THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL AND HEART TOUCHING COMMENTS…
“No, no I understand. Thank you.” Carefully, not to indulge any of the frustration he
felt, Sanskar set down the telephone he’d been using at his downtown office desk. It was
already May, he’d just been told, too late in the semester to enroll a new student.
Sanskar rubbed a hand over his mouth. He should have started this process a week-anda-
half ago, when Sahil had first dropped on his doorstep, but he’d resisted being the one
stuck with the task.
Now…? Well, all morning he’d been hearing variations on the same theme: too late in
the semester, Sahil’s grades not up to par, the obstacle of a good recommendation from
his last school, and so on and so forth.
Sanskar leaned back in his chair. It seemed his half-brother had burned his bridges when
it came to decent boarding schools. That was a problem in more ways than one. Not only
was Sahil missing out on some much-needed education, but Sanskar couldn’t get him out of
Instead the kid was stuck at home, stuck in the same house with that woman.
A helpless snort escaped Sanskar. Hell, he was stuck in the same house with her. In his
own way, he was in just as great danger as Sahil. Sanskar pushed out of his chair. He paced
across the scrupulously white carpet toward the windows where downtown Boston stirred
He barely noticed the city bustle, pondering instead his reaction to his wife. Whenever
he was around her, something like a drug shot through his system, arousing his body and
scattering his brain cells. He couldn’t think straight when near her.
He’d never experienced lust this strong. Almost…out of control. Almost enough to
make him do something…stupid.
Sanskar hated acting like a coward, yet he’d been doing just that. A coward, he’d stayed
at the office until late that first night, until he could be sure Swara had retired to her
Much good that had done. He’d gone up to his solitary room and dreamed about her.
Wild, erotic dreams. They’d been like nothing he’d ever experienced, the s*x unlike any
he’d ever had. No holds barred, skin and teeth and tongues. Animal, frantic —
Sanskar drew in a deep breath. God, had it been satisfying. Too satisfying. And so he
couldn’t help wondering: was the dream based on memory? Had the s*x between them
really been that good?
Sanskar’s breath hissed out. No. He couldn’t let himself wonder. He’d go crazy. He’d
spend every waking moment scheming how to get her into bed, how to achieve that
satisfaction in reality.
He’d act like a damned fool.
Cars and people hurried past each other on the street below. Deliberately, Sanskar
relaxed his tight jaw. First of all, it had been a dream, not a memory. Secondly, he was his
own man, heredity notwithstanding.
He didn’t have to act like a damned fool.
Even if he might want to.
Swara was thrilled to find Sanskar’s basement gym. She could stay in shape and be ready
to go back to work the minute this trial period marriage was over.
On Monday morning she jumped onto Sanskar’s state-of-the-art equipment, ignoring the
voice chattering inside her head that after four days in his house she was doing absolutely
nothing about learning who ‘this’ Sanskar really was.
It wasn’t her fault, though. Sanskar was avoiding her. He left every morning super early
and came home super late. Not her fault.
In the plain-walled gym, Swara pumped away on Sanskar’s stationary bicycle. Well, all
right, truth be told, she was glad Sanskar was avoiding her. She felt very confused about
him. He was cold, disapproving, way too authoritarian. He didn’t even like her.
And yet — and yet — she couldn’t help feeling there was something there, some
On the stationary bicycle, Swara shook her head. What was there was pure lust, a
simple physical attraction. She wanted it to be more than that. God knew, she missed the
man she’d married, but a girl had to face reality.
He wasn’t there. In fact, he’d never been ‘there.’
Swara worked out for two solid hours, really getting into it every time she started
wondering about ‘her’ Sanskar again. Finally, exhausted, she wiped her face, threw the towel
around her neck, then used one last burst of energy to hop up the stairs.
A light flickered from an open door on the second floor hall. Sounds of explosions
drifted forth. Panting from her jog up the stairs, Swara stalked down the wood paneled hall
Past the open doorway, Sahil sat cross-legged on a carpeted floor. His tongue
peeked out of one corner of his mouth as he concentrated on his joystick and a TV screen.
Toys littered the room beyond him, the windows of which were covered by a set of heavy
Swara crossed her arms over her chest and leaned one shoulder against the door jamb.
She hadn’t ignored Sanskar’s little brother, but she hadn’t sought him out, either. It seemed
best not to rock that boat. Though, darn it, she wanted to.
Look at the kid. His every brain cell was concentrated on what Swara could now see
was a battle between chaps-wearing cowboys and scantily clad women. Both sides were
armed to the teeth. Swara dabbed her still-dewing forehead with her towel. This was not
right. A child shouldn’t be spending his time this way, self-absorbed and sedentary. “Hey,”
she heard herself say.
