“Well, if that wasn’t the most — exciting — moving — tremendous piece of stage
artistry I have ever seen!” Swara fanned herself with her program as Sanskar channeled them
through the milling crowd and toward the exit. “Really! The costumes, the drama. The
music!” Swara heaved a deep sigh. “I never knew opera was so exciting.”
Sanskar answered not a word, just kept moving them with stoic persistence toward the
side exit door. Swara allowed herself to be tugged, fanning herself with her program and
rather enjoying the man doing the work for a change.

She’d soon discovered that going out on a date with Sanskar was far different from her
usual experience: that being where she researched the show times, where she found a
method of transportation, and where, more often than not, she picked up the tab. With
Sanskar, he’d been the one to do all of that, and more. He’d taken care of her, and Swara
couldn’t help it. She liked it.
“It’s good I self-parked and not valeted,” Sanskar muttered, shoving politely through the
crowd. “Or we’d never get home.”
“Home?” Swara’s joyful smile faded. “We’re going straight home?”
He turned back to shoot her a glance. “Where else would we go?”
Swara blinked. “I don’t know.” Indeed, she’d thought five hours more time than she
could possibly endure with her husband. Now she felt reluctant to come to the end of it.
He’d been warily attentive all evening. She wasn’t used to attentiveness. And he’d
come out of his shell for a minute or two there. Although he hadn’t answered her rapt
comments on the opera just now, his attention on the stage during the performance had
been complete and genuine. Swara could swear he’d been moved. She tilted her head. “I
wouldn’t mind getting some coffee.”
“Coffee.” Sanskar halted his progress through the crowd. Immediately, they were
shoved from behind. He had to grab Swara to keep them both from toppling. With his
fingers gripping her shoulders and their bodies pressed together, they were in a sudden
embrace. Swara could feel the strength of his chest against her br*ast and the barely-there
stubble of his chin on her forehead. She could feel the instant blaze beneath her skin.
He grunted and disentangled from her, immediately shooting out his wrist to look at
his watch. “Coffee?” he repeated, and glared at the poor watch.
Swara faltered. Was he glaring at his watch because he didn’t want to spend more time
with her? Or because his heart had raced just then, too, and he didn’t want her to know?
To back up a step, had he really been moved by the opera, or was she making up things
about his personality again, things to support her own breathlessness in that brief physical

Swara gazed into the cool, impenetrable eyes that rose to meet hers. Well, perhaps she
was making things up, but there was only one sure way to find out. She needed to get to
know him, really know him. This evening offered the best opportunity yet. All she had to
do was…be careful. She had to make sure to see only what was really there, and not what
she wished would be there.
Swara drew a deep breath and smiled. “Coffee,” she insisted, and took his arm. “I’m
sure we could find some place open.”
Sanskar was appalled. She’d liked the opera. Liked it? She’d loved it! With her delicate
fingers now wrapped around his forearm, she hummed Mi chiamano Mimi while keeping
pace with his taken-aback strides.
She was supposed to have hated it, been bored, showed her true colors. He was
supposed to have gotten free of this unhealthy attraction.
Instead, she was swaying to her memory of the music. Positively glowing with
enjoyment, she’d prolonged the evening, insisting on coffee. And he didn’t even mind.
Mind? He was thrumming with excitement, simply to be near her. Pathetic, that’s what he
was. Truly pathetic.
During intermission they’d run into Ragini Galodia, a distant relative and social
acquaintance of Sanskar’s who’d been very properly attending the production with her aunt
and uncle. But had Ragini , with her modesty and refinement, done one single thing for
Sanskar’s libido?
Ragini was like an unlit match compared to the bonfire that was Swara.
“Here?” Swara now asked. She scuffed to a stop and turned toward a brightly lit café
that filled the limestone corner of a building. “It looks kinda pricey but I have to admit, it’s
the only place we’ve seen that’s open.”

Sanskar looked up at the elegant café, a place he came often after the opera. He must
have directed their steps this way out of habit. “This is fine.” He was determined to escape
Swara’s clutches yet. One place was as good for the task as another.
Inside, they managed to get seated at one of the plush banquettes by a window. Swara
looked around with a smile that suggested she wasn’t seeing any of it; the elegant
surroundings, the one-of-a-kind dessert creations, or the distinguished-looking crowd. She
waggled her shoulders. “Oh, I’m still all shivery from the music. Maybe I should have herb
tea instead of coffee, or I’ll never get to sleep tonight.”
Sanskar opened his menu and forced his gaze downward. “Please, order whatever you
like.” Meanwhile, he reflected that his usual type of companion — a Ragini Galodia
type — would have launched into a detailed critique of the production by now.
She would have made astute comparisons between Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland.
All Swara could say was that she was shivery.

