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The Days After

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Chapter1

The day after his 33rd birthday Maan woke as he sometimes had over the past 6 weeks, with Geet warm and soft pillowed on his chest, held secure within the circle of his arms. Unlike all the mornings past, this morning there was no feeling of guilt, no self-loathing, no need to protect Geet from himself. Instead, he breathed a sigh of contentment, then smiled as Geet murmured in her sleep “Maan”.

Loosening his hold slightly, he looked down at her face. The sindoor he’d filled in her maang last night had spread a little (no doubt there were traces of it to be found on him too), and a small frown creased her forehead.

Gently, he placed a kiss on her forehead, soothing her. “Geet” he whispered “Geet, utho”.

“Maan, mujhe sone dein, mujhe bahut neend aarahi hai”

“Geet, theek hai, tum soti raho, mein jaraha hoon. Dadi ka phone aaya tha, woh pooch raheen theen ke hum kahan hain”

“Dadi” Geets eyes opened suddenly “Dadi poochraheen theen. Aap ne kya bataya unko”

“Geet, woh pareshaan horahi theen, shaam ke paanch baje hain, aur hamara koi pata nahin tha kisi ko”

Geet snuggled into his chest a little more, her hand clasping the taveez where it lay on his chest, then suddenly went still as his words penetrated her sleep-muffled mind.

“Paanch baje hain. Shaam ke paanch baje hain.” Her eyes popped open and she suddenly started to pull away from him

“Maan, shaam ke paanch kaise bajsakte hain, aap ko ghalatfehmi horahi hai” Sitting up, she looked outside the window. “Maan, shaam ke paanch kaise baj gaye, aap ne mujhe pehle kyun nahin jagaya”

Maan smiled- his Hoshiyarpur express was back; his heart sang with the realisation that despite everything, he hadn’t managed to drive her away, that she was his to love and tease and torment.

“Geet, pareshan mat ho, mein sirf tumhein chedrraha tha, Dadi humara intezaar nahin karrahi hain. Unka do teen ghante pehle phone aya tha, woh aur Anvesha aaj sham kaheen dinner pe jarahe hain- meine unse kehdiya tha ke hum log unko kal milenge”

“Magar Maan, shaam ke paanch kaise bajgaye, abhi to raat thi”

“Geet, hum donon bahut dinon ke baad chein se soye hain; mein tumhare baghair acchi tarha se so nahin paraha tha, aur tumhari neend bhi theek se nahin horahi thi. Aur phir meine tumhein raat bhi zyada kahan sone diya tha”

He smiled as he spoke, looking down at her and watching the blush spread across her face. With a wicked grin he said “Tumne bhi mujhe raat bhar jagaye rakha” then laughed as she buried her face into his chest.

“Maan, please”

“Chalo, kuch nahin kehta. Magar dekho, mujhe bhook bahut lagrahi hai, aur meri biwi ko meri thodi bhi fikr nahin. Jaake mein Nakul se thoda khana maangleta hoon, nahin to mera kya hoga”

He tilted her face up gently with his fingers, and brushed a gentle kiss across her lips “Mishti se raat bhar dil bhar liya, magar thoda ab khana bhi khana padega na”

She smiled, whilst she blushed even harder.

Maan rolled away from her, and stood up as Geet squeaked and closed her eyes “Geet, kal raat ke baad tumhein mujhse sharam to nahin aasakti, aankhen khollo”

He bent down and kissed her hard on the lips, and she opened her eyes in surprise then laughed as she noticed that he was wearing his trousers again.

He moved as if to pull the sheets from her, and she grabbed at them “Maan, aap khana ke liye Nakul ko phone kardijiye, main abhi aayi”

Realising that she was feeling a bit exposed, he smiled at her lovingly and walked out of the room, picking his cell phone up as he went.

As Geet started to get out of bed, she became aware of that parts of her body were more sensitive than normal, and that certain areas were decidedly sore. She walked gingerly to the bathroom, wincing as the muscles in her legs protested.

Standing in the shower, she ran her hands over her body, blushing as she remembered Maan’s hands taking the same path repeatedly during the tumultuous night just past. She noted small bruises on her breasts and thighs, then smiled as she realised that Maan was likely branded in the same way.

Finishing her shower, she reached for the bathrobe, then realised she hadn’t planned very well; she had no replacement clothes for the ones that Maan had torn in his haste last night.

She emerged from the bathroom in the bathrobe, then smiled as Maan walked in at the same time. Maan smiled back, but the smile quickly turned to a frown as he saw the way she was walking. His ever present over-protectiveness reared its head again and he strode across the room and picked her up.

“Kya hua Geet, tumhein chot to nahin aayi” . She lay her hand on his cheek, unable to resist “Nahin koi aisi baat nahin hai, mein theek hoon. Bas..........” As she hesitated, unsure how exactly to tell him what was wrong, she felt him go still as realisation hit and saw in amazement that he was blushing.

“Geet, woh.... tum theek to ho, maine..................”

Maan inwardly cursed himself—why on earth was he not just able to say the words, ask her if he had hurt her, or demanded too much of her last night. Why had he been so insatiable, why hadn’t he been able to control himself. Why hadn’t he remembered what had happened the last time he lost control with her. As he continued to berate himself, he felt Geet exert a slight pressure with her hand, turning his face to look down at her “Iss mein aap ki koi ghalti nahin hai, na koi aisi baat hai jo aap pareshan ho; abhi thodi der mein main bilkul theek hongi. Har baat ke liye aap apne aap ko kyun doshi maante ho?”

“Nahin, aisi koi baat nahin hai, main bas soch raha tha”

As he spoke, Maan walked towards the rocking chair placed at the window. Rather than just seating her in it, he sat himself and kept her securely in his lap. As their eyes met, a hundred thoughts were shared between them, reassuring him that she was alright and that he hadn’t hurt her.

Maan sat back and began a gentle rocking motion.

She looked at him in surprise “Nakul aata hoga, khana leke—main kapde to pehnloon”

“Geet, ek minute meri baat sunlo, phir hum ghar waapas chalte hain. Nakul khaana wahin laga raha hai, meine usse kehdiya hai”

Mollified, she sat back in his arms, soothed by the feel of his heartbeat under her ear and the sight of the taveez and the continuing gentle rocking.

“Geet, mujhe London jaana hai ek hafte ke liye, tum chalogi mere saath? Main kaafi masroof honga, meetings bahut hain, magar hum log thoda ghoom sakte hain, aur kuch waqt akele guzaar sakte hain. Agar tum chaho to yahan reh sakti ho Dadi aur Anvesha ke saath, main yeh nahin chahta ke tum akele din bhar bore ho.”

As he spoke, he looked down at her bowed head, willing her to understand that he didn’t want to be apart from her, even for a week. He felt more than heard the smile in her voice as she spoke “main bhi aap se alag nahin hona chahti, mujhe accha lagega aap ke saath chalna” She felt the tension leave his body as he heard her answer.

He kissed the top of her head before he spoke again “Theek hai, mein kal sab bandobast kardoonga, hum log ek hafte baad chalenge.” After sitting for a few moments more, the comfortable silence between them was broken by the sound of his growling stomach. His face took on the Dusht danav look she knew so well and she laughed “Ab aap apne peyt pe to naraaz mat ho, woh kya karsakta hai agar usse bhook lagi hai. Chaliye ghar chalte hain”

She climbed slowly out of his lap and then stopped, realising that she didn’t actually have any clothes to wear. He stood, giving her a wicked smile “Kya hua Geet, koi problem”

“Dekhiye, ye sab aap ki hi ghalti hai, ab mein kya karoon”

“Tumhein kuch karne ki zaroorat nahin hai, main tumhein sahi salamat ghar pahonchaoonga”

As he spoke, he swept her up into his arms, and began carrying her back to the main house.

She protested but he didn’t pay any attention. He carried her the way he used to, from the outhouse to his room and as their eyes met they shared a feeling of sadness for the child who was never to be born.

He stopped at their bedroom door and waited for her to look at him again. When she did, he said “Geet, main koshish karoonga ke aaj ke baad tumhari zindagi mein khushiyaan hi khushiyaan bharoon. Yeh Maan Singh Khurana ka waada hai”

She laughed out loud with joy as he stepped into their room, ready to begin life anew.

 

Chapter 2

The next two days passed comfortably; though they didn’t make love again (she was a bit too sore) they slept in each other’s arms every night, and during the day she spent time with Dadi and Anvesha, buying the few things he hadn’t already lavished on her. She now possessed a set of designer luggage, an easy to use but high end digital camera, a mobile phone (she’d refused one till now, but he insisted that he wouldn’t be able to let her out of his sight if he didn’t have a way of contacting her) and some clothes designed to handle the cold (even though Delhi was having a cold winter, it was nothing like the snow covering England at the moment, and he didn’t want a repeat of what happened in Manali, when she ended up without any suitable outer garments).

On the third morning, Maan remembered something important. They were standing in their bed room, and he was watching as she put her earrings on in front of the mirror.

“Arre Geet, tumhare paas tumhara birth certificate hai kya? Passport banwane ke liye chahiye.”

“Haan, hai na; jab main Hoshiyaarpour se aayi thi to Baba ne jo cheezien deen theen, un mein unhone kuch yeh kaaghazaat bhi rakhdiye the; mera birth certificate bhi tha aur mere school ke certificate bhi”

At the thought of that turbulent time in her life, her voice trembled a little and their eyes met in the mirror. He walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.

“Geet”

“Nahin, koi baat nahin, main theek hoon”

He drew her back towards him and slipped his arms around her waist, resting his cheek against her hair.

“Geet, agar tumhein unki yaad aati hai, ya dukh hota hai, to mujhse chupane ki zaroorrat nahin hai”

As she relaxed into his embrace, turning round to adopt her favorite position, with her head resting over his heart and her hand covering the taveez, she said “Nahin aisi koi baat nahin. Jab se aap mile hain to mera woh dard kam hogaya hai, magar kabhi kabhi khayal aata hai......................”

