THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL COMMENTS……
The morning following their moonlit walk, Swara stood and watched from her
bedroom window as Sanskar drove off. He’d left early, before anyone could conceivably have
come down to breakfast, before Swara could conceivably have gone down to use the gym.
And it was a Sunday, no less.
In the dawn light, Swara leaned against the window frame and rubbed her thumb
against her lips as, through the paned glass of her bedroom window, she watched his
Lexus disappear down the drive. But was he running? Oh, it was too hard to believe that
after last night and their nice walk, he would start playing that game again.
Swara shrugged and stepped away from the window. She decided to hang cool, wait
Mid-morning, Maggie came into the gym with a telephone. “For you,” she told Swara.
Swara stepped off the treadmill. It could be her chorus line friend, Valerie, on the
phone, with the latest gossip, or her boss, Rudy, with yet another complaint about her
replacement. So Swara calmed the leap in her heart as she reached for the telephone.
“Yes?” she asked, casual.
Sanskar’s voice on the other end sounded husky. “Would you like to have lunch?” He
paused. “A real lunch, that is.”
Swara’s heart took another leap, but she forced her voice to remain casual. “Why, I’d
“Jackson will drive you into town.” Sanskar made this clear. “He’ll deliver you to the
restaurant, say, around noon?”
Swara cleared her throat. “Noon will be fine.”
“I’ll see you then.”
Swara hung up the phone and handed it to Maggie. She waited for the housekeeper to
leave and close the door behind her before throwing her arms into the air and dancing a
jig. Those good vibrations hadn’t steered her wrong.
Sanskar had just asked her out.
They had lunch. Swara was delivered by Jackson to a posh little café on Beacon Hill, a
small place with heavy-duty prices. Sanskar was waiting for her. He pulled out Swara’s seat
for her. She got the first glass of wine. Their eyes met, fell away, met again. After clearing
her throat, Swara asked how his day was going. After clearing his throat, Sanskar wanted to
know if she’d had much traffic coming into town. They both made some kind of an answer
and afterwards simply sat at their chic little table and looked at each other.
Swara was delighted. The nerves meant they each cared about the impression they
were making. This was like the start of a real relationship. Sanskar didn’t seem too sure
about the situation, true, but things were definitely moving in the right direction.
She sat back and sipped her wine, enjoying herself immensely. Sanskar, on the other
hand, was not nearly so serene. He kept frowning and looking down, as if afraid of
holding Swara’s gaze for too long. But that was okay, Swara thought. It was part of the
whole beginning-of-things package.
In time, their lunches came, were suitably gourmet, and were consumed. Sanskar paid,
then rose to pull out Swara’s chair.
As she stood, she looked over her shoulder at him. “Do you have to go right back to
He went very still. “No.”
“Good.” Swara smiled. “I know just what I want to do with you.”
She made him ride a swan boat. In all the years Sanskar had spent in the Boston area,
growing up, going to college, and building his business, he’d never ridden one of the swan
boats in the public garden.
Swara said it was a scandal. She made him purchase two tickets and they had to stand
in line with the families on vacation and the European tourists. Sanskar felt silly. He’d
imagined she was going to take him to the Parker House.
Not that he should be making love to the woman. On the contrary, he’d asked her to
lunch in order to call the whole farce to an end. He’d intended to explain to her, calmly,
logically, over a bowl of lobster bisque, that the idea of any kind of real relationship
between them was ridiculous. Especially if Swara was imagining hearts and flowers. Sanskar
didn’t do hearts and flowers.
But watching her over the peach linen tablecloth, Sanskar had been unable to find the
right words. She’d looked so happy, so contented, sitting there in her off-the-rack
sundress, drinking the expensive wine that he’d ordered out of guilt.
