Secret Passion 19-24

SECRET PASSION--03/24/2013
**NO COPYING, SHARING, OR POSTING ELSEWHERE ALLOWED. COPYRIGHT 2013 BY TINA.**

SECRET PASSION
By: TINA! & Satina

Teaser
How had her life come to this? wondered Khushi Kumari Gupta.
How had Arnav Singh Raizada taken over everything so completely?
She could not escape his pull. His aura clung to her.. his smoldering gaze plagued her every thought.. She had vowed to hate him. But how could she when he was not just her boss but so much more..Would this secret passion change her forever?
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Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 19: Married Life
Khushi couldn't get enough of his kisses. "Me too, though I fought against it for the longest time. Fine, only because I love you so much, you may finally set me down, Mr. Raizada."
His arms did not loosen as expected, tightening instead. He held her higher, cradling her against his chest. "I enjoy carrying you like this. You're not heavy at all."
Khushi's mouth dropped open. She batted his chest with her free hand. "Then why were you making those exaggerated, dying noises when I made you climb the stairs?"
Arnav smirked, shrugging as he strode into yet another spacious bedroom. "I enjoy bothering you. It's an old hobby of mine."
Her glare made him chuckle. "You're lucky I love you so crazily, Arnav Singh Raizada. If I didn't.."
His eyebrow rose sexily, his gaze daring her. "If you didn't love me crazily, what would you do, Mrs. Raizada?"
"Trust me, you don't want to know. You'll get nightmares just standing here."
He shook with laughter. "I'll risk it, baby. Tell me."
"Fine, don't say I didn't warn you, husband." She looped her arms around his neck, pressing so close their chests were crushed together. Her breath nuzzled the side of his neck and ear.
"I'd wear that red bikini you forced me to wear once around the house and not allow you to touch me. It would be fun actually, now that I think about it."
Her hand teased a path down his chest and Arnav immediately grabbed a hold of that wandering hand. "Don't you dare try that. I'd lose it. I always need to touch you."
Khushi grinned. "Told you, baby. I win."
Her husband rolled his eyes, taking her back downstairs. "This is the first time in my life I'll admit defeat and happily too."
Khushi raised her hands, signaling numbers. "What was that old game of yours? Arnav zero: Khushi two."
"An instant two points? This isn't basketball."
"True, but one point for you admitting that and one point for making you carry me throughout this grand tour."
Arnav pressed his head against hers. "I'd lose every time if it brought a smile to your face."
Khushi shook her head, rubbing a hand over his stubble. "Your loss is my loss. I only want you to win. Always. But joking around like this, I'd rather you be the competitive ASR. Like when we played those kissing games."
His hand massaged her. "We haven't played that in a while. Maybe tonight."
Khushi tried not to blush, but it was hard when he looked at her like that. As if all he wanted was to lay her down on the stairs and ravish her. What naughty ideas were taking shape in her husband's head? she wondered.
"Maybe."
"That's all you have to say? A small maybe?"
Khushi nodded. "What did you want me to say?"
Arnav's eyes traced over her face lazily. "Kiss me. Or better yet: Undress me, Arnav, Please, baby.."
This time she did blush. "I do not sound like that when we.. you-know-what."
He began to make her explain what she meant word for word, but they arrived at the kitchen just then. And with the blink of an eye, his wife turned from love to food.
"Look at the kitchen, love! It's so huge! Like a restaurant. And look at the dining room, over there. We can get a huge glass table, one that will fit both of our families and--"
His heart pained when she broke off, the sparkle in her eyes dimming. "Baby, don't. Our families will come around one day."
With a sigh, he set her on the countertop, urgently cupping her face in his palms.
Khushi threw her arms around him, hugging him tight. A few tears wet his shirt, staining the soft material. "I know. It's just that I thought they'd understand our love. We did nothing wrong. We just fell in love."
His lips compressed into a thin line. "Truthfully, it's their loss. I'm sick of explaining our relationship and justifying it. We're married now, dammit."
Khushi gripped him hard, knowing that he too was hurting inside. He'd always been so close to his family, especially his Di. "Arnav, I don't want to cry anymore. We've gone through so much to reach this point in our lives. I want to enjoy every moment with you, every second in our home."
He kissed away her tears. "Agreed. No more crying. We'll be happy together, let the rest of the world go to--"
She covered his mouth before he could curse.
He grinned against her palm. "I was going to say go to Antarctica.'"
Khushi smiled, her eyes lighting up again. "Sure you were."
He kissed her hard, not denying it. And then he swung up beside her on the counter, grasping her hand.
"So, Mrs. Raizada.."
She leaned her head on his shoulder, squeezing his hand. "Yes, Mr. Raizada?"
"Well, as you've noticed, we have no furniture at the moment, no sofa or bed. Hell, we don't even have a blanket here."
Khushi nodded, her smile widening. "Agreed. What are you planning?"
Arnav curled his arm around her waist, tugging her closer. "Two options, baby. Either we can spend tonight at the apartment and come back here tomorrow or we can scavenge for stuff and just camp out here."
Khushi didn't have to think twice. She didn't want to leave their new home. The feeling was incredible. "Scavenger hunt," she said, jumping off. "I'll go look for supplies and you find us some sheets to sleep on. Meet you back here in ten minutes?"
"Deal." Arnav sealed the words with a firm kiss, watching his wife dart off with a smile. Everything was finally coming on track. With Khushi by his side, he could tackle the world.
*****
A short distance from their new home, Karan stood at the side of a road, anxiously staring at his watch every few seconds. Where was the woman? Had it all been lies?
He was cursing his luck when a black, unmarked car rolled to a stop beside him. It was some fancy, luxury car, its windows tinted black.
The driver side window slid just slightly down. A gloved hand passed an envelope to him.  Karan's eyes darted this way and that, but the roads were barren at this time of night. It was beginning to rain as well.
He opened the envelope quickly, quickly reading the amount on the check. His eyes widened.
"This is only half of what I was promised!" He tried to peer inside the car, particularly the back seat, but a curtain had been drawn. He could see nothing but black velvet--except for the slight profile of a fair-skinned man in the front seat.
The hired man's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "You don't deserve more. You were supposed to prevent their marriage."
"I did everything," Karan screeched. "It's not my fault Khushi was already married to that arrogant Raizada! I did all I could. I turned her entire family against him. I even proposed to her!"
He could still recall every detail: sitting on the hospital chair, contemplating how to separate his friend from the man she seemed to be glued to. He'd never approved of Arnav Singh Raizada, but he'd never planned to interfere so much either. However, when he'd been anonymously contacted by a woman one night, promising a rich reward if he stopped Khushi and ASR from marrying, he hadn't been able to refuse.
Only his mother had known about his secret job. She'd been with him throughout, whispering encouraging words in his ear:
 At the moment Khushi's mother had taken her by the shoulders in the hospital corridor, shouting: "What have you done? Who will accept you now?"
His mother had murmured: "Now. Do it now."
He agreed, it was the perfect timing. And so he'd stood up, saying in a soft, respectful tone: "I will.. I will marry her."
The woman in the backseat sent the hired man a text message, telling him exactly what to say.
"Details," he told Karan, his lips twisting. "Minor details. Your job was to stop them from marrying--which you failed. Be happy you're even getting this much."
As Karan sputtered, arguing outright, the window slid upwards, the tires squealed as the driver pushed on the gas pedal.
Karan swore, running a hand through his hair. He folded the check in half, sliding it into his coat pocket.
It would still be just enough to start his new business. "Sorry, Khushi," he murmured. "But it was a win-win situation for me. I need the money and I hate that Raizada. I can only hope and pray your silly marriage fails. And then you'll understand that I'm not the bad guy. That I've been right all along about your so-called husband."
*****
Meanwhile, Arnav and Khushi were busy talking and eating on the living room floor. They hadn't found any sheets, but the fur rug was soft and luxurious, as good as any mattress. Arnav had also taken down some curtains to substitute for blankets. Coupled with the candles Khushi had found and the crackling glow from the fireplace, it was all very warm and cozy.
"You know, I'm starting to like Italian," Khushi said as he fed her a bite of spaghetti.
He nodded, taking a bite himself. "It's good, isn't it?"
She leaned up to kiss him, licking away the bit of sauce at the corner of his mouth. "Very good."
"Vixen."
She lightly slapped his chest, feeling utterly beautiful and feminine when he gazed at her like that. "Take it back."
Arnav set aside their plates, shaking his head. "Nope, it's the truth."
Khushi scrunched her nose at him. "Fine, I won't talk to you then. Or kiss you."
"Really?" Her husband looked more amused than anything.
She frowned, nodding curtly. His hands wrapped around her waist, pulling her directly into his arms. His lips descended, kissing hungrily.
Khushi moaned, wanting nothing more than to give in. "Arnav! No kisses allowed."
He pouted as she scooted backwards. "You said you won't kiss me so I kissed you."
Khushi stared at him with amazement. "You really know your way around loopholes, don't you?"
Arnav shrugged, his eyes twinkling. "I'm a businessman, baby. Now, come back here, I want to kiss you--everywhere."
Her body hummed in response, heat pooling. But she stubbornly shook her head. "No, Mr. Raizada."
"Yes."
"No."
"Hell yes."
"Hell no."
They were still arguing back and forth when thunder sounded, loud and unexpected. Khushi yelped, surging into her husband's arms and holding him tight. He grinned, locking his arms around her. "Baby, it's okay."
She pressed even closer, rubbing her cheek against his chest. "Don't let go."
He tilted her face up, his hand plunging into her hair. Against the candlelight, she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. His woman. His wife.
"Never."
The first kiss was hot and demanding. Khushi arched into it, tugging his shirt over his head and finding his belt buckle. He was busy doing the same, deftly unsnapping her bra with one hand.
When the barriers had finally been all thrown aside, they rolled on the rug, mouths meeting eagerly.
"Mine," he growled possessively against her softness, the heat of his mouth branding her.
Khushi's eyes fluttered close. She felt lost.. lost in him.. "Yours, baby."
He shifted down slowly, dropping kisses, his hands curving over soft skin. "Only mine."
She shot up off the floor as he stroked her, his name escaping her lips. "Arnav! Please!"
He did not give in easily, not until she could take no more of his teasing. Passion cascaded over them like the thunder rumbling outside, crashing in urgent waves.
Khushi plopped down on top of her husband, thoroughly sated, exhausted, and feeling very much in love. Could life get any better than this? she wondered. She doubted it. They kissed and snuggled closer, falling asleep soon after that.
*****
Arnav woke to find his wife kissing him, licking a path down his chest.
"Khushi, if you keep that up, I won't be able to get to work today."
"I don't want you to go," she insisted cutely, glancing at him. "Stay at home today. Please."
His jaw clenched as she scooted lower, her lips marking him. "I wish I could, but there are several meetings."
She pouted, kissing him hotly. "How about a game before you leave? Strip rummy again?"
Arnav smiled, gliding a hand down her warm back. "Baby, that game requires us to have clothes on first."
She smiled back, a naughty twinkle in her eyes. "True, but what about the other game?"
"The blindfold one?"
Khushi shook her head, staring at him with a blush. "The under the desk one.."
He hadn't been expecting that. His lips curled. "We do have time for that. Lots of time." His hands slid into her hair, tugging her on top of him..
It was much later that Arnav finally left the warm, tangled sheets. He had about thirty minutes to reach the office. Thankfully, their suitcases from New York were still in the SUV's trunk, so they had clothes and basic toiletries.
"Baby, I can't find my watch!"
Khushi tried not to smile. He sounded like a typical husband. "Under the rug, I think."
"And my briefcase?"
She handed it to him. "Here you go."
"Thanks." He kissed her firmly. "Some decorators will be coming by in an hour or so. Order whatever you want, but I think we should start one room at a time."
"So the kitchen first--it's most important."
"I was going to say our bedroom, but fine, start with the kitchen. Just order a bed for us, please. Okay?"
"Deal." Khushi rose on her tiptoes to kiss him. "I miss you already. I wish you didn't have to go."
"Me too, Mrs. Raizada." Arnav suddenly recalled something--something they'd forgotten to discuss in between all the lovemaking. "What should I say at the office? Should I just announce we're married now?"
Khushi's brow furrowed. "Why do you need to say anything?"
"There's rumors flying around about us," he explained. "I think it was Lavanya who started them. She must have heard something during my fight with Bradley Junior in New York."
Khushi frowned. While it would be easiest to let everyone at AR Designs know, Arnav was already going through so much upheaval after his family's reaction. She wanted at least his professional life to remain unaffected. "Just ignore her, love. We can announce it later. For now, you can just say I'm taking a break from work."
He nodded, hugging her close. "Okay, if that's what you want. I'll be home late tonight probably."
Khushi pouted, but didn't argue. They kissed goodbye in the driveway--he in the driver seat and she standing just within hand's reach.
"I'll miss you, baby."
"I'll miss you more, wife. Take care and call me if you need me."
With one last kiss, Khushi finally forced herself to step away, waving at him as he reversed the ivory jeep.
True to her husband's words, the team of decorators soon arrived. It was fun and relaxing for her to pick out stuff for the kitchen, going through online catalogues and designer portfolios. Some of the prices made her hesitate, but the women told her to get what she wanted--it was what Mr. Raizada had strictly ordered after all.
Khushi had smiled, picking out everything from fine, white China to gleaming copper pots. In between the shopping, her eyes would wander to the phone. Why hadn't he called yet? she wondered. Surely, he'd discovered her "gift" by now.
The call did finally come around lunchtime.
An impish smile curved Khushi's lips as her phone rang, a familiar number flashing across the screen. "Husband" the caller ID read simply.
"Hello?" she asked in a soft, innocent tone.
"Do you care to explain?" Arnav bit out, not wasting a second.
"Explain what, baby?"
He shook his head at her naughty streak, his eyes lighting up. "Explain what your bra is doing inside my briefcase."
Khushi bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Oh that.. I was just showing you what you're missing."
"Love, you know I have work. My schedule is packed today."
"Fine then. Why are you wasting your precious time talking to me now, Mr. Raizada? Wife comes second, right?"
The call disconnected before he could get another word in. Arnav stared at the lacy bra in his hands for a good minute and then picked up the phone again.
Aman answered on the first ring. "Yes, ASR?"
"Cancel all my meetings. I'm going home."
Aman tried not to laugh on the other end. "Yes, boss," he said simply, muttering about newlyweds as the call disconnected.
Arnav was up and out of the office in a matter of seconds. He'd left the briefcase behind, stuffing his wife's bra in his pant pocket. As he came down the stairs, Lavanya stopped him.
"ASR? Where are you going?"
"Important meeting," he replied stiffly.
"Oh, I see." She beamed at him, tossing her hair over one shoulder. "By the way, there's a private party tonight at my place. You must come."
His mouth thinned as she drew her red-painted nail down the length of his tie. He threw her hand off, his eyes narrowing. "Never talk to me like that again, Lavanya. I am your boss--not your friend and most definitely not more than that."
Lavanya's mouth pursed as she watched him stomp away. ASR was a well-known bachelor, but he always had some girl hanging off his arm. Who was it this time? she wondered. Was it really goody-two-shoes Gupta?
Her lips twisted. Maybe it would be best if it was Gupta, she mused. Because there was no way ASR would last long with someone like her. It would be only a matter of time before he used her and moved on. And then she'd be there.. her arms open to welcome him.
*****
The doorbell rang loudly, startling Khushi. She'd been admiring her beautifully furnished kitchen while kneading dough.
Was it the decorators? she wondered. They'd just left 15 minutes back. Had they forgotten something? The bell rang again, rather impatiently.
"Coming!"
Her eyes widened the moment she opened the door. That couldn't possibly be her husband standing on the doorstep--looking too rakishly handsome for his own good. His tie and jacket were both absent; his hands were in the process of removing his cufflinks. Her heartbeat pounded at the look in his eyes.
"Going to let me in, love?"
She snapped out of her stupor. "Arnav? Baby, what are you doing here? Your meetings--"
He cut off her ramblings with a firm kiss. "It's all your fault. You knew what your bra would do to me. I couldn't resist."
A smile curved Khushi's lips, but her eyes widened all the more as she watched him step inside, locking the door behind him. His hands were now at his collar, unbuttoning.
The bronze expanse of his chest made her pulse pick up speed. She shook her head, holding her flour-covered hands up. "We can't. I'm cooking."
He threw the shirt off, kicking off his shoes. In just his black pants and belt, he stalked to her, a predatory smirk on his handsome face. "I don't care. We can and we will."
Before he could catch hold of her, Khushi ran, darting to the kitchen. He chased after her, folding his arms crossly as he spied her behind the countertop, working on the dough again.
"You'll have to wait, baby," Khushi told him, trying her best to ignore him.
There was a playful glint in his eyes as he drew closer, encircling her waist with his strong arms. His breath nuzzled the side of her neck. "You know I hate to wait."
Did she ever.. Her eyes closed as he tugged on her earlobe with his teeth, nipping.
"Arnav.. please.. I'm almost done."
"I don't care," he mumbled stubbornly, his hands going to the knot of her apron.
Within a minute, he had her bare. Her clothes pooled around her feet as they fell. And then his hands were on her, his groan making her quiver as he touched her intimately.
Her hands clenched on the dough as he kneaded her softness, knowing just how to unravel her.
"Baby.." she whispered as his fingers tugged, his lips at her nape.
"Hold onto the countertop," he told her huskily, the words whipping into her like the hottest of flames.
Her body clenched as she heard the rustle of his own clothes being removed. And then he was on her.. inside her..
She cried out, bracing herself against the granite counter, her head falling back against him.
Khushi moaned as his pace increased, her breathing rapid. Her fingers clenched on the granite. As passion claimed them, she screamed his name. He pressed a firm kiss to her shoulder, and then he too succumbed.
Later, they found themselves lying on the kitchen floor, flour everywhere. Neither minded though.
"I can't believe you did that. You actually came home early." Khushi laughed, cuddling closer.
Her husband grinned. "Like I said, you're a vixen. It's all your fault."
"Are you complaining?"
Arnav pulled her on top of him. "Never. I love you. I love being married to you."
Khushi couldn't help but agree. This married life was everything she could have ever dreamt of. "And I love you."
He brushed some flour off her chin. "We should get cleaned up. How about the Jacuzzi?"
She acted like she was considering it very seriously. "Hmm.. sounds good, husband."
He picked her up in his arms, striding off to the master bedroom.
At the top of the stairs, the phone rang. Arnav cursed, glancing back downstairs. "I swear if that's Aman, I'll punch him the next time I see him. He has a knack for always disturbing us."
Khushi giggled, pushing against his chest. "Let me down, baby. I'll go so who it is. You get the water ready."
"You're the only person I take orders from, so fine," he grumbled. "Just hurry up."
Khushi kissed his cheek, darting toward the phone. She was smiling as she picked it up.
"Hello?"
The voice on the other end was not Aman. It was some woman she did not recognize. "Hello, I must speak to Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada. It's very important."
Khushi's eyebrows knitted together. "This is his wife. I can take a message."
"Mrs. Raizada?" The women sighed with relief. "Thank God. Mrs. Raizada, we haven't met, but I'm the housekeeper at your new property in New York. I had to contact you."
"Is everything all right there?"
"Sort of. You see, dear, I've just been released from the hospital. A man attacked me--violently. He came in a disguise the morning we were to clean your estate. I found him fishy from the start, especially after how he reacted when he heard you and Mr. Raizada were married. I followed him into the parking lot and that's when he attacked me."
A chill swept over Khushi. "Has he been found?"
"No," said the housekeeper. "The police are searching, but there are no leads. They suspect he may have left the country. Mrs. Raizada, I don't know how to say this, but that man went livid at the mention of you. You're in danger, I'm afraid. Your life is in grave danger."
Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 20: Keeping Secrets
"Tell me. Now."
Khushi didn't know where to begin. "The call was from New York.." She stumbled through the rest of it, watching with foreboding as his every muscle tightened around her.
"Someone is after you?" he asked in a low, dangerous-sounding tone once she'd told him everything. "Because of our marriage?"
"The housekeeper seems to think so."
Arnav swore savagely, his lips twisting. He had a fairly good suspicion of who it must to be. "I'm going to kill him!" he growled, shifting out of Khushi's arms and heading for the door.
"Arnav! Arnav, don't! There's no proof!"
He flung her arm off of him, snarling. "I don't give a damn! It has to be him! The housekeeper clearly told you it was someone who did not want us to be husband and wife. And we both know that other than our families, there's only one lunatic who fits that description. Karan is dead meat."
He lunged for the doorknob, but Khushi threw herself against it, the rage in his eyes scaring her. He looked beyond deadly.
"Baby, no."
"Get out of my way, Khushi. I've warned that b****** countless times now. This time he's going to have to face the consequences of coming between us. How dare he try to hurt the woman I love! I'LL KILL HIM!"
It was exactly what she feared. Towering over her, her husband looked wild and downright murderous. Ignoring his anger, she stepped right into his arms and held him tight.
"Listen to me, Arnav," she said, urgently cupping his face in her palms. "The police will handle it. I don't want you to land in trouble because of that stupid man. Please, cool down. You're scaring me."
Her grip tightened around him, her lips pressing to his stubble. Arnav stood rigid for a moment, shaking with rage, and then he noticed how badly shaken up his wife was. She truly feared he'd take the law into his own hands and ruin everything.
Taking a deep breath, he willed himself to calm down. His arms rose and curled around Khushi's slim waist, keeping her pressed to him.
"Shush, love. I'm okay now," he murmured. "You're right. Let the police go after Karan. But I'm not going to relax till he's away from us--once and for all."
Khushi kissed him in answer, rubbing her cheek against his chest. His skin felt wonderfully hot. "I love you."
He drew her up for a much deeper kiss, tasting her with sudden hunger. "And I love you. Don't worry for a second. I'll handle this. And Khushi?"
"Yes, love."
He set his hands on either side of her face, his expression growing serious. "Don't you ever keep secrets from me."
She nodded, kissing the hard line of his jaw and lips. "Never."
*****
Two months later...
Arnav bit his tongue to keep from cursing. He would have been yelling if not for his wife sleeping close by. "What do you mean, inspector? Why can't you arrest Karan?"
"There's no proof against him, Mr. Raizada. We've questioned him several times and come up empty-handed each time."
"Dammit, you've had two months. Surely, there's something."
"Nothing links him to the attack on your housekeeper in New York. But we have found a new lead. I'll inform you if any new information is found."
Arnav ran a hand through his hair, pacing up and down in his study. "What about the restraining order? Has that at least happened?"
"Yes, it just got approved. Karan is not allowed anywhere near your wife."
"Fine, keep me updated." He disconnected, swearing under his breath. It was too little progress to satisfy him. He wanted the person after Khushi caught. To think that monster was still roaming free!
"Arnav?" called his wife. "Where are you?"
He walked out of his home office, going into the master bedroom directly across. It made for easy access and had been his one request amidst all the decorating.
"Here," he murmured, shutting the door behind him. "Good morning, love. How--" His voice trailed off as he gazed at his wife. She was sitting up against the headboard, stretching languidly.
With her tousled hair, her mouth open in a yawn, and the white sheet curled around her waist, she was the most gorgeous woman he'd ever seen.
Khushi beamed automatically as she spotted him, a blush tingeing her cheeks as she noticed his eyes rove downwards. She drew the white sheet up, tucking it under her arms. Arnav marveled that he could still make her blush with a look alone---even after months of the most intense lovemaking.