He tilted her face up to look down into her eyes, then kissed her forehead “Geet, main hoon na. Ab mat socho un dinon ke baare mein.”

Stepping back a little, he bent down and took a pinch from the sindoor case on her dressing table. She smiled as she noted the action, then bent her head slightly to allow him easy access to her maang; this daily ritual had continued and become a vital part of the start to their day.

He kissed her forehead again, then her eyes then her lips; the last kiss lingered and deepened until the heat between them threatened to flare out of control.

He pulled back, groaned and said “Geet, mujhe office jaana hai.” He leaned his forehead against hers as they struggled for control.

Taking a deep breath, he took her by the shoulders and put her slightly away from him “Ab dekho, mujhe jaana hi hai, aaj bahut zaroori meeting hai meri, magar mein shaam ko che (6) baje tak aajaaoonga. Aaj shaam.................”

He smiled wickedly at her, and she blushed.

“Dekho, woh birth certificate zaro dedo. Aaj passport banwadoonga, to phir kal visa hojayega”

She turned away to the wardrobe and took out a slim file containing the few important papers her father had thought to give her. She rifled through them, then said “Yeh poora lelijiye, mujhe pata nahin ismein se aap ko kya chahiye ho”

He took the file from her then stepped close again, laying a gentle kiss on her lips, more as a promise of delights to come than anything else.

His hand came up to caress her cheek, stroking back a stray lock of hair “Geet”.

As he leaned in for another kiss, she smiled and put her hands on his chest “Dekhiye, aise kaam nahin chalsakta, Ab aap ko jaana hi hoga. Agar aap abhi nahin gaye, to shaam ko aate aate der hojayegi”

As her eyes sparkled up at him, he laughed and said “Geet, meine kabhi nahin sochatha ke woh din bhi aayega jab Maan Singh Khurana kaam chor banjayega. Tumne mujh pe pata nahin kya jaadoo kiya hai”

He stepped back and held out his hand; they inter-wove their fingers and walked out of the room together.

 

Chapter 3

After a quick breakfast with Dadi and Anvesha, Maan left for work, the file containing Geet’s meagre paperwork in his hands.

On the way to work, he leafed through it, finding her birth certificate with ease. He read down, noting her parents names then stopped as he read the birth date. He read it again, trying to make sense of it, then stared in shock as his stunned brain calculated Geet’s age.

Geet was only 19! Her 20th birthday was still 2 months away, making her barely a year older than Anvesha.

He’d known that she was young, but somehow had not really thought about the reality of it even on their wedding day. Adi had dealt with all the paperwork, sorting out the marriage licence and Maan had never even thought to inquire or glance at the paperwork. He’d been so in love that it was a surprise that he’d been able to make any sensible decisions about the business, behaving more like a love-struck teenager than a grown man about to enter the wedded state.

Even after that, when Geet had been admitted to the hospital, Adi had handled everything. Maan had been in on fit state to deal with anything, and had leaned heavily on his assistant; to be honest, Adi had proved himself a great asset and true friend and Maan had had no problems with letting him take care of everything; his only focus at that time had been Geet.

As his mind struggled to cope with the idea that his bride was only 19, meaning that he was 14 years older than her, the car stopped. He looked outside and saw that they had arrived at the office.

Looking down at the papers in his hand again, he took a breath and then put them away. He’d think about it later.

As he walked through the office on his way to his cabin, he looked (as he always did) to the room where Geet used to sit, smiling as he remembered some of their tussles. His smile faded as he realised how vulnerable and inexperienced she had been then, and how he had treated her, the demands he had made of her.

Forcing himself to stop thinking about his wife, he walked into his cabin and sat down, then rang Adi. “Adi, zara aana cabin mein”

When Adi walked in, Maan looked up and snorted inwardly, remembering the unsure, stammering boy who had come to work for him two years ago and comparing him to the confident, smart man standing in front of him now. Adi and that little receptionist, Geet’s friend, what was her name – Pinky, they had both blossomed since Sasha had moved to Mumbai.

“Adi, ek kaam hai; Geet ka passport aur London ke liye Visa banwana hai, woh mere saath London jayegi. Aur hotel ko bhi inform karke kehdena ke woh suite badaldein. Yeh kaam karwado, phir hum london wali meetings ke baare mein baat karte hain.”

As he opened the pertinent files on his laptop, he put Geet to the back of his mind, realising that he wouldn’t be able to concentrate if he thought about her all day.

Maan Singh Khurana put his mind to business and settled in for another busy day.

 

Chapter 4

At home Geet sat with Dadi, she said “Dadi, yeh jo mujhe apne saath London leke jaarahe hain. Main yeh nahin chahti ke meri wajha se inhein koi pareshani ho, please aap mujhe thoda London ke baare mein batayengi, ke mujhe wahan kya kya karna hoga”

“Geet beta, aise aap ko pareshaan hone ki zaroorat nahin hai. Aap wahan jaaiyye, wahan aap yaqeenan Savoy hotel mein hi rahengi, Maan hamesha waheen rehte hain. Aap ko kisi cheez ki pareshani nahin hogi. Wahan ek do business dinners zaroor honge. Chaliye, hum aapke kapde choose karwadete hain, aur thode Maan ke liye bhi packing karwadete hain. Ussi ke saath saath hum aap ke aur sawaalon ka bhi jawaab dedenge”

Anvesha walked in and said “Dadi, main in logon ke saath pata nahin kyun nahin jasakti, bahut dinon se London mein shopping nahin ki hai, aap bhi chal sakti hain”

Savitri waited until Geet had walked forward a few steps then glared at Anvesha “Nahin Annie,” she said sweetly through gritted teeth “agle hafton mein humein kafi jagha dinner mein jaana hai, aise achaanak un logon ko mana nahin karsakte”

She waited until Anni was standing next to her then whispered “Annie thoda khayal kijiye aap, yeh donon kahin Honeymoon pe nahin gaye, iss bahane London mein hi thoda waqt akele guzar lenge, aap kabab mein haddi kyun banna chahrahi hain”

“Arre Dadi, yeh log itne dinon se to saath hain, inko honeymoon ki aisi kya zaroorat. Jab se hospital se Geet ghar aayi to inka Honeymoon hi honeymoon hi chal raha hai”

“Bas Annie, aap ko hum London Christmas ke baad lejayenge, in logon ko abhi jaane do”

As Annie sighed and nodded her assent, Savitri breathed a sigh of relief. Maan and Geet had tried to hide it from her, but she knew that things had not been right between them since Geet came home from the hospital. There had been a strange constraint between them and they didn’t touch (though Maan was unable to stay more than a few inches away from Geet), whereas before Maan had been unable to stop himself from laying gentle caresses on Geet whenever he thought no one was looking. Geet had gone from being a bubbly chatterbox to a quiet shadow of her former self, and whilst some of that could be attributed to her loss, a large part of it was linked to Maan- that was obvious from the way Geet’s eyes followed Maan around the room, the yearning in her eyes almost painful to behold.

Something had obviously happened on the night of Maan’s birthday; since then the couple seemed to be back to the loving relationship they’d enjoyed before the miscarriage. Still, Savitri felt strongly that their relationship would be strengthened by some time alone together. If she had to hogtie Annie to keep her from becoming the third wheel, she would!

Up in Geet’s bedroom, Savitri found Geet standing in front of the wardrobes, looking uncertainly at the many outfits hanging there.

“Bete, aayiye, hum dekhte hain. Teen chaar sariyan lelijiye, woh dinners mein kaam aayenge- dekhein yeh wali, aur yeh donon aur mere khayaal se ye donon bhi rakhlein” Whilst she was speaking Savitri picked out 5 saris and laid them on the bed.

“Ab din ke liye aap kya pasand karengi?”

“Dadi, mujhe hindustani kapdon ke ilawa kisi cheez ki aadat hi nahin hai, main kya karoon”

“Koi aap ko iss mein sharminda hone ki zaroorat nahin hai,ab dekhiye ya to aap thode halki saariyaan le sakti hain, ya phir aap yeh churidaar suit lelein” Savitri replied

“Geet, aap ko bilkul pareshaan hone ki zaroorat nahin hai; aap jaisi hain waisi hi acchi hain. Maan ke saath jaiyye, khush rahiye. Humein pata hai ke aap ki pehle ki zindagi kaafi farq thi, aur ab kaafi cheezin aap ko nayi nayi lag rahi hongi, magar aisa to hamesha hota hai, ladki jab apne pati ke ghar kati hai to usse bahut sari naye tareeqqe seekhna padte hain. Aap ke saath yahi horaha hai.

Aap to jaanti hain, aap ki tabiyat kharab hone ki wajha se bahut kuch tal gaya tha, magar ab jab aap London se wapas aayengi to phir hum dheere dheere aap ko woh sab samjhadenge jo Khurana Khandan ki badi bahu ko jaanna chahiye”

As she spoke, she pointed out a few select suits.

“Yahi leleti hoon Dadi, yahi sahi hain. Shayad waqt ke saath saath mujhe doosre kapdon ki aadat padjayegi, magar abhi nahin. Aur main aap ki baat dhiyaan mein rakhkhoongi, jab hum lautke aayenge to phir mein aap se sab seekhna shuru karoongi”

As Geet put the selected suits on the pile that was building up on the bed, she heard one of the drawers being pulled open

“Aur raat ke liye” Savitri said wickedly “main sochti hoon aap ko yeh rakhlene chahiye”. She lifted out 5 or 6 silky negligees, smiling as Geet blushed. She put them on the pile on the bed, then moved towards Maan’s wardrobes.

Savitri picked out several smart suits, and then picked out an equal number of crisp white long sleeved shirts and ties. “Waqt ke saath saath to aaphi ye sab karengi Geet, yeh dekhlein Maan jab kaheen bahar jaate hain to woh thoda formal zyada hoke jaate hain. Dinners ke liye yeh wale suit hojayenge” she said, picking out a selection of more formal suits “aur shaam ke liye to jeans aur shirt. Raat ke liye..........”

