(CT) Chapter 16: Impossible Longings

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Arnav was avoiding her. There was no other explanation. Once she had overcome her shyness, Khushi knew they would have to talk about what had happened that evening. His hostile attitude had further made it imperative that they clear the air.

But while she had forestalled their talk earlier, now Arnav was bent on evading her. Khushi saw him only during breakfasts when the presence of Anjili or Sheetal or the twins made any private conversation impossible.  He spent his days out. There were no more requests for the evening walks that she had come so much to look forward to. The dinner was either taken early as he worked in the library or downtown where he now went every day for work.

Meanwhile, Khushi’s work was fast nearing completion. Another 3 weeks and she would be done. But the work which had given her so much satisfaction earlier, now failed to do so. Every morning she would expect him to be in the gallery, waiting for her to begin work on the paintings he said he really didn’t care about. They would banter and play with words and she would feel that delicious pull towards the man who liked to pretend he was cynical and worldly. But there was another facet that she had glimpsed during the night they had spent out in the mountains. It was a warm and caring man who endured his sister’s mollycoddling because he did not want to hurt her; who spoilt his neice rotten; who loved his childhood home so much that he was heartbroken what he thought was his father’s betrayal. A man who had taken up the small timber business of his father, and grown it beyond imagination; who bristled defensively when people made allowances for him because of his leg and went on prove them wrong.

And then there was that headiness she had experienced when she had been in his arms. It had never happened before. In early days of youth, she had allowed some boys to kiss her and had always wondered what the hullabaloo was about. By the time, she grew up, she had already accepted that sexual chemistry was nothing that it was cracked up to be. Her one single relationship had been practical and levelheaded and had broken when the man she had been dating proposed marriage with the caveat that she would have to give up her career and take up a less demanding job after marriage.

 

But the way she had responded to Arnav in the firefly meadow, she knew that she would give up a great deal for this man. The evening scared her; it excited her; it confused her. At times she would tell herself that it was good that he was avoiding her. She had a secret that could break both their hearts. Any relationship with him would be too demanding.

But then the image would flash in her mind – his slight smile, the way his eyes challenged her. He would twist his body slightly on his walking stick and murmur in her ear ‘Scared, Ms. Gupta.’ And she would feel the shivers of excitement run down her spine.

Looking for an escape from her confusing thoughts, two afternoons later Khushi found herself with Anjili  and the twins in the lush lawns of Chandrataal, all set to enjoy the warm sunlight after days of mist. The twins insisted on playing Blind man’s buff, and after much cajoling, Anjili and Khushi decided to join the game.

Giggles resounded in the gardens as Raghav joined in the fun. Sheetal preferred sitting on her own, watching them, smiling at the twins who ran around their mother, calling out her name and shrieking with laughter as Anjili failed to catch any of them. Khushi hovered behind them, enjoying the play between mother and the daughters. The noise of the driveway distracted her for a moment and she felt Anjili’s hand on her shoulder.

‘Its Khushi di,’ Aditi shrieked.  ‘Mumma caught her! What were you doing standing in a place?’

‘You had to run!’ Nisha hollered.

‘Thank god, it’s not me anymore,’ Anjili pulled out blindfold and smiled at Khushi. ‘These girls are so difficult to catch. Now it’s your turn to suffer.’

Khushi pouted and turned around. ‘I will tie it?’ Aditi took the blindfold from Anjili and ran to Khushi who knelt down obligingly.

‘What are you doing?’ Nisha tried to peer into the blindfold. ‘She can see!’

‘No, she cannot?’ Aditi finished the tying the blindfold and joined her sister. ‘Can you, Khushi? How many fingers are these?’

‘Hmm, three I think.’

‘Look she can’t,’ Aditi said to her sister smugly.

‘But Khushi di might be lying?’ Nisha came back at once.

‘No. She never lies. Do you tell lies, Khushi di?’ Aditi asked.

‘Never,’ Khushi assured.

‘She might still be lying,’ Nisha said suspiciously.

‘Ok girls, do you want to play’ Anjili put an end to the argument. ‘Let’s start now.’

‘Alright, Khushi, careful,’ Aditi took her hand and swirled her around before letting go

‘I am here, Khushi,’ Nisha called out from behind her. Khushi reached out to catch but she was already gone.  Unlike Aditi whose giggles always gave way, Nisha crept up slowly and ran away as soon as you turned around.

‘Here, here,’ Aditi tugged her dupatta. The twins led her a merry dance. Anjili laughed in the background as Khushi reached out, trying her best to catch one of the girls.

She had just a moment to register another presence, a deliciously familiar cologne when someone tumbled hard into her. She lurched forward, her hands swinging wildly for balance, only to latch on to something – a hand that had come to break her fall.

But to no avail. She fell, on the hard ground, taking the person down with her. The person, she could swear who it was, gasped and muttered an oath as the walking stick clattered down next to them.

She let out a cry as the back of her head hit the pavement. Things blackened out for a moment as breath whooshed out of her lungs. Pain burst through her head taking over her entire body and she held still, waiting for it to subside.

