It was not difficult for Ragini to see that her mother was unhappy. Over dinner on
Monday evening in the formal dining room, her mother picked at her salad with small,
sharp stabs of her silver fork. When she glanced over the polished table, her mouth was
pinched. It was not until the main course had been served, however, baked chicken br*ast
with lemon sage dressing, that her mother revealed her problem.
“You had a phone call while you were out,” she told her daughter, prodding at the
stuffed chicken br*ast on her plate. “From that cousin of Sanskar’s, Laksh.” Her mother’s gaze
flicked up. “He wanted to remind you about your lunch date on Tuesday.”
Ragini’s first reaction was a rush of anger. Tuesday? Since when had she agreed to
have this cursed lunch date with Laksh on Tuesday? The last phone call had been hers,
postponing the thing, and she hadn’t given any date as an alternative. Purposefully. If she
put it off long enough, they could both end up forgetting about it.
But, no. Laksh couldn’t let well enough alone. He had to call her mother, of all people,
and set another date.
Her mother… Ragini came back to the land of the living with a bump. Her mother
was now gaping at her. She wore the hurt look, the one she got every time she thought
Ragini was holding out on her, not spilling every little detail of her life.
“Ragini,” her mother asked. “Are you dating Laksh Maheshwari?”
Ragini’s eyes widened. “No!” She waved her hands, as if to shoo the notion right out
of the room. “No, no, no.”
Unfortunately, this strong denial only deepened the hurt expression on her mother’s
face. Ragini realized she was making it seem more, rather than less, as if romance was
involved. “It’s not a date. It’s — a business meeting.” Immediately Ragini realized that
was hardly going to fly, considering her mother knew Laksh Maheshwari. “That is, I hope it’s
going to turn into a business meeting,” she quickly amended. She took a deep breath and
forced herself to relax, to slow down, and to smile. She picked up the salt shaker and
drizzled some sodium over her chicken. “I’m trying to talk him into doing fundraising for
the Boston Family Aid Foundation.”
Brilliant, Ragini congratulated herself. For this was — almost — true.
Her mother tilted her head. “Laksh?” She sounded dubious. She did, after all, know the
Ragini picked up her knife and began cutting her chicken br*ast. “Yes, Laksh. Despite
his lack of experience, he’d be perfect for it. He has everything that’s necessary: a good
smile, a silver tongue, and the right connections.” She pierced a piece of chicken with her
fork. “He only needs to be persuaded to bestir himself and do it.” Ragini smiled, for that,
too, was almost true.
All this truth appeared to convince Ragini’s mother. The hurt, strained look on her
face eased. “Oh, that’s all,” she murmured. “Well, good luck to you, my dear. That Laksh
seems pretty set in his ways.”
“Mm.” Ragini set her knife to her chicken again. Yes, Laksh was set in his ways. Or
rather, he was set on getting his way. Calling her mother…
Ragini didn’t know whether she was more annoyed with Laksh, her mother — or
herself. Laksh had overstepped the bounds. Her mother knew no bounds. And Ragini — ?
Well, Ragini only put up with it all because she was such a coward. It was so easy to live
at home with a doting mother whose presence effectively prevented any male of Ragini’s
acquaintance from thinking she’d fall into bed with him. She didn’t have to dream up
excuses for saying no. Her excuse was live-in.
She glanced across the table at her mother as a familiar sorrow sifted through her.
What a half-life she lived. And the half she lived was spent so alone sometimes. This lunch
date with Laksh, for example. She had no one she could tell the truth about it. She knew no
one who could help her scheme a way out of the thing.
She might have to go ahead and meet Laksh on Tuesday. Get it over with.
Ragini looked down and impaled a piece of chicken with her fork. Yes, it was no
doubt best to get it over with — if Laksh was going to go around calling her mother.
By the time Swara arrived back at Sanskar’s humungous house in the woods, she was
more than merely late for dinner, she’d missed it altogether. That was all right, though.
Sanskar wasn’t there to frown over her sin. He was back at his office, escaping from her and
her inexcusable pushiness.
When the cab pulled up to the front door, Swara added a tip to what Sanskar had already
paid the driver, thanked Maggie, who opened the front door for her, and ran straight
upstairs toward her room.
Or she tried to run straight to her room. Laksh was coming down the stairs as she was
going up. He raised a hand and opened his mouth. Swara just knew he wanted to ask her if
she’d managed to find Sanskar. So interested.
Really, Swara thought, with a mental shake of the head. Sanskar’s cousin didn’t have
nearly enough of his own to do. She smiled and sailed right past him.
But avoiding Sahil was another matter. She had to pass his playroom on the way,
and though Sahil’s back was to her, the kid somehow knew she was walking past him.