Geet blushed harder than she thought possible, aware that Maan had not worn anything to bed over the last 2 nights “Dadi, woh main dekhloongi” she stammered.

Savitri hid a smile as she turned away “Theek hai bete, hum Nakul se kehdete hain, woh yeh sab rakhwadega aur jo bhi kuch hum bhoolehonge woh zaroor rakhdega, Aap fikr mat kijiye woh yeh sab bahut zamaane se karraha hai”

“Nakul yahan bahut dinon se hai Dadi” Geet asked curiously.

“Ji bete, woh yahan pichle bees saal se kaam karraha hai, woh to ghar ka hissa hai”

As she spoke, Savitri slipped her arm through Geets and started guiding her out of the room “chaliye hum thoda thak gaye hain yeh sab karte karte, thoda lunch karelein phir hum shaam tak araam karenge. Annie aur hamara shaam ka bulawa hai, to Maan aur aap aaj shaam akele honge”

“Theek hai Dadi”

 

Chapter 5

After lunch, once Dadi was resting in her room, Geet wandered around KM. The place was huge and she didn’t recognise half the rooms she came across. She stopped for a time at the terrace where so many important events in her relationship with Maan has happened.

As she wandered back to her room, she met Annie. She spoke hesitantly, aware that Maan’s sister didn’t really understand her very well, and definitely didn’t understand why Maan had married her “Annie, kahan se aarahi ho?” she stopped, cursing herself for saying the wrong thing, aware that the question could be taken the wrong way.

Luckily Annie seemed to be in a good mood “Bas Bhabi, doston ke saath zara lunch pe gayi thi, phir hum log thodi shopping karne nikle. Ab mein bas back massage ke liye jarahi hoon, phir shaam ko Dadi ke saath”

“Accha, Tum roz aise hi waqt guzaarti ho? Doston ke saath?”

As Maan walked in to the house, he saw his wife and sister standing together, talking. Concerned, for he knew that their relationship was not yet comfortable, he walked towards them. He first thing he hear was “Haan bhabi, aur kya. Yahi to umar hai yeh sab karne ki”

Walking up to Geet and taking her hand, he said “Kis cheez ki umar hai Annie”

Glancing down at where Maan and Geet’s finger were slotting together, then noting the blush rising on Geet’s cheeks, Annie rolled her eyes.

“Bhai, mein bas yeh kehrahi thi Bhabi se ke meri umar cheezein enjoy karne ki hai, ghoomne ki hai, maze karne ki hai. Agar mein ab nahin karoongi to phir kab, shaadi ke baad? Of course not, maza to abhi hi karoongi na”

As she spoke Annie glanced down at the slim watch encircling her wrist “Oh damn, mujhe der horahi hai, main chali” she said as she hurried away.

Geet could feel the slight tension that had appeared in Maan’s body at Annie’s word, but wasn’t sure what had troubled him. Turning towards him, she teased “Aap aagaye, abhi to che nahin baje hain, kya meri bahut yaad aarahi thi?” hoping to get him to relax.

He shook off the feeling of guilt which had assailed him and said “Aur nahin to kya, tumhari yaad to mujhe har waqt satati hai. Aur Nakul ke haath ke khaane ki bhi yaad aarahi thi”

Laughing, she leaned into him and said “Chaliye phir mein Nakul se aapki mulaqat karwadeti hoon, aap usse khane ke baare mein pooch lijiye”

As they walked together, he said “to kya Dadi aur Annie aaj bhi bahar jaarahe hain?”

“Haan, aaj sirf mein aur aap honge khane pe”

As she shyly glanced up at him, she felt his fingers tighten on hers. A slow smile grew on his face, before he leaned down to quickly place a hard hungry kiss on her lips, a taste of things to come.

During dinner, Maan and Geet carried on a desultory conversation, whilst their eyes spoke to each other with far more intensity. After they had finished eating, Maan stood and held out a hand to Geet.

He pulled her to her feet, pulled her close into his body and whispered “Geet, mera intezaar karogi- bas thodi der ke liye mujhe jaana hai”

As she looked up at him and smiled her assent, he groaned and pulled her close, his tongue licking gently at her lips before he kissed her with hungry desperation. He lifted his head and looked down into her dazed eyes, saying “Your lips taste much better than the chocolate mousse” He smiled once more before he walked away, leaving Geet standing there. She brought her fingers to her lips, touching the slightly swollen surfaces with wonder.

She made her way back to their room and stood at the wardrobe, thinking about the last few days. It had taken such a long time and so much had happened, but at this moment she was so happy that she felt genuinely scared, as if someone might come along at any moment and steal away her hard won happiness.

Shaking off the dark thoughts that were suddenly troubling her, she pulled a purple silk negligee from its resting place, wondering anew at the beautiful things she now owned.

She laid it out on the bed, then entered the bathroom, turning on the shower before undressing and stepping in.

She washed her hair, then lathered herself using the lovely scented soap that she’d become addicted to since leaving hospital.

She stepped out of the shower, then took a handful of body lotion, starting to smooth it over her arms and torso. As she reached her breasts, she heard a noise behind her, and turned, instinctively bringing her arms up to cover herself.

Maan stood there, his eyes hot as they roamed over the expanse of skin visible to him.

“Main kuch madad kardoon”

As he walked into the bathroom, she started backing away, acutely aware of her nakedness and feeling absurdly shy at having been found beautifying herself for him.

He put a hand out and caught her by the waist, pulling her close. He brought his lips to her neck, his tongue flickering out to trace the path of one of the droplets of waters trickling from her hair.

She gasped as he repeated the action, her eyes closing as her hands came up to grasp his shoulders, her neck arching back to allow him easier access.

He lifted his head slightly to whisper in her ear “Cream thodi yahan rehgayi hai” as he brought his free hand to her breast. As he began a gentle circular motion, she gasped, clinging on to his shoulders. He smiled saying “kya baat Geet, mere haat thande hain kya”

He stepped back and took his shirt off, letting it fall to the floor.

“aao, mein tumhein thoda garam kardoon” he said, bringing her close, so her breasts brushed against his chest.

As she moaned, he nuzzled the skin just below her ear, whispering “Geet, mein tumhare liye paagal hora hoon, mein tumhare bina jee nahin paata hoon”

She pressed close to him, then opened her eyes suddenly as he swept her into his arms then walked into the bedroom.

He lay her on the bed, then took of his trousers before he lay next to her. He kissed her gently as his hand roamed her body; his lips trailed down her neck and then between her breasts, kissing the soft skin just next to the pendant he had given her.

As his lips trailed lower, her fingers ran through his hair; the passion between them flared hotter and hotter, until nothing remained except feelings and pleasure.

 

Chapter 6

A few hours later, Maan woke suddenly as sounds of distress penetrated his sleep. He felt wetness on his chest, and felt the sobs wracking Geet’s body.

“Geet, Geet kya hua”

He saw she was still sleeping and tried again “Geet, Geet, utho, yahan sirf mein hoon, aankhein kholo na”

He held her close and kissed her forehead “Geet, uthjao,mujhse tumhare aansoo nahin dekhe jaate”

As he continued to rock her, he felt the shudders running through her body lessen in strength until she relaxed into sleep again.

Maan looked at the bedside clock, noting that it was still only 4am. He lay there, holding the warm weight of his sleeping wife close to his heart- her tears still wet on his chest. His thought of what he’d learned, of how young she was.

He knew she loved him, there was no doubt in his mind on that score. But lying there in the dark with the reminder of how much she had already suffered in her short life drying on his chest, he couldn’t help but wonder whether her love would stay as strong as it was now. He’d witnessed Anvesha falling in and out of love; every time she vowed that it was forever, every man she loved her true soul mate.

They’d had no option but to marry when they did, Geet’s pregnancy had set the timetable. But now that the pregnancy had ended, he wondered whether in time Geet might regret being bound to him, being trapped in marriage to a man so much older than her, not having had the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms that Annie did, the simple enjoyment of being a young woman.

Maan wondered why some lives were so full of pain. Geet’s life had never been easy, trapped as she had been in a family where women were hardly treated as human. She’d had little if any happiness or freedom as a child. If Dev had not entered her life, she would have by now been the wife of some other man (his arms tightened around her at the thought), perhaps might have been pregnant with his child. Whether she would have been happy or not was a question he would never be able to answer. There was no way she would ever have had the freedoms Anvesha enjoyed, the knowledge that someone would always be there for her.

Well, Dev had entered her life, ruined it. She’d had to leave her family, fight for her life, for her freedom. Even then she had not been truly free; instead she had carried the responsibility of her child, she’d had to come to his office work for him and he’d never made it easy on her. She’d been fighting and fighting, never having a moment to think about herself or what she wanted.

He’d been drawn to that strength, to the woman who had stood up to him. He’d fallen in love with her as more and more facets of her personality revealed themselves. Idiot that he was, he’d tortured her for his perceived weakness, making her suffer for his vulnerability to her. In spite of everything he’d done to her, every way he’d made her already difficult life more difficult, she’d still found something in him to love.

They’d weathered the storm of Dev’s revelation and Naintara’s accusations, emerging from the fire-storm with a love so strong that he thought it could withstand anything.

But now he was assailed by doubts. He knew his Geet, she would stand by him forever. What he couldn’t bear was the thought that some day she would stay with him only because she had to, not because she wanted to. What if her love for him for like his love for Sameera? At the time, he’d thought that Sameera was everything, was the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. Looking back, he realised that the love he’d been capable of at the age of 20 was only a minute fraction of the all consuming obsession he had for Geet now.

What if, 6 months from now, he looked in Geet’s eyes and didn’t see love there anymore? How would her bear it?

He held her close, inwardly warring with his fears. He decided then and there that he would never let the situation arise- he would give Geet every possible happiness and comfort, he would fill her life with so much love and joy that she never felt trapped, never felt that she had missed out on anything.

With that thought, he kissed Geet’s hair, then resolutely closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep.

