THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL AND HEART TOUCHING COMMENTS…
A disturbing report brought Sanskar home in time for dinner. He’d called Maggie, the
housekeeper, from the office to check in, and could scarcely believe what she’d told him.
Swara knew exactly what Sanskar thought about her spending time with Sahil.
Five minutes before the dinner hour, Sanskar drove his Lexus into the estate’s multi-car
garage and rehearsed the set-down he intended to give S. But as he got out of his car,
he wondered if he was over-reacting. Sahil had spent enough time with his father to have
discovered for himself the disappointing nature of stepmothers.
On the other hand, there was something about Swara that invited a person to believe
she was different from all the rest. Something…well, inviting.
As the automatic garage door closed behind him, Sanskar shook his head. The woman
was a menace. She had to be stopped. That was all there was to it.
Approaching the house from the side, Sanskar used his normal route in of an evening,
through the kitchen.
Roberto, the cook, was alone in the room. He spoke before Sanskar could attempt a
greeting. “It’s what they said they wanted.”
“Hamburgers with French fries. It’s what they said they wanted.” Roberto turned to
slap his spatula on the stove.
The cook apparently wanted exoneration. “Hamburgers are fine,” Sanskar said. Who
cared what was being served? What he needed was something to ease the nerves
tightening his stomach. He was going to see her. She was going to do that thing she did to
him — to his hormones, that was.
Determined to overcome his unruly nature, Sanskar spent another moment in the
kitchen, straightening his lapels and taking in a deep breath. Then he pushed through the
swing door to the formal dining room.
The room was empty. But Sanskar heard the sound of laughter and a boy’s chatter. If he
wasn’t mistaken, Laksh’s tenor was involved, too.
Frowning, Sanskar went to the French doors of the dining room and pulled them open.
On the stone walkway that abutted the house, a wrought-iron table had been set for
dinner. Swara, Sahil, and Laksh, all wearing shorts and T shirts, sat around it in animated
So much for dressing for dinner. In the span of four short days Swara had dispensed
with that family tradition.
Sanskar felt his righteousness return. And then his eyes met hers. Righteousness
departed as his heart took a drop, and then sped.
Sanskar lifted his chin. “Good evening, everyone.”
Laksh and Sahil turned to look at him then, and Sanskar heard how stilted he’d sounded,
particularly compared to the casual style of conversation he’d interrupted. Swara reacted
first, a wide smile spreading over her face. Laughing at him, no doubt.
“Hi, yourself!” she said. “Are you hungry?”
He stared at her. Her legs were bare and long, and she wore something soft and drapy
on top. Then, hamburgers, he realized. She was talking about hamburgers. His face
warmed. “No, I…ate on the way home from the office.”
“Too bad.” Sahil reached to grab a handful of fries. “This is way better than the grub
Roberto usually fixes.”
Before Sanskar could reply, Swara tapped the back of Sahil’s hand. “Enough carbos
there, my friend. Have a carrot peel.”
Sanskar saw Sahil’s expression change and braced himself for the boy’s nasty retort.
Instead, turning utterly complacent, Sahil plucked up a carrot peel.
Sanskar blinked. He knew Sahil made an effort to control himself when he was living
with his big brother, but this was something else again.
“Well, pull up a chair, anyway,” Swara offered.
Sanskar hesitated, still wondering about Sahil’s behavior. It reminded him that he
wasn’t here to socialize. Hardly. At the same time, he couldn’t chew Swara out right in
front of everyone. So he shrugged and walked up to their happy table. Trying not to seem
too awkward, he lowered into one of the wrought iron chairs.
Swara crunched down on a lettuce leaf. “We were just talking about what to do over
“Is that right?”
“Oh, we understand that you’ll be working, of course.” Laksh hooded his eyes at Sanskar.
Sanskar hooded his eyes back at Laksh. “A fair assumption. I usually do work on the
weekends — unlike somebody else I know, who doesn’t work any day of the week.”
Immediately, Sanskar was stunned by his own words. He never goaded Laksh about his
lack of employment. For one thing, it never worked. Laksh would merely laugh and toss
back some flippant reply.
Today, however, a dusky color crossed Laksh’s face. As if he actually cared. He
dropped his gaze to pluck up his own carrot peel. “Ah, now I wonder who that worthless
fellow could be?” Despite his faint blush, Laksh was grinning again when he lifted his eyes
to meet Sanskar’s.
