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One Year On

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One Year On

The miscarriage happened before they got married, Arjun and Annie don’t exist

Dev and NT separated but went off, and haven’t been heard from in a while

With regards to amnesia—I’ve dealt with patients with it—the longest period of amnesia I’ve seen in a patient is about 10 months. I can attest that it is totally unpredictable, so what I’ve depicted here is not unreasonable.

WARNING: THIS IS QUITE AN EXPLICIT STORY; PLEASE BE WARNED AND READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
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Chapter 1

6 weeks before her first wedding anniversary, Geet MS Khurana woke alone. She lay there quietly for a few moments with her eyes closed, hoping against hope that she would feel the warmth of her husband’s body stretched out behind her, feel the weight of his arm lying over her waist.

After a few seconds, she slowly opened her eyes, realising that she would have to get out of bed and face the day; face the truth. Her husband had left her alone again.

The last year had passed so quickly. It had been deep winter when she had married Maan; married him the first time, in any case. It had been a cold winters night when she had first married Maan—the night Naintara had tried to kill her, the night he had filled her maang with his blood.

The first anniversary of that occasion was in one month; she wondered if he even remembered.

Would he even be home on that day, or would he have another business trip to go on, another place to be rather than with her. She was achingly aware that she hadn’t spent a waking moment alone
with her husband in the last 2 and a half months. Even at the office, he ensured that she was kept fully occupied with projects that he wasn’t personally involved with, ensuring that they had very little interaction, meaning that she had no way of knowing when he was coming or going; recently she’d had no idea about his schedule at all. He was forced to act normally in front of Dadi, but Dadi had helped him unconsciously by spending 6 weeks in Paris “recharging her batteries” followed by 10 days at the farmhouse recovering from the Paris trip.

As she threw back the sheets and felt the cool air hit her bare body, she put her hand out for the nightgown he had removed from her body last night; the silken material caressed her skin as she pulled it over her shoulders, and she became aware of a few areas where her skin was particularly sensitive. She drew her fingers over one such area just at the slope of her breast—his beard had always marked her tender skin, and last night had been no exception.

She couldn’t understand how Maan could make love to her with such tenderness, with such adoration on some nights, nights when she felt that she was his entire universe, nights when he wouldn’t let her sleep for a moment, when she felt as if she had been transported back to the first months of her marriage. How could he love her that way occasionally, and yet spend an increasing number of nights away from her? How could he touch her as if she was the only important thing in the world on some nights, and yet hold himself aloof from her in the light of day? How could he worship her body at night, spending hours driving her insane with pleasure, and then the next day refuse to even wake next to her? How could stay aloof, never relaxing in her arms after they had loved, always silently leaving again before she woke.

She knew (hoped, prayed) he still loved her—she knew that because she would have died if he had stopped loving her. Her love for him was like a star burning bright in the sky- it was always there, but sometimes it was hidden from view by the burning heat of her anger, which sometimes blazed as hot as the sun. The fact that he still loved her was the only reason she never turned him away, always responded to his caresses when he came to her in the night.

She knew (hoped, prayed) that he was hurting as much as she was from the distance that had grown between them, knew that something was compelling him to behave the way he was. She knew her Maan; he had to work through something terrible, something that was tearing him up from inside.

She had given him time and space to do that—if she pressed too soon, he would only react defensively. But enough was almost enough; soon she would have to press the issue, or she would go insane, wondering what had happened, what she had done to make him behave this way

As she stood under the hot shower, she thought back to when things had started to change.
It had been about 8 months after their wedding; the first 8 months of her marriage were still a halcyon period in her life, a time she looked back on as a period of unparalleled happiness. Maan had been the most loving husband she could have dreamt of- whilst they’d had little tiffs, mostly about his overprotective tendencies or about her desire to work as hard as he did, they had mainly
passed the time getting used to living as a couple, used to simple things like his neatness compared to her more free way of living.

They were quite opposite in character- his life had always been controlled, organised, set in its ways; she came as a breath of air (though sometimes he felt she was more a tornado than a breeze); smiling, laughing, her chudiyaan scattered on his dressing table, her lotions and potions taking over the bathroom cabinets (whenever he complained about the number of bottles of cream she had, she would win him over by asking him to help her put some fragrant cream on her back—the lovemaking that followed was always so intense that after a while she began to suspect that he complained only so that she would try and bend him to her will).

Even the feeling in the house had changed—the servants smiled more, Dadi was more relaxed now that she could see her beloved grandson settled with the woman he loved. They’d worked together, played together, travelled together—it had been as if God had decided to bless her with overwhelming happiness as a payback for all the torment she’d undergone

And then, 2 and a half months ago, suddenly things had changed. And she still didn’t know why.
Chapter 2

2 and a half months. 2 and a half months of guilt and worry and need. As Maan walked into the bedroom he shared with his wife, he thought back over the last 2 and a half months.

2 and a half months ago, a simple phone call had turned his life on its head. Vicky’s voice, a voice he hadn’t heard in 6 years. Vicky’s voice taking a name he had hoped never to hear again “Bhai, Dev Bhai yahan mere saath hain, please aap yahan aajaiiye.”

“Vicky”

“Please Bhai, aap mana mat kijiye, mujhe pata hai unhon ne kya kiya, but Naintara Bhabi is dead and Dev Bhai is in hospital. Agar unki khaatir nahin, to meri khaatir please yahan aajaaiiye”

How could he have refused? His youngest brother had never asked for anything, preferring to leave home rather than ask for help. The situation had to be dire if Vicky was asking for help. And Dev; the brother he had raised almost as a son, the greatest failure of his life. How could he turn away from him in this hour of his need? Wasn’t that a parent’s greatest flaw, that they forgave even the greatest of sins.

“Theek hai, batao, kahan aana hai”

He’d gone and there had been faced with one brother in ITU and the other needing surgery (Vicky hadn’t mentioned the injuries he’d sustained in the car crash, of course)

Maan had phoned Dadi, simply saying that he was stuck somewhere and would be home tomorrow.
He hadn’t dare phone Geet, hadn’t dared tell her who he had come to help.

He spent the next 24 hours keeping vigil at both brothers’ bedside; as he sat next to Dev’s bed, flashes ran through his mind of their shared childhood. He was chronologically 7 years older than Dev, but felt at least 20 years older. He remembered the beatings he’d taken on Dev’s behalf, remembered protecting Dev, trying to show Dev the difference between right and wrong, covering up his mistakes. He remembered trying to persuade Dev not to marry Naintara, and failing; remembered attending the wedding 6 years ago and trying not to hate the victorious smirk on the bride’s face. He remembered the first time he had put his foot down, refusing to bail Dev out of his debts, and what disaster that had been the cause of.

How had he failed Dev so badly; he’d tried to compensate for the father who had first hated then abandoned them all, tried not to make the same mistakes he had. Instead he had failed Dev, and in doing so almost ruined Geet’s life.

And Vicky- the brother he had neglected; trying to rectify the mistakes he had made with Dev, he had been harsher than was warranted, trying to ensure that he didn’t spoil Vicky the way he had Dev. He’d demanded more, wanted more from him- pushing him to excel, punishing him for the smallest of infractions. His attitude had alienated Vicky, pushing him further and further away till he ran away at the age of 17. He’d searched for him until Dadi had quietly told him that she knew where he was, that he was safe and that he didn’t want to have anything further to do with Maan.
6 years ago, he’d taken the double hit of Dev’s marriage and Vicky’s desertion. He’d shut his heart down, vowing never to be a father when he obviously knew nothing about parenting. He’d stayed closed off in his shell of ice until Geet had come along.

When Vicky came round after his operation, Maan was sitting by his bed “Bhai, aap abhi yahin hain”

“Vicky, kya hua? Dev aur Naintara yahan kya karrahe the, yeh sab kaise hua?” he asked.

Haltingly Vicky told him. Dev had turned up on his doorstep 7 months ago, a drunken guilt-ridden wreck. He’d spilled his guts to Vicky, then spent the next 3 months in an alcoholic haze. Vicky had eventually forced him to pull himself together, and over the last 4 months, Dev had been working on rebuilding his self-respect, trying to get together the courage to face Maan and Geet and apologise.

He had felt that until he had at least faced Geet and given her the chance to make him pay, he would never be able to get on with his life.

2 days ago Naintara had turned up like a bad penny; after spending 2 days trying to persuade Dev into another foolhardy money making scheme, she’d finally given up and agreed to leave. Dev and Vicky had been driving her to the airport when their car had been blindsided by a drunken lorry driver. Naintara had been killed outright, whilst Dev and Vicky had ended up in hospital.

And there they had been. Dev was still in a medically induced coma; he had sustained life-threatening injuries, and the doctors were clear that the prognosis was bleak.

“Bhai, aap ghar jaiyye, aap yahan kab se hain. Dev Bhai ko agar kuch hua to yeh log aap ko phone kardenge, but you have to go. You have a wife, you need to go to her, tell her about what’s happened. Dadi ko bhi to batana hoga.”

Geet. His wife, the person he adored most in the world. How could he tell her where he was, who he was with? How could he explain the complex tangle of emotions he felt when he looked at Dev? How could he expect her to understand?

He’d come home, feeling numb on the inside. Geet’s laughter had quietened, as she’d picked up on his utter exhaustion. She hadn’t asked what was wrong- after living with him for 8 months, she had learned that he didn’t respond well to being questioned; he’d open up to her eventually, he always did.

He’d turned to her that night, making love to her for hours, wringing cries of pleasure from her lips until she was begging for release. He’d held his own pleasure in check, almost as if he needed to prove that her pleasure was all he needed, as if he needed to remind himself that she was more important than anything he wanted for himself, as if to prove to her that she was still the most important person in his life even if he was offering succour to the man who had wronged her.

When he’d finally given in to the needs of his body, he’d protected her from himself for the first time, somehow feeling as if he would otherwise pollute her in some way. He knew his feelings weren’t logical, but the tangle of emotions filling his heart and mind overwhelmed him.

That night, he’d finally fallen asleep with Geet in his arms- holding her close as if to keep her safe and protected from the world. His dreams had been troubled, flashes of his youth mingling with nightmarish futures where he was the cause of Geet’s tears, where their children turned out like Dev, where Geet turned and walked away from him the way Vicky had.

When he’d woken the next morning, Geet’s body was warm in his arms, her hand caught between their bodies holding her mangalsutra and his taaveez together in the unconscious gesture she had adopted since they had been married. He had looked down at her, his guilt over his secrecy making him draw away from her, making him deny himself the comfort of her embrace.

He left her lying there, and made his way to the office. Geet had phoned him repeatedly that day; he’d been unable to make himself talk to her. He listened to the messages she left on his voicemail over and over, needing to hear her voice but unable to talk to her. His guilt grew as the day went on- he could hear the worry in her voice as he remained incommunicado.

At the end of the day, he had sent her a brief text message saying that he had a dinner meeting and that he wouldn’t be home till very late, then dismissed the driver and driven himself to the hospital where Dev and Vicky were admitted. He spent hours by their bedsides, moving between the two without any idea what he could do, feeling ridiculously helpless. He needed Geet with him, needed to feel her arms around him. She was the only person in the world in front of whom he allowed himself to be weak, who he allowed to see his vulnerabilities, his concerns. He needed her there
with him, but it was the one place he could never ask her to be. These worries and weaknesses were not for her to have to bear.

He’d spent the last two and a half months running from his wife, running from his guilt. He’d stayed away from her, unable to allow himself the comfort of her presence, of her body, of her love more than occasionally.

There were nights when he turned to her like a starving man seeking sustenance, nights when he had been unable to stay away. On those nights he came to her in darkness, unwilling to let her look into his eyes, let her see how much he was wronging her. He knew he was wronging her by giving succour to the man who had ruined her- but Dev was also his baby brother, who lay there helpless.

On those nights he spent hours devoting himself to her pleasure, making it his aim only to tell her without words how much he adored her, how he worshipped her, as if seeking absolution. He never let her speak, sealing her lips with his kisses, not allowing himself the balm of her loving words. But on those nights, he told her over and over, in a hundred different ways how much he loved her, wrote it onto her skin with his fingers, painted it onto her body with his lips.

He knew he had hurt her, tormented her with his withdrawal, and confused her with the abrupt change in his behaviour. He kept dreading the day when she would refuse him or turn away from him, but that day hadn’t come yet, though he wasn’t sure why.

Well, his time of hiding from her had come to an end. Over the last two and a half months, he had spent all his time running between the hospital and his office. He had yet to speak to Dev—he’d allowed Vicky to be the go-between, refusing to even allow Vicky to reveal his presence to Dev—but he had been there every day, watching silently as Dev and Vicky struggled with their rehabilitation.

He’d met with their doctors, made sure they had the best of everything they needed.

Yesterday, the head of the team looking after both Dev and Vicky had requested a meeting.

“Mr Khurana, your brothers are ready for discharge. We’ve done everything we can for them, the rest is up to time. I know that there will still be some improvement, but they can manage that at home with the help of occasional therapy. Now let me go through what will be needed”

The doctor had spoken at length, but the jist of the matter was that his brothers were both ready to go home, wherever that may be. Neither brother was fully healed—some of the injuries would never fully heal. Dev was left with seizures following his head injury and was also subject to debilitating headaches which would strike unpredictably, leaving him incapacitated and writhing in pain.

Vicky was no better- he still needed a crutch to help him walk and was facing further plastic surgery to deal with the disfiguring scars left on his chest and abdomen

So he was left with two brothers who both needed further help and assistance, and nowhere to bring them except to the home he shared with Geet and Dadi.

Walking out of the office, he made his way to the hospital chapel—a quiet room where he could take some time to think. As he sat there and went over and over his options, he could come to only one conclusion—He had to tell Geet what was going on, and had to get her involved before he could make any further decisions.

He’d made his way home, but as always these days she had already gone to bed by the time he got home. As he watched her lying there, he hadn’t been able to stop himself from making love to her once more, just being with her one more time. He had needed to remind her just once more that he loved her

As he stood in the bedroom, he looked down at the tumbled sheets on their bed and remembered the night just past, reliving the memories to ensure they were cemented in his mind.

He’d gone to her, kissing her lips gently over and over until her eyes opened and she whispered his name.

“Chup,” he said “bilkul chup”

He’d kissed her again, trying to tell her without words how much he adored her. With gentle hands, he’d caressed the silken nightgown from her shoulders, baring her torso to his eyes. He looked at her for a moment- then bent to feast on her body. He kissed every inch of her, driving her to the brink with desire. As he made his way down her body, he felt her hands grasping at his shoulders, clutching at his hair. He didn’t stop his caresses until he had driven her over the edge, driven her to a moment of climax as intense as any she’d reached before. Only then had he allowed himself to take any pleasure, to take any comfort from her. Eventually she slept; he held her close to his heart, watching her sleep, writing the feel of her heartbeat into his memory again. When sleep eventually overcame him, he dreamt of her—dreamt that she was smiling at him and telling him that she would always love him. He had woken with a smile on his face, his wife still held securely in his arms.
Looking down at her, he’d pressed a kiss to her forehead and opened his mouth to say her name when the memories had come flooding back. He’d drawn back, then drawn away. Getting out of bed, he’d looked down at her and said one more time “Geet I love you”, then turned away. He had preparations to make to ensure that KC would run smoothly whilst he was sorting his personal life out.
Over the last two hours, he had sent multiple emails to Adi with instructions, as well as emails to various clients assuring them that Adi would be running things to perfection during his unexpected absence.

And now the time had come to face Geet and hear her verdict. Maan had never felt as much fear as he did at that moment—fear that she would leave him and walk away. He knew she had the strength to do it—his Geet was no weakling, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop her if she wanted to go. All he could do was pray to the God that she had made him believe in.

Chapter 3

Geet opened the door from the bathroom into the bedroom and stopped short as she saw the unexpected figure of her husband standing by their bed. As she walked further into the room, she was achingly aware that it was the first time they had been alone together in two and a half months.