Simplistic and uneducated. The very kind of statement that should have helped turn
him off. Sanskar scowled at his menu and wondered why it didn’t.
Maybe because she was just being honest and unpretentious, a voice whispered
inside? Giving him her real feelings?
Sanskar slapped his menu closed.
Cued by the action, a nearby waitress turned her head. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Are you
ready to order?”
Sanskar shook his head. Swara was no more genuine than — than anybody else. “Oh, I
mean yes, we’re ready,” Sanskar told the waitress, then shook his head again.
“That is, are you ready, Swara?”
His wife looked baffled.
“Sure, I’m ready.” Raising her eyebrows, she put on a smile
and turned her gaze toward the waitress, who seemed a severe sort. “I’d like an orange
spice tea, please. Oh, and no rush. I can see you’re busy. ”
The waitress visibly relaxed, the harsh lines smoothing from her face. “It’s a madhouse
tonight. Thanks. And what for you, sir?” She turned to Sanskar.
He blinked. He couldn’t remember when he’d been with a woman who actually
noticed, or cared about, the feelings of a waitress. “Ahem. I’d just like coffee. Black,
“Very good.” The waitress made no comment on their lack of interest in the fabulous
desserts, but collected the menus and hurried off.
Sanskar gazed past Swara to a table with four chattering college students. So, his wife
had been considerate. And she seemed genuine. That didn’t mean she actually was either
one of those things. He was not going to be taken in by the woman. He was not.
“So,” Swara said, “you haven’t said what you thought of it yet.”
“Of it?”
“The opera.” There was a laugh in her voice.
“Oh, yes, of course.” Sanskar pulled in his lips. Nobody had to indulge him. He was
always on top of a conversation. “A respectable production. Naturally, I’ve seen better.”
“Well, at the Met…” He waved a hand, remembering a particular version of Rigoletto,
with Beverly Sills and Luciano Pavarotti. He’d felt transported —
Shivery, perhaps.
He frowned. “It’s hardly ever like that.”
“I would think not,” Swara agreed. “Tonight was — fantastic enough.”
Their eyes met. And Sanskar felt the strangest thing. Something like…connection.
No. He flicked his gaze away. There was no connection between them. Ridiculous.
And Swara hadn’t felt shivery from the opera. She was just doing what her kind were good
at doing, reaching in, calculating what would please. It was only for the purpose of
gaining the upper hand, toe-holding an advantage. She meant to eventually place herself in
a position to get what she really wanted.
Whatever that turned out to be.

Sanskar pressed his finger against the edge of his spoon. They would have their
refreshment and go home. Evening over, mission accomplished. Not a complete success,
but not a disaster, either. He was not entangled in her web.
The harried waitress returned with their drinks, set them down with a smile, and
immediately hurried off. “Thank you,” Swara tried to call after her, but she was gone.
Swara glanced over at Sanskar and shrugged, smiling. He pressed his finger harder
against the spoon edge. She turned her attention to her miniature hot water kettle and
peeked inside before glancing up at Sanskar again. “It’s funny, you know. We’ve done this
“Gone to the opera?”
“No.” She picked up a sugar packet. “Sat talking late at night over tea and coffee.”
Sanskar stared at her and calmed a quick leap of dismay. Well yes, according to her, and
his credit card report, they’d done this before. At ‘Nat’s’. Allegedly, they’d sat talking for
hours. But he couldn’t have divulged anything terribly intimate during that time; she would
have used it against him by now, tried to pry further in. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he
drawled, and leaned back in his chair.
She tilted him a smile. “You had coffee with cream, before.”
Sanskar snorted.
“You did.”
Sanskar shook his head. “Cream is full of cholesterol.”
Swara’s smile curved. “You like it.”
Sanskar slid her a glance. “Maybe.” He told himself it was no big deal she knew this
much about him, but couldn’t help adding, “It isn’t good for me.”
At that they both stopped. Swara’s smile faded. Sanskar’s face froze. He could tell she
was thinking the same thing he was: about the other things he liked that weren’t good for
him; things like the acts that took place in his recent night dreams. Amazing, athletic,
erotic acts. Acts that made him want far too much.
She caught her lower lip in her teeth. “Well, that was then,” she said.
The hell it was. It was as if the thing were sitting right there between them, big as a
pink elephant, the night they had spent together, the intimacies that had occurred. She
could remember. Sanskar could only guess. But neither one of them was going to bring it up.