And now, well, he should have been putting Swara into a cab for a handkerchiefsopped
ride home. Instead Sanskar was picking his way over the rickety floorboards of a
flatboat along with a dozen other chumps, about to get transported around the pond by
yet another chump, who pedaled from a seat that looked like a swan. Sanskar’s grumbles
faded, however, when he saw Swara settle onto her portion of the bench seat with an
amazingly happy smile on her face. He sank down next to her and closed his eyes with a
He cared about making her happy. Lord, he shouldn’t. It was a damned trap. He’d
never be able to. Nor would she be able to make him happy, in the long run. They simply
had nothing solid to build on. He’d witnessed the way these things played out through his
father. Over and over he’d seen passions flare, burn bright, and then crumble into charcoal.
It was inevitable, a law of nature.
Oh, it was a mess. He had to explain things to her, make her see. This wasn’t real.
The water of the pond gurgled against the sides of the boat as it slipped between the
lily pads. A breeze brought the scent of newly mown grass. Sanskar knew he shouldn’t delay
his talk any longer. He drew in a breath.
“Oh, look at the ducklings!” Swara pointed toward a line of the scruffy things,
paddling madly to keep up with their mother. “Aren’t they adorable?”
Sanskar glared at her. Couldn’t she be unlikable, for at least half a minute?
Unmindful of his problem, Swara was beaming at the ducks while her hands blindly
opened her purse. “I think I have some saltines in here. Oh, look for me, will you?” She
thrust the sequined purple purse at Sanskar. “Hello, sweeties. Oh, don’t swim away!”
Sanskar automatically clutched the purse. Because he didn’t know what else to do, he
peered in. He fingered aside a metal tube of lipstick and an extra-thin gold pen. His search
halted on a Winnie-the-Pooh key chain. He swallowed. “No saltines,” he told Swara.
“Oh, darn. Probably for the best.” She sighed and accepted her purse back, all the
while peering after the ducklings. “I suppose crackers aren’t a part of their natural diet.”
“No, I wouldn’t think so.” Sanskar watched Swara watching the ducklings. The woman
had a Winnie-the-Pooh key chain in her purse. How on earth was he supposed to explain
the hard facts of life to a person like this? Not to mention the way his heart was twisting at
the mere sight of her, going ga-ga over some ducklings.
Of course it was this moment Swara chose to turn and look at him. Her eyes were
bright, her smile wide. Sanskar felt as if two hands reached inside his chest and wrung his
already twisting heart.
He wasn’t going to do it. Something inside him, some relic, long-repressed, rose in
rebellion and prevented speech. The normal part of him knew what he had to do, knew
what was proper and responsible. But this older, wilder part of him didn’t care.
Swara tilted her head. A querying look came into her eyes. She put a hand on his arm.
“Did you want to say something?”
He certainly ought to say something. He ought to say that a relationship between
them would never work. He ought to say they had to stop kidding themselves here.
But, dammit, he wasn’t going to.
I like you. Swara had told him that yesterday. The words echoed through him like
precious jewels. Sanskar wasn’t ready to expose them for what they really were, an outer
shell, no more. He wanted to keep them, just a little longer.
For one more day.
Sanskar stared at Swara while the tension that had been riding him since the previous
evening mysteriously relaxed. He felt a slow smile crawl over his face. One day. It was the
perfect way to combine his desire with his responsibility. He wouldn’t give those
marvelous words back — yet. He could do that — tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow he’d go
back to the sober, pragmatic fellow who knew better. Tomorrow he’d deal with
Well, today…wouldn’t count.
“Sanskar?” Swara asked. “What is it?”
Sanskar’s smile grew. Instead of telling her how these matters really worked, instead of
warning her not to get too attached, he let the sun warm his face, he heard the pleasant lap
of water against the boat. He luxuriated in the sensation of Swara’s little hand on his sleeve.
“Yes, I want to say something.” He heard a laugh in his voice. “I want to say I’m
For today, a small inner voice reminded him. Sanskar ignored it. He knew what he had
to do tomorrow. But for now…? Feeling reckless, feeling almost giddy, he touched Swara’s
cheek. “Today,” he said, “I’m going to have fun.”
Swara smiled. Sanskar laughed. Swiveling at the sound, mama duck headed her brood
quickly back toward the shelter of the lily pads.