 

Chapter 7

The next few days passed quickly; Maan was kept busy making sure that there were no outstanding issues to be dealt with whilst he was away, whilst Dadi had taken Geet in hand and was introducing her into Delhi society.

Though Geet never mentioned it, not wanting to hurt Dadi’s feelings, the daily routine of getting dressed and going to interminable lunches or tea parties or kitty parties was excruciatingly boring. She’d become used to going to the office, used to working and doing something. She’d only been an assistant, but she’d still been using her brain far more than she was now. When she had been pregnant and had a baby to look forward to, there had been no question of her returning to the office- she’d wanted to devote herself to her child. But now—now she wanted to go to work, to use her brain. If it had been possible, she would have wanted to study, to go to college or university, but she couldn’t imagine that ever happening so she locked that dream away behind a closed door in her heart.

She spent every night locked in Maan’s embrace, using the passion filled hours to strengthen the bond between them. For some reason, she didn’t mention her boredom, her lack of stimulation, perhaps not wanting to disrupt the bond that had been so strained between them.

Finally the day arrived for Maan and Geet to fly to London. Their flight was at 2pm, so Maan went to the office for a few last minute matters, leaving Geet to have a leisurely shower and get ready for the trip.

Maan phoned a little later and said “Geet yahan der hogayi hai, driver se kaho mujhe office se lete hue airport chale. Sab documents meri desk ki drawer mein hain, bas poori file lelena”

Suppressing the urge to tell him that she could probably handle the task without such detailed instructions, Geet said “Theek hai, main aati hoon”

She explained the situation to Dadi, and was ready to leave within 15 minutes.

Maan was waiting in his office; as she walked through, she saw Adi and Pinky and waved. Pinky ran over and gave her a hug, squealing “Geet, tum kaisi ho, tumhe ITNE dinon se nahin dekha hai. DD tumhara accha khayal rakhrahe hain na, woh to tumhein dekhke hi pata chal raha hai. Tum kitni acchi lagrahi ho in kapdon mein”

Adi came over too saying “Pinky bas, Geet ko der horahi hai. Geet, tum kaisi ho?” As he looked at Geet, she noted how close he stood to Pinky, how his gaze rested on her with possessive affection.

“mein bilkul theek hoon Adi sir, bas thodi der horahi hai to Maan sir , mera matlab hai Maan ko bulaloon nahin to woh naraaz honge”

Adi smiled as he heard the slip; “Maan sir ko mein bulata hoon tum tab tak pinky se baat karo”. Touching Pinky gently on the shoulder, he looked down at her, telling her something with his eyes.

Adi walked away and Pinky’s eyes followed him, her open face unable to hide the love she felt. “Geet, DD shaadi ke baad kaise hain, tum khush to ho na”

Geet smiled “Pinky, shaadi ke baad mein itni khush hoon ke main soch bhi nahin sakti thi ke duniya mein itni khushiyaan hain. Tum fikr mat karo, ek din tumhein bhi koi aisa milega jo tumhein itni mohabbat karega. Kya pata, woh abhi bhi tumhari zindagi mein ho, bas tumhe abhi pata nahin ho ke woh tumhein chahta hai”

Pinky blushed “nahin Geet, mujhe kaun chahega, mein to yahan sirf receptionist hoon”

“Pinky, aisi koi baat nahin hai. Mujhe yaqeen hai ke agar tum thoda sa dheyaan dogi to tumhein fauran pata chal jayega ke tumhein kaun chahta hai. Mein jab lautoongi, to zara baat hogi, magar abhi der horahi hai”

As she spoke, she felt Maan’s eyes on her—she looked up and felt a shock of electricity pass through her as it always did when he was near.

“Geet” Her voice caressed her as he came close “Chalo, der horahi hai. Adi, mein London pahonchke tumhein phone kardoonga”

He put his hand in the small of Geet’s back, urging her forward; as soon as they were few steps away from the other couple, his hand began moving in a gentle caress, his fingers stroking up and down the exposed length of her spine. “Geet, tum sari mein araam se rahogi, flight bahut lambi hai, aur jab hum wahan pahonchenge to kaafi thand hogi?”

She took a deep breath to help control her body’s reaction to his touch “nahin, mein theek hoon, aur mere paas coat hai, wahan pahonchke pehenloogi”

She turned and smiled at him- compelled, he leaned forward and kissed her; it was only the knowledge that the driver was gawping at the sight of MSK in thrall to his wife that made him release her. It was almost indecent how obsessed with her he was, how he lived for her happiness. At times, he almost wanted to fight against the power she had over him, then he remembered how much pain he had caused her whilst fighting his feelings the first time. He couldn’t ever do that to her again, and after all it wasn’t her fault that she made him feel like a caveman around her. As he reminded himself that he needed to work on his self control, he opened the door for her stopping the driver from stepping forward with a look. When she was comfortably seated, he joined her in the back seat, his hand reaching for hers.

The drive to the airport and the boarding procedure went smoothly, and they were soon ensconced in the first class seats Adi’s assistant had booked.

Though Geet had flown with him before to Manali, this was a different experience altogether and she was determined to enjoy it.

As they taxied down the run way to prepare for take off, she turned to him and said “maan, agar mein aap ko batana bhool jaaoon, to aap ko bas yeh pata hona chahiye, ke mujhe aap ke saath iss hafte bahut maza aaya”

She smiled as her raised their joined hands to his lips, then turned to look at the view from her window. As Delhi grew smaller and smaller, she sat back and closed her eyes; within a few minutes she was asleep.

Geet woke a few hours later, surprised to find herself laying flat—the seat had been adjusted, but she had slept through it all. She glanced over at Maan sleeping beside her; he had been working so hard this past week that he’d been running short of sleep.

Looking out the window, she noted the changing scenery below; the cloud cover was sparse and she could see hints of snow topped peaks. Looking at the map, she noted they were flying over the Alps. There were only another 90minutes left of the flight, so she eased her hand out of Maan’s grasp and started to stand.

“Geet” his eyes opened suddenly “theek to ho”

“Sab theek hai, mein bas abhi aayi”

Picking up her handbag, she made her way to the small bathroom, where she proceeded to brush her teeth, reapply her makeup and generally freshen up.

When she returned to her seat, she found Maan had used the time in a similar way, looking alert and back to his dusht danav manner.

As she watched, a stewardess approached him with an obvious expression of interest. Geet laughed inwardly as the woman’s flirtatious manner bounced off the DD shield without even making a dent, Maan seemed oblivious to the interest women had in him. As she approached, he stood holding his hand out- she took it and sat down, aware of the other woman’s scrutiny.

Ignoring the stewardess’s insincere smile, she said “ek cup chai laadengi please”

As the woman stalked off, Maan looked at Geet, aware that some feminine behaviours were beyond his understanding. Deciding it was in his best interests to ignore it, he said “bas ab hum pahonchne wale hain, thodi der aur”

After her tea, Geet felt far more refreshed. She turned to look out of the window again, and was struck by the beauty of the London skyline as they approached. The pilot had made an announcement explaining that they would be circling over London for 10 minutes of so, and as she watched, she could make out the river and the beautiful structures next to it.

“Maan, yeh kitni khoobsoorat jagah hai”

As he looked down at the familiar site of London, he saw things with a fresh eye and realised how beautiful it was. He visited so often that he had stopped noticing, but Geet’s comment made him take another look, and he smiled as he replied “Geet, tumhari aankhon se dekhraha hoon to sach much bahut khoobsoorat lag raha hai”

He turned and smiled at her teasingly “Tum se zyada khoobsoorat nahin”
As she started giggling, he kissed the hand he held and settled in for touchdown.

 

Chapter 8

After making their way through customs and immigration, they were greeted by a uniformed chauffeur who took their luggage from the Skycap and led them to a gleaming limousine.

They drove to the Savoy where Maan was greeted as a well-remembered guest.

“Welcome back Mr Khurana. The suite you requested is ready and has been prepared as you wanted. Mrs Khurana, I hope you’ll be very comfortable during your stay with us, please do contact us for anything you need”

They made their way to the suite, and after Maan tipped the porter they were left alone. Geet found a bathroom and freshened up, then wandered into the sitting area. Feeling curiously tense now that she was totally alone with Maan, she wondered where he was.

Geet wandered into the bedroom then stopped suddenly. The room was filled with flowers, the bed covered with a layer of red rose petals. On one of the pillows lay a perfect rose bud, with a small jewellery box next to it. Hearing a noise, she turned and saw Maan standing in the open doorway, a drop of water falling from his hair indicating that he had also taken the opportunity to wash up.

She walked to the bed and picked up the box, looking over at Maan as she did. He gave one of his enigmatic half smiles, gesturing silently for her to open it. As she flipped open the lid, he walked to her side, taking her hand in his.

Geet looked down at the plain gold ring in her hand, then looked up at Maan standing next to her.

“Yeh........”

“Geet, yahan London mein mumkin hai ke har aadmi ko iss sindoor ka matlab na pata ho; pata nahin mujhe kyun yeh khayal bardaasht nahin horaha hai ke koi yeh na jane ke tum meri biwi ho, issliye meine tumhare liye yeh anghooti leli.”

As he spoke he slipped the ring out of its box and held it in his hand. “Geet, humari har tarah se shaadi ho chuki hai, phir bhi pata nahin kyun, mein tumhein aur bandhan mein baandhna chahta hoon, main chahta hoon ke duniya mein sab ko ye pata ho ke tum meri ho, sirf meri”

He slipped the ring onto the finger where her engagement ring sat, then bent to lay a kiss just above it.

As her fingers gripped onto his, he straightened up and drew her closer to him. “Geet, tum zyada thaki to nahin ho” he said, as he rubbed his cheek over hers.

She could feel the heat coursing through her body as she swayed closer to him, turning her head to increase the contact between their faces. She could see the pulse in his neck, and as if compelled leaned in and kissed it.

Maan drew in a sharp breath, his hands rising to encircle her. He drew back a little, bringing his lips to hers in a light kiss designed to tease and torment.

