Sanskar swept through the open French doors and into his study. He paced the
Aubusson rug, his hands clenched into fists. If only an expenditure of energy would
release some of the fury he felt.
Being nice, ingratiating herself. To Sahil! Who did she think she was? Who the hell
did that Swara female think she was?
Sanskar whirled toward a rustling sound by the French doors. Laksh halted on the
threshold, his hands raised. “Hey,” he mock-begged, “don’t shoot.”
Sanskar exhaled slowly. “What?” He made it cool. “Not joining the happy party?”
“Oh, why do that when I can enjoy your cheery company?” Laksh sauntered into the
room.Sanskar tried to even out his breathing and stalked over to his desk. He made a show of
looking for something on its surface. “Pardon me very much if I don’t believe you. You
want something, I presume?” His cousin, like every other male of the family, had no
visible means of support. He had plenty of invisible means, however. Not that Laksh didn’t
run into financial trouble every couple of months, anyway.
And, indeed, Laksh now heaved a deep sigh. “I do want something.”
Sanskar resigned himself to a beg for a couple thousand dollars as Laksh ambled toward
the desk.
“I want somebody to tell me what’s wrong with me.” Laksh’s voice went whimsical.
“I’m actually here to lecture you.”
Sanskar glanced up sharply.

“Now don’t jump all over me.” Laksh hitched a hip on the edge of Sanskar’s desk. “You
know you deserve one.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Come on, Sanskar. You haven’t told her the truth, have you?”
Sanskar raised a brow. “The truth?” Surely Laksh didn’t expect him to tell Swara what he
really thought of her just then, which was pure dirt.
Laksh sighed. “The hypnosis, Sanskar. You haven’t told her the truth about the hypnosis.”
Oh, that. Sanskar lowered his brow. He sat down and opened a desk drawer. “Of course
I told her. She knows I was acting under hypnotic suggestion when I met and married her.
That’s why she’s here.”
“But she doesn’t know what the hypnotic suggestion was.”
Sanskar frowned at the contents of the drawer. “So?”
“So?” Laksh straightened off the desk. “So?”
“She doesn’t need to know.”
Laksh’s eyebrows shot into his hairline. “Like hell she doesn’t! She thinks you were
tricked into marrying her.”
“I was.”
Slowly, Sanskar stood up. Laksh was off base here, completely off base. That had to be
why Sanskar’s heart was galloping. “She doesn’t know anything about hypnosis. She would
“Or maybe understand all too well.” Laksh set his palms on Sanskar’s desk. “You wanted
to marry her.”
Sanskar clenched his jaw and placed his palms opposite Laksh’s. “I wanted to have s*x
with her.”
“You did both.”

“Yes,” Sanskar hissed. “Because I couldn’t get the one without the other.”
That gave Laksh pause. His eyes narrowed. “I told you to do what you wanted, instead
of what you should. You wouldn’t have married her unless you’d wanted to.”
Sanskar snorted. “Sure I wanted to — that night.”
The two men’s gazes locked. Sanskar’s breathing wasn’t as steady as he’d have liked. He
hated what he’d done, the stupidity and impetuousness, and now he had to stand here and
confess it all to Laksh. But that was better than having anyone think he’d wanted this
marriage, for God’s sake.
Slowly, Laksh straightened. His expression turned quizzical. “You’re telling me the
marriage was only a means to an end?”
Sanskar rolled his eyes. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
“But — ”
“Laksh. Do I share a single interest or value with this woman?”
“But — ”
“Do I?”
Laksh’s brows tangled. He didn’t bother trying to answer Sanskar’s question. “Only a
means to an end. You’re saying you were considering divorce, even as you were
pronouncing vows?”
“No.” Sanskar wasn’t ready to condemn himself that far. “I’m saying I wasn’t thinking
about the consequences. I wasn’t thinking about anything but what I wanted at that
moment.” Namely, s*x. Completely uninhibited s*x. Sanskar didn’t have to remember to
figure out that much.
“Oh.” Laksh’s frown eased. “You mean, you were acting like the rest of us.”
Sanskar looked away. “Not all men are completely irresponsible.”