Swara had hoped the quiet ride on the swan boat would relax Sanskar. She wasn’t
prepared for the transformation, however, once they got off. He didn’t reach into his
jacket pocket for his cell phone. He didn’t look at his watch. Instead he rearranged his
palm around her hand to get a better grip and smiled.
“So,” he asked, looking down at her. “What’s next?”
Swara’s lips parted. He wasn’t going to run back to his office? He wasn’t going to
plead some kind of business emergency to sort through his emotions? She closed her
mouth and cleared her throat. “Um, well…” An afternoon at the Parker House occurred to
her, but she knew they weren’t ready for s*x. Sanskar had turned some sort of corner, to be
sure, but it wasn’t yet love.
If it was love, he would have said so.
He wore a big grin, however, an appealing one, as he turned to face her. Still holding
Swara’s hand, he began to back up the path. “Have you toured downtown Boston yet?”
“Have I toured?” Other than the walk between his office and the Parker House, that
“Good.” Sanskar’s smile broadened. “Then I can show you the sights.”
“Oh.” Swara couldn’t help staring. He really had turned a corner. He seemed happy,
Sanskar turned to face forward again. He pulled her along. “The Freedom Trail. That
should be sufficiently hoke — er — ” He broke off and his face turned red.
“Hokey?” Swara guessed, and tilted him a look.
To her surprise, Sanskar laughed. An outright, unconsidered laugh. “All right, hokey,”
he admitted. “But I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“Because it’s hokey.”
Sanskar threw her sidelong glance. “If the shoe fits…”
“Then I ought to wear it?” Swara laughed, too. Then they shared a look, smiling,
connected. Swara felt a hiccup of pleasure. Well, this was…unexpected, a truly different
side to Sanskar, joking and spontaneous.
She found herself stepping closer, hooking her arm with his. Okay, maybe she should
question this new side of Sanskar, maybe she should wonder what was really going on.
Maybe she should, but she wasn’t going to. Heck, why ruin a perfectly good moment?
For one day, she could just enjoy whatever was.
It was the closest Swara had seen Sanskar come to the Sanskar she’d first met in Las Vegas.
He looked happy, he had a sense of fun, he laughed.
They started out on the Freedom Trail, the red-brick line that wound through
downtown. After two churches and a cemetery, however, they decided to abandon the
formal, tourist path.
“Maybe I didn’t have you pegged so well, after all,” Sanskar said, coming up behind
Swara where she roamed, frowning, amidst three-hundred-year-old headstones.
She looked up at once, alert and concerned. But he seemed to be taking his
miscalculation in stride.
“Let’s try the Haymarket,” he said, and took her arm. Adaptable, unruffled. And
casually taking possession of her as if — well, as if they belonged together.
That felt awfully good. “Let’s,” Swara agreed, and held onto him.
Arm-in-arm then, they strolled through the Haymarket. Buyers and sellers argued
over the price of vegetables, and fish lay in gleaming silver piles. Sanskar steered Swara
around spilled vegetables and the odd fish head.
“Two hundred years of rats have been cleaning up here after hours,” he told Swara.
“Speaking as an expert in the field, I can tell you by now it’s built into their genetic code.”
From Haymarket they ducked into the relative sanity of Faneuil Hall, where carts
lined up under glass awnings sold everything from Red Sox banners to hand-carved
sculptures. Sanskar waited patiently while Swara debated between buying a straw scarecrow
or a wooden chess set for Robby. Not once did he evince a desire to be out of her
presence or doing something else. Not once did he check his telephone or his watch.
As Swara paid for the chess set, she felt a deep contentment. She didn’t know what
had prompted this about-face behavior on Sanskar’s part, but she did know she liked it. This
was good for him.
And it wasn’t so bad for her, either.
She felt wanted, she felt appreciated. She felt like she was getting to know a man who
might actually come to care for her.
She turned, wrapped bag in hand, to find Sanskar watching her with an arrested
expression. “What?” she asked. Lord, she hoped the castles she’d been building in the air
weren’t showing on her face.
To her relief, Sanskar shook a smile back on. “Nothing.” He lowered his head closer to
hers. “I’m just enjoying myself.”