It didn’t.

 

For a moment, Arnav had felt whole again.

He had been walking to the mansion, trying desperately to ignore the sounds of laughter in the lawns. But as Khushi reached around in her blindfold, he had allowed himself to watch and enjoy the game for a while. And then she had tumbled, just a few steps away from him, reaching out for some support.

He held out his arms to catch her. It was the most natural thing in the world, except that he was a man with a bad leg, and men with crippled legs should never forget what they are.

He caught her, or at least he thought he did, but his leg could not support their combined weight or the force of her fall. He did not even have time to feel the discomfort. The muscles simply crumpled, and his leg buckled.

Perhaps she could have saved herself had he not tried to catch her. They crashed to the ground, and he could do nothing but gasp. The fall sucked the very breath from his body, and his leg just folded under him. He bit the inside of his cheek and tasted the blood as he felt the pain as if needles had pierced his leg.

Muttering under his breath, he dragged himself away freeing Khushi who lay sprawled on the ground, still under shock.

He pulled away the blindfold.

“Are you all right?” he asked urgently.

She nodded and tried to sit up. But it was jerky kind of nod, as her eyes remained unfocused. No. She was not alright.

‘Are you hurt? Where?”

“My head,” she moaned.

Arnav tried to kneel beside her, his own leg screaming in pain, demanding attention at once. He had to get her up to the house. She might be badly hurt. He reached out to touch the back of her head to see if there was a wound.

Before he could even touch her, they were surrounded. Anjili came running, followed by the twins. Raghav bent to help Khushi up, calling the watchman for assistance.

Finally, Arnav just hauled himself to his feet and backed away, leaning heavily on his cane.

The muscle in his thigh felt as if someone stabbed it multiple time with a sharp knife but that was a familiar sort of pain.

Raghav and the watchman helped her get up. She reeled as her legs buckled. Raghav carried her back into the house.

Capable and careful.

Arnav watched on as they put Khushi on the couch.

He would never be able to do that. Forget running, forget the pain, forget the bloody walking stick that he had suffered ever since he had injured his leg. None of it seemed to matter.

He would never gather the girl he loved in his arms and carry her away.

He had never felt like less of a man.

 

 

 


 

 

The last part of the chapter is not my POV; it is the character’s POV.

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DO let me know what you think of the romance between Princess Meera and Captain Richard Smith amid the turmoil of the 1857 uprising

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(CT) Chapter 15: Just a kiss?

Dear all,

First of all, apologies for the delay. I have been on the verge of abandoning this story so many times. But I come back. There is this sense of leaving the task unfinished that doesn’t let me work on a new book. I am really really trying to finish this one. Its not that i dont love this story, just that new interesting things come up, work takes time and so on.

So sorry to all of you who are following this one. I am already working on the next chapter. there are about 6-7 chapters to the end of this one. I hope you guys are still with me when I reach the finish line. 🙂

On the other front, DUST of AGES: An 1857 romance is out – this is the full volume- right from start to the end. please do read and review.  Everyone who hasn’t read it, please do read and review. Would mean a lot to me. You can learn more about it and read the first few chapters here.

And without further ado, the next chapter of Chandrataal.

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His mouth moved over hers in a whisper of a kiss. She felt is the slight roughness of his lips as they lingered around the corner of her mouth, moving on to her cheek. A tingle began in her toes and reached up her spine as Khushi crowded closer, her own arms rising to the side of his neck before she gave up on common sense and let them go around him.

Arnav exhaled sharply feeling the thrill of her arms and her soft body envelope him. He tilted her head a little more and took her mouth in a deep kiss. An exquisite sensation shot through his whole being to feel her response. His own lips parted as unreservedly as he kissed her, thrilled to feel her arms tighten about him in response.  He explored the sweet intoxicating secrets of her mouth before moving on to kiss the hollow in her throat, making her moan with pleasure as he trailed kisses to the shell of her ear. Leaning a bit more on the walking stick, Arnav let his free hand roam across her back before encircling her waist and pulling her flush against him.

Khushi clung to him, straining to get closer, her hands sliding beneath his jacket, the feel of the heat of his body through the shirt.

The sharp ring of his phone penetrated through the haze of desire yet they ignored it. His heart skipped a beat as he felt her teeth bit the soft skin of his neck where it met his shoulder before soothing the pain with an open mouthed kiss.

Whoever was calling him, disconnected and then called again. Both of them groaned together and Arnav heard her chuckle before he raised his head to look at her. Desire shimmering in her gaze made him shudder. ‘You phone is ringing.’ She whispered.

He nodded and bent to rub his cheek against hers, making no effort to take the call.

‘It could be someone important.’ She whispered. ‘It could be Anjili, or Raghav.’

He sighed before stepping back reluctantly and taking the call. Khushi instantly felt the loss of warmth.

‘Yes, Raghav,’ he said in the phone.

Khushi watched as his mouth tightened.