"Morning," she replied. "Whom were you shouting at? The inspector again?" The thinning of his lips was answer enough. Khushi sighed. "Baby, you've got to watch your temper. It's not that poor man's fault."
"Are you seriously defending him? He's found nothing so far, and I'm supposed to have faith in him?" Arnav sat beside her, pulling her hard against him. "You mean everything to me, Khushi. I'm not taking any bloody chances where you're concerned."
She smiled, smoothing the lines of tension across his forehead. "Nothing has happened since the call. Maybe the housekeeper was simply wrong."
"I hope so."
Arnav tried to put all the worries out of his mind, drawn to his beautiful and very much bare wife. He slipped his hand under the sheet, cupping her breast possessively. Her breath hitched as he massaged her, his thumb lazily stroking back and forth over the erect tip.
"You'll be late to work," she warned, an impish glint in her eyes.
"I'll handle it."
"Are you sure, Mr. Raizada?"
He flattened her on the bed, throwing the white sheet aside. His mouth and hands trailed over her warm, silky-smooth skin. "Absolutely."
"Don't you--Oh!--don't you have meetings?" she managed, her hands fisting on the bedspread.
Her husband was busy dropping scorching kisses across her navel, using his mouth, tongue and teeth. "Just a few. Come by for lunch today. I want to show you something."
That sounded a bit suspicious. "I can't love, I have to pick up the new curtains."
"Damn the curtains!" he growled, spreading her legs wide and settling between them. "Just say yes."
She tried to play along, but he was stealing her very breath with his hot caresses. "Yes," she whispered, her nails scoring down his back.
He teased her, his hands settling over her peaks as his mouth feasted. "And dinner tonight--wherever I want."
"What are you planning, Raizada?"
Arnav kissed her heatedly, making her gasp and burn. "Stop fussing, Khushi. And just agree."
She was beyond all sense of reason or calm, thrashing on the bed now. "Yes!"
"I didn't hear you, wife."
She pulled him to her, fusing their mouths together. "YES!"
He smirked against her lips, kissing her in an unquestionably carnal manner. And then as always, they went up in flames, the world shattering around them as he joined them as one.
*****
Arnav left for work within the hour. Khushi forced him to eat breakfast, and then kissed him goodbye, dressed in just his silk robe. As soon as the white jeep reversed, she headed upstairs, stopping only to admire the new chandelier in the living room and the couple's portrait they'd recently taken. It hung above the mantle. They were holding each other close in the picture, sharing a secret smile. The house was no longer empty; it had been decorated carefully, everything from the sofas to the paintings according to their taste.
Yawning, Khushi sprinted up the stairs and fell back into bed with a dull thud. As she rolled on the mattress, a note caught her eye, along with a brand-new dress, necklace, and matching earrings. She eyed it all with surprise, and then read the note, even more amazed that her husband's handwriting was actually legible for once:
Dinner at 7! Put this on and be ready by 6:30. I love you, Arnav.
Her eyebrows rose as she considered what he'd picked out. The dress was way too short, but she had to admit it was pretty. She admired it for a couple more minutes before lazily laying back down. He'd exhausted her today, the insatiable man! She was grinning as sleep claimed her.
Khushi didn't know what woke her a couple of hours later--it was the strangest noise. It couldn't be a bird possibly.
And then it came again. The same beep. She grumbled as she picked up her phone. Five missed messages--all from "Husband."
8:30 AM Still sleeping, baby? I miss you. Stuck in the most boring meeting. Ever.
9:15 AM What did you do to my back? It bloody hurts!
10:00 AM When will this meeting end dammit? I wish I was home. You know what we'd be doing, don't you, wife?
Khushi nodded at the screen. She knew him so well by now. His idea of a perfect day was one in which neither of them stepped out of bed, only getting up to shower and eat in between endless bouts of.. ahem ahem..
10:30 AM Please tell me you're not still sleeping Khushi. Did I tire you that much? By the way, meeting finally over. Conference call now.
10:45 AM Why haven't you replied? You never sleep this much. Baby, call me ASAP because otherwise I'll be home in fifteen minutes.
Her eyes flashed to the time. February 13: 10:47 AM. She called his number quickly, hoping he wasn't on the road already. Her husband picked up on the first ring.
"Put down the car keys. I'm fine, just overslept."
Arnav sighed, pocketing his keys. "Don't scare me, dammit."
She reclined back on the sheets, holding the phone close. "Baby, I'm fine. Seriously. No one can get through the security system you installed. Just concentrate on work."
"I'm a newlywed," he replied, as if that explained it all.
Khushi rolled her eyes, grinning. "Still.. I'll see you soon. It's almost time for lunch."
"True."
"I hope I get some food this time, Mr. Raizada," she said cheekily, recalling all their passion-filled lunchtime encounters. The memories alone were enough to make her pulse race.
"Maybe afterwards.. By the way did you like the dress?"
She stroked the silky fabric with her free hand. "Loved it, baby. What are you planning?"
The corner of his mouth curved up. "You'll see. But for now, just come to the office already."
"Okay, ASR, on my way. Happy?"
He smirked, feeling insanely in love. He'd never imagined such happiness would one day be his. "Almost. I need you in my arms first."
They whispered I love you's and then Khushi finally disconnected, rising out of bed. As she showered and dressed, something kept nagging her--though she wasn't sure what. It felt like she'd forgotten something--something important.
She was picking up her purse and phone when she realized it. The date on the screen flashed once more: February 13th.
Her eyes widened as she realized it, counting backwards on her fingers. It couldn't be.. But a quick check of the calendar proved it was no miscalculation. She was late for sure.
Khushi raced into the bathroom, rummaging through the cabinets. She had kept some pregnancy test kits stored but she'd never expected to be using one so soon. Her hands shook as she broke the seal.
With every passing moment, her heart thundered in her chest. The wait felt never-ending. She checked the clock again, realizing that the result would show up any second. And then, finally, it was time.
Khushi stared down at the white plastic stick in her hands, her eyes narrowing. Two red lines.. what did that mean?
"Why can't it just say pregnant or not pregnant?" she grumbled under her breath, reaching for the instructions.
She read it once more, her heartbeat pounding. The paper slipped from her hands, falling on the gleaming tiles. Her head whipped toward the bathroom mirror, her eyes frozen on her reflection.
"A baby?"
She gazed back down at the result, but it was no trick of the light. According to this, she was pregnant.
A warmth and heady joy shot through her, her eyes falling to her waist with awe. Her hand descended on that flat surface, stroking lightly. She was going to be a mother! Their first child!
Khushi felt like laughing and crying, her emotions spinning out of control. She'd thought herself incredibly blessed already, but now one more blessing was headed their way. But then the most depressing thought came to her: how would Arnav react?
She froze, her smile vanishing. She knew her husband, knew his every apprehension. It was too soon. He was still adjusting to marriage, and now a baby? It would definitely come as a shock to him.
Khushi started to call him up, but hesitated, torn all over again. What if the pregnancy test was wrong? Shouldn't she first confirm it with a doctor before telling him? A false alarm would make things even worse.
Weighing her options, she decided to go to a clinic right after their lunch date. And then she'd tell him--whatever the result was.
Please, take it well, baby. Please..
*****
AR Designs hadn't changed much during her two-month absence. The glass doors were gleaming as always, the tiles had been polished till they shone. Several of her friends and colleagues stopped on their way to lunch to greet her, staring at her with wide-eyed amazement.
And then amid the countless Where have you been's, a most annoying voice interrupted:
"Gupta, you're back? I thought you were fired."
"Hello to you too Lavanya. And I wasn't fired, just on break."
The other woman didn't bat an eyelash, her nose wrinkling as she noted Khushi's brightly colored salwar kameez. The sindoor was carefully hidden. "So you've come to quit then?"
"Actually, I'll be back next week." Khushi did not know what prompted her to say that, but the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. And then as she thought about it, she realized it wouldn't be a bad idea. She'd missed AR Designs--and her boss.
Lavanya started to question her some more, but a razor-sharp voice cut in. "Khushi, follow me."
Her eyes lit up as she spotted her husband. It took everything in her not to dash into his arms and proclaim her as hers--especially with Lavanya ogling him so. She was pleased his gaze remained only her though, twinkling with affection and intimacy.
"ASR, I can handle Gupta. You enjoy your lunch."
"Don't tell me what to do, Ms. Kashyap. And Khushi, I said follow me."
She hurried after his tall, commanding form, following him down several empty corridors. Everyone was likely in the cafeteria already.
"Are you really coming back next week?" Arnav suddenly asked. At her surprised glance, he added: "I heard you and Lavanya talking."
"I meant it. I also think it's time we let everyone in AR Designs know about us." And by everyone, she mostly meant Lavanya Kashyap.
He made a sound of agreement, stopping at an unmarked door and holding it open for her. "After you.. wife.."
"Baby, we can't--"
He took a seat at the head of the table, looking not the least bit scandalized. Far from it actually. "We most definitely can. Lay down."
Khushi gulped, the glint in his eyes wrecking havoc within her. "Where?"
The corner of his lip curved. He tapped a long finger on the conference table. "Here."
Her body quivered as she walked up to him. She could not deny him. Not when she too ached for this.
Arnav's gaze traced over her with feigned calm. He slid a few inches back in the leather chair, giving her just enough room to slide between the table and himself. Her clammy palms gripped the edge of the glass as she lifted herself, tentatively sitting down. She would have laid down, but her husband caught her hand.
"Take your top off first."
"Arnav.."
"Please." His hand stroked her thigh, quelling her every hesitation.
She savored that touch, desiring to be his all over again. Had it only been this morning that they'd made love? It felt much, much longer.
Her chest heaved as she drew her kurta over her head, tossing it to him. He caught it easily, his hand fisting. She started to take off what remained, but he stopped her.
"I'll take care of the rest, love. Just lie back."
Khushi swallowed, her hands flexing on the table. The glass felt ice cold beneath her back, but with that powerful heat shooting through her, the contrast felt sinfully delicious. She arched upwards, chest heaving.
"Arnav, please.."
His eyes took in everything: her ink black hair tumbling over her shoulders, her lips parted, eyes sealed tight, and that bit of red lace, making him throb with want.
His wife.. his Khushi.. laid before him and aching for his touch. His jaw tightened as he stood, staring down at her perfection.
"Arnav.." Her eyes blinked open, darker than normal and glazed with desire. "Love, come here."
Her outstretched hand was tempting, but he shook his head, adamant to tease her until she could take no more.
"Not so fast. We have an hour and I mean to make the most of every second.."
Her pulse hammered at his tone, that huskiness unraveling her. Did the stubborn man not see she already wanted him crazily? That all she desired was to touch him?
His footsteps circled around her and she found herself holding her breath. Where would he touch her first--and how?
She was startled when she felt his hands settle on her waistband, peeling off her clothes with an expertise that made her toes curl. Only her bra remained on.
Her head rolled sideways, seeking him out. Arnav was standing just out of hand's reach, his gaze sliding over her again and again. The fact that he was still dressed in his crisp business suit while she lay practically bare, made the desire brewing between them all the more intense. The air was ripe with tension as their gazes met and clashed.
"I want you," he confessed. "I don't think I can wait."
She wet her dry lips. "And I want you, love. Please stop teasing me."
He smirked handsomely, his hands going to his tie with marked impatience. Within seconds, his clothes were on the floor.
Khushi quivered, extended her hand to him. Her legs parted instinctively. He surged between them, flattening her on the table. Skin to skin it was a hot, heady sensation, and he groaned at the feel of her softness beneath him. Khushi pressed an open-mouthed kiss to his neck, her legs winding over his, her arms interlocking around his back.
"Enough with the games, Mr. Raizada."
His lips curved in a rakish smirk. "Not yet, Mrs. Raizada."
Before she could ask another question, his mouth swooped down, his tongue slipping between her lips.
She moaned, bucking beneath him restlessly. His kiss was not gentle or teasing. It was undeniably demanding and fierce, the kind that made both of them lose control.
Khushi was wild in his arms, her hands diving into his hair as she met him kiss for kiss. She moaned in protest as his lips slid away, trailing a moist path down the slope of her neck.
As one large palm covered a lace-encased breast, his mouth descended on the other with unchecked hunger. She arched right up to his caress, biting her lip to keep from crying out.
"Shout," he almost ordered. "This room is soundproof. No one will hear you except me, love." His teeth nipped, his tongue sliding over the satin.
"ARNAV!"
His free hand glided beneath her back, intent on finding the clasp. But it slipped in his grasp. Khushi could take no more. She pushed at his chest and as he lifted himself off, she leaned just slightly up, undoing the hooks herself. Tossing the red lace aside, she paused, drawn to his sharp intake of breath.
Their eyes met, desire pooling. Arnav was the first to look away, his gaze sliding lower. She burned under the intensity of that gaze, trembling beneath him.
When he made no move to touch her, she took matters into her hands--literally. Her hands plunged into his hair, drawing him to her chest.
The feel of his mouth this time with no hindrance between them made her cry out, her legs locking around his waist. He stroked her waist and hips with blatant possessive as his mouth feasted, ravenous as always.
She found herself losing all control and ached to make him feel the same way. "I want to touch you."
Arnav rolled her on top of him, lounging back on the conference table with the sleekness of a panther. Khushi straddled his hips, her mouth finding his before sliding lower. She pressed kisses down his torso, across his hips and thighs. But of course he was not satisfied.
"Not there, dammit," he ground out.
"How about here?" she asked teasingly, caressing his knee. At the shake of his head, she switched positions, smiling impishly. "Or maybe here.."
He shot off the table as her mouth closed around him, giving her but a few precious moments before pulling her back to his mouth-level.
Their kisses were red-hot and wild. His hand slid between her thighs, knowing just how to unravel her.
Khushi's eyes snapped open, her gaze clashing with his as Arnav rolled her beneath him. As his lips descended, replacing his hands, she could only buck and moan, lost in a passion so powerful, everything ceased to exist but the two of them.
When she was close to splintering apart, he surged within her, his mouth catching her cry. They kissed hungrily, their bodies moving in tandem. Khushi gripped his sleek muscles, arching off the table as he pressed deeper, relentless as always.
"I love you," she managed, out of breath. "Love you so much.."
"And I love you, Khushi."
Their gazes clung to one another through the firestorm, mouths fusing together as he caught her by the hips, moving zealously now. She could only hold on, screaming outright. Passion erupted in a blazing haze, their shouts merging.
They collapsed on the conference table, panting and almost dazed. He started to extract himself from her arms, but Khushi would not allow it, keeping him pressed to her.
"Not yet," she murmured, her fingers combing through his hair. It was in wild disarray.
Arnav kissed her reddened mouth and then pulled her closer still, his hold unyielding. Khushi wrapped her arms around him, feeling utterly loved.
Please, react well if it's true, baby, she thought. Please..
*****
Later, her husband ever so reluctantly helped her dress, his lips grazing her nape as he tied the dori in place. Khushi had to bite her bottom lip to keep from telling him about the pregnancy test.
"Dinner tonight. Don't forget."
"I won't." She turned around, smiling up at him.
Arnav's eyes seemed to see right through her. "Are you okay? You look a bit tense."
Khushi longed to tell him exactly what was on her mind. She hated to keep secrets from him, but this time she had no choice.
"Of course, love."
He made her sit down, leaning low so they were eye-level. "You're not lying to me, are you?"
Khushi swallowed, telling herself it wasn't exactly a lie since the pregnancy hadn't been confirmed yet. "No.."
Arnav's brow furrowed, his gaze tracing over her face. "Good. You know how I feel about that."
Khushi nodded, recalling the last time she'd lied to him only too well. Buaji had tried fixing her up with Karan and Khushi had kept that a secret, knowing ASR's infamous temper. But he'd caught her lie. Their confrontation had been volatile, the darkest of rage churning into white-hot passion and unbridled lust. She hoped this time would be different, not so angry.
"I should go," she said, standing up. "The lunch hour is almost over and people will start talking if our absence is noted."
He didn't reply, his arms crossing over his chest. Khushi grabbed her purse, rising up on her tiptoes to kiss him.
"See you soon, husband. I love you."
"Love you," he replied, watching her go with a brooding expression. The second the door clicked shut behind her, Arnav frowned, smacking his hand against the glass.
Dammit, she was keeping something from him! Did she really think he wouldn't notice? He knew her inside and out by now. The glancing away, the nervous fiddling with her dupatta, and the glint of uneasiness playing in her eyes had been hints enough.
But why? What the hell was she not telling him? He was her husband. He had every right to know. He swore under his breath, stomping out the door to his main cabin.
"ASR.." some of the employees called out to him as he stalked past.
Arnav nodded curtly, not pausing. He was in no mood for idle conversation.
"New message from London," informed Aman.
"Later." He strode through the glass doors of his office, his hands fisting at his sides. Sitting behind his desk, he turned on his laptop with a punch of a finger.
As an additional security measure, he'd installed a GPS tracking device on Khushi's phone. She may have forgotten about it, but he hadn't. He hated to spy on her, but she'd left him no choice. She'd lied to his face!
The program took awhile to load, each second biting into him. And then a map appeared, showing him exactly where his wife was.
His intuition had been correct: something was wrong. Khushi was surprisingly nearby, but in the opposite direction of their house. He waited till she was no longer moving and then grabbed his phone, dialing her number.
"Arnav?" Khushi sounded a bit breathless.
"Who else? Are you okay?"
"Of course, love."
"Where are you?"
Khushi hesitated. "Home.."
Arnav's jaw tightened, his gaze hardening. "What are you doing?"
"Not much, just eating lunch. You forgot to feed me yet again," she laughed, though it seemed a bit forced.
He was not amused, fighting back the urge to call out her lie. "Take care and call me if you need me."
"Sure, love."
He disconnected quickly, holding his temper at bay by a thin leash. "AMAN!"
His assistant looked confused as he entered. "Something wrong?"
"What do you think?" barked Arnav, grabbing his car keys. "I'm leaving for the day, you'll have to handle the rest of the meetings on your own."
"But, ASR--"
"You'll do just fine." Arnav brushed past him, taking the stairs in a great rush. His wife's lies played in his mind, taunting him:
"Where are you?"
"Home.."
His teeth gnashed together as he headed outside.
****
"Sir, for that new lead in the Raizada case," began the junior officer. "We just got another call."
The inspector was already out of his chair. "Where?"
"North side, some run-down hotel. The description fits the man the housekeeper gave: Caucasian, 6'2", burly build. He was overheard boasting about some work, and the name Raizada came up. The witness also says the man was quite drunk at the time."
"You better be right. Call backup."
Sirens sounded as the police team hurried out.
*****
Khushi couldn't stop smiling as she left the clinic, munching on the remainder of her chickpeas. When Arnav had called her, she hadn't lied about everything. At that moment, she had been eating--not lunch, but a small snack instead. And then the nurse had called out her name, and she'd forgotten all about the chickpeas.
She chewed as she walked through the narrow streets, heading toward the main road. The sky was darkening overhead and she hoped she'd find a taxi easily.
As she checked the streets, she suddenly froze, her eyes blinking with disbelief.
"Arnav?"
Her husband stood a short distance away, arms crossed, leaning against the white jeep. He looked downright furious, the muscle at his jaw leaping as their gazes met. In a heartbeat, he loomed before her, roughly grabbing her shoulders.
"At home, are you?" His eyes flashed at her.
"Arnav, I.."
"Why did you lie?" he cut in. "Dammit, why?"
She tried to touch him, but he shifted away, his lips twisting. "Get in the car, Khushi. Now." He stalked away before she could get another word in.
Khushi gingerly sat inside, her gaze settling on him with rising concern. He wasn't even looking at her, his hands gripping the steering wheel tightly as he shifted the gears.
The drive was tense, the silence between them biting into her with every passing second.
"Baby.. I can explain."
His mouth compressed into a thin, straight line. "Not now. I'd rather not get in a car accident."
They remained quiet the rest of the way, both lost in their thoughts. The moment they reached the house, he was out of the seat, pulling her out. His hand latched around her wrist as led her inside.
"I hate lies, Khushi," Arnav growled as the door slammed shut behind them.
She knew that better than anyone. "I'm sorry, but--"
He pulled her against him, the severity of his gaze startling her. "You promised me you wouldn't keep any secrets from me. I thought we shared everything with one another."
The hurt in his eyes was palpable. Khushi could not bear it, nodding fervently. "We do, love, but I had to be sure."
"Sure of what, dammit?" he bellowed. "What the hell couldn't you tell me? WHAT!"
"THAT I'M PREGNANT!" she screamed back.
Arnav didn't know what he'd been anticipating, but certainly not that. It was completely unexpected, shaking him to the core. "What?"
Khushi took a deep, calming breath, her voice lowering. "It's true. I'm pregnant. I went to a clinic after leaving the office. I wanted to confirm it before telling you."
He couldn't look away from her, his gaze falling to her waist before whipping back up to her face. His voice when he spoke was strained. "Pregnant? But how?"
"Well, what we've been doing for months now--and so frequently--has consequences."
"Dammit, I know that, but you're on those pills, aren't you?"
Khushi hesitated, holding her breath. This was the moment she'd been most dreading. "I missed some days. Not on purpose," she clarified. "But with everything going on, I just forgot. I thought it would be okay, but.."
"But obviously it's not."
The air crackled with tension. Khushi wrapped her arms around herself, trying not to feel disappointed. She'd known all along he wouldn't react like a typical husband: lifting her in his arms and twirling her around in irrepressible joy. His past made that too complicated.
She approached him slowly. "Baby, I know this is a shock, but I'm with you. It'll be okay."
He stiffened and her hand fell away. Khushi tried another approach, pointing to the portrait they'd recently taken.
"Just look at us, Arnav. Look at how happy we are. You didn't think marriage was for you, but now you're such a wonderful husband. Baby, you'll be a great dad--and I'll be with you each step. I love you."
He didn't reply, and Khushi whirled around, her heart sinking. The main door stood wide open.
Her husband was gone.
*****
The hired man was sweating profusely as he sprinted down the alleyway, glancing over his shoulder with panic. They were close.
Walls rose in front of him. He skidded to a stop, gazing around with mounting alarm. Unknowingly, he'd run directly into a dead end.
"Hands up!" shouted the inspector. "We have you surrounded!"
Flashlights zeroed in on him, bouncing off his contorted features. He looked at the group of ten and realized at once there was no escape. With a snarl, he lifted his hand in surrender.
"Hold fire!" said the main officer, advancing toward him in short, deliberate steps.
He was almost at his side when the roar of a gunshot exploded, shattering the quiet. The bullet struck the hired man directly in the chest. He toppled on the pavement, knocked to his knees.
"I said don't shoot!" the inspector shouted, casting an angry glance at the others. One look at the man on the ground and he knew he wouldn't make it.
"Who's after Khushi Raizada?" he asked urgently, kneeling down.
The hired man shook his head, his eyes closing.
"You won't be paid for your silence," said the inspector. "You're dying. Now tell me: who is it?"
The hired man's eyes glittered in the darkness. His words were gurgled as he whispered: "The.. the sister.."
"Her name?"
But it was too late, death was nearing--and fast. The hired man seized up for a brief moment and then went completely lax, his glittering eyes open still but unseeing.

Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 21: Confrontation
He didn't know what it was, but there was something for sure. Something he couldn't describe or justify. Truth was, he was envious of those, like his wife, who could forgive and move on with what appeared to be natural ease. It seemed far less difficult than carrying the wounds of the past with you at every step. But dammit, he simply couldn't. He'd tried and failed. Repeatedly.
What kind of a father would he possibly be? Arnav wondered for what felt like the thousandth time.
He'd spent the good part of his childhood terrorized by his sorry excuse of a dad and the remainder of his life hating that monster. What if he failed too? What if he let down not just his wife, but their innocent child as well? The whispered fears emerged from deep within him.
And once more, he couldn't help but feel that perhaps Khushi should have never fallen into his arms and life at that fashion show. Perhaps if their paths had never crossed, she would have had the type of husband today she more than deserved. Someone not so bloody damaged.
The news of the pregnancy hadn't completely sunk in, but some part of him had always known it would lead to this: his child growing within her. But that hadn't stopped him.
With utter selfishness, he'd snatched her from the world she'd known, using a damn contract and her sister's ruined wedding against her. He'd taken her from Lucknow and right into his bed.
It was a wonder she'd ever forgiven him, let alone loved him back. He'd asked her that question several times since their wedding and she'd shrugged it off each time. After several attempts and single-minded persistence from him, she'd finally tried to explain it to him late one night, their warm bodies nestled close under a thick layer of blankets.
"It was inevitable, baby. As I began to know and understand you, my heart was pulled towards you."
Arnav doubted it could have been that easy.  He could still recall the distress in her eyes the night he'd pushed her to strike a deal with him. She'd been so lost, so tense while he'd been nothing except cold-hearted and ruthless.
"But I took everything away from you," he managed, feeling a dull throbbing in his heart. "Your home, your family. Hell, I even took your virginity."
Khushi sighed, sliding her palm down his toned abdomen. "That's one way of looking at it, but what I see when I look back is that because of you, my sister didn't get married to a horrible, greedy man. Akash Jiju is perfect for her. In that way, you saved my family. And as for your last point, you never forced anything on me, baby. It was my choice all along. I decided my family's wellbeing trumped my own."
He clasped her to him. "Still.. That night we first made love, you were a complete innocent and despite knowing that, I seduced you."
She stiffened with surprise in his arms, growing quiet.
"Khushi?" he murmured, tilting her delicate face upwards.
Her gaze clashed with his--no dread or hatred discernable in those inky depths any longer. Only blazing love and affection shone there now.
"I never thought I'd ever be telling you this," Khushi admitted. "But truthfully: your eyes.. your aura.. your voice.. everything about you seduced me from the first moment we met. On the night we made love, I tried not to give in, but I was lost as soon as you touched me. I may have hated your methods back then, but I was attracted to you just the same."
His hand tightened on hers as he raised it to his month for a searing kiss. His lips pressed to each fingertip with pent-up longing. The fact that they'd made love just an hour ago was irrelevant. His need for her felt unquenchable. "I wanted you from the start too.. wildly, madly. You had this alluring, innocent air about you and combined with your fiery eyes and attitude, you threw me off completely. I'd come to Lucknow expecting another routine fashion show, but instead I found you."
Khushi smiled at that confession, grazing his mouth with hers. "The spark between us was always there. I tried so hard to stop myself from loving you, Arnav, but hearts don't follow logic. I love you so much.."
As always, those words had overwhelmed him. He may not have deserved her or her love, but he wasn't letting her go. Never. He'd crushed her mouth with his, rolling her beneath him. The feel of her soft, lithe body and breathless moans had snapped his control. Their passion had been swift and explosive.
As the wind grew more brisk, Arnav reflected that maybe Khushi had forgiven him because she'd realized that he'd never meant to hurt her. It was no excuse, but it was simply how he'd operated back then.
He snatched. Seized what he desired with never a backward glance or second thought. The bitter, bruised child had evolved into a cold, heartless businessman with no emotions to speak of. And then she'd come into his life, changing everything..
"You didn't think marriage was for you, but now you're such a wonderful husband. Baby, you'll be a great dad---and I'll be with you each step. I love you." Khushi's teary, pleading gaze haunted him.
Arnav shuddered, his eyes blinking open. Her love had left a lasting imprint on him. He was no longer that same callous man, he reminded himself. They'd fought through so much to be together: his self-doubt, her resentment, their families, and yet not once had their bond faltered.
Them versus the world. Wasn't that the basis for everything? Their wedding vows echoed in his ears, every promise ringing out. To love one another.. to support one another.. to never let go..
By the time the sun rose over the horizon, Arnav felt a great deal calmer, more at peace with himself. He knew what he had to do. And this time, it would not only be the right step for him, but also for Khushi and their unborn child.
His phone rang just then, shattering the quiet. The number was one he readily recognized.
"Yes, Inspector?" Arnav answered, his voice more hoarse than normal. He was startled to feel a cool moistness coating his cheeks. He hadn't even realized when the tears had fallen. Brushing them aside, he took a deep breath just as the inspector spoke, his tone distinctly urgent:
"Mr. Raizada, the man we've been searching for, the one we suspected to be after your wife has been found."
Shock hit Arnav hard. He clutched the phone closer. "When? Who was he?"
"Last night," the inspector explained, "He was killed in a police encounter. No official identification has been made, but since then we've made a positive match with your housekeeper. She says with good certainty that he was the one who attacked her. We've also searched his hotel room and found several pictures of you and your wife--all from the estate as well. It seems this man has been tracking you both for quite some time."
Arnav's hand tightened on the phone. He could still recall the bundle of photographs that had been mailed to Khushi's unsuspecting aunt.
"Was he working on his own or did someone hire him?" he asked in a clipped tone.
The inspector hesitated. "That we cannot say at this time, but we're working on the case."
Arnav inhaled, feeling some of the months-long tension leave him. "Thank you, Inspector. Thank you very much. You have no idea how much I've been waiting for this news."
"I can imagine. Take care, Mr. Raizada."
"You as well."
Arnav slipped the phone into his pocket and then stood up. He could delay it no longer. It was time to confront his wife.
*****
At the police station, the junior officer seemed at a loss for words. "You're not going to tell the Raizadas about the sister?"
The inspector gazed at him with a grim expression. "Not yet. We need more than a dying man's half-finished sentence to arrest someone. There's a chance that hired man was simply lying. And I've known Arnav Singh Raizada for several years now. He's not going to believe anything against his family without solid proof."
"The hired man must have been referring to Anjali Jha, Inspector. From the rumors I've heard, she has some serious issues."
"Gossip is not enough. 'The sister' may well be a codeword or it could refer to Payal Raizada."
The junior officer seemed surprised, but the inspector cut him off with a sharp glance. "Find out about these two women. I want to know everything about them: their pasts, their behavior, their darkest secrets.. Get to it."
"Yes, sir."
*****
Arnav frowned as he walked into the house. It was dark and quiet. Almost too quiet. Full-blown panic hit him at once. Had Khushi left? His eyes flew over the shadowy corners and pillars as he took the stairs two at a time.
Entering his bedroom, his breath suspended. There she was..
Khushi was curled up on his side of the bed, looking very young and pale against the dark contrast of the blankets. Her fingers were clenched on his pillow. Carefully, he slipped in beside her, his heart lurching as he noticed telltale, glistening streaks across her cheeks.
She'd cried herself to sleep. Because of him dammit. Using the pads of his fingers, Arnav brushed the wetness aside as gently as he could. His hand visibly shook.
"Khu--"
His phone buzzed just then and he hurried to answer, his gaze swiveling to his wife. She didn't stir, exhaustion weighing her down.
 "What?" he asked in a low voice.
"The London deal has just come through," Aman rushed to explain. "You're needed right away."
"Now?" His eyes traced over Khushi longingly.
"It's urgent, ASR. I wouldn't disturb you if it wasn't."
Arnav's mouth compressed. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
It took everything in him to leave Khushi's side. Scribbling a quick note, which read simply 'Gone to the office. Call me as soon as you wake up,' he placed it beside her, his hand smoothing back her silky tendrils. And then with one last glance back, he reluctantly left.
Minutes later, Arnav was striding through the gleaming glass doors of AR Designs, nodding at the bleary-eyed guard on duty.
Aman was waiting for him in his cabin. His head swerved up the second he noticed him. "You look.."
"Like hell," Arnav finished, taking his seat behind the mahogany desk. "I know. Where are the documents?"
Aman handed him several files, as well as a large, gold-colored envelope. "There's some good news too."
Arnav set the envelope aside, his eyes narrowing on the 'Congratulations' printed across it in a fine, cursive font.
"Aman, there's something else I need you to do."
"Of course."
Arnav passed him a slip with instructions. "My wife will be here later today. I want everything done accordingly."
His assistant didn't look too surprised. "I thought so. It is Valentine's Day."
"It is?" Arnav frowned at the date. He hadn't even realized. Taking the slip back, he jotted down a few more directions.
"There. And find me a suit too, would you?" His current clothes felt grimy from the night spent outdoors.
Aman added that to his list, standing at his side as he read the file. The contract did not take very long to review and sign. Arnav straightened, running a tired hand over his face. He needed a shave--not to mention a shower. And there was only one such place nearby.
"Send the suit to the old apartment."
"The one Mrs. Raizada used to stay in?"
Arnav nodded. "That one. I'll be back in awhile." He paused at the threshold. "And if my wife arrives early or calls, get a hold of me right away. Understood?"
"Yes, boss."
*****
Sunlight filtered through the curtains, sliding across Khushi's features in thin shafts. She turned away from it, last night's events flashing past her eyes. The same conversation that had plagued her all night long came to mind once more:
"What the hell couldn't you tell me? WHAT!" Arnav roared.
"THAT I'M PREGNANT!"
Her eyes blinked open. Most mornings, her husband was asleep beside her or getting dressed nearby. "Morning, baby," he'd say, smirking at her.
But today was different. The heavy silence bit into her, tormenting her.
Frowning, Khushi pushed aside the blanket, not noticing Arnav's hastily written note. She bit down on her bottom lip as she glanced around the empty bedroom.
So he hadn't returned after all. Why had her heart been so convinced he would? The news of the baby had shaken him no doubt, but running away was not the answer, thought Khushi. He had to face her.
Sliding out of the bed, she hurried to get dressed. If her husband wouldn't confront her, then she'd come to him. And at 10:00 AM this day of the week, there was only one place he could possibly be.
By the time Khushi reached AR Designs, it was almost noon. Aman stood near the entrance, almost as if he'd been expecting her.
"Mrs.. I mean Khushi, boss is waiting for you."
"He is?" she asked, an eyebrow lifting.
Aman nodded, steering her down the hall. "Of course."
Dark, hawk-like eyes watched their progress from the floor above, though neither noticed.
Khushi sighed. Of course Arnav had correctly guessed that she would come after him. He knew her only too well.
Aman knocked on the glass door, motioning her in. "Take care."
She watched him go, her eyes flickering to the cabin inside. She could see nothing but her husband's long legs stretched across the carpet from this angle. An Italian leather sole tapped impatiently.
"Come in," he called.
Steeling herself, Khushi pushed open the doors. Her lips parted with surprise.
*****
Arnav sat in his leather chair, looking every inch the polished, consummate businessman. Dressed in a plain green sari, her hair left undone and her face pale and scrubbed free of makeup, Khushi had no doubt she looked about as terrible as she felt. He, on the other hand, looked the exact opposite. Perfect. Sexy.
He'd shaved, Khushi noticed, and perhaps even trimmed his hair. The sleek, black suit he was wearing was one she didn't recognize but it clung to him like a second skin, emphasizing his toned, broad-shouldered build.
He took her breath away.
"Sit down, Khushi," he said, his penetrating, granite-like eyes difficult for her to read. He pressed two buttons on the desktop in quick succession and immediately, blinds slid into place, curtaining them in privacy. The lock on the door clicked, its faint sound one she recalled all too well.
Her lips remained compressed at his order. "I'd prefer to stand," she snapped.
"Khushi.. sit.."
Something about his tone sent a shiver through her. Tossing her hair back, she took a seat opposite him, but only because she was feeling a bit tired she told herself--not because he'd wanted it.
The silence was tense and heavy between them. Her hands twisted restlessly in her lap, her gaze pointed to anywhere besides him.
"Have you eaten something since last night?" Arnav asked abruptly.
Her hazel eyes swerved up with surprise. And then the same blinding pain and fury hit her. She fought to keep from crying before him like a child.
"If you'd been there, you wouldn't need to ask me that."
"Khushi, I--"
She stopped him with a piercing glance. "How could you just leave me? Was it that easy to walk away?"
The hurt in her quiet voice scalded Arnav's insides. He shook his head at once. "I didn't leave you."
Khushi frowned, taken aback. "Of course you did. You were gone."
"No, I was right outside the house all night long.. by the pool. I couldn't leave you, baby."
Tears swam in her eyes, her heart squeezing painfully as she read something in his gaze. Her breath caught. "You're not happy, are you?"
He didn't reply, the silence between them stinging like the sharpest of thorns. And then he crossed to her to side, catching her hand in his. He looked more lost than she'd ever seen him.
"It's not that simple. I vow to you that our child will never feel unloved, but.."
She had suspected as much. "What all did you think about?"
Arnav cupped her cheek in his palm, caressing with silent adoration. "Mostly about us, how we met.. all we went through. I thought about the baby for a long time and also about my dad, about what an abusive monster he was."
Her hand squeezed his. "And what did you decide?"
His eyes grew serious. "That while I'm not ready to forgive that man, he holds no sway in my life now. I won't let his memory spoil everything between us."
Her heart shook. "And the baby?"
Arnav met her gaze head-on. "Honestly, part of me is scared to death. I don't know anything about being a father, Khushi. I've never even held a baby. But I'm ready for it.. yearning for it honestly. Because it'll be our child, a part of you and me. And you'll be with me, right?"
Tears rolled down Khushi's cheeks as she kissed him. "Always."
They embraced one another tightly, neither wanting to let go. Khushi hadn't known it was possible to be this happy. She wished she could stay in his arms like this forever.
"I'm spoiling your expensive suit with my tears," she mumbled, brushing a damp patch on his shoulder.
He kissed the side of her face. "Doesn't matter. Now, come on, I want to show you something."
She shook her head, refusing to relinquish her grasp on him. "No. Just hold me for some time. Please."
He didn't reply, but she could tell from the glint in his eyes that he understood. His arms cradled her closer. They sat like that for a long time, and everything felt right--as it was supposed to be.
Eventually, Khushi managed to extract herself from his arms, smiling down at him. "What did you want to show me?"
Straightening up, he kissed her lightly, his lips just barely grazing hers. "You'll see.. but first.."
To her surprise, he kneeled before her on the carpet, drawing aside her emerald green sari. Stroking the bare skin, he smiled, a small grin that lit his eyes. He had to swallow several times before speaking.
"I love you, Baby Raizada. I'm going to try my hardest to give you everything I never got. The best father.. a safe, happy childhood.. all the love in the world.."
Khushi clutched his shoulders as he pressed a tender kiss to her abdomen, tears stinging her eyes.
Arnav was grinning as he glanced up, but one look at her crying face and he was bounding up, hauling her into his arms.
"No more tears. I can't stand it," he ground out.
Khushi clung to him. "I love you. So much."
"And I love you." He kissed away her tears. "Come with me.."
He guided her to his private conference room, locking the door behind them. Khushi's pulse leapt as she glimpsed the oblong table where they'd made love with such aching fierceness.
But what surprised her more was the opposite end of the table. Two elegant place settings were arranged there. Candles were lit and rose petals were scattered across the fancy tablecloth.
Her husband's arms snaked around her waist from behind. His warm breath nuzzled her neck. "Happy Valentine's Day, Khushi."
"Arnav.. you did this.."
"I arranged it," he said, pulling out her chair for her. "Aman did the rest."
Khushi smiled as he turned off the overhead, standard-issued office bulbs. With the candlelight casting shadows across them, it didn't feel like they were in AR Designs.
"It's all so beautiful, baby. I didn't think you were even into Valentine's Day."
Arnav grinned, feeding her a jalebi. "I'm not. It's overrated in my opinion. I don't need a damn holiday to pamper you. But, we're not celebrating just that."
Khushi raised a brimming spoon to his lips. "We're not?"
He shook his head, swallowing. "First and foremost, we're celebrating our first child. I don't know if you've fully realized it or not, but Khushi, we're going to be parents."
His excitement was infectious. "I can't believe it either. It's sooner than expected, but I'm so happy, Arnav. And did you just say first child?"
He pressed a kiss to her hand, winking. "There's going to be more. Don't you think?"
She fought not to blush, though his smoldering gaze picked up on every tiny detail. "The way we are.. most definitely."
He smiled, motioning to her plate. "Eat while you can."
"You have plans, Mr. Raizada?"
"Very important plans.."
Her pulse galloped. "Involving?"
"Involving you on my lap and that sari on the floor."
Khushi blinked at him. "Arnav.."
He smirked. "What? I'm serious."
"Exactly," Khushi pointed out. "I know just how serious you are. But baby, you have an office to run."
He bit into his pasta, shrugging. "Aman can handle it for a few hours. No one will even miss me."
"Poor Aman. Always having to do so much."
Arnav's gaze narrowed, though a smile played on his lips. "Enough about Aman. I don't want you to even be thinking about any other man except me right now."
"Possessive, aren't you?"
He didn't deny it. "Always where you're concerned. Now, open this." He slid a gold envelope to her, its seal broken.
Puzzled, Khushi picked it up. "What is this?"
"Our other reason to celebrate."
Her eyes grew wide as she read it. "The Entrepreneur of the Year Award? Baby, congratulations!"
He accepted her hug and kiss with a lazy smile. "The ceremony is in two weeks. I thought we could announce our marriage there."
"Perfect." Khushi couldn't help but giggle as she imagined Ms. Kashyap's stunned reaction. She was willing to bet Lavanya would be rendered speechless for once.
"There's another reason to celebrate.." her husband broke in.
"More?"
His gaze turned a tad more serious. "The inspector called me this morning.." He went on to explain the new developments.
Khushi was astounded. "So it's over? He's dead, whoever he was?"
"He's gone, but I have a feeling he was working for someone. Why else would he go after us only? We'll keep the security as it is, but at least it's some progress."
She nodded, lost in the web of confusion. Arnav reached for her hand, pulling her up. "Let's not ruin our romantic lunch with another thought about all that. Time for some music." He reached for a small remote, clicking once.
A low-pitched, jazz song sounded from the speakers overhead. Khushi started to remind him about the other employees and then she remembered that this conference room was soundproof. Arnav swept her into his arms, slow dancing with effortless style.
"This is very romantic," she reflected, laying her head against his chest. "Who would have guessed ASR--the ASR--would become so romantic?"
"Not me," he murmured against her temple, splaying his hands across her curves. "I always preferred passion over romance, but I'm liking this. It's nice."
"More than nice," she corrected.
 He spun her on the carpet, his gaze smoldering. Khushi was not the least bit surprised when she felt his hands on the back of her blouse, unfastening the hooks.
"Arnav.." Her grip tightened on his shoulders instinctively.
He stopped all protests with a heated kiss, unraveling her sari with a deftness that left her quaking. His mouth pressed firmly to the plump tops of her breasts even as he unsnapped the last remaining hook. Curling her arms around his neck, Khushi followed him down to the carpeted floor, her hands diving into his thick hair as he settled on top.
They came together like oil and water, the passion hot and almost volatile after the uncertainty of the night before. As he caught her hips in his large palms, his mouth fusing to her softness, Khushi felt all her control splinter apart.
There was gentleness too, particularly as he stroked her navel, dropping open-mouthed kisses. She bucked beneath him and his hand grasped hers, guiding it between them.
Arnav groaned as she caressed him, catching her mouth in a deep, demanding kiss. "Khushi.."
She brushed her lips over his roughened jaw line. "Yes.. Now. Please, baby."
His body tensed, his mouth hungry as he began drawing her last bit of lace down, shifting with urgency.
A knock sounded just then. "Boss.. you're needed."
"What the f--"
Khushi clamped her hand over his mouth. "Aman wouldn't be calling you if it wasn't important."
Arnav knew she was right, but he couldn't help but ponder why his assistant had such a knack of interrupting them at the most inopportune times? He dove his hand into his wife's hair, tilting her up for a swift, thorough kiss, his tongue probing deep.
"Forget it. I want you."
But she was already sliding out from under him. "Baby, you should go check."
He bit back a curse, his jaw clenched. "I'll be back in five minutes."
"No, you must have meetings scheduled the rest of the day. I'll see you tonight."
He pouted as she stood to dress, his lips thinning even more as he reached for his own clothes. For once, Khushi finished before him.
As he pulled on the designer blazer, she stepped before him, buttoning up his shirt. Arnav's teeth clenched as she pressed a scorching kiss to one flat, male nipple.
"Khushi.." he hissed, wanting nothing more than to draw her into his arms all over again.
She winked at him impishly. "Sorry. I couldn't resist."
At her smile, his bad mood seemed to lessen a few notches. His hands slid possessively down her arms to her tapered waist. With one pull, he dragged her flush to him.
"Don't go."
Khushi sighed, rising up on her toes so their mouths met. "You have work, Arnav Singh Raizada."
"I thought you were rejoining."
"Yes, but next week."
"Make it today," he insisted.
Shaking her head, Khushi tried not to laugh. He was acting like a stubborn child. "People will talk if I do. Besides, in a few days, I'll be with you and then it'll be like old times."
He gripped her hard. "I can't wait."
"Me either. Now let go, Raizada."
"Never, Mrs. Raizada."
"Baby.."
"Fine, but swear that tonight, you won't stop me from doing whatever I want."
Khushi rolled her eyes. "Do I ever stop you?"
His handsome smirk made her heart race. "No. I am quite persuasive, aren't I?" His arms wound around her waist, flattening her against the rigid planes of his chest.
Khushi allowed him to kiss her again and then took a giant step backwards. "Very persuasive. Now go. It'll be embarrassing if Aman has to come twice."
Arnav sighed as he turned to go. His hand paused on the doorknob. "Please tell me you brought a driver with you this time."
Khushi knew what he was hinting to: yesterday, when he'd found her outside of the clinic searching for a taxi. "I always do. I didn't yesterday because I didn't want anyone to tell you the news before me."
"Good. Don't forget what I told you about keeping up the security measures. See you tonight, love."
She blew him a kiss. "Love you. And baby.. don't ever joke like that with me again."
Arnav was grinning as he left. Aman met him in the corridor with an arched brow.
"What are you waiting for, Aman? We have work to do."
"Newlyweds," his assistant muttered under his breath, trying not to smile.
*****
Khushi stepped inside the house feeling happier than she could have ever imagined. The gloom and dread from just hours ago was gone, the silence no longer biting into her.
She smiled as she recalled her husband's words. His acceptance had startled her. And then on top of that, he'd given her a perfect Valentine's Day surprise, right down to roses and candlelight. She wanted nothing more than to surprise him too. But how?
The doorbell rang just then. Her eyes rounded as she checked to see who it was.
"Arnav! What are you doing here?"
He covered her mouth with his. "I forgot to give you this." Handing her two gift-wrapped boxes, he stepped back, seeming ever so reluctant. "I have a meeting starting in five minutes and Aman is probably having an epic meltdown right about now so I should go, but I'll see you tonight."
Khushi chased after him to the driveway. "Drive carefully, baby. Don't speed!"
He waved to her from the jeep, reversing.
Khushi ran back in, staring down at the boxes with puzzlement. She opened the larger one first, the necklace inside making her grasp. Her fingers trembled as they passed over the glittering emeralds and diamonds.
Only a short letter in a familiar, messy script accompanied it: Khushi, something for you. Not because it's Valentine's Day, but because I love you every day, every moment.. Arnav.
It was the most romantic gift he'd ever given her. She kissed the note, blinking back tears as she picked up the smaller box. This one though had her crying the moment she saw it--and it wasn't even for her.
It was a yellow-colored, fuzzy bib, embossed with the words: 'I'm adorable. Mommy's beautiful. Daddy's lucky.' There was a note too:Happy first Valentine's Day, Baby Raizada. From Dad and Mom.
Khushi hugged it to her heart, her hand pressing to her abdomen. How had Arnav arranged so much so quickly? She had to do something for him. Something that would surprise and shock him too.
And then, a plan came to her. Her eyes flashed to the necklace, twinkling impishly. All she needed were some heels, makeup, lingerie, and his coat.
*****
Arnav came home later than usual that night, rubbing the sore muscles of his neck as he shrugged off his coat. "Khushi," he called.
She didn't reply. Arnav frowned at the darkness surrounding him, his hands stilling on his tie. "Baby?"
The shimmering chandelier turned on overhead. Her sultry voice came from the shadows to his right.
"Take two steps forward."
"What?"
She laughed, the sound making his heart swell and his pulse leap. "You heard me, husband. Two steps forward and one to the right."
With a furrowed brow, he followed her instructions. "What are you planning, Khushi?"
"You'll see.. Now lean against the pillar behind you."
He did as she said, squinting to make out her slim shape.
And then her voice sounded right against his ear, her full lips grazing his skin. "Don't move."
"What are you--"
"Let me," she bid. He relaxed, observing with an amused look as she grabbed his hands.
To his surprise, she tied his wrists together behind the pillar using his tie. He hadn't even realized when she'd taken that. The knot was not too snug, but it held.
"Khushi, what the hell are you up to?"
Her lips curved against the side of his neck. "You are the most impatient man I've ever met."
"Only man," he ground out.
She kissed his nape again and then slipped back into the shadows, leaving him bound to the stone pillar.
"Baby.. untie me."
Khushi didn't reply but just then his favorite jazz song played from the speakers. And then a light snapped on directly across from him like a spotlight.
His wife walked on sexy high heels into the light, her back to him. Arnav couldn't breathe as he caught his first good look at her.
Her legs were encased in fishnet stockings and garter belts, endless appearing. Her top half was covered in a velvet tux jacket. His eyes widened as he recognized it. It was the same coat he'd worn to the party in New York.
"Khushi.." His voice was unquestionably husky. "Turn around."
She didn't argue this time, spinning on her heels to face him. Her hair was swept up in a tight bun, but she loosened it, throwing the hair tie aside. Long, dark curls fell to her waist.
"Now the coat.." Arnav instructed.
Smokey-rimmed eyes twinkled at him, her ruby red lips curling. But she didn't refuse, drawing the sides of the coat wide and revealing creamy, smooth skin.
The only noise was that of the coat striking the vein-cut marble tiles. Arnav swallowed as he glimpsed what she was wearing underneath.
It wasn't much. Just the diamond and emerald necklace and--. His breath hitched. His eyes flashed with desire as he stared at the tiny, heart-shaped pasties barely covering her peaks.
Khushi grinned, walking toward him with all the seduction she could muster. Not that it was really necessary. From just a glance, she could tell Arnav was well on his way to losing full control. She came to a stop just out of reach.
Arnav swore as he yanked on his wrists. The knot wouldn't loosen dammit. "Khushi, untie me. Now."
She shook her head teasingly, looking so beautiful his body reacted instantly. "Not yet.. Happy Valentine's Day, Arnav."
His mouth went dry as she leaned forward, so close her softness brushed over him and her flowery perfume engulfed his senses.
"They're edible by the way."
"What?" His mind felt a bit hazy.
She laughed, drawing her nails down his chest and unbuttoning his shirt. "The hearts," she whispered.
His blood roared. "Now. Untie me now."
Khushi shook her head, stepping back. "Let's see how long you last, husband.." The look in her eyes promised no mercy.
"Khushi.."
But she was dancing now, swaying before him with innate grace. Arnav froze, utterly stunned. Where the hell had she learned to dance cabaret style? he wondered, not realizing he'd spoken out loud.
"I saw a movie once," she purred, stalking closer.
With ill-concealed frenzy, he pulled on the tie as she kneeled before him, unbuckling his belt. His jaw tightened as he observed her unzip him. And then he was lost, lost in her touch. She knew just how to tease him.
He groaned, his hips arching right up to her. But she was apparently out to kill him tonight. With no more than a flirty caress and a rather branding kiss, she slid away as suddenly as she'd come, her hips swaying tantalizingly to the music.
His gaze darkened to midnight black. "Baby. Enough. Untie me now."
She grinned, tossing her silky hair over one bare shoulder. "I don't think so."
His smirk surprised her. "Then I'll come to you." He raised the tie up to her astonished gaze.
Yelping, Khushi raced up the stairs, a giggle escaping her as she heard him chase after her. He was so close.
Arnav caught her in the doorway of their darkened bedroom, pinning her against the wall.
"Enough teasing."
And then his mouth was on hers, extinguishing all thought. Khushi moaned, throwing her arms against him as he palmed her softness, yanking her harder to him.
Gripping her hips, he descended down on his knees, his lips and tongue scoring her skin with flames of heat.
"So it is edible after all," he murmured, licking away the chocolate.
Her hands clenched in his hair. "You shouldn't be eating chocolate," she managed.
He tugged harder. "It's not much.."
Khushi giggled, but that gave away to a loud shout as he threw her right leg over his shoulder, placing a scorching, intensely carnal kiss against her most sensitive spot.
"ARNAV!"
He was relentless and only once she was pleading outright did he straighten, lifting her up in his arms. Her legs locked around his waist as his mouth sought hers, keeping her pressed to the wall.
As he plunged deep and mind-numbing passion assailed them, his lips shifted slightly off. Holding her captive with his dark, penetrating gaze, he whispered: "Khushi, you are my greatest strength.. My greatest pleasure.."
And then she was lost, only able to clutch her husband closer as the world shattered around them. 