Swara met his eyes. “You’re enjoying yourself.” She dared to add, “for a change.”
Sanskar’s smile went crooked. “For a change.” He straightened and took the bag from
her hand. “Are you hungry?”
“I’m ashamed to admit it, after that fancy lunch…”
“Gourmet food is notoriously unsatisfying. Come on. I’ll take you to a place where
they know how to fill you up.”
A neon sign in an upstairs window of the North End building announced this was
Sanskar led Swara through a street-level door and up a narrow staircase. Wonderful
smells drifted down to meet them, garlic and tomato and basil. At the top of the staircase
stood a large woman in a white apron. Her eyes widened when she saw Sanskar.
“Signore!” She opened her arms. “We have not seen you for ages. You eat
somewhere else, you bad boy?”
“No, no, Josefina. I haven’t eaten a thing since I last saw you, not one bite.”
“Pagliaccio. A liar on top of everything else.”
“It’s the God’s honest truth. ”
Josefina gave Sanskar a mock box on the ears, something Swara was amazed to see him
put up with, much less appear to enjoy. The older woman blinked when she noticed Swara
bringing up the rear.
“Oh-h-h.” Her expression turned astonished. “Look what we have here.”
“Swara,” Sanskar supplied.
“Kel-ly.” Josefina took hold of Swara by the shoulders and beamed. “My, but this is —
Don’t you worry, signore. We take good care of your girl. We give her the extra-special
treatment. We put out all the gos.”
“Pull out all the stops, I think she means,” Sanskar confided to Swara.
“I’m sure anything you do would be great, Josefina. It smells wonderful in here.”
Swara smiled, liking the woman immediately.
Josefina’s beam managed to pick up wattage and she let loose a stream of happysounding
Italian. “Come, come,” she said at last. “I give you a place to sit. Sit, sit, sit.”
The upstairs room looked to have been originally the living room of an apartment.
One wall had been torn down to add the living room of the next apartment over. The
lighting was dim and the décor simple.
Josefina led them to a table by the window, intimate, candle-lit, and with a view of the
village-like North end. The way Sanskar took his seat told Swara this was a usual spot.
She picked up her linen napkin and raised her brows. “Something tells me this isn’t
where you take investors for power lunches.”
“No.” Sanskar smiled faintly as he rearranged the placement of candle and flower vase.
“I come here alone.”
Swara’s ironic smile faded. She’d assumed this was a trysting spot, a place to bring the
odd lover. Instead, he’d brought her to his private haunt.
She tried to think up something flip to say in response, but couldn’t. Sanskar was letting
her into his real life, deeply into it.
Their eyes met over the checked linen tablecloth. Swara felt her heart beat fast and
hard. “Well,” she said at last, her voice no more than a whisper. “You aren’t alone
“No.” Sanskar’s faint smile faded. “I’m not.”
The day Sanskar had chosen for his enjoyment was quickly drawing to an end. He’d
strolled through the time aimlessly, basking in Swara’s emotions. He’d let her joy and her
affection wash over him like so much rare elixir. Deliberately, he’d refrained from
questioning the endurance of such emotions. What did endurance matter when he was
only counting on a single day? For the span of one day their emotions weren’t going to
But the day was nearly over. The dial on the dashboard of his Lexus read 11:53 when
he pulled the car into its spot in the garage. It took a few minutes to gather Swara’s
purchases from the trunk, a few more to walk up to the house. Sanskar figured it had to be
past midnight by the time they got to the hallway outside Swara’s bedroom door.
His day was officially over.
It was time to return to reality. Reality was the temporary nature of emotions. Reality
was that passion and all its by-products didn’t last. Reality was the huge mistake it would
be to rely on mere feelings.
But reality was awfully hard to come by when Swara turned at her bedroom door,
when her tremulous smile made his insides clench.
“I want to tell you,” she whispered huskily. “I had a really nice day.”
I liked you. You were good for me. As good as I was for you. Drawing in a deep
breath, Sanskar tried to still her fantasy voice in his head. “Yes,” he said gruffly. “It was a
nice day.” And just one day, he struggled to remind himself. He had to get away from
fantasy, back to reality.