Sanskar frowned. Despite the grin, he could swear Laksh was embarrassed.
“Yes, we know Sanskar will be working,” Swara spoke up. Her smile was wry. “We’ve
gotten to know you that well, anyway.”
Sanskar looked at his wife. She smiled back at him with too much innocence, meanwhile
crunching down on another lettuce leaf.
Laksh coughed, hiding a smile.
Apparently indifferent to this byplay, Sahil interjected, “I liked the park. We could
do that again.”
“The park?” So that’s where Swara had taken the kid. Maggie hadn’t mentioned
“Basketball.” Sahil gestured a hook shot. “Those guys were all right.”
“Normal children,” Swara murmured, not quite under her breath. “Living in normal
Laksh did his best to suppress another cough, or perhaps it was a snicker. In any event,
Sahil went on, enthusiastic. “And Swara, she’s got quite a jump shot. You should have
seen her, Sanskar. Whammo! She knocked their eyes out.”
Sanskar could well imagine she’d done exactly that. He frowned meaningfully at Swara.
“It sounds like you two had quite a day together.”
“Yup.” Sahil nodded vigorously. “We did.”
But Sanskar kept his gaze on Swara. She was supposed to have used her ‘good
judgment.’ She was supposed to have listened to him, dammit, and left the boy alone.
Swara had the gall to smile sweetly. “You shoulda been there.”
“Indeed, I think I should have been.” He sent her another killing glance, but she
“Maybe next time,” she said, as if there would ever be such a thing. “Hey, we bought
watermelon for dessert.” She smiled directly at Sanskar. “Want some?”
Despite his acute annoyance with her, a bolt of heat shot through him. Want some of
what? His body posed the question, lascivious, before his brain caught up. She was talking
“No?” Swara queried.
“No,” Sanskar replied, then added a reluctant, “Thank you.” He pushed up from his
chair. “I would appreciate a few minutes of your time, Swara, when you’ve finished dinner. I’ll be in the study.”
“Sure, Sanskar.” She plucked up another leaf of lettuce. “I have nothing but time these
Swara knew Sanskar was furious. She also knew she hadn’t done anything wrong, or at
least not much wrong. How could it be wrong to give Sahil some much-needed
attention, to get him out of the house and playing with other boys? Nevertheless, she
dawdled at the outdoor table as long as she possibly could. She waited until the
watermelon had been eaten to the green. She waited until Sahil, himself, decided it was
time for a bath. She was waiting for Laksh to leave, too, but instead he arched a brow and
leaned over the wrought iron table.
“You aren’t afraid of him, are you?”
Swara shot him a glare. “Who, me? Afraid?”
Laksh’s smile broadened.
Swara crushed her teeth together. “I think it’s you who’s afraid of him.”
“Oh, absolutely.” Laksh had no problem confessing. “I was afraid of Sanskar even before
I had to attend the same school with him and live up to — or fail to live up to — his
example.” He laughed. “And it’s only gotten worse as I sink lower and lower to my true
Laksh was smiling, but his little laugh hadn’t sounded happy. Swara suddenly wondered
what might be going on at Laksh’s “true level.” Before she could ask, he laughed again, in a
tone more like his carefree self.
“But recently I’ve been able to relax.” He grinned. “Seeing that Sanskar’s got you in his
Swara went from worried about Laksh to scowling at him. “For heaven’s sake, Sanskar
doesn’t have anybody ‘in his sights.'”
“No? A few minutes ago I could swear I saw his finger on the trigger.” Laksh was still
grinning as he got up from his chair. “Have fun.”
Huh. Swara remained at the patio table as Laksh walked away. She didn’t believe Sanskar
had his finger on the trigger, or at least she wasn’t afraid of that. She was afraid because
the mere sight of Sanskar coming out to the patio had…stirred her so. She’d felt her heart
beating and her lungs struggling for air. s*xual, again.
It made no sense. The man had been avoiding her, he looked down on her, but that
didn’t seem to matter. Her body kept acting like he was the tender, loving friend she’d
made beside a casino slot machine. No, worse than that. Her body acted like this fellow
would do just as well as the other — if not better.
The sun was starting to descend into the tops of the trees. Swara shook her head and
pushed out of the chair. Friend or foe, it was time to face him down.
At the desk in his study, Sanskar sifted through his papers, not really seeing any of them.
