Sanskar paid the cab driver and stepped out onto the slushy street. A cold wind
blew down the back of his neck, and he shivered in his denim jacket. After ten
years in Dehradun, he’d forgotten how damn cold New York winters were.
Not nearly as cold as I’ll be if Swara refuses to listen.
Taking a breath, he pushed random buttons for the secure building, lighting up
the board. Every button but Swara’s. He wanted to look into her eyes when he
spoke to her, not beg for forgiveness through an intercom. Finally the door buzzed,
and he pushed it open.
His heart pounded in his chest as he climbed the stairs carrying his overnight
bag, too keyed up to wait for the elevator. His feet echoed hollowly in the
stairwell. Exiting on her floor, he stood in front of the door and raised his fist.
Then lowered it.
Closing his eyes, he leaned against the wall. “Get it together, moron,” he
muttered. If she tells me to drop dead… He shuddered.
Rapping softly on the door, he waited with his heart in his throat. The door
cracked open, chain attached, and one wary hazel eye regarded him. It widened
before Swara shut the door in his face.
All his blood drained straight to his feet, and he swayed. God, I’m not going to
get a chance to explain. If only she’d listen…
Raising his fist to launch a fresh attack, the door swung wide. He caught
himself on the jam to avoid toppling inside. Embarrassment surged as he took a
Swara wore pink flannel pajamas, and her hair was hauled back in a sloppy
ponytail. Face devoid of make-up, her eyes were red-rimmed and a little puffy.
Had she been crying? His heart expanded. She was the most beautiful woman he’d
Sanskar swallowed. “Hi.”
One brow shot up. “Hi, that’s all you have to say?”
“No, but I’d rather not say it in the hall.”
She stepped back and gestured him inside. “I was thinking about—Major.”
Leaving his bag in the foyer, he followed her across an acre of off-white
carpet and sank into a butter-soft leather couch. Close enough to touch her if he
stretched out a hand… He clenched his fingers together in his lap.
“Major missed you. I missed you. Swara…” He cleared his throat.
“I missed you, too.” Her voice cracked a little. “But nothing’s changed. You
lied to me about—everything.”
He let out a shuddering breath, shifted closer, and picked up her hand.
Smoothing the back of it with his thumb, it took all his willpower not to grab her
and kiss her. “I’m ready to explain about that.”
He saw a flicker of hope in the clear hazel depths of her eyes, and smiled. “Jeb
Her lips curved in response. “Jeb is a wise man. If you don’t start talking, I’m
going to head back to Dehradun and marry him.”
Leaning against the couch cushions, he held her gaze. “I’m not sure where to
Her grip tightened on his. “How about with why you changed your name and
moved to the middle of nowhere. If I can understand your reasons, maybe I can
forgive you for not telling me the truth.” Her nails dug into his palm. “Maybe.”
He reminded himself this was Swara, the woman he loved. Suddenly, telling
her everything didn’t seem like an impossible task. The tightness in his chest eased
as he opened his mouth.
“Ten years ago, Maheshwari Industries was located in the North Tower of the
World Trade Center.” He heard her indrawn breath but didn’t pause. “On that day
in September when everything changed, I was late to work, home nursing a
hangover.” He squeezed his eyes closed, then forced them open. “I lived. Friends
and co-workers didn’t. They call it survivor’s guilt.”
“Oh, God, Sanskar. I’m so sorry.” She bent her head and kissed their tightly
clasped hands, her lips whisper soft. “I can’t imagine what you must have felt.”
“I was worthless for months afterward, and my father…” He hesitated and
stared at the floor. “He told me to be a man and move on.” Raising his head, he
met her concerned gaze full on. “So, I did. I left New York and Maheshwari
Industries and moved to Dehradun. Sanskar Maheshwari III died with everyone else in
the towers. I became Sanskar Kumar, a man whose skin I could live in, a man I
“There was nothing wrong with Sanskar. Nothing at all.” She grasped his
arms and gave them a shake. “You were the better man for caring. I’m sorry your
father couldn’t see that.”
He sighed. “You’re right, but I couldn’t stay. I had to get away.”
