THANKS FOR YOUR HEATOUCHING AND WONDERFUL COMMENTS……
As she gazed out the car window on the drive home, Swara supposed she could have
handled that better. It wasn’t diplomatic to tell a man that his entire life philosophy was
lacking. It put rather a damper on an evening. But darn it, she didn’t want Sanskar to think he
could impose his terrible life philosophy on Sahil! Discipline, self-control, and the
rewards of applied persistence.
It was the philosophy of a man who’d had to make do as a child — a man who
couldn’t even see what he was missing: any real happiness.
Swara looked out at the streetlights dotting the darkness and felt an ache in her chest.
Sent away at age six! It was obvious Sanskar had never known a moment’s emotional
security. Nobody had ever taught him it was okay or safe to care.
Swara snorted softly to herself. What Sanskar needed was someone to impose a new
philosophy on him.
In the darkness, Swara went very still. Oh, no. No, no, no. She hadn’t just thought that.
She hadn’t. Yet she drew in a sharp breath.
“Something wrong?” Sanskar spoke for the first time since they’d left the parking garage
Swara cleared her throat. “Um, no. Nothing’s wrong.” And it wasn’t! She hadn’t just
thought about trying to impose a new philosophy on Sanskar. Doing something like that —
Well, for one thing, it wasn’t her place. And for another, the man wasn’t the least bit open
to such a thing. He was quite satisfied with himself just the way he was.
Of course, he didn’t even know who he was.
“Swallow the wrong way?” Sanskar looked over. Their eyes met briefly. Briefly, because
Swara jerked her gaze away.
Good Lord. Sanskar knew who he was. She was the one confused. She kept thinking
she saw ‘her’ Sanskar under there.
Oh, but you have.
Swara clenched her teeth. She hadn’t. She hadn’t! But the little voice inside chattered
otherwise. She had seen moments, instants in time. There’d been moments of…connection.
No! Swara scowled and shook her head to get rid of the tightness in her chest. All
right, maybe there’d been moments. So what? They were only moments. Did she imagine
she could string them together to recreate the gentle, caring man she’d known for two
days in Las Vegas?
That would be delusional. Part of her whole self-destructive bit. Sanskar was the man
she saw before her: stiff, cold, and formal. Annoyingly superior. Bossy.
Not exactly a soul mate.
Definitely not — and never would be — the man she’d met in Las Vegas. He was
not — and never would be — the man she’d married.
Swara’s last thought echoed in her mind. She was just realizing its import when the
iron gates of Sanskar’s estate appeared in the car’s headlights. She sat staring dumbly forward
as Sanskar pushed a remote control button in the car and the gates swung open.
So she’d completed her investigation. This Sanskar was not the man she’d married. After
only a little more than a week she’d figured it out. Decided.
Sanskar drove through the gates and up the winding drive toward the house.
Swara felt heavy inside. The trial period was over. Her vows carried no weight. She
could go home. She should go home. Immediately.
At a fork in the drive, Sanskar bore right. Five garage doors appeared before them. One
began scrolling open. Sanskar moved the car into its slot, shifted into park, and turned off the
Swara bit her lower lip. She ought to tell Sanskar it was over. Now. Then leave in the
Sanskar opened his car door with an expensively hushed click. Without looking at Swara,
he got out of the car. She sat there, depressed beyond words as he rounded the hood of
the car — her exquisitely mannered, soon-to-be-ex-husband. He bent and opened her
door with another classy hush.
Swara pasted on a polite smile and turned to face him. He looked back, devilishly
handsome, and utterly chill. His lips were beautifully formed, and perfectly straight, with
not a smile or expression of any kind playing upon them. His eyes were the crystal blue of
an angel, but they expressed not one ounce of human emotion. Oh, he was the most
remote human being she had ever seen. Utterly alone.
Swara’s polite smile faltered.
Sanskar’s expression, impassive as it was, seemed to freeze.
“What?” he demanded.
“You’ve been upset for the past five miles. For God’s sake, what is it?”
Swara couldn’t possibly get her smile back in place. Yes, he was remote and chill, no
doubt about it. Not ‘her’s’ at all. But she’d suddenly remembered Laksh’s bet with Sahil.
Laksh thought Sanskar wouldn’t be able to keep her for two whole weeks. And he’d be right!
The thought made Swara’s chest squeeze.
“Swara,” Sanskar’s voice was warning.