She tried to deepen the kiss but he wouldn’t let her.

“Geet, yeh sirf tumhare liye, aaj sirf tumhare liye”

He stepped back and drew her pallu from her shoulder, gently turning her in front of him as he stripped the sari from her.

She stood there in just her blouse and petticoat, watching as he tossed the sari to one side. He stepped forward and started to undo the hooks on her blouse, leaving a trail of fire where his fingers grazed her skin. As the final hook opened, he pushed the blouse off her shoulders, smoothing his hands over the soft skin of her shoulders.

As she raised a hand as if to touch him, he stepped back and said “maine kaha na Geet, aaj sirf tumhare liye”

For the rest of the night, he laid claim to her body and her heart, imprinting himself onto every nerve ending, driving her insane with pleasure and sensation until she felt that every cell had been stamped with “property of maan singh khurana”.

When she woke the next morning, she was alone in bed.

Memories of the night past ran through her mind; she smiled contentedly then gasped as she heard his voice “Uthgayeen Mrs Khurana?” she turned her head and saw him standing in the doorway again, though today he was wearing only a towel wrapped around his lean hips

She blushed as she saw the way he was looking at her. He walked forward and sat on the bed next to her, then pulled her into his arms. As she snuggled into his chest, her hand reaching for the taveez as always. As he rested his head on her hair, he said “Geet, mujhe jaana hai, meetings hain aaj subha mein, magar mein do teen baje tak aajaoonga, phir hum bahar chalenge.”

As she nodded her assent, the movement rubbing her cheek on his chest, he laughed and put her away from him

“Geet jao nahalo, mein nashta mangwaleta hoon. Jao”

Geet bathed quickly, then emerged to find a trolley full of breakfast waiting for her, and Maan eating a croissant.

“Aaj hum kahan jayenge? Kahin khaas”

“Subha mein tum jahan chaho ja sakti ho, meine hotel walon se kehdiya hai, tumhare liye gadi aur driver ka bandobast kardiya hai, bas tum do baje tak wapas aajaana, phir hum saath chalenge”

Finishing his croissant and gulping down a cup of coffee, he stood and walked towards her. He pulled a miniscule sindoor case from his pocket and took a pinch of sindoor and filled her maang. Geet held the hand containing the case and said “accha, ab mein samjhi aap hamesha meri maang kahan se bharte the; kya yeh aap apne saath har waqt rakhte hain”

“bas ab aadat hogayi hai, yeh hota hai mere saath to aise lagta hai ke tum bhi mere saath ho”

Unspeakably touched, she stepped forward and lay her head over his heart “mein hamesha aap ke saath hoon”

Suddenly self-conscious, she stepped back and smiled up at him “Aap ko kya ab der nahin horahi hai. Jaldi se jaayein phir aap jaldi se aake mujhe ghoomne leke chalein, nahin to phir aap bahana bana ke mujhe ghar mein band rakhenge”

He kissed her once more, then said “theek hai Geet, main chala”, and left the room.

 

Chapter 9

After finishing a generous breakfast, she dressed in one of the less dressy suits that Dadi had helped her select. Deciding that she was going to venture out, she made her way down to the main reception.

“Mrs Khurana, how can I help you”

“My husband told me he’d arranged a car for me” she said, inwardly marvelling that Geet Handa from Hoshiyarpur was standing in one of the most famous hotels in the world being treated as a respected guest.

“Yes of course Mrs Khurana, where would you like me to tell the driver to take you”

“Um, is it possible to tell him just to take me for a drive around London. You see, I’ve never been here before, and I’d just like to see everything”

The receptionist was used to dealing with world weary rich people, who would never have dreamed of admitting that they had never been somewhere before.

Charmed against his will he said “Of course, Mrs Khurana. If you’ll just take a seat in the foyer, I’ll ask the driver to come and inform you when the car is outside”

Phoning down to the drivers section, he asked for one of the drivers, an older man than the one he had originally earmarked for the Khurana bride’s excursion. When his chosen driver came to the phone, he said “Hari, I want you to take this resident out today; she’s the new wife of one of our more fearsome regulars, and she wants to see London. Just make sure she’s back here by 2pm, he’s coming to meet her, and you don’t want to upset him”

As Hari made his way into the foyer, he saw the woman he’d been assigned to today. She sat quietly, looking around the spectacular Savoy foyer with bright eyes.

Geet turned as she heard her name “Mrs Khurana” then stilled briefly. The man approaching her was older, with a grey beard and black pagdi. He reminded her of her Darji, and for a moment fear kept her still, then she looked into his eyes and saw an deep seated kindness that she’d never seen even a hint of in Darji’s eyes. She looked closer and realised that he actually reminded her more of the Sardarji they’d originally met at the road side dhaba.

“Yes, I’m Mrs Khurana”

“Mrs Khurana, I’m Hari and I’ll be your driver this morning. Shall we go, the car’s just outside”

As Hari guided Geet out of the hotel, she said “Hari, can I ask you, aap hindi bolte hain”

“Ji, bolta hoon”

“To theek hai, ab mein aaraam se hoon, mein pareshan horahi thi ke mein sab kaise poochoongi; darasal mein english boltoleti hoon, magar hindi mein zyada aaraam rahega na”

As Hari helped Geet into the back of the car, he thought to himself that it was just as well that his receptionist friend had chosen him to drive Mrs Khurana around—any of the younger drivers would have fallen under her spell within moments and been of no use as a guide at all!!

Hari showed Geet as many sights around London as he could in the short time he had. She’d been distinctly underwhelmed by Buckingham Palace but thrilled by the Houses of Parliament, their stately elegance touching something inside her. He drove her through Hyde Park and then took her out to drive through Richmond Park. Something about the untamed wildness, covered though it was by unfamiliar snow, still managed to remind her of the wide spaces of her home town. As they drove home, she couldn’t help but think of the family she’d left behind, wondering when (if ever) she’d stop wishing that things had turned out differently.

Feeling a little regretful, she walked into the hotel suite. Her heart jumped with pleasure when she saw Maan sitting waiting for her

“Aap jaldi aagaye, aap mujhe phone kardete, main fauran aajati” she exclaimed walking towards him.

Unable to stop himself from touching her, from feeling her soft skin, he put his hand on her elbow and drew her towards him. He just needed to feel her warmth against him, feel her proximity soothe him, draw his weariness out of him.

“Kya hua” she said laying a gentle hand on his cheek “Aap theek to hain,kuch hua to nahin”

“Nahin main bilkul theek hoon, bas...”he said quietly, inhaling her scent. As he stood there, he realised finally that no matter what, he’d never be able to let her go, her presence was so necessary to him that he’d die if she were ever taken from him.

They stood like that for a few moments, Geet unsure what the matter was, but understanding somehow that Maan just needed to hold her, feel her close to him.

Eventually Maan took a deep breath and moved away, saying “ Geet, kahan khahan ghoom ke aagayeen, kya kya dekha.”

As she started excitedly telling him about him about what she’d seen, he watched her indulgently. When she’d finally run out of things to tell him, he said “to ab bhook to lag rahi hogi na”

Her stomach growled at just that moment, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten anything since that morning. She smiled sheepishly then said “haan lag to rahi hai”

“Chalo phir chalte hain, phir shaam ko lautenge”

As she quickly freshened up, she wondered where he was taking her.

She soon found out—he first took her to Benaras, a wonderful restaurant in central London. After enjoying a meal there (though she was initially shocked by the tiny portion sizes, causing Maan to laugh out loud at the disgusted expression on her face), they went to the London Eye.

Geet was enthralled by the views of the London skyline, and Maan was enthralled by her spontaneous pleasure.

He was less enthralled by the reaction of most of the men they encountered- it was as if Geet had a sign over her head saying “Ogle me”. He wanted to drag her back to the hotel and lock her away where no one could see her except him, wanted to hide her from all the other men staring at her, wanted to lock her in a tower guarded by a dragon.

As they came down from the Eye, they started walking down the South Bank. Geet had never seen a view as wonderful as the London skyline at night, and as they walked further away from the Houses of Parliament, her smile was enchanting. Maan smiled as he looked down at her, but when he looked up and saw all the men staring at her, his smile faded and his face took on the Dusht Danav expression. He wanted to take her home and keep her to himself, make her so addicted to him that she never even noticed anyone else.

He knew that his reaction was irrational, that Geet had never shown even the slightest interest in anyone ese, but he got more and more irritable as the day drew to a close. Eventually, even Geet noticed his irritability, becoming more and more subdued as Maan grew more monosyllabic.

When they finally returned to the hotel room, Maan’s face was like thunder and Geet’s expression fearful.

“Tumhein bhook lagi hai”

“Nahin” she replied quietly

“theek hai”

“Maan”

“Kya”

“maan, maine kuch kardiya, kuch hogaya, aap naraaz kyun hain?”

“Main naraaz nahin hoon, tum bilawajha ki batein kyun karrahi ho”

As he spoke, Maan knew he was making the situation worse, knew that he was hurting her, but unable to stop himself from snapping at her. He knew it wasn’t her fault, knew she hadn’t done anything to ask for the attention she had received. It was his own guilt that was needling him, the feeling that he had bound a free spirit. The rational part of his mind knew that the life he was giving Geet was far beyond her wildest dreams. But deep inside himself, there was a little voice that kept saying “she could have done better than you, she should have married a man closer to her age, a man with less baggage, she should have had more chances to explore her dreams. And what have you done, you’ve bound her to you in your selfishness, used her to fill your empty life, used her love to brighten the dark recesses of your soul. You should have let her go free, should have trusted her to come back to you. You’re not worthy of her, she deserves better than you. You don’t even have the excuse of the baby anymore, but you still didn’t let her go. And even now, all you want is to brand her, to make sure that the world knows that she’s yours, to make sure that she remembers that she’s yours”

Deciding that it was better to give himself some space rather than make the situation any worse worried that if he stayed he’d give in to his inner desires and set about imprinting himself onto her sould, he went and grabbed his exercise gear then said “Geet, mein der se aaoonga, tum mera intezaar mat karna” as he walked out.

