THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL COMMENTS…….
In the gray light of dawn Swara rolled over, waking with a sigh and a frown. Her eyes
opened wide as they met Sanskar’s.
“Oh,” she breathed. “You’re still here.” So…it hadn’t been a dream.
Meanwhile he stared at her with an expression so blank it made Swara’s stomach twist.
Oh God, what was his attitude now? As if in answer, very slowly, he smiled. “Yes, I’m still
here. Better yet, it’s still early.”
“Early?” Swara’s stomach remained tight, but now for a very different reason.
He put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her onto her back. “Nobody will be up for,
oh, at least fifteen minutes or so.”
“Fifteen — ? Oh.” Swara’s head tipped back as she accepted Sanskar’s thorough,
She could feel her stomach relax and her body start to melt as it had last
night. Last night… Sanskar had made love to her over and over again. He’d gone to the limit
— and beyond — to prove he wanted to. Even if Swara had questions about his deeper
feelings, of his desire she was now certain.
And for right then, intoxicated by his kiss, enveloped by his strong male body, Swara
decided desire was more than enough. She murmured encouragement and threw her arms
A few minutes later, panting, Sanskar leaned down to kiss Swara’s lips. “Noon,” he said.
“What — ?”
“For more.” Sanskar swept off the bed. Before Swara could do or say anything more,
he’d grabbed his clothes and was gone.
Sanskar paid no more than perfunctory attention to the faxes that came across his desk
on Tuesday morning. He gave scarcely more attention to the people who filed through his
office, giving him their reports. All he could think about was what had happened the night
before, and then that morning.
He’d made love to her — yet again.
Of course that had been the plan, but now, in the cold light of day, he wasn’t sure if
his plan was bonkers, or incredibly shrewd. Was passion all that there was between them?
Not that it mattered, Sanskar hastily assured himself. If there was one thing he understood
about human nature, it was that emotion, of any sort, was fleeting. Passion, whatever. It
would pass and be gone in less time than it would take for Sanskar to worry about it.
So Sanskar didn’t need to worry about the lightning bolts that had returned and kept
flashing, brighter and more distinctly than the night before.
Meanwhile, he kept an ear out for his intercom and the announcement Mrs. Barnes
would make regarding Swara’s arrival. When it came, Sanskar felt a leap in his heart, a surge
“That’s all, Roger. Thanks.” He smiled at his CFO and stood to indicate the briefing
“You’re going to want the numbers — ”
“I’m sure you will take care of all the details to my complete satisfaction.” Sanskar came
around from behind his desk.
Roger looked at him in stupefaction. “You don’t want to check my work?”
“No.” Sanskar put a hand on Roger’s shoulder. He nudged him in the direction of the
door. “Well, if that isn’t — ” Roger began, sounding pleased. He never got the chance to
finish his sentence. Or maybe he did and Sanskar simply didn’t notice, for by that time he’d
opened the door. His eyes had found Swara, sitting out in the anteroom. Swara with her
silky legs crossed at the knee. Swara with her smile of a thousand watts. Immediately
Sanskar’s brain went into its familiar scrambling routine; his brain and all the organs running
in a straight line down from it.
Swara didn’t even try. Sanskar understood that now. She didn’t want to make him crazy.
He also understood that it was useless to resist this thing. All he could do at this point was
run through it.
Eventually they would reach the end. Sensations would attenuate, desire would cool.
Right now, however, desire was anything but attenuated.
“Swara.” Sanskar cleared his throat. “Right on time.”
She gave him a smile. That was all. It made his heart go ballistic, made his blood heat.
But that was okay. Despite the flashes of scary lightning, Sanskar had decided it was okay,
even good, to experience this rush, this excitement.
The more excitement now, the sooner it would pass.
“Wouldn’t want to miss a minute,” Swara said.
Yes, she said that, right in front of Mrs. Barnes, Roger, and whoever else happened
to be cluttering the outer office. Sanskar felt his air supply choke.
With an effort, he swallowed. “All right, then. Let’s go.”
He took her to the Parker House. Swara had a moment of doubt about that. But once
he’d closed the door behind them, once he’d started kissing her, slowly, leisurely, and
without a trace of desperation, she relaxed.
It would be nice to make a good memory here.
“I only have ninety minutes,” he murmured, when he finally lifted his mouth from
Swara felt a bubble of relief. He was keeping track of time, showing her he could.
“That’s all right,” she whispered back.
