. And then he almost smiled..
His mother had been right all along.
Love did exist. And he finally knew what that meant. Love meant Khushi.. his soul, his other half.
"I love you, Khushi.. baby, I love you very, very much."
Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Epi 13: The Charity Ball Pt 2
Why did love have to hurt so much? wondered Khushi as she stared out the tinted windows of the limousine. Her heart twisted all over again as she recalled Arnav's empty suite.. The unnerving silence that had pulled at her insides.
Seated around her, her coworkers were surprisingly quiet too. It seemed the preparations of the ball had tired everyone. Aman was busy typing away on his phone, and most of the aides were talking in hushed voices. Lavanya, dressed in a slinky silver gown, was undeniably the loudest, pointing out the passing scenery as they drove out of New York City.
The route though felt familiar to Khushi. Try as she might, she couldn't stop thinking about the last time she'd been on this very same road: his hand in hers, an amused half-smile on his face as he listened to her babble on, his eyes--
No!
She had to stop thinking of him, decided Khushi. The pain was growing unbearable now. As impossible as it seemed, she had to ignore Arnav Singh Raizada.
He'd set her aside from his life, his heart, in the coldest manner. She had every reason to be angry. To hate him.. curse him..
And yet she could not.
Despite her every reluctance, a picture of his startling, warm brown eyes came to her: soft as the light hit them and yet shadowed by a deep pain. As she'd tended over his wounds, every instinct in her had screamed to comfort him, to smooth away every line of tension marring his forehead.
Love, Khushi had discovered, made one cross all limits, all reasoning. And that remained the most central, crushing point: that she loved him.
Loved him so much that every moment without him was killing her, making it difficult to breathe. There was no denying that she remained head over heels in love with Arnav Singh Raizada.
As the limo turned right, the view changing to rolling hills, a familiar structure emerged over the towering poplars and evergreens.
The castle-like estate was just as she remembered it. And yet it was different too. Shimmering lights with an overlay of artificial snow had been added to the rose gardens, and a long line of luxury cars stood parked at the main entrance. Guests were already arriving, many of them dressed in fine gowns of white and silver.
Khushi smoothed over the beautiful lace applique on her own white gown, her eyes closing as she realized that that man she so longed for was once again near. She could almost sense his close proximity. Her heart pounded, urging her to abandon everything and run into his arms.
But she would not go to him, she vowed.
She would avoid him, just as he'd taken pains to ignore her. What else could she do? It hurt to even glance at him--to see everything she desired so close and yet so distant. Completely out of her reach.
The charity ball was her final duty at AR. She would see it through, a forced smile on her face perhaps, but his thoughts firmly out of her mind. As Khushi stepped out onto the gravel driveway, a cool breeze nipped her shoulders. Her eyes wandered at once to the gardens--the place they'd danced in the rain. She stopped any more memories from resurfacing, quickly glancing away. Drawing her elegant, beaded wrap closer, she followed the other aides inside, her jaw set.
She would get through this evening without him. She would show him. Maybe that would knock some sense into his stubborn head.
It was the perfect plan. But why then did it seem doomed from the start?
*****
"I love you, Khushi.. baby, I love you very, very much."
The words seemed to resonate in the night air, quiet and yet firm.
As soon as he voiced those long-held feelings, Arnav felt as though a huge burden had been lifted from him. As if the darkness that had consumed him for so long had faded a few shades.
He glanced at the serene surface of the pond once more before turning away, taking the old path back to the estate.
The weeping willow where his mother had long ago sat with a picnic basket passed on his right. The memory didn't hurt as terribly as before. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he could almost smile at it.
By the time he made it inside, taking the stairs to the second floor, the party seemed ready to begin. Arnav stared down at the ballroom, taking in the decorations, the soft candlelight, the flowers and ice centerpieces. Everything perfectly matched the theme of 'Snow and Ice.'
As his eyes skimmed over the crowd, he suddenly froze.
She was near, he realized.. his Khushi had arrived..
*****
The hired man stifled a yawn as he followed Arnav upstairs, taking a quick photo on his camera.
This job was becoming a bore.  So far he hadn't found any evidence of a relationship between the Raizada scion and the Gupta girl. And he'd been watching them carefully for several days now.
Even these fancy parties were not his taste. He preferred a much rougher crowd.
"Damn!" Some elderly man in an eccentric white suit collided with him just then, spilling red wine on his rented tuxedo.
"Sorry about that," began the man.
He raised his hand to ward off any more apologies, his gaze turning dark. It would so very easy to push this idiot into one of the empty rooms and wring his neck. Now that would be fun.
But he decided against that impulse. He didn't need more trouble. Smiling stiffly, he instead headed downstairs, slipping out the backdoor.
He was done with this boring ball. He would enjoy his Friday night elsewhere. And his employer in India would be none the wiser, he realized with a slowly spreading, sickly smile. Reaching for his phone, he quickly messaged the photo, texting a quick, coded message: No sighting of Arshi tonight.
*****
Arnav stood silent as the very air around him seemed to transform. His gaze went intuitively to the entrance hall.
And just then, Khushi stepped inside. She had no clue that he was watching her, his eyes missing nothing.
He couldn't look away. She looked angelic and heartstoppingly beautiful in the white ball gown he'd designed. Lace and silver highlighted her curves, clinging to her slim shape. Her hair was in ringlets, and simple chandelier earrings were her only accessories. His heart pounded as he traced over her willowy form, drawn to her doe eyes, her full lips..
She seemed uneasy in the dress, but there was no reason to be. Many of the guests had turned to stare at her: some in admiration, others in surprise, a few with envy.
But what grated most on Arnav's nerves were the lusty glances being aimed her way. It was enough to set his teeth on edge.
Mine, he wanted to shout. Only mine.
He felt possessive, wildly territorial.
This was Khushi--the woman who'd taught him to love. Who'd changed the very foundation of his world. Even that fateful night in Lucknow when she'd fallen into his arms, he'd felt something--something that connected them, bridging two unlikely souls.
He'd fought it for a long time, calling it mere attraction and lust. But time had shown him that it was the beginning of love. Something their lovemaking had only heightened. A powerful bond joined them, one that neither one of them had been unable to escape.
Below, Khushi was feeling utterly self-conscious. As she handed over her wrap to a uniformed attendant, it felt as if she was exposed to a sea of faces. She'd never worn anything sleeveless before. The neckline of the gown was modest, but her arms, the slopes of her neck, and back lay bare.
Instead of turning away as she longed to, Khushi instead bravely stepped forward, calm and composed. She plastered a fake smile on her face as she mingled with the other aides.
Arnav's hands curled on the antique banister. Without her wrap, she looked too sexy for her own good. It took everything in him not to go to her and shield her from every wayward glance. If only..
"Are you going to just admire that girl from afar or introduce yourself?"
The thickly accented voice behind him came as a surprise.
Arnav twisted around, his eyebrows shooting up. "Uncle?"
His uncle smiled his characteristic lopsided grin as he embraced him. "Good to see you too, Arnav."
"What are you doing here? I thought you were in Paris still."
"I was till two days ago. But there was a conference I had to attend this side of the Atlantic. And then I heard about your charity ball in my own home. I thought I'd drop in and see for myself."
"Of course," said Arnav, "It's your estate, Uncle. So, what do you think?" His hand swept over the finery below.
His uncle stepped beside him, his gaze seeing far more than Arnav cared to reveal. "It's all exquisite, but don't change the topic now. Who is that divine woman below? The one you can't seem to look away from."
Arnav's jaw clenched. "Someone I can't have."
Uncle raised an eyebrow, looking surprised. "You? Arnav, you always take what you want, snatch it even sometimes, I would say." He patted him on the back. "Come now, go introduce yourself to her. It's not like you to stand from a distance, all melancholy."
"I know her already," admitted Arnav. "Her name is Khushi."
"I sense something more between the two of you."Arnav sighed, turning away from the view below. Khushi was sitting at her assigned table now, appearing slightly lost amidst the other guests. "I love her."
His uncle's shocked gaze was almost comical. He couldn't help but grin.
"You and love? I must thank this Khushi later."
"Don't, uncle. She probably hates me by now. I ruined everything. Broke her heart." The disdain he felt for himself laced his every word.
Uncle understood though, it seemed. "You clearly regret it. Can you not patch up?"
Arnav shook his head miserably. "She wants something that I can't give. And she's not wrong either; she deserves every happiness. But I can't give her that."
"What can't you give? I've known you since you were a child. I've seen you grow into a hardworking, brooding young man. I know that for your loved ones, you would do anything, including harming yourself."
Arnav glanced away, not arguing. "She wants marriage. And you of all people know how much I hate that word. You know about my mother, about how my parent's marriage destroyed everything. I can't take that risk."
His uncle was silent for a moment, taking a sip from his wine glass. "This Khushi.. do you believe that she won't make a good wife? That she would betray you? Hurt you?"
"Of course not," His dismissal of the very thought was quick and instinctive. "She would be the best wife any man could hope for. The problem isn't her, Uncle. The problem is me. I have my father's blood in my veins. I would ruin something sooner or later; I just know it. And Khushi wouldn't be able to take it. She deserves someone who's perfect, not scarred like me."
"You are so convinced that it would all go wrong." Uncle sighed, his lips thinning. "And I don't blame you for that. After all you've seen in childhood, you have good reason to be wary of marriage. But, Arnav, you and this girl are not your parents. Your marriage is not destined to fail as you believe."
Arnav was quiet. When he spoke, his words were wrung from deep within; every fear lay exposed. "What if it does fail though?"
"But what if it succeeds?" countered Uncle. "Have you considered that? That you're letting your past hinder all the joy and love that could be yours?" He patted him on the back. "The choice is yours, but from my point of view, you appear different--a married man already. Only the legalities remain."
Arnav's head snapped up with surprise. But Uncle was already walking away, leaving him to make the decision himself.
His gaze wandered inevitably to Khushi. She was talking to some elderly couple, a smile on her lips. But its light never reached her eyes. They were hollow, revealing every buried sorrow to him.
His hands fisted on the antique railing. Uncle was right; he'd never once thought of the marriage actually working. He'd been stuck on the idea of its collapse. But now as he thought of it, of spending his life with the woman he loved at his side: of laughter, and smiles, care and love, it was enough to send him reeling.
Perhaps he wasn't the best man in the world, but he knew nobody could love Khushi as much as he did. She meant everything to him.
And so, taking a deep breath, he headed for the stairs.. to her. He was sick of being away from her, forced to keep to the sidelines. He was Arnav Singh Raizada, dammit. He would make her understand how terribly wrong he'd been. He could only hope that she'd give him one chance. That it was not too late.
*****
Khushi was standing bored at the edge of the glittery dance floor when one of the aides came to her side and asked for a dance. He was quite young, his gaze hopeful. She began to politely decline--just as she had to every man so far--when her eyes noticed a familiar shape approaching from behind.
Arnav was dressed impeccably: the dark-colored tux fit him perfectly, but what struck her most were his piercing eyes, blazing with a tangible intensity.
As she realized that he was heading her way, she froze. The aide was prattling on about the dance when she suddenly surprised him--and the man coming from behind.
"Sure, let's dance," she said suddenly, accepting his hand.
Arnav's gaze hardened as he stared at the pair, drawn to their locked hands. His own hands fisted at his sides. It was just like Uncle had said: he felt like a possessive, grumpy husband, ready to throw aside any man that looked at his Khushi.
The aide, on the other hand, was practically jumping, taken aback by her yes. Arnav almost felt sorry for him as he marched up to them, his gaze resting on Khushi alone. Their eyes met for the space of a heartbeat before she glanced away.
"Mr. Raizada?"
"Who else?" His voice was low and husky, and he was pleased when Khushi instantly looked his way. To the aide he snapped, "There's some problem in the parking lot. Take care of it."
"What? Now? I'm sorry Ms. Gupta, but I--"
Arnav had had enough. Stepping between them, he physically drew the aide's hand off of her, motioning toward the exit. "Get going. Now."
As the irritating man finally left them blissfully alone, both Arnav and Khushi were at once very much aware that her delicate wrist was enclosed in his much larger hand.
"Let me go," whispered Khushi, her heart pounding. What game was he playing now?
Arnav held her tighter, backing her onto the dance floor. "I don't think so."
As his arms circled her waist, gripping her with familiarity, her traitorous body quivered. The band was playing some romantic song, the rhythm slow and tantalizing.
Arnav's hands swept over the intricate ties of her lace gown, clamping low around her hips. Her own hands settled on his chest as he moved against her, his every movement deliberate.
Khushi's eyes closed at the torturous friction between them. He'd pulled her indecently close. She could feel him through the smoothness of the white silk.
Blinking her eyes open, she stared at him with shock. His gaze was stormy as he stared at her, moving sinfully still. And yet there was warmth too; a protectiveness in his embrace.
It surprised her, made her long to give in. As she realized that she too was responding to him, she pushed him back, her chest heaving.
But there was no space to move away. Couples crowded around them, giving her no chance of escape. To avoid crashing into the pair dancing behind them, Khushi instead surged forward--right into his arms.
A smirk curved Arnav's mouth as he held her close once more.
"I don't want to dance with you," she murmured as she noticed his satisfied grin.
Lowering his head, he leisurely nuzzled his face against her neck, his roughened jaw line brushing across her skin. His voice was gruff when he spoke into her ear:
"Really?" His hips rolled against hers. "You'd rather dance with someone else?"
A heat shot through her as he rocked repeatedly. "Yes," she lied.
She was expecting him to lash out, to let her go. Instead, he dragged her even closer, smashing her breasts against the fine crispness of his tuxedo.
"But you love me."
His eyes were soft against the candlelight; his words earnest. A slight smile crossed his face at her open-mouthed expression.
Khushi couldn't manage a reply. She couldn't lie and neither could she break free. The dance continued, tantalizingly slow as he dipped her low, his lips trailing across her neck. Each pressed kiss seemed to burn, branding her.
As she realized that she was arching against his rigid body, her mouth turning toward his, Khushi abruptly pulled away.
How dare he play with her like this? As if she was some toy--to be ignored when he wanted, and indulged when he liked.
Arnav frowned at the sudden sheen of tears in her gaze. He began to explain, but she stepped backwards. Before he could stop it, she'd slipped through the crowd, running from him.
*****
Khushi blinked away her tears as she escaped into the adjacent balcony, taking deep breaths of the cool night air. The balcony was a mammoth open space overlooking the gardens. And thankfully, it was almost empty, except for a few couples standing amidst the Romanesque pillars.
She had just brushed back some loose tendrils when a hand grabbed her arm. She assumed it was Arnav, but as she spun around, she was surprised to see that it was not. It was Mr. Bradley's son, someone she'd seen at several meetings throughout the week but hardly spoken to.
"Mr. Bradley?" Her gaze fell pointedly to his grasp on her.
He grinned, immediately removing his hand. "I'm sorry. You just seemed so very upset. It's Ms. Gupta, right?"
"Yes," she murmured stiffly, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. There was a glint in his eyes that left her uneasy. "Excuse me, but I should get back to the ball."
Bradley Jr. stepped in her path, blocking her from taking a step further. "Just a second. I've been trying to talk to you all week. I've been watching you, you know. You're very beautiful.. very exotic."
Her lips thinned as she felt his gaze dip lower. Frowning, she stepped around him. "Excuse me."
"Now, just listen to me, Ms. Gupta." His hand caught her elbow, twisting with a hardness she was not used to.
Khushi bristled with growing anger. "Get your hand off of me. This minute!"
He seemed taken aback, the annoyance in his eyes pooling into something dark. "I just want to talk to you."
His hand was bruising her skin, making her arm feel numb. "Let go of me!"
Her voice was distinctly louder now and several guests looked in their direction, frowning. 
His hold instantly slackened. But his whisper was furious in her ear when he spoke. "This isn't over, Ms. Gupta."
She stared at him with disgust and then slapped him across the face, hard as she could. "Now it is, Mr. Bradley."
As she walked away, Bradley Jr.'s expression transformed into something sinister. He raised a hand to his reddened cheek. "Not yet, Ms. Gupta, not yet.. I will have you."
*****
Khushi was shaking as she walked inside the rather loud party, her hand rising to her bruised flesh. She was walking aimlessly when a hand wrapped around her wrist.
"Stay away from me!"
She'd been expecting Bradley, but it was Arnav, staring at her with a puzzled, wounded expression.
Her heart squeezed painfully as she stared at him. She wanted nothing more than to throw herself into his arms.
Instead, she forced herself to keep a distance. "I thought you were someone else."
Arnav hadn't been expecting that. He drew her behind some billowing curtains, enclosing them inside the silver, brocade fabric.
Everything and everyone seemed to fade away as he cupped her face in his palms, his gaze turbulent. "Someone else? Someone was bothering you?"
She could sense his rage brewing. To stop him from creating a scene, she tried to pull herself free. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me!" he barked, holding her firmly against him. "Everything about you matters to me. Now tell me: what happened?"
"Arnav, please! Whatever it was, I handled it. Let me go, please."
"Never! Not till you explain."
As she saw how adamant he was, his jaw set and his eyes full of concern, she longed to give in. Her lips trembled. Tears came to her eyes.
It shattered something inside him. Wordlessly, he pulled her into his arms, hugging her to him. "Baby, what happened? Why are you crying?"
She couldn't reply, her arms winding around his waist. She was so exhausted, so mentally and emotionally drained.
"Khushi.. tell me. You're killing me like this. I can't see you crying."
That snapped her awake. She pulled away from him, her gaze hollow. "I shouldn't matter to you anymore. You said yourself everything is over between us."
She stepped sideways, attempting to slip out of the curtains.
His hand though closed over her arm, directly over the bruise unknowingly. "No, Khushi, I--"
Her whimper though silenced him.
Their gazes both widened as he realized it: hers with alarm and his with shock. Before she could stop it, he pulled her back into his embrace, turning her arm so he could see the damage for himself.
His sharp intake of breath hit her ears as he glanced at her upper arm. Against the moonlight, spilling inside through the ornate window, the handprint stood out even more--dark and angry-looking.
His eyes flew to her. She was stunned by the rage she glimpsed in his gaze, the murderous expression on his face.
"Who did this? Who the hell did this to you?"
She'd never seen him so angry. His voice sounded strangled. "Arnav.. Arnav, calm down. I told you, I handled it myself."
"Really? You were crying just now, weren't you? Whoever it was, hurt you. And I need to know."
"Why?" Khushi stumbled backward. "I mean nothing to you, right?"
And then before he could stop her, she turned away, rushing into the crowd.
"Khushi!"
He followed after her, ignoring the guests calling him from all sides. He'd almost reached her when the lights dimmed above. There was a general cry of surprise. And then a spotlight shone right beside him.
Lavanya was smiling as she raised a microphone. "And here he is, ladies and gentlemen, the man of the evening: Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada."
All eyes turned to him, but he was looking elsewhere, trying to find Khushi. Where was she?
He had the urge to throw the microphone aside, but he forced himself to say a quick speech. "Thank you for coming. As you know, it's an important night for AR. And all proceeds will go to a charity for abuse victims. Enjoy the rest of the night."
A cheer sounded as he spoke and the main lights turned on. Arnav pushed past the crowd, his eyes searching for her.
Aman though managed to come to his side. His whisper was urgent. "Mr. ASR, Mr. Bradley is in the library. He's asking to speak to you."
"I can't. I need to find Khushi. She needs me."