He swiveled his chair from the dinosaurs he’d been exploding with his joystick. “Hey!” he
called. “Swara!”
She had to stop. “Well, hey.” She bit her lip and tried to smile.
“So?” Sahil bounced against the back of his wheeled chair. “D’you see Sanskar?”
Swara felt like scuffing a toe. Oh, why had she boasted to Sahil that morning that she
was going to track Sanskar down? “Uh, yeah,” she admitted.
Sahil smiled. Swara knew what he assumed. He assumed that she’d known what she
was doing, he assumed that her words of determination and insight about helping Sanskar
had been wise.
“Well, that’s good then,” Sahil said.
There was no way Swara could meet the kid’s eyes. Maybe Sanskar had been right, she
was realizing — too late. Maybe she shouldn’t have befriended Sahil. At least she
shouldn’t have led him to believe there was a chance she might become a permanent part
of his life.
“I mean, isn’t it?” Sahil asked, turning worried.
“Isn’t what what?” Swara had lost track of the conversation.
Sahil got up from his seat. “Isn’t it good that you found Sanskar? Didn’t you help him,
like you said you were going to?”
Swara stared at the child. It was all she could do not to burst into hysterical laughter.
Had she helped Sanskar? But Sahil was looking at her with trust and worry in his eyes.
“Ahem. Well, you know Sanskar.” Swara took a step back. “A difficult case.
Things…may not go as smoothly as we’d like.”
She’d meant her words as a gentle let-down, something to start Sahil on the path to
harsh reality. But the worry eased from his face. A smile appeared. “Aw, Swara. You.
You’re so…fantastically stubborn.”
Sahil waved dismissively. “You’ll have Sanskar eating out of the palm of your hand in
no time.”
Swara felt like her face was going to shatter.
But Sahil had already plopped back into his chair. He’d already swiveled around.
The sounds of exploding dinosaurs were already filling the air again. The kid trusted her.
He thought she could live up to her own advertising.
Feeling terrible, Swara backed away and left Sahil. God, she’d made nothing but faux
pas from the moment she’d entered these doors. She’d bullied Sanskar and misled Sahil. No,
she was definitely not living up to her own advertising.
Head down, Swara opened the door to her bedroom suite. For the first time she could
remember, she actually wished she were someone else.
Wanting out of her ill-fated, too-abbreviated clothes, Swara stripped. She threw on a
sweat suit and then paced the bedroom, brimming with guilt and shame. She’d led Sahil
on, and she’d overwhelmed Sanskar. She gritted her teeth and shook her head.
Sanskar. She hadn’t thought about what he wanted. No, she’d only been thinking about
herself, about what she wanted so badly. A life together with a man she loved.
But Sanskar certainly didn’t love her.
Swara grimaced and clawed her fingers into her arms. What had she been thinking?
Obviously, she hadn’t been thinking. She’d been fantasizing, dreaming that he could love
her, he only needed to learn how. God.
Swara came to an abrupt stop by the swag-draped window. Maybe she should leave.
Go home.
Swara squinted out at the dark night. Yes, maybe that was what she should do. Pack
up and go. Get out of Sanskar’s life and leave him alone.
She bit her lip. But she’d told Sanskar she was giving the marriage a two month chance.
It had only been two-and-a-half weeks. Leaving now would be going against her word.
Swara frowned. Did her word really matter in this situation? She didn’t want to stay.
Sanskar didn’t want her to stay. What was practical — what was humane — was to leave.
In the morning she would go.
The decision made, Swara suddenly felt exhausted. She dragged off her sweat suit,
slipped on her nightgown, and got into bed. But the minute her head hit the pillow she
couldn’t sleep. Perversely, all she could think about was the last bed she’d lain in, with
Sanskar, and all they’d done together there.
She wriggled onto her side and scrunched the pillow under her head. She shouldn’t
think about that. It was wrong to dwell on a s*xual experience that had not been shared as
the same wonderful, enriching thing by both parties. Sanskar hadn’t been into it — Swara
suddenly remembered a moment when his tongue had — No. She stopped herself with a
vigorous shake of the head. Despite that tongue thing, Sanskar hadn’t been into it the way
she had. He’d been…coerced.
She turned onto her other side. Meanwhile the grandfather clock in the hall tolled out
eleven times.
Twelve tolled out and Swara was still tossing. When she heard a single chime, she
wrestled the sheets to switch on the bedside lamp. Sleep was obviously a losing
proposition. Maybe she should read a book or watch TV.
Or get a head-start and pack.