He drew off her suit jacket. “I’ll make it up to you tonight.”
“You don’t have to — ” But Swara didn’t finish the thought because Sanskar took her
mouth again. He kissed her deeply, thoroughly, while his hands cupped her buttocks and
drew her close against his hips. Slowly, he rotated.
Swara clutched his shoulders. “Keep that up,” she muttered, “and you won’t have
anything left to ‘make up’ to me tonight.”
“Mm,” was all Sanskar said, and he pulled her blouse from her waistband.
Precisely ninety minutes later, he put Swara into a cab at the porte cochere of the
“Tonight,” he said, and kissed her. A second later she was looking at his back as he
strode efficiently up the street.
It had all been…very good. As sweet and tender as she could have wanted. But there
were a host of questions in Swara’s eyes as, through the window of the cab, she watched
Sanskar walk away.
At noon on Tuesday, Ragini sat in a taxicab as it wended its way through Boston
traffic. She had to resist the urge to bite her fingernails. She hadn’t done so since she was
twelve and she wasn’t about to start again now, no, not even if she was on her way to her
little lunch date with Laksh. He’d made it clear she could not delay the thing one more time.
Today, they’d get it over with.
In silence, the cab driver maneuvered his way to the side of the road.
“Ah, yes, this is the place,” Ragini murmured. She could see Laksh, leaning against the
side of the building with his hands stuck in the pockets of a pair of crisp gray chinos. He
straightened when he saw her in the slowing cab.
Drawing in a breath, Ragini gathered both her purse and her self-possession. When
Laksh reached the cab and opened the door for her, she gave him her most proper, garden
party smile. He didn’t smile back. He held out his hand. The arm that supported her out of
the cab was very strong. All that tennis, no doubt. Ragini lowered her lashes to conceal
the way his touch made her shiver.
Once out of the cab, she let go of Laksh’s hand, and took a few steps toward the
restaurant. She pretended to find the façade just fascinating while Laksh paid the cab driver
behind her. Meanwhile, she did her best to recover.
A few seconds, that was all it had taken for Ragini to become aware all over again of
Laksh’s animal sensuality, and to feel intimidated by it.
“Okay.” He’d come to her side. Ragini forced herself to look over and smile. He
smiled back, just as falsely. Yes, they were equally miserable. “Shall we go in?” he asked.
“Certainly.” Ragini preceded Laksh into the sunny, upscale restaurant. She had been
there once or twice, but on neither occasion had she felt gawky as she navigated the array
of small linen-covered tables. She was acutely conscious of Laksh behind her.
The hair on her arms lifted electrically as he pulled out one of the high-backed chairs
for her. But she smiled and accepted the seat as if there were nothing out of order. As if
she went out to lunch, tête-à-tête, with nasty Laksh Singleton every day of the week.
“Uh…have any trouble getting into town?” Laksh seated himself opposite her.
“Not at all. Traffic was light today.” Ragini delivered the social lie as she folded her
hands in her lap. She wondered if it was a good or a bad thing that the restaurant,
crowded at dinnertime, was completely empty now at lunch.
“Good,” Laksh replied, about the traffic. “That’s really good.”
Ragini’s gaze hit Laksh then slanted off to regard the trompe l’oeil mural on the wall
behind him. He began tapping a thumb on the linen tablecloth. Thankfully for both of
them, the waiter arrived with a well-trained smile and a pair of menus.
Ragini took her menu and opened it as if it were a rope thrown to a drowning
woman. Thank God, something to talk about. “I’ve tried the scrod here, but not the
sirloin,” she told Laksh. “What do you recommend?”
Laksh frowned into his menu. “I’ve never been here before.”
“Oh.” Ragini bit her lip. Goodness, the man could help. Or was she supposed to stave
off the horrible silence all by herself?
“Ahem. You think the pasta bolognese is any good?” Dark eyes glanced over the
menu at her.
“Ah.” So he was trying to help. “That sounds delicious. I think I’ll get…the Nicoise
salad.” She closed her menu and smiled brightly. Her poor mouth was going to be very
sore by the end of this meal.
“Right.” Laksh closed his menu as well. Their eyes chanced to meet. Ragini stiffened
with her habitual response to him, the readiness to parry whatever he might throw her
way. But he didn’t throw anything. He merely flicked his gaze past her left shoulder and
focused on whatever was back there. Restraining himself.
But Ragini couldn’t relax her state of readiness. It was too weird.