As she walked further into the room, wrapped in a fluffy white bath-towel, she felt his eyes on her, his gaze caressing her bare shoulders. She turned to face him and as their eyes met, she could read the desire, but there was a strange regret and longing also hidden there, as well as an aching need she knew was mirrored in her own eyes.

“Geet”

She jumped as he said her name, his voice settling somewhere deep inside her

“Ji”

“Geet, please tayyar hojao, mujhe tumse kuch baat karni hai”

A thousand smart answers ran through her mind, but she held her tongue- she would speak her piece when the time was right, but first she needed to find out what had been going on.

“theek hai”

He stood at the window, looking down at the garden whilst she changed, the moment reminding him of many such moments in the first 8 months of their married life. In the past, he would have gone to her, helped tie her dori, placed her bindi for her—but today, he stood there, just listening to the sounds of her payal as she walked around the room getting dressed.

“Maan, main tayyar hoon”

“chalo mere saath”
He opened the door for her and followed her out. He didn’t dare touch her; just guided her gently towards the outhouse.

When they reached the outhouse, she turned and looked at him but didn’t resist as he guided her upstairs. When they reached the room that had been her Maika, he followed her in, then turned and closed the door behind them.

He stood with his back to her for a moment, steeling himself to face her. As he turned, he took a deep breath in, then spoke

“Geet, mujhe pata hai tumhare paas mere liye hazaaron sawaal honge, magar iss se pehle ke tum kuch kaho, please mujhe bolne do”

“I’ve been hiding something from you for the last 10 weeks. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’ve been hiding something from you. I’ve been hiding the fact that Dev’s back. I’ve been hiding the fact that Dev’s been in hospital with Vicky, and that I’ve gone to the hospital every day. I’m so sorry Geet, I know what he did to you, and I hate him for it, but he’s my brother. He’s the way he is because of the way I brought him up, because of the way I spoiled him. I couldn’t just leave him there alone when he was fighting for his life. And Vicky needed me too. Main kya karta Geet, main kya karta. Ek taraf meri nafrat kehrahi thi ke woh marjata to behtar hota, aur doosri taraf mujhe woh bhai yaad aaraha tha jisne meri ungli pakad kar chalna seekha.”

She felt like her blood had turned to ice-water, like her heart itself had turned into a block of ice. Dev. Just hearing the name was enough to take her back to the events in Hoshiaarpur, the torture she’d endured, the heartbreak she’d suffered.

She looked at the man standing in front of her, the man she loved. Somewhere inside the ice encasing her heart, she ached for his pain; she even understood the turmoil he was suffering. But she couldn’t get past the fact that Dev was back.

“Shuru se batayye, kya hua. Ab jab baat bataahi rahe hain, to phir poori baat batayye”

Unable to stand for a moment longer, she turned and sat on the edge of the bed—he walked over and stood with one hand resting on one of the bed-posts.

“Geet, do maheene pehle Vicky ka phone mere paas aaya” he began, then proceeded to tell her the whole story, not holding anything back. When he finished, he stood there in silence, giving her time to process what she had just heard.

When she finally spoke, her voice was quiet. “Aur ab”

He walked towards her and sat next to her on the bed. “Ab wohi hoga jo tum chahogi. Geet, main wohi karoonga jo tum chahogi”

“Aap bataiyye. Aapne mujhse aaj yeh sab baatein kisi wajha se hi ki hain, nahin to aap mujhse yeh hamesha chupate, mujhe pata hai. Aaj aapne agar Dev ka naam mere saamne liya hai, to iss ki koi wajha hi hogi”

He sighed; she knew him too well. She was right though—if there had been any way to avoid it, he would never have told her about Dev; he would have sent Dev away without a further thought, and somehow made up to her for the torment he’d put her through over the last 2 and a half months. But with the way things were, with Dev still needing support and care, he had no choice but to remind her of her past, to bring her tormentor back into her life.

“Geet, Dev ko abhi bhi sahaare ki zaroorat hai. Usse abhi bhi meri zaroorat hai. He has fits. He has headaches that are severe enough to make him scream with pain. He’s suffering. Shayad tumhein lage ke uski yahi saza honi chahiye. I thought that too, when he had the accident. I thought that he deserved it. But Geet, main kya karoon. He needs my sahara. He needs somewhere to live, with people around him.

Aur phir Vicky- jisse tum jaanti bhi nahin ho. He’s always been the innocent victim of the mistakes I made with Dev; but now he needs me too.

Main chahta hoon ke woh yahan iss compound mein rahein. I’ve thought of a few options for the longer term, magar its the immediate situation that I need to think about.

In the longer term, maine architect se baat karli hai—I’m going to get a properly designed house built, that will be adapted to both Dev and Vicky’s needs. Magar uss mein abhi waqt lagega, and they are ready for discharge now.”

“To aap chahte hain ke woh yahan ghar mein aake rahein”

She read the truth of his words in his silence.
As she struggled to deal with the thought of sharing a house with Dev, he spoke again

“Geet, agar tum yeh bardasht nahin kar sakti ho, to main samajh sakta hoon. Ussne jo tumhare saath kiya, uskeliye koi maafi nahin hai, koi prashchit nahin hai. Dev ab bebass hai, magar usski taraf se main ummeed bhi nahin karsakta ke tum kabhi usse maaf karogi. Tumhein karna bhi nahin chahiye. Mujhe to yeh bhi nahin pata ke tum MUJHE maaf karpaogi ya nahin. Agar tum chahti ho ke woh yahan na aaye, to phir main kuch aur sochoonga, kahin doosra bandobast karoonga. Agar tum chahti ho ke main aur tum yahan outhouse mein aake rahen aur Dev heveli mein rahe, to woh bhi main karoonga. Jo tum chahti ho, wohi hoga.

Bas ek cheez nahin hosakti, Geet. Main tumhein jaane nahin de sakta. Maine socha tha ke agar tum jaana chahogi, to main tumhein azaad karsakta hoon, magar yeh main nahin karsakta. Main tumhari nafrat sehloonga, tumhari naraazgi sehloonga, tumhari chupi sehloonga, magar main tumhare baghair nahin rehsakta”

He finished speaking then just sat there, his arms resting on his thighs as he looked down.

She closed her eyes, unable to stop the tears rolling down her cheeks. There was absolute silence in
the room for what seemed like an eternity.

When she finally spoke, the words fell like rocks into the silence “Aap please mujhe thodi der ke liye akele chod sakte hain”

He stood silently and looked down at her bowed head. “Geet mujhe maaf kardo, maine tumhein pichle do maheenon mein bahut dukh diya hai, I know—but I couldn’t think of a way out, I just didn’t know what else to do. Ab wohi hoga jo tum chahogi”

He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him, then sat on the floor outside the door as he had once before. He had nowhere else to go, and nothing to do except wait for his wife’s decision.

Inside the room, Geet sat alone, her mind a blank. When he had first started speaking, she had wondered with a touch of hysteria whether he was going to reveal the existence of a child, or an ex-wife, or even whether he had been unfaithful. What she hadn’t expected was the return of Dev into her life.

And now she was being asked to make a decision that would alter things irrevocably, no matter what the decision she took.
She sat there for what felt like an eternity, but was in reality only half an hour, going over and over what Maan had said. After a while, her mind actually started working, and she thought about some of the things he had said—Dev was quite debilitated from the sounds of things, and her other brother-in-law Vicky, the one she had never met, it sounded like he needed a fair bit of support as well.

As she thought about things, her mind turned to Maan. She had known that something had been bothering him, but had never thought that he was carrying such a burden alone. And what a burden it had been—she knew her husband very well, and knew exactly what a toll this must have been taking on him. She WAS angry with him, angry for hiding something so huge from her, angry for the way he had behaved over the last 2 and a half months, angry just because there was no one else to blame for this situation. But at the same time, her heart ached for him—she wanted to hold him in her arms and soothe away his worries, his hurt and anguish. She wanted to rail at him for hiding this from her for so long, and then ambushing her with all this information and expecting an immediate answer.

After some time, she stood, her decision made. Standing in front of the mirror, she smoothed her kurta down, adjusted her dupatta, then simply stood for a minute, trying to see some shade of the girl who Dev had known, that beaten down suppressed creature who had thought herself in love with him. All she could see standing there was Mrs Geet Khurana, the beloved wife of Maan Singh Khurana. That knowledge gave her strength, and she turned and walked to the door and opened it.

As she stepped through the door, she noticed Maan sitting there. Their eyes met, and a flash of shared memory darted between them; the memory of the night he had spent sitting outside her door keeping her safe from the storm. A sudden thought crossed her mind and made her smile sadly- he’d protected her from the storm then, but this time he’d brought the storm to her door himself.

He looked at her questioningly. “Geet”. He stood and faced her as he spoke.

Chapter 4

“Maan, aapke donon bhai yahan aake rehsakte hain. Aap jaiyye, arrangements karlijiye”

He took a step towards her “Geet” but she stepped back “Maan, mujhe jaake ghar mein sab arrange karna hoga. Hum baad mein milte hain”

She went to step round him, then stopped when he raised an arm to stop her “Geet, main jaanta hoon maine tumhe bahut dukh diya hai. I’m going to try my hardest to make it up to you”

He dropped his arm and stepped back, allowing her to leave. As she walked down the stairs, she looked back and saw him standing there, watching her.

The day passed in a blur; Maan had gone straight to Dadi after talking to Geet and explained the situation. It had taken a while but he had finally managed to calm her down; a little persuasion had been needed to stop her from charging straight to the hospital, but eventually she had agreed to wait for Vicky and Dev to come to the house before seeing them.

After leaving the outhouse, Geet had gone and talked to Nakul. She arranged for the the wing furthest from her room to be opened up and gave instructions to Nakul to make sure the rooms were cleaned and prepared for inhabitants; there were two suites on the ground floor which would do for her brother-in-laws, as well as a large room which could be used for any therapy sessions.

Thankfully the mansion was large enough that if she wanted she could avoid Maan’s brothers almost forever.

Having informed the cook that they were going to have to cater to convalescing patients, she made her way back to her room and sat in the chair looking out of the window. A deluge of memories threatened to overwhelm her as she sat there; with no busy-work left to fill her mind, she was helpless to fight the onslaught.

Several hours later, Maan walked into their bedroom. He stopped short when he saw Geet sitting in their rocking chair. Her posture spoke of exhaustion, of sadness and grief. He knew what was going through her mind, knew the memories that were running through her mind. He closed his eyes, a momentary feeling of despair washing over him. How could he do this, how could he satisfy the conflicting needs of two parts of his family? The exhaustion he had been fighting all day threatened to overwhelm him. Since he’d left home after his discussion with Geet, he’d spent the day organising his brothers’ discharge, arranging for therapists to come to his house, arranging for his staff to obtain the correct equipment and ensure it was delivered and set-up appropriately. A thousand and one tiny details had needed his attention, but he’d dealt with them all with his customary stone-face, shutting off his emotions until he could deal with them.

His brothers were home now, resting in the rooms that Geet had arranged for them. His Dadi was there with them- now that she had something concrete to do, the steel which ran through her was showing itself and he knew that he could rely on her to oversee whatever was needed to ensure Vicky and Dev’s recovery.

So he’d returned here, to the rooms which had previously been his haven, his shelter. Over the first 8 months of his marriage, these rooms had been a place of unalloyed joy, the place where he could be Maan, not Maan Singh Khurana. He’d destroyed his shelter with his own hands, he knew that but whilst Geet still shared these rooms, there was a chance he could rebuild it.

He hadn’t acknowledged even to himself how much he’d dreaded walking in here and finding that she’d left. She had the strength to leave him, he knew that, but the fact she was still here gave him hope that he hadn’t destroyed her love completely.

He sighed deeply, and she stirred, her hands moving to surreptitiously wipe her face.

“Geet” he started, but she stood and started speaking, unable to face any discussions at that moment.

“Aap aagaye” as she spoke, she moved past him towards the door “main jaake Nakul se kehti hoon ke woh khaana lagaye”

“Geet, please” he put out a hand to stop her, then stopped as she deftly avoided his touch.

“Geet, I’m not hungry, please don’t ask Nakul to prepare anything”

She finally turned to look at him, her eyes softening briefly as she took in the utter exhaustion on his face “Maan, you have to eat something”

As he opened his mouth to utter a refusal, she said “Main Nakul se kehti hoon, I’ll ask him to bring something light for both of us”

Realising that she hadn’t eaten anything either that day, he nodded his agreement and turned to the bathroom to clean up. He heard Geet pick up the house phone and registered the muttered conversation as he changed into his trademark nightwear.

When he emerged, he saw that she had also changed into her nightwear; if it wasn’t so sad, he would almost have smiled at how reminiscent everything was of one of the early nights of their marriage.

“Geet”

“Maan, maine Adi se baat ki thi aaj, I’ve told him we’ll both be back at the office from tomorrow. He sounded ridiculously thankful for that”

“Geet”

She turned away from him as she went to hang something in the wardrobe

“There’s so much going on at the moment, I don’t think either of us can afford to be away from the office at the moment”

“Geet”, he walked close to her and laid a hand on her shoulder.

She froze, then said in a quiet voice “Maan, I can’t handle anymore today. Please, please, please just don’t. I can’t take it today”

He heard the tears in her voice, and cursed himself for the hurt he had caused her and was continuing to cause her. He ached to draw her into his arms, ached to comfort her- but he’d lost the right.

He drew his hand away and said in as normal a voice as possible “You’re right, Adi could handle things if only one of us were away, but not both of us at the same time”

A knock at the door heralded Nakul’s arrival; the man knew his job and within 2 minutes a light supper for two lay ready to eat.

They ate silently, casting quick glances at each other, the silence filled with a hundred different questions and answer. They didn’t linger over the meal, eating just enough to satisfy their unstated hunger.

They stood, and Maan turned to the house phone to notify the servants that they could clear away the detritus of the meal. He was aware of Geet moving around in the periphery of his vision, turning down the bed clothes.

After the servants had removed the supper trolley, he turned back towards the bed to find that Geet had already taken her usual side of the bed and turned off the bedside light.

Grateful that she was willing to sleep in the same bed as him, he lay down, convinced that he wouldn’t get a moments sleep.

Strangely, within a few moments they had both drifted into deep sleep; they both slept dreamlessly and neither woke, not even when they turned to each other in their sleep or when Geet pillowed her head on Maan’s chest, nor when Maan’s arms clasped Geet tightly to his heart.

When Maan woke the next morning, he felt Geet’s hand lying over his heart, felt the warmth of her body close to him and her breath gently blowing against his chest. He took a moment to savour her proximity, aware of a strange feeling of peace. He lay there until he felt her wake, then froze again as she breathed his name.

He felt the moment that awareness flooded through her, felt her begin to draw away from him. He knew it was too much to expect that she would forgive him this quickly, but still a pang of pain shot through his as he felt her instant withdrawal.

He took his arms away from around her, and got up; the next hour passed in silence as they both prepared for work.

As he put his hand on the door to open it, he stopped and said “Geet, main neeche intezaar karto hoon, we could go to the office together if you wanted”

He turned back to look at her, waiting for her answer. She hesitated then nodded; he turned away quietly, surprised by how relieved he was that she was willing to spend time alone with him.

After a silent breakfast and an equally silent journey to the office, the demands of business took over; Maan and Geet immersed themselves thankfully in the logical demands of projects and clients, grateful for the temporary reprieve from having to deal with the emotional storm hovering just over the horizon.