Left behind, unsure how her perfect day had turned to dust, Geet stood quietly for a few moments before turning towards the bathroom. Undressing as she went, she stood in the shower for a long time, letting the water wash away her tears.

When she emerged, she dressed in one of the negligees, then crawled into bed. Unable to stop the tears from flowing, she cried herself to sleep.

Two hours later, Maan returned to the suite, exhausted from a punishing session in the gym. He’d pushed himself to the limit, wanting to punish himself for the hurt he’d seen in Geet’s eyes. He’d spent a long time pummeling the punching bag- initially imagining the faces of the men who’d stared at Geet, but eventually seeing his own image , knowing that he was the one who deserved the punishment. His knuckles were bleeding from all the punches he’d thrown, his muscles burning from the long session of lifting weights.

When he walked into the bedroom and saw Geet sleeping there, the tear tracks glistening on her cheeks, his self-castigation increased. Would he ever stop hurting her?

He stood in the shower, trying to wash away some of the guilt, then climbed into bed next to her. He was unabe to stop himself from drawing her close, settling her head on his heart, breathing in her scent.

“Geet, mein tumhein kyun itna dard pahonchata hoon. Saari duniya se tumhein bachake rakhna chahta hoon, tumhari aankhon mein aansoo bardasht nahin karpata hoon, magar phir bhi tumhein khud hi dard deta rehta hoon. Tumhein andaza bhi nahin hoga ke tumhari ek muskurahat mere dil ko kitna khush kardeti hai, tumhara ek aanso mere dil ko kitna dard deta hai. Main kyun tumhein bata nahin pata”

He fell asleep holding her close.

Two hours later he was woken by her sobs, her quaking body wracked with shudders. As he soothed her through them, holding her until she quietened again, his dry eyes burned in the darkness, aware that her night terrors had probably been triggered by the emotional turmoil he’d caused.

When Geet woke that morning, she was alone

 

Chapter 10

She lay in bed for some time, mulling over the day before. The more she thought about Maan’s behaviour, the more angry she felt. She’d thought that they’d moved past his habit of not talking to her, of not telling her what was going on in that Dusht mind of his, but no, once again he was doing the same thing as always- marching to some unknown beat in his head, thinking about Babaji –only –knows what.

Who did he think he was to treat her like that—she was his wife, not just his secretary anymore. The anger built and built till it finally drove her from the bed.

As she stood in front of the bathroom mirror, another surprise greeted her. He’d filled her maang with sindoor before he left, the red line thick and full, as if placed by someone making a statement. If only she knew what the statement was that he was making.

Well, she wasn’t going to sit around waiting for him to deign to explain himself to her. Geet Khurana had no intention of being the quiet woman who just sat around waiting for her pati-dev to give her permission to live. If he didn’t want to spend time with her, then she’d just make the most of the day on her own.

(Her defiant thoughts masked the deep seated hurt and worry; she couldn’t help but wonder whether spending time with her yesterday, surrounded by all those firangs made him realise that she wouldn’t fit into his sophisticated world. Underneath the anger, hidden thoughts scurried through her mind: had her eager, unrestrained pleasure made him realise that just loving someone wasn’t enough reason to marry them and that she was too much of a rustic to ever be presentable amongst his work contacts? Had he compared her desi outfit to the more modern clothes worn by the women they’d encountered and found them lacking?)

Whilst she washed and dressed (glad that she’d washed her hair the night before, as no matter what she didn’t want to wash his sindoor away) she decided that she was going to go out, have a good day and then try and talk to him in the evening. There was no point sitting around, moping.

She phoned down to reception, and enquired whether Hari was available again today. The Savoy lived up to it’s reputation for anticipatory service as the receptionist answered “Yes, Mrs Khurana, we’d already allocated him to you today. What time would you like him to collect you?”

“I’m ready now, I’ll be right down”

As she hurried out of the room, she completely forgot to take the mobile phone from its charger; she still wasn’t used to having a mobile of her own.

Geet and Hari had a good day; whilst Hari initially treated Geet with formality, by the time a few hours had passed he was treating her more as he would any young, impulsive girl albeit one who was paying his wages! They drove round London, stopping off at various monuments. Her favorite stop was the Skating rink at Somerset House; as she watched the skaters on the ice, laughing and joking and falling she wished she could join them in their carefree moments.

As day turned to dusk, and the street lights began to come on, they made their way back to the hotel. Looking down at her bag as she replaced her entry card, she was stopped short by his voice as she entered “Kahan theen tum”

She looked up and encountered Maan’s furious gaze, realising he was in a rage as hot as the first time he’d danced with her.

For a moment she quailed, frightened of his anger even now; then she took a deep breath and reminded herself that he was nothing like Brij or Darji- even in his anger, he would never hurt her.

“ghoomne gayi thi, jaise aap ne kal kaha tha”

He knew his anger was illogical, he knew he was out of control but he couldn’t stop himself. When he’d entered the hotel suite and found it empty, he’d panicked. Then when he’d seen the phone sitting on it’s charger, he’d gone from panic to terror to absolute rage. Whether he was furious with himself for having upset her or with her for not being where he left her, he wasn’t sure; all he knew was that he felt out of control.

Pulling hard on the reigns of his temper, he took a deep breath and said “Humein aaj clients ke saath dinner mein jaana hai, tumhein yaad hai”

She realised that the showdown was to be delayed till later.

“Ji, mujhe yaad hai, mein bas 15 minute mein tayyar hojati hoon.”

She didn’t meet his eyes as she walked past him into the bedroom

“tumhein itni jaldi karne ki zaroorat nahin hai, humein ek ghante bad nikalna hai. Mein doosri taraf nahaloonga”

They were both being very careful to keep their real emotions out of their voices, the deliberate formality colder than the ice he’d once smashed after hurting her.

She bathed and washed her hair, then dried it straight.

She put her sari on, leaving only the top dori of her blouse undone. Sitting at the dressing table, she watched in the mirror as he walked in to the room wearing only his trousers with a white towel hooked around his neck.

Even in the midst of her anger, she couldn’t stop her eyes from tracing his body, from feeling a spark of heat.

As he looked up, she hurriedly looked away, not wanting to be caught gazing at him.

She turned back to the mirror and finished her makeup, then put her earrings in. Around her neck, the platinum moon sparkled at her, the light reflected from the mirror.

She raised her hands up to try and tie the dori, then stopped as she felt him walk up behind her.

He took the dori from her hands, then proceeded to tie it slowly, his eyes meeting hers in the mirrors as his fingers stroked her back. For once, no other message passed between them except “why are you upset?”

She started to stand but he stopped her with a murmured “ek minute” then bent and picked her sindoor case off the dressing table. He tilted her chin up so that she was looking up at him and filled her maang as he always did. For some reason today the action brought tears to her eyes; she tried
to hide them by looking away, but he wouldn’t let her. Still holding her chin with one hand, he brought his fingers to her face and silently wiped away her tears.

“Geet”

Knowing that they were late and that there was no time to discuss things properly, she stood abruptly saying “Aap tayyar hojayye na, humein der hojayegi”

Maan’s face hardened, and he looked down at his hand; she had the fleeting impression that he wanted to slam it through the mirror. As she turned back in concern, she saw his face change again, his smoth business mask descending.

“Geet, mein tayyar hota hoon, tum gadi bulwalo”

She almost said something, then stopped, realising that now wasn’t the right time

“Ji”

He emerged less than 5 minutes later, perfectly turned out. Only a hint of the black thread of the taveez was visible at his neckline, but it was enough to comfort her.

They made their way in silence to the car, and the silence persisted for the entire journey.

 

Chapter 11

On their arrival, he spoke briefly to the driver then took Geet’s elbow and guided her in to the restuarant.

The maitre d’ recognised him and said “Mr Khurana, we’ve been expecting you. Your hosts are here, let me show you to your table”

As they made their way through the crowded restaurant, several people stopped Maan to say hello and to be introduced to his new wife.

Surprised by how good an actor Maan was, managing to project an air of power and marital bliss Geet smiled and greeted several elderly gentleman, unconsciously charming them with her beauty. She could feel the tension in Maan’s hand at her elbow and knew that the the geniality was all a mask beneath which he was still seething with rage.

They finally reached the table where their hosts were waiting. Though she didn’t recognise most of the people who stood to greet them, she groaned inwardly as one face caught her eye; it was the man who’d been abominably rude to her the night Maan first danced with her.

She felt the moment when Maan saw him, felt his body go rigid for a moment, felt the barely checked snarl in his throat.

“Mr Khurana” Rahul said “how wonderful to see you, and accompanied by your delightful secretary”

Geet could feel Maan grinding his teeth “Rahul sahab, how nice to see you again. Geet’s not my secretary any more, she’s my wife- we married over 4 months ago”

“Well congratulations. Meine to ussi waqt dekha tha ke aap logon ki relationship kuch special hai, but please do accept my congratulations for your marriage; bahut kam log itne khush qismat hote hain ke itni khoobsoorat biwi unhe mile”

Turning to the others at the table, he said “ Lets drink a pre-dinner toast to Mr Khurana and his beautiful young bride”

Trapped by protocol, Maan smiled and played along, inwardly seething as he remembered Rahul’s rudeness to Geet on that fateful night.

The dinner progressed well, and though Geet did not have the same facade of bored sophistication that many of the other wives there, she acquited herself credibly and indeed managed to charm the elderly chairman of the client’s company.