There was no answer to this greeting. Just a kapow from the TV set, followed by the
sound of shattering.
Swara drew her thumb along her lower lip. Yes, the boy needed attention, but if she
gave him any, it would only make trouble for her in an already difficult situation.
Swara bit her thumb. On the other hand, what was more important: taking care of her
own comfort, or helping another in need? Swara straightened from the door jamb. She
spoke again, louder. “Hey!”
Sahil started. Instead of an explosion from the TV set, there was a thud. He turned,
looking outraged. “For the love of — ! Oh, it’s you.” His look of outrage turned to
something bashful. It was all the confirmation Swara needed that she was right to interfere.
“Uh, hi,” Sahil said.
“So.” Swara skirted a field of checker squares as she approached Sahil. “Good
“It sucks.” Sahil’s attention drifted back to the TV set. His fingers crept toward his
“But you’ve got a good score there.” At least Swara thought the numbers lit at the
right of the screen represented a score, and it looked high.
Sahil shrugged. “I’ve had plenty of time to practice, since I got expelled.”
Expelled? “Oh.” Swara cleared her throat. She hadn’t realized…though she supposed
she could have guessed. He should have been in school. “Uh, what happened?”
Instead of answering he started pushing the button of his joystick. Explosions burst
onto the TV screen. Then, abruptly, he admitted, “I ran away.”
Swara thought of the recent tree house business and wondered just how ingrained this
habit was. “Oh.”
Sahil turned to glare at her. “I hate living in a dorm. With a roommate. Roommates
are the worst.”
Swara’s eyes blinked wide. A roommate? Why, that meant boarding school. Good
heavens, he was only nine. They were already farming him out to boarding school? Not
giving him a family life?
“Um…” Since Swara didn’t dare express the outrage she was suddenly feeling on
Sahil’s behalf, she switched back to her original goal. Expelled or not, Sahil needed
something social and constructive to do. “I…well, listen,” she said. “If you’re bored with
the video game, then…see, I am so bored, too, and desperate to get out of here. Would
you — ?”
“What?” Sahil sat up straight. He stared at her, little-boy appalled. “You’re going to
Swara was taken aback by his expression of distress. “Well — ”
“You can’t leave,” Sahil stated.
“Anywhere?” Swara blinked.
“No. I made a bet with Laksh that Sanskar could keep you at least two weeks.”
Swara’s jaw dropped.
Sahil jumped to his feet. “Look, I know he seems a drag, all stuffy and ‘should’ and
‘shouldn’t’-ing, but he’s a straight-up guy, you know. Always there when you need him.”
“Right. Like when they kicked me out of school. Dad was nowhere to be found but
Sanskar came to get me.” Sahil’s gaze skittered sideways. “He always does.”
Swara spoke very slowly. “I’m…not leaving Sanskar.” At least not yet, she added silently
to herself. At the same time, she thought: Sahil and Laksh had made a bet? And Laksh
hadn’t thought Sanskar could keep her two weeks?
Sahil visibly relaxed. “Good. I mean, not even my Dad has had a marriage that
lasted less than two weeks.”
Swara stared at him. Was that so? “Yes, well.” Carefully, she cleared her throat. “All
I’m asking is to get out of the house. You know, like to a park.”
“A park?” Sahil’s look of relief changed to one of bewilderment.
“Yeah. Grass, trees, maybe a swing set or a baseball diamond, you know the kind of
Sahil looked even more bewildered. “You don’t have to go anywhere for that. We
have it all here.”
Swara rolled her eyes. “You do not have everything here.” Like other boys to play
with, for one thing. “Let’s ask Rajat.”
Swara put Sahil’s bet and his disconcerting description of Sanskar out of her mind as
she located Rajat and talked him into driving them to the nearest public recreation
facility. Her goal was to get Sahil doing something worthwhile, outdoors and physical.
But in the car, luxuriously ensconced in the back seat, Swara found the Sanskar problem
return to mind.
Always there when you need him. Was that the flip side of Sanskar’s heavy
authoritarianism, that he was always there when you needed him, totally reliable?
She felt peculiar even considering the question, so she latched onto Laksh and Sahil’s
bet, instead. They assumed she wasn’t going to stay with Sanskar. Rather, they assumed
Sanskar wasn’t going to be able to keep her.
Just like his father couldn’t keep any of his wives.
Swara chewed on a finger and stared out the car window at the pristine country estates
flowing by. Wives, plural. Very plural, if Swara’d understood correctly. She wondered if
‘wives’ was the way things had been in Sanskar’s youth, too. Had a succession of stepmothers
passed through his childhood?