Chapter 5

The next 15 days passed in a similar fashion- Dadi dedicated herself to Dev and Vicky’s care and recovery whilst Maan and Geet devoted themselves to Khurana Constructions and their clients. The long hours they spent in the office meant that Dev and Vicky were always in their rooms by the time they got home; at times, Geet could almost forget that they were living there. Their nights passed in similar fashion; Maan didn’t make a single move towards Geet, not one attempt to make love to her. It was as if he knew that she would break if he made any demands on her, or if he forced the issue; instead he was content with the hours she spent in his arms whilst she slept, content with the knowledge that her subconscious still trusted him, still needed him. For him, there was no longer anything holding him apart from her; once he had revealed the truth about Dev and Vicky, he had left every decision to her. He still felt guilty for having hurt her, but the crushing burden of lying to her no longer threatened to asphyxiate him. All he could do now was wait and watch and hope that she could forgive him.

Finally, a free Sunday arrived. On that Sunday morning, Geet woke in Maan’s arms as she had for the last 15 days. That day, however, Geet didn’t draw away as soon as she awoke. That morning, she lay there quietly, aware that Maan was awake too. The silence between them throbbed with sadness, with guilt.

Time passed, yet neither of them moved nor spoke. Maan stroked his fingers through her hair, occasionally grazing her ears with his touch. They lay there in absolute silence until nature’s demands forced Geet to move; as she drew away, her lips grazed his chest in a featherlight kiss. Maan lay still, unsure whether the touch had been deliberate or not; the control he was exerting over himself came close to breaking at the thought that she had kissed him but he didn’t dare react in case he had misunderstood.

A few moments later, once she had entered the bathroom, he stood. There was so much that needed to be said between them, yet somehow he didn’t know where to start. He knew he had hurt her with his behaviour, but he wasn’t sure what she was feeling now—which emotion was the over-riding one. Anger he could handle, Geet’s anger would eventually burn itself out. But if she didn’t trust him or if he had hurt her more than she could bear—that was something he couldn’t bear to think about. And that didn’t even take into account the fact that Dev was there, living in their house—it was too much to hope that Geet wouldn’t come face to face with him in the remainder of time he spent in the house; how would she react to that; would Geet blame him, Maan, for having to face the villain of her story?

As he stood there looking out of the window, there was a knock at the door. Turning to look at the door to the bathroom, he crossed over to the main door rather than invite the intruder in.

He opened the door to find Nakul standing there “Chote sahab, Dadi aap ko yaad karrahi theen, kehrahi theen ke aapka naashte pe intezaar karrahi hain. Dev sahab apne kamre mein hi naashta karrahe hain” said Nakul, without a single expression on his face.

Maan hesitated again, then said “Hum aate hain”

He closed the door, then turned as Geet emerged wrapped in a towelling robe.

Savouring the sight of his wife all warm and rosy from her hot shower, Maan spoke quietly “Geet, kya tum neeche aake naashta karogi?”

As she hesitated, he said “Dadi bula rahi theen, magar agar tum chaho to hum yaheen karlete hain.”

After a moment he added “Dev wahan nahin hoga”

She looked at him then nodded—he was starting to crave the sound of her voice, she spoke to him so little nowadays.

Leaving her to dress, he picked out some casual clothes and entered the bathroom; when he emerged he saw her standing there in a simple churidaar suit, so different to her daily office wear.

Walking to the door, he said “Shall we?” and held the door open for her; as they walked down the stairs together, he could have almost convinced himself that things were normal between them.

When they approached the dining table, he realised that whilst Dev wasn’t going to be troubling them today, Vicky HAD joined Dadi at the dining table.

Looking over at Geet, he reached out and took her hand; hoping that she understood the gesture as a silent offer of support. She jumped at the unexpected contact, then looked down at their joined hands. He took it as a small victory that she didn’t pull her hand away.

As they reached the table, Vicky stood, using the crutch that he still needed to support himself.
“Vicky, tumhein khade hone ki zaroorat nahin hai” he said, applying gentle pressure to bring Geet forward

“Geet, Vicky se milo. Yeh mera chota bhai hai, Vikram. Hum sab isse Vicky kehte hain.. Vicky, yeh meri Geet hai, tumhari bhabi”

He wasn’t sure what made him sound so possessive, what made him claim her as his—perhaps it was the knowledge that Vicky knew about Geet’s interaction with Dev, about what Dev had done to Geet; perhaps he needed to make it clear that no matter what the past was, Geet was his now, and always would be.

Geet looked at him, startled. Letting go of his hand, she moved forward and said “Vicky, I’m sorry you were so hurt. I hope that yahan you’ve got everything you need”

Vicky smiled at the beautiful woman talking to him—he wasn’t sure what he had expected when he had heard the whole sorry story from Dev bhai, but this vision of beauty hadn’t been it.

“Nahin Bhabi, I’ve got everything I need. Aap ne aur Dadi ne har bandobast kiya hai, and the therapists come daily to ensure I get me daily dose of torture as well” He smiled as he said it, and was gratified when he got a gentle smile in return.

Dadi bustled into the room, Nakul following in her wake. “Aaj maine aaloo ke parathe banwaye hain Geet. Dekhte hain ke Nakul tumhari barabari karsakta hai ya nahin”

As they started eating, Vicky exerted himself to charm his Bhabi, and by the end of the meal Geet had relaxed enough to laugh and joke with him.

Maan sat and watched their interaction, reminding himself that he had no reason to feel jealous because Geet was opening up to Vicky in a way she wasn’t with him. He should be glad, he told himself, glad that at least one of his brothers could have a normal relationship with his wife.

As they got up from the table, Geet and Vicky continued to chat away. Dadi smiled and stopped him as he went to follow them “Maan, give her some time to get to know him. It can’t be easy for her to have a stranger in the house, let her talk to him for a while without you around”

He nodded, hiding his reluctance to have Geet out of his sight. Feeling slightly like a third wheel, he turned around and went to his home office; if he couldn’t spend his time manao-ing his wife, he might as well get on with some work.

Geet’s smile faltered as her Maan-radar told her that he had walked away. She wasn’t sure what she had expected—perhaps that he would try and talk to her, or at least stay near her. She should be
glad that he was giving her space to deal with her feelings, but a large part of her just wanted him to be there, near her.

Turning her attention back to Vicky, she smiled as he talked away—despite everything he’d been through, he still had an air of happiness about him. As he turned towards her, she caught a glimpse of something in his eyes, a hint of something dark and hurting; it was only a flash, but she realised that his happy-go-lucky manner was as much of a mask as Maan’s dusht danav routine; it seemed likely that the youngest Khurana brother hid his feelings at least as well as his eldest brother did.

The conversation turned to Vicky’s childhood; he was clever enough to censor his stories to mention only Maan and Dadi, carefully leaving out any mention of Dev. But Geet had spent enough time learning how to speak “Khurana” to be able to piece together rather a lot about the Khurana boys’ childhood; perhaps with enough time, she’d be able to understand what made Maan into the Maan Singh Khurana the world knew.

After a couple of hours, Vicky began to droop; Geet called one of the servants over to support him back to his room, then wandered around doing little tasks to fill her time. After half an hour of make-work, she noticed Nakul approaching “Geet madam, Mrs Kapoor aayi hain, apni bahu ke saath”

“So visiting hours have started have they” she thought to herself. Every Sunday was the same—people came, drank endless cups of tea, pumped Dadi and her for information about her past and her life and Maan, then left. She and Dadi had become rather adept at giving people the impression that they were baring their souls whilst revealing not an iota of new information.

“Nakul, Dadi ko batado, chai ka intezaam kardo, aur Mrs Kapoor se kaho ke main bas abhi aayi” she called out as she raced up the stairs. The simple clothes she’d worn this morning were in no way adequate to face Mrs Kapoor—to face her, she needed the full Khurana-bahu armour.

Chapter 6

10 minutes later, she hurried down the stairs, then stopped at the sight of Maan sitting with his grandmother, entertaining the Kapoor ladies. During the early months of her marriage, he’d often joined her in these Sunday afternoon inquisitions, delighting in frustrating the enquiries directed their way. But over the past two and a half months, he’d been absent from these social situations—she’d learnt to tell people how busy he was, and tolerate the pitying looks from women who thought the shine had worn off their marriage. She’d once walked in on two women gossiping, and overheard “well, a simple village girl could only keep Maan Singh Khurana interested for so long—he’s probably realised the mistake he’s made, but can’t think of a way to fix it. He should have just bought her off rather than sacrificing himself to pay for his brother’s mistake”

They’d turned towards her as soon as they realised she was there, and spoken to her in honeyed tones for quite some time; the realisation of what people were saying had made her want to scream with hurt and anger, made her want to rage at Maan for leaving her so exposed—seeing him sitting there reminded her of how he’d left her alone for those two and a half months and she had to force herself to pin a smile to her face before she advanced towards the small group sitting in front of her.
Dadi smiled in greeting “Lo, aagayeen aap, bas abhi aap ki hi baat horahi thi. Mrs Kapoor was just talking about your wedding.”

Mrs Kapoor nodded in agreement; a large placid woman who had always been kind to Geet, she was one of Savitri’s oldest friends “Haan Geet, I was asking your Dadi where you got your clothes from, they were so lovely, but she tells me that you chose them yourself. Mujhe zara batado, kaunsa collection tha, I’d like to see if my grand-daughter can find anything she likes there for her wedding.”

“Of course, Aunty, I’ll just go and find you the details”

As she started to walk past Maan’s seat towards the sideboard where she had left her phone, she felt Maan’s long fingers wrap around her wrist. She stopped, looking down at him. Their eyes met and held as he spoke “Aunty, main bata deta hoon. Main hi to leke gaya tha Geet ko wahan.” As he spoke, he handed his phone to Dadi to pass to Mrs Kapoor; he didn’t let go of Geet’s hand.

“Yaad hai, Geet, jab hum wahan gaye the, light chali gayi thi.” He looked away from Geet’s eyes and continued talking to Mrs Kapoor “magar phir bhi Aunty, humare sab kaam bahut jaldi hogaye the”
His fingers stroked the pulse point at Geet’s wrist as she spoke, feeling her heart rate increase.
“tumhein yaad hai Geet” he asked, looking up at her again, his eyes searching hers for any hint of softening

After what seemed like an eternity, but was only in fact about 10 seconds, Geet spoke “mujhe yaad hai”

They may have remained frozen in position for much longer, speaking to each other in a language no one else could understand, if another voice hadn’t suddenly cut through the air.

“To Geet, kya tum iss hi designer se apne anniversary function ke liye outfit design karwaogi”

Geet blinked and broke the connection with Maan’s gaze, slipping her wrist from his grasp.

“Anniversary function” she said, turning to face Mrs Kapoor’s daughter-in-law, who had so far remained silent. “Abhi to............................”

“Arre Deepika,” Dadi broke in “tumhein shayad pata nahin. First anniversaries are celebrated in a slightly unusual manner in the Khurana khaandaan, it’s a tradition going back several generations”
Geet turned and looked at Dadi. She was just about to ask for some details when the senior Mrs Kapoor let out a squeal and hastened to her feet. “Vicky” she exclaimed “Vicky, tum kab aaye, mere bacchhe yahan aao”

She swept towards Vicky and drew him into a hug—Geet was looking at Vicky’s face and noted the instinctive stiffening, the urge to draw back from physical contact- then watched as Vicky stifled his response and returned the embrace.

Inwardly shaking her head at the Khurana men and their issues with emotions, she turned back towards Dadi intending to ask her about the Khurana tradition; but the moment had been lost and Dadi was too busy laughing at Vicky and Mrs Kapoor to pay heed to her question.

Over the next 4 hours, guests came and went; Geet lost count of the number of times she’d requested the tea tray, and cups of tea that she had poured.

By 6pm, the last guest had finally taken their leave, and Dadi sat back with a sigh and kicked off her shoes. Geet smiled inwardly- the older woman never looked anything less than immaculately dressed, but right now she looked distinctly frazzled.

“Thank goodness that’s done for today” Dadi said “Hum bahut thak gaye hain, bachchon—I’m going to take a long hot bubble bath and then have a quiet meal in my room—aap log hamara khaane pe mat intezaar kijiyega”

She laid her head back for a moment, then got to her feet, bent to pick her shoes up and made her stately way out of the hall.

Smiling as she watched her go, Geet turned back and found herself the object of scrutiny from two pairs of intense brown eyes. Vicky was watching Maan and Geet with a questioning look of his face.

Unsure exactly which vibes he was picking up on, Geet was about to ask him if anything was wrong when he spoke

“Bhai,main bhi bahut thak gaya hoon” he said, drawing Maan’s attention away from Geet for a moment. “main jaake aaraam karoonga, then I think I might go for a swim—but don’t wait for me to have your meal. I’ve eaten so many samosas today that I don’t think I’ll feel hungry for the next week”

With a smile for Geet as he walked past, Vicky made his way out of the hall too, leaving Maan and Geet alone together.

Left alone with her husband, Geet grimaced inwardly at the tangle of emotions inside her. She felt almost angry with herself for being so susceptible to Maan; despite her hurt and anger, the love she felt for him hadn’t lessened. But the hurt was still fresh, the anger still hot—she couldn’t yet forgive him for the way he had acted over the last 2 and a half months.

She turned and started to walk away, when he quietly said “Geet”

She stopped but didn’t turn back.

“Geet, please. I need to talk to you. Will you just come for a walk with me?”

She didn’t speak, just nodded again, then turned and walked out of the hall with him into the Rose garden behind the mansion. Eventually they reached a swing, surrounded by flowers—the setting sun cast a golden glow over the white roses which predominated the seating area.

She sat back and took in the sight, gently rocking the swing with her feet. He stood beside her and watched her for a moment, then spoke

“Geet, I’ve spoken to the architect, the plans are ready; I’ll speak with Adi tomorrow and arrange for a construction team to start building within the next week. I won’t be here though”

At her startled look, he sighed “I have a series of meetings in Mumbai, Pune and Chandigarh. I’ll be away for about a 10 days. It was all arranged about 3 months ago—I had planned to ask you to come with me, but under the circumstances.”

He stopped, trying to assess her reaction from her body language. When she didn’t react, he sighed then went on “Adi will be coming with me, but I’ve left all our itinerary and contact details in a file on my desk. I’ll be leaving for the airport in a while. I need to talk to you before I go Geet. I need to ask you to tell me what’s going through your mind.”

He turned away from her, looking out towards the rows of rose bushes. “ Mujhe pata hai ke maine tumhein bahut dard diya hai, but I need you to tell me what I can do to make things better, to help you forgive me. Are you angry because of the way I behaved, or because I lied to you, or because I’ve let Dev back into our lives? Or is it all three?”

He stood silently for a moment, listening to the sounds of her breaths behind him, hearing the little hitch in her breath that told him that she was crying. Unable to bear the fact that he had made her cry again, he turned to stand in front of her. “Geet” he said, placing his fingers under her chin and tilting her face towards him “Geet, please mat ro, just tell me what I can do to make things better.” He used his other hand to wipe the tears leaking out from her closed lids.

He cupped her cheek and said “Geet, I’ll be back in 10 days. Miss me”

Bending down, he lay his lips on hers- trying to convey all his feelings, all his love through this one kiss. He felt a swell of relief rush through him as she responded to his touch, kissing him back with hesitant passion.

Breaking the kiss, he said “I love you Geet”. He kissed her gently one last time, then walked towards the house, aware that he was leaving so many things unsaid.

The woman left behind felt the tears continue to drip from the corners of her eyes. In truth, she wasn’t sure what to say to her husband. What was she most angry about now? Was it the lying, the secrecy? Was it the fact that her husband had given succour to the man who had destroyed her life?
Or was it that she wanted him to understand how she had felt over the last two and a half months, when she had lived in a state of limbo, unsure what her future held.

A while later she noticed that the light flooding the garden was moonlight not sunlight and that the temperature was distinctly chilly. Looking at her watch, she was surprised to see how much time had passed by. She stood up, taking a few moments to shake the life back into her numb legs.
Geet made her way back to her bedroom, noting that Nakul had tidied up after packing Maan’s suitcase. Entering the bathroom, she shed her clothes and turned the shower on- then spent the next half an hour standing under the pounding spray, letting it wash away some of her tension.