“No, just the ones in our family.” Laksh laughed.
Sanskar’s jaw set. “I don’t intend to carry on that tradition.” And so far in his life, he
hadn’t. He had a trust fund, too, but that hadn’t kept him from making his own way in the
world. He’d worked hard about things that mattered. Last year the FDA had approved a
drug for multiple sclerosis that his company had developed.
But Laksh was still smirking. “Mm hm. You’re responsible, straight and narrow —
which is why you choose to conceal the truth about the hypnosis from your wife.”
Sanskar’s teeth crunched together. “It’s not concealment.”
“Then what would you call it?”
“I’d call it — intelligence. Swara came home with me for one purpose only: to find out
‘who I am.'”
“And — ?”
“And — I don’t want the waters muddied with some fantasy I’m something I am not.”
“Uh huh.”
Sanskar only barely kept himself from slapping his palms on his desk. “I don’t want her
to create a fantasy of something I am not, and never could be. Or even want to be.” Love,
she had said.
When hell froze over.

But Laksh’s brows arched. “It’s rather unclear, though, exactly what you want to be.”
Sanskar glared at him. “Not in the least — to me. But apparently it’s unclear to you, and
very probably would be to her. Please realize she’s already confused by how I behaved for
two days — behavior I can’t even remember!”
Laksh’s amusement sobered. “Another mystery,” he murmured. “I didn’t suggest for
you to forget.”
The men’s eyes locked again. A feeling like panic crept up Sanskar’s throat. It was a
mystery, indeed. How could he walk out of a donut shop and suddenly realize he didn’t
know what city he was in, how he’d gotten there, or how long it had been since he’d patted
Sahil on the head and wished him better luck next time? How could that happen?
“Well, I did forget,” Sanskar said now, his voice carefully controlled. “Probably because
I didn’t want to remember. It was all too embarrassing.”
Laksh raised his brows. “Or too much fun.”
Sanskar’s throat felt even tighter. “Sure.” He closed his eyes. “Fun.”
Laksh walked out of Sanskar’s study and into the quiet hall feeling as if he were stepping
out of an alternate universe. Sanskar had stood behind his big desk playing the part of the
defendant — for the first time ever. And in arguing for the defense — to Laksh, of all
people — he’d blatantly bent his hitherto iron-clad integrity.
Laksh rubbed a hand over his eyes. What was the world coming to? Sanskar was lying,
and Laksh, well — he felt as beat as if he’d spent all night at one of his friends’ unbridled
parties. In actuality, he’d spent the night looking for that little brat, Sahil — terrified he’d
actually lost him this time. He’d been acting almost responsible.
Laksh yawned and made for the wide, carpeted stairway at the end of the hall. Well,
he’d had more than enough of being responsible. Right now his bed was calling. Loudly.
Thank goodness it turned out he didn’t need to feel responsible for that Swara woman, too.
No, she looked like she could hold her own. Laksh felt a grin spread over his tired face as
he trudged up the stairs. Yeah, she looked like she could take Sanskar. Laksh would be
willing to bet she’d have his cousin all wrapped up in a nice little divorce settlement before
you could say ‘boo.’
Which meant that Sanskar was, indeed, turning out to be a prime example of Maheshwari
male.Laksh was still smiling sappily as he swung open the door to his bedroom, a bedroom
he’d slid into fifteen years ago when no one had been paying much attention and in which
he’d squatted ever since. The curtains, rugs and furnishings had been chosen by some
long-ago housekeeper in varying shades of brown, purple, and gold. Laksh had no actual
ownership of the bedroom, which was fine by him. Owning things required work. Laksh
never worked if he could help it.
He yawned again, and as he pulled his Cashmere sweater over his head he thought
about the tennis match he was missing by crawling back into bed. Thinking about tennis
led to thinking about the Club, and thinking about the Club led to thinking about Ragini,
not that Laksh spent much time thinking about the five foot seven, svelte, blond and blueblooded,
twenty-eight-year-old Ragini Galodia. No, not much time at all.
Laksh dropped to a seat on the thick counterpane of the bed and toed off his shoes.