Secret Passion by TINA! & Satina
Episode 22: Aftershocks
She didn't know how or why, but her temperature shot up more than a few notches. Perhaps it was the way he was grinning at her, looking much too sexy this early in the morning. Or perhaps something to do with how his black sweats clung to his hips, riding tantalizingly low. Or perhaps it was just her hormonal state.
Whatever it was, she couldn't help it. The desire in the room felt potent and overpowering. She ached to touch and be touched by him. Everywhere.
Without so much as replying, she abruptly drew the shirt she was wearing over her head, tossing it aside and striding bare to the yoga mat.
"Morning, husband."
As Arnav's thunderstruck gaze locked with hers in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, Khushi smirked. This would be fun--in more ways than one.
Doing her best to ignore him, she sat cross-legged on the mat, stretching out her arms and necks as she routinely did. It felt wonderful, the stiffness in her muscles easing up. The exercises may have been simple and quite basic, but her reflection confirmed that it was far from innocent. It looked downright scandalous. And it was only the start.
Keeping her gaze fixed on her besotted looking husband, Khushi placed her palms flat on her lower back and stretched outwards. The new position had the desired effect. Arnav had already set the dumbbells aside, coming to a stand behind her.
"What are you doing?" His voice was distinctly strained as his eyes traced over her with blatant heat. She felt the weight of his each glance as if it were his hands stroking her, his mouth claiming her skin.
"Exercising, baby," she murmured lightly, bending her torso side to side. Her body was tingling in a most pleasurable way and as his gaze darkened, that ache only intensified.
Arnav stood silent for a moment, his mouth compressed and his thoughts consumed with the powerful need to touch her. But he kept his desire under control, crossing his arms over his chest. "Exercising without your clothes?"
Khushi shrugged. "I'm hot."
"That you most definitely are. Very hot and sexy."
Their eyes clashed in the mirror again. Khushi was the first to look away, moistening her dry lips. That slight movement made Arnav groan, his muscles stiffening. He couldn't help but wonder when their roles had reversed. Usually, he was the dominant one when it came to their love life--not that he was complaining.
He was about to ask her about it when Khushi suddenly repositioned herself, sliding her arms across the mat and arching up on all fours.
His blood roared at the sight, his mask of indifference falling away. There was no question that Khushi was no longer a novice when it came to seduction. She could easily master him now. And he relished it.
"What are you doing?" he asked again.
She pouted, knowing exactly how much she was affecting him. It was hard not to giggle. "Downward dog pose. You taught me it, remember?"
His eyes flashed and the next moment, he grasped her by the hips, hauling her against him.
A moan escaped her and he tugged her further still, keeping her pressed flush to him. Khushi had to close her eyes and count to ten. Glancing up, she stared at him with unhidden longing. "What are you doing, Arnav?"
"Correcting your posture," he lied. As his pelvis shifted, his hands curved over her, massaging and stroking with an expertise that left her quaking. "There, that's better. Hold that for a minute."
He stepped away then and Khushi almost protested, biting her tongue just in time. But as she watched him, her mouth went dry all over again. She felt her heartbeat quicken.
"Why are you undressing?" she whispered, gripping the mat hard.
Arnav paused briefly before taking off his sweat-stained shirt. "I'm hot too," he said with a wink. "Now, time for a new position." His black track pants fell on the floor with a soft thud that echoed in her ears.
As her husband stalked towards her, Khushi wondered how much longer this teasing would last. She wanted him. Now.
But as usual, he meant to take his time. In a gruff tone, he instructed her to sit back down. "Keep your back straight. Perfect, love."
Khushi gasped as he sat right behind her, pulling her backward onto his lap. "Arnav!"
"What?" he asked, nuzzling the side of her neck. "Only you get to have fun with this? Now, hands up. Join them together. Yeah, just like that..."
His palms smoothed up her arms, their fingers entwining. "Perfect."
She shot him a fiery look, using his strength for leverage as she deliberately pushed her chest forward. Because of their close proximity, she could feel exactly what she was doing to him. She arched more, her chin lifting with challenge.
Arnav's breath suspended and he lowered his head, kissing the creamy slope of her shoulder and then her cheek. "Are you really my Khushi?"
"Why do you ask, baby?"
He grinned at her in the mirror at the same time as his hands rose to cup her fullness. At her moan, his grip hardened, his palms moving in slow, firm circles.
"Because the Khushi Kumari Gupta I once knew would have never exercised with her clothes off. Remember how much you used to hesitate when I would just kiss you?"
A blush threatened to overwhelm her. Swerving around, she shoved him backward and catching him by surprise, pinned him on the yoga mat, her hips straddling his waist.
"This was new to me back then, but not anymore. And correction, it's Khushi Raizada--not Gupta."
He grinned up at her. Her hold on his wrists tightened as she bent forward and kissed that handsome smile, using everything he'd taught her.
Arnav growled, his hands clamping on her hips as he guided her in a frenzied rhythm. Khushi allowed that for sometime and then slid downwards, licking a path down his chest and further still.
"Khushi! Khushi, dammit now."
But she was the aggressor now, using her mouth, tongue and teeth to unravel him.
"Khushi!" He could take no more of the sweet torment. His left hand dove into her hair, drawing her back up so they were eye-level. As she smirked at him, her eyes sparkling, Arnav growled, pulling her in for a deep, thorough kiss.
"My turn," he ground out. "Kneel on the mat, baby."
Pouting, Khushi ran her hands down his chest, flattening her palms on the toned muscles. "I don't want to do anymore yoga."
His smirk was rakish. "I'm not in the mood for exercise either. Not anymore. Just do it, Khushi. Kneel for me."
Even to her own ears, her breathing sounded uneven, but she couldn't help it. Following his directions, she looked at him with an expression that plainly read: What now?
Sliding his arms around waist, Arnav kneeled down behind her, his gaze sweeping over her. "Watch."
Khushi began to ask him what he meant by that, but her words were cut off abruptly. She cried out as he suddenly caught her softness in one hand, the other slipping down to where she most ached. Her eyelids scrunched tight.
"No. I said watch. Don't look away, love."
Panting, she glanced at the mirror and felt her body throb anew. Her husband's hands were stroking her, possessing her, playing her like an instrument.
"Keep watching," he instructed as he dipped his head, catching a stiff peak in his mouth.
She shivered in his arms, but she didn't look away from their entwined reflection. She couldn't.
"Touch me," she gasped as his tongue swept over her, back and forth. "Touch me and don't stop."
Khushi could tell how much her words affected him. His mouth tightened and then he was at to her neck, sucking so hotly it was sure to leave a mark. She savored it, needing him so much she couldn't bear another second away from him. Passion unfurled like an unquenchable fire, engulfing them both.
"Arnav! Please!"
His eyes glinted. She knew him well enough to recognize that he too longed to give in. His voice was so husky she could barely make out the words: "Bend forward. On your hands and knees."
Her eyes widened but he was already guiding her into yet another position. And then the next second, he was within her, his mouth and hands everywhere.
"ARNAV!"
"Watch," he commanded again. "Don't look away."
Khushi held his gaze in the mirror as passion burst forth in crashing waves and the air seemed to vibrate and explode around them.
*****
"More tea?"
Karan's mother politely nodded. "But only half a cup. I just had breakfast."
As Garima poured the steaming hot tea, Khushi's Buaji reclined back on the sofa. There was a faint tenseness in her eyes, but she managed a smile for her old friend, dim though it was.
"How is Karan, Sarita?" she asked. "It's been so long since we've seen him."
Sarita raised the cup to her lips, taking a leisurely sip, and using the time to very carefully choose her exact words. "He's doing well, just very busy these days with his business."
Garima set the teapot down, sitting beside her. She appeared worried too, unable to hide her unease as well as her sister-in-law, though she tried. "How is his new business? You haven't told us much about it."
The glow in Karan's mother's eyes lessened, but she lowered her gaze, concealing it quickly. "Well, these things take time, but he's very successful already."
What she did not mention was that Karan's new business had floundered almost from the start. He was in fact very close to bankruptcy. And every time she attempted to reason with him or give him advice, he'd become furious, going on and on about "cursed money."
"We all pray for his success everyday," Garima said. Buaji nodded in agreement.
Sarita smiled at the pair, but she was desperate for the topic to shift from her son. And she knew just how to do it. "And how is Khushi bitiya? Has she come back home yet?"
The change in the two women was swift and drastic. Garima glanced down at the brown swirls of her tea, a tremor racking her hands. Shadows darkened Buaji's face, and she had to take a deep breath before speaking. "No, not yet. But we expect her to show up on the doorstep anytime."
Sarita hoped the glee she was feeling wasn't too evident on her face. Patting Garima's hand, she said in a hushed tone, "It's terrible what she's done to you all, the family who raised her. I still can't believe she walked out of here without even a backward glance. But you're right, she will return. She has to, being married to that beast of a man."
Garima's face drained of all color. Tears rolled from her eyes, slipping off her chin. "I thought she'd agree with us. But she chose that man. Someone known to be a... a..."
She couldn't continue and Sarita jumped to intervene. "A womanizer. An animal. My Karan has told me everything about that ASR--not that he has to. It's been in the magazines and newspapers for years now. How can Khushi possible think a man like that can stay happily married? He must be a beast to her."
A loud sniffle broke out and Buaji hastily passed a box of tissues to Garima. "That's what we most fear. Who knows what state our Sanka Devi must be in? Karan is right, a man like ASR can never keep her happy--not for long anyway. But Khushi is resigned to this doomed marriage. She won't listen and we have no way of learning anything about her."
"But surely the Raizadas must know something? Hasn't Payal told you anything?"
Buaji's mouth bent. "She's told us whatever she knows, but there's not much for the poor girl to say. After that ASR left his home, he only returns to visit his sister. Spends a few hours and leaves, with not so much as a word to anyone else--not even his grandmothers."
Clucking with disapproval, Sarita shook her head. "If only Khushi bitiya had married my son. Everything would have been wonderful then."
"If only," Garima agreed. "I would not have been worried at all. Karan bitwa was ideal for Khushi. But that girl--love has blinded her to that man's countless flaws. I doubt she realizes she's married someone so... so..."
"Horrible," Sarita added. "He's nothing like our Khushi. She's so warm and friendly and gentle, while he hardly smiles, always so stiff and arrogant. His temper is infamous. Compared to the angel she is, he's a monster."
Garima cried out, the teacup falling from her hands and smashing on the floor. "An angel kept by a monster! How are we supposed to accept that?"
"There, there," said Karan's mother. "She will return to you. It's only a matter of time before she sees the real side of ASR. Love is nothing but a silly, childish infatuation. Once it's gone, Khushi will be forced to accept reality. She does not belong with ASR. They are complete opposites and he does not deserve her."
Buaji remained quiet, gazing out the window. "I just hope she's happy and that she never regrets her choice. We'll welcome her again, but I fear if that ASR does betray her, her heart will be completely broken."
"It's only a matter of time," Saritha said grimly, sipping the last of her tea. "Best to prepare yourself for the worst."
*****
In the opposite corner of Delhi, the inspector ground out his cigarette, his eyes narrowing on the junior officer and the thick stack of files in his hands. "All done with your assignment? What did you find out?"
The files made a clanging noise as they fell on the scratched and battered desk. "This is Anjali Jha's information."
"And the other sister?"
"Nothing on Payal Raizada, inspector. She has a clean record. Graduated with honors from a university in Lucknow and after a broken engagement, she married Akash Raizada last year and by all accounts, leads a happy, quiet life. It's Mr. Raizada's sister that is far more interesting."
The inspector was already skimming through the topmost file. "Go on."
"Well, to begin with, Anjali Jha's childhood years were quite confusing. Some years she's an above average student and the teachers report how sweet and helpful she is and the next year, she's failing, becoming quiet and withdrawn. See here?" He pointed to the top of the page. "I believe this is all linked to the turmoil within the family around that time."
"Turmoil? From this, it looks like she was the much-pampered daughter of a millionaire. She's had a better life than most."
"True, but I dug deeper, and found the number of their family friend. He was Mr. Raizada's deceased father's best friend, and considered an uncle to the kids."
The inspector glanced up, the paper in his hands forgotten. "You told him about this investigation? Even after I strictly forbid it?"
"No, of course not sir. I told him I was writing a biography on the Raizada family and had heard about the scandal from servants. He'd been quite reserved till that point, but then he really opened up. Said he didn't want the wrong story to get out and urged me to drop the idea. Even offered to pay me."
Relaxing in his seat, the inspector rifled through more papers, frowning at a colorful picture Anjali had drawn at a therapy session at age twelve. It showed a family of four at a picnic, a lake and vast estate in the background. But on the back was sketched something far different: a black noose around a stick figure.
The therapist had made a quick note on the following page: "Anjali does not state who or what the second drawing represents, but she draws this at every visit. Denies any abuse or--" The remainder of the note was unreadable, a large coffee stain obscuring the neat, pointy handwriting.
"What did the uncle tell you?" the inspector asked, setting the drawings aside.
"That Mr. Raizada's father was a known alcoholic and secretly, quite abusive. It seems the mother and son got the worst of it. Anjali would isolate herself those days and pretend later that everything was perfect. That they were a perfect family. She's suffered from delusions for years from what I can tell, inspector. If you see the reports in the third file--"
"This is all in the past," the inspector cut in. "Why would she go after Khushi Raizada now? What would be her motive?"
"You need to search carefully. Time is running out and I think there's a good chance whoever is after Mrs. Raizada will strike soon. Get back to me when you have a warrant for the arrest."
Mouth grim, the junior office stood. He had to find more proof. But problem was, he was quite sure there was none. The dying man's last words offered the only direction:
"The... the sister..."
*****
The weekend passed all too quickly for Arnav and Khushi. Unaware of the danger surrounding them, they spent the time together, enjoying the late mornings and quiet afternoons. Their nights were passion-filled, their lovemaking shifting regularly from a wild ferocity to a slow and languid pace and back again.
When Monday morning finally arrived, Khushi found herself nestled against her husband's side, the quiet, even sound of his breathing the only noise in the bedroom. He was sleeping on his stomach, one arm flung over the curve of her waist and the other folded beneath his head.
Smiling, Khushi smoothed one hand down his bare back. "Arnav.. Wake up, baby."
He hardly moved, his grip on her tightening just slightly. With a sigh, Khushi used an old trick: tickling his side. She'd discovered early into their marriage that he was very sensitive there.
"Khushi," he groaned, twisting away. "Stop it."
"Wake up then. It's already quarter to eight." The tickling grew more persistent.
Arnav grabbed her hands, turning to frown at the alarm clock. It was almost 8, but he didn't let that stop him. Embracing his wife tightly, he promptly closed his eyes again. "It's okay. Aman will handle everything."
Khushi swatted his shoulder. "That excuse won't work today. Maybe you don't mind being late, but I do. It's my first day, remember?"
Tickling him again, she slipped out of his arms, donning a silk robe before spreading the curtains wide. Bright morning light streamed in.
"Five more minutes?" Arnav suggested, holding his hand out to her. "Come back to bed, Khushi." The glint in his eyes promised much more than five minutes.
As tempting as his offer was, Khushi had to turn it down. "Not today. I want to be on time." As her husband swore under his breath, something her ears easily picked up on, she told him she'd go shower while he slept "five more minutes."
That suggestion erased all his thoughts of sleeping in. Kicking the bedsheet aside, Arnav hurried after his laughing wife, catching her near the bathroom door.
"What are you doing?" Khushi squealed as he lifted her up, cradling her against his chest.
"Saving time," he explained with a smirk. "And water."
Pressing her lips to his unshaved cheek, Khushi relaxed in his arms. "Have I told you lately how much I love you?"
"Not since last night. You screamed it when I had my face buried between your--"
Khushi clamped her hand over his mouth, feeling her skin warm. "Hush, I remember."
Arnav kissed her palm. "Me too. Every detail. Now, stop delaying our bath, we'll be late."
Khushi whacked his chest. "Perhaps you've forgotten, husband, but you would have slept in till noon if not for me."
He shrugged lazily, turning the shower dials this way and that and testing the temperature. "Only because you kept me up last night."
This time Khushi yanked on his hair. Arnav frowned and then realized what had her fuming so. She'd gotten up a few hours earlier and he'd found her in the bathroom, looking sick and wobbly on her feet. He'd stayed with her, massaging her back till her stomach had calmed. He chuckled, peeling off her robe.
"Dammit, I'm not talking about the morning sickness but before that. When you were so caught up in passion."
"You weren't complaining then," said Khushi as he tugged her under the hot spray of the shower.
His soap-laden hands swept over her, a handsome smirk on his lips. "I'm not complaining now either, Khushi. I love what we share."
She kissed him hard, pressing herself to him. "Me too."
"Are you feeling better now?" asked Arnav, caressing her abdomen with extra care.
She could discern a flicker of unease in his eyes. "I'm fine," she reassured him. "Don't worry."
"It's hard not to," he said, reaching for the shampoo. "It's our first child. We're new to this and we're alone too. Our families--" His voice broke off as he realized what he'd said.
Khushi bit her bottom lip, tears pooling in her eyes. Arnav wordlessly opened his arms and she rushed into his embrace, holding him tight. He rocked her back and forth.
"I'm sorry. Dammit, I shouldn't have said that." At least he was still in touch with his sister, but Khushi's family had not spoken to her even once.
"No, you're right. We are alone. Completely cut off. I miss my parents. I miss Buaji and Jiji."
His heart twisted at the pain in her soft voice. "I know, love. I know."
Brushing a kiss to her temple, he wished he could fix things between the Guptas and Khushi. He hadn't told her, but he had called her family three or four times and each time, they'd hung up on him, telling him not to bother them again. They'd never approve of him.
"It's all my fault," he ground out. "Because of my past girlfriends and those tabloids--"
Khushi stopped him with a furious glare. He'd told her everything long back. She knew that there had been a string of high-profile girlfriends before her, but she also knew that he hadn't loved any of them. That had been his past and she would not let it mar their present and future.
"Don't you ever blame yourself. The magazines and gossip columns can twist anything and make it a thousand times worse than reality. I don't care about the past. What matters is the man standing before me now. Someone who's battled countless demons and came out strong." She rose on her tiptoes, flattening her hands on his bristly cheekbones and forcing him to meet her earnest gaze. "I love you, Arnav."
He observed her for a long moment, feeling unbelievably blessed. "And I love you. More than I can ever say. It's only because of you I was able to leave the darkness of my childhood and move on. But I'd be lying if I didn't say how much it hurts that I'm the reason you're away from your family. I'm never going to be the son-in-law they desire. They're always going to see me as the wrong choice."
Khushi looped her arms around his neck, smiling as his arms wound around her waist so they stood chest to chest. They barely felt the water pouring from overhead, lost in one another.
"If my family sees you as the wrong choice, then it is their loss. You are the most wonderful and selfless man I know. You, your love and now our baby mean everything to me. If anyone, including my family, gave me that same ultimatum again, to choose you or them, I'd always choose you. Every time."
Arnav stilled and seeing the seriousness in her eyes, lowered his head, his throat constricting. He could only get out a few words, his voice husky. "I love you."
And then his mouth was on hers, hungry and urgent, and all thoughts of their families and the past seemed to fade away. Their fingers weaved together as he backed her against the marble tiles, lifting her into his arms. Khushi moaned as his tongue entwined with hers, locking her legs around his waist.
"Arnav...I need you... with me, inside me..."
"And I need you," he ground out before fulfilling her every desire. Steam rose in the air as their intensity reached fever pitch.
By the time they got out of the shower, their faces flushed and smiling, it was almost nine. Khushi panicked as she saw the time, slipping into silky lingerie and a bright magenta outfit.
"Take your time," Arnav said as she frantically blow-dried her hair. He was already dressed and ready, looking impeccable in his favorite blazer, white shirt and dark trousers.
"You don't know my boss," Khushi commented, grinning at him. "He'll never understand."
He grinned back, circling her waist from behind and placing an open mouthed kiss on the side of her neck. "Trust me, he'll let you off--this time. No rush. I'll be downstairs."
Khushi stared after his tall, lean form with a shiny gleam in her eyes. She'd never known it was possible to love someone this much and with such passion. Who would have guessed that her once ever punctual, insufferable, and brooding boss would become the man she couldn't live without? Things really did change with time, she mused.
Applying a light coral lipstick, she hurried downstairs, her makeup kept minimal and her hair still slightly damp. Mouth-watering aromas were wafting from the kitchen.
Khushi followed it, freezing at the doorway and blinking several times. But it was no fantasy. Arnav was actually standing behind the stove, a spatula in one hand.
"Hungry?" he asked as he spotted her. "I made you pancakes and working on an omelet for me."
Her mouth fell open. "You've never cooked before."
"Because I love you. My cooking skills are pretty much nonexistent. But breakfast I can handle. Here, try some." He raised a fork to her lips.
Khushi took a cautious bite, chewing slowly. Arnav was waiting for her response not so patiently.
"Well?"
"It's good," she finally told him. "Really good, in fact." She dipped another forkful into the maple syrup, making a moan-like sound. It was delicious. "I think you should make breakfast more often."
"Only if you exercise with me more."
"Exercise?"
Arnav nodded, the corner of his mouth tipping up. "On the mat... Remember?"
Khushi could feel the blush heating her skin. How could she forget? She could recall that morning incredibly well: their entwined reflection, their gazes locked, and the passion that had taken over them like a firestorm before they'd collapsed on the yoga mat in a sweaty tangle of limbs.
"Deal, husband."
He kissed her, cracking another egg. "Feed me a bite. I'm starving."
She started to tell him that he knew perfectly well he couldn't eat syrup-drenched pancakes with his diabetes. She's already made a small exception for the chocolate hearts the other day. But something changed then.
The smell of the frying eggs hit her hard, making her feel queasy all of the sudden. She barely made it to the bathroom in time.
"Khushi!" Arnav chased after her as she darted out. He drew her hair back, wiping beads of sweat from her forehead as she emptied her stomach, shaking terribly. He helped her rinse her mouth, and then picked her up, taking her to the sofa.
His eyes were worry-filled. "This is the second time it's happened in less than 24 hours. And it seems much more severe than morning sickness. I think you should see your doctor."
Khushi nodded, reclining back comfortably. "I have an appointment coming up at the end of this week."
"Are you sure you want to wait that long?"
"I'm fine now." Her eyes shifted to the clock and she started to get up. "Arnav, it's really late now. We need to leave."
But he caught her by the shoulders, keeping her pressed to the cushions. "Where do you think you're going?"
Her brow furrowed. "The office, of course."
He shook his head. "I don't think so. You look really pale and weak. Actually, I think I'll take the day off too. Someone should be here with you."
"No, you have the London deal to finalize. And I'm seriously fine."
Arnav though had clearly made up his mind. "Khushi, no. I know you've been looking forward to returning to your old job, but you can come tomorrow. Just rest today. You're eight weeks pregnant and that comes first."
She didn't argue with him. Truth was, she did feel exhausted. "Fine, baby. I'll wait a day. Will you come by during lunchtime?"
He nodded, but didn't get up to leave, looking torn. "Are you sure you'll be okay by yourself? I don't like leaving you here alone. I might be late tonight."
"I'll call some of my friends for company. It'll be nice to see them again."
Arnav stared at her hard. "Are you sure? I can stay."
She pulled on his lapels, drawing him down to her. As their mouths touched, she said again, "Very sure, Mr. ASR. Now go, you're really late now and Aman will call any minute wondering where you are." As if on cue, his phone buzzed. Khushi laughed as they saw who it was.
"Yeah, Aman, I'm on way."
She started to get up to follow him out to the driveway as was her usual habit, but Arnav stopped her, handing her a tall glass of her favorite juice before grabbing his briefcase. "Just relax. I'll lock up behind me. I'll see you in a few hours for lunch. And don't make anything either, I'll arrange it."
"Love you," Khushi murmured against his mouth as he kissed her goodbye. "Come early if you can."
"Deal, baby." With one last, lingering kiss, he was gone.
Khushi spent the morning being lazy, surfing channels before giving up and finding a romantic novel instead. She was just at the good part when the doorbell sounded.
Her eyes widened as she saw the time. It was almost lunchtime. The bell rang again. "Coming, Arnav!"
She was smiling as she opened the door, but that smile quickly vanished as she saw who it was. It was not her husband, but his grandmother.
Khushi straightened herself, smiling at the grim-looking woman. "Dadiji, it's so good to see you. Please, come in."
But his grandmother did not move, frowning at the empty interior of the house. "Where is my grandson?"
Khushi knew that she was not this woman's favorite person by any means but that brusque, snappy tone caught her by surprise. She'd been hoping for a far different reaction. But the iciness between them showed no signs of thawing.
Arnav's dadi was scowling at her, her nose raised in the air as if she smelled something foul. "I asked you something, girl."
Khushi frowned, biting her tongue. "He's at work. He should be here soon for lunch. You're welcome to come inside and wait for him. I can make you some tea and--"
His grandmother raised her hand in dismissal. "Enough. I came here for Arnav, not to chat with you. Just tell him that his sister and I miss him terribly and he should forget this silly marriage and come back home. Raizada Mansion is where he belongs--not here with you."
"A husband and wife belong together," replied Khushi. "If you'd try to understand your grandson and--" Her voice trailed off as the woman turned on her heel, striding toward the waiting car.
Khushi could not keep silent. "Why do you hate me so much?" she cried. "What have I done? You've accepted my sister then why not me?"
Dadi paused and then turned toward her, her lips bent in a snarl. "Your sister is not my concern. She's married to Akash, who is from my daughter-in-law's side of the family. I share no tie with him. But Arnav is my blood. I have to be concerned if he ties himself to middle-class dirt like you."
"DADI!"
Arnav bounded toward them, looking furious as he slammed the SUV's door. He caught Khushi's hand in his, facing his grandmother head-on. "You cannot speak to my wife that way, Dadi. I will not allow it."
She frowned at him. "Everyone is right, this girl has brainwashed you! You were never like this before, Arnav."
"I've changed for the better now," he ground out. "And I've told you already, unless you respect my wife, you should not come near me or my home. I'm only talking to Di, no one else."
"I'm glad to hear you still care about your sister at least." Her beady eyes narrowed on Khushi before whipping to her grandson. "Arnav, you must come home. Anjali needs you."
He was remarkably calm. "I cannot live in a place where my wife is not welcome nor respected. I love Khushi, Dadi. When will you accept that? And as for Di, she's perfectly fine. I see her every couple of days."
"THIS GIRL IS WRONG FOR YOU! Everyone can see that! Even her own family agrees with me!"
Arnav drew Khushi to his side, his eyes flashing. "I don't give a damn if the whole world agrees with you. Khushi is my life. I LOVE HER!"
"Love," scoffed his grandmother. "A love that will ruin you and our family. You will rue your decision, mark my words. You will regret ever tying yourself down to this middle-class girl."
She glared at the two of them, her lips compressing as Arnav's grip tightened on Khushi and she massaged his rigid back in turn. It was like they were trying to soothe one another. "This is nothing but your obstinacy and lust, Arnav! Once you get this girl out of your system just as you did with all those supermodels and socialites before her, I know you'll see sense and return home."
Khushi couldn't believe the things coming out of his grandmother's mouth. "You know nothing about love, do you?" she reflected. "I feel sorry for you." His grandmother pretended not to hear her, though her posture tensed with tightly bottled anger.
Arnav brushed a kiss over Khushi's forehead, his gaze steely. "I will never leave my wife, Dadi. Never."
His phone rang then, its sound breaking the thick tension between them. "What?" he snapped, pressing his bluetooth.
Khushi knew at once something was wrong. Very wrong. Her husband looked paler than she'd ever seen him.
"What?" he shouted. "What the hell do you mean the police are trying to take Di into custody? Over what, Akash?" He didn't wait for a response. "I'll be right there."
"Police?" Khushi stammered, her eyes wide with disbelief.
He nodded grimly. Beside them, his grandmother was shaking. "This is all this girl's fault, Arnav! And because of your selfishness! I told you Anjali needs you, but you wouldn't listen. Now, see what's happened!"
Arnav ignored her, his eyes on Khushi. "I have to go to Raizada Mansion and handle this."
"I'm coming with you." She squeezed his hand as they darted toward the ivory jeep.
"Wait for me!" yelled his grandmother, sliding into the back seat.
The drive was tense. Khushi could not understand why Arnav's sister of all people had been arrested? What could have possibly happened? Next to her, Arnav looked utterly devastated, and she wondered if he was even aware of anything around him.
Her hand settled on his knee. "Love, it'll be okay." He said nothing, threading their fingers together while his grandmother continued her grumblings in the back seat.
Khushi was thankful when they finally arrived at Raizada Mansion. Arnav paused only to grab her hand before sprinting toward the house.
Two officers were attempting to take Anjali out the main door.
"I won't go! I won't go!" she was screaming. "This is my home!" As she saw her brother, she sobbed, running toward him. "Chote!"
His gaze was hard as he stared at the officers over the top of her head. His voice was low, but deadly. "What the hell are you doing, inspector? Why have you arrested my Di for?"
The uniformed man didn't flinch, though most men would have. "We have good reason to believe she's linked with the man who was hired to attack your wife."
Arnav froze. "What? You can't be serious! That's the most ridiculous claim I've ever heard. You can't arrest her. I won't let you!"
A younger looking man stepped forward. "We have a warrant. I understand this is difficult, Mr. Raizada, but we need to question her."
Arnav was already on the phone with Aman, screaming at him to call their team of lawyers. As Anjali sobbed in his arms, Khushi stepped up beside the pair, laying a comforting hand on Anjali's trembling back.
"Di, it'll be okay. You'll be just fine."
She turned her way, her eyes wild and tear-filled. "You did this, didn't you? Why do you want these horrible men to take me away, Khushiji? Why?"
Bewildered, Khushi shook her head. "I don't want that, Di. I would never--"
The inspector cut her off. "Mr. Raizada, you need to let her go or I'll have no choice but to take you with us as well."
There were more shouts and cries as the whole family watched Anjali be led away. Khushi, NK, and Akash all had to restrain Arnav from going after her. He was out of control.
"Bhai, you need to calm down. You can't help Di if you're arrested too."
Khushi felt tears choking her as she held onto her husband. "Arnav, he's right. Please, please stop."
As they struggled to make him understand, a thin, feminine shadow stepped away from the grieving family. Full lips curved as she saw the chaos.
The hired man's death had been unexpected, but now things were finally going according to plan. Payal Raizada nee Gupta had never been happier.