Aman's face was grim.  "I'll find Khushi. But you need to go to Bradley. It has to be you. I think they're ready to sign the deal."
Arnav shook his head, his jaw clenched. "No, Aman, I don't care about anything. I have to find her."
"It's just five minutes. I'll find her for you, I promise. Nothing will happen to her. Just finish this, Mr. ASR. Ms. Gupta will be pleased to; we've all been working for this."
It was with a great feeling of foreboding that Arnav finally nodded, stomping toward the library. "Find her, Aman. Please."
****
The study was dimly lit. Only a lone fire blazed in the hearth. Bradley Sr. was sitting in a leather, winged back chair, a drink in his hand.
"Ah, there you are, Mr. Raizada. We've been waiting."
"Have you finally decided?" If his tone was clipped more than was polite, he couldn't help it.
"I haven't, honestly. But my son is willing to give you a chance. If you agree that is.."
Arnav's gaze swerved to Bradley Jr.; the obnoxious man was smiling snidely as he rose from his chair.
"I don't think AR has reached our level, Mr. Raizada, but on one condition, I'll sign the documents.. Give you everything you've been working so hard for."
"What do you want?" Arnav's voice was guarded, his body tense.
Bradley Jr.'s grin turned ugly. "It's simple, really. I want Gupta."
For a second, Arnav thought he'd heard wrong. "What did you say?"
"Khushi Kumari Gupta--that sexy assistant of yours. I've wanted her all week, though she only had eyes for you. I even tried to talk her into it tonight, but she slapped me--the nerve of that girl! But no matter, I'll have her in the end. I'm sure for the right amount and perhaps a promotion, she'll be more than willing. And you'll make it happen won't you, Mr. Rai--"
He never finished the rest of his sentence. Arnav's fist hit his face head-on, sending blood spluttering.
Arnav's bandage, the one Khushi had so carefully applied, slipped and fell to the carpeted floor. And yet he felt nothing but rage as he grabbed Bradley Jr. by his collar, his fury palpable. He looked murderous as he punched him once more, holding nothing back.
"HOW DARE YOU!"
"Raizada!" The Bradley Group's CEO was on his feet, his face red with anger as he tried to shield his son. "This will cost you the deal. Let go of my son!"
Arnav flung the man off of him, grabbing his son again. He was out of control as he threw him to the floor, unquestionably dangerous.
A red haze surrounded him as he realized that this scum had hurt his Khushi, had bruised her delicate skin. With a roar, he threw another punch, sending Bradley's head rolling backward.
He was not done by any means when familiar hands pulled on his suit, tugging him backwards.
Through the fog of rage that enveloped him, he realized that it was his uncle and Aman, both looking hassled in the dim light. Waving them off, he dove again for Bradley, who was crawling on his stomach to get away.
"Arnav!" Uncle's voice was thunderous. But Arnav barely heard it as he stomped on Bradley's back, pushing with all his might. "You're going to kill him! Arnav, stop!"
It took both Uncle and Aman as well as several attendants to pull him away.
Bradley was wiping back blood from his split lips as he managed to stand. "What's wrong with you, Raizada! Gupta's just a low-paid assistant."
Something in Arnav snapped. He shook everyone off, catching Bradley by the collar again.
"Don't you dare take her name! SHE'S MY WIFE!" He shook the much shorter man with all his fury, heedless of all the arms trying to pry him off. "She's my wife! And if you even look in her direction, I will kill you. Do you understand me? I WILL KILL YOU!"
Bradley Sr. was screaming about calling the authorities and having him locked up. But Arnav stopped him with one calm, deadly look.
"Your son started this. He's the one who tried to harm my Khushi. It's him that will be locked up, not me."
Mr. Bradley's eyes widened, flying to his son who bitterly nodded.
"Fine, Mr. Raizada. But make no mistake, the deal--"
"THE DEAL?" Arnav's hollow laughter surprised them all. "I don't make deals with those that hurt my family. I take back the offer. Now, let's see how long your company lasts. It's only a matter of time before you're bankrupt, and you both know that, don't you?"
Their whitened faces were answer enough. "Get out," growled Arnav, unable to stand the sight of them. His hands curled into fists as he marched away, flinging open the library doors.
"Where is she?" he asked Aman.
His assistant was tight-lipped. "I couldn't find her. Some of the valet saw her walk out though. She was heading for the road."
Arnav wasted no time, heedless to everyone as he headed toward the main entrance. Without waiting, he grabbed the car keys, turning on the black convertible's engine. And then he was off, his headlights on the dark road ahead.
*****
He finally found Khushi about two miles from the estate, struggling along the roadside in her high heels and long gown.
Slowing down, he pulled next to her. "Khushi!"
She didn't hear his voice, but the bright headlights had her backing away, her arm raised high against the light.
And then as she spotted him, she froze, her heart beating painfully.
"Khushi?" His voice was gentle. "Baby, get in the car. Please."
She swallowed, forcing herself to turn away. "Go away, Arnav."
"No, not till you get in." When she showed no sign of stopping, he swore, parking the car and hurrying toward her. She yelped when he suddenly picked her up in his arms, carrying her toward the convertible.
"Arnav! You can't keep doing this to me! Stop it!"
He was silent, his mouth compressed as he dropped her into the passenger seat. She began to open the door, when he warned: "Don't. I'll just do the same thing again."
And so, she slumped back into the seat, her teeth on edge as he slipped in beside her.
The silence was tense and pulsating between them as he drove from the estate, further into the empty hills.
He finally turned off the main road, going further into dark fields. Khushi's eyes widened as she spotted a cliff ahead.
But before she could utter a word, he braked, stopping a safe distance from the edge.
An owl hooted somewhere in the darkness outside. Around them was a dense forest, thick and unknown. Night had set in, but the glow of the moon was just enough for Khushi to see his profile in the dim light.
His tone was harsh when he finally spoke. "What the hell were you thinking, walking along a dark, secluded road at this time? It's past midnight now. Do you have any idea what could have happened?"
She knew it hadn't been the greatest of ideas. But the impulse to get away from everything had propelled her. Choosing to ignore his questions, she instead reached for the door handle, stepping outside.
He was on her within seconds, his body pushing her against the convertible's door. "Answer me!"
"WHY SHOULD I?" she suddenly shouted. "You broke everything between us. Why do you care what happens to me?"
She began to move away, but he grabbed her, his face dark and menacing. "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU! Understand? I love you!"
She stood shock still, unable to move.
His voice lowered then, gentling. "I know, Khushi, I've hurt you. But I never meant to. I thought you deserved someone better than me, someone not so scarred, so damaged."
Her lips trembled, tears slipped from her eyes.
Arnav cupped her face in his hands, his own eyes shining in the darkness. "I never thought I'd fall in love, Khushi. That someone as good and pure as you could come to care for me. I gave you every reason to hate me--I trapped you in a contract, took your virginity, broke your heart. But Khushi, I promise you that if you give me one last chance, that I'll do my best not to disappoint you."
"What are you saying?"
He smiled, that same sad smile that always pulled at her heartstrings. "That you were right--we are husband and wife in all ways that matter. I want to make you mine in every way Khushi, I can't bear to be away from you."
She was crying as she threw her arms around him, holding him with all her might. It all felt like a dream--a beautiful dream that she never wanted to wake up from. "Oh, Arnav, I love you too. Every moment without you has torn me apart."
He molded her against him, dropping a kiss on her forehead. His eyes were red and moist as he met her gaze. With a broken cry, Khushi wiped his tears away. "No more tears, baby. We're together. You're all I want. Everything that I want."
He allowed her to hug him but then leaned back once more. "Marriage is still a dark word in my head, Khushi. I don't believe in it. But I believe in us. I know we can make it work, I just need you with me."
"I'm with you, love," she murmured, cupping his face in her hands. "I will always be with you."
His smile was slight as he curved his arms around her hips. "It'll be tough, you realize? I'm a complicated man, Khushi."
"I know, and I love you for it. I'm not perfect either, Arnav. But I believe in you. Just don't ever walk away from me again. I can't bear it."
He kissed her tears away. "Never. I promise it'll never happen again."
They were silent for a moment, their bodies pressed together as the moonlight shone down on them.
"You know," he whispered, smoothing his hand down her trembling back. "I never left you. I was always keeping an eye on you. I tried to break off completely, but I couldn't do it. Our love is so strong, so powerful.."
She nodded, her cheek pillowed against the comforting sound of his heartbeat. "I tried to keep you out of my thoughts, but couldn't do it. You're everything to me.. everything. I love you."
"And I love you," His mouth finally settled on her, tender and reverent.
But the fire that always consumed them quickly sparked to life. Khushi moaned as she looped her arms around his neck, her lips parting.
It was wild and ravenous, both unable to get enough.
"Khushi.." His tongue swept across hers, starving for more. "We need to stop."
"I don't want to." Her bold whisper shook them both.
His hands settled on her bottom, pulling her hard against him. "You sure?"
She nodded breathlessly, rising on her tiptoes for more kisses. "Yes. I need you.."
He made a strangled sound, gripping her silky dress with all his strength. "And I need you."
No words were exchanged as he lifted her into his arms, his mouth never leaving hers.
Khushi thought he'd set her on the dewy soft grass. The convertible had no backseat, she realized with a blush. But instead he surprised her: laying her across the back of the car, the trunk beneath her body as he settled over her. Tulle and lace crumpled between them.
"Are you okay?" he mumbled between kisses, his lips hard and demanding.
She arched up to him, her hands plunging into his hair as more kisses bloomed. "I'm more than okay, love. I feel almost whole again."
He smiled rakishly as he trailed kisses down the exposed slope of her neck, his every touch adoring. "I can fix that."
She smiled as he pressed kisses to her collarbone. But her eyes tightly closed and a breathless moan escaped her lips as he suddenly pulled the neckline of her gown downward, revealing her to his gaze. A breeze washed over them, cool and pleasant.
Arnav stared for a moment down at her, his breath hitching. She was perfection, and it felt as if it had been forever since he'd touched her.
His hand was gentle as it closed around her fullness, his gaze wandered to her face.
Her eyes were tightly closed, her hands flat against the sleek metal of the convertible.
"Khushi?"
Her eyes fluttered open, a flush covering her as she glimpsed his intimate hold on her. She wet her lips instinctively, a heat sweeping over her.
Arnav's eyes darkened as he noted her passion-glazed eyes. The love was overpowering.
"Don't look away, Khushi. I want you to watch," he told her. "I want us both to know that we're together. That nothing will come between us again."
Khushi nodded breathlessly, her heart pounding as he stroked, knowing just how to unravel her. A shout emerged from deep within as his mouth replaced his hands, teasing and tugging until she was past all control.
And yet he was insatiable, his lips traveling across her creamy skin until she could take no more.
But he meant to pleasure her, his hips rocking against her with the same rhythm as from the dance. Khushi arched upwards, increasing the pace of the tantalizing friction.
When she spoke, she could barely recognize her own voice:
"Please.. Please, love.."
He too was wild now, his blood roaring as he raised her white ball gown, letting it bunch around her waist.
It took him but a moment for his own clothes and then he was on her, pressing her against the convertible.
As he finally slid home, they both shouted, the pleasure too much to bear.
But it was only the beginning. Their joining was wild and untamed, a primal response to their souls and hearts entwining.
"I love you," he murmured with each surge, pressing kisses over her every feature.
She held his dear face closer, finding his mouth with hers. "I love you so much."
As her legs wrapped around his waist, and passion unfurled like wildfire, both could only hold the other, waves of passion crashing over them.
Later, as they lay there panting, Arnav turned to Khushi, matching smiles on their faces. "Will you marry me?"
Tears pricked her eyes as she nodded. "I'm already yours."
He kissed her lips, sealing the bond. "And I'm yours. But remember that play we saw? Romeo and Juliet.. You said it was about them versus the world."
Khushi remembered every moment with him. "I don't want any tragedy between us, Mr. Raizada."
He laughed. "That'll never happen. We're together now; our love is more powerful than any darkness. This is our life, Khushi, us versus the world."
Her fingers weaved with his. She leaned sideways for a firm kiss. "Us versus the world.."
Smiling like two kids, they relaxed on the convertible, their bodies still entwined.
For the first time in days, Arnav felt at peace. Khushi was in his arms, their love was a warm blanket cocooning them. He vowed that nothing would harm his love.. nothing and no one..
Secret Passion Epi 15: Vows
By TINA! & Satina
Khushi resisted the urge to pinch herself as she opened the convertible's passenger-side door and slipped in beside Arnav. How had it all happened? He'd admitted his love and asked her to marry him--in the same breath almost!
And yet it was undeniably true. The thick wall of tension that had surrounded them for days now was gone. Even the pain of separation felt like a dull memory, no longer biting into her with every breath.
There was a warm calmness between them now, a love that penetrated through the silence: powerful even in its utter stillness, overwhelming in its certainty.
As Arnav reversed the car from the shadowy clifftop, Khushi could hardly look away from him. His features were hard to read in the dim light, but she could sense his contentment, a slight smile playing on his lips.
She'd never seen him this at ease, for once not letting his past stand between them. His gaze was tender and loving as it fell on her every now and then, as if he too couldn't quite believe it.
Khushi reached for his hand, needing to touch him in some way. "You know, baby, I was dreading tonight. I almost didn't come to the ball at all. But now look at us: we're happy and together."
His hand tightened on hers. "You never gave up on me, did you?"
She smiled, shaking her head. "My heart wouldn't allow that, shattered though it was."
There was an instant flash of regret on his face. He raised their entwined hands to his mouth, pressing a firm kiss. "I'm sorry, love. I put you through hell, didn't I?" She started to interrupt but he hushed her with one glance, his features sliding in and out of the moonlight. "Let me say it, Khushi.. I was wrong. I hurt you badly, but believe me, everything I said and did hurt me as well. I don't know if I can make it up to you, but I'm going to try. I'm going to try my best. Just don't give up on me."
"Never," she whispered, swallowing the lump in her throat. "But how did you realize everything? I know it must not have been easy for you."
He took a deep breath and then told her it all: about his moment of clarity at the pond, his uncle's timely advice, even about the fight with Bradley Jr. "But mostly Khushi, it was you. Your love, your care.. You have a hold on my heart and soul. And though I tried everything, I could never forget that. I was pulled to you. It was hell without you."
Tears shone on her cheeks as he turned into the quiet lane that led to the castle-like estate. Most of the guests were leaving now, and almost every headlight was aimed in their direction.
And yet as Arnav drove past the rush and parked the car near the back entrance, he seemed to not notice the commotion. His eyes were solely on her as he turned her way, his jaw clenched.
"I love you, Khushi. And you are my wife already--in every damn way that matters."
She could hold herself back no longer. A sob broke out as she threw herself into his arms. He held her just as tightly, pulling her onto his lap.
In the quiet, darkened confines of the car, they sat pressed to one another, nestled as one for several, long minutes.
The steering wheel was digging into Khushi's back and it was a bit chilly, but she felt no discomfort. There was no other place on this earth she'd rather be.
Wiping her tears, she relaxed against the crisp, fine material of Arnav's tux, the sound of his heartbeat soothing her more than anything else.
He was whispering words of love, his hands massaging her tense form.
"I love you.. love you." There was a gentle reverence in his touch as he tilted her face toward him, his lips trailing across each feature with care.
Khushi though pushed forward and found his mouth, needing him desperately. "I love you so much."
For too long, words of love and open affection had been conspicuously absent between them, restricted by old oaths of hatred, by pride and the raw memory of a contract. But now, all that animosity and anger was gone, replaced by a powerful love and an equally staggering passion.
Neither could get enough. To say I love you,' and then to hear its echo in the other's voice meant something beyond measure.
"You sure you want to marry me?" he asked teasingly, pressing kisses down her neck. "You'll be stuck with me forever then."
Khushi tried to ignore the hot, pleasant caress of his breath against her skin, pulling at his thick, wavy hair. "I am more sure about that than anything else. Question is: are you ready, Mr. Raizada? I'm going to be a demanding wife, I'm warning you."
He chuckled, drawing her to him for a firm kiss. "I want all of you. Hell, if I could marry you tomorrow, I would."
Khushi smiled dreamily. "I wish."
Arnav stilled for a moment, his gaze flashing to hers. "Then let's do it. Let's get married tomorrow."
She was sure she'd heard him wrong. "What? Baby, I was joking."
"But why can't we?" His stubborn, businesslike tone was back at once. "I want to make you mine. Why should we wait? What's stopping us?"
"Several things," said Khushi, counting on her fingers. "Number one, my parents--they know nothing about us. My family will want a proper wedding with all the rituals and for you to formally ask for my hand. Number two, your family--they also don't know about us. They just think of me as Jiji's younger sister. And number three, how can you forget about my Buaji? She will never agree to an elopement. And neither would she ever understand."
Khushi had thought perhaps some of those reasons would strike him with their practical sense. But of course, Arnav reacted otherwise, smiling charmingly at her instead.
Screenshot:
--Screenshot ends--
*****
Arnav's uncle was watching over the clean-up crew in the main ballroom when he spotted the two of them, walking in hand in hand.
His eyes moved at once to his best friend's son, amazed to see him like this--Arnav appeared as formidable as ever, but there was a glow on his face that only the truest of happiness could bring.
Never had he been more pleased. It seemed Arnav had finally stepped out of the shadows of the past.
"Uncle, I'd like you to meet, Khushi."
The willowy woman at Arnav's side was beaming just as much, very elegant and ethereal in her white tulle gown. "Hello, Sir."
Her eyes met his for a brief moment before darting back to Arnav. It was as if she couldn't look away from him. And Arnav was just as besotted by the looks of it.
It was clear to Uncle's old eyes that they were a couple very much in love. Both were practically glowing.
"Sir?" He smiled widely. "Call me Uncle', my dear. How about we all head to my study? I'd like to learn more about the beautiful woman who managed to capture Arnav's heart. You must be very special indeed."
An hour later, Khushi was shaking with laughter, her hand wrapped around Arnav's as Uncle told her all about her soon-to-be husband's childhood escapades.
Arnav appeared a bit hassled, but there was a hint of a grin on his face as well. "I did not chase away three cooks, Uncle. It was just that one."
"No, it was three cooks, as well several nannies and a handful of gardeners. The entire staff was always cautious around you; your pranks were notorious."
"They were harmless," corrected Arnav, unable to look away from Khushi's bright smile. "And I'm sure some of them were well-deserved."
"You were always a rule breaker," commented Uncle. "Someone who made his own way. But it was nice to see you carefree around this estate. I just wish you had more of that growing up."
They all quieted at the reminder of how his childhood had been less than idyllic.
Khushi tightened her grip on Arnav's hand, but for once, the mention of the past no longer hurt him as much. He had a bright future waiting for him, he reminded himself. He had Khushi now. Her presence and love made up for all those dark, harrowing days in his eyes.
Uncle switched topics with quiet ease. "So you'll both be flying to India tomorrow?"
Arnav hesitated, his gaze flying to Khushi. But she smiled at him, answering for him. "We're actually staying two or three more days. You see, Uncle, we're planning on getting married tomorrow. And we'd love for you to be there to bless us."
By the sudden, teary glint in his eyes, Uncle clearly had not been expecting such an announcement. He agreed at once, congratulating the pair before launching into arrangements and planning. His excitement was infectious.
"You must marry here, in this old estate. I insist."
Arnav sat quiet as the other two discussed and laughed. His heart warmed as he stared at Khushi. She'd sensed his wish somehow, inviting Uncle before he'd even made the request.
Tugging her close, he kissed the top of her head, thankful that she was his.
*****
It was quite late by the time they bid goodnight to Uncle and headed to the corner bedroom Arnav had often used as a child. It had been renovated into a proper guestroom now, luxurious and welcoming.
Neither had brought along extra clothes, so Khushi made do with Arnav's white shirt, while he remained solely in his boxers.