‘I know it is dark. I can find my back.’ He said tersely. ‘You can go to sleep.’

Raghav must have said something about her, for he turned to her and nodded. ‘Yes, Khushi is with me.’ Arnav reached up to tuck a stray lock behind her ear. ‘We will be back soon,’ he told Raghav before disconnecting.

Khushi’s face came up as he stepped closer. Desire beckoned once again. Khushi tried to hold on to sanity this time. ‘He…I mean, Raghav, he must be worried.’

‘yes,’ Arnav whispered as bent to kiss her forehead lightly.

‘Its dark,’ she folded her fingers into tight fists, resisting the urge to reach up and stroke is face.

‘So it is,’ he kissed her ear lobe.

‘Shall we…we must go home.’ She stammered

Arnav raised his head to look into her face. His own eyes were blank except for the remains of the desire that still burnt along the edges.

‘Let’s go back,’ Khushi persisted.

He nodded as he stepped back and without any word, began the trek back to the house.

Unlike their walk to the firefly meadow, this time there was an awkward silence and a distance that opened up between them as Khushi tried to make sense of what had happened. Arnav, on the other hand seemed to be lost in his own thoughts.

In the hallway, he turned to her as if to say something.

‘I…I am tired,’ Khushi forestalled him. She needed time to process the event of the evening, before she could talk about it. ‘I will call it a day I think.’

Silence followed her words as Arnav gazed at her through narrow eyes. And then he nodded abruptly and looked away. Khushi sighed with relief as she saw Raghav behind him.

‘There you are. I was worried, Bhaiyya. It is going to rain tonight. Do you want coffee, Khushiji.’

‘No,’  Arnav intervened. ‘She is tired and is going to bed.’ He told Raghav before moving towards the sitting room. Khushi wondered if she had heard a sneer somewhere in those innocuous words.

 

Back in her room, she relived the kiss a thousand times. As she brushed her hair, her eyes were drawn to her lips – slightly swollen and red. She remembered the warm and rough feel of his mouth and brushed her fingers against her lips. How she had reacted? How she had not offered a single word of resistance and flown into his arms? But even the thought of resisting had never occurred to her. There had been a strange sense of rightness in the moment, as if through their spats, fights and endless talks they had been moving to this moment. She felt the same tendrils of desire unfurl in the pit of her stomach as she remembered the sensation of his arm around her, pulling her against his hard of his body. The warmth tingled her.

It scared her too.

It would not be good to get into a relationship with Arnav Singh Raizada. The man carried heavy baggage from the past. He was scarred – from his own accident and his handicap, his father’s death, the hatred for the girl who he thought had come between him and his father. What would happen when he learnt that it was her?

No. She should avoid him and run away.

But the thought crumpled something inside her. It dulled the excitement and aroused a sense of discomfort, almost akin to sadness.

Indeed her reactions to Arnav Singh Raizada were scaring her to no end.  What was she going to do?

 

Hours later as the sunlight broke through the curtains, Khushi was still pondering over the same question. The night had been restless, where she dreamt intermittently of Arnav who kissed her with passion and then told her how he hated her for tarnishing his father’s memories.

Unlike the other mornings, where she would rush to work and put in an hour and half preparing the painting she would be restoring before breakfast, Khushi spent the morning in bed. With her dreams and the last evening still vivid in the mind, she felt strangely shy and reluctant to face Arnav just yet. She would have to soon, but she could take some time, couldn’t she?

It was only when she had heard Anijili’s laughter that she went downstairs to the dining room. Nisha and Aditi were telling their Mamu about their fight in the school while Anjili hovered around the table. But it was the hooded brown eyes that pinned her as soon as she entered. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked to the table and took the chair. He sat straight, barely moving, nodding when Aditi or Nisha asked for something. There was something strange, almost hostile in his attitude. It confused Khushi.

‘I trust you slept well, Ms Gupta,’ he bit out as she took a toast.

‘Yes. Thank you,’ she nodded in confusion and looked away. Khushi’s eyes fell on Nisha, who looked at her mama and then turned to her, her little eyes narrow with distrust. Khushi tried to smile but the girl did not return the smile.

‘Hope all was well, yesterday, Khushi,’ Anjili seemed unaware of the tension simmering around the table. ‘I had to go early. The girls were alone.’

‘Yes…yes. All is well. I was just a little tired and went to bed early.’

‘And delayed the work in the morning. I must tell you Ms. Gupta that you have only two weeks now to finish the paintings and leave.’

Khushi’s eyes flew up in dismay as she heard Anjili gasp. Why was he being so harsh? Did he regret last evening?

‘Arnav, what do you mean by that? Khushiji is working hard and is doing a wonderful job,’ she said to her brother before turning to Khushi. ‘He doesn’t mean that.  We really appreciate what you have done.’

‘But that does not mean that we should forget that she is an outsider, a visitor who would leave us soon. Would be good to remember that and work towards the end of this project, Anjili.’ With that Arnav rose, strapped his walking stick to his hand and left the room.

 

 

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