When she emerged, her mind was still swirling with confused thoughts. Only one thing had become crystal clear- no matter what happened, living without Maan was not an option. Whatever it took, whatever she had to bear- she would. But a life without Maan in it was not worth living.

Chapter 7

Over the next 7 days, Geet immersed herself in work. With Maan and Adi both away, she was involved in managing the business—whilst she had little formal training, she had common sense, which the designers and architects sometimes lacked. If there wasn’t more than enough to keep her occupied at work, at home things were just as hectic. Now that news had got out that the youngest Khurana brother was home, their home was suddenly the place to visit—every evening, someone would phone and ask if “they could drop in, just for a few minutes, after all it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen darling Vicky beta”. Those “few minutes” always translated into at least an hour or two of tea and gossip; she’d been pleasantly surprised to see that her initial impression had been correct- Vikram Khurana was more than capable of handling himself, of guarding against any accidental revelations, of charming people so that they didn’t see the molten steel hidden in the depths of his eyes.

Every evening, Maan would phone and speak to Dadi, giving her an update on how the meetings were progressing. Dadi obviously assumed that she and Maan were speaking privately, which meant that she never questioned why Geet didn’t ask to speak to Maan or vice versa.

In truth, the only contact between them over those 7 days were a nightly text message that Maan sent, the same message every day. “Geet, I love you. Miss me”. The text arrived every night without fail, ensuring that she spent every night lying awake, thinking about what had happened, why it had happened, and how she was going to react when she saw Maan again.

It was odd—she could see such similarities between Maan and Vicky, and it was clear that Vicky worshipped Maan. Yet the relationship was so much more complicated than that, hedged around with misunderstanding and guilt, expectation and irritation and even longing. From things Vicky had said, he had spent years battling for Maan’s approval, fighting for some sign that he was loved. It was enough to make Geet shake her head with frustration—why could Maan not open up to the other people in his life the way he did to her? She remembered that he had once told her that he was Maan only for her and Maan Singh Khurana for the rest of the world. It was increasingly clear to her that until she had entered his life, Maan had only had one avatar. It was only love that forced him to open up to her.

She didn’t doubt that Maan loved his family, his grandmother and his brother (she deliberately didn’t think about Dev). Yet his instinct was to hide himself away, deal with problems on his own without any help from anyone else. That was what he had done when confronted with two brothers in hospital, one of whom had committed a grave sin-- retreated back to the coping strategies he understood, acting to protect both Dadi and herself from the problem.

Understanding his actions didn’t make the hurt any less, didn’t make it any easier for her to deal with the memories of two and a half months of loneliness, two and a half months of feeling as if she had done something wrong, had driven him away somehow. There had been a hidden kernel of terror that those people who had said that Maan Singh Khurana would soon tire of his country-
mouse wife were correct. It had only been those nights when he had come to her to seek pleasure and comfort in her body that had convinced her that he still loved her, that there was something other than a lack of love keeping him away from her.

Understanding his actions didn’t make the anger vanish, but slowly and gradually her anger was lessening- thinking about how much he would have suffered over the past two and a half months, she knew exactly how he would be blaming himself—no punishment she could devise would be worse than his self-castigation.

At the end of her 7th sleepless night, she turned to face the side of the bed where Maan usually lay, running her hand over the cold sheets. “Jaldi aajaein Maan”

That morning, she sent him a text “Maan, I miss you.”

Chapter 8

That evening, Dev had a fit. In fact, he didn’t just have one fit, he had several. The therapist who was with him came running out of the room into the main hall; when he saw the crowd gathered there, he slowed his approach, and quietly leaned in to talk to Geet (the Khurana’s didn’t employ foolish or indiscreet people in any capacity).

“Mrs Khurana, I think you need to call an ambulance. Mr Dev is very unwell.”

Controlling her instinctive denial at the sound of Dev’s name, she asked “What’s wrong?” When she heard that Dev was fitting, she discreetly started walking towards the brothers’ wing, dialling for an ambulance as she walked. As she reached the room, she noticed that Vicky had materialised beside her

“Bhabi, kya hua?”

“Your brother has been having fits for a while, according to Raj; Raj thinks he needs to go to hospital, so I’ve called an ambulance”

She hesitated at the door; even though he was currently gravely ill, the thought of seeing Dev again was disconcerting to say the least.

Noticing her hesitation, Vicky took the handle and pushed past her into the room. Falling to his knees (slowly, stiffly) he sat next to Dev who continued to convulse. Geet looked on, shocked—she had never seen anyone have a fit before and it was terrifying to watch. Vicky looked up and saw her reaction “Its ok, Bhabi, its okay—he’ll be okay if we can get him to a hospital quickly. He’s done this once before, about a month after the accident”

Shaken, Geet nodded helplessly and said “the ambulance is on its way. I’ll go and tell Dadi kya horaha hai, phir main gadi leke hospital aati hoon. Kya tum mere saath chaloge ya apne bhai ke saath ambulance mein kaaoge?”

“Main Dev bhai ke saath jaata hoon, then I’ll meet you there”

She turned and stepped out of the room, then just stood for a moment, taking a deep breath to help settle her shivers. The man she had seen on the floor in that room was a pale shadow of the man who had wooed her in Hoshiyaarpur; deep scars marked his face and he was almost skeletal. The
sight of him caught unconscious and out of control almost made her pity him—whatever she had imagined, whatever punishment she had dreamt up in her most tortured moments seemed to pale into insignificance in the face of the helplessness she had just witnessed.

She hastened to the main hall and gently caught Dadi’s attention; after explaining quietly what was happening, she made her way quietly to her room to change into something a bit more appropriate; on her way she asked Nakul to alert one of the drivers to ready a car to take her to the hospital. She knew she could rely on Dadi to keep a cool head in this situation, knew that she’d be discreet in front of the visitors.

After she changed, she picked up her phone; glancing at it, she saw that Maan had sent a text message. “Geet, I love you. Thank god you miss me”

Her heart clenched; as she hurried down to the waiting car she tried to think of how to tell Maan what was going on here at home. En route, she dialled his number- he answered before the first ring had even finished, making her think that he had been waiting for her to call

“Geet” the relief and happiness in his voice made her want to cry, but she spoke quickly before he could say anything else

“Maan, meri baat suniye. Aapke bhai ko hospital jaana pada hai, usski tabiyat kaafi kharab hogayi hai”

She could see him in her mind’s eye, could visualise the way he would draw himself straight, the way his face would change, harden.

“Vicky ko kya hua, Geet?”

“Vicky nahin Maan, aapke doosre bhai ki baat karrahi hoon. Main abhi raaste mein hoon, hospital pahonchoongi to zyaada pata chalega”

“Main aaraha hoon, main yahan se pehli flight leta hoon aur main aata hoon” she could hear him standing up and hastened to stop him

“Maan, abhi ruk jayyiye, aap yahan aake kya karenge. Main pehle doctors se baat karloon, phir main aap ko phone karke batati hoon ke kya hona hai. Abhi jaldi mat kijiye. Yahan hum sab ye sambhaal lenge, aap apni meetings poori karlijiye”

She could almost feel his impatience, his irritation at not being able to control everything, not being able to be in two places at once.

“Geet, this shouldn’t be something you have to deal with. I never wanted to burden you in this way” the frustration in his voice was apparent

“Maan, its okay. It’s okay, really.” She tried to infuse her voice with the truth of the situation, which was that seeing Dev in that condition-so weak and vulnerable- had somehow allowed her to look past the wounds he had dealt her. Now, she could somehow deal with what needed to be done, handle doctors and hospitals and insurance companies—do it all for the sake of her husband, to fulfil her responsibility as the Khurana bahu.

“Maan, main thodi der mein aap ko phone karti hoon, aap abhi kuch mat kijiye”

He sighed, letting her have her way. “Theek hai Geet, magar agar tumhara phone 2 ghante ke andar nahin aata hai, to phir main yahan se pehli flight se aaraha hoon”

He ended the call abruptly, but a moment later her phone beeped, indicating the arrival of a text message. She opened her phone and saw “Geet I love you. Thank you” She smiled then turned her attention to what needed to be done next.

After arriving at the hospital, she rang Vicky. “Tum kahan ho, main yahan Emergency department ke bahar khadi hoon” she said, then put her phone away as she saw him limping quickly towards her.

“Kya hua”

“they’ve stopped the fits Bhabi, but he’s going to have to spend the night in hospital; they’ve got a few more tests to do but they think he’ll probably be able to come home within the next 2 days. I spoke to him, but he’s stil quite drowsy. There’s not much for us to do here tonight, you should go home and rest”

She’d been dealing with Khurana-speak for a while now, and didn’t miss the his attempt at distracting her “Vicky, agar main ghar jaaongi to tumhein bhi mere saath chalna hoga; tumhara yahan rehne se kya faida. Let me talk to the doctor, and then we’ll see”

Approaching the nurse’s station, she asked to speak to the doctor handling her devar’s case—when the tired looking woman approached, she introduced herself and asked for an update. What she heard was both reassuring and at the same time deeply worrying. Dev’s fits had stopped and he’d probably be ok, but there was no way of predicting when this would happen, if it would happen again or not, or how much these fits would affect Dev’s life.

Some deep hidden part of Geet mourned for the loss of the carefree and charming man she had first met, the one she had thought she’d loved. He’d never really existed—she knew that—yet the man who lay in a hospital bed tonight had the same face and body as the man who had once made her feel beautiful- and she couldn’t help but feel a little sadness for the position he was now in.

She stepped outside into the cold night air, standing under the starlit sky, and dialled Maan’s number. Before the first ring had finished she heard “Geet?” As she explained what was happening, she could feel his need to do something, anything. “Maan, yahan sab theek hai—ek do din mein aapke bhai ko doctor ghar aane denge. There’s nothing for you to do here.”

“Geet” he sighed.

After a moment of silence, he said “Theek hai, jaise tum kehti ho. I’ll finish my meetings and get home as soon as possible”

As she disconnected the call, she almost laughed out loud—she’d had a fairly long conversation with her husband after weeks of near-silence, and the topic had been the man who stood at the heart of their troubles.

The next 2 days passed in a flash; Dev took some time to recover fully from his post-ictal state, but eventually he was ready to be discharged. Geet went with Dadi to collect him from the hospital—Dadi wanted to speak to the doctors herself.

As she stood outside Dev’s hospital room, waiting for Dadi to return, she heard his voice calling out “Excuse me, kya wahan koi hai?”

She wished she could just ignore his plea for help, but sadly she couldn’t—hesitantly she entered the room

“Oh, shukr hai—mujhe laga meri koi baat nahin sun payega. I’m sorry to bother you—but could you possibly get a nurse for me; I need to ask for some painkillers.”

She stood there for a moment, just looking at him, shocked by his lack of recognition

“Excuse me, hello?? I’m sorry, you seem to know me—do I know you?” Dev said, smiling a somewhat pained smile. “Mujhe maaf karna hoga, meri kuch chotein hain, unki wajha se I don’t remember everyone I’ve met. Have I met you before?”

Geet stuttered something, she wasn’t sure what. DEV DIDN’T REMEMBER HER. He had no idea who she was, meaning he probably didn’t remember what he’d done. Struggling to assimilate this information into the way she looked at things, she said “let me go and see if I can find a nurse for you” and ducked out of the room

Grabbing a passing nurse, she relayed what Dev had said, then just stood there, unsure what to do. Moments later Dadi approached. “Geet, doctor se meri baat hogayi hai; Dev ghar aane ke liye tayyar hai. Kuch thodi bahut problems hain jo ab rahengi—magarusske baare mein ab hum kuch nahin karsakte, bas bardaasht karna padengi.”

She walked into Dev’s room; following in behind, Geet watched as Dadi embraced Dev and said
“Bete, aap ne humein bahut pareshan kardiya tha, ab chaliye, ghar chalne ka waqt aagaya hai”

Dev said “Dadi, maine jaan boojh ke to kuch nahin kiya” then stopped as he saw Geet behind Dadi.

“Arre aap, aap yahan kaise? Dadi, yeh kaun hai—abhi meri madad ki, magar apna taarruff nahin kiya”

Dadi looked up and her eyes met Geet’s- “Dev, yeh aapki Bhabi hain, Maan ki biwi.”

“Bhabi? Bro ne shaadi karli, aur mujhe pata bhi nahin? Shaadi ko kitne din hogaye?”

“Dev, yeh sab baatein ghar jaake bhi hosakti hain, ab chalein?”

Dadi helped Dev out of bed, then guided him towards the door; within moments, the trio were on their way home.

Chapter 9

The next 2 days passed quietly; now that Dev and Geet had finally met, Dadi decided that it was no longer necessary for Dev to stay in seclusion in his room—she encouraged him to come and sit in the main hall, to spend time talking to Vicky and herself. Geet just got caught in the ensuing discussions.

The time she spent with her in-laws showed Geet what Dev must have been like before he changed, before he became the man capable of the evil he had done her. She wondered, lying in her lonely bed at night, what it was that had turned him into a man so debased as to ruin an innocent girl? She also couldn’t help but understand why Maan had been unable to turn away—if this was the brother he remembered, this laughing, happy-go-lucky man who shrugged off his ongoing pain and disability and attempted to focus on the positive—then how could he turn his back on him?

As ever, every thought led back to Maan. She missed him more with every passing hour, wanted him back, wanted to talk to him and hold him and tell him that she understood the choices he had made.

She wanted to shake him and make him promise, promise that he would never stop talking to her again, promise that he would never hold himself aloof from her in an attempt to protect her.
He would be back with her tomorrow—she would have him here with her. There would be time enough to talk to him then.

The next morning, she was woken when Maan called to say that he was stuck in meetings and his homecoming would be delayed for another 3 days. Trying to hide her loneliness, she assured him that she was fine, she was coping. She thought she’d succeeded in reassuring him, but a few moments after she ended the call her phone beeped, alerting her to a text message “Geet, I miss you. I feel as if my heart’s been frozen in ice when I’m away from you. I’ll be with you as soon as I can. Tumhaare baghair main poori tarha se zinda bhi nahin hoon.”

She felt the tears spring to her eyes as she read and re-read his message. He would never be able to say those words to her, but he could write them and she thanked god that he did. She pressed the reply button and wrote “Maan, jaldi aajaiyye, aap ke baghair main adhoori hoon”

She turned over in bed and hid her face in her pillow—she wept and wept and wept, all the tears and sadness and longing that had been pent up for the past few months came pouring out of her as if a damn had burst. She cried for over an hour, until her eyes were swollen and red, but it was as if all the anger and bitterness washed out of her along with her tears.

Eventually, a knock at her door made her wipe her face and get up—she opened the door to find her younger brother-in-law standing there. He looked at her puffy eyes and blotchy face searchingly but didn’t comment “Bhabi, aap naashte pe nahin aayengi?”

Breakfast had become a family meal over the past few days; it was surprising how easily she now handled Dev’s presence—his complete lack of any memory of their previous dealings made it easier for her to shut off her memories into a deep recess of her mind. The conversation centred around the Khurana brothers’ childhood, and she had obtained answers to some of the questions that had intrigued her about what had made Maan into the man he was.

“Main aati hoon, Vicky, bas abhi tumhare Bhai se baat karrahi thi. Woh aaj nahin aayenge, unhein ek do din ki der hogayi hai”

Vicky’s searching look turned to one of understanding—he obviously attributed her tears to sadness at being separated from Maan for longer than she had expected- she didn’t disillusion him.

“Koi baat nahin Bhabi, ek do din to bahut jaldi guzar jayenge. Aajaiyye, aap neeche aajaiyye”

After assuring him that she would be down in a little while, Geet closed the door and turned towards the bathroom. As she passed the desk, she noted the date—a shiver went down her spine as she realised that the first anniversary of the night Maan had first filled her maang was in 3 days time. Did Maan remember?? Would he be home that night? She knew that it didn’t really matter—it wasn’t her real wedding anniversary, that was two weeks later. It wasn’t a night that anyone would consider as having any real meaning.