All he could think was: you asked her in here, to be alone with you, you idiot. What were
Sanskar slapped his hand down on a perfectly well-conceived business plan. He was
thinking about Sahil, that’s what he was thinking. Sahil was the reason he’d asked Swara
into his study for a good talking-to. She was going to break the child’s heart, carelessly,
recklessly. Sanskar wasn’t about to stand around and let that happen.
Sanskar stared at his hand on the desk. It occurred to him that Swara might not intend to
do wrong. She might sincerely want to be kind. Tapping his thumb on the papers, Sanskar
discarded the idea as irrelevant. No matter her intentions, in this case it was not kind to be,
well, kind. In fact, kindness could be the worst sort of cruelty. He had to get that through
The door cracked open. Swara’s face peeked round the jamb. “You wanted to see
Sanskar let out a long, slow breath. His skin heated at her mere presence. He had to
struggle to recover his equanimity as he stood. “Yes, please come in.”
She slipped through the doorway cautiously, gracefully, like a deer. Her gaze swept
the papers set in piles all over his desk. “I don’t even know your job title. President,
“Chairman of the Board.” Of several boards, in fact, but even the one sounded
“Family business?” She tilted her head.
Sanskar paused. “You could say.” He’d founded the genetics research company himself,
then added to it by the judicious merging with innovative competitors. He didn’t feel like
explaining the lone nature of the enterprise to Swara, however. He was part of a family,
wasn’t he? So that made his business a family business, even if no other member of his
family had ever had anything to do with it.
“Please,” he ordered. “Have a seat.”
She thought about it, then moved toward the chairs. Intellectually, Sanskar understood
the discipline it took to create her sinuous stride. Viscerally, he wanted to stop that stride
and pull her under him onto the Aubusson rug.
Lord. He fought to bring his body under control. Sahil, he reminded himself. His
brother’s welfare. That was his purpose here. Nothing else.
Swara halted and rested her hands on the back of one of the brocade chairs. “I know
why you called this little meeting,” she admitted, “and I don’t blame you one bit.”
Sanskar raised his brows. She was going to make this easy for him?
“It’s time we stopped fooling around here,” she said.
“We have less than two months now.” She strolled around the armchair. “Clearly,
you’re a busy man, but you’re going to have to find some sort of slot to fit me into your
Sanskar went very still. A slot to fit her in?
She was directly in front of his desk now, close enough to bang her thighs against it.
“I need to get to know you,” she said.
Sanskar’s brain went cock-eyed. She needed to get to know him? Only by looking at her
face and seeing the utter sobriety there, did her real meaning penetrate.
She needed to get to know him, him as opposed to the man she’d married. This had
been her avowed goal as his temporary wife. He wanted to talk about Sahil, he needed
to talk about Sahil, but…she had a point.
“Well?” She crossed her arms.
Sanskar raised his chin.
“Of course. You do need evidence if you are to reach any
conclusions. I understand that.”
But damned if he wanted to spend ten minutes in her company.
On the other hand, he had to spend time in her company. Implicitly, he’d given his
word. Flustered, Sanskar heard himself blurt, “What about the opera? Saturday night.”
She stopped her gentle banging against his desk. “What?”
‘What,’ indeed. It was a ridiculous idea. But Sanskar had gone too far to turn back. He
adopted a lofty tone. “Come with me to the opera on Saturday night. A date. That is the
conventional means by which couples get to know one another, is it not?”
“A date,” she murmured.
A date at the opera. He was an idiot. Yes, he had tickets for the special benefit
performance Saturday evening, but he’d planned to forego them. His showgirl wife would
hardly appreciate La Bohème, and in his present circumstances he could hardly invite
somebody more suitable.
“The opera,” Swara went on, speaking louder. One corner of her mouth curved
“That’s a whole evening, right? Dinner, the show, at least three, four hours?”
“Closer to five.” Sanskar was regretting his impulsive invitation more by the second. It
would be five hours of temptation, five hours of physical affliction.
On the other hand, maybe a date with his wife would be a means to extinguish this
inappropriate lust, once and for all. Seen against the backdrop of his real life she would
have to look less attractive… Wouldn’t she?
“Five hours,” Swara breathed. For an instant Sanskar thought she turned uncertain, too,
but that had to be his imagination. What would she have to be uncertain about?
And, indeed, she gave a decisive nod. “Saturday night,” she said. “It’s a date.”
A date with her husband. It had to be the worst idea in the world, Swara decided.
Why? For one thing, she didn’t have a thing to wear.