Swara’s smile crooked. “And now it’s over.”
Yes, it was over. All over. That had been the deal Sanskar had promised himself on the
swan boat. But as his groin stirred traitorously, a voice whispered slyly in his head. It’s not
quite over yet.
Swara’s lashes lowered. “Things are different now, aren’t they?”
Whoa. Even as desire stirred, Sanskar knew he couldn’t have her believing anything was
different. Hell, he might start believing it, himself. Yes, he’d let down his guard, he’d
allowed himself to enjoy her company, but that didn’t mean anything essential had
changed. Whatever they’d felt for each other today wasn’t real. It wasn’t lasting. Such
things never were.
Before he got a chance to say anything of the sort, however, Swara reached out to put
a finger in the middle of Sanskar’s chin. He stood immobilized. The smell of the salt of her
skin reached his nose, the leather from the car seat, and even a hint of the garlic they’d had
with their dinner. The whole magical day seemed encapsulated in Swara’s finger.
Reality began to slip.
Swara smiled softly. “I don’t know what it took for you to let go, to loosen up today,
for you to trust me, but I know it was a lot. And so…thank you.” Her eyes came up to
Reality continued its downward slide. Swiftly. The look in her eyes… She’d had a
good time, as good a time as he’d had. He’d done that — for her. He’d been able to do
that. The ancient part of Sanskar, the part that had elected to take the day off, surged
He didn’t want this to go.
As Swara gently lowered her finger and made to step back, he cast frantically for
something, anything, to prolong the moment, the time — the connection.
“I like you.”
Swara froze. It took Sanskar a second to realize he was the one who’d uttered the words.
He’d just told Swara he liked her. Out loud.
Terror warred with the most bizarre access of joy. It was true, of course. He did like
her. A lot. But — Oh, there were so many but’s. Nevertheless, his joy continued to grow,
along with his terror. What would she think of this?
“Oh, Sanskar,” she murmured, while her face went all soft and warm.
That was it. The end. He affected her. He did. The ancient warrior inside Sanskar, the
rebel who refused to face reality, charged in with the strength of an armed battalion. Any
thought of being responsible flitted into nothingness.
What was responsibility compared to this, this new and incredible sensation?
Sanskar set down the bags. The air seemed to hum around them. Through the hum, he
reached for her. She leaned toward him. Their noses briefly fumbled for space before their
Magic. Power. Immensity. Sanskar closed his eyes and let it all wash over him. Deep,
deep down, in the darkest heart of him, he knew he was continuing the pretense. This was
neither smart nor honest.
But, God, he did like her! And she’d liked that. She’d liked it!
Swara’s arms went around him. Sanskar pulled her close. Reality? he thought, his chest
nearly bursting. The hell with reality.
Deeper. He kept letting her in even deeper, Swara thought, as Sanskar’s arms closed
around her. He’d told her he liked her. That was — it was —
Some voice inside her, not yet seduced, spoke up. There were rules governing this
kind of situation, rules she’d thoroughly flouted last Monday. She wasn’t supposed to be
going to bed with him, not giving so much — or at least not giving so much until he gave
something back: a proposal of marriage, or in their case, the words that ought to go with
one. Words of love, words of commitment. She’d promised herself she would go back to
the rules that would protect her.
The resistance of the door behind Swara gave way. She suspected she’d been the one
to grope for the knob. But it was Sanskar who walked her backwards into the room. Swara
didn’t protest, however, when he turned to lean her against the inside of her bedroom
door, when his mouth descended desperately to devour hers. She twined her arms behind
Perhaps there were rules, but the situation seemed strikingly familiar. Five weeks ago
with Sanskar in her car in Las Vegas, she’d felt the same thrill of discovery, the same pulse of
need and giving. That night, Sanskar’s touch and his words had sparked Swara’s infatuation
into love. Marry me, he’d said. I love you, he’d said.