 Secret Passion by TINA & Satina
Episode 23: Guilty
"Dadi, that's enough." Arnav's jaw hardened, a muscle leaping. "Khushi had nothing to do with any of this."
"How long will you defend her, Arnav? Have you thought this through? If the press gets word of this, Anjali's arrest will be splashed across every newspaper and TV channel. The Raizada family name will be tarnished and ridiculed. And all because of her!" Her scowl intensified as it settled on Khushi's pale face. "This girl. Khushi Kumari Gupta--who is now unfortunately a Raizada."
For the first time, Khushi didn't feel compelled enough to argue. Arnav's grandmother's words were cruel and unquestionably harsh, but wasn't there a faint glimmer of truth in them? Anjali was in police custody due to her complaint--unintentional or not.
Guilt swamped her.
Guilt for Anjali's confused, panicked state. Guilt for the anxiety and agitation in her husband's gaze, the roughened restlessness in his tone as he argued with his family, standing beside her like a pillar.
As his grandmother screeched again, spewing her usual venom, he warded her off with an infuriated glance. "I don't have time for this, Dadi." Reached for his phone, Arnav called AR Design's main lawyer and explained the situation.
"I need my sister out of there immediately. Do you understand?" There was a pause and Khushi could hear the lawyer on the other end mumble something.
Arnav did not like whatever the man had said because he visibly stiffened, his lips thinning. "I don't give a damn if you're on vacation! If you want to keep your job, GET HERE NOW."
Amidst the chaos and the yelling, Khushi gradually became aware of another set of eyes on her. She glanced over her shoulder, and found a man she'd never met before staring right at her.
That was nothing about him that particularly set him apart. He was rather ordinary looking, but something about his beady gaze made her skin crawl.
Lust, unabashed, unconcealed lust rimmed those glazed, tar-colored eyes. It was as if he was mentally undressing her, his eyes skimming over her from head to toe again and again.
Her posture tensed with tightly bottled rage, and all she wanted to do was march over and slap him till he saw stars. But the environment was too tense for that. Because just then Nani collapsed on Shantivan's neatly trimmed lawn, crying uncontrollably as Payal and Mami did their best to comfort her. Arnav's other grandmother was still screaming, though Khushi ignored it. Her eyes wandered over all those gathered--once, twice.
But it was true. She recognized every person here, except for one. She suddenly had a terrible, sinking feeling that the unknown man was none other than Shyam Manohar Jha, the man Arnav paid to stay married to his sister. With a withering glare in his direction, Khushi stepped in front of her husband, effectively blocking herself.
"I'm giving you no more than thirty minutes," Arnav was barking. "If you're not there, consider yourself fired."
With a curse, he cut the call, pulling her toward the jeep and away from the leering gaze of his brother-in-law.
"We need to get to the police station right away. I don't want any officer to question Di. She's too shaken up for that. She won't be able to handle it. I don't understand how the hell they could have arrested her in the first place!" He looked more outraged than Khushi had ever seen him.
She framed his face in her palms, forcing him to look her way. "I know you're angry, baby. You have every right to be. But you need to control your anger right now. It'll only make everything worse." Squeezing his hand, she slipped into the passenger seat, clicking on the seat belt.
She'd never been more grateful to leave Raizada Mansion, but the uneasiness did not fade completely. Because following behind them in a separate car was NK, Akash, and that horrible man. Shivering, Khushi reached for her husband's hand.
*****
The junior inspector considered the grainy, black and white video feed with keen curiosity. With a flick of his wrist, the lens zoomed, zeroing in on the cell's sole occupant: Anjali Jha.
Seated behind a chipped wooden desk, she had yet to stop crying, her arms wrapped around her bent knees. Every now and then, she would gaze up and search the empty space, pausing at the locked door, the low ceiling, and the small, red flashing light of the camera.
He froze as her eyes unknowingly focused on him, wide and afraid, pleading for help.
"Chote," she kept saying under her breath as she rocked back and forth. "Chote."
She made a pitiful picture, and perhaps some part of him would have doubted she was guilty, if not for the testimony of her previous teacher, a woman whose words had been the final clue he'd searched so long for.
The teacher, Mrs. Singhania, had at first been reluctant to divulge any information, and out of sheer frustration, he'd pulled out a folder, showing her the photographs they'd recovered from the assassin's phone.
"Look at this young woman's face, Mrs. Singhania. Her life is in danger. Someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to track her. The person even hired a notorious killer for the job. That man was caught, but he was nothing except a pawn. The main suspect remains at large. Do you understand how serious this is? Could you live with the guilt if this innocent woman is harmed? Could you?"
Mrs. Singhania had stared for a long moment at the colorful photograph of Khushi. It showed her seated on a picnic blanket, a warm smile on her lips as she watched Arnav swim, the mammoth, castle-like estate in the distance. An X had been drawn over her face.
Glancing away, the teacher sighed with resignation. "What do you want to know?"
"Anything you remember about Anjali Jha. Though she would have been Anjali Raizada when you knew her."
The woman frowned. "I only spoke with her a handful of times. She was wary of me and insisted she be switched to another school."
"Why?"
Mrs. Singhania shrugged. "Probably because I didn't indulge her every whim and instead asked her a few questions. I tried to be her friend, but she didn't want that. She wanted me to be her audience."
"Audience?" His brow furrowed. "That's an unusual choice of words."
"Not where Anajli is concerned. Don't underestimate her. She's very intelligent, extremely cognizant of her surroundings. Even as a young girl, she knew just how to sway people. When she realized I'd caught onto her act, she threw a fit in front of her mother, crying hysterically. Mrs. Raizada had her transferred to a new school the very next day."
"So she's acting?" His heart was racing. This was it. The final piece of the puzzle that connected everything.
"Well, that's my personal belief, officer. From what I noticed, she feigns to be vulnerable and child-like when it suits her. The last time I saw her, she was sobbing into her mother's shoulder, but as Mrs. Raizada led her away, she turned, looked me right in the eye and smirked at me. It was a sight I haven't forgotten in all these years."
The junior inspector pressed the stop button on the recorder. "Thank you, Mrs. Singhania. That's all I needed to know."
She nodded, looking relieved, and it was only when he was a few steps from the exit that her voice rung out, bringing him to a halt. "And whatever you do, do not mention the word "noose" around her. She reacts violently for some reason."
Staring at Anjali now, it was hard for the junior officer to reconcile the two, very different portrayals he'd heard of her. Was she an emotionally unstable, childlike woman or someone far more volatile, calculative and capable of murder? Keeping his eye on the monitor, he could only watch as his superior stepped inside the cell.
"Chote?" Anjali jerked away as she saw it was not her brother, but a stranger of medium height and build with a face that reminded her of a stone statue.
"I won't harm you, Mrs. Jha," the head inspector told her in a calming tone. "I just want to talk to you."
"Go away! I only want my brother. Where is he?"
Keeping silent, he took the seat opposite her. "Just answer my questions, Mrs. Jha, and we'll allow you to leave. That doesn't sound too difficult, does it?"
She surveyed him with frosty suspicion. "I don't believe you. Chote! Chote!"
"You're a fine actress," he murmured lightly.
That stopped the shouting right away. Her head snapped toward him. "What do you mean?"
"Drop the act, Mrs. Jha. That's all it is, isn't it? An act you perfected in childhood. We already know everything about you. Mrs. Singhania has told us everything. Remember her? Your old teacher?"
Anjali was not paying attention any longer, running her fingernails along the grain of the desk. Her voice when she spoke was scarcely above a whisper. "I hated her. She was mean to me, always pestering me with questions."
"What about Khushi, your brother's wife? Do you hate her too?"
She paused, glancing at him briefly before resuming the nail scraping. "I don't know her much."
"Surely you must have some opinion of her."
Anjali had made a sizeable indentation on the desk by now. "I don't like her," she finally admitted.
The inspector gave nothing away. "Why not?"
Anjali's eyes flashed, her voice rising to a high-pitched shriek. "BECAUSE SHE SENT ME HERE! AND SHE TOOK CHO--"
The door opened behind her with a loud click. The junior officer held up a paper. "ASR is here with his lawyers."
The inspector bit back a curse, knowing exactly what that meant. He stood to leave and then paused, his eyes narrowing. Across the table, Anjali was smirking at him, just as she once had to Mrs. Singhania.
"CHOTE!" she shouted, springing up. "Chote!"
They had no option but to release her, observing mutely as she was reunited with her brother in an adjacent room, running to embrace him. "Oh, Chote!"
Relief washed over Arnav the moment he spotted her. "Are you okay, Di? No one troubled you, did they?"
She hugged him tighter, crying all over him. "No, but I'm so glad you're here now. I don't like this place. It's horrible."
"It's over now, Di. You won't be coming here ever again. Let anyone try." The words were an open challenge. Smoothing his hand over her hair, Arnav motioned her to his opposite side. "Di, go to Khushi. I'll handle the rest."
Anjali glanced at Khushi and promptly shook her head. "No, Chote. I heard what Dadi said. She's the reason I'm here."
Arnav began to correct her, but Khushi stepped forward, her gaze pained. "Di, I never meant for any of this to happen. Please believe me."
Anjali stared at her with narrow-eyed suspicion, but that soon turned to a look of astonishment as Khushi turned toward the uniformed officers.
"I'm retracting my complaint," she declared. "I want you all to end this investigation. At once."
There was pin-drop silence in the room for a moment. Even Arnav appeared stunned.
"Mrs. Raizada," began the inspector. "I would not recommend that you take such a drastic step. There is a serious threat against you."
"But nothing's happened!" Khushi cried. "True, some crazy man followed me in New York, but he was caught, wasn't he? No one has harmed me. No one is harassing me. Please, stop dragging my family into this."
"Are you certain? We can discuss this privately if--" The inspector's grim gaze shifted briefly to Arnav. "--you're under any kind of pressure."
Khushi's mouth pursed as she realized what he was implying. "This is entirely my decision. Only mine. My husband hasn't pressured me in any way. He doesn't even know about it."
"Very well then, but you'll need to complete some paperwork first. Then you're all free to go."
Arnav caught Khushi by the shoulder, his voice a low murmur in her ear: "You don't have to do this. Are you sure it's what you want?"
Khushi glanced toward Anjali, who stood clinging to his arm, her eyes puffy and glazed over with unshed tears. "Very sure, love."
As soon as the papers were signed, she took Arnav's free hand, the three of them walking out.
"Where's Shyamji?" Anjali asked eagerly, her gaze flying over the small crowd gathered outside.
"The others are stuck in traffic, Di. I've messaged them though and told them there's no reason for them to come here. We'll all meet up at home."
Anjali smiled at that last word. "Home. Nothing is better, is there, Chote?"
As the two talked back and forth, Khushi kept quiet, walking two steps behind the pair. Though Anjali seemed to have warmed up to her slightly, she knew it would take time to gain her complete trust. Still, Khushi couldn't help but wonder when--if ever--she'd be a part of their inner circle, and not an outsider. They'd just reached the ivory SUV when a voice called out her name.
"Mrs. Raizada! Wait!"
The junior officer jogged to her, holding out a business card. "I know you've made up your mind," he said. "But if you ever reconsider your decision, please get in touch. And never let your guard down. Because the reality is, you are in danger. By someone very close to you."
"I think my wife has heard enough," broke in Arnav, both his tone and gaze as cold as ice. "Khushi, get in the car."
She stepped past the officer, telling herself he had to be wrong. Everything was fine again. Anjali's sniffling had finally stopped, and she appeared to be napping in the backseat. And even Arnav was calm again, shooting her a fleeting smile as he reversed the jeep.
Khushi forced herself to smile back. Everything was fine, she told herself. It had to be. But why then did she feel so uneasy? Why did the officer's warning keep echoing in her ears like a terrible omen?
Her hand fisted on the card. Closing her eyes, she willed herself to relax.
*****