Swara was just swinging her legs over the edge of the bed when she heard a knock on
her bedroom door. She halted, certain she couldn’t have heard any such thing. It was one
in the morning. Who’d be knocking on her door?
But she heard it again, a definite knock. Discreet but determined.
She reached for her wrap on the end of the bed. Maybe it was the maid. Who knew?
A place like this, a little tap on the door was probably how they announced a fire. Tying
the sash around her waist, Swara opened the door.
Sanskar stood outside in the hall.
Swara’s heart took a strangled leap. What in the — ? How — ? She had to be the last
person in the world Sanskar would want to see, and yet there he stood outside her bedroom
door, his jaw shadowed with beard and his eyes haunted.
“I saw your light on,” he said.
Her heart pounding now, Swara explained, “I only just turned it on.”
He sighed. “I know. I’ve been standing out here — Listen, could we talk?”
Dark eyes rose to meet hers. “If you don’t mind.”
“Well, um.” Swara’s pounding heart began to beat harder. “Uh, sure. I don’t mind.”
Sanskar lowered his lashes. “Never have I behaved so awkwardly with a woman.”
“Oh,” Swara breathed. “No. You weren’t — I mean, you were just being honest. And I
appreciated that. Really, I did.”
He raised his lashes and his eyes seemed to blaze at her. Swara wilted, but knew she’d
feel much better if she could get the whole thing off her chest. “I forced myself on you.”
Her voice cracked. “It was greed, really. I just wanted — Well, anyway, I am so, so
Sanskar’s eyes fairly burned. Swara barely managed to remain upright under that awful
“Sorry,” he finally said. It was a harsh whisper. “You’re sorry.”
She started to tremble. He sounded even angrier than she’d imagined he might.
“Swara.” He stepped toward her. “Swara.” His hands closed on her shoulders. “You
really aren’t — I mean, I always thought — ” With a frustrated hiss, he shook his head.
“I’m the one who is sorry. What you did, then how I behaved — I couldn’t be more
ashamed of myself if I’d whipped you.” His lips pressed together as he released her.
“Which, in a manner of speaking I did.”
Swara stared up into his face, confused. “What? You didn’t whip — ”
“You didn’t — ”
He put a finger against her lips.
Swara was afraid to say anything then. He certainly looked…adamant. At the same
time she knew she was the one at fault. He wouldn’t have been ‘awkward’ with her if she
hadn’t put him in such a position.
Sanskar lowered his finger from her lips. “Listen. After we parted this evening I started
to think about it, about everything, from the very beginning. And I — ” His brows drew
down. “I came to the conclusion I’ve misunderstood you.”
“I don’t know about that.”
Sanskar gave a harsh laugh. “I do. I have not given you the benefit of the doubt, to put it
mildly. And I’m sure that’s part of why I…exploded this afternoon.”
“Lost control,” Swara murmured.
“Exactly.” Sanskar’s steady gaze shifted. “I wouldn’t have done that if I’d been seeing
you clearly.”
“Mm,” Swara said.
Sanskar swore under his breath. “That didn’t come out the way I intended.”
“No, no. I think I get what you mean.”
“You don’t. What I mean is — is — ”
“You wouldn’t have slept with me if you’d been seeing me clearly.”
Sanskar opened his mouth. He shut it again. His face was the picture of consternation
before he laughed. “You think I’d only have wound up in bed with you if I thought you
were bad?”
Swara blinked a few times. “Well, um — ” His logic was escaping her. Or perhaps it
was her own logic that was failing. Had he thought she was bad? “Still, one way or
another, you didn’t want to,” she insisted.
Sanskar’s eyebrows flew upward. “One could almost imagine you weren’t even there,
“Well, I…” She felt herself blushing.
“Besides — ” Watching her closely, he added, “It’s not as if I don’t still want to go to
bed with you, right now.”
Their eyes met and the breath stopped in Swara’s lungs. What? What had he just said?
But she knew. And as they stood there, with Swara just inside her bedroom and Sanskar just
outside, the air between them started to heat.
“Maybe we should,” Sanskar suggested, his voice dipping low.
It must have been sheer surprise that aroused Swara so. Instantly. Her bones hummed.
“But, um, wait a minute — ” She took an instinctive step back. “I thought we’d agreed
we shouldn’t.”
“I don’t remember making any such statement.” Sanskar took a step forward.
“But I recall — ” Swara took another step back as Sanskar advanced once again,
coming through her doorway. “That is, don’t you think we ought to consider this more
carefully? I mean, the last time — ”
Sanskar made a low sound in his throat. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Swara. I
made a mistake ‘the last time.'”
“But, Sanskar — ”
“But, Swara,” he mocked playfully, then stopped, head tilted. “Or does this kind of
thing only happen when it’s your idea?”
