THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL AND HEART TOUCHING COMMENTS……
As Swara walked up the jetway, faux tiger-skin purse clutched in one hand, she
reminded herself this was only going to be two short months of her life. She’d fly to
Boston with the guy, cohabit with him in some safe fashion, and then be done with the
whole moral quagmire. She started down the aisle of the plane.
A dark voice rumbled behind her. “We’re here.”
Swara suppressed a shiver at the timbre of that voice, and its false familiarity. “Here?
Oh, you mean the row.” She stopped to glance at the number above the seats. “Four?”
They were barely inside the plane.
“That’s right,” Sanskar said. “Would you like the window or the aisle seat?”
Swara looked down at the spacious upholstered seats and the little table between them.
Oh, she realized, first class.
“Um, I like to look out the window,” she answered. Hugging her purse to her chest,
Swara shouldered her way to the seat. She didn’t check to see what Sanskar was doing. So far
she’d managed to get by without looking him square in the face since their conversation
outside his hotel room door. It was all too bizarre. He shared Sanskar’s name, he owned
Sanskar’s body — but he wasn’t really Sanskar.
She wasn’t really married to him.
At least, that’s what she planned to prove. There was no connection between this man
and the one to whom she’d made holy vows. She’d satisfy her conscience, the voice in her
head that had been shouting she was a hypocrite, that she couldn’t live up to her own
A promise was a promise.
Swara sank into her seat. Sanskar — or whoever he was — lowered into the seat beside
her. Little shivers ran up and down Swara’s arms. All right, she responded to the guy’s
body, but they weren’t properly married. In fact, she didn’t think it would take as long as
two whole months to prove it. That’s what she’d told her boss, Rudy, in persuading him to
hire a temp to fill her job on the chorus line. She’d also reminded Rudy that she’d pulled
him out of more than one hole of his own. Now it was her turn to get pulled out of a hole.
And she would get out of it. A mere two months and she’d be back in her own life, no
worse for wear.
Swara sniffed, pretending she didn’t notice every single thing the man beside her was
doing. He did not appear to be at all aware of her. As more passengers filed past them, he
settled his briefcase on his knees and drew from it a thick sheaf of papers. He immediately
began paging through them.
Swara wished she had something to do, too, but even if she hauled out her paperback
novel it wouldn’t have been polite to read it now, not when she was sitting right next to
her brand new husband. She tapped her fingers on her knee. Apparently this guy — Sanskar
— didn’t realize what was polite.
She stopped tapping her fingers and cleared her throat. “Uh, do you think we’ll have a
nice flight?” She didn’t quite look at him as she smiled pleasantly.
He drew his stapled bundle of papers closer to his eyes. “I have no idea.”
And that was that. He frowned at his papers while Swara felt her face burn.
Two months — or less.
Meanwhile the plane bounced gently. They were leaving the gate. Sanskar actually
looked up from his papers, but only to shoot Swara a disapproving glance. “You need to
put on your seat belt.”
“What? Oh.” Swara looked down. Her lap was, indeed, unrestrained. Before she could
do anything to correct the situation, he was leaning over her, reaching for the metal tabs.
His knuckles brushed her stomach as he shot the metal tongue home.
Swara pressed back in her seat. Sanskar’s breath drew in sharply. But neither one of them
seemed able to avoid it: their eyes met. A spark arced between them, white-hot electricity,
a moment of stripped-bare awareness.
Sanskar straightened abruptly and turned, grabbing up his sheaf of papers. Swara hissed
out slowly and craned her head to gaze out the window.
All right, so there was a physical thing between them. No big deal. Physical attraction
didn’t make the man her husband. Swara blinked out the window and struggled to even her
Only love could do that.
They arrived in Boston two hours late. That meant Sanskar had been sitting beside the
woman for seven hours straight. In that time they’d barely exchanged a dozen words.
What was he going to talk to her about? The stock market, free trade problems? Or
perhaps the number of sequins she could sew on a single costume?
Meanwhile, he noticed every time she crossed her legs, every time she shifted in her
seat. He did his best to distract himself, delving deeply into the quarterly report, but it
didn’t work. He still noticed. Worse yet, he still responded.
It was embarrassing. Never had Sanskar experienced physical desire so unrelenting. His
fingers actually itched. As they deboarded the plane, he decided he had to get away from
her. Oh sure, he’d have to bring her home, settle her in, but following that duty some
office emergency could take him back to the city. He could get out of her sphere.