She could barely breathe. God, she was going to do it, become the next person in the
chain, the chain of people who had left Sanskar, making him the way he was, this way that
could not be changed.
Don’t fool yourself! An alarmed voice squawked in her head. He’ll be no worse off
once you’ve gone. Sanskar had grown too set in his ways, his defenses too established, for
her brief appearance in his life to cause a ripple. She’d be like a speck of dust that had
gotten into his eye. She’d be like a bug that had been squashed beneath his shoe.
All the same…
“I’m staying,” she heard herself say.
Sanskar’s brows snapped down.
Swara felt the oddest sensation, like weights being lifted from her shoulders. Part of
her stood back and wondered what the heck she thought she was doing. This was absurd,
futile, and possibly self-destructive.
But another part of Swara felt lighter than air. She stepped out of the car. “I’m not
going to give up on you, Sanskar, even if you are the most set-in-his-ways, unlikely-tochange
man I have ever met.”
Sanskar’s brows relaxed. “Wha — ?”
“He’s in there somewhere, the man I married.” Swara winced. “All right, he’s buried
pretty deep, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to dig him out. We have to try, in fact. We
have to…get the real you out of there.”
Sanskar’s eyes widened.
Swara closed the car door behind her. She had no idea what this thing was they were
supposed to do, but she felt like she was floating three feet above the ground. There was a
shimmering, wondrous excitement inside her. Something, something had to happen.
With a laugh in her throat, she stepped forward. In surprise, or maybe to set her
away, Sanskar put his hands on her waist. The heat of his fingers through the silk of her
pantsuit was all the instigation Swara needed.
Her hands went up to his face, her feet arched to tiptoe, and her lips touched his.
Sanskar’s hands flinched on her waist. He uttered a small sound.
Swara uttered a sound of her own, a moan of sheer pleasure. Lord, he felt good, even
better than she remembered. The slight scratchiness of his jaw was an erotic counterpoint
to the civilized scent of his aftershave. No less provocative was the solid strength of him
against her torso, and his taste — Her tongue grazed the closed seam between Sanskar’s
lips. He tasted like all of God’s forbidden fruit wrapped into one. Her hands slid into his
Sanskar didn’t participate. But neither did he resist. He simply stood there, taut, and
The sound, mingled with his continued immobility, brought Swara back to earth. Wait
a minute. Wait a minute. She was kissing him. She halted, stunned, then drew her lips
away. Inhaling deeply, she took a step back.
She saw immediately she hadn’t stopped a moment too soon. Sanskar looked as though
he’d been pushed to some inner limit. His eyes were wide and his lips swollen. As Swara
watched, his expression of bemusement faded. Hard determination took its place. “Don’t,”
he said, low, “ever do that again.”
Swara felt a quick spike of fear. He was right. She shouldn’t have kissed him. He
wasn’t ‘her’ Sanskar. But such thoughts were washed away by pure satisfaction. She’d
obviously made an impression. “Oh, good,” she said, and tapped his cheek. “You’re
She was delighted to see his eyes blaze. Then, before she could do anything more,
something that might worry herself, she turned and, as dignified as possible, wobbled out
of the garage.
It was really not a good idea to be drinking. Nevertheless, Sanskar nursed a brandy as he
looked out his bedroom window in the hours following his opera date. Behind him, the
brown and gold silk counterpane on his bed lay untouched. He turned the glass in his
They’d kissed. Rather, Swara had kissed him. He had…resisted.
More or less.
Sanskar lowered his glass. More rather than less. But was he relieved? Was he proud of
What was the point of resistance, he was starting to wonder? What did he gain by
turning away all that s*x appeal? He could have kissed her back. He could have pulled her
close and given her everything she’d been asking for. By now they could have been on the
other side of the house, naked in her bed. And he’d have been satisfied. Finally.
Sanskar rubbed his thumb on the rim of his glass. On the other hand, perhaps he wasn’t
giving himself enough credit. He’d kept his cool down there in the garage. He’d
remembered the long-range consequences. If he took Swara to bed, if she could give him
the satisfaction he’d experienced in his dreams, all hell could break loose. There’d be
nothing he wouldn’t do for her, no idiocy at which he’d stop.
He’d become a damned fool.
Sanskar took another swallow of brandy and narrowed his eyes at the reflection of his
bedroom in the window glass, the somber wainscoting and dimmed lights. He didn’t want
to be a fool. So it had been smart to resist her. Oh, yes, he’d steered clear of the exact
situation he’d been trying to avoid since Swara had first burst into his downtown office.