But deep down inside her, she knew that in some ways it was more important than her real wedding anniversary. The moment when Maan had filled her maang with his blood had been the moment that had bound them forever, the moment which she considered to be the start of her marriage.

Even if no-one else in the world felt that way, for her it was an almost sacred moment.

Many months ago, when she and Maan had been discussing anniversaries and the years to come, she had made a promise to herself that on that night she would take Maan to the dargaah where she had first realised that she loved him- it had felt strangely appropriate.

Now, she decided that she would go there alone- even though Maan wouldn’t be with her, she could still give thanks for all the good things that had happened to her in the last year.

Having made her decision, she dressed and went downstairs, ready to face the world again.
Chapter 10

On the day of her first “first” anniversary, Geet spent the day with her in-laws, talking and laughing in a way that she would never have thought possible.

In the evening however, she excused herself early, saying that she was tired and wanted to go to bed early—for some reason she didn’t want to tell anyone what she was doing.

She went to her room and put on a white churidaar suit, edged with burgundy. She picked up a small sindoor-case and put it in her purse then made her way to the servants quarters, where she woke one of the older drivers—in fact, the same driver who had taken her to the rustic-date with Maan so many months ago.

As she arrived at the dargaah, she bought some flowers then made her way inside. There was a qawwali going on and she sat to listen to it—something about the emotions hidden in the words spoke to her, even though she didn’t understand the words.

When the qawwali finished, she stood, realising that it was quite late and there was a good chance she would have been missed at home. As she turned towards the dargah to pay her respects, she opened her purse and took out the sindoor case. Opening the lid, she started to take a pinch; she felt a body come up close behind her and a familiar hand came and rested on hers.

Recognising the beloved feeling of Maan’s body close to her, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then turned and buried her face in his chest as he said “Geet, tumhari maang mein sindoor bharna mera haq hai”

She felt his arms come up around her and crush her close; they stood in silence for a while, before she laughed and drew away, aware that their behaviour was perhaps not what was expected in a place where people worshipped.

“How did you know I was here?” she asked, then caught her breath as he looked straight into her eyes and said “Geet”

Just her name, but it was enough to convey so much.

Stepping back from her a little, he put his hand out and took the little sindoor case from her. Taking a full pinch, he put his fingers to her forehead and filled her maang in one decisive action, then brought his fingers round to cup her face

“Geet, ek saal pehle, I filled your maang for the first time, tumhein yaad hai?”

Their eyes met and held, the memories swirling between them

“jitna pyaar main tumse tab karta tha, uss se ek hazaar dafa zyaada pyar ab karta hoon. Every day I spend with you, I love you more. No matter how badly I’ve sinned over the last few months, that has always been the absolute truth—I will love you to the day I die and beyond.”

Aware that he couldn’t kiss her the way he wanted to in their current surroundings, he nevertheless lifted her hands to his lips and laid two passion-filled kisses in the palms of her hands. He kept hold of one hand and drew her towards the exit- something about the way they were walking reminded her of the phere they had taken, when he had taken the lead in the initial circuits.

As they reached the car, he drew her into his arms once more—holding her close, he said “I missed you”

They got into the car; the drive back to the mansion was completed in silence. The tight grip he kept on her hand, however, spoke volumes.

Chapter 11

When they arrived back at the mansion, any hopes of a quiet escape into their room were shattered by Dadi’s presence in the main hall as they passed through.

“Maan bete, aap aagaye. Aap Geet se kahan mile?”

As they both tried to think of answers to give her, Dadi continued “Chalo accha hai, aap aagaye—aaj se do hafte baad aap ki anniversary hai- to phir aaj se hum khaandaani rasam shuru kardenge”

Though they had both smiled slightly when Dadi had mentioned their anniversary (no doubt thinking of the private anniversary moment they had just celebrated), they both reacted differently to Dadi’s next statement.

“Dadi, is that really necessary now? Geet and I haven’t seen each other for such a long time and now you want us to stay apart for another week” Maan spluttered

Though Geet’s first reaction had been mild query, Maan’s words resonated through her, making her say “Kaunsi rasam Dadi- what’s Maan talking about”

“Geet bete, I haven’t had a chance to tell you—things have been so disorganised recently. But do you remember me saying to Deepika Kapoor that first anniversaries are celebrated slightly differently in the Khurana khaandaan? Well, this is what I was talking about. The tradition is that the bride returns to her maika two weeks before the first wedding anniversary—then after a week, the groom goes to collect her and then the couple goes to the Khaandani holiday cottage in Manali for two weeks. This is a tradition that has been going on for the last 200 years Maan bete, of course I’m going to ask you to follow it. The only couple in our family who didn’t follow the tradition were your younger brother and his wife—and see how that ended up. Every other Khurana family marriage has been remarkably happy, even your father and mother for as long as she lived.”

Stepping back a bit, Dadi played her trump card “waise to I can’t tell you to do anything, you are both adults and capable of making your own decisions. But I wish you would listen to me, it would make me feel so much happier”

Maan and Geet looked at each other, aware that they were being handled by a master manipulator. Maan raised an eyebrow, asking- Geet nodded once, then shrugged ruefully.

Maan turned back to Dadi “Theek hai Dadi, jaise aap kahein. But can’t we start tomorrow—Geet and I..............................”

Dadi smiled “nahin bete, I’m afraid not. I’ve already had some of Geet’s clothes moved back to the outhouse—she’ll stay there from tonight, for the next week”

Stepping forward, she took Geet’s hand and drew her away, leaving Maan watching frustratedly.

As the two women walked towards the outhouse, Savitri said “Geet, I know things haven’t been quite right between the two of you for some time now and I’m not trying to keep you apart.”

Stopping Geet’s instinctive protests with a gentle squeeze of the hand she held, Savitri went on “Geet, I’m neither blind nor stupid, but I didn’t want to interfere between the two of you. Whatever was going on, ab thoda theek hogaya hai, na?”

At Geet’s blushing nod, Savitri smiled and said “Thank goodness. Phir bhi Geet, yeh jo tradition hai, yeh bahut zamaane se chali aarahi hai. I think it will be good for the two of you to have a fortnight away from Delhi and from the rest of the family”

As they reached the outhouse, Savitri said “I’ll see you tomorrow Geet; we’ve got a busy week ahead!”

She watched as Geet started climbing the stairs, then closed the doors behind her.

Geet entered the room she had occupied during her engagement, looking round with a reminiscent smile. There were candles sitting on the tables, reminding her of Maan (didn’t everything), and the burgundy bed-curtains Maan had arranged were still hanging on the four-poster.

She thought back to the last time she had been in the room; how upset she had been then, hating everything Maan was telling her, unable to believe that Dev was in their lives again. How much pain had she been then, after two and a half months of estrangement from Maan?

Thank god things were different now. Though she would never be able to fully be comfortable with Dev, she could at least try to think of him only as her husband’s younger brother. Maan’s devotion had helped to heal the wounds Dev had caused. She also knew that the next few days were going to be difficult; from what Vicky had let slip, Maan had not actually talked to Dev after the accident. It was likely then that he didn’t fully understand what changes the injuries had brought into Dev’s life
and in his personality; he probably wouldn’t understand how Geet could be so accepting of Dev in the house or in her life.

As she changed into her night clothes, Geet sighed; the next few days promised to test her to the limits.
Chapter 12

The next morning Geet was woken by the sound of the ringing house-phone. She sleepily put out a hand and picked it up; “Hello” she mumbled.

“Tumhare bina maine ye raat kaise guzaari hai, mat poocho” Maan’s husky morning voice sent shivers down her spine

“Aap ki to thodi bhi yaad nahin aayi mujhe, main poori raat bekhabar soti rahi” she teased, trying not to think about the heated dreams which had haunted her sleep.

“Geet, sach batao- kya tumhein meri thodi bhi yaad nahin aayi”

Geet blushed- it wasn’t fair how only his voice could make her feel so needy, could awaken a yearning deep inside her

“Yaad kaise aati; aap poori raat mere khwabon mein mere saath jo the.”

“tumhare khwabon mein main tumhare saath kya karraha tha, Geet. Was I kissing you Geet? Kissing your neck or your lips? Was I touching you, touching your skin? Tell me Geet, so that I can do all the things you dreamed of when we’re alone together. Once I’ve fulfilled your dreams then we can move on to mine; do you want me to tell you what I dreamed about last night”

She took a deep breath, feeling his voice deep inside her, almost as if he were caressing her with his words

“Maan”

Before she could say anything else, she heard the sound of a knock at the door—both the door to her room and at the door to Maan’s room.

“Who’s there?” they said simultaneously.

“Geet, kya hua—kya wahan bhi koi hai”

“Haan Maan, there’s somebody at my door too; let me see who it is then I’ll call you back”

Geet never did get a chance to call Maan back- the knocks at their doors had been from Dadi’s minions, informing Maan and Geet that their presence was required in the main hall in the next hour.

An hour later, Geet made her way to the main hall with a smile on her face; as she walked in, the smile faded as she sensed the tension in the air.

There in front of her, Maan and Dev stood face to face; Maan was glaring at his brother, his expression fierce enough to make even a hardened criminal quail, whilst Dev stood facing him with a confused expression on his face.

She stood un-noticed as Dev continued speaking “Bro, please mujhe maaf kardijiye. I know you’re angry with me, and you have the right, but please. I know you didn’t want me to marry Naintara, and I committed some mistakes while we were together, but she’s dead now. I’ve learnt from my mistakes Bro, I have. I’m never going to lie again. I’m not ever going to be able to go into business again. I’m never going to gamble again—I can’t. Why can’t you give me another chance.
Bro, please- just give me another chance. I’m so sorry for everything I did.”

Aware of Vicky and Dadi standing to one side, Geet watched as her husband held up one hand. “Dev, how can you even dare to ask forgiveness? The sins you committed were so huge as to be
unforgiveable. The lives you ruined………………”

“Bro, meri samajh mein nahin aaraha aap kya keh rahe hain? You paid off all my debts yourself, you reimbursed all the people I owed money to. Who else are you talking about?”

He looked round and glimpsed Geet standing frozen at the entrance to the hall “Bhabi, aap Bro ko samjhaiyye na; please. You didn’t know me back then but I’ve changed Bhabi, I’ve changed. Please, ask Bro to give me another chance.”

At the sound of the word Bhabi, Maan took a deep breath in, and stiffened even further. He turned slowly to look at Geet and their eyes met. His eyes were full off shame and anger; the rage threatened to overwhelm him as he took in the tears in her eyes.

“Dev” he grated out “Geet se baat ………………..”

Before he could finish his sentence, Geet stepped forward and said “Maan, please”

His head whipped round at the sound of his name

“Maan, please meri baat sunlijiye, please mere saath chaliye”

She walked forward and took his hand; as she did, he looked down at her, brought his fingers to her cheek and wiped away her tears. “Please Maan, mere saath chaliye”

She led him towards on of the ante-rooms off the hall and closed the door. They stood there in silence for a moment, just looking at each other. Memories of the past made the air thick with sadness and regret; she could see his remembrance of his reaction to her revelations increasing his guilt- she knew he still felt guilty for how he had initially refused to speak to her after she had said she had been married.

And now the man who had been the cause of so much torment in her life was there before him, acting as if he were innocent of all crimes- it was almost unbearable.

“Geet, I never wanted this, I never wanted you to have to face him.”

“He doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember anything that’s happened to him in the last year or more, he doesn’t even remember meeting me before. He doesn’t remember. And I haven’t told him”

“Kya matlab-- how can he not remember?”

“He has amnesia because of his head injury. Usse pichhle do saalon ke bare mein bahut kam yaad hai- he has flashes but not more that that. He didn’t know me when I first met him, and he hasn’t remembered anything about me or what he did to me. And I don’t want him to. Maan , I don’t want him to remember, I don’t want anyone to remember that part of my life.”

She walked close to him and put her hand on his cheek “Maan, my life is here, with you now. You are my life. You’ve filled my life with happiness, aur aap ne sab puraane ghaao bhar diye. I don’t
want him to remember, because if he does his guilt will remind me daily of what I went through, and I just want to move on, move past it. If he ever remembers, then we’ll deal with it but till then happens I just want to put it behind me and forget.”

He let out a huge breath and took her by the shoulders. “Geet, I promised that the man who hurt you would pay for his sins; I promised that I wouldn’t let him escape, that you would have justice. How can you just let him go, let him live his life without paying for what he did?”

She moved into his arms and laid her head over his heart, feeling the pounding under her cheek. After a moment, his arms came around her and held her close- but held her with such gentleness that she wanted to cry. She moved her hand over his chest until she could grasp the taveez, then said “Maan, I have you.” Looking up at him she said again “I have you”.

As he held her closer, she continued “He has nothing. He’s alone and hurting; he’s always in pain and yet he tries to be cheerful. He misses you- you should hear the way he and Vicky talk about you; if you heard, your ego would get even bigger.” She smiled gently then said “When I look at him now, I don’t feel anything but pity; I see the brother you brought up rather than the man who was influenced by Naintara. I’ll never forget what he did to me Maan, I can’t; but I won’t let it affect my life now. If you want him to be punished—he is, he’s being punished every day. I don’t need to put him through anymore punishment than that—meri insaaniyat yeh gawaara nahin karegi. And Dadi, she can’t take any more stress; it would break her heart if you punished Dev any more.”

He moved away from her a little and looked down into her eyes, grimacing as he saw the tears. He cupped her face then bent and kissed her forehead. “Jaise tum chahogi Geet, waise hi hoga. But I don’t know main kaise uss ko bardaasht karoonga.”

“Please, for Dadi’s sake. Just try”

He looked into her eyes again, seeing the love, seeing the truth of her words. He sighed, then nodded.

She pulled back a little then took his hand; “ab chalein, chalke dekhte hain ke Dadi ne kyun bulaya tha”

Holding his hand, she smiled at him once more, then led him out of the room back to the main hall.
Chapter 13

As they entered the main hall, they could see Vicky and Dadi talking quietly on one of the sofas, whilst Dev stood alone near one of the large windows.

“Dadi, aap ne bulaya tha” Geet said “koi khaas wajha thi, ya sirf breakfast ke liye”

Savitri looked up and her eyes met Geet’s; reading the gentle shake of Geet’s head correctly as a sign to not discuss anything further, she said “Bas bete, I wanted us to all have breakfast together to discuss the plans for the next few days.”

She led the way to the dining table, and sat down—one by one the other four members of the family joined her.

“Maan bete, aap ko do hafte ki chutti arrange karna hai—I suggest you liaise with Adi today so that you can get that all sorted out. You didn’t have a proper honeymoon when you married, you’ve hardly had any time away from the office at all over the past year and you’ve given Geet habits as bad as your own. Aap donon ko poore do haft eke liye jaana hai, no meetings, no excuses. Yeh aapki zimmedari hai”

Maan looked over at Geet; for the first time that day, he smiled. “Jaise aap ki marzi Dadi”

“Geet, aapko mere saath chalna hai—thodi shopping karna hai. Aur aap donon, aap ke liye bhi kaam hai. Aapko hamari aur Nakul ki madad karna hai; ek function hoga in logon ke jaane se pehle, us ski tayyari mein aap ko humara saath dena hoga.”

Vicky and Dev both gave slightly uncomfortable smiles then nodded “Bilkul Dadi”

Savitri nodded, glad for some semblance of familial unity “Bas, ab bahut baatein hogayi hain, ab mere khayal se naashta karlete hain”

The 5 Khurana family members started to eat, with the two women carrying on a slightly forced conversation. It was apparent from Dev’s appearance that he wanted to speak to Maan, but the only time he opened his mouth to say something, Vicky leaned in and quietly whispered in his ear.