Swara stood inside the Olympic-size walk-in closet of her bedroom suite on Saturday
afternoon, her arms crossed over her chest and one hip locked. No, not a single, solitary
thing hanging in that closet was appropriate to wear to the opera. Not that Swara knew
what was appropriate to wear to the opera, but she was certain she didn’t have it. And it
was too late to go shopping. Besides, she needed to save her money, not working for two
Swara scowled and fit one of her fingers between her teeth. All right, she wasn’t
worried about what she was going to wear; she could always figure out something. What
had her all hot and bothered was being roped into this ‘date’ at all.
Five hours together with Sanskar Singleton.
Oh, it was her own fault. In Sanskar’s study, knowing he wanted to blow up at her about
Sahil and not wanting to back down about her involvement with the kid, she’d reached
wildly for some way, any way, to distract him.
So now they had to spend time together, five hours worth of time. Together.
Swara let out a deep breath. Well? So? Wasn’t it her goal here to spend time with Sanskar
— ‘this’ Sanskar — to get to know who he was? She needed to put the question of this
marriage firmly behind her.
But there was one small problem. Every time she saw Sanskar there was the heart
beating, the blood rushing, and the sensation of butterflies in her stomach.
Worse, he was clearly hot for her right back. Meanwhile it was only becoming more
and more clear how very wrong they were for each other. Their values, goals, and
lifestyles were all at extreme odds.
Sanskar claimed that part of him was the man Swara had met in Las Vegas, but she hadn’t
seen an ounce of evidence to support such a theory. He was cold, remote, and judgmental.
And he’d been avoiding her ever since she’d moved in here.
Swara lowered the finger she’d been gnawing and frowned. On the other hand, Sahil
had said things: about their absent father, about Sanskar’s own youth spent shunted away in
boarding schools, and about the endless stream of stepmothers. She could almost see why
Sanskar behaved the way he did. He practically didn’t have a choice. If no one had treated
him with warmth, how could he know how to treat anyone else with warmth?
She’d noticed his abruptness when he’d met them out on the patio the other evening.
It had been as if he’d wanted to join in, but had no idea how. As if, maybe, he were shy.
Swara combed her hair back with one hand. Heck, maybe a part of ‘her’ Sanskar was
inside there, trapped.
With her hand in her hair, Swara halted. She blinked at the colorful her array of her
Whoa! No. Stop. Maybe Sanskar had suffered a lonely childhood, maybe no one had
ever showed him they cared. Maybe that made him wall himself away, in self-defense.
But more likely he was just a cold fish.
Slowly, she finished combing her hand through her hair. She had a habit of making up
virtuous qualities in a man to support her attraction. She couldn’t do that this time. She
had to keep her eyes open, her judgment clear.
She had to see the man for who he truly was, and not who she wished he would be.
‘Her’ Sanskar, trapped inside. Swara shook her head at herself. Not likely. The real Sanskar
was utterly self-contained, an island unto himself, and happy to be so. He wasn’t needy.
She’d see that crystal clear after spending five hours at the opera with him.
She pursed her lips and reached out to toy with a cerise silk number. That’s right. She
could get rid of her ridiculously romantic vision of ‘Sanskar’ trapped inside of Sanskar by the
end of the evening. She’d see that her husband was not at all the man she had married.
Hmph. Swara swept the cerise aside to pull a purple spandex miniskirt off the closet
rack. So actually, this ‘date’ might not be such a bad idea, after all.
On a Saturday night Laksh had any number of parties to choose from, the host of
which would have been glad for his witty, charming presence.
On this Saturday evening he wasn’t getting ready to go to a single one of them. He
was sitting in Sanskar’s formal dining room laying out solitaire hands. As he dealt the cards,
he listened for the descent of Swara from her bedroom. That scary interview of hers with
Sanskar in the study had turned into a date.
Not that Laksh was worried about Swara. She could obviously hold her own with Sanskar,
which meant, coincidentally, that Laksh didn’t have to worry about the outcome of his little
bet with Sahil, either. She’d be gone in a week, more’s the pity.
Laksh heaved a gusty sigh as he flipped the cards in a game of Klondike. No, he wasn’t
worried about Swara. He was sitting here all by himself because he couldn’t bear to be with
anybody he knew.
He couldn’t bear to be with himself, for that matter. Specifically, he wished he could
part company from the segment of himself that kept thinking about Ragini.