Throughout the evening, she was aware of Maan’s brooding presence at her side- she wasn’t sure what was eating at him but she knew she’d find out as soon as they got back to the hotel

Strangely, the thought of his anger didn’t scare her, but she remained baffled as to what had set him off

At the end of the evening, the client said “Wonderful Mr Khurana, we’ll meet tomorrow and start to hammer out the details. Its been a pleasure”

Maan stood and shook hands with the man, then turned to Geet and said “Chalein”

She stood and directed a smile at the group, then turned and started to walk away. As they halted briefly to let a waiter pass, she heard Rahuls voice say “if I had her to keep me company overnight, I would be in a rush to get home too. He’s chosen well- she’s young, too stupid to bother him and can probably go all night, what more could you want in a wife”

Aware that Maan had heard him too and was starting to turn, she put her hand on his arm. As he looked down at her, she shook her head and said “please, chaliye”

Though he wanted nothing more than to go and pound the man’s face until it was nothing but bloody pulp, he stopped himself, not wanting to subject Geet to anymore speculation.

This, this was what he’d done to her, what he was subjecting her to- speculation, insults. If only he could have made himself let her go, if only there had been a way that she could have gone free after the baby had died. He grimaced inwardly – why was he even trying to lie to himself; he could never let her go, even when she tried to leave him, even if it was in her best interests.

Geet’s cheeks burned with humiliation at Rahul’s words, with regret at the knowledge that despite the fancy clothes and jewellery it was still so obvious that she was not the right kind of wife for Maan. No wonder Maan was in such a temper.

They made their way out of the restaurant and then home in silence.

When they reached the suite, he opened the door and let her precede him into the room; when she started to walk away from him, he said “Geet”

She ignored him and started to walk to the bedroom

“Geet meri baat suno”

When she didn’t respond, he put out his hand and grabbed hers; when she tried to pull her hand out of his grasp, he pulled harder saying “Geet meri baat to sunlo”.

She wouldn’t turn back, so he tugged at her hand, pulling her back into his body. “Geet” He turned her towards him, holding her close with one arm around her waist and using the other hand to tilt her face up towards him.

“Geet, ek baat to sunlo”

She raised hurt eyes to his.

“Ab aap ko mujhese baat karni hai, kal se to pata nahin aap ko kya hogaya hai, aap pehle to mujhe ignore karte hain, phir aap ghussa karte hain, aur ab aap chahte hain ke main aap ki baat sunoon. Main jaanti hoon aap mujhse kya kehna chahte hain, daantna hi hoga kisi baat pe”

“Geet meri baat to sunlo”

“Dekhiye, main is waqt bahut thaki hui hoon, hum kya kal baat nahin karsakte hain” She tried to walk away from him again

Finally losing patience, he pulled her back into his body trapping her there with his arms. Bringing his lips close to her ear he whispered

“Geet tum mujhse door jaane ki koshish karti ho to mujhe bardaasht nahin hota hai. Kal main ghalat tha, kisi aur ka ghussa tum pe nikal diya. Magar main kya karoon—kal jab woh sab tumhari taraf dekhrahe the, tumhari muskurahat ko dekh rahe the to main bardaasht nahin karpaya. Ji karraha tha unki aankhen phod doon tumhari taraf dekhne ki himmat karne ke liye.”

She wasn’t so easily pacified “To iss mein meri kya ghalti hai, main kya karoon agar log meri taraf dekhrahe the. Aap ne un ki saza mujhe di, mujhe poore raat akele choda, mujhse baat bhi nahin ki. Kya hamesha aap auron ka ghussa mujhpe utaarenge”

She pushed at his chest, trying to move away, angry that he couldn’t see how much she needed him, how much he’d hurt her by staying away from her.

“Geet, tum samajh nahin rahi ho. Main raat tumse isliye door raha kyunki agar mein tumhein raat chooleta to pata nahin kya kardeta; mera ji karrahatha ke tumhare roum roum mein apne aap ko basaloon, tumhari har saans mein bas jaaoon”

She stopped fighting, her struggles arrested by the strength of his emotions.

“Aur aaj, woh Rahul—phir se tumhari taraf dekhne ki himmat ki ussne, mujhe to ussi din usko apni auqaat batadeni chahiye thi.”

"Mera ji chahraha tha ke sab ke saamne mein tumhein apni baahon mein leke sab ko dikhadoon ke tum meri ho, yeh dikhadoon ke tumhein choone ka haq sirf mujhe hai"

As he spoke, his lips grazed her neck, his teeth biting gently at the rapidly beating pulse.

"Main kya karoon Geet, tumhein choone ke liye main paagal hojata hoon, apne kareeb laanekeliye mein har waqt raaste dhoondta rehta hoon. Tumhare paas hota hoon to paagal sa hojata hoon, aur tumhare baghair jee nahin pata hoon"

Geet's eyes closed, the impassioned tone of Maan's voice making her heart pound, the force of his desire making her anger melt away, making her realise that he'd stayed away from her last night because he didn't want to subject her to what he thought were unreasonable demands, unreasonable desires

“Geet mujhe maaf kardo, meri wajha se tumhari aankhon mein raat aansoo aaye, main bas tumhein......”

“Aap ko kya lagta hai, main aap se kabhi darr sakti hoon, aap ko apne se door rakhsakti hoon. Kya aap ko yeh nahin pata hai ke jitna aap mere liye beqaraar hoti hoon, utna main aap ke liye. Uss din jab woh stewardess aap ki taraf dekhrahi thi, mein USS ki aankhein phodna chahti thi. Aap ko to pata bhi nahin hota hai, mujhe kitni jalan hoti jab koi doosri aurat aap ki taraf dekhti hai.”

As she spoke, she turned in his arms, holding his face between her hands. As she brought his lips down to hers, she nipped at his lips with her teeth, then said “aap ko kya lagta hai, yeh jalan sirf aapko hoti hai; aap ghalat hain, mujhe bhi bahut hoti hai”

She kissed him, sinking her fingers into his hair, rubbing her body along his.

“Geet, tum mujhe paagal kardogi” As he spoke he brought his lips to her neck, biting down hard enough to leave a mark, one he knew would be visible to the world.

His questing hands stripped her sari away, then undid the dori and hook at the back of her blouse.
As it fell open, beginning to slide off her chest, she stepped back and boldly removed it, standing there in nothing but her petticoat.

“muhjko choone ka haq sirf aapko hai, aap mujhe choote hain to mein zinda hojati hoon. Aap ko koi haq nahin hai ke aap apne aap ko mujhse door rakhein. Aur aapko yeh bhi pata hona chahiye ke mein itni aasaani se tootoongi nahin”

She turned and started walking towards the bedroom, then felt a movement behind her. She looked back and saw him remove his jacket and shirt, leaving only the taaveez around his neck. Their eyes met, then he stepped forward and swept her off her feet. He brought his lips down on her in a crushing kiss, his tongue ravaging the inside of her mouth with devastating intent.

She rubbed herself along the heat of his chest, leaving trails of fire wherever her body touched his. As her lips trailed towards his ear, she whispered “Maan mein sirf aapki hoon sirf aapki”

He shuddered, her words soothing and arousing at the same time. Striding into the bedroom, he deposited her on the bed, thenshucked off his trousers and pants before coming down on top of her.

His hand stroked up her leg as his lips traced down her neck, licking at the love bite he’d created then trailing lower to allow him to bite again at the top of her breasts, licking at the little bruises he created

She writhed on the bed, unable to think, having become a creature of sensation from the moment he lay her down.

As his hand reached the top of her leg, she arched back, letting out a scream which he muffled with his lips.

It wasn’t the last sound of pleasure heard in that suite that night.

 

Chapter 12

The next morning, Geet woke with pleasurable aches aall over her body. She looked over at Maan sleeping peacefully next to her; she’d never woken before him and she took her time storing the images in her mind.

He looked so different whilst asleep, so young and innocent. She smiled at the word- innocent. He most defintely wasn’t innocent, after the things he’d done to her and taught her last night she knew that he’d lost his innocence a long time ago.

But now he was all hers; she knew without doubt that his love was as strong and deep as she could possibly wish for. Even if she wasn’t necessarily the perfect wife for him, he wanted her and that was all that mattered. The sneers and comments of all the society women, the derogatory comments passed by his clients meant nothing in the face of his all-consuming adoration

Smiling, she leaned forward and kissed his chest just next to the taaveez, nipping him gently when he didn’t waken as quickly as she wanted.

She felt his fingers in her hair, then he turned her face up to look at him. “Geet tum theek to ho, raat......”

“aap kyun pareshaan hain, main kaanch se nahin bani hoon” She nuzzled at his neck, kissing him gently, as if to prove she was a living breathing woman.

He leaned in for another kiss, then they both jumped as the phone rang.

“Hello” he answered

“Mr Khurana, we’ve got a Mr Rahul on the phone for you”

Looking down at Geet, he said “put him through”

“Rahul sahab” he said “Koi problem”

“Nahin Mr Khurana, bas hum log yahan aap ka intezaar karrahe hain, aur aap apna mobile bhi nahin utharahe the, to maine socha main dekhloon ke aap to theek hain”

“As Maan looked at the time on his watch, he realised that he had overslept by 3 hours.

Blushing slightly, he said “I’m sorry Mr Rahul, mere khayal se jet lag caught up with me, I’ll be there in 30 minutes”

Hanging up the phone, he jumped out of bed, saying “Geet mujhe bahut der hogayi hai, main jab shaam ko aaoonga to hum baat karenge, agar tum bahar jao to please apna mobile lejaana; tumse baat nahin hopati hai to main bahut pareshaan hojata hoon”

As he spoke, he strode to the bathroom where he showered, them emerged to find that Geet had picked out some clothes and laid them out on the bed.

She stood there in a pink negligee, looking like a fallen angel.

After he dressed, he turned and held her close, needing to feel her in his arms just for a moment before he left her.

She clung to him too, then stepped back saying “Aap jaiiyye, mein aaj yaheen hongi, bahar nahin jaaoongi. Bas ek cheez karte jaiiye”

She held out her hand, palm up; sitting there was her sindoor case. He took a pinch and filled her maang, then kissed her forehead before he stepped back and walked away without another word.

After he left, she sat on the bed, and thought back over the night before.

She’d known that he loved her even though he’d never said the words, but for some reason hadn’t realised the depth of his emotion; she felt strangely humbled by how important she was to him. It was a great responsibility to hold someones heart in her hands, and she took a deep breath as she realised exactly how much power she had over him.