Eager to put his plan into motion, Sanskar shepherded Swara through the busy, early
morning airport. He was careful to keep his hands off, though those hands longed to touch
and lay claim. Thank God,Rajatand the car were already waiting at the curb. The
porter was there as well, loading their luggage into the trunk. Sanskar only had to spend the
time it would take to drive home with the woman. He could manage that.
“Oh, my word,” Swara muttered.
She was staring. Sanskar saw nothing butRajatand the car, with the porter loading
the trunk. “What is it?” he asked.
She shot him a glance. “That doesn’t look unusual to you?”
“Doesn’t what look unusual?”
She merely raised her brows.
Sanskar didn’t get it. Hadn’t she seen limousines in Las Vegas? Indeed, she must have
viewed outfits far more ostentatious than his. Meanwhile, Swara pulled from the shadow of
his control and approached Jackson, hand outstretched. “Hi! I’m Swara. How do you do?”
Jackson flashed a quizzical glance in Sanskar’s direction, then turned to accept the lady’s
handshake. “Uh, how do you do?” He released Swara’s hand to open the back door. “Sir,”
he said to Sanskar.
“Jackson.” Sanskar ushered his wife into the car, still wondering how she’d expected
them to get home.
In the car, Swara settled onto the seat and turned to face Sanskar. He immediately forgot
his limo question in view of her obvious intent to converse. His hand jumped to his inside
jacket pocket. “Excuse me.” He withdrew his cell phone. “I have some calls to make.”
The way she stared made him fear she was going to have the moxie to object. But she
only pressed her lips together and turned to look out the window.
Sanskar managed to busy himself with the phone all the way out past the suburbs. But
when they arrived at the wrought iron gates of the family estate, he found himself
perversely curious about her reaction. What would she think of the home he was providing
her? He pocketed his cell phone as they drove through. Fortunately, she was too intent on
the twisting drive to notice his attention. He could see her strain to see the lines of the
house in the distance.
When the place finally appeared through a break in the trees, her brows shot way up.
She turned to him. “This is your house?”
Sanskar stared at her. He could swear she was implying the place was deficient. With
fifteen bedrooms, twenty bathrooms, and thirty thousand square feet of premium interior
decoration, the house was hardly deficient in any way. At least, that’s what Kirk’s third
wife had said, the one who’d needled Sanskar’s father into tearing down the ancestral manse
to build the place. “It’s supposed to resemble a Roman villa,” Sanskar informed Swara stiffly.
“Well, it doesn’t.”
Sanskar was at a loss. Every one of his father’s brides had gushed over the house. But
Swara looked at him with a trace of…pity?
Sanskar’s brows dove. Oh no, he wasn’t going to take pity from the likes of her — Then
a glance out the window told him it didn’t matter what Swara thought.Rajat was pulling
into the circular drive before the front entrance. Sanskar was about to see the back of her, at
least for the time being. Yes, in just a few minutes, with some well-placed commands to
his staff, he would be quit of her.
Sanskar was sure he’d regain his customary equilibrium once out of her presence.
But as soon as he stepped out of the car, Sanskar knew it wasn’t going to happen the
way he’d planned. He squinted. “Where is everybody?”
Jackson cleared his throat. Sanskar turned around, still squinting.
“Ahem,”Rajat said. “I was instructed not to alarm you, sir, before you got back
home, but the child is missing. Again.”
Sanskar said nothing. He was too completely dismayed. It wasn’t that Sahil had taken
off; the kid did that too often for panic. But he wasn’t going to be able to deliver his set of
well-thought-out orders. He wasn’t going to be able to sink back into the car and depart
from the woman now standing by his side, her hands on her hips.
“Who?” she asked. “Who’s missing?”
Sanskar kept his gaze on Jackson. “Laksh,” he snapped. “Where is he?”
Jackson coughed into his fist. “Uh, where you would expect, sir.”
“Who is missing?” Swara asked again. But Sanskar wasn’t paying any attention to her. Of
course not. He’d barely addressed a word to her since they’d lifted off from Vegas. He’d
kept his nose buried in his papers or his ear to his cell phone. Now he turned on his heel
and started for the monster double doors set in the center of the monster house.
Truly, it was the most hideous house Swara had ever seen. Big, square, and blocky, it
looked like a mausoleum. She couldn’t believe he chose to live in this pile, but there he
was making for the building. It must really be his. She spent half a second thinking about
it, then hustled after him.
What child was missing?