Since Monday and his altercation with her at the tennis court, he hadn’t been able to
get the woman out of his mind. He kept seeing the expression on her face when he’d told
her the news about Sanskar. She’d resembled a delicate little bird, yes a delicate little bird
that had just gotten shot between the eyes.
Considering how much Laksh hated the memory of that expression, it was bizarre how
often it kept popping into his head.
“Damn,” Laksh muttered. “Lost again.” With a vigorous movement, he swept the cards
into a pile.
All week he’d been trying to tell himself that Ragini’s shot bird expression hadn’t been
his fault. Because, hey, was there anything wrong with telling Ragini that her wonderboy,
Sanskar, had gotten married? All Laksh had done was tell her the truth. Sanskar was married.
But all week his rationalizations had fallen flat. Even if it had been right to tell Ragini
about Sanskar’s marriage, Laksh hadn’t done so in a right way. He’d done it to let fall a drop
of poison. And he’d been careful to let that poison fall at the precise moment to cause the
most pain, embarrassment, and humiliation possible.
Laksh pulled the cards into a tight pile and squeezed his hands around their corners.
There was no rationalization for his behavior. He’d been rude. Deliberately, inexcusably
rude. He breathed in and out slowly while admitting what that meant.
The knowledge was bone deep, ingrained young and repeated often. The proper thing
to do. For all Laksh’s ne’er-do-well, good-time, occasionally-land-in-the-pokey ways, he
never strayed from the “proper thing.” Because it wasn’t “improper” to live solely off a
trust fund, or get arrested for speeding, or even fall into bed with somebody else’s wife.
But it was exceedingly improper to act rude. It simply wasn’t done. And if it was done,
then one had to apologize.
Hissing out a breath from between his teeth, Laksh tossed the cards onto the table. He
jumped from his seat and glared at the hearts and diamonds spread across the gleaming
surface. There was no getting around it. He had to apologize. Good God. To Ragini.
On Saturday night Sanskar prowled the downstairs hall, shifting his shoulders in his
black tuxedo. This date was going to work. It had to. Starting with the choice of clothes
Swara would make for going to the opera, he would see how completely wrong she was
for him. The s*xual attraction would diminish. The way she’d hold herself, treat the opera,
the boredom he knew she’d exhibit — it would all work toward curing him of this
Sanskar knew he could not continue to feel passionate about a woman who yawned at
Laksh walked out of the dining room to drop into one of the hall chairs. He shuffled a
deck of cards while gazing at Sanskar with something between curiosity and challenge.
Sahil was already waiting in the hall, swinging his legs over the side of a sofa and
blinking at his half-brother. Sanskar scowled at the both of them. The pair took far too
proprietary an interest in his bride, and Sanskar had a good idea why…
A rustling sound from above had Sanskar whirling. Dimly, he was aware of Laksh halting
his shuffling, of Sahil freezing in his seat. But mostly he saw Swara.
Swara in a lipstick red pantsuit. The material hugged her figure, outlining every curve
and angle with confidence and approval. Over this swirled a Chinese silk duster with giant
red flowers splashed upon it, hiding and revealing the tight pantsuit. It was an unusual
choice, somehow elegant, unexpectedly sophisticated.
Sanskar couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t move. He was like a pointer who’d found his
prey; taut, tensed, trembling.
Her lashes lowered. She started down the stairs. Toe down, heel down, sway of the
hip. Sanskar felt his paralysis leave, replaced by the urge to meet her halfway, to press his
body against hers and move her going up again, to the bedrooms.
How he would like to rip off that tantalizing pantsuit and engage in an activity quite
different from listening to opera.
The abrupt vehemence of the thought snapped Sanskar out of it. He took a step back.
His eyes narrowed as she slinked herself the rest of the way down the stairs.
Fine, she’d passed the dress test. Her choice of clothes made him want her more than
ever. But she was going to hate the opera. He was certain of it. She would yawn, fidget,
and thus display her utter incompatibility.
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, looked him straight in the eye, and tilted her
So, do you want me yet? Are you panting and begging on your knees?
She gave him a little smile.
Have I got you completely in my power?
Sanskar tightened his jaw. Just a few hours, and then he could answer that question in
the negative. Yes, he liked what she was wearing, but she was going to hate the opera.
Discovering how very different she was, intellectually and socially, would set him free.
This — this clawing need would depart for good.
“Well,” she asked. Her voice was breathless, s*xy. “Are we ready to go?”
His jaw relaxed. He even smiled. “Oh, we’re ready.” He took her arm. “Are we ever.”