I know a lot about this type of situation he’d told her. Swara frowned and kept
chewing her finger. Had Sanskar given his boyish heart to one after another of his father’s
multiple brides? Was that what made him now so cold? Why he’d warned Swara away from
In the car, Swara lowered her bit finger. All right, so maybe Sanskar had had a lousy
childhood, a lonely one. That didn’t make up for his arrogant and unfriendly manner. He
was a big boy now. He chose how he behaved.
But it could explain some things. Yes, Swara had to admit, looking out the window. It
could explain a lot.
The sun was high, the sky was blue, and the ball Laksh sent over the tennis net
whizzed with vicious accuracy to a corner just beyond his opponent.
“For the love of — You killed me. Again!” Emery Stanford Hunsington, III, panted
as he turned to watch the ball bounce from the carefully maintained Club tennis court and
fly into the fence. “That’s game and match,” he groaned, but he smiled ruefully as he came
up to the net to shake Laksh’s hand.
“It was just good luck,” Laksh replied. He was always modest about tennis, even
though he spent enough time and effort on the game to deserve the number of wins he
collected every week at the Club.
Lately, he’d been spending even more time at the Club than usual. It was too hard to
hang around the house, watching Swara get ignored by Sanskar.
Now Emery shook his head of thinning blond hair. “If that was luck, then you ought
to go to Vegas.”
Laksh’s easy smile faltered. He retrieved it quickly, however, before the other man
could guess he’d rippled Laksh’s equanimity. “Maybe,” he agreed. “Maybe I should do just
Emery jogged off toward the showers, running late for some board meeting or other.
Laksh, who had nowhere to be late to, followed at a more leisurely rate, strolling down the
hedge-bounded walkway and thinking about Las Vegas and the marriage his cousin, Sanskar,
had entered into there. As far as Laksh could tell, that marriage was going exactly where
he’d predicted: south, and in a big hurry.
It was too bad, really. Having gotten to know Swara a little over the past few days,
Laksh was starting to like her. She was nice, she was genuine, she was…all right. She could
probably warm up that cold house of theirs. But Sanskar? Oh, Sanskar had the vision of a mole
Laksh reached the end of the hedge-bordered path where the courtyard opened in front
of the gym and showers. He idly gazed down the path that led to the other set of tennis
courts. There, as if thinking about Sanskar could conjure the woman, was Ragini . Ragini,
wearing a blindingly pink tank top and a short, white tennis skirt. Though she walked
toward the gym, indicating that she, too, had just finished a match of tennis, she looked
cool and unruffled, without a hair out of place or a drop of sweat. She strode toward the
courtyard with the walk debutantes practiced and she had perfected; cool, refined grace,
entirely stripped of the s*xual.
Laksh scuffed to a halt. He felt an instantaneous, and unfortunately familiar, urge to
heat up and ruffle her. He’d like to see a few of her silky blond hairs out of place. He
would absolutely love to see her sweat. And look s*xual.
His response to her made no earthly sense. The woman was interested in Sanskar, for
heaven’s sake. Why was Laksh attracted to a woman who was not only a do-gooding,
whip-cracking ice queen, but who preferred Sanskar?
He didn’t know the answer, he only knew how hard it was to drag his gaze up from
her long, thoroughbred legs. “Ragini,” he said, since she was nearly in front of him and
some kind of salutation was required.
“Laksh.” Her tone could have frosted a volcano. But still, it was somehow polite.
Ragini could do that, put you in your place while skirting the correct side of good
The problem was that the more politely frosted she got, the hotter Laksh became. And
the angrier. He didn’t want to be turned on by her. Curving his lips into an insolent smile,
he balanced his tennis racket on his shoulder. Then he did what he usually did with Ragini:
“Fancy meeting you here,” he drawled. “I would have thought you’d be too busy to
play tennis during the day, what with all those heartbreakingly good works you do.” He
swept his gaze from the bright pink curve of her br*asts to those long, slender legs. “But I
suppose we have to keep our girlish figure somehow.”
Ragini’s eyes were snapping when Laksh looked up again, just as he’d planned. Her ice
looked, for a minute, hot.
If only he didn’t like her looking hot so much, this conversation might not go the way
all of them did. Asinine.
Meanwhile, she recovered her sang-froid quickly, calming the heat in her eyes and
giving Laksh a brilliant smile. “A healthy life is a balanced one.” She rested her tennis racket
on her shoulder, mirroring Laksh. “Which reminds me, since you mentioned good works, I
wanted to talk to Sanskar about the Boston Family Aid Foundation. We need to hire a
professional fundraiser. If you get a chance — ” Ragini’s casual smile widened — “will
you ask him to call me?”