"You won't be needing that anyway," said Arnav naughtily as he laid back on the bed, watching her with interest as she slipped out of the gown and into his shirt.
Khushi's hands paused and then fastened the remaining buttons. "We can't make love tonight."
"Why the hell not?"
She smiled at his grumpy expression, pulling up her hair into a high ponytail. "Because we're getting married tomorrow. I think we should keep apart till the wedding night." At his pout, she rolled her eyes, smiling. "Baby, we just made love on top of that convertible. We should be able to stay away tonight."
He didn't agree with those old traditions, but he knew better than to argue with Khushi--especially when she had that particular look of determination on her face. And it was just one night besides. Surely he could keep his hands to himself till then.
But as she walked to him, her hips shifting under his shirt, and the shadow of her breasts just visible, Arnav doubted his resolve almost immediately. "Fine, but you're sleeping beside me. I haven't had a good night of sleep in days."
She winked at him. "Deal, Mr. Raizada."
He smiled back, reaching for her hand as soon as she was within arm-length.
"Uncle is so nice," said Khushi as she climbed into bed, snuggling close. "He understands us, our love so well. I'm honestly amazed."
Arnav kissed her on the forehead, his arms wrapping around her. It still did not feel real to him that she was really here--in his arms. His grip tightened on her instinctively. And she seemed to understand, her own hands massaging his bare chest soothingly.
He relished her every caress. Making up his mind, he decided to tell her everything. He didn't want any secrets between them. They would not be like his parents, all darkness and lies.
"It's actually not that surprising, Khushi. Uncle understands because he has seen a lot of heartbreak in his own life.. A lot of pain."
Khushi paused mid-stroke, her fingers stilling on his chest. Arnav's words did not match the charming, and rather eccentric man she'd just met. "What do you mean, love?"
He kissed her fingertips, his eyes meeting hers with a sudden seriousness. "Remember I told you.. how he was my dad's best friend."
Khushi nodded, recalling him explaining about Oxford and his Uncle on their first drive to this very same estate.
Arnav's gaze grew hooded. "That wasn't all, Khushi. You see.. Uncle loved my mother. And still does. That love has never diminished."
Nothing could have prepared her for that. "He loved her?"
"Yes.. very much. I didn't piece it all together till a few years ago, but apparently they all grew up together: Ma, Dad, and Uncle. Uncle was the prankster in the group, the smiling and joking one, while Dad was known to be more quiet and serious. But obviously my mother chose my dad. And Uncle loved her from afar, watching silently as she married his best friend. He always stood by her though, even as my parents' marriage fell apart."
"He didn't try to intervene?"
Arnav shrugged. "Uncle tried to help my Dad, to send him to the best addiction centers. He even tried his best to keep my mother, sister and me unharmed, but there was only so much he could do. My parents' choices were their own."
Khushi hugged him tighter, sensing how much he was tormented still. "Do you ever wonder if Ma had chosen Uncle, how things would have been?"
"Countless times. When I used to come to this estate as a child, sometimes I used to pretend Uncle was my father, that we were a happy family of four--normal with no taint of abuse. But my mother loved my dad.. even when there was no hope left.. till the very end."
"We can't always control who we fall in love with. Hearts are more complicated than that."
Arnav kissed her forehead. "I've realized that now. But I wish she'd understood that when a relationship gives you nothing but pain, it's best to move on."
"Agreed. No one should live through abuse."
For a few minutes, they lay in silence. And then Khushi leaned up on her elbows, glanced down at him with concern. "Are you okay?"
He nodded, drawing her back into his arms. "Because you're with me."
"Always," she whispered, dropping a kiss directly over his heart.
He swore under his breath, pulling her on top of him. They kissed heatedly, needing to get closer. His hands slipped under her shirt, curving over soft, silky skin while hers swept over his chest and then downward, touching him intimately.
She was just about to take back her own words when he moved his mouth aside, his hands fisting.
"One more kiss, Khushi, and we'll end up making love."
It was the stark truth. Khushi rolled off of him, scooting to the edge of the bed. She wanted nothing more than to remain in his arms, but it would be torture for him, she knew. Hopefully, a slight distance would help him fall asleep. "I know, baby. But tomorrow, I won't stop you. Good night, love."
He turned off the lights and then surprising her completely, hauled her back into his arms. "Now I can sleep." She wrapped her arms around his waist, smiling in the darkness. "Me too."
*****
The next morning was a flurry of activity. Uncle had called a nearby priest and arranged a small, traditional ceremony, just as Arnav and Khushi had opted for. The only other invited guest was busy helping too: Aman was overseeing every last detail.
His boss's invitation had been unexpected to say the least. But he wasn't entirely surprised. No one knew better what ASR and Khushi Kumari Gupta had fought through to reach this point. He was proud to be there.
Khushi had just thanked him for coming, when Arnav walked to her side, his hand winding around her waist. "We're going to be late, love. And I have to get you back on time, otherwise Uncle will worry." Turning to his assistant, he directed, "Aman, don't overwork yourself. You're here as our guest not employee, remember. Let the decorators handle everything."
Waving their goodbyes, Khushi and Arnav hurried out. As the car engine roared to life, Khushi blinked at the time. It felt as if it was past noon already, but apparently, it was only 9:30 AM.
She'd gotten her mehndi applied first thing in the morning. Against the sunlight, it shone vibrantly: the A' standing out in particular.
"Do you want to listen to some Bollywood song?" asked Arnav after a few minutes of peaceful silence.
When she didn't reply, he turned toward her, his eyebrow raised.
Khushi was leaning back against the seat, her eyes closed, her mouth slightly open. She was sound asleep.
Smiling, he let her nap, taking the exit to the main highway and heading back toward New York City.
An hour later, he was guiding Khushi up the steps of a quaint bridal boutique, his eyes on his watch.
"You have thirty minutes, love. We need to pick up my suit too."
Khushi nodded. She was feeling groggy still, but the inside of the shop snapped her awake. Its somber outer appearance was certainly misleading.
It felt as if she was back in Delhi again, surrounding by bolts of bright colors, shelves lined with saris and mannequins dressed in the latest bridal lehenga cholis. Young woman, running kids and visibly excited mothers, aunts, and grandmothers crowded the shop.
"Well, which one do you like?" asked Arnav as if she should have found her wedding dress by now.
Biting back a laugh, she said with all seriousness, "Baby, it's going to take me longer than thirty seconds. You can wait in the car outside if you want."
"No." His grip on her waist tightened. "I'm staying with you."
She couldn't argue with his child-like pout. And he seemed completely at ease as she browsed through the hangers.
As she held up one outfit after another for his approval, he appeared thoughtful, giving her all of his wise advice. "Good.. that's good too.."
Smiling with mischief, she held up a particularly gaudy, gold-sequenced sari that made her eyes water with its sheen. "And this one?"
"Good also."
At her laughter, Arnav looked taken aback. "What? It's not my fault, Khushi. You would look good in anything--more than good in fact. Beautiful actually."
She couldn't help but rise up on her tiptoes and kiss his cheek then. But the countless eyes on them had her instantly pulling away.
Arnav appeared to not notice, but almost everyone was eyeing him curiously. Which Khushi for once couldn't blame either--he was the sole male in the entire shop.
"Would you like to try something on?" asked one of the saleswomen.
Khushi nodded, following after her to the fitting rooms. Pointing Arnav to some sofas right outside, she slipped behind thick, burgundy curtains, undoing her sari.
He pulled out his phone the moment he could no longer see her, calling the chefs back at the estate. He had to remind them to include jalebis. He had become oddly fond of the syrupy sweet, all thanks to Khushi. Sure, his diabetes never allowed him to take more than a bite or two, but he loved the look of child-like joy on Khushi's face whenever she spotted the dessert.
A familiar cough sounded.
Khushi couldn't quite meet his gaze as she walked toward him. She felt suddenly shy, dressed in the extravagant crimson and gold beaded lehenga choli. "Well," she asked breathlessly, "What do you think?"
He didn't know what to say, he felt speechless as he stared at her. The color suited her and the fabric highlighted her every curve. In his mind, he was already imagining taking it off of her. "It's beautiful," he finally managed, his voice husky.
Her cheeks warmed. "Yes, but it's really heavy, Arnav." Biting on her bottom lip, she turned this way and that, scrutinizing herself in the mirror. "I feel like I've gained twenty pounds."
"Maybe something simpler?" he suggested.
Khushi nodded, scurrying off.
A group of three-four girls were also trying on wedding dresses. "Sorry for being nosy," said the one closest to Khushi, "But I have to ask: is that your fiance with you?"
At her nod, they all surrounded her, asking questions in a great rush:
"And you brought him with you?"
"You don't mind if he sees you in your wedding dress?"
"Yeah," said another, "Don't you want it to be kept a surprise?"
Khushi shook her head. "Well, we're a bit different and we're eloping," she explained simply.
Everyone squealed. "Wow, that's so romantic."
"Yes," agreed another, beaming. " But I'm not surprised. The way your fiance was looking at you, every woman was fanning herself."
Khushi laughed as she excused herself. It felt wonderful to share the news with someone, strangers though they were. Sighing, she changed into an elegant peach and gold sari that had first caught her eye.
It felt just right, not the least bit heavy or uncomfortable. And more importantly, Khushi liked how she looked in it: the soft netting complimented her skin tone and accented her curves.
She only hoped Arnav would like it too. But then again, he apparently thought everything looked good on her. Clearly, the man was more concerned about taking the clothes off of her than seeing them on.
Grinning, she walked out to him, her heartbeat escalating.
This time, Arnav was waiting for her.
"Well?" she asked nervously, standing before him. Her hands fisted on the sari. "Do you like it?"
The admiring glint in his eyes told her everything, but he still gave her the words, knowing how much they meant. "Love it. It suits you. You look very beautiful, love. I can't believe you're mine."
Khushi smiled at him. "All yours."
And to her surprise, he stood up just then. Turning her toward the full-length mirror, his arms circled her waist, his cheek pressed to her hair.
"Not bad. We look good together, don't you think?" he asked, staring at their reflection critically.
"More than good," corrected Khushi, meeting his heated gaze. Twisting in his arms, she hugged him close, ignoring everything and everyone.
*****
Later that evening, Khushi sat at the vanity, touching up her make-up. She'd left her hair open, and selected a simple, but lovely necklace. A smile crossed her face as she gazed at herself. Was she really marrying him? It seemed like a dream still.
A knock sounded on the door just then. Opening it just barely, she was surprised to see Aman standing there. She'd been sure it would have been Arnav.
She peered behind him in confusion.
"Mr. ASR wants to meet with you before the ceremony--alone. He's waiting in the gardens."
Aman's words reminded her of the early days, when he'd pulled her out of the lunch and other meetings on behalf of his boss.
"Of course," she replied, striding out. "Thank you for telling me."
She hoped he didn't notice the sudden anxiety in her voice. Her heart was pounding as she made her way outside. Had he changed his mind? Did he not want to marry her after all?
Tears came to her eyes, quick and unstoppable. Every step was difficult with those dark questions ringing in her mind.
But she quickly stopped that line of thought. No, she trusted him, she'd seen the love in his eyes; had felt it in his every kiss and embrace.
Still, her heart squeezed with worry as she spotted him amid the blooming roses, his back to her.
"Arnav?"
He turned slowly, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
"You look beautiful," he murmured, his eyes wandering over her sari-draped form.
Khushi couldn't look away from his soulful gaze. "You wanted to speak to me?"
He nodded, reaching for her hands and pulling her close. "We're going to be married in a few minutes--husband and wife in every way. But I want to make my own vows to you first, with just the two of us listening."
"Vows?"
Arnav drew her hands to his lips, his voice husky. "I vow to love you, to honor and respect you. I vow to be at your side the rest of my life, to hold you when you need me, to kiss you when you're mad at me. To share every sorrow, every joy. You have my heart and soul already, and today I vow to you alone all my love and trust. I love you, Khushi."
His hands brushed aside her tears, his own eyes suspiciously moist. Khushi rose on her tiptoes to kiss him, and then gently cupped his cheek, forcing him to meet her teary gaze.
"I vow to be with you, through laughter and tears. I vow to grow old with you, to support and love you in this world and the next. I vow to love you--madly, passionately, irrevocably. You're my heart, Arnav. I'm yours.. only yours."
Both were crying as she threw herself into his embrace, holding on tightly. It was as if everything was finally right, the world appeared bright and hopeful once more.
"No more tears," whispered Arnav, massaging her back soothingly. "I don't want to see my wife crying on her wedding day."
"They're happy tears," she corrected, beaming up at him. "I've never been this happy. We've come so far, haven't we?"
He nodded, weaving her fingers with his. "Ready to go to our wedding?"
Khushi squeezed his hand, "Ready, baby."
Their actual marriage seemed to fly by rather quickly. Seven circles united them as husband and wife, as Aman and Uncle watched from the sidelines, smiling at the pair. And then came the heart-stopping moment when he had to place sindoor in her parting--once more.
Their eyes met as his hand rose, remembering the first time he'd done this. That rainy night, he'd been thunderously angry, and she'd been close to collapse, hating him with venom.
But time had changed everything. Now there was only love between them, an understanding and blissful contentment that bridged the two.
Khushi's eyes closed as Arnav filled her parting with crimson, marking her as his.
"I love you," he whispered only for her ears.
She mouthed the words back to him, to overcome to speak.
"Are you happy, Mrs. Raizada?" he asked her as soon as the ceremony was over.
"Very happy, Mr. Raizada. And you?"
"I don't think I've ever been happier." Smiling, he pulled her into his arms, holding her close.
*****
Dinner was enjoyable, filled with easy conversation and several toasts. Aman was the first to leave, wishing them well on his way out. The servants and decorators had already been excused hours back. Finally, only Uncle, Khushi, and Arnav remained.
"I should be heading to the airport myself, I need to be back in Paris soon for that conference I told you about. But before I go, I wanted to give you both a small wedding present."
"Uncle, please," broke in Khushi, sharing a worried glance with her husband. "You've already done so much for us."
"No, my dear, I wish I could have done more. After a very long time, I've been this happy. And so I give you this old estate; I'm sure you will both take care of it."
"What?" Arnav shook his head. "Uncle, we can't accept that."
"Of course you can. You're like a son to me, and this estate was always going to be yours. I'm just giving it a bit early. Use it as a vacation home, somewhere to bring your own kids one day."
In the end, they couldn't talk him out of it.
Uncle smiled as his chauffer entered, and picked up his luggage. Wishing them all the happiness and luck in the world, he waved one last time before slipping inside the awaiting limousine.
*****
Minutes later, Arnav was undoing the pleats of Khushi's sari, slowly unwinding the slippery material.
One he had her down to just her bra, Khushi thought they'd make love without delay. But instead, he took two steps back, looking torn.
"I forgot to put the security alarm on. I'll be right back."
Watching him go with a frown, Khushi headed inside the adjacent bathroom, thinking a quick shower might help her relax. But the promise of the night ahead burned into her much more than the spray of the hot water. Her pulse hammered as she rinsed her hair. Why was he deliberately making her wait, she wondered? What was he up to?
Downstairs, Arnav smiled as he heard the telltale sound of the shower turning on. He wanted to drive Khushi wild tonight, to heighten her every desire. Opening the refrigerator, he took out a few key items.
He was still planning out their wedding night when he felt an unusual sensation. It was strange, but it felt as if he was being watched.
Peering out the kitchen windows, he didn't see anything, but just to be sure, he turned on the security alarm, and double-checked all the locks.
Then hoping to save some time, he showered quickly in a separate bathroom, his eyes shining as he imagined the night ahead. He had several plans for his wife.. some very delectable plans.
As he headed back to Khushi, little did he know that the house was being watched.
The hired man was outside, hiding behind a towering oak, just past the main gates. He hadn't planned on returning to the estate, but his employer in India had been adamant. She wanted a final confirmation.
Frowning at the estate, he dialed her number.
A careful hand picked up the call inside Shantivan. "Well?" asked the woman in a great hurry. "Is Arnav gone? He's on the flight back home, isn't he?"
His mouth twisted. "I'm not sure. I thought he was, but there's a light on inside the mansion."
"It could be someone else," reasoned the woman. She'd convinced herself that she'd been wrong about Khushi Kumari Gupta. And the hired man had found no evidence of any secret relationship either.
"Could be," said the man now, "But I saw that old owner leave. His limo left twenty minutes ago."
"THEN GO AND CHECK!" she screeched. "FIND OUT! That's what I pay you for."
He drew the phone away from his ear, making a face at it. "I can't. There's a high-tech security system in place; I saw it at the ball." Before she could erupt again, he continued, "But I think I can sneak in tomorrow, with the cleaners and housekeeper."
She said nothing to that, silent for a few minutes.
The hired man frowned. "Are you there still?"
The woman wasn't listening, but as something dawned on her, she suddenly clutched the phone with all her might. "What room are the lights on?"
"What?"
"Answer the question! What room?"
"I don't know," he replied, staring at the estate. "Seems to be a bedroom, there are fancy curtains not letting me see more."
"I don't care what type of room it is! Where is it located?"
The hired man gazed up again. "Third floor, above the kitchens."
The woman's heart was beating fast, her breathing was shallow. "Is it the corner bedroom?"
He nodded though she was not there to see him. "Yeah, how did you know?"
Her nails dug into her palms. "Never mind how I know, but it means it is definitely Arnav inside. Return in the morning and find out who he's with or if he's alone. Report back to me as soon as you can. Is that understood?"
"Yes, M'am."
*****
Khushi had just changed into a pale pink slip when she heard footsteps outside the bathroom door.
"Arnav?"
"Who else? Hurry, love."
She smiled as she quickly hurried out. He was waiting for her, his hands behind his back. Dressed in a black silk robe, he was dazzlingly handsome. And judging by his wet tendrils, he'd found time for a shower as well.
Khushi began to run into his arms when he surprised her, bringing forth a small box he'd been hiding.
As she spotted the orangey sweetness inside, her eyes widened. "Jalebis! I was missing them in dinner, but you remembered after all."
"They're sugar-free, though," he told her as he fed her one.
"I don't mind," said Khushi naughtily. "I can even share with you a couple, I think." She started to pick one out, but he took the box out of her reach, an wicked glint in his eyes.
"You're not going to get more that easily. First, you have to do something for me."
Her hands rose to her hips. "What, husband?"
Arnav smiled, glancing down her body pointedly. "Undress. Now."
She had no idea what he was planning, but her hands rose to her slip, taking her time with it. Her heart pounded louder than ever.
Silk pooled to her feet.
His admiration and passion was burning into her, but he kept his hands tantalizingly to himself, walking in a slow circle about her.
And then taking one jalebi, he drew it across her lips and then down the length of her neck, leaving a sticky trail behind.
Khushi's chest heaved as he traced the jalebi over her peaks, laving them thoroughly before moving downward.
"Tonight, I mean to take my time with you," he warned, picking her up into his arms.
She felt breathless as he laid her on the sheets. And then untying his robe, he was on her: warm and wonderfully bare. His lips found hers, licking away the syrup. And then with a tight grip on her, he was following the sweet trail he'd made, ravenous as ever.
His lips and tongue teased her, flicked and suckled until she knew no more.
But she meant to unravel him as well. Rolling on top of him she reached for a broken jalebi, feeding him.
And then she angled down for a kiss, tasting the sweetness herself. Never had jalebis tasted this good.
"There's some strawberries and chocolate too," he murmured. "You never had desert did you?"
Khushi had always had a sweet tooth, but tonight it took a completely different turn. Everything seemed sensual tonight.
Smearing chocolate down his front, she kissed each toned muscle beneath, needing him with just as much fervor. "I love you," she whispered, massaging him. "Love you so much.
Screenshot:

Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 16: Evidence
--Screenshot ends--
Tucking the blanket around Khushi, Arnav pulled on some jeans, making his way downstairs.
The kitchen was dark and chilly, the tiles stinging his bare feet. He debated running back to the bedroom to get a shirt, but decided against it. A glance at the clock indicated that Khushi would soon be up. She tended to wake up when he wasn't with her. His time was limited and he needed every damn minute.
Turning on the coffee machine, he was cutting some fruit when the phone rang. Arnav grabbed it hurriedly, cursing under his breath. He hoped Khushi was still fast asleep.
"Yes?" he bit out.
The voice on the other line was unfamiliar. It was the housekeeper, introducing herself warmly and sharing her plans for meals and the normal upkeep of the estate. Apparently, Uncle had informed her of the new changes before heading back to Paris.
"I can come by later this morning with some cleaners," continued the woman.
Arnav frowned at the thought of anyone intruding into his time with his wife. They had just two days as it was and he wanted to make the most of their honeymoon. "That won't be necessary. My wife and I would like to be alone this weekend. Once we're gone, you can continue with your regular cleaning schedule. We'll follow whatever arrangements you had set with Uncle."
"Wonderful, Mr. Raizada. And congrats once again on your marriage."
He smiled at that last word--almost. "Thanks."
It was strange, he mused as he set aside the phone and opened the refrigerator door, but marriage didn't seem all that bad now. Sure, he'd been married only a handful of hours, but he'd been bound to Khushi for months now. Still, he couldn't deny he liked having a claim on her--almost as much as he relished calling her his wife. No one could argue now that she did not belong with him. She was his.. his in every way known to man.
*****
The hired man's lips twisted as the housekeeper broke the news. He stood dressed with the other cleaners, wearing the same atrocious white-colored uniform. A rather authentic appearing fake wig and beard completed his disguise. It had been almost too easy to get his hands on the clothes and convince the others he was recently hired. The idiots hadn't even asked for proof.
"Mr. Raizada and his wife have rescheduled. We'll head there next week instead."
The other cleaners didn't appear affected by the news, but the hired man's throat seemed to constrict. His hands clenched at his sides.
"What did you say? His...his wife?"
The housekeeper smiled at him in that same sickly sweet way, her sunny personality grating on his rapidly fraying nerves. "Yes, they're newlyweds."
"So who's the lucky bride?" He added a laugh to make the question seem innocent, but the housekeeper seemed to sense something was amiss. Perhaps his cross tone gave it away or the way his teeth gnashed together. Whatever it was, her eyes narrowed at him.
"I haven't met her yet. Why do you ask?"
"Just curious," he replied vaguely, shrugging as if the question did not matter to him.
She said nothing more, letting them all off for the remainder of the day. As the hired man strode back to his beat-up Chevy, his thoughts wandered to his employer. She would not be pleased, not at all. But he had to tell her.
Swearing savagely, he typed a quick message: URGENT: Arshi reportedly married. And then with a cringe, pressed send.
As he'd expected, the call came within seconds. Shantivan's number flashed across the screen.
"WHAT!" roared the woman with piercing dark eyes. "MARRIED?"
His jaw tightened. "The housekeeper claims that."
"Find out! I need proof!"
"I can't. Mr. Raizada cancelled all the cleaning. No one can get in the estate."
"I DON'T CARE HOW!" she screamed. "But get the job done. That's what you're paid to do."
He snarled at the phone. It took everything not to hurl it away. "I will get it done. But how do I get proof they're married? It's not like some marriage certificate will be lying around for me to conveniently snap up."
The woman gritted her teeth. "There would be signs if it was true. Get a picture of her ring finger. See if she's wearing a black-beaded necklace or if there is vermilion in her parting."
He didn't quite understand, but agreed to her demands. One problem remained though. "How do I get in?"
"Sneak in. Break in. There must be a way! Or do I need to hire someone more capable than you?"
His eyes flashed, but he kept his voice low. "No, Ma'am." As the line disconnected, his hand clenched around the phone.
"Excuse me," called a voice behind him just then. 
It was that annoying housekeeper, hurrying toward him across the empty driveway. Perfect. Just what he needed.
"I didn't catch your name," she said, brushing back strands of her gray hair.
It was a harmless comment and yet it snapped whatever remained of his control. Perhaps if he hadn't been on edge, he would have thought twice.
But before he could restrain his darker urges, he had grabbed her by the neck, tossing her to the ground as if she weighed nothing.
The woman crumpled instantly. Her head hit the pavement with a sickening thud. She stared at him with dazed horror before her eyes rolled backward.
He froze for a moment as he stood above her. Crimson blood was heading his way in thin rivulets. Stumbling backwards, he threw open the Chevy's door, his hands fumbling with the keys.
And then he was gone, back on the open road. He could only pray that the blow had been enough to kill the old hag. The last thing he needed was more trouble.
*****
Much as Arnav had woken to a sense of warmth, Khushi lazily stretched on the bed sheets with the prickly feeling that she was cold--and alone. She was used to waking up beside Arnav and snuggling against him every morning. It had become her favorite habit of sorts. Her hand swept across to his side, but as she'd known, his spot lay empty.
Sighing, she sat up, tucking the blanket under her arms. The silk sheets felt tantalizing against her bare skin, the friction reminding her of their completely untamed wedding night. Blushing brightly, she was just about to call out to her husband, when he appeared in the doorway, smiling charmingly.
But for once, more than him, something else caught her attention.
"I thought we could have breakfast in bed," he explained as he noticed her eyes fall to the tray in his hands. There was fruit, croissants, cereal, juice, milk and even a rose there.
Khushi stared at him with surprise. "You made breakfast?"
He shrugged, setting the tray down and climbing in beside her. "If cutting some fruit and toasting some bread counts, then yes."
Khushi bent sideways to find her nightgown, but Arnav caught her hand. "Leave it off. I like you like this."
Her eyes sparkled at him. "Like this? You mean freezing?"
His hands caught her by the waist, settling her over his lap so she straddled him. Their chests collided as he raised her chin. "Warm now?"
Warm? She felt as if she was burning, his skin plastered to hers and his jeans chafing the sides of her thighs.
Nodding, Khushi found his mouth with hers. "I love you, husband."
"And I love you, my beautiful wife. Maybe I should make breakfast more often," he murmured in that sexy tone that promised much more. "You seem to like it."
She fed him some toast, taking a bite as he pushed it back against her lips. "I love it," she confessed with a wink.
His teasing gaze suddenly turned serious. He drew her hard against him. "I can't believe we're actually sitting around like this. Truthfully, I had hardly any hope left."
Khushi trailed a hand across his chest to his hip, pinching lightly.
"What the hell!" Arnav jumped beneath her. "What was that for?"
She simply shrugged slowly, trying her best to keep her laughter at bay. "I was trying to show you that we're real.. that we're together and happily married.. and very much in love."
His gaze fell to her parted lips. "By pinching me? I can think of a much better way."
Khushi's breath caught as he grasped her by the hips, rocking her against him. Her eyes fluttered close. "Baby, what are you doing?"
"Making love to my wife."
Her heart pounded as he laid her down, taking off his jeans before climbing back on top. Their bodies pressed flush.
He began to kiss her, but Khushi evaded him, pushing against his chest. "What about breakfast?"
Arnav made an impatient sound, trailing open-mouthed kisses down her neck. "To hell with breakfast."
Khushi smiled, pulling him off of her with a slight tug on his disheveled hair. "But I'm hungry."
He wasted no time, his hand sliding between them until she could think no more. "I'll feed you a feast later--promise."
And then there was only passion and all thoughts of toast and fruit were lost in its overriding haze.
*****
Much later, Khushi made up her mind that they had to leave the bedroom.
"Why?" muttered Arnav irritably, his head pillowed on her chest. "We only have a day and half left now. Let's just stay here."
"No, Arnav Singh Raizada. I want to see more of our new home. Let's eat lunch outside, maybe in the gardens or that glass gazebo again?"
He looked at her amused. "Is food all you think about seriously? I'm starting to get jealous."
His hands drifted over her heated skin, but Khushi slid out of his reach before he could stop her. "Out of bed. Now," she ordered.
Arnav pouted at her, his hand out-stretched. "Love, get back here. I want you."
She took two steps backwards instead, crossing her arms as was his habit. Her blunt, no-nonsense words made it crystal clear whom she was copying. "If you want to spend time with me, you will have to leave this bedroom. Those are my terms and conditions. Deal, Mr. Raizada?"
Growling under his breath, Arnav surged to his feet. Khushi hadn't been expecting it. Throwing a pillow in his direction, she darted toward the door.
Her grumpy looking husband caught up with her easily though, slamming the door shut and pressing her against the wood. His mouth trailed kisses down her back, unable to get enough.
"Arnav.. please.."
Swearing, he let her go, fighting to keep his hands off of her. "Fine, let's get dressed."
Before he could stomp off, Khushi threw her arms around his neck, kissing him tenderly. "Have I told you how much I love you?"
The corners of his lips lifted. "Not for the past thirty minutes."
"Poor baby," she murmured, finding his mouth again. "Well then, here you go: I.. love.." her lips trailed to his right ear. "JALEBIS!"
And then before he could catch her, she dashed out the door. They were both laughing as he chased her down the hallway.
*****
Eventually, they did make it outside. Rather than the gardens or gazebo, Arnav led her to the pond, his hand gripping hers tightly. "If we have to go outside, I might as well swim," he explained. "It's my favorite thing to do around here."
"Besides what we just did, you mean?"
He laughed, the husky sound warming Khushi. "That's most definitely my favorite activity, Mrs. Raizada. Swimming is now firmly number two on that list."
The water appeared peaceful this morning and the weather was surprisingly sunny.
"This is where I realized how much I loved you," he admitted, staring broodingly at the gleaming pond. "And how I couldn't live without you."
Khushi wound her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. He didn't have to explain it to her, the anguish in his voice told her everything. She wished she could shield him from every pain and sorrow. If only..
Arnav seemed comforted though. He pressed a kiss to her forehead, and for a long moment, both were silent as they stood on the mossy banks, arms wrapped around one another as if they'd never let go.
"I'm here with you now," Khushi whispered, laying a kiss over his heartbeat. "We're together."
"Together.." he echoed, kissing her tenderly.
She would have succumbed to his embrace once more, but he stepped back just then.
"You sure you don't want to join me?"
Khushi nodded. She'd never learned to swim and besides, she'd rather stay dry. "I have that book to keep me busy, you go on. I'll be watching."
Arnav kissed her once more before taking off his shirt. Handing it to her, he strode away in nothing but black trunks. With lithe grace, he dove into the water, swimming briskly.
True to her word, Khushi's gaze remained more on him than the pages of her book as she sat on a blanket near the shore. Arnav appeared utterly relaxed as he swam laps, his own eyes falling on her every now and then.
The love and adoration in those familiar brown eyes were easy for her to read, even from a distance. Her heart swelled as she stared at him. Such happiness felt new and extraordinary. She could only just resist the urge to pinch herself.
When Arnav finally rose out of the water, Khushi was waiting for him, a towel spread open in her hands.
"You're freezing!" she admonished as she dried him off.
He kissed her hotly. "All warmed up now."
Khushi smiled as she wrapped the towel around his shoulders, taking him to the blanket. He settled down with his head on her lap, his eyes closing as if he was suddenly very drowsy.
Trailing her fingers over his chiseled features and into his wet hair, Khushi felt as if that same happiness threatened to overwhelm her all over again. Bending, she kissed his forehead and then his lips, needing him with a ferocity that alarmed her with its pull.
He must have sensed something because one eye peeked open. "You okay, Mrs. Raizada?"
She nodded, combing back his hair. "More than okay, actually."
He smirked at her. "Really?"
"Yes.."
They sat like that for quite some time, flirting and talking and sharing lunch with an ease that had developed slowly and steadily between them for months now. Both couldn't seem to stay away from the other. It felt as if touching one another was as necessary as breathing. One of Khushi's hands remained in Arnav's hair, while the other gripped his tightly, their fingers weaving together.
"Sometimes I can't believe we fell in love," said Khushi with a small laugh. "Who would have thought? I was so sure you hated me. That it was only lust and pride between us."
"It was never just that." Arnav drew their joined hands to his mouth, kissing her palm. "I tried to convince myself it was just that countless times. But from the moment you fell into arms at that fashion show, I was attracted to you. Your beauty.. that fire in your eyes.. the way you argued with me--hell, it was a lost cause. Part of me knew it was only a matter of time before you captured my heart completely. That's why I was so.. harsh with you sometimes."
"Harsh?" Khushi laughed. "You drove me crazy! One minute, it was all passion and the next, the full brunt of your temper. But I was attracted to you just the same. My heart didn't want to accept it, but you were in my thoughts ever since I first saw you. I just never realized that what I was running from could be so beautiful.. that our love would set everything right."
He pulled her down for a deep kiss, needing her desperately. "We wasted so much time fighting what was in our hearts all along. I don't want to waste another second. I want to hold you and annoy you and then love you some more."
"I want the same," Khushi whispered, blinking back tears. "You're all I've ever wanted, Arnav. It just took me some time to realize it."
"Took me longer."
It was a drastic change to see him agreeing with her so easily. A giggle broke out.
One handsome eyebrow rose. "What is so funny?"
"You didn't argue with me this time, baby. I've kind of have gotten used to it. Do you even realize it? We sound like an old married couple."
He froze under her hand before winking at her. "We're going to still fight and argue, you know. It's inevitable. We're like oil and water, and things tend to go up in flames when we're near. But that last point of yours, I completely disagree with."
"What point?"
He suddenly straightened, drawing her up and into his embrace. "We are not some boring married couple. And never will be. We're on our honeymoon, dammit."
Khushi smiled mischievously. "Hmm, I guess I forgot."
"Forgot? Then it's time to remind you." Hauling her up into his arms, he carried her back toward the mansion, their mouths fusing in a smoldering kiss.
Unknown to either of them, a second pair of eyes was watching their every move. The orbs glazed with spite as the two kissed again. The hired man had disabled some security alarm wires and snuck in. He was hiding behind a tall oak, his phone raised in his bony hand.
His eyes wandered over Khushi once more. From this angle, he could not see any signs of marriage his employer had mentioned. Even her ring finger was glaringly bare.
Perhaps the marriage rumors had been totally wrong, he mused. But this was something at least.
As Arnav and Khushi shared a passionate kiss, marching off toward the estate, he snapped a few photos in quick succession. He was snickering as he headed back toward his hidden Chevy. His work here was done. The evidence was finally his.
*****
"What are you doing?" laughed Khushi as Arnav dropped her unceremoniously on the bed and headed to the closest.
He came back with a strip of black cloth in his hand. "Sit up, love."
"But what are you planning?"
His hands pulled the blindfold across her eyes, tying it securely behind her head. "You'll know soon enough."
Khushi pouted at the sudden darkness, but he pushed her backward again. His hands drew off her top, pulling out the manglasutra from her neckline. Her body hummed, heat shooting through her. "Baby, tell me please. What are you doing?"
"Showing you that we are far from being some old married couple."
His lips pressed a kiss over her beating heart before taking off the rest of her clothes.
Khushi waited breathlessly, anticipation curling in her. She was expecting him to touch her.. kiss her.. make her his.. She wished she could see Arnav, but it was oddly thrilling to be left without any clue of what he was up to.
Something sweet and sticky suddenly brushed across her lips.
"Guess what this is," he demanded.
"Baby, come here! I need you." Her hand started to pull him to her, but he stepped out of reach.
"Answer me, Khushi."
She sighed moodily as she heard the determination in his tone. He wouldn't back down so easily from whatever game he was playing.
The sweetness probed against her lips again. More than its feel, the smell gave it away: it was as familiar to her as any perfume. "A jalebi," she whispered, taking a bite.
His lips pressed hotly against hers, tasting too. "Right. And what's this?"
Something very cold and slippery hit her stomach, making her twist sideways. "Ice cube?"
He didn't reply, but his mouth settled over her, kissing away every drop. Khushi was aware of only heat now, radiating from his touch.
"Baby, please.."
"Not yet, Mrs. Raizada. We haven't played any games in so long.. What's this?" His voice was a low, husky murmur, making Khushi quiver all the more.
A velvety softness drifted across her lips, down the length of her neck to her navel and then lower still.
Her bare chest heaved, her fingers clenching on the bed sheets. With the darkness surrounding her, every sensation was heightened. Desire shot through Khushi, red-hot and brilliant.
"Love, what is it?" The softness stroked her persistently.
"A rose?" she guessed, arching upwards.
Arnav smirked. "Good, and this?" His mouth pressed to her inner thigh, as warm and daring as ever.
She cried out, angling toward him. "Baby, please.."
His mouth slid higher, making her pulse hammer. "Answer me."
Khushi was barely hanging on. "Your mouth.. your tongue.."
He rewarded her with an intimate kiss, her moans fueling his own longing. He suddenly grabbed her hand, bringing it to the part of him that needed her the most.
"And this?"
She couldn't stand it any longer. Wrenching the blindfold off, she jumped into his arms, bringing him down with her.
He was smirking but his expression quickly turned to one of desire as his wife stroked and kissed him with blatant possession and all-consuming love.
Passion ignited between them, thick and blazing as always. Hands and lips roamed feverishly, striving to be closer still. His mouth traced over her curves, knowing just how to make her lose all control.
When ecstasy claimed them, their eyes remained locked. Their souls entwined as two hearts joined as one.
In Delhi, the woman was shouting too, but from rage, not passion. Her eyes glittered as she stared at the photograph of Arnav and Khushi kissing. She'd just received the evidence, and it was warm still from the printer.
She had the urge to tear it into pieces, but she forced herself to take a deep, steadying breath. She would use this to her advantage. Besides, wasn't it enough that they weren't married as rumored?
This was enough to end the codename 'Arshi' before it even began. And she knew just how to do it.
Reaching for an envelope, she stuffed the photo inside and then scrawled the address to a small house in Laxmi Nagar.
It was time for an explosion, and she wouldn't even have to get her hands dirty. The woman smiled, sealing the envelope close with a thorough lick.
*****
The remainder of Arnav and Khushi's honeymoon passed more quickly than either liked. Lost in a blissful blaze of newlywed love and desire, they were oblivious to the world outside the estate. Their love seemed to bloom all the more, along with their constant banter and mutual understanding.
Khushi couldn't help, but fall deeper and deeper in love with her husband. He was a remarkable man, and she was just as struck by his thoughtful nature as by his possessive and fierce love.
He, in turn, admired her all the more. Their time together proved to him just how beautiful his wife was: inside and out. He felt blessed to have her and strangely humbled by her love and faith in him.
Eventually, they had to say goodbye to the estate and New York, already making plans for another trip in the near future. The city had brought them more closer than either had dared to dream of.
As Khushi sat beside her husband on the flight back to Delhi, she struggled to contain her happiness. There was some worry too. She still had to explain Arnav to her family, which would be an uphill task she knew.
They'd already decided to keep the exact details minimal. No one needed to know about how they'd first met or about the contract that had inadvertently tied their hearts. Details about their wedding would also have to be kept secret. She would simply tell her parents and Buaji that she loved Arnav and that they wished to marry.
Khushi was sure they would agree. There was no reason to oppose.
"You okay?" Arnav murmured, squeezing her hand. She nodded, but he sensed her uncertainty. Kissing her forehead, he drew her into his arms, massaging her tense back.
"Everything will be okay, love. Trust me."
"I do," she said at once, hugging him closer. "I trust you more than I trust myself."
"Then there's no reason to worry."
Khushi tried to shake off her unease, relaxing against his side.
At almost the exact same time in Laxmi Nagar, Buaji was sifting through the stack of morning mail. She paused at one unmarked envelope, frowning at it.
Sighing under her breath about the mounting bills, she broke the seal.
Inside though was something else altogether. The contents made her face pale and her eyes bulge. The photographs of her dear niece--her Sanka Devi--kissing the Raizada scion slipped through her suddenly numb fingers.
She wasn't even aware of hitting the ground, falling in a giant heap as blackness descended.
Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 17: Revelations
She shook her head at his urgent tone, her eyes twinkling. "I promise I will rush things as much as I can, but we can't get remarried tomorrow either."
"Why the hell not?"
"Because everyone will assume that I'm.."
His gaze narrowed at her as her voice trailed off. "That you're what?"
He is really going to make me spell it out, thought Khushi, reddening a tad. "Pregnant."
Arnav froze for a second and then shrugged. "So what? We both know you aren't. Let anyone think what they want."
Khushi nestled against him, closing her eyes. "If only it was that simple."
But it wasn't. Not by a long shot. How was she ever going to explain to her family about Arnav?
*****
He dropped her off a slight distance from her buaji's house, shifting the gears to park.
"I want to come with you," he said, his eyes sizzling into hers.
Khushi wanted the same, but she knew her family well too. "Love, I told you, that will make things even worse. I can't just show up with you out of the blue. I need to prepare them first, speak to them on my own so they understand."
Arnav's lips compressed. "Fine, but you call me the minute you need me. I'll be there. And if anyone raises their voice at you or behaves rudely, you will call me. That's an order."
"You can't order me around still!" chided Khushi, her smile giving away what she really thought of his command.
He curled his arm around her waist and drew her against him. Their gazes met, countless emotions bridging between them: love, worry, trust, and agony.
"Some things will never change, baby. I can't tolerate anyone being disrespectful to you. You don't deserve it. You've been innocent all along."
She kissed him full on the mouth. "Not that innocent."
He was smiling as he tugged her closer for a deeper kiss, their tongues mating. "I love you, wife."
"And I love you, husband."