Realising how tired she was (Maan had been extremely demanding during the night), she lay back and fell asleep.

When she woke, it was sunset; she jumped out of bed, realising that Maan would be home soon. After showering, then taking a long soak in the immense jacuzzi bath, she dried herself and dressed in a light churidaar suit

She sat looking out of the 8th floor window at the London vista, thinking hard about the vulnerability Maan had revealed. She turned as she heard a noise. It was the chambermaid, who looked surprised to see her there.

“Sorry madam I didn’t mean to disturb you- I did try earlier but you were asleep”

“No its fine, you go ahead” She watched as the woman changed the rumpled bed sheets, slightly embarassed by the evidence of their nocturnal activities, especially by how far down the sheets traces of her sindoor could be found.

After the woman left, Geet realised that she was starving; ringing down to room service, she ordered a light meal. Whilst eating she came to a decision.

Maan walked in as she was having a cup of tea; her smile of greeting bright enough to lighten his day.

“Geet, humein aaj kuch baatein karni chahiye”

“Mujhe pata hai, magaar aap pehle naha lijiye, kuch kha lijiye, phir hum baat karte hain”

Maan showered and then ate the light meal that Geet had ordered for him.

“aap mere saath kahin chalenge”

“jahan tum chaho”

Geet phoned down to the desk and asked for a car to be made available; after making sure that they were both warmly dressed, they made their way to reception where Hari was waiting.

“Hari, yeh mere pati hain. Maan, yeh Hari hain, inhon ne mujhe London dikhaya”

Feeling relieved (and then ashamed at his relief) at the sight of the fatherly punjabi who’d driven Geet around London, he nodded and said “Thank you for taking care of my wife”

“of course Sir. May I ask where you need me to take you now?”

“Haan, Hari, aap please humein wahan le jayenge jahan woh log sab skating karrahe the”

As they drove to Somerset House, she pointed out all the things she’d seen; Maan spent more time watching her pleasure at the sights in front of her than looking at the things she was showing him.

When they reached Somerset house, and were standing next to the rink, she said “Maan in logon ko dekhiye—yahan aake sab gham, sab pareshaniyaan bhool jate hain. Jabse aap meri zindagi mein aaye hain, mujhe lagta hai ke aap meri zindagi ko aise hi karna chahte hain. Aap chahte hain ke mujhe koi cheez kabhi pareshaan na kare, yahan tak ke aap chahte hain ke AAP bhi mujhe pareshaan na karen. Magar zindagi aise nahin guzarti hai. Har lamha khushi se nahin bhara hota. Main chahti hoon ke aap mujhse kuch na chupayein, mujhse apne dil ki har baat, har bojh baant sakein.”

She took his hand and started walking- after a few minutes they were standing next to the Thames, the darkness granting them complete privacy.

 

Chapter 13
“Geet” he started “meri zindagi mein tum hi tum ho, tum se zyada zaroori nahin hai. Magar kabhi kabhi ye lagta hai ke maine tumpe bahut zyaadti ki hai, tumhein baandh liya hai, tumhein koi mauqa nahin diya yeh dekhne ko ke duniya mein kya kya hai. Kab mein dekhta hoon ke Anvesha ko kitni azaadiyaan mili hain, kitna araam mila hai, mujhe lagta hai ke maine tumhein khud se jodke bahut badi zyaadti ki hai. Agar kuch saalon ke baad tumhein lagta hai ke tum.” He stopped as she put her hand over his mouth

“Bas, bas aap bahut bol chuke, ab aap meri baat sunlijiye.”

“Maan mein aap se bahut pyar karti hoon. Aaj tak kaha nahin hai, kyunki mujhe laga ke hamare beech lafzon ki zaroorat nahin hai. Magar aaj kehrahi hoon taake hamare beech koi ghalatfehmi na ho. Aap meri zindagi mein sab se zyada zaroori hain. Woh lamha kabhi nahin aayega jab mein aap ko na chahoon, aaj se marte dam tak chahti rahoongi. Aap ko lagta hai ke mere ehsaas badlenge, aapko lagta hai ke mein badloongi to aap ghalat hain. Mein aap se kabhi pyar karna nahin chodoongi”

She put her hand over the taaveez that she’d given him “Aap samajh nahin sakte hain ke main aap ke liye kitna mehsoos karti hoon. Yeh nahin hai ke aap ne ehsaan kiya hai, ya main sirf aap ki shukr guzaar hoon, aisi koi baat nahin hai. Aur main yeh bhi jaanti hoon ke mujhse kahin behtar biwiyaan hosakti theen aap keliye, jo aap ki society ko jaanti hain, jinki wakha se kabhi aapko sharminda nahin hona padta.”

She smiled as he started to disagree “ Nahin Maan, ye sach hai, mujhse kahin behtar candidates meine aap ko dikhayi theen, aap ko yaad nahin.”

As he smiled at the memory, she said “Bas un ladkiyon mein ek kami thi—woh aap se pyar nahin karti theen. Issliye aaj ke baad mein kabhi nahin feel karrongi ke aap ne mujhse shaadi karke ghalti ki hai. Hamari shaadi koi ghalti nahin hai, bilkul nahin. Yeh baat aaj meine apne dil se nikaaldi hai, aur aaj ke baad aap bhi apne dil se nikaal dein.

Aap ko lagta hai aap ne mujhe qaid kiya hai to aap ghalat hain; aap ne mujhe azaad kiya hai, aap ka pyaar meri taaqat hai”

“Geet, tum jaanti ho na, ke mein tumse kitna pyaar karta hoon, mein tumhare pyaar mein paagal hoon. Pehle mein socha karta tha ke waqt ke saath saath mujhe apne pe thoda qaabo hojayega, magar yeh ehsaas to roz badhta jaraha hai. Ab to chahe kuch bhi hojaye, main tumhein kabhi nahin chodoonga”

She came into his arms, finally at peace. As he held her close, his doubts cleared and he knew that he would never see the love leave her eyes.

There was one last thing that needed to be said, though

“Maan jab aaj sab baatein karhi rahe hain, to ek baat aur. Mein kuch kaam karna chahti hoo, aap ke saath; main ghar pe baith ke sirf ye lunches aur kitty parties mein nahin jaasakti........ aap hans kyun rahe hain, I’m serious”

Maan was laughing so hard, she could feel his body shaking—“Maan, aap hans kyun rahe hain”

“Geet, tum hamesha mujhe surprise karti ho. Yahan mein socha tha ke tumhein thoda araam pasand hoga, tum kuch din office se door rehke khush rahogi, aur yaha tum keh rahi ho ke tum kaam karna chahti ho. Achha theek hai, batao—tum kaam karogi, ya pehle kuch padhna chahti ho”

“Study, kya yeh mumkin hai—Dadi kya kahengi agar mein aapki biwi hote hue kuch padhna chahoon”

“Dadi ko to mein sambhaal loonga, tum batao”

Suddenly aware that they were still standing next to the river and that Hari was waiting for them, she said “Chalein ghar chalein, phir yeh baatein hoti hein”

As they made their way back to the car, she said “Aap ko pata hai, yaha aake, yeh sab khoobsoorat cheezing dekhke, mera dil chahta hai ke mein kuch aisa karoon jaise aap ke designers karte hain, kuch interior design ke baare mein seekhoon. Phir woh KC mein bhi kaam aayega”

“To theek hai, jab hum Delhi wapas jayenge, to phir hum tumhare liye koi Interior Design ka course dekhte hain”

Feeling suddenly 10 years younger, with his doubts assuaged, his love declared Maan suddenly laughed again. “Geet, agar tum nahin hoteen to main ghut ghut ke marjata, tum ho to mere paas sab kuch hai.

They drove back in silence, sitting on opposite sides of the seat, the only point of contact their joined hands.

As they made their way to the room, they smiled at each other, and as soon as they stepped through the door, they were in each others arms.

As he held her close, his arms holding her tight, her face turned into his neck he said “Geet, I love you. Shayad mein phir kabhi yeh lafz tumse na kahoon magar tumhein hamesha ye pata hona chahiye ke mein tumhein kitna chahta hoon. Chahe kuch bhi ho, yeh ehsaas kabhi nahin badlega”

He felt her answer in the smile curving her lips, then bent and kissed her. They walked into the sitting area and saw that there was a fire burning in the fireplace.

Suddenly reminded of the night they’d almost made love in Manali, she looked up at his through her eyelashes and said “Maan aap ko yaad hai, ek raat hum ek aisi hi aag ke saamne the”

He looked at her, smiling mischievously “Yaad to hai. Yeh bhi yaad hai ke uss raat tumne mujhse kitna jhagda kiya tha”

“Aaj to jhagda nahin karoongi, yeh mera wada hai”

She stepped forward, holding out her hand. As he took it, she drew him towards the fireplace. Within moments, they were locked in each others embrace, and soon the fire was not the hottest thing burning in that room.

 

Epilogue

Maan and Geet returned to Delhi the next day, and within a month Geet was enrolled in an interior design course in a reputable Delhi college.

Over the next few months, life continued happily.

One day, a week before her final exam, Maan woke to find Geet sitting in the rocking chair in their room. Concerned, he said “Geet, kya hua”. He got about of bed, unconcerned about his nakedness. He crouched down next to her saying “Geet, kya hua”

She looked down at him, the tears in her eyes suddenly becoming visible “Geet, tum ro kyun rahi ho, please batado, tumhare aansoon main nahin bardaasht karsakta”

“Yeh khushi ke aanso hain Maan, sirf khushi ke. Aap ne mujhe phirse zindagi ki sab se badi khushi di hai. Main phirse pregnant hoon Maan, mein phirse ma banne waali hoon”

Overwhelmed with emotion, he stood, sweeping her up in his arms, kissing her gently at first and then with increasing passion.

He took her back to bed and began to make love to her, unable to use words to express his happiness. As they loved in the early morning sunlight, life had never seemed so full of possibility.