What were the odds? Sanskar couldn’t begin to calculate as he gazed into
Swara’s familiar hazel eyes.
Like a bolt of lightning, it had all come back to him when she’d said her
mother’s name. Sumi Bose had been the cleaning woman at his parents’
penthouse apartment in Kolkata. She’d occasionally brought ten-year-old Swara
with her to help in the kitchen during parties. Odds had to be a million to one that
twenty years later he’d run into the adult version of that scrawny girl.
His lips curved into a smile.
Swara smiled back and blinked those same incredible eyes he’d stared into the
first time he’d met her. During his twelfth birthday party, he’d snuck into the
kitchen and found her elbow-deep in dishwater. She’d been startled, frozen like a
deer, her large eyes watching him warily, obviously intimidated by the boy in a
suit and tie.
He’d pulled up a stool and started talking. Asking her where she went to
school, where she lived, what she did for fun.
It’d been fifteen minutes before his mother found him and hauled him back to
the boring, family party. But in that short time, he’d succeeded in getting sullen
little Swara to relax and talk to him. She’d even laughed a couple times.
“Sanskar?” Swara’s voice dragged him back to the present. She slid her hands
up his sides, over his abs, and across his chest.
“Yeah?” He tugged her closer, spreading his feet slightly to better fit them
together. Mmm, how they fit. Perfect.
As she gazed into his eyes, her irises darkened, and her arms wrapped around
his neck, pushing her br*asts tight against his chest. “I’d like that.”
Her warmth seeped into him, sending spirals of desire that centered low in his
belly. His brain couldn’t decipher what she was talking about. So he gave up
Pressing his lips to hers, he breathed in her scent. The woodsy smell of his
bath soap clung to her skin, melding with her sweet, feminine musk. The
combination did even more damage to his lucidity. He fought to cage his lust,
struggled to keep his hips still.
Soft, full lips. The kiss last night had been fueled by whiskey. This morning, it
was pure desire that kindled his need to taste her. He slid his tongue along the
crease of her lips.
She sighed and opened her mouth in invitation.
He accepted, twining his tongue with hers. Exploring every crevice of her
mouth, her soft cheeks, her straight, sharp teeth.
Swara’s hips moved, and he groaned. He needed to pick her up into his arms,
carry her he-man style. This time, into his bedroom.
As if an internal warning engaged, her stomach rumbled. She giggled, her
tongue still gliding over the ticklish inside of his lip.
He slowed the kiss and pulled back, looked into her eyes, and murmured,
“Yes, please.” Her shining eyes and perfect smile hit him like a snowball to
This was Swara. The little girl he’d teased and talked with and grown to care
about. Their occasional kitchen visits had ended three years later when he’d left
for prep school. His parents had downsized to a smaller apartment, and Sumi had
been let go. His gut squeezed when he recalled his distraught reaction to losing
Anger surged when he remembered his father’s dismissal of Sanskar’s feelings,
with parental advice to move on, Sanskar. A phrase—and name—he would come
Sanskar released her but bent for one more quick kiss. “Come on. Let’s get
something into that empty belly of yours.” Wrapping his arm around her
shoulders, he guided her to the kitchen. “Fresh blueberries in your pancakes?”
Grinning up at him, she taunted, “You don’t have blueberries. It’s the middle
He laughed. “I made a run to Dehradun before Christmas. Blueberries. Real
maple syrup. Butter.”
Her stomach rumbled again. “Stop.” She put her hand on her stomach. “I’m
going to start drooling like Major.”
At the sound of his name, Major trotted into the kitchen and sat at Swara’s
After a few seconds, she bent and patted his head. Awkwardly, but at least she
wasn’t cringing from the dog anymore.
“What about you, boy? Do you like blueberries in your pancakes?”
His tail swished back and forth across the floor like a windshield wiper in a
Sanskar watched the two of them, startled by the warmth spreading from his
heart, creeping its way through his chest to disrupt his breathing. Was it the homey
feeling of a s*xy woman wearing his clothes and petting his dog? Or was it Swara
in particular who invoked some kind of freakishly un-macho nesting instinct in
She stood and looked at her hand as if it might sport hair, fleas, ticks, and
assorted microscopic health hazards. Looking at him, she forced a smile and went
to the sink, taking care to wash away at least one layer of skin.
He grinned and headed to the fridge, pulling out eggs, milk, and the promised
blueberries. From the cabinet he hauled down flour, baking powder, and salt.
Swara sidled up next to him. “You’re making them from scratch?”
“Can’t afford the boxed mix on my salary.”
Her smile wavered. Was she feeling sorry for him? Or did she suddenly
realize she’d been flirting with a man who hovered on the low end of middleclass?
He handed her a bowl and a fork. “Two eggs. Beaten.”
“Yes, sir.” She took the bowl and the egg carton to the island and got
Digging in a drawer for measuring spoons and cups, he asked, “Do you
“I used to. My mom taught me. But lately, I haven’t had time.” She beat the
eggs with the fork. “Do you cook a lot?”
“No. I work long days and eat sandwiches, mostly.” Up until ten years ago,
he’d never even turned on a stove. His parents employed a cook, and when Sanskar
had moved out to attend college, they’d sent the cook to his on-campus apartment
four times a week to prepare meals for him.
When he joined the family business, he hired a full-time chef, equipped to
cater his weekly client dinner parties, Saturday evening social gatherings, and
noon staff meetings.
Scraping something crusty out of the one-cup measure, he smirked. Times had
sure changed. Circumstances reversed. For both of them. They’d each gone from
one extreme to the other.