They kissed again and then Khushi finally reached for the door handle, smiling at him reassuringly. "It'll be fine, Arnav."
He didn't reply, very close to leaping out of the car after her. Only the love shining in her eyes relaxed him.
"I'll call you as soon as I can. Love you," Khushi said, blowing him a kiss.
He caught the kiss, bringing it to his heart. "Love you, Mrs. Raizada. Call me the second they bother you."
And then with a final promise from her, he was gone, dust trailing after him. Khushi stood at the roadside till she could see him no more, her heart thudding loudly. Please, she whispered. Please let them take this news well.
Buaji's house was oddly silent as she neared. Even three loud knocks brought no one to the door.
"Buaji?" called Khushi, trying to peer inside through the windows.
The next-door neighbor stopped her. "No one's there. Madhumatiji has been taken to that hospital down the road."
"What?" Khushi was sure she'd heard wrong. "Hospital? What happened to her? Is she okay?"
The neighbor shrugged uneasily. "I don't know the details, but they say it was a heart attack and--"
Khushi heard no more. She was running, her heart sinking with worry as each second of uncertainty passed. How could Buaji have a heart attack? She was so healthy. She'd never been sick a day in her life.
Something bad had happened, realized Khushi. Something that had pushed her over the edge..
Hospitals had scared Khushi since childhood. She was breathing hard as she pushed open the glass doors, hurrying to the reception.
The woman behind the desk looked through a file and then pointed toward the elevators. "Fifth floor."
Each second in the elevator felt endless. She was shaking as she stood there, a prayer on her lips. Buaji had to be okay.. she had to be..
It didn't surprise Khushi when she stepped out and saw her whole family gathered outside one room. Her parents, Jiji, and even Karan and his mother stood waiting, their faces knotted with worry.
"Buaji?" she asked the minute she reached them. "Is.. Is she okay?"
No one answered her. Amma was frowning at her, something unusual flickering in her eyes. It looked like disgust. But that couldn't be right.
"Babuji? Buaji is okay, isn't she?"
He glanced away, his lips thinning. It was Garima who grabbed her arm, swinging her around.
"How dare you ask that question as if you care? How dare you pretend to be so innocent? You are the reason your Buaji is in this state!"
"What?" Khushi backed away, shaking her head. Nothing made sense. "I.. Why would you accuse me of something so terrible, Amma? I would never--"
"THEN WHAT ARE THESE PICTURES?"
A dozen photographs hit Khushi square in the face. As they toppled to the tiles, her complexion paled. They were all from New York.. from the estate. She was kissing Arnav as he picked her up in his arms, the pond gleaming behind them.
"Do you still deny it, Khushi?" her father said, his voice low but seething with fury. His lips curled with contempt. "I never knew you could stoop so low. If someone had told me, I would have never believed it. But these pictures prove everything, don't they?"
Khushi took a deep breath, her hand quivering as she picked up each photograph. "I didn't do anything wrong."
"How much lower will you stoop, Khushi?" asked Garima, her voice dripping with disdain. "Those pictures were mailed to your Buaji and led to all this. And still you think you did nothing wrong?"
Khushi tried to make her mother understand. "Amma, please! I love Buaji. I'm sorry she saw these pictures, but I didn't do anything wrong! I'm.. I'm in love with the man in the photos. We love each other very much. I was going to tell you everything today."
Her mother and father looked unconvinced. Karan's mother was whispering something in his ear, making a face at Khushi in the same breath. Only Payal looked somewhat approachable.
"Jiji, please, you must know I would never hurt Buaji or any of you deliberately."
But Payal's lips thinned as well. "You lied, Khushi. You never came once to me. I thought you told me everything."
Khushi began to reply, but her mother grabbed her by the shoulders, turning her to face her. "How long has this going on, Khushi? Tell me the truth."
She looked her in the eye, hiding nothing. "Several months."
Khushi thought her mother would slap her, but instead her words made her almost wilt. And then anger surged in her eyes.
"What have you done?" screeched Amma, shaking her by the shoulders. "Who will accept you now?"
Khushi had been about to reply when a second, unexpected voice spoke out:
"I will," Karan said, rising from the hospital chair. "I will marry her."
He stepped between them, placing a calming hand on Garima. "Please don't worry, Aunty. Khushi made a mistake, but it can be fixed. It's common for girls to lose their heads over their bosses."
Khushi saw a haze of red. Karan may well be her childhood friend, but he had no right to call her love a mistake. No one did. "Stop it!" she warned him with ice-cold eyes. "It has nothing to do with him being my boss! I love Arnav with all my heart!"
That declaration did not go well with anyone.
"I'll talk to you when you've calmed down, Khushi," continued Karan, oblivious as ever. "You don't know what you're saying. This man just uses girls like you."
"Don't say a word about Arnav! You don't even know him, Karan! And I know exactly what I'm saying!" Khushi bit out. "I LOVE HIM! And only him! I will not marry you--not now, not ever!"
Garima patted Karan's hand, drawing him away. "Leave her, beta. She's only thinking of herself--not what her family wants."
Khushi was about to argue when the door opened behind them and an elderly doctor walked out.
"Would you all please keep your voices down?" he said. "The patient needs to rest."
"How is my Buaji?" Khushi asked, her voice trembling. "Will she be okay?"
"Yes, she will be, but she needs complete rest. And that means no shouting outside of her room. You may, however, see her now."
As everyone headed in, her father held up his hand as if to ward her off. "Not you, Khushi. You go think about what you've done."
Tears swam in her eyes as she was left there. Only Karan remained.
"Khushi.. I--"
She never heard what he was about to say. Khushi whirled around, running to the stairs. She could stand there not a second more. Her vision was blurry with tears, but she ran on, hardly knowing where she was going.
And then.. through all the pain and sorrow, a familiar sensation hit her with mind-numbing intensity.
He was near, she realized. Her husband was near.
But it was impossible, she told herself. Arnav didn't even know Buaji was hospitalized.
Patients, white-coated interns, and families darted around her. And then through the sea of faces, she saw a hint of blazing blue. She froze as she recognized it, hardly believing it.
But it was true. As the crowd parted, she saw him. Arnav stood dressed in the blue sweater she'd picked out for him just this morning, his eyes worry-filled as they met hers.
A broken cry escaped her lips. And then with every last strength left in her, she ran to him, heedless of anything or anyone.
She was shaking terribly as she threw herself into his arms, holding him as tight as she could. He was real.. warm and solid and heartstoppingly real.
"Arnav.." she whispered, her tears falling on his sweater. "Oh, love.."
He was still for a moment and then his arms closed around her, holding her just as tightly, just as desperately. He massaged her quivering back, one hand slipping into her hair.
"Baby, shush. Look at me. I'm here now."
His words made her cry even harder. "Arnav.. Buaji.."
"I know," he said, kissing her temple. "I know everything."
Khushi leaned slightly back, just enough so she could see his face. "How?" she whispered.
His lips compressed as he saw her red-glazed eyes and the tears wetting her cheeks. He brushed each away carefully, kissing her forehead with a gentleness that calmed her soul like nothing else.
"Nani told me as soon as I walked into Shantivan. She said Payal was already here. I got here as soon as I could. I knew you'd be here."
Khushi hugged him again, her breath shaky against his neck. "Buaji is here because of me," she admitted in a small voice.
"What?" Arnav shook his head. "That can't be."
Khushi just held out the photographs to him, unable to say a word more.
His hands fisted on the pictures as he shuffled through them. When he finally looked her way, the anger in his eyes stunned Khushi. "Who the hell did this? Who was spying on us?"
She shook her head miserably. "I don't know, love, but we must figure it out. Buaji suffered a heart attack because of this person."
He slid the pictures into his pocket, his eyes gentling as they traced over her. "I'll find that person, I promise you I will. But don't you dare blame yourself for a second. There's nothing that scandalous about these pictures. We're just kissing."
Khushi felt weak as she leaned against him, her arms curled around his waist. "You should see my parents and even Jiji. I told them I did nothing wrong. That I loved you. But they're just not listening."
Arnav tensed. "Did they do anything to you?" His voice was quiet, but Khushi detected the dangerous undertones.
"No," she said right away. "They were just very angry. And they have some right to be."
"The hell they do! We did nothing wrong! It was our honeymoon. Come on, we'll tell them this very minute."
He would have charged down the hall if she hadn't stop him. "That'll make everything a thousand times worse, baby! They will never accept our elopement. I know them very well, love. Trust me, it won't matter what we say."
Arnav was about to argue with her when he noticed someone familiar walking toward them.
"What the hell is that boy doing here?" he asked, frowning severely at Karan.
Karan hesitated for a second and then came right up to them, ignoring Arnav as he turned to Khushi. "Is this man bothering you, Khushi?"
She never got a chance to reply. Because Arnav stepped between them just then, his gaze blazing dangerously.
"How dare you show up here! I told you to stay away from Khushi!"
Karan pretended to ignore him again, holding his hand out to Khushi. "Come, Khushi. You don't need to spend another second with this man."
Arnav's face darkened. He yanked Khushi into his arms, holding her with all his might. "Come and try to take her now. And open your damn eyes! You might notice then that she wants to be with me. She chose me, understand? She loves me. Not you."
Karan bristled at the accusation. "You did nothing, but lure an innocent like her into your dark world. You are not the man Khushi deserves."
"Enough!" Khushi shouted, rounding about to face one of her oldest friends. She could feel the rigidness of Arnav's body behind her. He looked ready to attack Karan.
"Stop it, Karan! I'm here because I choose to be." She weaved her fingers through Arnav's, squeezing reassuringly.
But he did not relax, his eyes predatory as he watched the other man.
Karan did not seem satisfied. "He's very clever, Khushi. You don't even realize how much he's controlling you. Leave him," he pleaded.
Arnav slid Khushi behind him, grabbing Karan by the neck. "Shut your face or I swear I will personally rearrange it for you."
"Let her go then," insisted Karan. "You don't deserve her."
Arnav's gaze turned murderous. "Maybe I don't, but she's mine. Learn to live with that."
Khushi was trying to get them to separate. "Please, baby, let him go. And Karan, get it in your head: I love Arnav and only Arnav. He's the best man for me."
Arnav's anger cooled only just as he heard her heartfelt tone. The love in her eyes stunned him. His hands unfurled from Karan's collar.
Khushi guided him backward, throwing her arms around his waist. "Baby, I love you. Please, calm down."
"Did you hear him? How dare he--"
"I know," Khushi said, massaging his tense chest. "But love, he does not matter. Please, relax."
Karan was still standing near them, eavesdropping. Khushi almost wanted to ask him if he had a death wish. Her husband had quite the temper and a blazing overprotective streak. It took her every effort to keep him from lunging at the younger man.
"Why are you still here?" ground out Arnav. "Get the hell away from us. And don't you dare come near Khushi again."
Karan almost grinned. "I will have to come near. You see I'm going to marry her, Raizada."
There was silence for the space of a heartbeat. Arnav froze in Khushi's arms and then sprung toward Karan, slamming his fist into his snidely smiling face.
Patients and a few hospital personnel shouted around the pair but it didn't deter Arnav. He punched the man again, heedless to even his wife's screams.
"ARNAV! STOP!"
Several people had to intervene and keep him from knocking out Karan completely.
Khushi was shaking as she pulled him backward.
"This is the man you've chosen?" Karan asked as he righted himself, blood flowing from his split lip. "This arrogant, temperamental man who has no heart?"
Khushi gazed up at her husband. He looked dangerous as he stood there, no remorse in his gaze. But she also knew that Karan had pushed him to the edge himself.
Rising to her full height, she nodded.  "Yes, I choose him. Because I know the man he is. And I love him for it."
And then surprising everyone--including Arnav--she threw her arms around her husband, holding him with all her might. "I love you."
Her words felt like a balm on his ravaged, jealous heart. His arms encased her like the strongest steel, his lips firm and branding against hers as he tilted her face upwards. "And I love you."
Ignoring the gasps around them, Arnav wrapped his hand around his wife's, striding down the hall without another look at Karan.
"Where are we going?" asked Khushi, wiping her tears.
He flexed his right hand, swiping the blood on his jeans. "To your family. I've had enough of this nonsense. Everyone better understand that we're together now. Nothing and no one can tear us apart."
Khushi thought of stopping him, but decided against it. She instead squeezed his hand. "I think my family will only listen to you now."
He nodded. "Where are they?"
"Fifth floor."
Khushi felt her heart pounding louder and louder with every step. As they reached the doorway where she'd been told to leave, her feet hesitated.
Arnav frowned, his eyebrows knitting together. His fingers tightened around hers. "Trust me, baby. I'm with you."
She took a deep breath, holding his hand securely as they walked in.
Her family's eyes rounded as the two of them entered. Buaji lay on the hospital bed, more frail and sick looking than Khushi had ever seen her. She immediately flew to her side.
"Buaji! Are you okay?"
Her aunt nodded weakly, watching the tears slide down her dear Sanka Devi's face. Arnav gave them a moment and then walked to Khushi's side. Their hands wound together without thought.
"Buaji, I'm glad to know you're feeling better," he began. "And--"
"Why are you even here?" interrupted Garima in a rude, mocking tone. She would have said more, but her sister-in-law stopped her.
"Let him speak, Garima."
As the room grew silent once more, Arnav spoke once more, his voice calm, but unyielding. "Buaji, I'm sorry you found out about Khushi and me in this way. We never planned any of this. New York brought us very close and someone used those pictures against us. But I promise you that Khushi is innocent in all of this. I know you must have heard some worrying gossip about me, but that's not who I am. What I feel for your niece is true. I'm not going to abandon her--not now, not ever."
Buaji looked at the pair with narrowed eyes. "What do you feel for her?"
Arnav met Khushi's teary gaze, a smile lighting his face. "I love her. With everything I am. And I want to marry her, as soon as possible."
Buaji nodded, turning to her niece. "And you, Khushi?"
Khushi's heart was in her eyes as she stared up at her husband. "I love him just as much. More than anything." More tears slipped from her eyes. "I can't live without him."
As a soft sob broke out, Arnav drew her into his arms, not caring who was present. His arms wrapped around her as he murmured reassurances.
Buaji recognized the love between them at once. It was unquestionable. "Then you should be together."
Every head in the room swerved toward her.
"What are you saying?" began Garima. "Why are you rewarding her for her mistakes?"
Buaji almost smiled. "Sanka Devi has found her match. We need to accept this. You both have my blessings."
"Buaji!" Khushi threw her arms around her, hugging her. "Thank you so much."
Her aunt patted her hair, her eyes on the towering man at her side. "When will you be coming with your family, bitwa?"
"I can come tomorrow. Whenever you're out of the hospital."
Buaji laughed. "I'll be fine by then. I feel fit as a fiddle now that I know my Sanka Devi is in good hands."
Arnav and Khushi shared a smile. And then his phone rang. His smile immediately faded. "It's my sister; something urgent has come up."
Worry sprang in Khushi's heart. Was it another of Anjali's accidents? Had she attempted something?
"Everything will be okay," she told her husband.
"Yeah, but I need to make sure. Buaji, please rest and I'll see you all tomorrow."
His gaze refused to leave Khushi. They hadn't been apart since their wedding. His throat constricted.
She gave him an encouraging smile. "See you tomorrow."
"Take care."
He walked out quickly, feeling like a lovesick fool. At the doorway though, he couldn't resist looking back.
His wife was watching him with love shining in her eyes. For him alone, she mouthed 'I love you.'
He smiled back. 'I love you.'
*****
Thankfully, nothing was wrong with Anjali. She had just been worried for him. That afternoon he spent with her, telling her all about Khushi. It felt good to share everything with his Di.
But by nightfall, he was anxious, unable to relax. Only a handful of hours had passed since he'd last seen Khushi, but it felt much much longer. Hoping she was free, he dialed her number.
In the smallest bedroom in Buaji's house, Khushi's phone flashed with light. She smiled as she read his name.
"Arnav?"
"Hey, beautiful. Everything okay?"
She nodded, relishing his voice on the other end. "Yes, it is. My parents are still very angry, but they can't argue with Buaji. It'll take them some time, I guess. But I miss you so much. Are you okay?"
"Not really. I miss my wife."
Khushi's heart squeezed. "I miss you too, husband. Do you know how much I love you? You were so amazing today. The way you explained everything to my family."
He smiled. "You were pretty amazing yourself, Mrs. Raizada. Standing up for our love and never backing down. I love you."
"And I love you. I wish.."
"What? Baby, tell me."
Khushi sighed, lying down on the bed. "It's silly, but I wish you could be here with me. It feels like it's been ages since we last kissed."
He didn't answer, and Khushi shook her head. "I'm so childish sometimes, aren't I? I should be happy my family agreed, but all I can think about is how much I want to be in your arms."
Arnav was quiet for a moment and then whispered, "Khushi, come to the window."
Her heart stilled. She sat up, staring at the window with surprise. "What? Why?"
He didn't reply, but the sound of a soft tap came from outside.
Khushi disconnected the call, running toward the window and sweeping aside the curtains.
He was there, just as she'd guessed. Hands in his pockets and a small smile on his face as the wind rustled his thick hair.
"Going to let me in, wife?"
She was already pulling on the latch. He jumped inside easily and then hauled her into his arms.
Khushi was trembling as she hugged him to her, pressing urgent kisses to whatever part of him she could reach.
"Let me close the curtains, love," he whispered.
She let him go for just a moment. And then as soon as he turned back to her, she flew into his arms, their mouths slanting together hungrily.
Arnav picked her up, pressing her against the wall as their lips met again and again. Khushi wrapped her legs around his waist, scoring her nails down his back as they both shifted restlessly.
He caught her moans in his mouth, kissing her fiercely.
"My family," she muttered between kisses, sliding her hands under his shirt.
"They won't ever know."
"They might hear us," Khushi managed. His lips were descending down her neck, settling on her curves with a hardness that extinguished all thought.
"We'll just have to be quiet," Arnav said. "Can you do that baby? Or we can stop right here. Even if we just lie in each other's arms all night, it's more than fine."
She didn't have to think twice, finding his mouth again. "Make me yours. I need you."
Their eyes met and clashed. They said not a word as he laid her carefully on the narrow bed, undressing her with astonishing speed.
He took a few seconds with his own clothes and then he was on her, lips and skin fusing together. He touched her everywhere, and she did the same, their passion knowing no limits.
And then as a bliss of overflowing love and fervor claimed them, crashing in waves, they could only clutch one another, their bodies moving as one.
As her husband collapsed on top of her, Khushi kissed his sweaty forehead, pulling a sheet over them. Arnav nestled his head against her heartbeat, his eyes closing.
It had been a long, trying day, but it had been all worth it. Their love had proven to be unbreakable, the foundation of their relationship unshakeable.
Spooning together and murmuring words of love, the two newlyweds finally dozed off.
Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 18: ASR's Proposal (to his Wife)
Buaji frowned, exchanging a glance with Garima as Karan listed off a string of tabloids.
"All the leading magazines and newspapers mention him. He's known to change girlfriends fast. I doubt the man knows what marriage, much less love, is. Do you really think he can be a good husband? And Buaji, yesterday, I gave him another chance. I tested him to see if he'd control himself or erupt as always. And look--" He pointed to his face in the rearview mirror. "I needed stitches because of him. More than twenty! Please understand, Arnav Singh Raizada and Khushi Kumari Gupta do not belong together. Khushi fancies herself in love with him, but that man is just using her. He'll never keep her happy--not for long anyway. Khushi can't seem to see that truth, but you must."
"But how?" Buaji whispered. "It's too late now. Sanka Devi has her heart set on him."
Karan almost smiled. "It's never too late. She's not his wife yet. Don't you see? You must take back your blessings. It's the only way now."
*****
Not a whisper of the brewing unease within her family reached Khushi's ears that morning. She remained blissfully unaware in her bedroom, taking her time to get ready. She wanted to look beautiful--for him.
She'd already changed into a soft cream and purple outfit, the colors bringing out the sparkle in her eyes. Her hair had been left down per her husband's demand. He liked to run his hands through the waist-long, silky tendrils--or so he'd said numerous times in the aftermath of their insatiable passion.
A shiver shot through her as she recalled the night before. Her heartbeat picked up speed even as her eyes flashed to the tousled bed sheets.
Had he really made love to her here of all places? With a house full of people? It was scandalous and yet, she hadn't been able to resist him. Not last night and most definitely not early this morning.
Khushi's cheeks pinkened as the memories swamped her: his hands clamped on her hips, his lips tender and yet, unquestionably hungry as he covered her body with his, neither able to get close enough.
"I love you," he'd murmured against her lips when they'd finally caught their breaths. She'd echoed the same, snuggling against his warm side. They'd slept about thirty minutes more before he stood to leave, staring down at her with grim reluctance.
"I don't want anyone to find out I was ever here, Khushi. This is between us. Only us."
She'd agreed of course, but it had torn her heart to be apart--even if it was only for a handful of hours. Their last kisses near the window had been wild and intensely feverish. Khushi could tell by the rakish glint in his eyes that he too was fighting not to give into that same combustible passion all over again.
"Once you're mine, I'm not letting you out of bed for a week," Arnav had said against her mouth, pulling her flush to him. "Hell, make that a good, solid month of no interruptions."
"That's it, Mr. Raizada?" she'd asked cheekily, running her hand over his chest. It was a heady sensation to know that this amazing man was hers--forever.
He'd winked at her, his slight smile completely transforming the hard lines of his face. He looked years younger and so handsome, she could only stare breathlessly. Would she ever get used to him?
"A lifetime won't be enough, Mrs. Raizada."
The solemn love in his eyes had stunned her. She'd never felt more blessed. Perhaps Arnav wasn't perfect, but he was perfect for her. Her heart beat for him. Only him. And as she saw the matching love reflected in his soulful gaze, tears came to her eyes, unbidden.
His smile had slipped at that. He'd crushed her in his arms, kissing her ever so carefully before slipping out the window. "I'll see you soon, love."
She'd blinked back tears, not knowing why she was behaving this way. But she couldn't seem to help it.