As soon as she stepped in the front door, she had to stop. Open-mouthed, she turned
in a circle. There was marble from here to everywhere and a rainforest of crystal falling
from at least three stories above. Just like the limo: nice, if you were in a casino in Vegas,
but a bit much for home sweet home. Swara shook her head and looked around for Sanskar.
He was moving fast down a carpeted hallway. She hurried after.
Looking stern, Sanskar pushed open one of the many heavily paneled doors lining the
hall. Swara caught the edge of the door and slipped in after him.
They were in a study, the furnishings heavy and dark. There was a huge desk at one
end of the room, and a bar at the other. It was at the bar that an athletic-looking young
man lounged. Dark hair fell onto his forehead and a highball rolled between his palms. To
his credit, he didn’t appear to have been drinking. The glass looked more a prop against
Sanskar came to a dead stop. Swara nearly bumped into him. The young man looked up.
“Ah,” he drawled, “I see you’ve heard.”
Swara could tell Sanskar was holding on to his control with the greatest of difficulty. But
he was holding. When he spoke, his voice was calm.
“One thing, Laksh. I asked you to do one thing.”
The other man’s nonchalance dimmed. “Don’t blame me. Kid’s a regular escape artist.”
“You said he was dogging your steps.”
“He was.” Laksh’s gaze flitted to Swara. “Which is how he must have heard you were
on your way home — with wife, after all.”
Sanskar didn’t glance around, which told Swara he’d been aware of her behind him the
whole time. “I told him that it wasn’t his fault.”
Laksh swished his drink. “Guess he didn’t believe you.”
“Who?” Swara had the temerity to ask yet again. “Who is missing?”
“Sahil,” Laksh said. “Didn’t Sanskar warn you about his little demon?”
“Yours?” Swara’s eyes widened as she turned to Sanskar. “You have a son?” Not even
her Sanskar had told her that!
Sanskar’s gaze flicked to Swara. “Not my son. My brother. Half-brother, actually.”
“Oh.” But her Sanskar hadn’t told her that, either. “How old is he?”
“Nine.” Sanskar pressed his lips together.
“Nine.” Swara knew her eyes were widening again. “And you’re how — ?”
“Credit a very active, very healthy sire,” Sanskar said dryly. “Too active and too healthy,
in fact, to come home and deal with his troublesome progeny.” Turning back to Laksh,
Sanskar sighed. “If you’ve already tried all the usual places, then we’ll have to try some
Laksh set down his highball. “Whatever you say. I’m ready to call the cops.”
“I doubt that will be necessary.” As Sanskar spoke, he went toward a set of French
doors and opened them wide. A lot of trees were revealed. “Sahil never goes all that
Swara wasn’t officially invited on the expedition that then charged into the woods, but
she went anyway. A nine-year-old boy was missing. And besides, she was curious about
Sanskar, watching him as they tramped over the pine carpet floor of the forest that grew
behind his house.
Just exactly who was he? For all they’d shared during their two-day courtship, he’d
not told her anything substantial about his life. She hadn’t heard about the building with his
name on it, the huge house, his trouble-making cousin — and certainly not a word about
a nine-year-old half-brother. It all seemed to confirm her hypothesis. This was not the man
But at the same time…he was no longer the block of stone she’d been sitting next to
on the airplane. He stalked through the forest with his brows drawn in real concern. There
was an outside chance he might be human.
Sunlight filtered through the branches overhead and rustling noises sounded in the
undergrowth. Swara heard the gentle burbling of a brook. “Some backyard,” she muttered.
Huge, like everything else about the place, though she had to admit the hugeness of the
outdoors was beautiful, a tamed slice of nature.
They’d gone quite a ways before Swara saw the tree house. A platform of plywood
supported scrappy two-by-fours. A dingy canvas stretched above this collection as a roof.
“What the — ?” Laksh stuttered. “Where did that come from?”
“Sahil made it last summer,” Sanskar replied. “He thinks no one knows about it.”
But Sanskar had known, Swara thought, and glanced toward him.
Sanskar came to a stop at the foot of the tree. “Sahil! If you’re up there, come out!”
The canvas roof flapped in a passing breeze. Sanskar’s gaze concentrated on the
makeshift structure. Swara’s gaze concentrated on Sanskar. He was looking more and more
human with each passing minute; concerned and frustrated. He shrugged out of one sleeve
of his suit jacket. “I’m going up to take a look.”
Laksh’s mouth twisted. “Of course you are.”
Sanskar peeled out of the rest of his jacket and tossed it to Laksh, who caught it with a
sigh. Loosening his tie, Sanskar stalked toward the pegged-in ladder nailed to the tree trunk.