After the meal, Maan stood and said “Chalein Geet, office chalte hain”

“Maan bete, aaj to aap inhe lejayein, magar kal se ye mere saath rahengi.”

She smiled as Geet tucked her hand into Maan’s then watched as they walked towards the exit.

“Vicky, tumne mujhe kyun chup kiya. Main Bro se baat karna chahraha tha, poochna chahraha tha ke kya hua, who kahe ke bare mein baat karrahe the”

“Dev bete, please. Aap aaj ke baad iss ke bare mein Maan se koi baat nahin karenge. Please. Geet ne iss waqt baat sambhaal li hai; ab iss se zyada please aap gadhe murdon ko mat ukhardiye. Just leave things be.”

“Magar Dadi”

“Bas Dev, hum ne jo kehdiya who kehdiya. Aaj ke baad, koi purani baatein nahin hona chahiye. Aap ab wapas aagaye hain iss ghar mein, ab aap ek naye sire se yahan zindagi shuru kijiye”

She stood and walked away, leaving the two brothers sitting there

“Dev bhai, listen to me. There’s a lot you don’t remember about the past two years. Maan bhai has been through a lot and so has Bhabi. Just leave things as they are; lets just try to all start again.

He stood slowly, then walked to Dev’s chair and stopped for a moment with his hand on Dev’s shoulder “Bhai, har sawaal ka kawaab nahin milta. Please, lets just all start again.”

The man left sitting alone at the table put his head in his hands and rested it there, trying to ignore the throbbing pain that was his ever-present companion. His past sins were lost to him- perhaps some day they would float to the surface again but till then, perhaps it was best that he acceded to his family’s wishes and tried to start anew.

Sighing, he got up and made his way to his room. He lay down on his bed, remembering his childhood, remembering the way Maan had always protected him from the consequences of his actions. It appeared that now Maan’s wife was helping him too. He would have to try and prove himself worthy of their assistance.

Chapter 14

The day passed quickly for Geet—she cleared her diary for the next 3 weeks with Pinky’s help, shifting appointments around, giving some of her responsibilities to Pinky and sharing others out between other staff members.

Adi was going to be taking over the burden of work while Maan was away, but he was more than capable of it- he was not by nature a leader and was more than happy to work as Maan’s shadow, but when needed he could shine. Over the past year, Maan had become aware of his potential and was gradually giving him more and more to do; this time in charge would be a good test of his mettle.

Adi had already received a call from Dadi, with strict instructions that he was to arrange everything so that Maan was considered completely incommunicado once he left, and not to be contacted under any circumstances. Whilst Adi wasn’t sure that Maan would be amenable to these directions, he would certainly make every attempt to follow her request.

With so much going on, Geet didn’t get a chance to see her husband all day; she’d hoped to sneak a few minutes with him at lunch time but by 6pm, she hadn’t had a moment to breathe let alone a bite to eat.

When the driver knocked on her office door to say that Dadi was expecting her home, she let out a harassed squeak and said “I’ll be there as soon as I can, just give me 15 minutes”

She continued working, then squealed when she felt a touch on her shoulder.

“It’s just me, Geet” Maan said, pulling his hand away.

She sat back with a gasp; her eyes met his and they both burst out laughing. It was a release of tension more than anything but they laughed until the tears were running from her eyes. Eventually they stopped, but the laughter had helped; the air suddenly felt a lot clearer.

“Ghar chalein Geet” he smiled as he spoke

“Ji, chaliye” she said. He took her hand as she stood; looking down into her eyes, he bent forward and kissed her lovingly “tum apna bilkul khayal nahin rakhti ho Geet, dekho ab agle 3 hafte tak main tumhara kitna khayal rakhta hoon”

“Aap hamesha sirf mere baare mein sochte hain, par ab nahin. Ab aap meri nahin, main aap ka khayal rakhhoongi.

He drew her close, his lips seeking hers with increasing passion. He kissed her again, gently biting at her lips with his; as the passion flared even hotter he nipped at her lower lip with his teeth, making her gasp.

Before things could develop further, there was a knock on the door—they jumped apart as Maan said “Kya?”

“Sir, Dadi ne phir bheja hai Geet madam ko laane, unho ne kaha ke ab bahut der hogayi hai, ab unhe ghar aana hi hoga”

Geet’s hand crept to her lips—she could still taste him there; his eyes followed the movement and a hungry gleam began to shine within them. Before he could make a move towards her, she called out

“Theek hai, main bas aati hoon, hum donon chalte hain”

She turned away from her husband, and started to gather her things, then gasped as he came up behind her, the heat from his body seeping through her clothes. She tilted her head to one side and gasped again as she felt his lips caress the sensitive skin just below her ear “Geet, kya abhi ghar chalna hai, kya mere saath yahan thodi der nahin ruko gi”

The urge to turn into his arms and let herself be overtaken by passion was overwhelming, but she knew that if they didn’t get home soon Dadi herself would arrive at the building, and she would have a good idea what had delayed them. Not wanting to be caught in such a compromising position by his grandmother, she said “Maan, humein chalna chahiye, ab bas thode din ki to baat hai na”

He groaned and rested his forehead against her hair “Geet, tum mujhe maarke hi rahogi.”

He held her close for a moment, then took a breath and moved away. “Theek hai, chalo, ghar chalte hain”

As they were driven home, they sat together, close but not quite touching, sneaking glances at each other like teenagers. There were still issues to be handled between them, not least how they would
handle Dev’s presence in their life in the long-term, but for now they were happy to just try and recapture the halcyon early days of their marriage. It wouldn’t be quite the same, but it would be a stronger relationship, having been tempered by the fire of separation and misunderstanding.
They reached the house, and were greeted by Dadi. As Geet was swept away, she looked back and caught Maan’s eye. She could almost read his mind “abhi bhaag lo meri jaan—ek hafte baad tum sirf meri ho”. She hoped he could read her mind as well “I can’t wait, meri jaan, I’m dying for your touch”.

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Chapter 15

The next few days passed in a rush; it was if Dadi had a plan for Geet’s every waking minute. Days 1 and 2 were spent shopping; outerwear, underwear, lingerie to make Geet blush, they all were on Dadi’s list. Day 3 was spent finalizing details with the event planners—Geet hadn’t realized it, but there was to be a grand reception the day prior to their departure on the anniversary trip. She spent the day agreeing the colour scheme, agreeing the seating plan, and (after all the other details had been agreed by Dadi and Maan’s two brothers) her final task was to select her mehendi patterns.

The last 2 days were spent in the spa- Geet was polished, massaged and buffed till she shone. After everything else was done, she sat for 2 hours while 2 ladies applied a complicated mehendi pattern to her arms and legs; she quietly and blushingly made sure Maan’s name was hidden deep in the pattern on each limb, in intriguingly intimate places-once Dadi had exited the room, she also asked for his name to be printed somewhere only he would see, and smiled as she imagined the moment he discovered it.

Finally, the day of the function arrived. Geet woke slowly to find a red rose lying on the pillow next to her, with a note. She smiled- it had been so long since she’s received one of Maan’s notes that she had almost forgotten the glow of pleasure they brought with them.

She reached out and picked it up, then smiled as she saw his untidy handwriting on it. For a man who valued tidiness and order so much, he had the most illegible handwriting; it had taken her lots of practice before she was able to decipher his scrawl.

Her smile widened as she read what he had written “Geet, ek saal pehle maine tumhe ek angoothi pehanyi thi. Woh mere khaandaan ki nishaani hai. Aaj yeh angoothi deta hoon; yeh meri deewaangi ki nishaani hai”

Picking up the flower, she noticed the stunning emerald ring held on the stalk of the rose. She slid it off the thornless stalk and placed it on her finger; she knew that she would never take it off again.

She got out of bed and made her way to the bathroom; when she returned, she found a light breakfast laid out on the table, together with a note from Dadi. She laughed out loud as she thought about the Khurana’s propensity for communicating via notes; Dadi was obviously the originator of the habit.

Dadi’s message was brief- Geet was to rest during the day, but be ready by 6.30pm. The numerous guests were due to start arriving by 7pm, and the dinner would start at 8.30pm. Maan and Geet would be leaving for the airport at 10pm.

Geet looked at the clock on the wall—it was only just 11am. She had a lot of empty hours to fill before she had to start getting ready; more than enough time to carry out her plan.

She made her way to the wardrobe and picked out a very simple outfit—one of her pre-marriage salwar suits. She smiled fondly as she put it on (for some reason, she couldn’t stop smiling today)- it was the same blue outfit she’d worn the night they had been locked in the conference room together, at the start of their turbulent relationship. She remembered the way she had felt that night, a strange feeling of urgency and need running through her body- looking back now, she realized that it had been the first stirrings of desire coursing through her.

Thinking about her feelings that night somehow made her think about the clothes she had packed for their getaway. Dadi had told her that the place they were going was very rural and rustic, and that there were very few amenities. The few pictures she had seen made it clear that the place was only one step up from Maan’s beloved camping holidays. Keeping that in mind, she’d packed all of her older, pre-marriage clothes. She couldn’t help but wonder whether the sight of her old clothes would remind Maan of those heady days of falling in love, with all the angst and passion and misunderstanding they had gone through. Things had been made so much worse in those days because of the unresolved sexual tension between them; she smiled naughtily at the thought of what the next fortnight could hold.

Geet used the house phone to ask Nakul to arrange a car and a driver for her; once in the car she guided the driver to the shops where she had made some special orders. Once her purchases were safely in her bag, she made her way back to the outhouse and sneaked into her room. A surprise awaited her there; her husband.

“Maan, aap yahan kya karrahe hain” she said, closing the door behind her.

When she turned back, she found her husband immediately next to her; startled, she moved back, but he kept coming closer and closer till she was trapped between him and the door.

“Geet, tum kahan theen. Main tumhein yahan milne aaya tha aur tum ghayab theen”

As he spoke, he leaned in close to her, inhaling the scent from the soft spot just below her ear. As she opened her mouth to answer, he lay a soft kiss just over her pulse; she felt his lips curve into a smile against her neck as she inhaled a sharp breath. “Geet, tum kahan theen”

Struggling to keep hold of her senses, she whispered “Maan, please”
“Main kya karraha hoon Geet, sirf ek sawaal hi to poocha hai. Tum kahan theen Geet, main kab se yahan tumhara bechaini se intezaar karraha hoon”

He lay a string on kisses to her neck and down towards her collar bone; his hands crept up behind her and undid the dori. As the neckline of her kurta gaped a little, his kisses started to range lower and lower. Her hands crept up to his head and she threaded her fingers through his hair, holding his head to her.

“Maan, please”

“Geet, bolo na, phir mein chod doonga. Kahan theen tum”

His kisses began to trail up towards her lips; when he reached them, he started kissing her with gentle biting kisses, teasing tantalizing kisses designed to make her want more. Between kisses he said “Geet, bolo na, boldo na”

As she struggled to regain control of the situation a little, she took a breath in and said “Maan, please”. The attempt to stop him may have worked slightly better if her voice hadn’t come out as a needy quivering breathy sound. Not only did he not stop his kisses, but his hands started roaming her body with abandon, ghosting over the curves he had always adored. He rubbed his cheek against the soft skin of her neck, leaving a slight burning as his beard abraded her skin.

Just before they were totally overwhelmed with passion, there was a loud knock at the door

“Geet bete, uthjaiyye, teen bajjchuke hain, tayyar hone ka waqt hai”
Geet pulled back abruptly, slipping her hands between their bodies and gently pushing him away.

“Ji Dadi, main bas utth ti hoon”

“Bete, darwaza kholiye, humein kuch dena hai aapko”

“Ji Dadi, bas ek minute”
She finally managed to move Maan away from her; pleadingly she gestured at the back window (the same one he’d used on the day of their Haldi). After a few moments, he finally gave in and clinbed out of the window; as soon as he had shut the panels behind himself, Geet breathed a sigh of relief and turned to open the door.

“Bete, sab theek to hai, aap ko koi bura sapna to nahin aaraha tha” Dadi asked in a worried tone as soon as she walked in.

“Nahin Dadi, kyun?”

“Bas, you look a little hot and breathless bete”

“Nahin Dadi, aisi koi baat nahin, I was just hurrying to get to open the door for you. Koi aur baat nahin hai”

“chaliye theek hai. Magar dekhiye, aap to itni jaldi mein theen ke aapne utthke apni dori bhi nahin baandhi”

As Geet rather frantically put her hands behind her to check her dori, she said “bas Dadi, jab leyti thi to khol ke leyti thi, aap ke liye darwaaza kholne ki jaldi mein baandhi nahin”

Shaking her head at Geet’s rather garbled reply, the oblivious older woman said “Geet, main sab kapde aur gehne le aayi hoon, bas abhi oopar mangwati hoon, magar ek cheez dena thi.

At Geet’s enquiring look, she said “Bete, iss mauqe pe ek riwaaj hai, ke saas ki taraf se ek koi khaas tohfa hota hai. Humein afsos hai ke Maan ki ma nahin hain, magar humari taraf se ek yeh chota sa tohfa hai aapke liye.”

As she spoke, she brought out a small box, which Geet opened to show two exquisite emerald kundan bracelets. They were obviously precious antiques, and Geet raised awed eyes to look at Dadi.

“Bete, yeh Maan ke Dada ne humein diye the, Maan ke pita ki pedaayish ke mauqe pe. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I hope that they will bring you as much happiness as I felt that day”

She leaned close and embraced Geet, then said “Chaliye aap tayyaar hojayein; Maan aapko dekhne keliye bechain horahe honge”

With a wicked smile, she turned around and left the room; within a couple of moments, the ladies who were there to help Geet prepare had started carrying in all the parcels needed to ready Geet for the evenings function.

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Chapter 16

After Geet had taken a quick shower and lathered herself in the scented cream Maan adored, she let the women work their magic. By 6.30pm, she was ready; she stood and looked at herself in the mirror and marveled at how bridal she looked without actually appearing to be a bride. Something about the cut of the kurti, the way the dupatta was draped, something about the look in her eyes all hinted at more knowledge than a bride would have- thankfully the beard-burn developing on her neck was hidden by the carefully applied makeup.

Dadi arrived back at just that moment “Geet, aap tayyar hain? Maan aate hi honge”

As she walked in, she stopped and a fond tear appeared in her eye “Geet, you look beautiful, more beautiful than I’ve ever seen you look before” Taking some of the kajal from her eye, she apploed the traditional kala tika just below Geet’s ear.

“Let’s go, bete, its time”

She guided Geet down the stairs and picked up the aarti-ki-thaali. As if on cue, there was a knock at the door of the outhouse.

Pinky, who had been waiting for Geet downstairs, stepped forward and opened the door- Maan stood there resplendent in a sherwani that matched Geet’s lehenga. Dadi stepped forward and did the traditional aarti, applying a bold tilak on Maan’s forehead.

“Come in Maan, come and claim your bride” said Dadi with pleasure.

Maan stepped forward and smiled at Geet; something about the way he was looking at her made her blush, perhaps the shared memory of the heated embrace that had occurred only a few hours ago, or perhaps the memory of the last time she had worn clothes like these and the way he had caressed them off her body.

As Dadi offered the thaali, Maan took a pinchful of sindoor and filled Geet’s maang. Their eyes met and shared memories flowed between them. Maan stepped towards his wife and kissed her forehead; Geet blushed and then laughed as she heard Pinky’s sigh of happiness behind her. They turned together and bent and touched Dadi’s feet; as they stood, she embraced them both and then kissed Geet on the forehead.

Stepping back, she said “Bas ek aur rasam hai bete, and then we can go and greet the guests. The other family members just have to greet you and give you small gifts and then we’re done”

Geet smiled in agreement, then paused as she felt Maan stiffen. As she looked behind him, she understood the reason for his unhappiness- the only two family members present were Vicky and Dev.

The thought of facing Dev in these clothes and in this setting made her feel queasy; despite her brave words to Maan, this situation just cut a little too close to the bone.