The situation where he handed her all the power.
The only part of her scheme he didn’t get was this bit about ‘releasing’ him. What did
Sanskar swished the liquid in his glass. She spoke as if the man Sanskar had been while
acting under hypnotic suggestion not only existed, but awaited liberation. As if Sanskar were
keeping him under lock and key.
Sanskar stilled his glass. Even if a part of him was under lock and key — which it
wasn’t — what difference could that possibly make to her? Why should she care if Sanskar
were ‘free’ or not? In fact, wouldn’t it be more to her advantage if he were utterly caged?
A strange sensation shimmered through Sanskar. He frowned past the bedroom’s
reflection and into the darkness outside. For a moment he almost imagined — But, no.
That kiss had been no more than what he knew it to be. Bait. He knew her type. Even if he
couldn’t plumb her every motivation, he understood the basics. She was out for herself,
and herself alone. Whatever her ploy, he wasn’t falling for it.
There would be no more kissing.
She would discover he was not as far gone as she had thought.
With a firm nod, Sanskar set his brandy on the windowsill. Then he went to take a cold
All Ragini wanted was to be alone that Saturday night. But after her Aunt Parvati and
her Uncle RP had brought her home from the opera, she had to sit in the living room
with them and her mother, drinking coffee and discussing the production they’d just seen.
The conversation had been an endurance test, since this particular performance of La
Bohème was one Ragini would have liked to blot from her mind.
“Do you have a headache, Ragini?” Her mother, fully dressed and perfectly coiffed,
though she’d merely been at home watching TV, regarded her daughter through narrowed
Belatedly, Ragini realized she was rubbing her forehead. She lowered her hand
immediately. “Maybe I do have a headache.” The excuse would certainly earn her an
interrogation regarding her health the next day, but at least it would get her out of the
“Oh, don’t let us keep you up if you’re not feeling well,” Uncle RP boomed. If
Ragini had actually had a headache, his voice would not have helped.
“Thank you, Uncle RP.” Ragini rose from the Italian sofa.
“Take some chamomile tea with honey,” Aunt Parvati suggested.
“Think a couple Tylenol would be more effective,” Uncle RP muttered under his
breath, then smiled innocently at Aunt Parvati.
Ragini thanked her aunt and uncle for their escort to the theater — the theater she
wished to God she hadn’t attended — bade her mother goodnight and, finally, was able to
go up the main stairs of the family mansion to her bedroom.
She closed the white paneled door of her room after herself and then turned to lean
against it with a deep, quivery sigh. The royal blue and pearl cream furnishings of her
bedroom swam before her eyes.
Laksh had been telling the truth. Imagine that. Laksh, that smug-smiling, smarmdripping
slug had been telling the honest-to-goodness truth.
Sanskar was married.
Ragini drew in and then released another quivery breath. Yes, Sanskar was married, and
to whom? To a woman who looked like every man’s s*xual and emotional fantasy rolled
into one. A real knockout; vibrant, warm, and inviting.
Everything Ragini was not.
With a sound that was part laugh and part groan, Ragini pushed away from the closed
bedroom door. She hugged her arms as she paced the length of her bedroom, the thick
carpet soft under her feet, the lacy curtains of her bed a subtle mockery.
Little girl. You’re just a little girl.
Not a woman.
Ragini ground her teeth and went on pacing. Tears stood stupidly in her eyes. Sanskar
had been her last, her only, chance. For years she’d thought of Sanskar as her way out. She
could be married, own all the privileges and status of that condition — without having to
deal with any of the disadvantages.
The primary disadvantage she’d wanted to avoid was a husband who cheated. Sanskar
wouldn’t have been one of those. He was completely honorable, completely unlike Ragini’s
father, who’d enjoyed one mistress after another the entire span of her parents’ marriage.
The other disadvantage of marriage Sanskar would have saved her from, or so Ragini
had thought, was having to satisfy a man in bed. She’d thought Sanskar was…like her. Driven
by his work, sober and serious. Not distracted by the more basic elements of human
Now that she’d met the man’s oh-so-alluring wife, Ragini knew better.
Good God, what if they had married, only for her then to discover — ?
Her eyes widened at the mere thought. Coming to a stop by the large, mullioned
window, Ragini crossed her arms over her chest and turned her back to the window. She
didn’t want the glass to show her a reflection of herself. She didn’t want to see the deep
deficiency so well hidden beneath a fashionable exterior.