Okay, so he hadn’t said that tonight. Swara admitted this as Sanskar’s hand roved over the
bodice of her sundress and she moaned her appreciation. No, Sanskar had not pronounced
his undying love and devotion, but he had admitted he liked her. For the Boston Sanskar,
that was equivalent to an avalanche.
“Swara,” Sanskar murmured.
“Sanskar,” Swara whispered back. She reveled in the shudder that went through him
when she rocked her hips against the ridge in his trousers. Did it truly matter if she closed
the barn door now, when the horses had been let out not once, but several times?
Sanskar’s fingers found her taut nipple through the cotton of her dress. The jerk of
arousal pulled Swara out of her haze. Wait a minute. She’d sort of decided it did matter.
Surrendering now, without words of love, would leave her vulnerable and unprotected.
“Stay,” Sanskar then breathed. “Swara. Stay with me.”
Oh, boy. Swara lifted her lashes. Sanskar’s eyes were closed, his face drawn in lines of
stark, heedless need.
He didn’t merely want her. He needed her. Swara’s love for him swelled.
“I’m here,” she choked out. She brushed her hand against his cheek. “I’m not going
With a low sound, he opened his mouth over hers in a deeply carnal kiss. Swara kissed
him back, while reaching behind herself to draw down her zipper.
Some rules, she told herself, were meant to be broken.
It was the kind of a party that was usually Laksh’s favorite: good booze, loud music,
and a wide variety of women. The range of females at this particular shindig went all the
way from somebody’s wacky grandmother, wearing décolletage and pearls, to a gaggle of
terrified-looking Harvard undergrads.
But all Laksh could do was wander the many rooms of the mansion of a friend of a
friend and feel…bored.
He forced himself to come to a stop in the main room of the house, the one with the
DJ and the dancing. He stood next to the five foot high speaker and lifted his martini to his
nose for a sniff. His body hummed with the vibrations of the music, but he felt an overall
dissatisfaction. Hell. It didn’t make sense.
Laksh was always satisfied. He made himself satisfied, whatever the situation. He’d
learned to do so at the age of fifteen, when they’d come to tell him that both his parents
had died in the same small plane crash. That’s when he’d figured out that life was not going
to turn out the way he’d like it to, so he’d better learn to be happy with whatever was.
Sniffing his martini again, Laksh brooded that he’d yet to learn how to be happy about
his last interview — his last kiss — with Felicia. That kiss had been…amazing. But while
his body craved more kisses from the woman, his brain knew better. They couldn’t have a
relationship. Why, they didn’t even define the word the same way!
And yet…and yet… Laksh’s lashes lowered. And yet, there was something very
unfinished about the whole business.
Across the room by the bartender, one of the Harvard undergrads lifted her Margarita
and smiled at Laksh, apparently not as terrified as he’d assumed. Indeed, the girl was on the
bold side, considering Laksh looked what he was: a dozen years her senior. He smiled back,
but turned and walked in the opposite direction, as if he’d just remembered a previous
As he strode through the next room, the one with the tables heaped with appetizers,
he tried desperately to remember. Would he have walked away from a smiling undergrad
two weeks ago, before this whole thing with Felicia had started? Had he owned that many
scruples? He gnashed his teeth and hoped to God he would have behaved with such
Otherwise, he had to worry that kissing Felicia might have ruined him for anyone else.
After stalking right through the appetizer room and out onto the lawn, Laksh stopped,
shuddered, and finally took a swallow of the drink he’d only been sniffing for the past
hour. Felicia ruining him. It was a scary thought.
Or was it? Was it actually scary, or was it something else? Maybe it was something he
wasn’t ready to define — but that he’d forever rue if he didn’t explore.
He took another swallow of his drink and looked out over the darkened landscape.
He was always satisfied. He never wanted anything he couldn’t have. And he probably
couldn’t have Felicia.
Probably. But then, probably wasn’t certainly. And this particular probably was going
to drive him crazy. What if he could have her? What if he could experience a fulfillment he
hadn’t enjoyed in fifteen years? What if?
Laksh bared his teeth and tossed the rest of his martini over the lawn. Hell. He had a
sinking feeling there’d be no peace for him until he exerted himself and did something
about that probably.