The air hummed with unspoken tension, then Dev proved that he had some Khurana traits after all. He stepped forward and bent and touched Geet’s feet, waiting till she had placed her hand on his head.

“Bhabi, main aapka chota devar hoon. Rishte mein aapka chota hoon. Aapki aur Bro ki hamesha izzat karoonga.”

Straightening, he held out a small package. After glancing at Maan, Geet took it in her hand and opened it; inside was a picture of a beautiful woman with three little boys, in a beautiful antique silver frame. She looked at Maan again and caught a look of surprise on his face “It’s a picture of the three of us with our mother- I don’t even remember when it was taken”

Maan looked at Dev and spoke to him with a hint of softness for the first time “thank you Dev, this is a thoughtful gift”

Dev gave him a half-smile and moved away, to where Dadi and Adi were standing.

Vicky moved forward next, and repeated Dev’s gesture of touching Geet’s feet. When he stood, he paraphrased the formal words his brother had used “Bhabi, main aapka sabse chota devar hoon. Aapka chota hoon. Aapki aur Maan bhai ki hamesha izzat karoonga” but followed them with a cheeky smile and added “but Bhabi, you have to promise to find me a bride who makes parathas as well as you do, otherwise I’ll feel hard done by”

As the watching group burst into laughter, Vicky held out a small package too. Smiling, she took it from him, and opened it to find a small silver sindoor case with a beautifully enamelled lid. She was showing it to Maan when Dadi spoke “it belonged to my mother, and I gave it to your mother when she celebrated her first anniversary; its only right that it should belong to your wife now Maan”

She wiped a tear from her eye, then smiled “Now let’s go greet the guests and then I can get you two on your way. I’m sure Maan can’t wait to have you all to himself”

The next hour and a half passed in a blur of handshakes and air-kisses; Geet lost count of the number of people she was introduced to. Mrs Kapoor was there with her daughter-in-law, as were the two women who Geet remembered gossiping about her. As they approached, Geet turned to Maan and drew him forward a little “Maan, inn se miliye.” As Maan smiled and made some polite remark, he curved his fingers through hers; after finishing his greetings, he brought her hand to his lips and kissed it before smiling and stepping back to the men he had been talking to. Geet turned back to the group of women and smiled, saying “I’ve wanted to introduce my husband to you properly for a while, I’m glad I had the chance today”

She listened politely to their murmured responses, then stepped away; she supposed she should feel bad about such a blatantly obvious display, but they deserved it for gossiping about her in her own house.

Eventually, the receiving line was done; all the guests had arrived and were eating away happily.

There had been some debate between Maan and Dadi about whether there would be a ceremonial send-off; in the end Maan had prevailed and so he and Geet would leave quietly without any fanfare. When the time came, they quietly excused themselves and went to their (separate) rooms to change; Pinky went with Geet to help her out of the heavy clothes and jewellery.

Geet left everything behind except for the kade that Dadi had given her, her rings and her mangalsutra. She changed into another one of her old outfits, and then, at the last moment placed the two gifts Vicky and Dev had given her into her bag.

Trusting that Dadi would arrange safe disposal of all clothes and jewellery, she locked the door to her room and made her way to the servants exit, where Dadi was waiting with Maan.

Maan had changed into jeans and a black shirt- he looked the same as he had the day she had first met him. Remembering that meeting, remembering how he had saved her life that day and yet treated her with utter disdain, she smiled; how things had changed. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow, as if to ask what she found so amusing—she shook her head and whispered “I’ll tell you later”

Geet turned and hugged Dadi, saying “we’ll be back before you even miss us Dadi, aur woh donon hain na aap ko pareshaan karne ke liye”

“Of course bete, aap khushi khushi jaiyye”

She turned to Maan and held him close, saying “Khush raho bete, aur Geet ko bhi khush rakho”

With a final embrace, she turned away and hurried back to her guests; the couple got into the car and breathed a sigh of relief as the driver started the car. Finally, the formalities were over and they were alone.

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Chapter 17

Maan quietly stretched out his hand to take Geet’s. Their fingers intertwined as the car drove on in silence. Not a single word passed between them throughout the entire journey, nor did they speak on the plane, nor as Maan drove them from Manali airport to the cottage.

When they finally arrived, Maan parked the car. They sat in silence in the darkness for a few moments, then Maan finally spoke

“Chalein”

He stepped out of the car and went to retrieve the suitcases from the boot; she took the key to the cottage from her purse and went forward to open the door. After she’d unlocked it, she held it open to allow him to step through, then followed him in.

She turned to close and lock the door behind her, and as she turned back, found herself pinned against the door by a hard, impassioned male body.

The kiss between them was explosive- it was if all the complex emotions of the past months had coalesced into the uncontrollable heat which flared between them now. It went on and on, until she ran short of oxygen; she drew away to take a breath, only to find her mouth captured again by Maan’s hungry lips.

She kissed him back, as impatient as he, needing to feel his bare skin under her hands. She brought her hands to the front of his shirt and started to undo the buttons, then found his hands there helping her—as he ripped the shirt open, she heard the buttons ping off the surrounding walls. She didn’t let that distract her; as soon as the shirt was open her hands were roaming over his firm chest, caressing the sensitive nipples as she found them.

Maan broke the kiss with a gasp; he put his hand over hers to hold it in place, encouraging her to continue her caresses. Their eyes met and held; after a moment, he stepped back. Geet turned, allowing him access to the dori tied between her shoulder blades. He stepped forward and completed the task, then put his lips to the skin so temptingly available to him.

Geet arched her back at his touch, then gasped as he drew down the zip at the back of her kurta. As the kurta began to slip off her shoulders, aided by Maan’s questing hands, she turned then looked into his eyes as she completed the movement and shrugged the kurta off completely.

She stood there in only a frothy dream of a bra; she felt the impact of his gaze deep in her belly and in the tightening of her nipples. His gaze fell to the revealing reaction and he smiled; a hungry, predatory smile that woke something deep inside her.

Though they knew each other’s bodies as well as they knew their own, the enforced abstinence of the past months seemed to have heightened every response and distilled their reactions into simple want and need and hunger.

The urgent desire compelled her to put her hands to his waist band- before she could make a movement, he had taken over the task and within seconds his trousers were a distant memory. His next move was to remove her salwar; when that was done, he remained kneeling before her, his hands spanning her waist.

He looked up at her and their eyes met and held. As he leaned forward to press a kiss to her navel, her fingers threaded through his hair and her neck arched back as gasped out loud. As his kisses trailed lower and lower, her grip in his hair became more urgent and the sounds coming from her mouth became more and more desperate.

She finally broke and gasped “Maan, please, please”, but he didn’t stop until she was screaming in pleasure, until the pleasure broke over her in a wave that left her gasping for breath.

As she slumped against the wall bonelessly, supported only by his firm grip on her hips, he stood then swept her into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed a gentle kiss to the curve of his neck as he carried her to the bed, then placed her on the layer of red rose petals that had been scattered there.

She lay back and arched sinuously; he lay down next to her and gently brought a hand to her breast.

After a moment, she heard a huff of laughter; she opened her eyes then smiled as she realised why he was laughing—he had found the mehendi tattoo of his name that she had had placed just on the underside of her left breast, over her heart.

She put her hand to his cheek and said “I’m yours, Maan. I just wanted you to see it. If you can be bothered to look, you’ll find your name written all over me”

She lay back invitingly, then smiled as his eyebrow raised in a moment of true amusement.

“Aise waqt mein you’re challenging me? Don’t you think I can find them all? I bet I win your challenge”

She smiled, a siren’s smile filled with pleasure “Maan, if you find them all, I’ll be as much of a winner as you”

He bent to the task she had set him, searching with dedication; within moments, the gasps of pleasure coming from both of them proved that she knew her husband well. When he finally found them all, they had both been driven near to madness; she pulled him down to her, cradling his hard body in the hollow of her legs. As he fit their bodies together with exquisite tenderness, finding her lips with his at the same moment, she gasped then kissed him back with pure love. As they moved together, tears slipped from her eyes at the utter joy of having him back with her, in her, with no doubts or misunderstandings between them.

He felt the wetness of her tears on his face and pulled back, stopping his movements. “Geet, kya hua, kya kiya maine”

She reached up to kiss him then said “Maan, aap yahan ho, mere paas ho, bas issliye khushi ke aanso nikle aankhon se. These are happy tears”

She leaned up to kiss him again, then gasped as he started his movements again, the rocking action becoming more powerful as the passion grew ever stronger between them. He gently licked the tears away from the corners of her eyes, his gentleness a contrast to his increasingly forceful movements; after a few moments, she screamed as she was overcome by pleasure, her ecstasy closely followed by his hoarse groan of completion.

As they lay there together in a tangle of limbs, he kissed her then wrapped his arms around her as he rolled them to lie with her head pillowed on his chest over the pounding of his heart. They drifted off to sleep still entwined, finally at peace.

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Chapter 18

4 days before her first wedding anniversary, Geet MS Khurana woke alone. She lay there quietly for a few moments with her eyes closed, hoping against hope that she would feel the warmth of her husband’s body stretched out behind her, feel the weight of his arm lying over her waist.

After a few seconds, she slowly opened her eyes, realising that she would have to get out of bed and face the day; face the truth. Her husband had left her alone again.

She got out of bed, then turned as she heard her name. Maan stood, bare-chested, warming himself by the fireplace; he came into the bedroom with a smile and drew her into his arms, curving his arm around her head in his usual manner.

She smiled as she pressed a kiss just next to where the taaveez lay on his chest.

“In 4 days, we will have been married for a year. One whole year Geet. Despite everything, it’s been the happiest year of my life.”

She took a step back, then blushed as his gaze raked over her bare body; after a moment, he bent to pick up her robe from where he had placed it while she slept, then helped her slip her arms into the sleeves.

“What a year it’s been” she said then looked up at him

“Maan, you have to promise me something. You have to promise that you won’t ever do that to me again. Maine ek baar to bardaasht karliya, magar aapne agar kabhi mujhe phir akele choda, kabhi bhi to main marjaaoongi. You have to promise that you’ll never do that to me again. I can take anything, anything but I can’t take it if you just walk away from me without any explanation”

He sighed, then wrapped his arms around her again.

“Geet, I promise. Jitna dukh tumhein hua, I can promise you that I was hurting just as much. Geet, you are more important to me than anything in the world- when I was away from you, I felt like I had cut my heart out and left it somewhere. I wouldn’t survive if I tried to stay away from you again.”

Looking down at her, he pressed a kiss to her forehead, the gentle gesture a contrast to the need she could feel thrumming trough his body “Geet, I’ll never do that to us again, I swear it”

He took a step back then said “chalo Geet, hum log aaj thoda ghoomte hain. I want to show you some of the local sights. When we were little, we used to come here in the holidays; I want to show you where we played”

He waited whilst Geet showered and changed into simple salwar suit, then showered quickly himself. Once they had both eaten some breakfast, he took her hand and opened the front door.

Just as they stepped foot outside the door, a voice hailed them “Aap kaun?” A worried looking man approached them and said “Maaf kijiye, aap kaun? Yeh ghar Savitri devi ka hai, aur hum intezaar karrahe hain ke unke pote yahan aake kuch dinon ke liye rahein. Aap kya Khurana sahab hain?”

Maan’s face immediately assumed his dusht-danav expression; recognizing the signs of an impending explosion Geet hurriedly spoke “Ji, yeh Maan Singh Khurana hain aur main inki biwi hoon”

The little man couldn’t have been happier to meet them; he anxiously enquired whether they had everything they needed, whether all the arrangements had been as they had wanted and assured them that he was completely at their disposal. Maan said “sab theek hai, shukriya; hum yahan do hafte rahenge, agar humein kisi cheez ki zaroorat hogi, to phir hum aap ko batadenge.”

Once the caretaker realized that one of the Khurana family was planning to stay for two whole weeks, he begged and pleaded for Maan to agree to spend some time looking over the family holdings, the farms and buildings. Everything was running like clockwork, but he just wanted to get the MSK seal of approval.

Maan resisted and resisted; when he was just on the verge of losing his temper and blasting the other man into orbit, Geet stepped forward and spoke quietly “Maan, agar aap ek do cheezein dekhlenge to in ka dil khush hojayega; aap hoke aaiiyye, main aap ke liye intezaar karti hoon”
Maan looked down at her hand on his forearm, then at the eager face of the man in front of him.

Sighing he said “Theek hai, main aap ke saath do ghante ke liye abhi chalta hoon, magar iss se zyada nahin”

He turned back to Geet and said “If you get bored on your own, just remember this was your idea.
Waise I’m pretty sure I should be offended that you’re so eager to be rid of me on our honeymoon.”

Geet smiled “I’ll use the time wisely, catch up on my sleep. I’m not sure why but I hardly slept last night at all.” Her naughty smile reminded him of exactly why she was sleep deprived; he started to smile in return then realized that the caretaker was watching them with interest.

“Theek hai Geet, tum araam karo, main aata hoon, then in the afternoon I’ll show you round some of my old haunts”

And so it was; over the next 3 days, Maan spent the mornings with the caretaker and then in the afternoon Maan and Geet roamed the locality; Maan introduced her to some of the people who remembered him from his childhood, showed her the places he had played and the places where he had sought refuge.

The night before their anniversary, they sat together in front of the fire; Maan rested his head in her lap as Geet gently threaded her fingers through his hair. Recognising that Maan was unlikely to ever be more approachable as he was at that moment, Geet girded her loins and decided to broach the one topic that could cause problems between them. Over the last three days, she’d pieced together the bare bones of Maan’s childhood; despite the intimacy between them, despite the fact that he was more open with her than anyone else in the world, he still hadn’t shared much about the years that made him the man he was. But over the last 3 days, he had dropped hints and told stories; he’d even mentioned his parents more than once.

“Maan, aap ne yahan aana kab choda?” she asked

“Jab tak Ma theen, hum log har saal aate the. Unke inteqaal ke baad, we came a few times but eventually we just stopped coming.”

“Aap Dev aur Vicky ke saath aate the na?” she said, then took a deep breath in as she felt his instinctive stiffening. As he made a move to sit up, she cupped his cheek as it lay in her lap and said

“Maan, we can’t avoid the subject forever. He’s back in our lives, we have to deal with it”

Moving her hand, he got to his feet and stood looking down into the fire. She stayed where she was, but said “Maan, aap kissi ko hamare beech kyun laarahe hain. He means nothing to me anymore; I don’t even hate him. Jiss aadmi ne meri zindagi barbaad ki thi, woh to ussi haadse mein margaya jiss mein Naintara mari thi. I don’t even recognise him.”

Turning to face her, his face a mask, he said “Geet, tumhein pata hai- jab ussnein tumhari zindagi barbaad ki, uss ne saath saath mere bharose ko itna toda ke mujhe laga ke main kabhi kissi aur pe phir bharosa nahin karsakta. Agar tum nahin hoteen, to sach kehta hoon, mein poori duniya se nafrat karne lagta”

She got up from where she was sitting and walked towards him; wrapping her arms around him she said “mujhe samjhaiiye na. We have to work through this Maan, warna ghar mein har waqt tension rahegi, aur woh main bardaasht nahin karpaaoongi”

As always, the feel of her calmed his anger; he sighed as he wrapped his arms around her and rested his cheek on her hair.

“Geet, whatever happened to you, whatever faults Dev has- they’re all my fault. I spoilt him when he was younger; bilkul aise paala jaise wo mera beta ho. Uss ki har ghalti ko chupaya maine, hamesha. I knew that it wasn’t always the right thing to do, but I always thought that deep down inside, he was good. I believed that usske dil mein koi khot nahin hai. Magar uss ne jo tumhare saath kiya, that was pure badness; pure evil. Uss ne tumhari zindagi barbaad ki, tumhari maasoomiyat ka faaida uthaya. Tum samajh hi nahin sakteen ke iss baat ka mujhpe kya asar hua. Even if I didn’t love you, even if he would have done the same to some other girl who wasn’t as dear to me as you are—even then, I could never forgive him for what he did. And yet, there’s a small part of me that still loves him- and sometimes I think that makes me hate him even more. How can I love him when he’s got that much evil inside him?”