He glanced at his unexpected guest. How, and when, would he tell her who he
really was? Did he even have to tell her? Or would this be just a hit-and-run for
Ms. Swara Bose? The thought spiked his blood pressure……..
Swara took her first bite of Sanskar’s homemade blueberry pancakes and closed
her eyes. Heaven. Oh my God, curl-my-toes-in-his-socks heaven. He’d even
heated the bottle of syrup in a pan of hot water. The sweetness of the warm syrup
and tartness of the blueberries struggled for dominance on her tongue. She
moaned, opened her eyes, and looked into inquisitive blue ones.
“Well?” His lips twitched. “What do you think?”
She forked in another bite, broke a cardinal rule, and talked with her mouth
full. “I think you should come to New York and work for me.”
A faint redness crept up his neck, and he stilled.
“Yeah, I’m thinking as soon as the storm’s over, I’ll take you back to New
York and set you up as my house boy. You can clean—” She took another bite of
pancake. “—cook, and iron my blouses. How are you at catering parties? I throw
them from time to time for The Bose Way.” She cut another bite of pancake.
“Swara?” His voice was deathly quiet.
She gazed into stormy blue eyes that held an emotion she couldn’t identify. A
bubble of laughter broke from her chest. “I was just teasing.”
He rubbed his temples. “You know what would be great?”
Her giggles ebbed. “What?”
“If you would shut up and eat.”
Not very gentlemanly, but she deserved it. She heaved an exaggerated sigh.
“Guess I should just…”
“I guess you should just eat.” Sanskar extended a pancake to the dog who
whined beside him. “You irritate me sometimes.”
“Really? Do you have a short fuse?” What put that odd look on his face? “I’m
sorry. I was joking. Don’t get your briefs in a twist.”
He blinked twice. “I don’t wear briefs.”
She forked in another bite and eyed the last pancake on the platter. “Ah, a
boxer kind of guy.”
Sanskar raised his mug and took a long gulp. She watched his throat move and
wondered what would happen if she snaked the tip of her tongue over his Adam’s
apple and down his torso. Good Lord, what had come over her? Being s*xually
aggressive had never been her style. She eyed that last pancake again. Maybe she’d
better resist. Evidently blueberries were an aphrodisiac.
“Don’t wear boxers either.” He rose and carried his dirty dishes to the sink.
Her gaze followed his very magnificent behind.
He turned and came back for more dirty dishes. Plates in hand, he leaned over
and placed his lips next to her ear. An involuntary shudder went through her.
“Commando all the way, baby,” he whispered.
Swara’s gulp sounded like a gong in the silent kitchen. He was naked under
those jeans? Her eyes darted around the small kitchen, trying to focus on anything
but his crotch. Her tummy did its fluttery thing and her nipples evidently loved the
commando visual because they were certainly standing at attention.
Sanskar poured hot water into the sink and started washing dishes.
“I’ll wash.” She stood, attempting to regain control of her sensually
overloaded system. “You cooked. I’ll wash.”
“Are you sure you know how?” His voice sounded strained, but he didn’t wait
for an answer.
While Sanskar headed outside to the woodpile, Swara stood at the sink and
gazed out the window. Major jumped through the snowdrifts blown deep by the
wind. His tongue lolled out, catching snowflakes. The dog was like a spoiled
child. She shook her head and rinsed off the silverware. Her gaze cut to Sanskar
who’d loaded his arms with wood. The man was moody today. Maybe cabin fever
was getting to him the same as it was with her. Still, if he remained silent and
surly, their snow prison could get mighty uncomfortable. Which was why she was
better off alone. Bad enough she had to deal with men flexing their egos at work;
there was no way she would happily endure one in her private life.
Sanskar. The old memory resurfaced every time she did dishes. She smiled. A
cherished memory she unfolded and relived when emotional needs upset her. How
many times had she taken out the few memories she had of Sanskar, then folded
them into a compact square and tucked them back into her heart?
Her memories were from a fragile time in a girl’s life, when hormones were
just beginning to bud. Emotions bounced from one extreme to another. She’d been
too old for childishly familiar things and not old enough for others. And, oh how
she’d missed Vermont. Making friends in Kolkata was next to impossible,
except for Sanskar. While she washed dishes, the son of her mother’s employer
kept her company. He had a way of getting her to talk about herself, making her
believe he was truly interested. Endearing qualities in a gangly kid—kind, gentle,
caring, and incredibly honest.
Then suddenly Sanskar was gone from her life.
Twin tears tumbled down her cheeks.
For some reason, that loss left scars as deep as the loss of her childhood home
and watching her mother work herself into exhaustion cleaning houses for rich
The door opened and Major bounded in, shaking off snow. Her vision was
tear-blurred when she looked at Sanskar.
“Swara?” He bent to lay the logs on the floor and removed his gloves, tossing
them onto the pile of wood. “What’s wrong?” He approached and cupped her face
in his hands.
“N…nothing.” She sounded like a needy woman. Damn, grow a backbone
here.He leaned in and kissed away her tears. “Honey,” he breathed on a moan as
his lips covered hers. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. I…I’ve got a lot going on right
now. Forgive me?”
His kisses grew deeper, more passionate. Tender nips at her lips turned to
mind-numbing kisses that made her system do twitchy things. She wrapped her
arms around his neck and poured all her emotion into the kiss. For a brief few
seconds she wondered just whom she was kissing—Sanskar Kumar or Sanskar