Fortunately, the waiter returned before the awful silence could descend again. He
took their orders, flashed the well-trained smile, and walked away.
Laksh cleared his throat. Ragini watched, mesmerized, as the long fingers of his hand
folded over a corner of his linen napkin. Never, she realized, had she observed Laksh
nervous. Nor had she taken a good look at his hands. They were rather…artistic.
“I guess we might as well get down to business,” he said.
Ragini couldn’t take her eyes off Laksh’s hand, folding and pressing the corner of the
napkin. Business, her mind thought. He was taking care of the wretched apology. Thank
Laksh cleared his throat again. “I wanted to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was
deliberately cruel to you at the tennis courts the other day. I, uh, expect there was a better
way I could have told you about Sanskar’s marriage — if I had to be the one to tell you at
Ragini raised her eyes from his hand at that. Oh, but you’d wanted to be the one to
tell me. You were looking forward to it! Polite as Laksh was being today, she knew he
basically loathed her.
However. They were here to take care of a social duty. Ragini didn’t want to start an
argument or create any obstacle to concluding this obligation. So she retrieved her bright,
well-mannered smile and claimed, “Really, there is no need to apologize. I — ”
She nearly claimed she had no interest in whether or not Sanskar was married but —
again — that would only provoke an argument, and a stupid one at that. Laksh had, in
fact, guessed Ragini’s fantasies regarding Sanskar. Her smile twisted as she instead admitted,
“I doubt there was any good way to do it.”
Laksh’s dark eyes flicked her way. He was clearly surprised by her admission. “Maybe
not a good way.” His own words were careful. “But definitely a better one.”
Ragini shrugged. “I never had a claim on Sanskar. Do you know I saw them, Sanskar and
Swara, at the opera?” She smiled at Laksh, desperate to get the focus of attention off
herself. “They seemed well-suited, and quite happy.”
“You think?” Laksh’s brows curled. “Because actually that’s another reason I should
apologize. I’m not even sure this marriage is going to last.”
Ragini’s eyebrows jumped. She thought of the couple she’d seen at the opera, of the
glow of excitement in Swara’s eyes, and the intense attention in Sanskar’s. Ragini gave a little
cough. “It’s going to last.”
There was more surprise, and some bewilderment in the look Laksh threw her. “You
sound pretty sure of that.”
“Not sure.” Ragini lifted her shoulders. “That’s just how it looked to me.”
The bewilderment in Laksh’s gaze hardened into disquiet. “Do I have this straight?
You’re going to sit back and simply accept this?”
Ragini laughed. “Is there something else I’m supposed to do?”
Laksh looked dark. “Not be so all-fired cheerful about it, for one thing.”
“Oh, why shouldn’t I be cheerful?” He was clawing through her forbearance, turning
the focus back on her. Worse, he was claiming she had to be fading away! She was not
fading away, or if she was, he’d be the last person to whom she’d admit it. She waved a
dismissive hand. “Life is full of little disappointments.”
Laksh’s gaze was deriding. “I wouldn’t call having the man you love marry somebody
else a little disappointment.”
Ragini’s teeth crushed together. But she didn’t lose her smile. She wouldn’t. “I’m not
in love with Sanskar.”
Laksh just looked at her.
“I’m not!” It was all Ragini could do not to hiss the words through her wretched
smile. How dare Laksh try to tell her how she felt!
But Laksh not only dared, he started to smile. It was a slow, knowing…and somehow
s*xual, smile. “Not in love with him, huh? But your nose is getting red. How much do you
want to bet that means you’re lying?”
Ragini felt the blood rush to all parts of her body, her nose included. She wasn’t lying.
She was furious. How dare he? How dare he sit there and tease her! When she spoke, it
was in a mere purr, with her lips curving into her own knowing smile. “Maybe you would
like to hear what I would be willing to bet about you?”
Laksh’s smug smile faltered.
That made Ragini’s smile grow. “I would bet there is a reason you are so morbidly
interested in your cousin, Sanskar, and the women in his life. I would bet it’s because you are
jealous of him. In fact, you feel quite inadequate in comparison to him, all around.”
Laksh’s big smile was fading faster than the sun before a thunderstorm.
Feeling a surge of satisfaction, Ragini went on. “That’s why you wouldn’t even
consider taking the fundraising job I offered you. Why you won’t take any job. You’re
afraid of paling next to Sanskar.”
Pale was exactly what was happening to Laksh’s face. He looked so stricken that
Ragini almost — almost — felt bad.