That had been hours ago and each passing second made the ache that much worse. For some strange reason, Khushi felt as if something ominous was heading their way. Something dark. If only she had him beside her and knew that he was indeed okay.
"You're being completely silly, Khushi Arnav Singh Raizada," she told herself, frowning at her reflection as she combed through her hair. "He's absolutely fine. He has to be."
Still, as she applied a small dusting of blush and pale, coral lipstick, the worry refused to fade. Opening a small box, Khushi placed just the tiniest speck of sindoor in her parting, arranging her hair to keep it hidden.
Her phone buzzed just then and relief shot through her as she saw his name flash on the screen. "Hello, love?"
"Who else?" Arnav replied. "How are you?"
She smiled automatically. "Just fine, now that I've heard your voice. Where are you?"
"Parking."
Khushi ran to the window and sure enough, a giant, white SUV was being reversed outside. It stood out like a sore thumb in Laxmi Nagar.
"I can't see you," she mumbled into the phone.
A tinted window slid downwards and his face came into view. She smiled, waving and blushing like a schoolgirl--not a grown woman and now wife.
"Nice to see you too," he laughed as she blew him a kiss.
That made her utterly self-conscious. She'd forgotten about his family. "Oh no. No one else saw that too, I hope?"
His eyebrows knitted together. "Love, who else can see it? The jeep's empty except for me."
Khushi's mouth dropped open. "You're alone? Where's the rest of the family?"
Arnav frowned. "Was I supposed to bring them along? I thought that's for the engagement?"
She rolled her eyes. Of course, he wouldn't know even this much about such customs. "Baby, it's a formal proposal. The groom comes with his family."
"Dammit, you never told me," he sighed, shrugging at her from outside. "What should I do? Go back to Shantivan?"
Khushi glanced at the clock. It was almost eleven and they'd called him for breakfast. "No, it's okay. I'll handle it, don't worry."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Arnav. Now hang up the phone and come inside."
He didn't take her instructions too well, looking torn. "I wish we could keep talking. I hate all these restrictive traditions."
"But you will, right?"
"Relax, love. I promised you. It just feels completely odd--proposing to my own wife."
She smiled at him. "A second wedding is another chance for you to win my heart."
"I've already won that," he replied with confidence. "You're mine, Mrs. Raizada. And honestly, I wish we could have a second honeymoon rather than another wedding."
"Me too, baby. But don't forget, this will be all over in a couple of weeks and more importantly, that I love you.  Very, very much. I'll be with you at every step."
His hot gaze pierced through her. "Love you too. Now go, open the door. I'm here to propose to you."
Khushi laughed as she disconnected the call, running out into the hallway. At the same exact moment, the doorbell rang.
Her husband was here. Finally.
*****
The silence outside of her small bedroom surprised Khushi. She'd been expecting everyone dressed and ready. But she didn't have any time to think it through. Arnav was ringing the bell again, impatient as always. She was the only one there to greet him--not that he seemed to notice or care.
"Hi," he said smoothly, his eyes twinkling as if he was seeing her for the first time all day.
"Hello," she replied, feeling unusually shy as his gaze lingered over her, his admiration clearly visible. "Please come in. I don't know where everyone is, but I'll just call them."
His arms boldly wrapped around her waist from behind. A scorching kiss was pressed to her exposed nape. "If you must."
Khushi batted his hands off, shooting him a warning glance. "Behave, Raizada."
He smirked at her. "Don't I always?"
"No. Never, actually." Laughing, she sneaked one quick kiss and then before he could pull her for a more thorough kiss, shouted, "Amma! Babuji! Arnav is here!"
Buaji's door opened at that, and one by one her family filed out. Khushi was taken aback by their glum expressions. She knew they had reason to be angry with her, but such outright displeasure seemed out of place. Didn't they see she was trying to fix everything?
Arnav, on the other hand, was not as surprised. His hand massaged over his wife's tense back. "Good morning," he greeted the others civilly.
They nodded, grim-faced as they approached the pair. The last person to step forward had Arnav seeing red.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he shouted at Karan. "I told you to stay away from us!"
Khushi laid a calming hand on his sleeve as the others exchanged glances. Karan had an I-told-you-so expression on his clean-shaven face.
Buaji's lips compressed even more. "Karan is practically family for us."
Arnav's glare never shifted from the younger man, intensifying instead. "Well, he's not for me. And never will be. He has interfered too much already and apparently, he's still not done. Not a smart move. Not at all."
Before a more heated argument could break out, Khushi's father stepped in between. "Breakfast is getting cold. We can discuss this later."
Khushi had to almost drag Arnav there. He was still fuming. "Please, love," she whispered. "Ignore him. For me."
"But that idiot, Khushi!" he growled back furiously. "He's always been after us! Seriously, he needs to get over his crazy fixation with you or I will do something worse. And even you won't be able to stop me."
She nodded, very much aware of her family watching them bicker. "I know, love. But, let's just get through this. Karan is not important and never will be."
The firmness of her tone cooled him down just slightly. "Fine," he gritted out. "For now."
She breathed a sigh of relief, taking him by hand to the dining table. Though his seat was the farthest from Karan, the same heavy tenseness was still palpable between the two. And her family was certainly not helping matters.
Her Amma and aunt were busy babying Karan, piling food on his plate and pouring him juice and tea with great affection. In contrast, Arnav's plate and cup remained glaringly empty.
Both anger and a fierce ache swept though Khushi. She couldn't bear anyone insulting her husband--especially not her own family. Slipping into the seat beside him, she began to serve him.
"I'm not hungry, Khushi," he said at once, a deep warmth in his eyes as he observed her.
"Of course, you must be." At his denial, she added softly: "I made breakfast today. For you."
How could he say no? Arnav relented, grudgingly accepting a brimming cup of tea from her hands. Karan scowled from the other end of the table as he observed the pair--along with his mother, Buaji, and Garima.
"Your family didn't come with you?" Babuji asked. Khushi was grateful for his reasonable tone.
She answered for Arnav. "No, Babuji. Actually, they'll come for the engagement."
This time, there was no mistaking the scowls being aimed their way. Neither had sat through a more frosty breakfast. Beneath the table, their hands met and laced together.
"Are you sure you want to marry Sanka Devi?" her aunt asked, a sour expression on her face. "You do realize marriage is a life-long bond?"
Arnav nodded at once. "Absolutely. Like I explained to you yesterday, my relationship with your niece means everything to me."
Khushi beamed at him, but Buaji didn't appear convinced. "In our family, marriages are typically arranged. Children can never be trusted to make the proper choice long-run. Why should we make an exception?"
Arnav looked ever the businessman as he met her gaze head-on, his hand tightening around Khushi's. "Because Khushi isn't a child, Buaji. She's a grown woman who can make her own decisions. We're both adults. Shouldn't we have the right to decide our own lives? Times have changed."
"So our opinions don't matter the slightest to you?" broke in Garima.
Arnav couldn't hide his puzzled frown this time. Even Khushi was confused by everyone's sharp tone. Why was her family suddenly behaving so coldly?
"Khushi and I respect you all," her husband continued. "We want your blessings. However, the choice to marry or not should rest with us, don't you think?"
No one replied to that logic, and then Karan spoke up. "But what if the family sees the marriage for what it is: a mistake?"
"Not another word from you. Keep the hell out of this," ground out Arnav. His voice was low, but the dangerous undertones rang out clearly. Khushi grasped his hand with both of hers, her touch reassuring.
"There's only one person who's yes I absolutely need. And that's Khushi." He turned to face her, his gaze dark and brooding. "I know I'm far from perfect, but I love you with all I am. Will you marry me?"
He didn't say a word more, but didn't hide anything either. Love, frustration, passion, revolt and fire--she glimpsed it all in his eyes.
"Yes," she said right away. "I will. I love you as you are, Arnav. I can't live without you."
His slight smile shone as he turned to the others. "I hope we've answered all your questions."
No one answered, but Arnav's phone beeped just then. "It's a text from Aman. Something important has come up at the office. Is there anything else left to do? I'll have the engagement planned for tomorrow if that suits you all."
Once again, no one replied, except for Khushi. "Perfect, love. Drive safely."
He nodded at the others, pressing a quick kiss to Khushi's cheek and murmuring for her ears alone: "Call me the second you need me."
The moment he was gone, she turned to her family. "Why are you all behaving this way? Can't you see how much he's trying? Why were you so rude to him?"
"Are you listening to this, Madhumatiji?" Karan's mother looked appalled. "She's blaming you when it was all that Arnav Singh Raizada's doing. He was ill-mannered and so very arrogant. Dear," she added, turning to Khushi. "Can't you see that? Has he changed you so much that you've forgotten your values? Has your love blinded you to such a degree?"
Garima nodded grimly. "This man is wrong for you, bitiya. I'm sure of it after that conversation. He didn't even ask for your hand properly."
Khushi shook her head, pointedly ignoring Karan's mother. "Amma, Arnav asked in his own way. It wasn't the traditional way, I agree, but you can't ignore how heartfelt his proposal was."
"Doesn't make it right though," Karan retorted.
"Stay out of this," Khushi warned him, her tone very much like her husband's. Looking to the others, she said firmly, "I love Arnav and I mean to marry him. He's a complicated man, but I understand him. You all gave us your blessings yesterday so why are you doubting him now?"
Without waiting for a reply, she leapt out of her chair, marching off to her room before her temper got the best of her. She stayed there for several hours, pacing and planning ways to make her family recognize Arnav's good qualities. They had to find common ground. She loved both sides. Mustering up all her strength, she was just opening the door when she heard an ominous sentence, Buaji's voice carrying from the kitchen:
"That's it. I'm taking back my blessings. Khushi cannot marry such a beast of a man. It's a marriage doomed to fail."
"But what about Payal? My only worry is her," chimed her mother.
"Akash is a good man--unlike his older cousin. He will not mistreat her because we decline this pathetic excuse of a proposal. We cannot allow Sanka Devi's entire life to be ruined because of this man. He cannot marry her--not now, not ever."
Other voices sprung to agree, but Khushi had heard enough. Her heart dropped as she felt the brunt of that quick, almost cruel dismal. She wanted to charge out and confront them, but first she needed to do something. Stumbling over her feet to the phone, she pressed his number.
"Pick up the phone, baby. Please pick up.." Khushi murmured, eyes closed.
He answered on the last ring. "Hello?"
"Arnav! Baby, you need to come here. Right now!"
He was already darting out of his cabin, taking the stairs two at a time. It wasn't like his wife to panic. "What happened? Are you okay?"
She took a deep, steadying breath. "I'm okay, but Buaji--"
"Is she okay?"
"Yes, love, she's just fine. It's just.." She couldn't say the words, feeling that same sinking feeling.
"Khushi, tell me," he cut in urgently.
She steeled herself, saying it in a breathless rush: "She's taken her blessings back."
"What! How the hell can she do that? Don't worry, I'm on my way."
"Drive safely!" she got in before the call cut.
Dropping the phone on the rumpled bed sheets, she quietly left the room, shutting the door behind her. Her family, along with Karan and his mother, was gathered in the main hall, their mouths pursing the moment they noticed her.
Khushi took a deep breath, going straight to the heart of the matter. "Buaji, I know you're not well, but please, if you have something to say about me or Arnav, tell me directly. Not behind my back."
Her aunt's eyes flashed. "Fine then, Sanka Devi. Here is my decision: I'm taking my blessings back. It was a rash decision. Now that I've seen how that Raizada operates, I know he can never be an ideal husband."
"Why are you all so against him? If you'd just give him a chance, you'd see how wonderful he is."
"Wonderful?" scoffed her mother. "He almost started a fist fight during breakfast--after attacking poor Karan just yesterday! He didn't even ask for our permission to marry you. Not once!"
"He's led a different life than us, Amma. Circumstances have led him away from traditions, made him a bit reserved. But he's trying. And you know why? Because he loves me. His love is genuine, you must all see that."
"I don't!" spat Karan. "It's clear to me this man is simply using you. It's how he works. Arnav Singh Raizada is good at only one thing and that's cutting business deals and signing contracts. He will fail miserably at love and marriage because the man has no heart! I doubt he even has a soul and--"
A hard slap stopped him right there. His hand rose to his reddened, throbbing cheek even as he stared at Khushi with wide, disbelieving eyes.
Khushi shook her head, her voice growing louder. "Amma, when will you realize it? Karan can never keep me happy! How can I possibly be happy without the man I love? And that's Arnav Singh Raizada and always will be!"
Her mother looked fuming mad. Her hand rose as if to strike her, but the sting of that slap never came.
A strong, muscled hand caught her mother's wrist, stepping in front of Khushi like a shield.
"I think your daughter has made herself crystal clear," gritted out Arnav, fighting to keep his rage in check.
Relief swept through Khushi as she saw him. She wrapped her arms around his tense form from behind. "Love, relax. I'm fine."
Her mother's hand dropped from his grip. Turning to her, he asked: "Are you sure you're okay?" To his eyes, it looked like she was on the verge of collapsing, her face unnaturally pale.
She nodded weakly, letting him pull her into his embrace. She relaxed against him, eyes closing.
Arnav's fury soared as he saw her condition. He had a fairly good suspicion of who'd set off this whole fire. His glare pierced through Karan over Khushi's head.
"I never want to see your face again. I let you off easy yesterday because Khushi stopped me. But I have a limit of what I can take and you've crossed that line repeatedly. Get this once and for all: stay the hell away from Khushi."
Karan didn't back down, glowering at him. "You don't have any right to tell me that, Raizada."
Arnav sneered at the younger man. His body was rigid, but as Khushi read the emotions blazing through him, she nodded, her hand clenching on his shirt. It was all the permission he needed.
"Actually, I have every right." Tightening his hold on Khushi, he smirked at Karan.
"Stop lying, Raizada."
"I don't need to lie like you."
"Khushi is nothing to you yet and never will be! Stop--"
Arnav cut him off bluntly, his voice razor-sharp. "She's my wife, dammit!"
There was stunned silence around them. Karan's face looked glazed over. Babuji was the first to recover. "Is this true?"
Khushi had been about to reply when her Amma pulled her out of Arnav's arms, seizing her by the shoulders. "Of course it's not true! Say it, bitiya. Tell everyone this awful man is lying!"
"He's telling the truth," she calmly replied instead. "He's my husband."
Arnav drew her back into his protective embrace before more chaos could erupt. "We were legally married in New York around a week ago. If you want to see the certificate, I have it in my car."
Buaji scoffed, staring at the entwined pair with narrow, disapproving eyes. "Then why this drama of a proposal and marriage? Why did you make a fool of us?"
Khushi shook her head at once. "It's not like that, Buaji. We wanted you all to accept us. I knew you'd never understand our elopement and--"
"Finally," interrupted her aunt in an abrupt, mocking tone. "Finally, you're right about something. After what you've done, we will never accept the two of you."
"Your aunt is right, Khushi," continued her mother, tears in her eyes. "The second you chose this man over us and married him secretly, you broke every last tie between us with your own hands. We will never forgive you for this. Never."
Khushi was trembling against Arnav, her heart pounding painfully. He held her closer, staring at her family with a certain grimness. "How can you take her out of your lives so easily? You all know Khushi. You know how pure her heart is. We got married because we love each other. If you want to call that selfish, fine then, but we wanted to have another wedding with all of you too. There was never any ulterior motive to my proposal. It was genuine. Like I said this morning, I want your blessings, but it's not necessary. As long as Khushi is with me, I need nothing else."
Buaji's mouth compressed, but she didn't reply to him, her hard gaze on her niece alone. "Sanka Devi, it seems to me this man may have misled you. You've always been too innocent. So I'm overlooking your very serious blunder and giving you two choices. You can stay here and we'll try to sort this mess you've made, but that will be the end of your relationship with Arnav Singh Raizada. Or you can leave this very minute with the man at your side. But understand, the moment you cross this house's threshold, you are no longer a part of this family. All of the ties between us will break."
Everyone's eyes were on her tear-streaked face. Khushi looked out the corner of her eye to Arnav, but he was silent, letting her make this choice without any pressure. Only the clenching of his jaw gave away his inner turmoil.
She didn't have to think it through. There was only one way forward as she saw it.
Gripping Arnav's hand, she said in a soft, but firm voice, "When I first met my husband, my life and heart became tied to his. And on our wedding day, that bond only solidified. I'm his wife now, Buaji. He needs me and I need him. I can't ever break my marriage vows. I'm sorry if I hurt any of you, but I believe one day, you will realize that Arnav and I belong together." Turning to Arnav, she whispered, "Let's go, love."
His eyes shone as he curled his arm around her waist, leading her out. He kept hoping someone would stop them--not for him, but for Khushi's sake. He knew it was killing her inside to leave her family behind. But no one spoke up.
"You were right," Khushi said, leaning her head tiredly on his shoulder. "It's us versus the world now. No one is with us."
He lifted her hand to his mouth, pressing a kiss. "I'm with you. I'll always be with you."
She smiled weakly. "I love you."
His arms enfolded her, tugging her flush to him. "And I love you. So damn much. I'm sorry you had to go through that in there."
She began to stop his apologies when an irritating voice sounded behind them. Karan was racing down the stairs, seeming to ignore how intimately she stood in her husband's embrace.
"It's not too late, Khushi. We can annul this so-called marriage. Without consummation, it's not lawful and can be undone easily."
Arnav rounded on him like a tiger, his gaze turbulent. "You're still up to no good? Well, unfortunately for you and fortunately for me, the marriage has been consummated--more times than I can count. Khushi is mine. Only mine."
Her friend's face appeared ashen. "Is this true?"
Khushi tightened her grip on Arnav's hand. "I don't need to explain myself to you, Karan. But yes, I'm his wife in every way. And I'm very happily married so please stop interfering. I've had enough of you trying to provoke my husband."
Arnav nodded, his voice sharp and deadly. "This is my last and final warning. You'll be very sorry if you try anything else. I know this is all your doing. And if my wife wasn't present right now, I would make you pay for it. Dearly."
Khushi tugged him away before he could carry out that threat. "Please.. Let's just leave."
He helped her into the SUV, his glare fierce as he looked at Karan's confounded face one last time.
*****
Arnav drove straight to Shantivan. He didn't want to keep their relationship secret any longer. Let all hell break loose. It was too late as it was.
"I'm worried," admitted Khushi as they parked in the driveway. "What if your family reacts like mine?"
He cupped her face in his palms, forcing her to meet his gaze. "Then it'll be their loss and their problem--not ours. No one can separate us." His mouth settled on hers, tender and yet firm.
She kissed him back, running a hand through his thick hair. "No one and nothing. I love you." He whispered the same against her lips.
The moment they stepped inside the mammoth mansion, both could feel the tension in the air. Arnav's grandmothers, his uncle and aunt, Payal and Akash, as well as his sister stood waiting.
"Her Buaji just called us," his Dadi threw out, warding off Khushi with her hand. "We know everything."
"How could you take such a step without even informing us, Chote?" asked Nani, teary-eyed.
"This girl is not fit for this family!" sneered Mami.
"And never will be," added Dadi, not bothering to hide the venom in her gaze. "She can never be a Raizada."
"Enough," broke in Arnav. "Khushi is now my wife. Do you all accept her or not? I will not live in a home where my wife is not welcome."
The silence spoke volumes.
"Fine then," he said, grasping Khushi's hand. "We're leaving."
"No!" Anjali rushed forward, hugging him close as she sobbed. "You can't leave me, Chote. I need you here."
He had tears in his eyes as he took a backwards step. "I'll visit you, Di. You won't even notice the difference."
Khushi was crying as he led her out. Her last glimpse of Shantivan showed most of his family turning away and Payal hugging Anjali close. Her Jiji's gaze was charged with anger and accusation as it met Khushi's.
*****
"We're alone now, Arnav," Khushi whispered brokenly as they drove through Delhi's traffic clogged roads. "Completely alone.."
His hand squeezed hers. "No. We're together."
Her heart skipped a beat as she read the love in his eyes. "How can you look at me like that? I'm the reason you're not with your family."
"I could say the same--that you lost your family because of me. But, love neither of us is to be blamed. Our love.. our marriage cannot be threatened again and again without consequence. Our families will understand that one day."
"I hope so," she murmured.
They drove in silence for some time and then Arnav pulled in front of a massive mansion, pillars and a giant swimming pool glimmering in the darkness. Khushi stared at it with bewilderment; she'd been expecting him to take her to their old apartment.
"What is this place?" she asked, climbing out.
Arnav looked pensive as he stared at the house. "I bought this property two days after I first saw you--at that fashion show in Lucknow. You hated me then, but I was pulled to you. I couldn't stay away no matter what I tried. That's why I turned to that contract. When I saw this house's photo online, I imagined us living here.. you caring for me.. being with me.. I never expected you to love me, of course. It was a crazy, impulsive purchase." He turned to Khushi, his gaze warm. "But it can be our home now. Do you like it?"
She threw her arms around his neck, rising on her tiptoes to kiss his mouth. "I love it! Can we go inside?"
"It's your house, Mrs. Raizada. Of course, you can. But warning you, it's entirely empty inside. I thought you might want to decorate it on your own."
Khushi's smile widened as she excitedly pulled him to the main door. "Have I told you how much I love you, husband?"
"Love you too. Welcome home, Khushi Arnav Singh Raizada."
He unlocked the door, gesturing to her to enter. But she didn't step forward, raising her arms towards him instead. "The proper way, love," she pouted.
He picked her up in his arms in one easy swoop, cradling her against his chest. "You know, I like this tradition."
Khushi kissed his stubbled cheek, relaxing finally. "Me too."
Together, they crossed the threshold, stepping into a new chapter of their relationship.
TBC..
Love your comments. bloggers :) Means a lot!
Leave your comments on the 'Comments' Page!
Precap Episode 19: Married Life Blushing
Some Questions to think about: What do you think of Arnav and Khushi's decision? Could they have handled the situation better or was this their only option? Any new guesses about the infamous mystery woman or are you pretty sure who it is?