Laksh squinted. Yep, it was going asinine, and she wasn’t helping. She knew damn well
he wasn’t going to be her messenger boy. “Why can’t you call him yourself?”
“I have.” Ragini’s wide smile dimmed. “But I haven’t been able to get through to him.”
Laksh’s eyebrows jumped. “No!”
Swiftly, Ragini commenced damage control. “Oh, I’m sure he’s just fabulously busy,
running that huge, multi-national corporation of his.” She was smiling again, and twirling
her tennis racket on her shoulder. “You know, the one in the building downtown with his
name on it?”
“Yeah, I know the one.” Surely she wasn’t trying to get his goat with that? Laksh
wasn’t jealous of Sanskar’s big company. “Even if Sanskar is so busy in his big building, he still
should have returned at least one of your half a dozen phone calls,” Laksh insisted.
Ragini’s twirling tennis racket halted. “I did not call him half a dozen times.”
“Only four or five then?” Laksh laughed.
Oh, he’d done it, then. Laksh could practically see smoke streaming out of her nostrils.
He might have enjoyed the sight more if it didn’t stir him so, down below. He lowered his
tennis racket and grasped it, two-handed, in front of himself.
“On second thought,” Ragini said, eyes blazing and voice more frosty than ever.
“Perhaps it isn’t Sanskar I should be speaking to about the fundraising job. Perhaps it is you.”
“Me?” Now, that came from left field. Laksh’s name and the word “job” were never
linked together. “What are you talking about?”
“You know…” Ragini’s eyes were sparkling dangerously now. “You’d be perfect for
“For a job?” Laksh choked.
“That’s right.” Ragini resumed twirling her tennis racket. “You have all the necessary
skills, in abundance. You’re outgoing and even charming, in a sleazy sort of way. You
know all the right people and — ” Her smile turned positively wicked. “And you have
extensive experience in convincing people to part with their cash.”
Laksh could feel his face redden. He didn’t borrow money from his friends…very often.
Needless to say, he’d never put the touch on Ragini. “Gee, thanks for the offer, but I think
I’ll pass.” Thank goodness that had come out just right. Casual and a little snotty.
But she didn’t seem to care. Still smiling malevolently, she shrugged and started to
turn away, toward the women’s part of the gym. Laksh had the unhappy feeling she’d just
won this match, or would, if he didn’t manage to one-up her.
“Oh, Ragini?” Laksh called.
Still smiling, she stopped.
Laksh smiled back at her. “Actually, it just occurred to me… I might have an idea why
Sanskar hasn’t managed to return any of your calls.”
Ragini raised a questioning, haughty eyebrow.
Laksh felt a surge of impending triumph. He’d been holding his ammunition, deeming it
unsporting to discharge, but she’d asked for it. “See, the fact is it’d be kinda hard for Sanskar
to call his former lady friends, even one so very close as yourself…since he just got
Ragini’s face froze. It simply went on pause; smile, haughtily arched eyebrow and all.
The only thing that changed was its color as the blood seemed to drain from her skin. If
Laksh had hit her with his tennis racket, he couldn’t have achieved the shock he now saw
evident in her very attempt to disguise it. Clear proof, assuming he’d doubted, of how
deeply Ragini was infatuated with Sanskar.
“Married?” she finally asked. Laksh could tell she’d meant to say the word in a normal
tone, but it came out in a whisper.
He sank his weight onto one hip, somehow hanging onto his smile though he wasn’t
feeling so triumphant any more. “Yeah, he got married about a week ago. Nice lady.”
Which was true, Laksh told himself. Swara was a nice lady, even if it was unlikely she was going to remain Sanskar’s wife much longer.
God, he hadn’t had to tell Ragini this news. What had gotten into him?
Meanwhile, Ragini was doing an admirable job of retrieving her self-possession.
“A week ago,” she said, and cleared her throat. From somewhere she produced a parlor-room smile.
“Why, then, you must give him my congratulations. What a — ahem — Why,
what a wonderful thing for him. Married!”
Laksh crushed his teeth together. He’d been a pig, as usual, and she was rising to the
occasion, saying the right things, in the right way. “Yeah,” he said, once he managed to
pry his jaw apart. “I’ll give him your message.”
With one last, utterly appropriate smile, Ragini turned and strode into the women’s
locker room. High class all the way.
Laksh swiveled to slash his racket at an innocent hedge. He hadn’t intended to open his
trap. What was it about the woman that brought out the absolute worst in him? He
scowled at the hedge and wondered what it could be…..!!!!