But the idea that she was actually getting the better of him spurred her on. “You’ve
spent your entire life trying to make sure nobody would compare the two of you, but
here’s a news flash. I do compare you. And I know you’re selling yourself short, Laksh. I
know you could do more and you could be more — if you weren’t such a yellow-bellied
Nothing moved in Laksh’s face except for his eyes. His eyes glittered dangerously at
She felt a frisson of mixed excitement and fear. Immensely satisfying as that had been,
she’d done the equivalent of cornering a big alley cat. Probably not her most intelligent
move.Very slowly, Laksh straightened from his casual slouch. Slowly, he leaned over the
little table. And slowly, oh so slowly, he smiled. His eyes glittered more dangerously than
ever. “You,” he said, very softly, “shouldn’t throw stones…seeing as how you live in a
glass house, yourself.”
There was a sharp, sinking sensation in Ragini’s stomach.
“Let’s talk about being a coward.” Laksh’s eyes held hers. “Let’s talk about staying
inside your safe, little shell. About never daring to set foot outside. I’ll bet you would have
a lot to say on that subject, wouldn’t you?”
Ragini knew she was staring at him. Not only because he seemed to be speaking her
most private, carefully hidden thoughts, but because his masculinity was pouring off of
him in waves. She could practically smell it; the power, the drive…the near violence. Like
a mouse before a cat, all she could do was sit there, barely able to breathe.
“Nicoise salad.” The voice came from above the tension-shimmering air. A sleeveclad
arm descended in front of Ragini, bearing a china plate heaped with crisp vegetables.
“And pasta bolognese,” the waiter continued. A plate of angel hair noodles came to a
landing in front of Laksh. “Enjoy your meal,” the waiter said brightly.
Ragini supposed the waiter walked away. She didn’t know. She couldn’t tear her gaze
from Laksh’s. His eyes were like firebrands, searing through her. Who would have guessed
dark brown eyes could be so piercing? She felt as if he was seeing right through her.
Everything. She felt as if she couldn’t continue to exist if she sat there one more minute
impaled by those eyes.
She stood up, clutching the purse she’d laid in her lap. Whirling, she managed to
wrench her gaze from his, and then she walked. She walked fast, desperately navigating
the tight array of empty tables and chairs, making for the door out of the place.
One couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful spring day. Ragini dimly registered that
fact as she walked, straight and swift, out of the restaurant and down the sidewalk.
“Ragini!” It was Laksh’s voice, and not very far behind her. Ragini’s eyes widened and
she stepped up her pace, though she wasn’t going to add to her humiliation by running.
Laksh had no such compunction. He ran. She could hear his footsteps rushing up to
her. And then her shoulder was roughly caught in his hand. She gritted her teeth as he
stopped her and turned her around.
“Please, Ragini,” he groaned. “I’m sorry, okay? I don’t know what got into me —
Okay, maybe I do, but I’m very, very sorry.” And then he uttered a word that Ragini didn’t
think a man who truly had reparation on his mind would say to a woman. On top of that,
his hand, so very strong on her shoulder, was making her tremble. All she could do was
stand there and stare at the buttons of his Cashmere cardigan.
“Ragini.” It sounded like a warning. And then as if things weren’t bad enough, he
grasped her other shoulder. “Look at me,” he ground out.
Quaking, she looked up. Maybe that would make him let her go. But he only looked
back at her with eyes that were almost black.
“You…do something to me,” Laksh claimed. “You get under my skin. The way you
walk, the way you talk…how you look down your nose at me. It all makes me…crazy.”
Every bone Ragini owned was still shaking, but she was staring at Laksh now. What
was he talking about? Her stomach began to curl in a very strange way.
Laksh went on, his voice sounding like gravel rubbing together. “Your eyes say ‘touchme-
not,’ and that just makes me want to…touch you.”
Ragini’s curling stomach now dropped, abruptly. Had he just said that? That he
wanted to…touch her. Like he was…attracted to her? No! Impossible. Laksh wasn’t
attracted to her. He made fun of her. He thought she was comical.
Yes, yes, all of that was true. But it was also true that his eyes were blazing dark fire.
It was true that he was leaning her up against the side of the building. She could feel his
hard, taut muscles up and down the length of her abdomen and thighs. She could feel —
Good God, was that his — ? Her eyes briefly lowered, then flashed back up to his. Her
lips parted in shock.