152 comments:

  1. OHHHHHHH MYYYY..
    from start till end flow of this FF drives me Crazy
    ..
    Khushi ..Missing him...even he had hurt her more than anything..

    Arnav after breaking her heart still cares for her...want her by his side..

    Khushi left Jalebi..!!

    Arnav hurt himself ,..!!GOSH...=( n Khushi caring for him..
    his DARK past haunts him...
    But finally he realixd that HE LOVES HER..<3

    n that contract is finished now...it was BEST thing happend to em...now they will be free from bounds of contracts..

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  2. Superb update!!! The emotions of arshi were very well written. I loved the last part when Arnav realized his love for khushi. Super excited for the next chapter! I hope Arnav confess to khushi and arshi patch up. I hope we gets lots of arshi moments and romance in next chapter!

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  3. OMG Tina for the first time I'm commenting on your blog<3
    First of all another dhamaka of an update <3 LOVED every but of it <3 khushi's love n pain ' wht made me cry :( Khushi ate everything but jalebi :( she is broken beyond word! I don't know just like Khushi! I can't hate Arnav! He may be running away! But to not hurt her but from his POV he is saving her from him! Yes he forced Khushi in this relation as his mistress! Because he never knew he would fall in love ! For him it wasn't exactly lust but that was he wanted to name it! Without realizing it was never 'lust' but love from his side! It's just he is punishing himself for his fathers sin! He is paying the price for something he never did yet running away!

    He thinks running away from
    Her is saving her, instead it's killing her !
    Khushi in ur FF is the bravest Khushi I ever rea in any FF! She is still not giving up! She knows her love is too strong to get scared from any hurricane ! She knows her love will win! This reminds me of the re-marriage episode when she didn't give up ! She kept chanting " he will come"

    The end of the chapter, gave hope for next update <3 " I love you Khushi! " it may be end of NY trip <3 but start of strong, yet close n together Arhi <3 I'm sure once they go bk to India hand in hand ! N will fight against all odd let it be dadi or Shyam!

    Tina you Rock <3

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  4. Tina i love it a bit short but love it! Update soon pllzzz

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  5. OMGGGGG OMGGGG HE LOVES HER WOOHOOO BHANGRADANCE Woow such a kamaal update Tinaji loved it yaar!!!! Plz update soon I hope theyll get Together again!!!!

    ..XYasmina06

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  6. Hey Tina - First time leaving comment on the blog. Gosh. The past few chapters were very intense. Loved it. The story moved forward. Poor Arnav. There's something about broken alpha-males that is very sexy. So it is with ASR. Loved the updated. Looking forward to the next.

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  7. Oh so good! Love it when you update! Thanks for the wonderful story! Loved it as per usual!

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  8. Awesome! Getting more amazing with each chapter. Love it!

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  9. I love as so many have said before broken alpha males. strong and rough on the inside and sweet and warm on the inside!

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  10. OMG they are both hurting so much with this break up
    they can't find any solace without each other

    Finally he realises he is in love with her

    can't wait for the ball

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  11. You write very well. I normally don't comment on fan fiction but after stalking your blog for the past few weeks, waiting for updates, I kinda figured I owed you this comment. Thanks for the great stories. So creative and unique yet still in line with the characters. Thanks! :)

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  12. just wonderful.waiting eagerly for cb2.

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  13. That was sooooooooooooooooooo goood!

    Both missing each other immensely

    Still caring for each other so much

    & omg he remembered his mother's word and confessed to himself that he loves her woah! I loved it

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  14. Gosh superb update...
    Arshi in pain both miss each other
    waiting for nxt one
    precious-pie(if)

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  15. That was simply fantastic....


    Please!! uppdate soon : )

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  16. I hope arnav listens to his heart and confesses to Khushi or do I see something else happening! 😳

    Mrignayani

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  17. omg that was beautiful.....aww poor arnav hurt himself....finally he realises...wow would love to see what happens now!!!!...loved it very much hun..it was beautiful...

    kitzdoll

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  18. it hurts to see them hurting yaar....
    finally for asr love bloomed in his thought.becoz in his heart he is already in love wit khushi....
    if-joarshi

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  19. Wonderful update.I am waiting for this update for ages............

    rini_kat from IF

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  20. awesum update it was really very touchy n emotional their longing for eachother make me cry i really hope arnav confession will change thing btwn arshi for best was that church pic ?!?!?!?!? Cant wait to read more thx for pm roshaan IF

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  21. Wow....wonderful update...though arnav confessed his feelings ...I don't think much will change as it will be uptill task for him to forget past ESP with glimpses of it in his dis life...but I. Guess eventually they can be overcome ESP with pure strong love...but does arnav have belief n determination to cross the darkness with khushi ...ESP with hurdles lurking around...?

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  22. Awesome update
    now finally arnav has realized his love so he will get back khushi soon

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  23. Read the whole story in one go and i simply LOVE it!

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  24. Give yourself a chance, love a chance,Arnav

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  25. hurray! Arnav finally admits his feelings!!

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  26. i was so waiting fot desert heat that i did not even realize tht a SP update has been posted.
    poor anjali, she had such a strong believe of finding love for herself but today her life is nothing but a mirage.
    arnav's father was a violent person so how can arnav tolerate his dadi near him?
    awww he got her jalebis even when he is not around her, if this is not love thn wht else is?

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  27. wow that was a brilliant update!!! loved it...at least he confessed to himself that he loves her ...yay... it hard to say if this will change anything..coz he still does not believe in marriage... so lets see what happens next :)

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  28. This was simply outstanding..
    Read all the chapters in a go.
    Simply brilliant story.

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  29. Simply outstanding..
    Read all the chapters in one go.
    Amazing story.
    The various emotions are portrayed superbly..
    U'r an amazing writer dear.
    Will be waiting for the next chapter.

    IF username - Arshi-Nikita123 :)

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  30. Deleted the comment by mistake :(
    There was never any doubt in my mind about his love for Khusi.... He loves her more that life itself and the only thing which has happened it his memories of his mother has just helped him give a name to what he had always felt for her... Me thinks it is going to be an uphill task for Khusi to make him realise that they belong together....now more so that he has realised that he love her....
    Please update soon and waiting for DH update too :)
    Your stories are kind of addictive....
    Poonam
    IF paaskhanna

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  31. OMG this was so amazing

    I loved every bit!!!

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  32. Hai reyy *sigh*! What an update, Tina and Satina? It was just overwhelming with emotions! It was the cute-est of the cute updates of Secret Passion, ever!!
    What more could anyone want, when the update has a good part of every aspects? I loved the sight of the possessive, grumpy husband in ASR, but not more than the broken Arnav! The way you both introduced ASR, I thought he will be more vile and cruel but I love him a lot! The confession was heart- warming! Thanks for the amazing update! Do continue soon!

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  33. Awesome superb..please let us know if u r planning to make it private. .can't live without it..congratulations

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  34. awesome....loved every single words of it

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  35. Beautiful update.... Glad that uncle was able to bring some sense in Arnav....loved the possessive, grumpy Arnav and of course the angry ASR ....
    The confession was simple and touched my heart....he was honest with her and now it is them against the world....

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  36. So it finally took a dose of good ol' jealousy for Arnav to come to his senses and realise that Khushi is his wife...!! Men..... ufff!!

    :))

    Loved the update ...and the convertible scene was amazing...very well written...

    Looking fwd to a happy ending despite whatever obstacles lie in wait at Shantivan for A & K....

    Cheers
    What_the

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  37. wow!!!!!!

    Bradley Jr thought he could just ask for Khushi and ASR would hand her to him?

    Good that Arnav beat the crap out of him

    And Arnav made all of them understand that Khushi is his wife

    Finally he told her he loves her and wants to marry her

    Just so apprehensive about who wants to separate them from the Raizada house

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  38. GOD help me...!! Tina u gonna kil me babes...#epically Cute..
    Dey meant for eachother..dey couldn't be eva eva be apart..<3
    So awsummmmmmmm GOSSHHH wana read morrreeee....!!

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  39. The update was fabulous
    Him telling the World khushi is his wife
    The love they both hav
    N the way they both complete each other n find solace in each other is wow.
    Hope who ever in RM plans to separate thm shd knw thts not gonna happen they love each other more thn anything.
    Rkapoor1382 IF

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  40. Beautiful updates! Brilliant!

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  41. my god..finally Arnav has said those three magical words and the i already had warned Mr Bradely or soemthing that he is gone,,,,ASR will not leave hi and see i was right and for the reunoion was something beautiful as always,,,since the writers knows very well about their reader demands,,,,,love making in the insolated place.......

    loved the every scene of charity ball and special thanks to the uncle who put some senses in ASR brain..........

    loved the update

    Neag
    (india-forums)

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  42. Aaaah wat an wonderful update... Finally finally Arnav realized his love for Khushi...Hope its really "us versus world" for them... And the best part of the update was Arnav confessing his love to his lady love... Totally head over heels in love wid this ff Tina... Waiting for the next eagerly...

    nivi21 IF

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  43. Finally finally omg such an awesome update i never thought you 2 would finally make him confess Tinaji
    Plz update soon!!!
    And i still think its Payal in raizada mansion

    ..XYasmina06

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  44. finally, arnav made it.its just wonderful

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  45. wait.........
    let me turn on my AC first tina, I am sweating like a pig..butterflies are doing tango in my stomach........uffff the encounter of Arshi is last was just to hard to handle.they are one.that's good but I am worried about the person who is following them......I have my own doubts about dadi or may be shyam.....but dadi is more doubtful......And I think the situation like them versus the world will come soon........

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  46. amazing yaar awesome loved it i am so glad they r back together so sorry for not commenting sooner i am sick i have a cold and a fever so a little slow and behind


    IF ID:- IPKKNDbigfan

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  47. Doing it in a convertible,Tina, you are very creative.loved it.When pushed, he admits that she is his wife.Great update.OMG,Dadi ,aka,Hawaldaar Gabbar still on the prowl.enjoyed it.thanks.