At least, Sanskar hoped she wouldn’t.
He cleared his throat and scrambled for another topic, anything, to keep the pink
elephant from talking. “Since we have the opportunity, perhaps we should speak about
“Sahil?” She appeared understandably confused. The topic came straight out of left
But Sanskar persisted. He was going to avoid the pink elephant and at the same time get
back to a topic he’d completely dropped since Monday. “Yes, Sahil. You have a problem
with that?”
Slowly, she shook her head. “No. In fact, I’m glad you brought him up.”
“You are?” Sanskar shot her a stern look. She shouldn’t imagine he was going to let her
off the hook. “You’ve been spending time with him,” he accused.
“Yes.” She looked down and smiled. “And I’ve gotten to know him a little bit, I
“Have you, now?” Sanskar was feeling better already. The pink elephant had nearly
faded and he was on solid ground again. High ground.
“I don’t know why anyone would complain about his behavior,” Swara remarked. “He
seems to act pretty much his age.”
“Yes, well.” Sanskar laughed. “He always straightens up and flies right when he’s living
with me.”
Swara gave him a strange look. “Really?”
Sanskar tapped a finger on the edge of his coffee cup. “He knows I won’t put up with
any nonsense.”
“Really.” Swara lifted her hot water and poured. “I find that very interesting.” She set
down the kettle. “I imagine he doesn’t get good grades at boarding school, either.”
“You got that right.”
“And yet he’s smart.”
Sanskar snorted.
“Hey, he managed to hypnotize you.”
Sanskar’s eyes narrowed. “Your point?”
Swara sighed. “My point is that he just needs the right kind of motivation. If he could
live at home I think it would make a huge difference.” Saying which, she looked directly at
His brows curled.
“Home? Living at ‘home’ would be a little bit difficult. DP has no permanent address.”
“DP?” Swara sounded baffled. “Who’s that?”
“Who — ? That’s Sahil’s father.”
“Oh.” Swara frowned. “You call your father by his first — ? Never mind.” She shook
her head.
“It’s not like he has anything to do with it.”
“He doesn’t?”
“Oh, hardly. I meant with you. Couldn’t Sahil live with you?”

It took Sanskar a full minute, staring at her, before he grasped her meaning. Then his
brows shot up. “With me? You think Sahil should live with me?”
She smiled. “Uh huh.”
Sanskar smiled back. It was so…nonsensical. At the same time, he felt the moral ground
beneath him shift.
Meanwhile, Swara leaned over the little table. “He needs a steady influence, a solid
foundation. Someone he can count on.”
“With me,” Sanskar repeated, and laughed. But the ground beneath shifted some more.
“Granted, it would help if you moved,” Swara went on. “Into a normal house, you
“Excuse me?”
Swara rolled her eyes. “Something under ten thousand square feet. Picket fence.
Shaggy dog.” She sighed. “Although I have to admit it’s nice having someone else cook
and clean.”
Sanskar blinked at her. “You imagine me living in suburbia?”
“Why not?”
Sanskar just looked at her. Everything she was saying was absurd, and she had to know
it. He was supposed to move to some tract house and play the doting father? To Sahil?
At the same time, he couldn’t help wondering where she put herself in this picture. “No,”
he said, too loudly.
“No?” Swara shook her head. “All right, forget the part about the normal house. It isn’t
important. What’s important is that Sahil can rely on you.”
Sanskar’s eyebrows jumped. “Exactly.”
She smiled. “Then we agree.”
“No.” They agreed on nothing, and never would. The woman was — from another
galaxy. Sanskar leaned forward. “The idea is that Sahil has to learn to rely on himself. He
can’t depend on me — or on anybody else, for that matter.”
Swara’s eyes widened. “He’s nine years old!”
Sanskar leaned back. “So?”
“So?” Swara’s lips parted.
Sanskar crossed his arms. “There’s no better place to learn self-reliance than boarding
school. I started when I was six.”
“Six,” Swara said softly.
“Right.” Sanskar lifted his chin.
He’d been sent off to boarding school at age six, right after DP had divorced his second wife, the one Sanskar had let himself grow fond of.
Sending him away had been one of his father’s few good decisions. Now Sanskar’s jaw
“Going to boarding school taught me self-reliance. Discipline. Self-control. The rewards of applied persistence.”
And it had kept him from growing fond of any future
frivolous stepmothers.

“Oh,” Swara said. There was a lost look on her face.
Sanskar’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
She gave a slow nod. “I think that’s what you learned at boarding school.”
“Right. That is — ” He stopped short. “Oh no. Sahil isn’t so different from me. He
can learn the same lessons from school that I did.”
“Discipline, self-control, and the rewards of applied persistence.”
“That’s right.”
Swara shook her head. “I think you really believe what you’re saying.”
Sanskar’s jaw clamped shut. She was acting condescending. Of him!
She looked up, an odd smile on her lips. “Tell me, Sanskar, when did you have a chance
to be a little boy?”
His brows came down slowly. “Excuse me?”
“When did you ever get to let somebody else be in charge, take a break?”
Sanskar’s frown turned into a glare. What was she talking about? Why on earth would
he ever want somebody else to be in charge?
Swara kept her odd smile. “When did you learn to let go?”
Let go? Sanskar scowled.
But he couldn’t deny that her words conjured up an image of
Swara herself, naked and moaning beneath him. He wrapped one hand around his too-hot coffee mug.
“Let go?” he queried icily.
“I wasn’t aware one needed to learn to do that.”
“Neither was I.”
Swara looked down to dunk her tea bag. “Until now.”

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