Ragini, Ragini, Ragini…so much female glory encasing so much female warrior. The
formidable woman had had Sanskar in her matrimonial sights for years. So when Sanskar had
called Laksh that second time to say that he was bringing his wife home with him, after all,
Laksh had immediately wondered how Ragini would take the news.
But now that Laksh had seen Swara, he wondered if Ragini was even going to find out
about the marriage. The whole thing might be over and done with before the rumor mill
got a chance to sink its teeth into it.
Instead of standing up again to take off his pants, Laksh simply fell back onto the bed.
With his arms resting above his head on the bed, he gazed at the coved ceiling. It would
certainly be more merciful if Ragini never discovered Sanskar’s utter perfidy in selecting a
mate other than her perfect self, but Laksh couldn’t say it would be more…entertaining.
Laksh’s eyes closed and he smiled. Entertaining, yes. He’d dearly love to be a fly on the
All of Ragini’s commendable and upstanding expectations — trashed. She, the high
and mighty, would be brought down low. She’d be so low she might even fall down to
Laksh’s level. Oh, yes, if she ever did find out Sanskar was married…
To a Las Vegas dancer!
Still wearing both the smile and his pants, Laksh fell asleep.
An hour after the rescue in the forest, Swara was still alone in the morning room. She
leaned her head on one hand and tapped her fingers on the polished sheen of the dining
table. She’d long since consumed a plate of scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and hash
browns — all complete no-no’s in her usual diet — and then washed the whole criminal
feast down with some excellent Colombian coffee.
Discipline, at least for her diet, was usually strong, but she’d gotten thrown way off
balance. Had she or hadn’t she seen ‘her’ Sanskar out there in the woods? One minute she’d
been so sure, the next she had to wonder if she hadn’t made the whole thing up. Yes, made
it up out of a pathetic wish that she could have seen him.
Because, darn it, she missed ‘her’ Sanskar.
At the table, Swara sighed. Who wouldn’t miss that slow smile, that easy drawl — and
okay, she’d be honest — the great s*x? More than anything, though, she missed how he’d
liked her.
And for an instant there, a brief blink of time coming out of the tree house, she’d
thought she’d seen him.
Swara’s fingers abruptly halted their dance on the table top. She turned.
Sanskar stood in the archway to the hall. He looked showered, freshly shaved, and was
wearing a different Italian suit from the one he’d worn on the plane.
Swara’s heart staggered. He was that handsome. Admittedly, he was handsome in a
vastly different way from the man she’d married. The fellow who stood before her was
cool, collected, and quietly powerful. ‘Her’ Sanskar was definitely not looking out of this
man’s eyes. His gaze was as cold and remote as the North Pole.
He nodded toward the empty dishes on the table. “I trust your breakfast was
Swara cleared her throat. “Uh, yeah. It was great.”
“Good. You’ll find lunch in this room as well, but dinner is in the dining room. We
“Oh, hey, I’m very glad to hear it.”
He shot her a sharp look. Swara didn’t know whether to be amused or insulted that it
seemed to take him a full minute to realize she was joking.
“Yes, well.” He smoothed his
tie. “In any event, I came to say goodbye, and to tell you that if you need anything, ask
Maggie. She’s the housekeeper.”
“Goodbye?” Swara startled upright. “You’re leaving?” But of course he was leaving.
He was all dressed up in a suit and tie and there was a building in downtown Boston with
his name at the top of it. She shook her head. “Sorry. I suppose you’ve got a million things
to do.”
“Yes, well, perhaps not a million, but my presence is required.”
Swara nodded, wondering why she felt let down. Surely she hadn’t expected, or
wanted, him to dance attendance on her.
“So.” Sanskar inclined his head. “If you’ll excuse me?”
Swara bit her lower lip. Yes, he had to leave, but on the other hand, they needed to get
the getting-to-know-him business out of the way. And there was one thing she very much
wanted to know. “You have time for one question?”
Sanskar halted his retreat in progress. Turning halfway around, he raised his eyebrows.
“Uh…how did a nine-year-old boy manage to hypnotize you?”
Sanskar went very still. “He told you.”
Swara huffed. “What do you think we were discussing in the tree house, the weather?
So, how did it happen?”