“I know I treat you rotten,” Laksh growled. “I have to, because if I didn’t treat you
rotten I’d be doing…this.” And his mouth came down on hers.
There was an instant of shock at the first touch of his lips to hers, and then it was like
nothing Ragini could have predicted. She felt no revulsion, no squirming desire to wiggle
away. She didn’t have time. As Laksh’s mouth took firm possession of hers, a sensation of
incredible heat swept through her. Her purse dropped to the ground. Ragini grabbed
Laksh’s shoulders. Her knees melted into butter. This was — this was —
She held on and met his every move with one of her own, her heart pounding, her
blood rushing. It was incredible, unbelievable, the sensations pouring through her. She felt
like a potent narcotic had been injected straight into her veins. She felt like her skin was
frizzling into steam and lifting off of her.
She felt like she would die if she couldn’t eat this man up. Her fingers dug into the
toughened muscles of his shoulders and a long, deep moan came out of her throat.
No wonder, a voice mused, as from far off. Now wonder you always avoided this.
“Good God, Ragini!” Laksh wrenched his mouth from hers with a gasp. For a moment
they stood pressed close together and staring into each other’s eyes.
Good God, indeed! Ragini could feel Laksh, every inch of him, including the erection
pressed hard against her Christian Dior skirt. Even worse than that, she could feel a deep
and powerful thrill inside herself as she recognized what it meant. Laksh, Laksh was aroused
And she was excited by his arousal.
Heaven’s above. Out. Immediately. She had to get out of there.
Fortunately, he didn’t resist when she pushed him away. No, he parted his body from
hers most willingly. Maybe he was as shocked and displeased with the turn of events as
she was, though Ragini sincerely doubted it. Laksh wasn’t dealing with the emotional
upheaval of a lifetime.
“I’ve — Good-bye,” she told him, very firm. Then, not daring to look his way, not
knowing what might happen if she looked into his amazing brown eyes, she remembered
to scoop up her purse, then whirled and stalked off down the street. She tried to move as
if there had been no interruption at all in her progress. Just as if he hadn’t kissed her.
And she hadn’t kissed him back.
Oh, my goodness gracious everything. Ragini ducked down into a subway stairway
that opened fortuitously in front of her. Her lips still tingled. Damn, but her whole body
With pleasure, with desire, with yearning. She wanted more!
Ragini paid the fare for a token and, with trembling fingers, slid it into the slot and
pushed through. She struggled to control her erratic breathing as she waited for the next
train — to anywhere.
She’d kissed Laksh, kissed Laksh, of all people.
And she’d liked it.
He’d just kissed the ice princess.
Laksh walked back into the quiet restaurant, every inch of him shaking; with s*xual
reaction, with self disgust…with unfulfilled lust. God. Dear God, but that had been — He
wiped his forehead with the back of one hand and walked over to the table they’d
abandoned. He looked down at the two plates of untouched food.
No way was he going to be able to eat that pasta bolognese with Ragini’s dainty
Nicoise salad staring across the table at him. Laksh pulled out his wallet, removed a
generous number of bills, and slapped them onto the table. Then he turned and walked out
of the place for the second time.
Could he have screwed up a simple apology any better, Laksh wondered? He stood for
a moment outside the restaurant, then deliberately turned in the opposite direction from
the one Ragini had headed. As he walked, he tried
to avoid groaning out loud.
Ragini was very wrong if she thought Laksh could come anywhere close in a
comparison with Sanskar. He was a screw-up through and through. Look at today. He hadn’t
managed to last half an hour in Ragini’s company without insulting her yet further.
And then kissing her.
Laksh swallowed and started shaking again. Now, that had to be the stupidest thing he
had ever done. Even giving Sanskar his hypnotic suggestion couldn’t compare.
Because kissing Ragini had been both stupid and — and fantastic. Laksh’s teeth
gritted so they wouldn’t start chattering as he continued to shake. Kissing Ragini had been
shocking, exciting, excruciatingly pleasurable…and…and…
It had made him feel…good. Somehow…right.
Walking fast, Laksh frowned, and his shaking managed to get worse. Right? What the
hell did that mean, ‘right?’ Ragini had to be the exact wrong woman for him to be kissing.
Totally unright. She compared him to Sanskar, for crissake.
Laksh didn’t scan the road for a cab. He didn’t walk down into any of the subway
stations he passed. He just kept walking while he tried to stop shaking.
And telling himself there was absolutely nothing right about Ragini.