That night, on Anjali's insistence, they stayed overnight at Raizada Mansion.
"You won't leave will you, Chote?" she kept asking, appearing completely distraught as they helped her inside.
He calmed her as only he could. "Not tonight. I promise I won't."
Across the room, Dadi appeared ready to argue, eyeing Khushi with obvious dislike. But even she could not deny that the only reason Anjali had returned home and the investigation been formally called off without any public scandal was because of Khushi. Arnav especially relished every opportunity to remind her.
"I feel like all the tension is gone now," he told Khushi as they lay entwined in his old bedroom, alone finally. "Thanks to you."
Leaning up on her elbow, Khushi hushed him with a featherlight kiss, her hair falling around them like a rippling, silken curtain. "Stop thanking me. I did only what was right. Di is clearly innocent. She's not capable of something so awful. How the police even decided to arrest her without any solid proof is beyond me."
"I don't understand that either. They made it so much more complicated than it truly is. Because the fact is we've received no threats or cause for alarm. All that happened is that someone clearly insane decided to stalk us in New York, but he's dead now. Everything has been resolved."
There was a small, niggling worry in Khushi's mind. "But what about that officer in the parking lot? He seemed so convinced."
"Forget about it, love. It's all over now. Kiss me again," Arnav demanded.
Khushi smiled, tossing the last of her worries aside as she ran a finger over the handsome contours of his face. "And why should I do that?"
"Because of this." His hands slid under her kurta and glided over the silky soft skin to the lacy cups of her bra. "I want you, Khushi. And I know you want me too. I can read it in your eyes, in the way your body responds to my touch." His fingers slipped under the lace.
The tension of the past several hours, the restlessness and uncertainty made the need to be together potent and unstoppable. Inescapable.
Unresisting, Khushi braced herself on his shoulders, pleasure pounding through her as his palms clamped over her bare skin, moving in firm, deliberate circles.
With a moan, she lowered herself, her lips finding his in the same breath. The kiss was hot and intensely carnal, a meshing of eager mouths and tongues. Arnav ground himself against her, his hands fisting in her hair.
"I need you, Khushi. Need you so much."
She shivered in his arms and breaking the kiss for only a second, dragged her top off. Exposing herself to his hungry gaze, she boldly guided his head to her heaving chest.
The day had been exhausting on so many levels and suddenly she wanted nothing more than to be joined with her husband, to love him as she ached to. The heady evidence of his desire against her made that need even more urgent.
"Love me," she whispered in his ear, her teeth tugging on his earlobe. "Forget everything and just love me."
Arnav groaned, his mouth closing over her breasts with such branding heat, Khushi had to bite her lip to keep from shouting.
"I love you," he said between long, hungry suckles, rolling her beneath him on the bed. "I would have fallen apart today without you. If I didn't have you... my life would be so colorless, meaningless."
The words were laced with love, but Khushi knew him well enough to recognize that there was some underlying fear too. Arnav had gone through hell today, and even now she could read the vulnerability in his gaze.
Brushing lingering kisses over his face, Khushi ran her hands through his thick hair, her body clenching around him. "I will always be with you, love. Always."
It didn't matter if everyone doubted their love, if no one understood it. Her heart knew it was true and pure. Telling him how much she loved him again and again, Khushi pulled him down for a kiss, her legs parting as he settled between them.
They were in the process of removing the last of their clothes when a hesitant knock sounded. Both stilled; Arnav's head swerved toward the door.
"Who is it?" he snapped.
The voice was soft and shaky. "Ch--Chote?"
He was off her in the next breath, tugging on his shirt and pants. Khushi quickly adjusted her clothes, smoothing her disheveled hair once over as he turned the doorknob. Anjali stood outside, looking awfully frail in a peach-colored nightgown.
"Di? Is everything all right? You should be sleeping by now. It's been a tiring day for you."
Anjali glanced away from her brother to Khushi and then to the carpet, chewing on her bottom lip. "I can't sleep, Chote. I keep dreaming of that horrible police station."
Arnav enfolded her in his arms, his throat constricting. "You're safe now, Di. I didn't let anything happen to you, did I?" Khushi massaged the tense muscles of his back, hugging him from the side.
Anjali morosely stepped back, her eyes--the same warm shade of brown as her brother's--flickering with restlessness. "No, you didn't, but can I... I mean..." Her voice trailed off with uncertainty.
Khushi reached forward to grasp her hand. "What is it, Di? You can tell us."
It was some progress that his sister did not back away this time, though her gaze was still guarded. Looking away from Khushi, she asked Arnav in a hushed tone: "Remember Uncle's estate in New York? Whenever there was a thunderstorm, you'd let me sleep beside you in the corner bedroom because you knew how scared I was. I know we're not children anymore, but can we do the same tonight?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Arnav glanced towards Khushi and she slowly nodded. She knew his sister was extremely vulnerable, still plagued and haunted by the horrors of the past. Smiling at Anjali, she squeezed her hand. "Of course, Di. If that would make you feel safe."
Anjali's face shone with childlike delight. "Really? I'll be right back!"
Khushi watched her stride down the hall, absently noting how her limp was far more pronounced than usual. Next to her, Arnav stood silent, though she felt the familiar weight of his gaze on her. He was observing her so intently her eyebrows rose.
"What, baby?"
Arnav pulled her into his arms, kissing her lightly. "You're amazing, you know that?"
Khushi grinned up at him, looping her arms about his waist. "Yes, but it's nice to be reminded every once in a while."
His smile did not quite reach his eyes. "Are you sure it's okay? I don't want you to be uncomfortable. I can try talking Di out of it."
Khushi hushed him with a firm kiss. "Stop worrying, baby. It's absolutely okay. And you can make up for our missed time tomorrow."
Smirking, he whispered in her ear, "Deal."
Anjali stepped back inside the room then, hugging a large, pink pillow to her chest. Smiling warmly, Khushi extracted herself from Arnav's embrace, helping her to the bed. She carefully tucked her in, making sure she was comfortable, but Anjali still seemed a bit anxious.
"Chote?" Her eyes shifted side to side in the dim light.
"Right here, Di."
Patting her hand, Arnav motioned Khushi in beside him. The bed was spacious, but Khushi nestled as close as she could to her husband, setting her head over his heartbeat. On his opposite side, Anjali lay with her back to them, facing the wall.
"Khushi..." Arnav whispered. "Do you have enough room? Are you comfortable?"
Tightening her grip on him, she pressed her lips to his chest. "Yes, baby. Good night. Good night, Di."
"Good night," his sister said, yawning.
"Night," Arnav murmured, drawing Khushi flush to his side.
Exhausted by the day's events, their eyes were just about to close when another knock sounded. Whoever it was did not wait, cracking open the door without further warning.
Khushi froze as she saw who it was. That same yellowy, leering gaze lingered on her and her hand automatically yanked the blankets to her chin.
"Rani Sahiba can't sleep without me," Shyam explained, surveying the bed. "Looks like there's just enough space for one more."
And suddenly, Khushi was more uncomfortable than she could ever remember being before. Beside her, Arnav had stiffened too. Their gazes met with alarm.
"That's not necessary," he ground out. "Leave. Now."
But Anjali as already reaching out for her husband. "Please, Chote! Shyamji is right. I won't be able to sleep without him. I need both of you tonight. Please. For me?"
It was such abnormal and alarmingly peculiar behavior that how Anjali and her husband found it acceptable was beyond Khushi's understanding. Perhaps Anjali had an excuse, but her husband did not--not by any means. All she could conclude was that Shyam Jha was truly a twisted soul.
She waited for Arnav to order him to leave, but to her shock and dismay, he instead relented with a sigh. "Fine, Di. Just sleep now. You're exhausted."
Khushi froze next to him as the mattress dipped on the other end. How could he possibly be okay with this? What the hell had propelled him to agree? His sister was one matter, but her husband was another.
"Arnav," she whispered furiously in his ear. "I can't sleep here."
Surprisingly, he agreed. "I can't either. I'm just waiting for Di to fall asleep. It won't take long. But you can leave. I'll meet you downstairs."
She hesitated, hating to leave him here. "Are you sure?"
He kissed her cheek. "Go, Khushi. I'll be down in a few minutes."
Squeezing his hand, she slipped out of the bed, making her way to the door in the dark as fast as her feet would carry her. The entire time, she felt that man's eyes on her, boring into her back.
Her stomach was rolling as she hurried down the stairs and she ended up in the Raizadas' darkly lit kitchen, hoping a glass of water would help the queasiness subside.
What she did not realize was that in the shadows behind her, Payal stood shock-still, her gaze black and turbulent with loathing. As Khushi raised a brimming glass to her lips, she inched closer, her hand fisting around a large, shiny knife.
"Khushi?" a masculine voice broke in.
Payal stepped back, her gaze shifting to the tall, lean man in the shadows.
"Payal, you're awake too?" Arnav murmured, not even bothering to really look at her. His eyes were focused on Khushi and Payal gritted her teeth as they reached for one another, whispering things she couldn't hear. It was quite evident that they shared a very intimate, loving relationship.
Arnav eventually looked up from his wife's face. "I'm going to have to steal your sister now. Good night."
"Good night, Arnavji..." After a slight pause, she forced herself to add: "Take care, Khushi. Wake me up if you need anything."
"Good night, Jiji." As Arnav led her down the hall, Khushi smiled at her, one hand on her stomach and the other wound around her husband's waist. She didn't look the least bit sick now.
The kitchen knife in Payal's hands clattered to the floor, bloodless--for now.
*****
As soon as they were alone in one of Shantivan's umpteenth guest bedrooms, Khushi rounded towards Arnav. "Whatever happened upstairs... it wasn't right. That's just not normal behavior," she exclaimed with marked agitation, making sure the door was bolted.
He sighed, helping her settle down on the king-size bed. "I know it's not. Trust me, I know. But Di was in such a state, I couldn't refuse. She'd have thrown a fit. She might have even harmed herself."
"Her husband... he's been eyeing me all day." Khushi shuddered as she recalled Shyam's lusty gaze.
Arnav tensed next to her. "Did he do anything, baby? I've forbidden him from so much as talking to you."
"He didn't do anything, but the way he stared at me..." Khushi gazed up, right into his dark eyes. "He's horrible, Arnav. Why is he even allowed near Di?"
"I've told you. She becomes hysterical when he's not around and hell-bent on harming herself."
"So you pay him," Khushi was quick to point out. "But don't you see how that's not fixing anything? You can't keep indulging Di's every demand--not when it's clearly wrong. You need to speak to her doctor. This is just not acceptable."
Her husband's expression was hard to read in the plunging darkness, but Khushi sensed him weigh and carefully consider her words.
"Fine," he finally stated. "I'll meet with her doctors again. Now, please stop worrying and try to sleep. You're pregnant and need to rest. And it's been a long day."
That was an understatement, but Khushi didn't add anything more, pleased that he'd agreed so easily. Snuggling closer, she closed her eyes. "Good night, love."
She was asleep before he could reply.
*****
Before the sun had completely risen the following morning, Arnav and Khushi left Shantivan, heading straight for their home. Anjali had already been awake, and since she believed her brother had slept all night beside her, she didn't insist he stay for breakfast, looking quite cheerful all things considered.
Arnav though still promised her that he'd visit again soon and told her to call him immediately if anyone or anything upset her. Anjali had been ecstatic, basking in his love and attention.
"Are you sure you want to come to the office today?" Arnav asked Khushi as they later stood in their kitchen, devouring oatmeal, toast, and freshly squeezed orange juice. It felt amazing to be back home. Anjali had been right about that, Khushi mused; there was no safer haven than one's home.
"Yes." She raised her spoon toward him. "And don't even try to change my mind this time."
He relented with a half-grin, a familiar glint in his eyes. "Fine, but remember our deal. Lunch today."
Khushi felt her face warm. "I'll be there, Mr. Raizada, but otherwise, we'll keep our personal and professional lives strictly separate."
"That'll be a bit hard, love, when you're my secretary again. We'll be spending so much time together." He smiled at the prospect.
"Then I won't be," Khushi said in a low voice. "Can't you put me on the London deal or a different project?"
Arnav froze, staring at her with thinly veiled surprise over the rim of his coffee mug. "You don't want to be my secretary?" He'd been looking forward to it dammit.
But his wife clearly had other plans. Much more noble plans than his. She was adamant they maintain a professional front, going so far as suggesting she go to the office in a separate car.
Of course, he wouldn't agree to that--no way in hell. "I don't think so, babe. You're either going with me or not at all. End of discussion."
"You can't do that!" Her eyes spit fire.
He smirked at her. "Actually I can. I'm the boss, remember?"
The drive, to say the least, was not as romantic or friendly as usual. It was downright frosty. The entire way, Khushi stared stiffly out the window, refusing to say a word, while Arnav planned how he'd make amends. He'd been a bit rude to her, but by all that was holy, she had pushed him to it, leaving no other option. Still, he'd maybe gone--just a little--too far.
As he pulled into his reserved spot by the back entrance, about to launch into his carefully prepared speech, Khushi reached for the door handle, looking about ready to jump out.
"Wait a second," he barked, twisting her around. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
Frowning, Khushi started to check if something was missing from her purse.
Arnav's lips compressed. "I meant me, dammit. I'm coming too."
Alarmed, she shook her head at him, her eyes wide and so damn gorgeous all he wanted to do was push her against the car seat and kiss her senseless. Kiss her so hard and long that she forgot about all her righteous plan.
"You can't come," she insisted. "What I mean is not right away. We discussed this, remember? Someone might see."
He didn't even attempt to argue, pointing instead toward the parking lot. Except for their car, it was conspicuously empty.
"Oh!" Khushi chewed on her bottom lip. "Fine then," she conceded. "But stay a reasonable distance away, don't hold my hand and don't even think about putting your hand on my waist or on my butt or--"
He turned her head his way, crushing her mouth with hers. "Let me guess... that's not allowed either?"
Khushi's chest heaved and she longed to give in, but she forced herself to remain firm. "Correct, husband. Keep your hands and mouth and everything else off of me in public. Now, hurry up, I don't want to be late."
Sighing, Arnav followed after her, hands fisted in his pockets. Since when had she become the punctual one? He didn't know about her, but for him, at least, noon could not arrive soon enough.
Despite her visit the previous week, most of AR Group's employees were surprised by Khushi's sudden reappearance.
"I thought you quit after the New York trip," said one of her friends. "We figured ASR troubled you so much, you finally had enough. Remember all those crazy assignments he gave you? He never even let you enjoy lunch!"
Khushi remembered her every encounter with Arnav, and there had been tons of enjoyment involved, though she didn't mention that. Instead, she explained that she'd had some personal issues to sort.
Her friend smiled. "Well, we're all so glad you're back now. See you at lunch!"
But, of course, Khushi could not meet up for lunch today. She'd promised Arnav and truth was, she was breathlessly waiting for it too, anticipating the hour alone with him so eagerly she could hardly concentrate. As if on purpose, time seemed to tick by extra slowly and so she threw herself into work, trying her best to keep her mind off a certain Raizada.
By the time noon rolled around and everyone else headed to the cafeteria, Khushi made an excuse, hurrying instead to the glass cabin.
Arnav had already arranged everything. The curtain was closed, the door stood wide open and he was sitting in his leather chair, his eyes on the clock.
"Right on time, baby," he purred as she walked in. "Lock the door behind you."
Her skin heated, desire pooling. On shaky feet, she went to him. Rather than gathering her in his arms and kissing her senseless as she longed him to do, he instead motioned to the chair opposite him. "I ordered lunch. You must be hungry."
Khushi's eyebrows arched as she eyed the boxes she'd failed to notice till now. They were from some fancy, outrageously expensive restaurant no doubt.
"This is a first," she commented, opening one. "You never did this before."
Arnav smirked. "Before you weren't pregnant either. There's Baby Raizada to consider now. And don't lie, I always gave you time to eat before too."
"Only if five minutes count." Khushi rolled her eyes. "You're not eating?"
He shook his head, his gaze intently tracing over her. "I'm not hungry for food."
Her chest heaved. "I know, baby." She knew exactly what he needed. She ached for it too.
"Good," he rose, unbuckling his belt. "Hurry up then."
It was perhaps the fastest meal Khushi had ever eaten. No sooner had she set aside her plate that he reached for her, the air between them charged.
Within scant minutes, Khushi found herself spread-eagled on his mahogany desk, his hips pumping into her.
She bit her lip to keep from shouting, her back arching in a sensual upsweep. Arnav observed her with a heavy gaze, his face darkened with passion.
"Put your legs around me," he commanded, his tone gruff.
Khushi bucked as she raised her legs, winding them around his back. He felt hot and rock-solid and his musky cologne consumed her senses.
"Arnav..." she moaned, her head thrashing side to the side on the wood. She raised her hips, urging him to move faster, harder.
But he would not be deterred, keeping the pace so slow and languid, Khushi could only writhe and plead.
"Love, please!"
And then finally, when she could take not a second more of his sweet torment, he gave in. Completely.
Bending low, Arnav caught her shout in his mouth, his tongue sweeping past her parted lips as passion's blaze caught them with its full brunt. His head fell back, his very being shattering. Khushi gathered him to her, struggling to catch her breath.
"I've missed this," Arnav whispered against her heaving chest when their heartbeats had somewhat slowed down.
Khushi ran her hand through his sweaty hair. "Me too."
His hands slipped under her bottom, picking her up easily. Khushi tightened her grip on him, keeping them joined. Sitting back on the leather chair, Arnav's hands smoothed down her bare back, almost lazily.
"Tomorrow we can meet at the private conference room. There's a full bathroom connected to it--including a shower." His mind was racing with all the possibilities. When Khushi didn't jump to agree, he raised a brow. "What's the matter?"
Khushi had been dreading this moment.
Arnav tipped up her chin. "Khushi? Tell me."
She sighed, catching hold of his hand. "Remember what I said about keeping our professional and personal lives separate?" At his nod, she added in a breathless rush: "Well I don't think we should meet for anymore lunches. I only came today because I promised. But this can't keep happening. People will notice, baby."
He swore. "Who the hell cares! Let people notice and gossip as much as they want! And anyway, the Entrepreneurs award ceremony is next week. We'll announce it then and that'll shut everyone up."
But Khushi had made up her mind. "Please try to understand. Even after the awards, we should keep it professional." Her eyes flew to the clock. "Let me up now. I should be back downstairs in five minutes."
Arnav watched moodily as she dressed, his lips in a thin, straight line.
"Stop frowning," she murmured, combing her hands through her hair. "It's not like I'm saying we can't make love at all. We can. At home. As much as you want. But not here, love. Please understand."
He agreed with a stiff nod, his heart warming when she smiled, her face lighting up.
"I love you, ASR," she said, brushing her lips lightly over his.
He pulled her close for a much deeper kiss. "And I love you. You should go before I change my mind."
Her smile widened knowingly and with a wave, she slipped out the door.
He missed her almost immediately. Cursing, he told himself she had a point. He could get through the workday without her. Hadn't he for weeks now?
That first day, he found her insistence on not mixing their personal and professional lives mildly amusing. The following day, the distance was beginning to irritate him. Like Khushi had asked, he'd put her on a new assignment: the annual fashion show in Lucknow.
Last year, she'd crashed the show. It only seemed fitting that she handle it this time. Though Khushi did her best to avoid him, a couple of times it just couldn't be helped. They found themselves that second day at the same board meeting. She greeted him politely, only the sparkle in her eyes giving away how much she missed him too. But otherwise, she behaved with him as one would to a stranger.
It annoyed the hell out of him. And he knew he shouldn't really be complaining. Though Khushi was frustratingly distant at the office, as soon as they arrived home, she was back to being his loving wife, returning his kisses with rampant enthusiasm. Their lovemaking had never been better, hotter, but dammit he still wasn't satisfied. He missed their old pattern, the secret encounters at AR Design.
By the time the third day rolled around, Arnav was crabby, short-tempered, and highly turned on.
From the glass cabin, he gazed at the cubicles below, his eyes intently focused on Khushi's bent head. She was typing away on the computer, flipping through files every now and then.
His palms flattened against the glass. Enough was enough. He didn't give a damn what was professional and what was not. He wanted his wife. Period.
It did not help that every inch of his office reminded him of her. The sofa, the desk, the carpet. Hell, even the wall where he'd once pinned her, taking her with flaming hot passion.
His jaw tightened and he reached for his phone. It would be a waste of time to call her, she'd already made up her mind that talking to each other would make their resolve falter. So instead he texted her, his message simple:
I want you. Now. Come up here.
Downstairs, he watched Khushi pick up her phone. Her head whipped upward, her gaze finding him at once.
"Now," he mouthed.
Instead of getting up, she typed something. Seconds later, his phone buzzed, her name coming up as what he'd changed it to on the first day itself.
Sexy, stubborn wife: Stop it. You know we can't.
His nostrils flared, and he stabbed his fingers on the keypad.
ASR: No excuses. The lunch break is in fifteen minutes. I want you in my arms then. Naked. Understood?
Sexy, stubborn wife: Not understood! This is hard for me too, baby.
He sighed. So she wanted him too but she was still making them both suffer? Would he ever understand her?
ASR: I know you want me as much as I do. Stop being so damn stubborn!
Her eyes flashed at him as soon as she read his message.
Sexy, stubborn wife: Have a wonderful lunch, husband--by yourself!!!
Perhaps he would have found her response amusing two days ago, but not anymore. This professional facade was getting on his last nerve. Staring down at the woman he loved beyond all reason, he promised that he would not back down this time. No way in hell.
Downstairs, Khushi tried to forget about Arnav's demand, joining her friends at one of the round tables in the cafeteria.
"You okay?" asked one. "You seem a bit out of it today."
"I'm fine." Khushi forced herself to smile, popping a grape in her mouth. "Actually, I've never been better."
"Of course," said the girl directly across from her. "ASR is no longer bothering you and--" Her voice broke off, her gaze widening as it focused on the man behind Khushi. The others seemed to be struck speechless too.
Khushi frowned and then sighed, knowing exactly what those looks meant. "So he's sent Aman again? Look, Aman," she said, biting into another juicy grape as she turned around. "Tell your boss I don't want to see his face right now and--" Her eyes bulged almost comically as they landed on the dark, perfectly tailored Italian suit.
Arnav had not sent his right-hand man this time. Instead--gulp--he'd come himself. And he did not look at all pleased by the conversation he'd overheard.
"Since you've seen my face now, Khushi, come along. I need to speak with you."
"But--"
"I don't have time to argue with you." He pulled her up by the elbow, leading her out of the crowded cafeteria. Khushi could feel every eye in the room on them. She tried wrenching her arm out of his grasp, but clearly, the damage was done.
She was fuming as Arnav dragged her to his private conference room, locking the door with that usual nonchalant attitude--as if he'd done nothing wrong. Her temper sparked.
"What are you doing?" she yelled, tugging her arm free. "I've been trying so hard to keep it professional between us till the awards at least and you just ruined everything!"
"Oh so you're angry? Good." Displeasure flickered in his eyes. His nostrils flared. "Because I am too. I'm bloody furious actually. And it's all your fault!"
"Mine?" she cried, raising her finger at him. "I've told you so many times we can't meet like before! But do you listen?" She didn't give him a chance to reply, stepping forward, and stabbing her finger into his jacket. "Of course not! You instead show up in the cafeteria! Why? Because Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada thinks he's always right, doesn't he?"
His jaw tightened at her tone. "If you'd come up to my office, I wouldn't have had to chase after you. You made me do that, Khushi!"
She spluttered with outrage. "Oh, blame the wife--how convenient! You're so obnoxious sometimes! The only thing bigger than your ego is the size of your erec--"
Fisting his hand in her hair, Arnav pulled her to him, his mouth hard and hot and undeniably urgent against hers. His tongue plundered her mouth, sweeping across the seam of her teeth to mate with hers.
Khushi went still for a split second and then she rose on her tiptoes, pushing herself against him and meeting him with the same burning frenzy.
"You're right. I need this, Khushi," he ground out against her lips, drawing her down to the carpeted floor. "I need you. And I will go to any lengths to get that. Understood?"
Her eyes flashed dangerously. "What will you do? Charge into my cubicle, lift me in your arms and carry me off to your cabin?"
He had the gall to smirk at that. "If I have to then yes. Nothing could stop me. You're mine, Khushi."
For some crazy, inexplicable reason, Khushi found his grin and the possessiveness lacing his words unbelievably sexy. What the-- You're supposed to be mad at him! she told herself. Get a grip, Khushi. Resist!
But her heart was up in arms at the idea of leaving him now and her body was simply not cooperating, molding to the hard contours and planes of his chest and legs.
"But it's not professional," she managed. Even her own ears perceived how weak and feeble her protest sounded.
Arnav's eyes sizzled to midnight black. "I've heard enough of that word to last me a lifetime. Don't mention it again."
"But--"
He hushed her with a swift, almost bruising kiss, cupping her face in his palms. His gaze pierced her with its intensity. "Listen to me, Khushi, this lunch hour has always been only ours and always will be. During this time, we are not boss and employee. We're only husband and wife. Now, stop arguing and kiss me back." His eyes glittered. "I know you want to. You need it as much as I do."
"I do not!" Khushi lied.
He didn't like that. Not in the slightest. "I don't believe you. Prove it to me you don't." His hands went to his shirt buttons.
Her mouth went dry as he stood, undressing with remarkable calm. As he approached her, sinfully handsome and entirely bare, she felt her heart quake.
"Say you don't want me," he dared.
She had to glance away, fighting to keep her breathing steady. "I...I don't..."
He heard the tremor in her voice all too well and with a knowing smirk, he knelt before her parted legs, his hand sliding under her sari and going straight to her most intimate spot.
She shuddered, her gaze flashing to his. He was grinning at her, his fingers teasing and stroking with unyielding persistence. "I think you do want me, wife. Very much."
Khushi cursed her body's response to this man. It was incredibly hard to win an argument when all she wanted to do was throw herself into his arms and kiss away that familiar smirk of his.
She was so lost in his ministrations, she didn't realize he'd tied her wrists till she felt the knot tighten.
"What are you doing?" she cried.
But he simply wound the other end of his tie to the leg of the conference table, binding her easily and securely. Khushi pulled at the knot, but it held.
Panting, she zeroed her gaze on his too handsome face. "Arnav, this is not funny."
"Agreed. It's not funny. It's damn sexy." His palm settled on her breast with blatant demand. "So you don't want this, love? Are you sure?" He lightly pinched.
Khushi shot off the carpet, her heartbeat pounding. "Arnav..."
"Say it," he commanded. "Say you want me. Say you love me."
She trembled against him, feeling utterly tongue-tied. His lips compressed at her silence and lowering his head, he caught her fullness in his mouth, suckling hotly.
Khushi screamed. "Arnav!"
"Say it," he insisted, his teeth grazing her.
Her head thrashed, her silken hair fanning like a glistening wave over the carpet. "I want you," she whispered, moistening her dry lips. "I always want you. I love you so much."
He had her undressed in under a minute, coming down on her like a thunderclap. As their bodies collided skin to skin, Khushi moaned his name.
"I love you," he growled, his voice thick and guttural as he pressed open-mouthed kisses to every inch of her writhing body. "More than anyone. Anything... And this passion we share... this attraction... this connection has been there from the moment we met. It's never going away. The more I have you, the more I need you." He rose up her body, kissing her as if he'd never get enough. "I don't care what the hell is going on, Khushi. But from now on, lunchtime is our time. I want to talk to you, share a meal with you, and make love to you like this. Deal?"
She cried out as he spread her legs wide, kissing her intimately. "Deal, Khushi?"
She was straining against the tie, her chest rising and falling in shallow breaths. The sight of him, his dark head of hair pressed against her pale skin was shockingly carnal. "Deal..." she managed. "But on one condition."
He looked up, his tongue sliding over his lips. "What?"
It took everything in her to get the words out. "You won't embarrass me like that again in front of everyone. Even after the awards night. This is between only the two of us. If we fight or argue, that's for only us to know."
He crawled up her body, catching her bottom lip between both of his. Kissing her hotly for a long moment, he drew back, his breathing labored. "I can't stop chasing after you. That's impossible. But I promise that if we're having an argument, I won't make is so obvious to anyone else. It'll be between us. Only the two of us."
Her smile returned slowly, lighting up her face. Arching her back, Khushi set her mouth against his. "That's all I want, baby. Now, stop wasting our precious time and make love to me already."
He chuckled, lowering his body. "It would be my pleasure."
And then his hands and mouth were on her, igniting flames with every caress, making her cry and scream at the sheer intensity of it. When he finally grasped her hips and slid to the hilt within her, Khushi's shout echoed off the walls. Thankfully, the conference room's walls were soundproof.
This time, he was just as wild as her, moving hard and zealously, his face contorted with raw passion and his eyes fixed on her flushed face. She wrenched upward, pressing her chest to his and his head fell back, her name escaping his throat. His hands angled her hips as he shifted rhythmically.
As passion enveloped them in a living, breathing inferno, crashing into them in brilliant waves, Khushi felt herself splinter apart. She fell back on the carpet, feeling utterly cherished, loved, and very much out of breath. Arnav collapsed beside her and she pressed her lips to every part of him she could reach: his chin, his unshaved cheek, his eyebrow, the corner of his mouth.
And then the very next second, everything changed. She felt that same overpowering sensation. She pulled at the bonds frantically.
"Arnav! Untie me!"
He grinned lazily, burrowing his face in the crease of her neck. "I'm not done with you yet."
She tried to twist away. "Arnav, I feel sick. My stomach..."
She didn't have to explain a word more. He was up and alert right away, unwinding the tie and picking her up in his arms. They made it to the connected bathroom just in the nick of time.
Arnav's face was etched with worry as he held her hair back, massaging her shaking back. "Khushi, this isn't the usual morning sickness. You need to see a doctor."
She nodded, feeling unsteady on her feet. Her husband's arm wound around her and she leaned back against him, setting her hand over his. "I know, baby. It keeps happening, and it's getting worse each time."
His mouth thinned. "That's it. We're going to your doctor right away. This minute. Grab a hold of the sink, I'll get your clothes."
Khushi splashed water on her face, rinsing her mouth. He was right. She had to see someone about this.
But there was a terrible worry in her heart. What if it was something serious? What if the baby-- She couldn't even finish the thought, her heart quaking. Resting her hand on her abdomen, she prayed the news wouldn't be what she most feared.