Swara bit her lower lip. Mr. Chill and Correct had taken off his jacket. He was going
to climb a tree. Who was he?
With spare efficiency, Sanskar climbed the ladder. At the platform, he lifted the dingy
canvas and crawled in.
Down beside Swara, Laksh released another sigh. “Trumped again.”
Swara switched her gaze to Laksh. “Excuse me?”
Laksh nodded toward the tree house. “I’ve been looking for Sahil for hours, but it
took Sanskar to find him. Yup, saving failed corporations, finding lost kids. Whatever the
task, old Sanskar-o can do it.”
Swara frowned. “But we don’t even know if Sahil is up there.”
“He is. Sanskar never makes mistakes. Ah — ” Laksh glanced at her. “Present company
excepted.” Swara blinked. “Present comp — But I’m your mistake.”
“Mine?” Laksh looked genuinely baffled.
Swara was getting baffled, herself. “Yes, you were the one who gave Sanskar the
Laksh regarded her through narrowing eyes. His mouth opened, but before he could
say a word, the flap of the canvas lifted. Sanskar emerged, looking disgusted.
“He’s not there,” Swara guessed.
“Oh, he’s here.” Sanskar dusted his hands, then reached for the tree-trunk ladder. “But
he won’t come down.”
Swara’s lips parted. Laksh had been right. Sanskar had known where to find Sahil.
“Oh, come on,” Laksh expostulated. “He won’t come down?”
Sanskar spoke toward the tree trunk as he descended the ladder. “Claims he wants to
talk to Swara first.”
Swara choked. “Me?”
“You.” Sanskar turned at the base of the tree and reached for the suit jacket Laksh was
Swara opened and closed her mouth. “But — Sahil doesn’t even know me.”
“I know.” Sanskar shook out his jacket. “And I’m sure you have no intention of climbing
any trees. I told him that. Never mind. He’ll come down when he’s hungry enough.”
“It has nothing to do with climbing the tree. I just don’t understand what I have to do
“Nothing.” Sanskar shoved an arm into his jacket. “Don’t worry about it.”
She wasn’t supposed to worry about it? He could find lost kids and, reportedly, save
failing corporations, but she wasn’t supposed to ‘worry about it?’ “All right,” Swara
proclaimed. “Sahil wants to talk to me, he can talk to me.”
Sanskar froze with his jacket hunched over his neck. “What?”
Swara marched toward the tree. Noting the well-worn polish on the pegged-in ladder,
she kicked off her sandals and began to climb.
“Miss Bose — !”
She paid no heed. In fact, Swara enjoyed the note of panic in Sanskar’s voice. She wasn’t
supposed to worry about it. At the top of the ladder, she stepped onto the platform and
shoved inside the canvas door. In the sudden dimness, she squinted.
“Oh, God,” a small voice breathed.
It took a few seconds for Swara’s eyes to adjust enough to spot him, a pudgy boy
sitting cross-legged at the far end of the platform. His brown hair was uncombed and his
clothes were dirty. With a pug nose and freckles, he looked like every misfit, un-cool kid
she’d ever taught in her father’s Sunday school. Swara’s heart immediately melted.
“Hey.” She lowered to sit on her heels. “Heard you wanted to talk to me.”
Maybe he had once, but he didn’t look like he wanted anything of the sort now.
“You’re her,” he breathed.
“Um, if you mean your brother’s wife, well then yes, I’m the one. Swara Bose —
er, well yeah, Bose — at your service.” Swara smiled and held out her hand.
The boy didn’t make a move toward it. “Laksh was right,” he said hoarsely. “You are a
dish.” Swara kept on smiling, though she wondered where Laksh could have gotten such an idea.
The boy swallowed. “So, what are you going to do to me?”
“Do to you?” Swara lowered her outstretched hand.
“You’re really mad, aren’t you?”
“Mad?” Swara blinked. “At you?”
Solemn, the child nodded.
“But why would I be mad at you?” Swara hadn’t even known he existed half an hour
“You know. The hypnosis. Because of the hypnosis.” Sahil’s gaze went from
vulnerable to suspicious.
Swara stared. “What?”
Sahil spoke clearly. “Because I hypnotized Sanskar.”
Feeling like an idiot, Swara closed her hung-open jaw. “You,” she said. “You did it. I
— I thought it was Laksh.”
“Oh, no. Laksh just gave Sanskar a suggestion, once he’d gone under. I was the one who
hypnotized him.” Sahil sounded, briefly, proud. Then his eyes narrowed. “Didn’t you
Swara shook her head.