Swara felt her mouth open again, and stay that way. Was that true? Did she have to be
in charge? She had to admit she’d been beating herself up all evening because she thought
she’d taken too much charge. “No,” she said softly. “It doesn’t have to be my idea.”
“Good.” His lips curved and he closed the door behind himself. “Then it’ll be my turn
this time.”
A delicious thrill ran through Swara, even as she tried to take a mental step back, out
of the sensual spell he was starting to weave. He couldn’t really want this. She
remembered the look on his face at the Parker House. When he moved forward again, she
put a hand to his chest, stopping him.
“Mm,” Sanskar said. “Nice hand.” He took hold of her hand. Deliberately,
tenderly…s*xily. Swara watched, incredulous.
“Very nice hand,” Sanskar murmured, threading his fingers through hers. By spreading
his fingers, he spread hers.
The action chiseled another notch in the crumbling structure of Swara’s resistance. She
felt herself spreading open in the heart of her, becoming vulnerable all over again.
Meanwhile Sanskar lowered his head. His tongue flicked out, stroking wet and warm on
the sensitive webbing between her fingers.
“Oh,” Swara breathed.
Sanskar smiled. “Helpless. That’s how I want you. Completely at my mercy.”
Swara suppressed her next moan as Sanskar swept his tongue between another two of
her fingers. She was rushing past the point of reason, but his words did penetrate. He
wanted to be in charge — this time. He wanted her to be the helpless one — this time.
The idea was either tit-for-tat shallow or…pretty good.
Sanskar raised Swara’s hand and fit his lips to the inside of her wrist. Swara moaned as he
began a gentle, warm suction. The idea was looking better all the time, though a part of
her, deep down, still wondered… Did he really want this?
Sanskar increased the sucking pressure on her wrist. At the same time, he reached up to
curl his other hand around the nape of her neck.
“Sanskar!” Swara’s head fell back. How did he do that? How did he know the exact spot
that would make her — helpless?
“Swara.” With his voice deep and confident, her turned her chin toward him. Then his
mouth came down on hers.
Dark heat enveloped Swara. It was all she could do to keep standing. “Mm,” she
groaned. “The bed.”
Sanskar’s chuckle was low, even diabolical. “Oh, we’ll get there…eventually.”
They did get to the bed, but it must have taken an hour or so. Sanskar kissed, he
stroked, he caressed. With every touch, every murmur, Swara melted more. Gone, fled,
went every misgiving. The man was a master. By the time he did set her down on the silk
counterpane, she felt like a liquid puddle.
It was a completely different experience from their afternoon at the Parker House.
Yes, Sanskar had been inventive there, but not…a Houdini.
“Let me — ” she murmured, trying to reach for him, wanting to give him something
“Not this time,” Sanskar replied. “I’m in charge.”
“Oh, yeah.” It was just as well. Swara’s arms felt like jello. She lay there, supine, as
Sanskar did everything. At one point she found herself clutching his hair. “This is too — ”
“No,” Sanskar insisted. “It’s not enough.” And he continued, moving up and down her
body, with his mouth, with his hands.
Swara moaned, she writhed. It was too much, but somehow she was taking it; taking it
and becoming more and more his willing slave.
“Open your legs,” he commanded, and of course she did.
“Sanskar, I want — ”
“Not yet,” he said. And so it went. To every sensual peak he brought her, it was ‘not
enough’ or ‘not yet.’ Swara hadn’t known she could sustain such an intense state of arousal,
rising and falling, only to rise again.
She abandoned her pleas for him to come with her. He wasn’t about to do that and
anyway, she was getting too lost in her own sensations to care. The world focused down
to the fire raging through her. She strained against him.
“All right,” he finally said. “Now.”
She came apart, just shattered into a million pieces. Exactly on cue. Not that she was
complaining. The pleasure was intense, the whole experience like nothing she’d ever
known. “Sanskar!” she cried, and reached for him.
He tensed in her arms, she thought, though she wasn’t terribly sure of anything right
then. “Sanskar, Sanskar,” Swara sobbed.
It took her a minute, holding him close, to realize he was still fully clothed. A chuckle
bubbled up amid the aftermath of her climax. “You’re still in your suit,” she exclaimed.
“And tie!”
“Hm.” He pulled away enough for her to see his smug smile. “Guess I was too busy
to take them off.”
“I’ll say.” Swara smiled back as she smoothed a hand down his tie. She’d never been
with a man who could concentrate so completely on a person other than himself. “Looks
like you’ve got a minute now.”
His lashes lowered. “Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ve plumbed your potential.”