She was frigid. She had to be. At twenty-eight years old, she’d never lain with a man.
She didn’t even want to lie with a man. She didn’t want the physical or emotional
vulnerability that would be involved.
Sanskar, she’d thought, would not have desired that from her. With Sanskar she could have
A laugh escaped her. Well! Not only was Sanskar married, but he was clearly not safe.
And somehow…somehow…this disaster was all Laksh’s fault.
Ragini couldn’t say exactly how. She only knew that Laksh had given her the news
about Sanskar’s marriage with such obvious delight. With smug glee he’d made it clear he
understood the dreams she’d had. And he mocked them. He mocked her. He always did.
He was odious, a toad, slime.
Down below, outside the window, Ragini could hear Aunt Parvati and Uncle RP’s
voices. They’d come out the front door and were saying goodbye to her mother.
When Ragini heard the slam of their car door, she moved. If her mother saw her light
on under the door she would surely come in and submit Ragini to her interrogation this
evening, instead of waiting for morning.
Her mother wanted to know everything that Ragini did, everything she thought and
felt. It was a constant challenge to satisfy her mother’s curiosity and maternal concern,
even while telling her nothing of genuine intimacy. Sometimes…sometimes Ragini
considered moving out of her childhood home — even if it would mean leaving her
mother all alone.
But for now Ragini stole on experienced feet to the switch beside her bedroom door.
With a flick of her hand, she plunged the room into darkness. Later, after her mother had
walked past and gone into her own room Ragini could turn the lights back on.
Meanwhile, waiting with hushed breath in the darkness, Ragini could see the red light
on her answering machine blinking. Someone had called on her personal phone line while
she’d been at the opera.
Sanskar? Ragini thought, with a stupid leap of hope. Stupid, because Sanskar wasn’t about
to call her, even if he hadn’t been married. She barely crossed his mind. The message was
probably from a fellow member of one of the many boards to which Ragini belonged.
There was the problem of finding a professional fundraiser for the Boston Family Aid
Foundation, a problem that was becoming more urgent as the purely volunteer efforts to
raise money fell short.
Ragini bit her lower lip. The Family Aid Foundation was close to her heart. She
wanted to give families — mostly single mothers — a chance to get their lives together,
to become independent and self-sufficient.
So once she heard her mother’s bedroom door close at the end of the hall, she moved
across the room to her bedside table. There she switched on the small lamp and then hit
the button for the answering machine.
But it wasn’t one of her contacts at the Family Aid Foundation. No, of all things it
was Laksh’s voice that came out of the pretty white answering machine which sat on her
“Guess this is kind of a shock,” Laksh muttered.
He could say that again. Ragini stared at her answering machine, which had suddenly
become an alien creature, allowing Laksh’s voice to be stored inside, and now letting it
drawl forth, right into Ragini’s most private space.
Laksh was everything Sanskar was not. Laksh exuded s*xuality. He was like — a big tom
cat, physically expert and deeply sensual. Even now, his mere voice was making Ragini’s
hair stand on end.
“Don’t know if I’ve ever called you about anything at all,” Laksh went on. “But —
that’s not the point. The point is — ” And here Laksh sighed, deeply. “The point is I
wanted to ask you out…to lunch, I guess. Yeah, lunch.” Here Laksh cleared his throat. “I,
uh, believe I owe you an apology.”
An apology! Ragini didn’t know whether to fall over in a dead faint or scream. Laksh
wanted to apologize? To her? Good God, did he feel sorry for her?
“So please call me back,” Laksh said. He rattled off a phone number and ended by
saying, “You may think I’ve already taken care of my obligation by calling and leaving a
phone message to say I’m sorry about the way I dumped Sanskar’s marriage news on you.”
Then Laksh’s voice got weird, almost stern. “But you and I both know that an apology
recorded on an answering machine doesn’t cut it. I have to take you somewhere, and you
have to come. That is…if you intend to accept my apology.” There was a pause before he
said, “So that’s it.”
The answering machine beeped and a computer voice announced, “End of messages.”
Great, Ragini thought, glaring at the miserable machine. Just great. Laksh was right. If
he was going to apologize, properly, and if she intended to accept that apology — which
she was bound to do — then they had to meet, in person.
As if losing Sanskar hadn’t been bad enough.
Ragini crushed her teeth together, because the urge to open her mouth and scream
was strong. Oh, how she hated Laksh. She hated him, hated him, hated him!