“Oh, great.” Sahil slapped his forehead. “She didn’t even know, and I had to go and
“It’s all right. I’m not mad at you, even so,” Swara rushed to say. But she was floored.
Sanskar had been hypnotized — by a nine-year-old boy?
One look at this nine-year-old boy, however, and Swara knew she couldn’t ask how
he’d managed it. He needed reassurance, not interrogating.
“Why should I be mad?” She lifted a shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault Sanskar married me.
The hypnosis couldn’t force him to do anything he didn’t want to do.” Hadn’t Sanskar
spouted such a sentiment to her the day before?
But the boy looked unconvinced by the argument. “He’s still mad about it,” he
“Yes, but not at you. I think…he’s mad at himself.”
“Huh. That doesn’t make any sense.”
It did, but Swara didn’t belabor the point. “The thing is I’m not mad at you,” she told
him, and waved a hand. “Anyway, the whole thing was just an accident.”
It was another limp contention of Sanskar’s from the day before, but this one put a light
of hope into Sahil’s soft eyes. He shifted weight. “Really?”
“Really.” Swara paused a beat, then gestured toward the canvas flap door. “It must be
breakfast time, or past it. I’m pretty hungry, and I don’t even know where the kitchen is in
that great, big house. How about you? Wanna come down and eat?”
He hesitated, searching her face for sincerity.
Swara made sure to relax her expression, letting it show what she was truly feeling:
liking, interest, the desire to make a connection. She’d grown up learning that every
human being had something unique and worthwhile to offer. She had a feeling Sahil
hadn’t discovered this was true of himself yet.
But he did appear to conclude she wasn’t angry at him. “Oh, we don’t eat in the
kitchen,” he said.
“There should be a meal laid out in the morning room.” Sahil started on all fours
toward her. “I’ll show you.”
Feeling awfully pleased with the situation, Swara moved aside for the boy, but Sahil
waited for her to precede him down the ladder. High-bred manners. And breakfast in the
‘morning room.’ Excuse me. She smiled to herself as she moved out the canvas door.
Sanskar’s eyes hit her as she emerged first. They narrowed. Then he saw Sahil come
out of the tree house behind her. He couldn’t hide his surprise. Surprise and, Swara saw,
But of course he was relieved. He’d been worried. He cared.
He was human.
She felt a little light-headed as she hopped to the ground. This was stupid. So, Sanskar
was human. Most people were. Nothing to get excited about. Then she turned and found
him looking straight at her.
“Thank you,” he said.
That was when, for an instant, just a split-second, Swara saw something she’d never
expected to see.
As if alarmed he could have been anything of the sort, he threw the mask back up.
Abruptly, he turned to Sahil. Scanning the boy, and apparently finding him undamaged,
he declared, “You’re filthy.”
“I’m hungry,” was Sahil’s retort.
Swara started shivering. Her Sanskar! Not any more, but he had been there; in the eyes,
the tone of voice…the vulnerability.
“You’ll bathe before you get anything to eat,” Sanskar told his half-brother sternly. “And
then we’ll talk about this habit of running away.”
Sahil’s brown-eyed gaze went to Swara. “I promised her I’d show her where the
morning room is. I have to do that first.”
Sanskar stilled. He seemed transfixed by something Sahil had just done. Swara,
meanwhile, was transfixed by a startling, new idea. Had her husband been telling the truth
back in that conference room in Las Vegas? Was at least a part of him ‘her’ Sanskar?
Could it be true?
“Ahem, well.” Sanskar seemed to come out of his brief distraction. He went stern again.
“Fine. If you promised, then you have to fulfill your word. But then you bathe.” Sanskar
made this very clear. “No eating anything yourself until you’re presentable.”
“Okay.” Sahil sounded like he would have agreed to anything right then. Completely
trusting now, he grabbed Swara’s hand. “Come on, this way.”
“Wait. My shoes.” Swara leaned the other way to slip into her sandals. Furtively, she
glanced toward Sanskar as Sahil pulled her in the other direction.
Sanskar was not furtive at all about the way he was looking at Swara. He wasn’t a rock
now, but a glacier, cold enough to freeze lava. His eyes focused on her like twin lasers of
ice. If Swara hadn’t just retrieved Sahil for him — and he hadn’t admitted gratitude —
she’d have said he was angry.
“Enjoy your meal,” he told Swara, in tones of frost. Before she could reply, he turned
and stalked swiftly away.
“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s…” Swara murmured. It was as if that other man, the human
one, had never been.