“Ah.” Swara put a hand on his chest. “You’ve plumbed it.”
His smile managed to widen. “If you’re sure.”
“I am.”
“Well, then.” Looking awfully pleased with himself, Sanskar sat back on his haunches
and began loosening his tie.
Watching his obvious satisfaction, Swara felt it shimmer through her again, stronger
than ever, the love. This time, though, she wasn’t taking anything for granted. She didn’t
expect him to love her back, but was he at least happy they’d had s*x? Her head tilted.
“How about you?” she asked, “Are you okay?”
His hands stopped on his tie.
Her eyes hooded. “Are you sorry?”
He stared at her. “That’s important to you, isn’t it? That I…not be hurt.”
“Well…yeah.” More important than he could know.
He continued to stare, his expression turning almost desperate. “I’m not hurt,” he told
her. “Far from it. Besides, don’t you remember this was my idea? My choice?”
Oh, yes, she remembered. He’d wanted to show her, to prove a seduction could be as
much his idea, but still… She wouldn’t put it past Sanskar to have done all this as an
elaborate apology. He was a man who’d want to leave everything square. He could easily
have brought her to the most exquisite orgasm only because he wanted to balance the
ledger sheet.
“Remember?” Sanskar insisted.
Swara gave a tiny nod. “I remember.”
Sanskar gazed at her a moment longer, then smiled. “Liar.”
“Fine.” Still smiling, he gently pushed her until she was lying flat on the bed. “I’ll
prove it to you, all over again.” His teeth flashed. “I’ll just keep on proving it until you
start to believe me.”
“I believe you,” Swara said quickly.
Sanskar laughed and kissed her lips. “Problem is, I don’t believe you now.”
“Oh, Sanskar, we can’t — ”
But Sanskar kissed her again, and put his hands and shifted his body in a way that told
Swara, indeed, they could. Oh yes, even after all Sanskar had just brought her through, she
could feel herself softening, dampening, wanting again.
“You are magic,” she murmured.
“No,” Sanskar whispered back. He released a strange, uneven sigh. “You are.”
Sanskar might have drifted off to sleep if they hadn’t left the bedside lamp on. Despite
his exhaustion, the light caused his lashes to flutter, his eyes to open. He stopped himself,
though, from simply reaching up to switch it off. He had to think a minute here.
He was in bed with Swara. If he turned off the light, he would undoubtedly remain in
this spot until morning.
Would that be a good idea?
He lifted his head carefully. Swara was facing him on the bed, her eyes closed and her
breathing long and deep.
Sanskar had to admit it was a profound pleasure to look at her. Her hair was curled
wildly about her face, her mouth reddened from his beard. Something lurched
possessively, triumphantly, within him. She looked like a woman who had been loved long
and loved well.
Sanskar’s lips twisted. Long and well, indeed. He hadn’t intended to make love to her at
all. All he’d intended was an apology, something sincere and deserved. Instead, here he
was in bed with her. Again.
Sanskar shook his head. Clearly, he went crazy whenever he was around this woman. He
didn’t behave rationally or intelligently. He didn’t behave like…himself.
On the other hand — Sanskar’s rueful twist of the lips turned into a genuine smile. On
the other hand, he wasn’t alone in the insanity. He had a strong feeling Swara didn’t have
much control over her behavior when she was around him, either. Why, she’d been
downright leery about hopping into bed with Sanskar again. It had been a wicked pleasure to
see her resistance flow into surrender — because of him.
Yes, because of him. Sanskar’s smile slowly faded. Thoughtfully, his gaze searched
Swara’s sleeping face. She hadn’t wanted to seduce him, she hadn’t sought to get him in her
power. Afterward, she’d asked if he was okay. He could no longer deny she was sincerely
concerned for his welfare.
She was…nice. A nice, perhaps even sweet, woman.
Sanskar felt a flare — of something. Like faraway lightning. There, and then gone.
Inexplicable. Unsettling. He frowned.
Passion, he told himself. He’d never felt passion this powerfully. Every time he
reached a climax with her — every time she reached one with him — it hit him like a
thunderclap. That first time tonight, with his name on her lips… Fortunately, Swara
appeared to be as much a slave to the phenomenon as he was. Why, if he reached out for
her right now, she’d probably turn into his arms.
Leave her bed? That would be useless. Avoiding the issue of their passion was not
going to make it go away.
Sanskar chewed the inside of his cheek, then reached over to turn off the lamp.
Perhaps it was time to try a different tack.

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  1. Mica

    wooow so much update dear…sooo awesome, don’t read the prev chapter yet,
    <3 it <3 it <3 it janpa.. i bookmark it

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