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  48. They are back together..woohoo for that...and convertible, woohoo for that too ;)!!

    Mrignayani

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  49. oh my my my :D.
    all set now, they are back.
    the idiot hired help was unable to find anything.
    happy dance time olla olla llla la llla la.

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  50. that was one hell of a roller-coaster
    loved it how arnav pounded the sicko bradley jr. face, i think he's gonna destroy them professionally now
    so glad that arhi are back
    wonder who is spying on them through PI
    can't wait to read more
    thank u so much for the pM:)

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  51. u rock im serious im in love with this story its like legend wait for it dary you nailed ittttt love you keep up ur wonderful work i love mind games also i want to read ur other story also

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  52. Love the update.............
    U didn't update it on If???????
    rini_kat frm iF

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  53. Superb, finally Arnav agreed for marriage damn passionate part

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  54. Superb, finally Arnav agreed for marriage damn passionate part

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  55. the thing is dadi dont wants arshi tobe to geather why i dont know but
    she love shyame why ? and anjali is mently unstble
    so maybe dadi dont want arnav to have his familiy and just care about anjali?
    just guessing or gassing :-)
    and i hope on the end of this story everything become fine
    if i may be more truthful
    i really love ur this story the most with mind game and now fathefull love in tow
    desert heat is very slowly story
    and shameless i never red
    love it

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  56. wow finally they are married

    damn it seems it is Anjali that is spying on them
    because it was only Arnav, his mom and Anjali that
    came to the

    only someone who knew the estate would know where
    Arnav's bedroom was

    If it is Anjali she is a sick demented woman

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  57. Beautiful chapter, its true the best things happen to the most deserving and best people -->khushi and arnav deserve this happiness which has been long overdue :) looking forward to next update, cant wait to read fateful love, tc and hopefully well see you soon! :)

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  58. At last they are married....hope fully Arnav is Arnav only for khushi and he will remain in ASR mode for everyone else....and whoever is keeping an eye on them he will find out soon and punish her accordingly .......I just love this story

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  59. hey tina after yur note that you said that fatefull love and secreat passion will stay untoched
    i thought maybeu are not going to write it anymore so thats why

    and then about update
    it was wonderfull chapter
    really
    but last time in india when arnav and khushi were going from shantivzn their was dadi that saw them
    no you also clarified this
    so i thought maybe dadi dont want a middle class girl in arnavs life so she was sending this detectiv their
    but now is dadi ever visit new york bcz about the estate only anjali knows so is she after that
    but anjali is mentally not on her own in other chapter
    and how the fuck she can send detective
    if she is after arnavs money
    she want luxrey life and after arnav marry he will not take care of her
    is that what she think?

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  60. Read the whole story in one go. Fantabulous. Waiting for next part

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  61. wow.. amazing update.like always.
    finally they are married, waiting to see their journey after marriage.. wish they dont hav to face any hurdle but we all know they hav to face sum ppl who'll try to creat problem in their life (: like sumone whos spying on them but i know they wil give though fights to all of them..
    like Arnav said world versus them.. they are ready .

    waiting for next part eagerly..
    & thanks for update.

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  62. awesome update
    they got married finally
    wow their wedding night was so romantic

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  63. Anjali,,,, i guess as Arnav tells about his childhood vacation when he, anjali and their mother used to come to that estate the woman tell exactly where the Arnav room is in the estate,,,,, pointed to Anjali as only she is the woman who left after their mother.....

    they are married now.... WOW..... loved it how Arnav is open and sharing about his childhood naughty deeds and pranks,,,,,seriously i feel bad for Arnav as in most of every Fiction i read the reader tell how notouous and pranker Arnav was in childhood but due to his parents deeds he has become all stong hearted

    loved the update

    Neag
    (india-forums)

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  64. weren't we all very sure tht its dadi? is it someone else? the desperate way she is behaving she could be anjali as well.

    oh uncles love story it was sad obviously but i guess to be there in arnav's marriage as his parent must have given him a lot of happiness. i hope arnav learns from his uncle and not let things come in between him and khushi ever.

    THEY ARE MARRIEDDD YUPEEEEE but thn man will be coming to there place tomorrow :(

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  65. First of all thnx Tina 4 an awesome update... Finally they are married so happy 4 them... I hope they dont have to face hurdles... But even if they have to i am sure they both together would cross all the hurdles... And they would win against this cruel world....
    nivi21-IF

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  66. first of all please tell me how to copy right a blog I need to do it......
    coming to update
    it was awesome babz...... i also love eloping marriage... I am actually planning for eloping wedding... but I don't have any boyfriend *pout*
    but really awesome

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  67. Very happy to know that they are married.....finally. Thank you very much for an awesome update.

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  68. Amazing update.....Tina you always pen beautifully and conveys it clearly to your readers. Hats off to you .Awaiting eagerly to know in whose hands is the strings which is trying to destroy Arnav and Khushi

    Bhadra Prasad(IF)

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  69. First of all I want to thank u for all ur wonderful ff/os/ss etc on IPKKND, I for one has enjoyed them all tremendously.
    Update was awesome, nice to see that love once realised how it changes one's personality.
    Once again thank you

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  70. Beautiful update .... They got married simply and that too on the estate. Love Arnav's uncle.
    Two people deeply in love make vows to each other from the heart....beautiful

    I think it is Anjali as Arnav has only mentioned him, Anjali and his mother coming for vacations...earlier I had doubt about Dadi but the woman knows exactly which is Arnav's bedroom
    Thanks for continuing to write....plagrism is such a shameful act and I feel that person copying others work should be penalised..
    IF paaskhanna

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  71. omgggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg this was fabulous gosh
    finally they r married lol the strawberry and choc part uuuuf
    can be dadi :/

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  72. woowwww!!!!!! it's mind blowing...read ur storyy in one go...do u write stories proffesionalyy?..bcoz reading ur stry is like reading a mills and boons....awesomme....i think dadi is the one plotting....let's see..waiting for de update n off 2 read ur other stories..

    IF name - deelax18

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  73. Wow, they are married...waiting to read the mystery more now!

    Mrignayani

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  74. Anjali...she is the only one who knows the mansion.... Oh god ..can't believe she is against her own brothers love..... Waiting for the marriage to be revealed to the family.... N ofcourse Anjali n Shyam to unfold more drama.... Want to see really possessive n protective ASR....

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  75. Omg i always thought
    It. Was payal but now I think anjali or dadi
    Ugggh!!
    Thank you for the update Tinaji loved it plz update soon and don't separate Arshi

    ..XYasmina06

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  76. thank god,the wedding went off widout a hitch!
    Uncle's story was sad :( unrequited love ...
    the person in Delhi must b dadi...someone had to b there to put spoke in the wheel..otherwise d story wud end at chap 15..
    sheesh!people shud let Arnav live & breathe in peace..

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  77. mind blowing. loved it

    sida 4rm IF

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  78. please continue soon.....i love all your storyes....all are mind blowing

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  79. Finally, they got married! And Uncle even witnessed it... That's a sad story.. that Uncle was in love with Ma and yet she chose badly... but that's life..

    I hope to God that Arnav keeps his vows to Khushi and does not let anything or anyone come between them when they go back to India... and I still think it is Anjali who is spying on them...

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  80. Tht was jst fantastic update
    Love the way he was there with Khushi to select her wedding dress
    I seriously loved arnav vows more partial towards him
    I hope no matter wat they r together always
    Their love making was Hot
    I think it's Dadi
    Rkapoor1382 IF

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  81. that was a beautiful update... finally they are married.... and the vows was just awesome.. touched my heart :)... them vs the world
    I think its Anjali... since she knows the room
    IF: Luvbug

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  82. Such an amazing story with so much heart and soul. Such true-to-life characters. Love your ArnavandKhushi. Somehow eminently more believable than the show where One constantly asked if this was really love...please continue soon, cannot wait!

    Anupama

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  83. awesome update... :-)

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  84. Just caught up with the whole thing! :D

    Sorry for the late comment, was away on vacation!


    I am so happy that they are officially married!

    - PixieFlame

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  85. well, i am a latest fan of your writing.... continue soon... can't wait and i guess the woman is "Anjali"....

    and this ff is indeed PASSIONATE.... loved it!!

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  86. wonderful update............lovely........ I think the woman on phone is Anjali..............

    rini_kat frm If

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  87. Very nice update.. Loved it.. The passion was so so beautifuly described...

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  88. Hi dear just went through you story loved it ....beautiful !
    Hoping lot more from you.....

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  89. simply awesome.waiting eagerly r nxt update

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  90. Wow wow wow, I loved it! You are awesome Tina! It is Anjali, mad and bad Anjali xx

    Kind regards

    Kkumari81 (IF)

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  91. OMG i read ll the chapters at one go and can i tell you, you've smashed it right out of the park girl...can't wait for you to update..IPK would always occupy that special place in my heart which no other indian daily soap has managed to...i've stopped watching indian telly shows ever since IPK went off-air...but you have brought those beautiful memories of arnav and khushi back through your works...it's going to be a year since IPK went off-air but it's still fresh in our minds and hearts...do continue this story..i'm dying to read more...love, shagun

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  92. This story gets readers blushing crazily and sets them ablaze! How awesome is it! That psycho woman would bite her spy's head off when she hears about their wedding!

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  93. Awesome updates, read all chapters in one go.
    I feel it's Anjali spying on arshi.
    Update soon

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  94. idk why but i think the hired woman is Anjali and uh oh their secret is out

    They had been in such a bliss of passion

    Can't wait to read all of the revelations

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  95. OMG what an update dear!!! Hot hot hot... Now the big explosion is waiting for them.. Let's hope everything's works out fine.. Lovely part..

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  96. they certainly cant get enough of each other
    crap they cant catch a break
    someone or something always trying to break them apart

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  97. LOVE IT!!!!!! AHHH stupid stupid dadi! cant mind her own business! oooo i cant wait to read more of how the revelations happens and how arnav and his wife ;) handles it! update soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  98. wow,just fantastic and mindblowing

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  99. Fantastic, obviously Khushi's family is not going to take this lightly, the woman is dangetous enough to hire a dangerous man

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  100. hi tina......
    its an awsome update......they r so much in love tat they r not aware of their surrounding.....
    who is tat women???????i badly wanted to know............
    if-Joarshi

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  101. Another cliff hanger Tina! This is not done yaar... Loved the update... Arshi r in so much love that dey r not aware of their surroundings... And i think that woman is dangerous enough to hire a dangerous man!! Waiting 4 the update....

    nivi21-IF

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  102. awesome update

    sida (IF)

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  103. Fantastic update Tina! Arnav and Khushi are so deeply in love, fuelling their intense passion even more....gives me goosebumps. I hope their love can protect them from the evil and wrath which awaits them in Delhi. After seeing the pic, I don't think the Guptas will be very understanding and tolerant since they are so traditional but I hope Buaji hasn't died! I think the woman and the hired man are equally dangerous, from what he did to the housekeeper. If both families don't accept their relationship, I think they should just reveal to all that they are already married....Eagerly awaiting the revelations :)

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  104. i was stalking this blog religiously for the past 5 days. phewww finally an update.

    you are asking us to choose who is more dangerous? nahh i cant where one is cunning and manipulative (woman) the other is an almost psychopath murderer (the hired man). so i really cant.

    omg there is going to be so much trouble in the paradise in the next update. but thank god the picture mailed was so decent.

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  105. i MISSED few of your pms ... sorry!!! The Update was amazing .. the one that makes you blush & concern the same time. Loveeeeed it!

    (...Ashley I-F )

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  106. loved the update "Evidence"
    the hint you gave that the lady has grey hairs then thats means it is Dadi for sure.......
    hope Arnav will nake everything alright as he said to assure khushi

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  107. Hi Tina! 😊

    "Episodes 16: Evidence" was amazing as always. Next episode is going to be very huge with all the revelations and I can foresee Khushi getting hurt. Whatever problems will occur I think Khushi will be able to solve it more confidently now that she has Arnav's support and love.

    I don't see their relationship being affected by this obstacle because there bond has become very strong and thus, they will still be immensely in love with each other. However, now that the family are not oblivious their relationship will be definitely put to test.

    Please continue soon. ☺️

    P.S. I am the same person who PM you my comments. I hope you remember...

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  108. hi tina.

    wow.. fantastic update dear, loved it very much, so their short honemoon in NY is over & they are returning back to Delhi. waiting for the next part revelatin, i feel that nxt part going to be a sad one..

    & i think that lady is dangerous among the two but no one is more dangerous than ASR. once her truth will reveal no one can save her from him..

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  109. the woman is far more dangerous if you ask me...it's a heart felt request from an ardent fan of yours, do update the next chapter asap...this cliffhanger is likely to kill me (well, i know, i'm exaggerating a teeny weeny bit, but honestly can't help it !!)...going by the picture, guess the families would be up in arms against 'arshi' now that they have discovered their khushi bitiya in the arms of a paraya mard!!...needless to say,i loved this chapter..infact i was stalking your blog for the last couple of days to see whether you've updated or not!!...do update sooon, dear..love, Shagun

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  110. nice one Tina.
    I really hope its dadi And not Anjali. I have a bad feeling that it might be Anjali though

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  111. a new twist in the story... i am curious to know who is this lady??? the grandmother or Anjali???
    and i feel, the lady is more dangerous.
    i loved the update -- evidence

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  112. Wow! Have just caught up on the last 5-6 updates in one go! Brilliant writing as usual! I have been so busy with new baby and have only managed to log in and read SP now....and you have already started a new story!!!! Have I been away that long???

    Anyway just to let you know....stories like yours and a few other brilliant writers keep me in touch with normalcy....and bring me back to a relaxed state in my mind. So thank you!! :)

    Loving how SP is heading....the passion and intimacy has reached a fantastic comfort level and is a pleasure to read...super! Am glad Khushi has been able to break down Arnav's walls and now we are left to see the suspense part. You have described the cottage beautifully and everything seems like I'm watching a movie. Have really enjoyed the last updates.

    Waiting for more as usual and hoping I can catch up on the new updates soon too,

    Cheers!
    Rayolight

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    Replies
    1. Congrats on the new baby! :) I'm glad ur liking SP, yes Arnav and Khushi have come a long way. Hope u like the new stories too! All the best hun!

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  113. amazing update waiting for the next update
    rini_kat frm IF

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  114. Simply amazing story,,,keep looking forward to the updates.

    I was very partial to Mind games, but that was sweet story.

    This one is more edgy,,,but i love it,

    You are a very talented writer

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  115. Enjoyed the update... Personally I loved the part where Arnav is lying in Khusi's lap after the swim... Their love, deep connect and the peace which they felt came across beautifully.
    Till now the snake in Arnav -Khusi's Eden has not been revealed yet. She is very dangerous as she is evil and plotting against them & yet family is not aware of her real face. Khusi will have a tough time but with Arnav at her side they would be fine, I hope !!!
    Poonam
    IF. paaskhanna

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  116. wht an awsm updt tina di.
    The passion, *blushing*
    who r they spying on arhi?
    Cant wait to read more
    IF : joe4joe

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  117. wht an awsm updt tina di.
    The passion, *blushing*
    who r they spying on arhi?
    Cant wait to read more
    IF : joe4joe

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  118. wht an awsm updt tina di.
    The passion, *blushing*
    who r they spying on arhi?
    Cant wait to read more
    IF : joe4joe

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  119. Oh! When the face to that evil woman be revealed?

    Arnav and Khushi are so in love and finally married and at peace, I don't want anyone to spoil their happiness.

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  120. so far the story was just awesomeness, can't wait to read the rest, waiting impatiently, to know what will happen when Arshi will reach Dehli and confront Dadi and Buaji!

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  121. its an awesome story....loved all ur works....ur an amazing writer...OMG!!! i've no words 2 describe ur writings :) eagerly waitng fr future updates

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  122. Dadi is dangerous, but the hired hit man is more so, cos he killed an innocent housekeeper,why don't the police catch him, thereby imprisoning Dadi, the mastermind behind the Hadsa,forever,good riddance.Great update ,don't want MBua to suffer.KH's problems are far from over

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  123. hey that woman can be nani too.... tinas stories are always in suspense....when we expect something to be something it will exact opp..... i am back from my long leave from IF
    kamalapushpa

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  124. Love conquers all!! Brilliant update....I wish love like that existed in real life....

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  125. amazing my dear...loved it very much how they stand for there love for each other facing every one... she trust him and loved him with all her heart and he love her unconditioned...love this story very much ... but how send the pic to her family ???!!!

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  126. oh i loved it how he deal with that god for nothing Karen..... and how they both confess their love openly without even any hint of hesitent or fear

    good god,,,, Buaji is some sensable woman and see to their unbreakable love

    loved the update.....

    now time to deal with so called Dadiji

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  127. so happy he crushed that stupid idiot Karan, he really deserved it

    loved that Arnav and Khushi openly declared their love to everyone

    thankfully Buaji loves Khushi unconditionally and is the only sane family member that Khushi has

    my worry now is his dumb family

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  128. Can't wait for the next part. All ur stories r awesome. Keep writing grl..

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  129. Hey Tina...
    That was a superb action packed update...loved it sooo much..
    I guess KARAN is with Anjali or Shyam or even Dadi.... Who ever sent those pics...
    Hope he learnt his lesson not to mess with ARSHI ...
    I guess Dadi has lots of objections to the wedding...but I just hope they will come out of it together...
    BUAJI is AWSOME ....love her

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  130. Mazing update, loved it ho and beautiful, buaji raji to kya kare kaji, hope they will be together, this Karan and mystery women must be together working against Arshi

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  131. Juslove d way dey both stand fr each oder..its call pure n true love..
    Nw waitin fr arnavs family reaction!!

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  132. Woo...ARHI second official wedding...all excited!

    Mrignayani

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  133. Khushi is very brave in this story...

    love the way Arshi support eachother & stand for their love.. thankful that buaji is on their side..

    superb part... waiting for next..

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  134. whats up with karan?trying to be all super hero for khushi.
    so it was dadi who was against them since the start?

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  135. Mindblowing...
    Plz update next part soon...

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  136. AWESOME ND MIND BLOWING UPDATE Tina!!! Luvd it

    nivi21-IF

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  137. Mindblowing...
    Plz update soon........
    Amina87 from IF.......

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  138. wow read d all parts
    amazing update soon yar

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  139. Wow....loved the hospital scene...strong emotions - depicted beautifully....

    cheers
    what_the

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  140. An amazing update tina...loved it.:-) atleast arshi cn leave peacefully togethr nw..

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  141. The story has build up to be addictive.. Their passionate moments and the way they can't keep there hands away from each other..

    Then him leaving her for her own good, knowing how arnav is, it would have taken his every fibre of strength to do that and Khushi being broken thinking they would never be together..
    Arnav's realisation of love and how truly his uncle made him understand, his heart felt confession and then there marraige, its all so romantic..

    But then, the villians make the entry, karan and dadi, karan seem to be obssessed with Khushi as he is not ready to accept that she can never be his, she doesn't want to be his..
    How can there family overlook there love and out of all the people how can payal behave so..


    Loved there house, its soooooo prettyyyyy..

    Dying to read further

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