Secret Passion by TINA & Satina
Episode 24: Threats and Promises
She shook her head, taking a deep breath. "What do you think the doctor will say? Do you...Do you think it's going to be bad news? Something to worry about? If it is--" She swallowed, her voice strained. "I don't think I'll be able to bear it honestly." Tears pooled in her eyes and she furiously blinked them away.
Arnav slid his arm across her back, squeezing her shoulder. The muscle at his jaw worked. "Khushi, look at me."
Teary, caramel eyes rose to his and his heart ached at the pain and anxiety he glimpsed there. Leaning forward, he grazed her temple with a featherlight kiss. "I hope with all my heart it's nothing like that. But, whatever it is, good or bad, we'll tackle it together. Just like always."
"Together." She squeezed his hand, leaning her head against his well-muscled shoulder. Her free hand settled on her abdomen in a protective gesture. I love you, Baby Raizada. Please, please be all right.
Directly opposite her sat a woman around her age, a similar nervousness apparent on her oval face. An older woman, who had to be her sister or perhaps a cousin, judging by their strikingly similar appearance, accompanied her. Balanced on her knees was an adorable girl, around two years old, dressed in a summer dress with bright pink butterflies.
Khushi smiled at her and the toddler smiled back. And then, surprising both her mother, Khushi and most especially Arnav, she suddenly jumped off and made a beeline for Khushi, sitting on her lap as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Anna!" Her mother tried to pry her off, but the child was adamant, busy playing with the end of Khushi's dupatta. The woman smiled apologetically. "Sorry, it's just that you're wearing her favorite color. She really loves pink."
"It's all right. Your daughter is adorable." She smiled down at the child. "How old are you? Two? Or three?"
The child held up two fingers.
"No, Anna, you're three now," corrected the mother in a patient tone. "Remember your birthday was last week."
"I two not tree."
A slight smile played on Arnav's lips as he watched Khushi laugh and animatedly talk to the girl. He'd always known that she would be a wonderful mother. There was a light about her, a genuineness that captured the attention of even the coldest, most emotionless people.
Hell, he'd been one of them. Back when he'd first met her, when they'd been at each other's throats all the time, he'd never imagined that one day they'd end up like this: madly in love with her swollen with his child. His jaw flexed.
Anna shook him from his thoughts by suddenly shifting from Khushi's lap and plopping down on him instead. The women blinked, exchanging a perplexed glance.
"He's not wearing pink though," Khushi said.
"I know, it's very strange. Usually she only does this with pink. Anna! Come here, baby."
The toddler had an unmistakable mutinous glint in her eyes. "No!" Sticking out her tongue, she looped her tiny arms around Arnav's neck.
He coughed weakly and Khushi giggled, covering her mouth with her hand.
"Stop laughing at me," he whispered.
"Am I?"
"Yes, you are."
Her smile widened. It was quite amusing to see her husband--THE ASR--so nonplussed, and all because of someone who'd just turned three!
"You're really good with children," she told him. "See, baby, there's no reason to be worried. You'll be an amazing dad."
Anna's mother caught onto the conversation rather fast. "Is it your first child? Congrats to both of you."
"Thanks," they said in unison, their eyes locking. Matching smiles appeared on both their faces.
Khushi's gaze fell to the child in his arms, her lips parting. "Look, she's asleep."
"Oh, good. I'll take her back now. Sorry for the trouble."
"No problem." Arnav carefully passed back the sleeping child to her mother, settling back in the stiff chair. Khushi was still watching him with open-mouthed astonishment.
He raised an eyebrow, feeling a bit self-conscious, which wasn't like him at all. "What?"
Khushi grinned. "Is this whole week going to be filled with surprises? First, you make breakfast for me and now you're putting kids to sleep as if you've always done it."
He wished they were alone so he could kiss her gorgeous smile. "Don't be too impressed, I think that was a fluke. I don't know how I'm going to be with a newborn. I've never even held a baby."
Khushi inclined her head toward the corner, where the red-faced infant had finally quieted down, sucking on his thumb. "Should I ask his mom? I don't think she'll mind."
He grabbed her wrist, tugging her back down. "Don't you dare."
Khushi tried not to smile at the look of pure alarm on his face. "Spoilsport."
"Maybe, but you love me anyway."
This time, it was her turn to wish they were somewhere private so she could press her mouth to his arrogant smirk. "You made it impossible for me not to love you."
"I was persistent, wasn't I?" His eyes twinkled. "Now you're stuck with me, babe."
She squeezed his hand. "And you're stuck with me."
He leaned sideways to kiss her cheek. "Good. Keep it that way." His eyes fell on the clock again. Though the waiting room was getting emptier by the minute, Khushi's name still hadn't been called. "Dammit, what is taking so long?"
She shrugged. "I have a feeling I'm going to be the last one seen. You can go--"
Arnav glanced at her warningly. "Don't. I'm not going anywhere."
Smiling, Khushi was just about to tell him how very glad she was that he would be with her when his phone rang. The voice on the other end was loud and panicked and one she'd rather forget.
"Arnav!" screeched his grandmother. "You must come home! Right away!"
They both tensed and his gaze swung to her. Their hands instinctively entwined. "What is it? Is it Di? Is she all right?"
There was a shuffling sound and Anjali came on the line. "Chote! Chote, I need you!"
"Di, what is it? What's happened?"
"You promised you'd come if I needed you!" Anjali wailed between hiccupping sobs. "Please, just come home and--"
There was the unmistakable sound of another tussle; something garbled was spoken.
Arnav frowned, his hand tightening on the phone. "Di? Di, are you there?"
It was his grandmother who answered, her voice rising. "Your sister needs you! What more do you need to know? She hurt herself. She's in terrible pain. Come here immediately!"
His eyes flashed to his wife. "Dadi, I can't--"
Khushi grabbed the phone from him. "He's on his way. He'll be there in a few minutes. Please tell Anjali Di that."
His grandmother ground her teeth together. "Oh, so he's with you. I should have known. He doesn't want to leave your bed even when his sister needs him? It's absolutely shameful! I'm appalled! How do you two live with yourselves and--"
"Do not insult me or my husband," Khushi interrupted stiffly, not caring if her tone was far from polite. "We're at the hos--"
"I don't care what my grandson and you do. He'll tire of you eventually." The line cut with a snap.
Arnav cursed under his breath. He'd heard every spiteful word. "She never stops, does she? I'll deal with her, baby. She can't keep behaving this way."
"I wish I could say I'm used to her nastiness by now, but I'm not. Forget that, love, you need to go to Di."
Arnav stared at her with shock, which quickly shifted to seething outrage. "You need me here. I know how worried you are. I'm not leaving you."
"Arnav--"
"No!"
A few heads turned their way and he bit his lip, glancing away. Khushi lowered her voice, squeezing his hand. "Arnav, listen to me. Your sister hurt herself. I may be a bit anxious, but otherwise, I'm perfectly okay. I can see the doctor alone."
"I said no." Why was she being so self-sacrificing? His Di had a house full of people to care for her every need, but Khushi was alone dammit! She had no one but him--not even her family.
Khushi sighed, turning his head her way. "I know you want to be with me, baby. I understand that. But just consider it once. The house is close by. Maybe if you leave now, you can be back before the doctor even sees me."
He glared at her, his tone brusque. "Thanks for the suggestion, but I'm not taking that chance. I'm staying. That's it."
She didn't look too pleased by his declaration, but before she could argue otherwise, the phone buzzed between them. A message from Anjali flashed on the screen: CHOTE! CHOTE, I NEED YOU! YOU PROMISED ME! :'(
Khushi met his gaze with grim resolve. "Don't you see? This time, she needs you more than me. What if she's harmed herself again? Would you be able to forgive yourself for not going?"
He didn't have to reply, she knew him well enough to know how deep and overpowering his guilt would be. And that knowledge propelled her to pull him to his feet, taking him by hand to the exit. The hallway outside was vacant.
"Khushi..."
"I'll be fine. Don't worry."
He looked as if he was battling with himself, ever so reluctant to leave her side. She made it easier for him, stepping forward and embracing him. "Go," she whispered, blinking back tears.
He swallowed, throwing his arms around her and resting his chin on the top of her head. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Khushi managed a wobbly smile for him. "Don't speed."
His gaze was turbulent as he cupped her face, pressing a firm kiss to her forehead. "Everything will be fine. I'll be right back, love. I promise."
"I know." Her grip tightened on him for a brief moment and then she forced herself to step back, her arms falling to her side.
It was easier said than done for Arnav to leave her--one of the most difficult decisions he'd ever made. His every footstep felt like a heavy burden. As he stepped inside the elevator, he found himself staring directly at her.
Khushi was still standing there, looking a bit weak, but otherwise, breathtakingly lovely in pink chiffon, her radiant eyes suspiciously moist.
As the elevator doors began to shut, she smiled at him encouragingly. "Love you," she mouthed.
He didn't have the chance to reply. His hands fisted at his sides, nails biting into his taut flesh.
*****
Arnav did not heed his wife's word of warning this once. He sped home, breaking more than a couple traffic rules. The tires made a loud, squealing noise as he braked in front of Shantivan's main door.
He didn't know what he'd been expecting. An ambulance? Perhaps the police?
But the driveway was empty and eerily quiet. Lights glowed through the fine, gossamer curtains, outlining the dining room.
He ran inside. "DI! DI!"
"Chote! In here!"
Turning, he darted forward, his mind filled with harrowing images of the past: his sister lying in a pool of spreading crimson, her body dangerously still as blood seeped from her slit wrist. He came to a jerking halt at the threshold of the dining room, his eyes widening.
Anjali stood at the head of the table, pouring tea into delicate porcelain cups. She appeared perfectly all right. He didn't spot any signs of injury. Not even a single strand of hair on her head was out of place.
"Chote!" She beamed, gesturing him to join her. "I baked you a cake! It's sugar-free."
For a moment, he wondered if he'd heard her right. "Cake? Dadi said you were hurt."
Anjali laughed, setting down the teapot and carefully dusting off a few crumbles around her three-tiered chocolate cake. His temper sizzled.
"Di, I asked you something," he said with rapidly dwindling patience. "Dadi told me--"
"Oh, she was just trying to get you home," waved off Anjali. "Forget it. Have a bite of cake. It's so delicious!"
"Yes, Arnav, have a bite." His grandmother spoke from behind him and he whirled around, his eyes gleaming with fury.
"You lied to me, Dadi? You both lied to me?" His voice was low, the dangerous undertones hard to miss.
Anjali hobbled forward, her eyebrows knitting together. "It was just a harmless prank, Chote. Why are you being such a meanie?" She took his hand in hers. "Now, come on. We're getting late for our tea party."
Arnav wrenched his arm away, the muscle at his jaw leaping. "Enough, Di! Do you both realize what you've done? Do you have any idea?"
"Us?" His grandmother made a face, her lips twisting into a disapproving scowl. "It's you who's been neglecting your responsibilities here and instead been busy philandering with that girl! For months now!"
Arnav had had enough. "Not another word, Dadi," he warned. "That girl is my wife. The woman I love. You don't know anything about Khushi. You've decided to hate her and that hate is blinding you from seeing how incredible she is."
"Incredible?" scoffed Dadi. "You are the one who's blinded. By lust! Why don't you understand? Khushi Kumari Gupta will never be fit for this family! She will never be one of us!"
"Really? Is that what you think? Even now?" His eyes narrowed. "Well, the truth is the exact opposite! She's more than worthy. If anyone is lacking between the two of us, it's me! Not her. I've always felt I'm not good enough for her. Right from the start. But the remarkable thing about my wife is that she loves me just as I am. I don't expect you to understand that, Dadi, but you will respect my marriage and Khushi if you want to be a part of my life from here on out."
For the first time, his grandmother appeared startled. "You'd break the ties of blood we share for her? THAT MIDDLE CLASS GIRL YOU'VE KNOWN FOR LESS THAN A YEAR?"
He met her gaze grimly. "If I took that step--and trust me, I'm seriously considering it right now--it would all be because of one person: you."
"Chote!" broke in Anjali with a confused frown. "Why are you behaving this way? Apologize to Dadi. This is no way to behave."
Arnav's jaw hardened as he considered his sister. "Then what is? To lie to someone and pretend you're hurt when you're actually completely all right? Do you have any idea where I was when I got your call?"
"No doubt in that s**t's bed!" snarled his grandmother. "I heard her on the phone."
Arnav felt his temper snap. "ENOUGH, DADI! ENOUGH! KHUSHI IS IN THE HOSPITAL! She made me leave her there because she thought Di needed me! She forced me to come here because she cares so much! Cares so much about this family that's never accepted her! And you two lied to me. And all for what? A tea party? A bloody tea party!"
Anjali looked a bit remorseful, but their grandmother appeared coolly unaffected by his outburst.
Arnav loomed over her, forcing her to meet his unflinching gaze. "You have nothing to say now, Dadi?"
Her lips pursed, and adjusting her glasses, she stared at him directly in the eye. "If your so-called wife lives or dies doesn't make one ounce of difference to me. I'll pray for the latter any day."
Arnav jerked away from her as if he'd been burned, a look of disgust evident on his face. It took him a moment to manage a reply. "You're just like him, aren't you? Just like your son." He couldn't stand to look at her. Not for a minute more. "I think it's time you returned to the ashram."
It was obvious she hadn't considered he'd go that far. Her mouth fell open. "You'd send me away from Shantivan? Don't forget that this is my son's home first and you have no right to--"
"I have every right," Arnav broke in, his voice hard and ice cold. "This home is mine. I built it with my hard work. Your son left us all practically penniless if you remember. But what else can be expected from a man like that? He was nothing but an abusive, alcoholic monster."
"Don't." Her voice rose in a shrill. "Don't you dare insult him!"
"Why shouldn't I? Because I happen to be his son? I never chose to be! No one would choose to be! My mother should have married Uncle from the start." Anjali was sobbing, and he forced himself to ignore her.
Dadi appeared furious, her eyes burning brightly behind the shine of her glasses. "You are the most disrespectful, selfish person I've ever met. I'm ashamed to call you my grandson. You deserve--" Her arm rose, the palm flayed open.
Arnav caught her by the wrist, a smirk on his lips though his eyes glittered with menace. "You're going to hit me? Like your son?" He flung her hand off of him. "I'm not a little boy anymore, Dadi. And don't talk about respect. Respect is earned. I'm not going to respect someone who doesn't deserve it, regardless of age."
"Stop, Chote!" Anjali stood rocking back and forth on her heels, her hands covering her ears as if to block out the argument. "Stop it!"
He kept his gaze trained on his grandmother. "I expect you to return to Nainital by tomorrow night. I'll have it arranged. And Di," His eyes flashed with fury. "I can't believe what you've done today. The lies you told, this whole stunt. Khushi is in the hospital, Di! Do you understand how serious that is? You're not a child anymore. Your actions have consequences."
She clutched his arm, her gaze beseeching. "Chote, please, I didn't know. I had no idea."
Arnav shrugged off his sister, his face and voice hard as granite. "I'll never forgive you for this, Di. NEVER!"
It was the first time he'd ever raised his voice at her. The first time he'd looked at her without the affection and warmth she'd grown so accustomed to. Even her crying made little difference. He was livid.
As he turned and marched away, almost as if he couldn't bear to look at her, his back rigid and ramrod straight, Anjali sagged against her grandmother, a sob breaking out. It had all gone wrong. Terribly wrong.
"Chote will forgive me, won't he, Dadi?"
She patted her hand, her eyes grim as she stared after her grandson's tall form. "He will. Because he loves you." And love, she knew from years of experience, made people exceptionally prone to foolish things, like forgiving someone who did not deserve it. "He will return to you. You are his favorite, Anjali."
"Even after today?" She wasn't sure anymore. Not sure about anything. Try as she might, she could not stop thinking about the accusation in his eyes, the cold fury, the disgust. She shivered.
"Give him time," crooned her grandmother, not the least bit perturbed. "Once his anger wears off, he'll be back, begging you to forgive him."
Anjali shook her head, a heavy weight settling over her heart. "I don't think so, Dadi. Not this time. He's not the Chote I knew." And by that she meant the younger brother she'd always taken for granted, the brother who'd supported her right from childhood. They'd been each other's only comfort during those dark, horrific days. They had never shared those secrets with even their closest friends or cousins. The truth had remained between them alone.
An image of a noose flashed in her head and she closed her eyes, willing the fear-provoking memory to go away. When her eyes blinked open, they were wet.
Back then, her brother had never once questioned her. But things were far different now. Her Chote had grown up. He was no longer a child she could control and sway with her tears.
"He's changed," she whispered brokenly.
"Nothing's changed!"
"It has. His wife has changed everything. He loves her more now. Not me!"
Sumitra held her as she cried, her mouth thinning at the mention of the girl she loathed with her whole being. She could only pray her grandson would realize that he did not belong with that middle-class, opportunistic piece of trash. Khushi Kumari Gupta was attractive and certainly smart, but she'd never be a daughter-in-law befitting the Raizada family's high stature.
Arnav thought he was in love, but Sumitra knew that was all nonsense. Love was nothing but a silly, wishful fantasy. Once her grandson got his fill of the Gupta girl, he'd start thinking with his brain again and break the so-called marriage with his own two hands. If only she could be there to see it.
But she wouldn't be.
Arnav, her only grandson, had without pause or any sign of regret told her to leave. All because of that girl! Perhaps Anjali was right. Perhaps, things had changed after all.
*****
Rushing toward the main door, Arnav was doing his best to forget about his ugly confrontation with his grandmother. He had to get to Khushi. That was all that mattered right now. He could only hope he wasn't too late.
"Arnavji!" Payal stepped out of her bedroom, wringing her hands. "Is everything all right? I heard shouting."
If Arnav had paused to consider her, he'd have realized that she was dressed in her nightclothes, though it was only mid-day. The aquamarine silk wrap clung to her curves, dipping low to reveal several inches of cleavage. But he was busy with his phone. It had beeped, the text jarring him:
Sexy, Stubborn Wife: I'm on my way home. Meet you there.
What did that mean? he wondered, rereading her cryptic words several times. Why hadn't she told him what the doctor had said? Was the baby all right? He dialed her number, running a shaky hand through his hair.
Payal frowned. "Arnavji?" She leaned closer, deliberately brushing her chest against him. "Are you okay? I heard Dadiji and Anjaliji screaming."
Truth was, she'd heard more than shouts. She'd heard every word the three had exchanged. No one knew about the small, inexpensive camera she'd installed in the kitchen for just such occasions. She'd sat with glee in her room, watching the argument in real-time. Though Dadi had never objected to her as she had to Khushi, she hadn't been overly nice and friendly either. Payal was more than happy to see the witch being ordered to pack her bags.
She'd giggled, not bothering to hide her amusement. Her failure of a husband had been blissfully absent, busy with yet another meeting. Since breaking off from the AR Group and launching his own company, Akash had yet to find much success. To keep from sinking completely, he was in the process of negotiating a partnership with one of her old family friends: Karan.
The very man she'd once used to separate Khushi and Arnav. He'd been another pawn, another puppet, and he still didn't realize that she'd been the one to hold and pull his strings all along. The hired man had been her voice, and she'd relayed him all instructions, always being careful to keep out of sight.
"Dammit!" Arnav growled, punching a button on his phone again. She heard the bell ring, but no one seemed to be answering.
Payal had a fairly good suspicion of whom he had to be calling. Though Khushi was not physically present, she refused to go away. Even now, she was hindering her plans. How much she hated her! How much she'd always hated her so-called sister!
Grinding her teeth, Payal took a calculative step toward Arnav. This was the closest she'd ever been to him. This close, she could see his every handsome detail: the hard edge of his jaw, the stubble dotting his cheeks, and the fullness of his lower lip. Her body clenched and she wondered if he caught the scent of her mounting arousal. She could smell him incredibly well. His masculine cologne swarmed her senses and she sniffed several times.
Setting her palm on his back, she murmured seductively, "Arnavji? Is there anything I can do for you? Anything you need?"
He didn't seem to hear her, glued to his phone. Peering over his shoulder, she saw that he was now calling a nearby hospital she was vaguely familiar with.
"How's your delectable wife?" inquired Shyam boldly.
Arnav moved so fast, no one could react, much less stop him. Grabbing Shyam by the neck, he slammed his head against the Jaguar's red metal. "You're not allowed to discuss her! You're not allowed to come near her! I warned you, you son of a b****!"
Akash and NK tried to pry him off, but he pushed them back, his right hand curling into a tight fist. His first blow landed directly on Shyam's chin.
He grunted, stumbling backward. The same grin reappeared almost at once. "It's hard to stay away from such a beauty, Saale Saab."
Arnav charged forward.
"Bhai!"
"Naanav!"
Arnav struck his brother-in-law so hard his knuckles throbbed, but he didn't falter, hitting him again and again. Grabbing Shyam by the collar, he raised him so they were eye-level.
"The next time you mention my wife, look at her, or even breathe in her presence, my fists will not stop. I will not be this easy on you. Understand? The only reason I tolerate you is because of my sister. I can destroy you in seconds if I wished. Destroy your entire existence."
Shyam chuckled, his eyes hardening behind the oozing blood. "Destroy me and you destroy your sister. Forever."
"Don't be so sure about that." Shoving him backwards, Arnav marched away. He paused mid-step, and then swung around, slapping the man three times in quick succession.
"That's for the share-the-bed game you tried to play the other day, Jha. Don't think I've forgotten. Come near my wife again, and I will kill you."
Shyam wiped back blood from his split lip. "You're threatening me, Saale Saab?" He sounded amused.
Arnav's voice was hard as steel. "It's not a threat. It's a promise." Before he turned, he grabbed the Jaguar's keys, throwing them to NK.
"Take these to my office and hand them over to Aman. Tell him it's a gift from me."
"Your...your assistant?" Akash struggled over the words. "This is a Jaguar, Bhai! It's worth--"
"I know how much it's worth. And I'd rather Aman have it than this piece of scum. You two can have the rest of Jha's car collection. From now on, he travels by foot. He's not allowed in any of my cars. Is that understood?"
The pair nodded dumbly, watching as he reversed. From the rearview window, he saw that Shyam still stood in the same spot, that same bizarre grin on his face.
It seemed to Arnav that almost his entire family was filled with twisted people, right from his grandmother to his brother-in-law and though it pained him to admit it: to some extent, even his sister. If there was one light in the darkness, it was the person who'd entered his life almost a year ago: Khushi.
The woman he'd felt the strangest connection to from the moment she'd landed in his arms. The woman he'd forced into a contract just to keep her near. The woman who soothed his soul in ways he couldn't explain and without whom, he couldn't imagine breathing, much less living with his sanity intact.
Arnav could only pray that she and their child were okay. It scalded his insides to consider anything short of that. He would give anything in the world to see them safe and healthy. Anything at all.
*****
Khushi was pacing in the bedroom, staring time and again at the sheet of paper in her hands. She still couldn't believe it. How would Arnav react? She was dying to call him, but it would be best to tell him in person she knew.
Still, the wait felt endless. And then finally, finally, she heard the door slam downstairs, heard his footsteps race up the staircase. Within seconds, he appeared at the doorway, breathing hard, his face lined with tension.
In two steps, he was before her, grasping her by the shoulders. His eyes traced over her features urgently. "Well? What happened at the clinic? Did you see the doctor?"
She nodded, but instead of answering him, fired back with questions of her own: "How's Di? Is she all right?"
Arnav was in no mood to discuss his family. "Yeah, she's fine. Now tell me what the doctor said."
Khushi's eyes were drawn to the red splotches on his chest. Her breath hitched. "You're hurt! Baby, you're bleeding! What happened?"
"Nothing."
She was already unbuttoning his shirt, searching for the injury he had to be hiding from her. "Arnav, tell me!"
"Hush, love. It's not my blood."
Khushi froze, tilting her eyes up with a look that clearly read: Explain!
Arnav sighed. "Fine, you want to know what happened? Well, my sister was making it all up. She was not hurt, she was having a bloody tea party and used the promise I made to her to get me to show up! My grandmother was a part of it. We got into a bit of an argument. She's leaving tomorrow and frankly, I'm glad. Oh, and then I kind of had a fistfight with Jha, though it was only me landing any punches, but the b****** more than deserved it for all he's done. So you see, it's not my blood. It's his." He made a face at the stains on his shirt, undoing the last of the buttons. "Now tell me what the doctor said. I've been losing my mind ever since I left you."
"Wait. What? Di lied? Your grandmother is leaving? And you beat up Jha?" Khushi struggled to follow.
Arnav tossed his coat on the bed. "Perfect summary, baby. Now tell me already. Is everything all right? And why didn't you pick up my calls? Do you have any idea how worried I've been?"
"I know." She smoothed a hand over his cheek. "But I wanted to tell you in person."
That sounded ominous. His hand rose to cover hers even as his heartbeat quickened. It was hard to get the words out. "Are you and the baby okay?"
Khushi drew his hand down to her stomach, pressing it flat. "I'm feeling a bit nervous at the moment, but otherwise I'm okay. And the babies are perfectly healthy."
He sighed with relief, relaxing, and then his eyes widened with disbelief. "What? Did you say babies? As in plural?"
Khushi nodded, biting her lip. "We're having twins."
"Twins!" he said the word as if he'd never heard of the concept before. "Two babies, not one?"
"Perfect definition." She watched him carefully, chewing on her bottom lip. His hand was still on her abdomen and his gaze was fixed there. "Baby?" she croaked. "How do you feel about that? I know one baby was a huge shock for you and now two..."
His eyes flew to her, the seriousness reflected there cementing her worst fears. Was he really going to leave her again?
"You know what this means?" he murmured.
"What?" she managed.
"It means I need to buy another bib." His face lit up and he started to embrace her but then remembered about the state of his shirt. Khushi stood frozen as he shrugged out of it, flinging the bloodstained clothes into the wastebasket. Gleaming, bronzed muscles were revealed, but Khushi for the first time was struck by something else.
It means I need to buy another bib, he'd said! And he was smiling at her, actually smiling!
As soon as he was down to just his pants, he crushed her to him. "Twins! I can't believe it."
"You're happy?"
He kissed her hard and long, his tongue mating with hers. "Honestly, the thought of one baby was freaking me out already and I was still adjusting to being a father. But when I saw how sick you were, when I realized that we could lose this baby, I realized just how much I love our son or daughter. And now that there are two, that love's just grown." His smile was wide. "I am insanely happy, Khushi. Happy that it isn't any bad news as we feared."
Khushi threw her arms around him, nuzzling her face against his warm chest. "There's nothing to fear. The doctor explained that morning sickness is often more intense and severe with twins. I'm completely healthy."
He sighed with relief, drawing her down on the bedspread. Seizing her lips in a heady kiss, he licked the fullness there before lowering himself to her abdomen.
"Babies Raizada, I love you so much." His fingers threaded with Khushi's as he pressed his lips to her skin--once, twice. "We love you so much."
Swallowing, Khushi pulled him back up, kissing him tenderly. "For a second there, I thought you were going to walk out on me again."
"I never walked out on you."
"Yes, you did!" She'd be lying if she said she'd forgotten all about his initial reaction to her pregnancy.
Arnav shook his head. "I walked to the pool. I didn't leave you. I had no intention of leaving you. I just needed some time alone."
Khushi raised one sleek brow. "Couldn't you have told me that first? I felt as if I lost you. As if everything was over between us."
His mouth slanted over hers, his warm breath washing over her lips. His gaze grew serious once more. "I'm sorry about that, but I promise you, nothing like that will ever happen. It's never going to be over between us. And I will never leave you. You and our children are my world now. I can't live without you. I love you, Khushi."
"And I love you. So much." Their lips met in a soft kiss, but it quickly turned into something hot and demanding.
Khushi gasped when she felt air wash over her. Her husband had undressed her in record time. As he spread her thighs, his caresses making her melt, she unzipped his pants, tugged them, along with his boxers, down his hips.
"I spoke to the doctor about this too," she admitted, stroking him boldly. "If it would be safe still."
He paused over her, his eyes dark and his breathing uneven. "And?"
Khushi wanted nothing more than to tease him awhile longer, but she was as desperate to be joined with him as he was.
"Baby? What did she say?" It would probably kill him, but he'd keep his hands off her if that were necessary.
Khushi bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud. Reaching for his hand, she kissed his palm and then set it on her breast.
"It's safe till the later months. We just have to take the obvious precautions."
Arnav released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, leaning low to take a rosy peak between his lips. "For a second there, I thought you'd say something else."
"For a second there, I was seriously thinking about it." Khushi speared her fingers through his thick hair, winding her legs around his waist.
"Were you?" He switched to the twin, his mouth and tongue wrecking havoc over her entire being. His hands slid over her abdomen and lower still.
She moaned, buckling beneath him. "Now, baby. Now."
He teased her awhile longer, and Khushi took matters into her hands, grasping him in a tight fist.
"Damn. You don't play fair, wife." His hands clamped on her hips and he positioned her so she was on top, straddling his waist.
"Learned it all from you, ASR." With an impish wink, Khushi rose over him, bracing her hands on his smooth, muscled shoulders as he filled and stretched her, again and again. Her head fell back and he grasped her by the neck, pulling her in for a searing kiss. He let her set the pace, watching with hooded eyes as a faint rosiness spread over her skin, sweat gathering along the delicate slope of her throat and collarbone.
"Now," he growled, setting his palms on her heaving breasts as his hips surged upward. "With me."
She smashed their lips together, clenching around him. "Now." The sheets seemed to singe and steam as their cries merged.
Khushi eventually collapsed against him, brushing an open-mouthed kiss over his racing heartbeat. Her heart was pounding too.
"I love you," she whispered, cuddling closer. Tilting her head back, she kissed the underside of his chin and lightly pecked his lips.
"What the hell was that?"
Khushi tried not to laugh, failing badly. "A kiss?"
Arnav didn't look satisfied with that answer, though his gaze was playful. "Have I taught you nothing at all? That isn't a kiss. Kiss me properly...thoroughly..."
Khushi rolled her eyes, but didn't deny him, leaning forward and setting her mouth over his. He kept his lips firmly closed and she made an impatient sound. His eyes lit up and he smoothed his hand down her warm bare back, pulling her closer.
"You're purposely not cooperating," Khushi complained, pressing her lips again and again to his.
"Make me."
"Are we playing that game again?"
He smirked. "A variation of it."
With a sparkle in her eyes, Khushi molded her body to his so that not an inch of space remained between them. Pressed skin to skin, she traced his mouth with her tongue, teasing him with nips and light grazes of her teeth. As a finishing touch, she drew his bottom lip into her mouth, sucking hotly. He growled deep in his throat and suddenly, he was kissing her as if he'd never get enough, his tongue stroking hers with mind-numbing expertise.
Moaning, Khushi kissed him back, properly and thoroughly. Neither got much sleep that night.
*****
The remainder of the week rolled by with relative speed. Along with getting ready for the twins' arrival, there was the office to handle and the quickly approaching Entrepreneur of the Year award ceremony. In between meetings, the annual bridal show's preparations, buying bibs, bottles, matching blankets, and toys, there was hardly any time to breathe.
Even their usual lunchtime meetings had been taken over with work, and Arnav never failed to mention how it was the first time they'd gone three days without succumbing to the passion that raged between them.
"Only at work, Mr. Raizada," Khushi pointed out, stretching her back. It was late and almost all of AR Group's employees had left for the day. Only the two of them remained on the first floor. They just had one last file to pick up. "At home, we're as insatiable as ever."
"True, but I still miss it. Hold on." He grabbed her wrist as she stepped forward. "Where do you think you're going?"
Confused, she motioned toward the stairs. "Your cabin...the file... Remember?"
"Yeah, but I told you, no using the stairs in your condition." He punched the up button on the elevator instead.
Her mouth fell open. "Arnav, you're being unreasonable. It's just one floor."
"I know, but I don't want to risk it. Come on."
The elevator opened with a ping. Khushi sulked the whole way up, arms crossed over her chest.
He smirked back. "Wait here," he said as the doors slid open. "I'll go get the file."
"Oh, so now I'm not allowed to walk either," she grumbled.
Arnav winked. "I'm just saving you the walk, baby. Now stop pouting at me. You know what that does to me."
Blushing, Khushi resisted the urge to whack him. She knew exactly what it did to him.
He was back in less than twenty seconds. She had the elevator ready and as soon as he stepped in, she jabbed the button for the first floor.
The floor lurched beneath them and Khushi was fiddling with the strap of her purse when Arnav's arm shot out, pressing another button. The elevator came to a grating halt.
"What are you doing?" asked Khushi, gazing at him wide-eyed.
He was unbuckling his belt. "It's been too long. I want you."
"Are you insane? Baby, there's a camera mounted in that corner!"
He easily turned the camera around, and for good measure, threw his jacket over it. "Now there's not."
Khushi gulped as he stalked closer. "But the guards might notice..."
"They won't. They're probably napping as usual. Relax."
Her mouth opened and closed several times. "But what if someone else needs the elevator?"
Her husband grinned, boldly grabbing the end of her silky, red saree. "No one else is here. Now stop arguing and kiss me already. I know you want to."
Khushi wet her lips. When he spoke to her in that tone, his voice husky and sinfully sexy, her control threatened to break apart completely.
Arnav drew her sari back just enough so he could slide between it and her skin, plastering her to the brass wall.
"Kiss me. And it better be a proper one too."
"You're impossible," she huffed and then unable to resist, rose up on her tiptoes, covering her mouth with his.
They went up in flames, lips meshing hungrily. Arnav caught her by the hips, lifting her up and in the process, sliding her saree so high it gathered and bunched around her waist. Khushi gasped. Her fingers eased into his hair as he undid the flimsy dori securing her blouse. The string gave away easily.
Arnav wasted no time, dipping his head and capturing her fullness in his wet mouth. Her eyes scrunched close, her legs curling around his back as a moan escaped her.
"Arnav!"
"I've been dying to do this all day." His teeth nipped lightly. "You're so beautiful. So damn hot. I can't get enough of you."
She whimpered one of his hands slipped between them, knowing just how to stroke and caress her till she was aware of nothing but the intense desire to be with him--in every way.
Grabbing his head, she kissed him hard, showing him exactly what he was doing to her, how much she needed him. "I want you, ASR. Right now."
He groaned and the next second, he was within her, holding her against the icy coolness of the elevator as his hips surged, his pace relentless.
Khushi felt herself shatter apart, her back arching as she met his urgency with equal fervor. She heard him growl her name, felt his lips fasten to the flesh of her neck, and her body tightened instinctively around him. With a moan, she clutched him closer.
It was some time later that they stepped out of the elevator, clothes back in order, hair somewhat adjusted, and their passion tamed for the time being. Khushi felt her face warm as her husband's eyes slid over her with a knowing glint, the secret of what they'd shared palpable between them.
"I'll get the car," he murmured as they strode side by side to the private back entrance.
"Baby, I can walk, you know," she said with marked exasperation. "I'm not sick or injured. I'm pregnant."
"Exactly. You're pregnant. And it's raining outside. What if you catch a cold? Stop being stubborn and stay here. I'll be right back."
Khushi wanted to tell him that only a slight drizzle was coming down and that the jeep was hardly parked a great distance away, but she knew nothing would change his mind. Arnav was extra cautious these days. With a nod, she gave in.
He left with a smile and a lingering kiss, not caring that across the corridor, two security guards stood on patrol, their backs to them. Khushi watched him go, absently rubbing her stomach.
"How was the sex?" a voice broke out from behind her.
Lavanya walked closer with flashing eyes, her stilettos making tapping sounds on the polished tile floor.
"What are you doing here?" Khushi wasn't too surprised by her sudden appearance. Lavanya had been keeping an eye on her all week. "Spying as usual?"
The other woman shook her head. "Not this time. You and ASR were so into each other, you didn't notice I was still in my cubicle. I saw you two get into the elevator, but you didn't come out for quite some time. Doesn't take a genius to figure out what you were doing in there. So how was it, Gupta? Was it hot? I've heard he's damn good in bed."
Khushi struggled to leash in her temper. Her eyes were frosty. "He's more than good.  Amazing actually. In ways you'll never know."
She could tell her words had shocked Lavanya, who'd probably imagined she'd deny the relationship outright. She recovered after a slight pause.
"Don't get too happy, Gupta. ASR moves on fast. And next time, it might not be you in the elevator with him."
"You think it'll be you?" Khushi questioned with amusement. "Don't be so delusional. He's changed. He's not going to move onto any other woman. What we share...Well, let's just say you won't ever be able to understand it. It's beyond you."
Lavanya appeared infuriated. "Over-confidence is never a good thing, Gupta. ASR may not have fallen for me yet, but that doesn't mean he never will."
"Then you don't know him at all," snapped Khushi. Outside, the jeep appeared, her husband's silhouette just visible through the tinted glass. She wanted nothing more than to run into his arms. "I don't have time for this. But make sure you come to the award ceremony tomorrow night, Lavanya. You'll understand there just how close Arnav and I truly are. See you then. Don't be late."
Arnav was coming out of the car with an umbrella in hand and she stepped past Lavanya with a final glare, hurrying to him.
He held the passenger-side door open. "Was that Kashyap with you? What did she want?"
Khushi had to take a couple of calming breaths before she could tell him anything. And then she did--every last word.
Arnav was furious. "How dare she corner you and talk to you like that? The nerve of her! And does she really still believe I'll go to her? How many times do I have to tell her I want nothing to do with her?"
Khushi's head swerved toward him. "How many times has she tried coming close to you?"
"A lot, mostly when you first arrived here. But I made it clear to her that I wasn't interested and she backed off. Even during the New York business trip, she behaved professionally. I seriously thought she was over it."
Khushi thought back to her first few weeks at AR Designs. She had hated him then and had told him so--countless times. "We weren't on good terms during that time. There was so much distrust between us. And you didn't even believe we were married. Truthfully, I didn't expect you to be faithful. What stopped you then from going to Lavanya? She was crazy about you. Still is." She tried to keep her face impassive, hoping he didn't pick up on the uncertainty in her voice. It was perhaps irrational, but she couldn't help it. She loved him so much.
Arnav observed her closely, taking her hand in his. "She might have been crazy about me, but I was crazy about someone else. Lavanya wasn't the woman I wanted. I only wanted you."
Khushi's heart shook at that sincerity in his words. She raised his hand to her lips, kissing the pads of his each finger. "I'm so glad you never slept with her. I can't stand the thought of any other woman, especially her, touching you intimately or you touching them like you do with me."
"You're all I want, Khushi. There's no reason to be jealous."
"I'm not jealous," she lied.
The corner of his mouth lifted. "Really? Not even a little? You sound jealous."
"Fine. Maybe I am. Just a little." His eyebrow rose and she added, "Okay, a lot. But how would you feel if some guy said something like that to you? Told you he wanted me right to your face?"
Arnav's eyes glinted like hot coals. "He wouldn't be left standing. I'd be murderous."
"Well, that's exactly how I feel, baby. I've never felt like hitting someone so much in my entire life."
He squeezed her hand. "I loved what you did say to her. It was a classy blow."
"Thanks, but we're going to have to put a stop to all her thoughts of getting into your bed. I've had enough. Tomorrow night at the awards, I want everyone--especially her--to know that we're husband and wife and I'm Khushi Raizada--not Gupta."
Arnav nodded, his thumb drawing circles on her palm. "Oh, I will, baby. I'll make that crystal clear to everyone there, including the press. The secret will finally be out."
Khushi tightened her grip on his hand. "Our relationship and the love we share will no longer be a secret, but our passion...that will always remain a secret. Just between the two of us."
"Only us."
Content, Khushi reclined back in the leather seat. She could hardly wait for the awards night. Only 12 hours remained.