She drew her finger down the seam in the cushion, avoiding his eyes. “Why
didn’t you tell me who you- were? Didn’t you trust me to understand?”
Sanskar swallowed. He had to tell her the truth, even if she walked away.
There’d been too many lies between them.
Pulling her close, their thighs touched, sending a shot of desire straight to his
groin. When she didn’t shove him away, he slipped his arm around her waist. Her
head dropped onto his shoulder, fitting perfectly in the hollow of his neck.
“Honestly, I didn’t trust you at first. You were a city girl with attitude.” When
she stiffened, he held on tight. “But that changed as I got to know you again. The
Swara I cared about all those years ago emerged and won my heart.”
“You had plenty of chances to confess, Sanskar.” There was an edge to her
voice that sent a quiver through him.
“I tried more than once, but the words stuck in my throat. My past isn’t
something I talk about to many people.”
“So I’m the same as everyone else?”
“No, of course you’re not.” He rubbed a hand across his face. “I’m making it
worse, when all I want…”
She spoke softly. “Tell me what you want, Sanskar.”
“I want you, Swara. No one else. Just you.”
Doubts flooded Swara. Could she forgive him? Survivor’s guilt. In one short
phrase, Sanskar had explained everything. Not in words, but his eyes spoke of the
world of pain he concealed for not dying in the Tower. With his confession came
an understanding of the demons he’d fought all these years. The fact that he sat
next to her now meant he’d come to confront those demons. To face her. To
She stared at him, didn’t dare blink for fear he’d disappear. For a brief
moment she considered flinging herself into his arms and accepting his apology.
Then the hurt flared to life once more along with the wall she’d let slip. He would
leave. If there was one thing she’d learned from her past, it was that men left when
the next obstacle emerged. And this time it just might kill her.
“Sanskar, I can’t.” The knot in her stomach tightened. “I hate that you came all
this way, but it just won’t work.”
“Why not?” he asked, edging closer.
“Because…it just won’t. Okay. This love thing…I suck at it.”
A smile flickered over his lips. “That makes two of us. Maybe it didn’t work
in the past because it wasn’t right. It’s right now. I couldn’t stand it in Dehradun
without you. You shouldn’t mess with something that feels this good.”
She’d always taken pride in knowing the right thing to say, the right move to
make. Sitting so close to Sanskar, she hadn’t a clue how to defend her emotions
against him—and realized she didn’t want to. The memory of their time together
burned within her. Maybe it was time to take a risk.
“What are you saying?”
“I want you, Swara. I have since the moment you stopped for gas in the
middle of a freak snow storm. Fate threw us together. We don’t need to rationalize
our relationship. Maybe we should just let ourselves feel.”
He kissed her sweetly, drawing her tight against his chest. “I’m not going to
let you go.”
She ached to believe him. Her heart pounded painfully as fear gripped her.
“You say that now.” Her voice broke. “But if I do this…and it doesn’t
“Trust me, Swara,” he said simply. “I can’t promise you the road before us
won’t have bumps. That’s life. But I can promise we’ll face them together. Honey,
I didn’t run from you. I came back to New York because I can’t live without you.”
He hadn’t left. She had. Speechless, she stared at him. He wasn’t fighting fair.
She’d never expected him to break down her defensives so easily.
He didn’t give her time to answer. Cupping her face between his hands, he
touched his mouth to hers, wiping out any lingering doubts. His strong embrace
and the press of his lips against hers mesmerized her.
He pulled back and caressed her face with his thumbs. “I’ve never felt this
way about anyone. I’ve never wanted something so badly. I want you, Swara. I
need you. You gave me the courage to come back to New York. I never thought I
would. Never realized I needed to return to start living again instead of just
existing. But I can’t live without you.”
When he kissed her, love filled her to bursting. She’d spent years protecting
herself, but the wall around her heart was only an illusion. She wanted desperately
to be loved…to be loved by this man.
Swara gazed up at him. She pressed the palms of her hands against his solid
chest but couldn’t say the words.
“Tell me there’s something special between us. Tell me I’m not imagining it.
Tell me you love me as much as I love you.”
Her fears melted away and elation rose inside her. He loved her.
“I love you, too, Sanskar.”