Sanskar tapped a thumb against his thigh. “It was an accident, as I already explained to
“An accident?”
Sanskar’s thumb kept tapping. “Sahil was doing a science project, to make up for
missing school. I didn’t want to discourage his initiative.”
“A science project,” Swara repeated. “You mean he just got this out of a book or
“Mm. And I was his ‘test subject.’ Nobody expected I would actually go under.” His
lashes lowered. “It just…happened.”
Swara could only stare at him, more baffled than ever. Sahil was just a kid, and a kid
who’d only been fooling around, for heaven’s sake.
Sanskar waved a hand. “An accident.”
“Yes,” Swara said. “I believe you.” It certainly hadn’t happened on purpose. But how
had it even happened by accident? Sanskar didn’t seem like he’d easily fall under the influence
of anything, much less a nine-year-old horsing around. If he’d fallen into a trance, a deep
one, it could only have been because on some level, deep down…he’d wanted to.
But why would he want that?
Swara frowned, trying to puzzle it out. Meanwhile, Sanskar took a step back. “About
Sahil,” he said. “Since you bring up the subject.”
Swara blinked.
“You’re only going to be here for two months.” Sanskar’s jaw tightened. “Leave him

The words were so unexpected that it took Swara a moment to understand. Her eyes
widened. “Excuse me?”
Sanskar’s gaze was cool. “You’ll only hurt him.”
“Excuse me?” Swara said again, louder.
“You know you will.” Sanskar said this as if it were a foregone conclusion.
“Stepmothers — Anyway, you’ll be gone in two months.”
“I will?” queried Swara, and hastily changed her question to a statement. “Oh, yeah,
you bet I will.” She’d be gone in two months — or less. “But so what?”
“So what?” He appeared nonplussed.
“As if that has anything to do with — ” Swara rose to her feet. He’d accepted her two month
deal, only to inform her now that the outcome was predetermined. And he topped
it off with this insult. “It would hurt Sahil more if I ignored him.” Indeed, how could she
ignore that needy child?
“No.” Sanskar gave a sharp shake of the head. “With all due respect, I know more about
this type of situation than you do.”
“You do.” Oh, yeah, he was the big expert. His clear thinking about children led to
Sahil running away on a regular basis.
“I do,” Sanskar insisted. “Furthermore, Sahil is my responsibility, at least for the
moment. So I would appreciate it if you would — ”
“If I would use my own good judgment in the matter.” Yes, he understood children,
the man whose first words to Sahil had been, “you’re filthy.” The man who she now
realized was responsible for Sahil not coming to join her for breakfast.
“I mean — ”
“Yes,” Swara bit out. “I know what you mean.” He thought she was completely
insensitive, an idiot.
Sanskar’s eyes narrowed. Swara met his gaze directly. He’d done it, made her angry, and
she didn’t mind if he saw it, the jerk. He assumed she couldn’t figure out how to behave
toward Sahil. Who did he think she was?
They stared at each other, the air practically crackling between them. Despite his utter
wrongness here, he projected power with his gaze, and surrounded himself with an aura of
inner strength. Facing him, Swara felt her own strength hum in response, felt a novel
exhilaration. Typically she backed down in the face of male anger, but not with Sanskar, not
with the most powerful man she’d ever met. Against him she stood strong; heart pounding,
nostrils flaring, blood tingling…
And turned on, she realized suddenly. Passionately so.
Swara stopped breathing. In the middle of this nasty dispute she was feeling…s*xual?
But she couldn’t deny it. Heat was flooding all her interesting parts.
She saw Sanskar swallow, saw his eyes darken, which told her he was feeling it, too.
Something dangerous and unexpected.
This was too weird. And yet, Swara couldn’t look away from him. No, she just kept
looking into his intense blue eyes, feeling angry and…s*xual.
Finally, he took a big step back. “I’ll…tell Maggie to put your things in the Lilac
Swara didn’t have to ask to know the Lilac Suite would be at the opposite end of the
house from his own bedroom. “Yes,” she murmured, “you do that.”
But he turned on his way out the door. “About Sahil,” he said softly. “Don’t cross
Swara thought it best not to attempt a reply…….


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