To be continued
What did you think of this chapter? Leave your thoughts on the comment thread.
Precap:
Secret Passion by TINA & Satina
Episode 25: Entrepreneur of the Year
Please leave all your comments on the 'Comments' Page!

159 comments:

  1. Didn't get your PM so read it here. Seems extremely interesting. The man in Lucknow has to be Shyam, I suppose. Waiting for the update.
    IF(1chilly)

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  2. It's kind of difficult not to love the sexy smoldering commanding ASR. I can't wait to read your version of him.

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  3. oh i am waiting so very eagerly

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  4. waiting f0r this 0ne as I wait f0r all 0thers T

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  5. Seems ineresting story
    Waiting for update ;)

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  6. wow, interesting, but I do have a little request, please don't let arnav be involved with her girls and khushi too. Only make that its arshi in involve with each other and no other girls. thanks!! Your rocking Tina! update again soon!! I am looking forward to this SS of arshi screat passion!

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  7. Very interesting teaser...surely like to read more..
    Waiting for first part...

    ReplyDelete
  8. looking good, and from the looks of the banner, expect it to be lot hotter and passionate one,
    can't wait
    thanx for the pM:)

    ReplyDelete
  9. interesting new story. looking forward to it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. very interesting. ...pls update soon..looking forward to read more. ..

    ReplyDelete
  11. m egerly waiting for this update.....

    ReplyDelete
  12. Damn u make it seem incredibly intriguing and passionate- no doubt this one will shine just like the rest of them:)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Loving the new SS, the characters too!

    The picture is just too hot love it

    ReplyDelete
  14. Already in love with it....

    Waiting for the 1st chapter.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wow!! 1st chapter was amazing!!! I am loving it already!! Update chapter 2 soon! Since this an SS, how many chapters will it be?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. glad u liked it! umm not sure how many chapters exactly. i would guess 10-15 but we'll let the story guide us

      Delete
  16. oh God he traps her to dis relation

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  17. i don't understand. was it khushi's condition that there be no time limit to their agreement? or was it arnav's condition? what did khushi want that forced her to accept arnav's condition??

    other than that...loved the update (been following ur blog for months now and just started to comment)

    IF id: Arani_Kumar

    ReplyDelete
  18. Oh wow girls!!!!

    this is a hot one

    can't believe he called her to his office to have sex

    crap what did Khushi get herself into?

    please continue soon

    ReplyDelete
  19. i really liked the first part..very well written..i am looking forward to reading more of it.

    ReplyDelete
  20. you are right that we have to come out of ipk mould......but it is still arnav and khushi. when we imagine about them faces of sanaya and barun come to our mind......with those faces we can imagine any kind of story.....this story as you said should be about them only make other characters minors .....and make us imagine wild

    ReplyDelete
  21. Seriously tina! U alwaz make me to read more
    first shameless than desert heat now this one
    luved it.... Awsome plot jst a piece no bonds, commitments jst desire, passion n hatered nd whats not i dont know nor want to knw so plz dont tell me...
    Arnav bind her for one month nd she come up with unlimited plan....
    Hope the cmnt here to count
    precious-pie(if)

    ReplyDelete
  22. i felt sad and thn i felt curious tht what was her condition tht costed her in a no time limit scenario rather thn just a month long torture.
    i can understand tht she hates him but why do he hates her?

    ReplyDelete
  23. just wow... amazing start :) liked the first part.. update it soon plzzzz... i love your story and plzzz don't miss update desert heat.... and take care

    ReplyDelete
  24. Interesting start... wonder what changed the conditions to no time limit... I love ASR no matter what :D... hmmm eagerly waiting for the next update

    ReplyDelete
  25. Please update chapter 2 soon!! I am very excited to read the next chapter.

    ReplyDelete
  26. glad you updated chapter 2, loved it!!! for once, I want khushi to win this task of photo shoot!! and prove ASR wrong and win! Will be waiting eagerly for chapter 3 soon!! I am so happy that ASR refused lavanya, I was smiling, that arnav didn't fall for any women, but only khushi!!

    ReplyDelete
  27. update soon dear..........

    plzzzzzzzzz eagerly waiting..............




    WID LUV,

    ~~~RIYA~~~

    ReplyDelete
  28. Loved the retort....
    Can ASR be more absurd n arrogant with his tasks...
    What a passion....n hatred together...but how can they hate each other so much n still have so much passion..?
    What were her conditions...? Why was she paying so much price..?

    ReplyDelete
  29. just read the new ff update. so a new version of asr and kkg. sounds interesting. nice updates. looking for more as early as possible.

    ReplyDelete
  30. i got same question what was the condition that what asr wanted for ome month now he has for no time limit

    ReplyDelete
  31. I would have hated this man had I ever met him in reality, which I sincerely hope I never do, but in this story he is just so damn irresistible, and your Khushi is just so impossibly complicated, I love her more ;) Btw, will wait for your update, u sure have a flair for writing :)

    ReplyDelete
  32. chapter 2 her monologue of bauji daughter has gone to ASR bed and wanting lavanya to solve the riddle named ASR cracked me up. :)
    i am so rooting for khushi.

    every emotion n feeling is there arrogance, lust, chemistry, hunger (for food and other),irritation, anger, envy, possessiveness only love is missing

    ReplyDelete
  33. Just read both of the chapters, this story is awesome

    So a contract is going between them, they hate each other and have a lot of sex full of passion

    & now new tasks will be given yay haha, i loved what Khushi did with writing the words with the letter 'a'

    ReplyDelete
  34. loved all ur stories. first time i'm commenting from now onwards will wait for ur updates.continue soon.great work IF :adhu11

    ReplyDelete
  35. Just read both the chapters.
    This looks very interesting and quite different.

    IF:arshiyakanishka

    ReplyDelete
  36. New at your blog....
    But after readi g this already a bit fan....
    Thanks sweets.....

    ReplyDelete
  37. Great start.
    Loving this story , have read the 2chapters already a few times. Wonderfully brilliant SS.
    Can't wait for the next chapter. Eagerly waiting.

    IF Id gifttag

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  38. Absolutely loving this story... what an explosive start !!
    their characters.. their chemistry.. the events.. fabulous!!
    the passion is uncontainable.. unmatchable!!
    loved it..
    plzz updates it sooon..

    aditi07

    ReplyDelete
  39. once again was amazing SS ..its really diffrent then any stories ever i read ... will be waiting for more plz post it soon dear

    ReplyDelete
  40. Just brilliant!!! The first two updates have left me checking for the 3rd update every few hours this weekend.
    I recall you asking if this bold story would be liked and I said it then and I say it now.... I love bold!!!'

    IF : shreyasonia

    ReplyDelete
  41. Fantastic! I only started this SS today, and it is extremely interesting! The passion is totally mind blowing and now I can't see them trying to match each other in every other way too!

    Really good...will be waiting for this one eagerly.

    Cheers!

    Rayolight - IF

    ReplyDelete
  42. buddy i don,t understand khushi behavior she said she hate him but what happen when he come near her where her moral go
    update is good

    ReplyDelete
  43. Love the update!!!!
    -Mannat27

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  44. your story is very interesting..!! waiting for new updates..!

    IF : jdd1959

    ReplyDelete
  45. so read it all....sorry for late reply...was busy with exams...ahh once again we'll see and epic saga...an arrogant man and a worthy opponent...TINA just love ur stories...

    IF user: Jahnvi.luvs.ASR

    ReplyDelete
  46. LOVING COOL WICKED ASR!

    ReplyDelete
  47. This is really a different ball game altogether - can't imagine our usual khushi in this role but hope she gives him back more than he bargains for. I am routing for KKG all the way!! (amanram from IF)

    ReplyDelete
  48. That was stunning. Giving ASR in the same coin.
    Loved it!

    ReplyDelete
  49. Jeez! The things Kushi does for her family! Now what the hell! (It's almost like she is a prostitute, the exclusive PROPERTY of ASR!) I hate him! But we see the possessiveness he has on her. Perhaps she can use that to her advantage. I would love to see her get the upper hand for once! (Yeah, I know she won, but he is still controlling her...!)

    IF - kbtr

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  50. she should know that she is the weakness of asr.so she should fight fire with fire....mind blowing update

    ReplyDelete
  51. Loved the update. It was sooo hot. Kushi indeed won. I knew arnav would let no one and i mean no one other than himself let kushi be seen in a skimpy bikini.

    ReplyDelete
  52. that was awesome Tina... Khushi won :P...

    ReplyDelete
  53. babes that was freaking awsaaaaaam
    too hit to handle damn it
    i love this ss n asr m khushi's brain lool u can do it girl ...... keep it up dears
    rokaya IF

    ReplyDelete
  54. that was brilliant and really steamingly hot,
    i love it how khushi kind of knew that he won't allow her to model like that and used his possessiveness against him
    can't wait to read more
    thanx for the pm:)

    ReplyDelete
  55. its awesome tina........:">......
    so HOT and PASSIONATE!!!!!!!!!!.....:">...loved it.....:D

    if id: xyzsm

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  56. Awesome and super hot !!! Khushi is so smart she knows she is Arnav's weakness and he won't allow to come in bikini in front of everybody and it was only for him.. felt bad to read khushi's past..

    thanks for pm

    ReplyDelete
  57. olllalal its getting intense and much more interesting out here.

    ReplyDelete
  58. awesome!!! loved it...waitingg 4 the next update

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  59. its good i really like it

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  60. Awesome loved this update looking forward to the next update. Thanks Tina for the pm.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Wow
    amazing...
    just cant waite to read futher

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  62. Just read ur ff in one go Just awesome
    So much of passion and sexiness
    U r an amazing writer loved it
    Please update soon

    ReplyDelete
  63. HOTNESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!

    omigod... this is hotter than mind games tina... loving every bit of it... truly very passionate :)))

    im liking the fact that khushi wants him as much as he wants her!!! continue soon dear

    -cherry227

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  64. omgee!! hottt!!! i'm totally wett after reading this.!!

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  65. oh God so hot

    cant wait for Khushi to tell Arnav about the proposal for her

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  66. Ahah!!! the equations are changing... and changing fast! :)

    loved the update ...

    gotto to see the other side of ASR...
    It is more than passion that he has for her... which is quite clear... almost finding solace in her arms...and what more he said that himself and she too softened up!!

    just when the grey clouds seems to be moving away... here comes another dark one! *sigh*
    not sure how poor Khushi is get outta this situation!

    Nice update girls! :)

    ~Leena

    ReplyDelete
  67. OMG! And I thought desert heat was hot! This is so hot that I dont find any words to describe it! I hated it when ASR used her helpless situation and had her sign that contract. But there chemistry twists your moral compass and you just want them together. Of course chap 4 has changed a lot between them! I am glad Khushi is not portrayed like a victim here. She hates it but accepts that she enjoys their physical encounter!!
    Thanks to my frien charu who suggested this SS to me! Waiting for the chap 5.
    Thanks.
    shree10 (IF)

    ReplyDelete
  68. Aww so k finally admitts to her feelings.
    Love it wen it all comes together.
    Obviously the path is still rocky. Wonder how ASR deals with the next challenge. Heehee!

    Looking forward to next update. X

    ReplyDelete
  69. OMG that was one hell of a episode....too much happened...for the first time just like khushi felt sorry for ASR...
    so she tells about her feelings...both are at peace...so what does hapens to buajis NRI proposal...loved the update...
    yush

    ReplyDelete
  70. Ah so finally they open up...even all the problems are far from over....atleast they know something about each other.

    And finally Khushi admits that she wants him...can't wait to see where this goes from here!

    Waiting.....

    Cheers
    Rayolight

    ReplyDelete
  71. cough* cough* I just ran a marathon :) Arshi,I believe you both have got it wrong,life is not going to run out in a day. But its ok.. As ASR said, he is the damn CEO for nothing...Thanks for the update

    ReplyDelete
  72. my god arnav and khush getting emotionally connected

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  73. excellent chapter............they are in some way behaving like husband and wife.......just not realising it
    now lets see what would be Arnav's reaction to Khushi's rishta
    looking forward for more

    GunM(IF)

    ReplyDelete
  74. Have been a reader of some of your other fan fics... Thought I'll start this one today.. Mind blowing writing as usual! Love the passion and the hard edged Arnav here... Pretty sure there will be some fireworks in the next chapter! :D cant wait

    -Aditi

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  75. This story is really super steamy. I think ASR started out with the intent of owning Khushi and commanding her, but after he gave into her passion maybe she's starting to own him a little bit herself. I do like that he's willing to admit he finds peace with her and that he was honest with her about his past. Maybe now Khushi understands him a little better and will see him different than his Rakshas avatar.
    Looks like things are about to take a serious turn with a possible proposal for Khushi, I wonder how our ASR is going to handle it.
    Love this story, can't wait to read more!

    ReplyDelete
  76. Oh my.....really hot...passionate story.....intense too....eager to see how ASR will react to this news.....interesting....

    ReplyDelete
  77. Great update....their confession of liking each others company....n the emotional exchange between ARSHI is surely going to help the relation making it stronger...Loved it....passion first to get ignited as always....

    ReplyDelete
  78. part 4:
    oh things changed from a contract to a relationship in the span of a single night. i am dreading arnav's reaction to this proposal thing.

    ReplyDelete
  79. Couldn't come online for last two weeks. Catching up now. Awesome awesome!!! Oh she is so going to fall in love with him!!!!

    treasures from IF

    ReplyDelete
  80. hey sweety...sorry cud nt comment before...i m loving dis ff...itz obvsly very diff n unique...loving it so far...i ve nt read 4 th chap...dint knw it ws up...chalo i ll read up n comment later...till tc n keep writing dis amazing stuff...

    ReplyDelete
  81. U R an amazing writer...i love khushi in this...she is less emotional and more practical....love ur story....and looking forward to it....

    ReplyDelete
  82. Read this baby and Desert Heat in one go! GREAT WRITING AND IMAGINATION! please continue soon, with either of the stories haha or BOTH !!

    ~Neha Kapoor

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  83. when are you going to update next chapter

    ReplyDelete
  84. Just read all the chapters in one go. Got to see a very passionate , possessive and arrogant ASR. Though the relationship has started on a wrong foot , they are passionate abt each other. Kudos to khushi on turning the the tables on him during the dictionary task and swimsuit round. Glad to see the equation change between them in chapter four. Kudos to you both on a job well done .

    IF . Khuarv

    ReplyDelete
  85. wow , read all the chapters in one go. it's so hawt man!plz update soon

    ReplyDelete
  86. Love it !!!!

    The red-hot and angry passion !!!

    BigIPKKNDFan :)

    ReplyDelete
  87. superb . Already read it before your Pm. Waiting for the board meeting.

    ReplyDelete
  88. Very intense. I like how you write and am always eagerly anticipating updates to both your current ongoing Arthi fan fictions...

    ReplyDelete
  89. what a mind blowing chapter....at last they both accepted that they can't be apart without each others. waiting for next chapter already

    ReplyDelete
  90. wow.....a very hot n beautiful part.
    u hve wrtn der angry passion really well.
    eagerly waiting 4 board meeting.

    ReplyDelete
  91. Awesome. They are finally realizing the love!

    Treasures from if

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  92. super hot...loved it. ..

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  93. Part 5
    is superb , hot....
    Finallly their trust is buld up... Love is on the way
    precious-pie(if)

    ReplyDelete
  94. OMFD such a hot update as usual loved the update girls

    ReplyDelete
  95. love the end...the way he tells that she is his....god this guy is soo much broken...i hope he realises about the love soon...waiting for the next update...
    yush

    ReplyDelete
  96. Thank you! very well written!

    ReplyDelete
  97. That was extremely intense...and passionate! Beautifully written. The emotions were so well displayed in the chapter, that you could actually feel the rage and then the intensity of emotions!

    Fantastic writing!

    Cheers!
    Rayolight

    ReplyDelete
  98. obviously i had to read chapter 4 again before reading chapter 5 so that the beauty continues in a flow.
    arnav is like a obstinate child and khushi is his candy.
    awesome, so just board meeting in next? nothing dramatic?

    ReplyDelete
  99. Lied this sizzling update..tooo...awesome!

    Their romance is turning into love...I love it!


    Thx Tina....

    ReplyDelete
  100. The pre-cap also looks great...they both going together like a husband and Wife....awwwwwww

    ReplyDelete
  101. Just read all the 5 parts...I am all sweaty ;)....smoldering hot I must say...can we expect acts of passion from 50 shades of grey :)...loved how you have woven the story with such intense ASR


    Mrignayani

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  102. Part 5 was intense and hot
    their love for each other is soooo visible.......both need each other
    Arnav's reaction was as expected.........angry and wild
    good to see Khushi controlled his Anger a bit
    cant wait for more

    GunM(IF)

    ReplyDelete
  103. awesome.........

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  104. Awesome update and very hot passion between them
    they can't live apart each other
    waiting for next

    ReplyDelete
  105. This story gives me goosebumps!! I love it and cant wait for the next update!!

    M x (if: mayzz)

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  106. I am reall impressed with this Story. Especially their bound is interesting. I love the Progress in their relationship in this chapter. Great work dear

    ReplyDelete
  107. oh yaaay finally i get to comment here...oh btw itz me barun-myladdu 4m IF...ws nt able to comment before my fone for some weird reason does nt show dis comment box...anywho...i LOOOOOOVVEEE DIS FF...m so madly falling in love wid story...itz taking a great shape hun...wud love to read more n more...plz dont end it soon...let it go upto 100 chaps...v wont mind dt at all :P

    waiting for ur nxt update hun...update sooooooooooonnn

    ReplyDelete
  108. U r awesome. Just luv the way u have described the heat n passion btw them. Continue soon.

    ReplyDelete
  109. Amazing story pls continue!

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  110. Amazing job! You have a rare skill with making words paint pictures in the mind. Do continue soon...great intensity, as Barun Sobti said, clearly showcasing the 'khatarnak' chemistry between Arnav and Khushi!

    ReplyDelete
  111. they have a rocking chemistry between them.both of them are yummy. loved how arnav have opened himself to her. i just hope buaji don't force her for this marriage. congo you have turned ss to ff

    ReplyDelete
  112. Update please.. waiting:):)

    ReplyDelete
  113. OMG again this chapter was sizzling
    they simply cant get enough of each other

    loved their messages during the 'oh so important meeting'
    that Arnav and Khushi didn't care 2 hoots about

    aww thank you in advance for the next chapter
    really wanted to read about their first time

    ReplyDelete
  114. Awesome , superb! Very hot and precap is making me go crazy update soon

    ReplyDelete
  115. Awesome , superb! Very hot and precap is making me go crazy update soon

    ReplyDelete
  116. That was hot as usual! Superb chemistry and also the intensity is wow! They are getting more and more into each other now...where would it go from here...they are also wondering...

    Can't wait for the next part...please update soon!!!!

    Cheers
    Rayolight

    ReplyDelete
  117. Awwww... so so so hot n beautiful Tina....now DT they don't hate each other..wtever they do...totally justified...today they said the DON'T hate each other hopefully some day they ll confess their LOVE!

    ReplyDelete
  118. hi tina......when they hated each other they were so hot ..what will happen now when they don't.....i can't even imagine ...loved today's chapter ..man got stamina

    ReplyDelete
  119. This was sexing! *blush blush*
    well SP has always managed to be one! :)

    I love the progress its making! and the whole thing concentrating on just them!

    Want more gals! :)
    Thanks for the update! :)

    ReplyDelete
  120. Tina, thank you! wait was worth it. very good!

    ReplyDelete
  121. i love ur story lovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeellllllllllllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

    ReplyDelete
  122. wow , both are finally moving to the next level. I love this story.

    ReplyDelete
  123. like ur guess eagerly waiting for the next update,continue soon.............

    ReplyDelete
  124. hey tina...so so so beautiful n HOT....now dt they ve said dt they DONT HATE EACH OTHER...wtever dey do is totally justified....i m waiting for d day they ll confess der love to each other...n i m pretty sure whn i m reading ur ff all dis ll come along wid loadz of drama...bt koi baat nahi as long as der is a happy ending...koi gal nai :)

    ur loyal fan
    baraun-myladdu (IF)

    ReplyDelete
  125. WOW! That was intense!! Great job!!!!

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  126. loved it

    they r in love n dnt know it yet

    hands off my table poor karan

    ASR wld hv killed hi if nt for khushi

    where will this take their relation

    ReplyDelete
  127. ohk leme sigh n die in peace.
    is it even normal i.e. his want for her, omg 3 times in a single day and well the day is not over till yet. and yes i counted cldnt help it :P
    possessiveness at a whole new level. wow!!!

    ReplyDelete
  128. just mind blowing ....as always.
    u r a awesome writer.u wrote it just beautifully .

    ReplyDelete
  129. Whew that was hot!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can't wait to read what you have in store for us next.
    Dee

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  130. jeez, poor guy, Arnav chewed him out for just touching the desk where he did khushi on, damn, that man is possessive!!! fanning myself!!!
    loved the update
    Can't wait to read more
    thank for the pM:)

    ReplyDelete
  131. T loved both the Chs!!!! Srry fr the delays I was not arnd to read yr lovely updates... Yes I missed!!! Dearly!!! Will return soon to read DH updates n follow the other mails I have frm you in my inbox! Thank you fr the pm!! I'm loving how ths story is unfolding (=!

    sahada

    ReplyDelete
  132. awesome chapter loved it. waiting to read the next one. (IF ID laksh65)

    ReplyDelete
  133. OMG..... what was that..... !!!!! Hats Off .....
    read the 6 chapters in one go.... :)
    i have never found this much of passion in any other story.... LOVED it....

    ReplyDelete
  134. Dreamlike, wonderful, brilliant no adjectives are enough. I love your writing style. Thank for you sharing your wonderful stories with us all.

    ReplyDelete
  135. bloody hell he sure is possessive as hell
    but how long will this go on and on
    they cant keep doing this right
    or can they
    man they are one confused pair to tell you the truth
    but then thats what makes them arhi
    three more to go huh

    ReplyDelete
  136. Arnav's possessiveness and the way he dealt with the whole Karan issue just goes to show how afraid Arnav is of losing Khushi...
    They have gone from 'I hate you' to 'I dont hate you', that is definitely progress... Arnav clearly as trust issues given his family history, but I guess he will learn to trust Khushi...
    Loved it:)

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  137. Very interesting story...keep updating :)

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  138. Very nice and very hot .

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  139. This is ntn like arnav or khushi!! The entire picturisation is wrong!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's fanfiction, chillax seriously and don't judge a story on just the opening. SP might just surprise you. I don't get why ppl like u comment when they have nothing encouraging or constructive to say. If I was writing Arnav/Khushi exactly how they are, it would be boring. We have the real show for that.

      Delete
  140. Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  141. So passionate...
    Amina87 from IF....

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  142. Wow the way you had described their married life .. It was like a dream come true .. Everything just perfect .. I just can't wait toxins out who that woman is who is after them .. I'm beganing to think Anjali ....
    Love that teaser : "keeping secret, are we?" Oh he'd be furious when he finds out

    ReplyDelete

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