She felt the tension in his body, felt the conflict that raged through him and ached for his pain.

“Maan, pata hai, despite everything he did to me, there’s still a tiny part of me that loves Brij virji.
It’s the part of me that remembers what he was like jab main choti thi, the part of me that remembers how he laughed with me on his wedding day. Main unhe kabhi maaf to nahin karpaaoongi, magar apni un yaadon ko kaise bhulaaoon.

I think it’s the same with you; you remember the brother you raised, the way he was before he changed and started trying to please Naintara.”

She raised her hands to his face and urged him to look down at her “aap ko pata hai, Maan, aap bahut khushqismat hain. Aapko aapka wohi Bhai wapas milgaya. Dev doesn’t remember what he did, doesn’t remember being the man who could destroy me without a second thought.”

She laughed, though the laugh was mostly a sob “Maan, aapko kya lagta hai ke mere liye aasaan hai Dev ko ghar mein dekhna. Main usse dekhti hoon to ek lamhe ke liye woh sab yaad aata hai jo usne mere saath kiya.”

As his face darkened with anger again, she hurried on “magar Maan, aapko pata hai, woh yaadein sirf ek lamhe ke liye rehti hain. Phir main usski taraf dekhti hoon, and I can’t see any similarity
between the Dev I see now and the Dev who I thought I knew then. The man I know now is trying his best—remember what I told you. He tries to hide his pain, he tries to stay cheerful despite the pain he’s always in. He’s got some of your blood in him Maan; somewhere inside him, there’s a core of pure Khurana steel.”

He sighed, then said “Tum kya chahti ho Geet”

She chuckled again, her laughter filled with tears “Aap ko pata hai Maan, maine kabhi yeh nahin socha tha ke main aap se Dev ki sifaarish karoongi. I want you to try and behave normally around him; I want you to try and treat him normally. I want things to be as normal as possible so that in the future, our home isn’t always full of anger and hatred. Even once he moves to the house you’re having built for him, woh aata jaata rahega, Dadi ke paas- I don’t want every visit to make you angry. Maan, I want to forget what he did to me, just pretend it never happened; if you keep punishing him for it, how can I forget?. If you’re always angry with him, Vicky will never forget my past either; he might even start blaming me for keeping you all apart.”

At his instinctive denial of such a possibility, she said “Maan, kuch pata nahin ke aage kya hoga, magar itna pata hai ke ghussa sirf aur nafrat paida karsakta hai. Jab tak aap ke dil mein ghussa aur nafrat rahenge tab tak uss ke ilawa aur kissi ehsaas ke liye jagha nahin hogi. And hatred breeds hatred- if you continue to hate Dev, who knows how far that hatred will spread.

He turned to face the fire, the truth of her words resonating through him.

“Geet, tumhara dil itna bada kaise hai. Tum kaise usse maaf karsakti ho”

“Maine usse maaf nahin kiya hai Maan, magar jiss aadmi ne meri zindagi barbaad ki thi, woh filhaal margaya hai—jabtak uss ki yaadaasht wapas nahin aati, woh marahua hi rahega. If that happens, we’ll deal with it, but how long can I blame a living person for a dead man’s crimes”

There was silence in the room for a while as Maan struggled to accept what Geet had said.
Eventually, he spoke.

“Theek hai Geet. I’ll try to treat him more normally, I promise I’ll try. Tumhari khaatir Geet, aur Dadi ki khaatir, I’ll try”

After a few more moments of silence, he spoke again.

“Pata hai Geet, jab mujhe pata chala tha ke Dev ne kya kiya hai, I blamed myself, blamed the way I brought him up. But when you talk about him now, it reminds me of the boy I knew, the brother I remember. I think I’m just scared to hope, to accept that maybe it wasn’t all my fault. Maybe I wasn’t as bad a father-figure as I though I was.”

Turning to face her he said “maybe I won’t be a bad father after all”

Shocked, she went to him and said “Kya aap yeh sochrahe the?” Searching his eyes and seeing the depth of his fears, she struggled to think of the words to reassure him

“Maan, you’ll be a great father. I can’t imagine a better father for my children than you.” She hesitated, unable to think of enough words to explain how sure she was of that.

“Jiss din aap ki godh mein hamara bacchha hoga, uss din aap samjhenge ke yeh baat kitni sahi hai ke aap ek bahut acche baap banenge”

She knew her words weren’t enough, but she didn’t know how else to convince him. “Maan, what Dev did was not your fault; it wasn’t because you were a bad father-figure. You are not his father.”

Putting her arms around him, she tried to convey her feelings through her embrace. He resisted for a moment, then his arms came around her in an embrace so tight as to take her breath away.

“We’ll be amazing parents, Maan—main waada karti hoon hamare bacche se zyaada khushqismat koi baccha nahin hoga”

They stood there for a long time, forming a single silhouette in the light from the fire; when they eventually made their way to bed, she held him in a comforting embrace, the ever present passion for once dampened by the pain felt when Maan had exposed his deepest seated fears for her to see.

Only once his eyes had closed and his breathing slowed did her eyes close; her last waking thought was a vow to herself that she would never let Maan doubt himself that way again, she would prove to him someday that any child of his would be amazingly blessed.

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Chapter 19

Maan woke early the next morning; looking down at his sleeping wife, he decided that today there would be no mention of any of things they had discussed yesterday. He would make sure that this day would be filled with joy and love, and neither her past nor his would be allowed to rear their heads.

When she woke, Geet seemed to have made the same decision; neither by word nor by deed did she allude to anything they had discussed the night before.

The day looked filled with promise, at least until the caretaker turned up again; apparently there was one farm that had to be viewed today, as the leaseholder was going away the next day. Maan initially refused but when Geet gently nodded, indicating that he should just go and get the matter dealt with, he gave in.

As he came in to say goodbye to his wife, he kissed her and said “This is NOT how I had planned to spend our anniversary.”

She smiled so mysteriously that he was compelled to ask why. With a wave she shooed him away; after 30minutes, he received a text message from her “Remember the day when I wouldn’t tell you where I had been—you’ll get your answer today”

Knowing that he would be driven to distraction by the thought of what she might have planned, she smiled naughtily. Their relationship had been so wrought with tension over the last few weeks and months that since things had improved, she had craved a return of some of the genuine joy in each others presence that they had once so easily expressed- they had once been able to laugh and joke and tease each other with abandon; she hoped that soon they would be able to again.

She giggled to herself, feeling smug at having gained the upper hand for once, even if only briefly.

Glancing around, she noted the blazing fire that Maan had stoked during the night. It had become a daily ritual for him to chop some wood while she watched, then lay the fire. Each evening, they ate by firelight, then spent the evening in front of the flickering flames; eventually the fire would die down, long after they had started another blaze of their own. But each morning she would find that at some point during the night, Maan had re-stoked the fire; she spent the quiet hours during the day sitting in front of it waiting for him to return.

She knew she had a few hours to wait before he returned today; she went to the store room and pulled out the ancient hip-bath she had found yesterday, obviously a restored relic of the original
Colonial owners of the cottage. She’d never known about the joys of baths before her marriage—it wasn’t as if spending hours wallowing in hot scented water was the done thing in Hoshiyaarpur, after all. But since her marriage she had become a serious fan, and today she wanted a bath; one of her secret packages was a bath-scent guaranteed to drive her husband insane with desire.

Once she got the hip-bath in position in front of the fire, she put a large pot of water onto the fire to boil. Whilst it was heating, she took the rest of her purchases out of her bag—there was a bottle of edible chocolate sauce, some massage oil and some lingerie that made her blush as she looked at it.

Laying the items on the bed, she looked at them and laughed out loud; what had possessed her? She knew nothing about using the items she’d impulse-bought, but they had intrigued her when she’d seem them in the lingerie shop and now here they were. Well, she’d show them to Maan later, though she wasn’t sure how he’d react. Would he laugh at her, be scandalized or would he be intrigued- she just couldn’t predict his reaction.

Leaving the bottles on the side-board, she put the lingerie with the clothes she intended to wear that evening; at least she knew how he’d react to the sight of the silky insubstantial creations she’d chosen and she was rather looking forward to that. She hadn’t bought him any other anniversary presents—she rather hoped that offering herself up as a gift, wrapped in the green silk creations, would be enough.

The water had heated whilst she was preparing her things; she lay out a large white fluffy towel, then prepared her bath; once she had things to her satisfaction, she put up her hair then undressed and sank into the hot scented water. A sigh of pleasure escaped her as the heat soaked into her; she laid her arms along the sides of the bath and relaxed, lost in the feel of the water caressing her body.

Some time later, the door opened and Maan walked in carrying an armful of freshly chopped wood.

He put the wood down in the wood-basket near the door, then stripped off his shirt, using it to wipe away the bead of sweat trickling down his forehead.

He turned then stopped, arrested by the vision in front of him. His wife sat oblivious in a tub of steaming water, wisps of scented steam wreathing up around her. The firelight reflected invitingly off the droplets of water on her bare shoulders- it was all he could do to stop himself from stepping forward and tracing the path of one with his tongue. He took a deep breath and reined himself in, then kicked off his shoes quietly.

Walking forward, he knelt down and brought his lips to Geet’s ear, whispering her name.

Geet heard Maan’s voice in her ear; it seemed part of the dream she was immersed in. She turned her face slowly towards the direction his voice came from, then jumped as she felt the scratch of his beard against her shoulder. As she opened her mouth to say his name, he nipped the sensitive flesh of her ear-lobe between his teeth; a helpless moan was all she could manage.

As her head tilted to one side to allow him better access to her neck, she felt his fingers slip down the side of her body, going under the water-line and cupping her breast. Using his other hand, he poured small handfuls of water over her cheeks and her neck, then used his tongue to trace the path the droplets took, spending heated moments kissing drops from her lips. As his lips and fingers together wreaked havoc on her senses, she could do nothing more than lie back and let him worship her.

His hand eventually slid further down her body, exploring all the warm wet hollows that he encountered. The scented water sloshed around the tub as Geet’s body began to writhe in unconscious pleasure; in no time at all, Maan had reached the limit of his endurance.

He stood, then stopped for a moment to savour the sight before him- Geet’s rosy body, the flush on her cheeks and the luscious pink lips all seemed designed to drive him insane. He bent forward and scooped her out of the tub; turning, he lay her on the fluffy towel he had spread on the rug in front of the fire. Stopping only to strip off his jeans, he came down on top of her, the hard planes of his body fitting exactly to the curves he knew so well. He continued his self-imposed task of driving her to insanity, driving them higher and higher until they both reached a moment of pleasure more intense than any they had experienced before.

Chapter 20

Some time later, Geet lay cradled in his arms, the heat of the fire and warm glow along her back. She smiled as she kissed his chest; looking down at her he asked “kya hua Geet, tum hans rahi ho”

In a moment, he’d rolled and trapped her beneath him “meri mohabbat tumhein mazaaq lagrahi hai?”

She opened her mouth to reassure him that she wasn’t laughing at him when she caught sight of the teasing glint in his eyes; she said “waise Maan, aaj agar caretaker ne aap ke plans kharaab kiye aap ko lejaake, to uss ne mere plans kharaab kiye aapko itni jaldi chodke”

“Kya matlab”

“I had planned to be all dressed up for you, and have a delicious meal prepared. I was going to seduce you and let you unwrap me”

Maan looked intrigued at the idea “maybe we could carry out your plans now” he started, then stopped as she burst out into genuine laughter

“Are you made of steel” she asked “how can you possibly have any energy left after what we’ve been doing this afternoon?”

He smiled as he bent to kiss her; the kiss soon turned heated and she felt the truth of her effect on him.

Breaking the kiss, she said “You may be super-Maan, but I need food”

She pushed at his shoulders gently, laughing as he rolled off her with a regretful groan. She stood, gathering the towel around her, then stopped for a moment to savour the sight of his gorgeous body, glowing golden in the firelight.

“Maan, aap utth jaiiyye, kuch pehnlijiye. Main abhi aake khaana dekhti hoon”

As she walked towards the bathroom, she could hear the sounds of Maan standing and pulling his clothes on. She showered quickly and then went into the bedroom; she was determined to wear the lovely things she had bought.

Geet spent a few moments applying a lotion that shared a scent with the bubbles she had soaked in earlier, then dressed with care- first the green lingerie she had so carefully chosen, then a matching emerald green sari (the only formal wear she had brought with her). She made sure her manglasutra lay perfectly centred around her neck, and wore the kade that Dadi had given her. Her only other jewels were the rings Maan had given her, one worn on each hand. After applying a little kaajal and a hint of gloss on her lips, she emerged from the bedroom.

Maan had spent the time busy in preparations; the table had been laid and a single candle shone in the darkness. He had taken the time to change into a pair of linen trousers and a matching white shirt—though the weather outside was cold, the heat from the fire made the room warm and cozy, meaning they could wear as little as they wanted.

Stepping forward, she laughed as she saw what was on the table—Maan had recreated the menu from the first time they had eaten at a dhaaba together, on what she now considered their first unofficial “date”.

“Yeh sab kahan se aaya, Maan”

“Mujhe bhi plans banana aate hain, madam” he teased, taking her hand and drawing her forward into the room “who jo caretaker hai, jissne itna pareshaan kiya hai, usski ek biwi hai”

“accha”

“usski biwi ko bahut accha khaana banana aata hai”

“accha”

He moved to stand behind her, his hands on her shoulders as he said “uss se main kaha ke meri biwi ko yeh khaane bahut acche lagte hain”

“accha”

He moved his arms to encircle her waist, then said

“aur dekho, yeh sab khaana tayyar hoke aagaya”

She leaned back into his arms and said “Bahut khoob”. Dropping a light kiss on his chin, she moved forward before he could take advantage of her action, then giggled as she said “to ab yeh ham khaana khaalein?”

She took his hand and pulled him forward, pushing him into one of the chairs; as they laughing started eating the food, she couldn’t remember the last time she felt this happy.

Chapter 21

After they’d finished their meal, Maan made a phone call and a little while later the caretakers wife arrived to clear up the detritus. As she left for the last time, carrying the left-over food, Maan discreetly handed over an envelope stuffed with a generous tip.

He closed the door behind and turned to find the room empty. His wife was standing looking out of the window in their bedroom.

He walked towards her and stood behind her in silence, looking out at the cloudless sky. After a few moments, she spoke.

“Its a full moon tonight Maan; it seems appropriate somehow, doesn’t it. Humara kuch ajeeb sa rishta hai iss chaand se bhi”

She leaned back in his arms and said “Happy anniversary Maan”

She turned in the circle of his arms then brought her hand up between them.

The sindoor-case Vicky had given her lay in her palm; their eyes met as he brought his hand round then filled her maang with sindoor. She flipped the lid of the case down and closed her fist over it, then snuggled into his chest, hearing the pounding of his heart under her ear.

After a few minutes of absolute peace, he became aware of an irritating buzzing emanating from the drawer where he had placed his phone; he let go of Geet and walked over to the bedside table to see who was ringing him-just in case it was a call about Dadi or perhaps Dev or Vicky’s health. It was an unfamiliar number, so he answered it-was it a call from an hospital?

When he realised that it was the caretaker, he groaned inwardly (he was just too content to bother getting angry) and dealt with the call as quickly as possible.

He turned back towards Geet, then froze as he caught sight of what she was doing. She had removed her sari and blouse and was standing there folding her sari carefully, dressed only in an emerald green bra and her matching petticoat.

“Geet” he managed to breathe her name, then strode forward and caught her in his arms. He wrapped her in the half folded sari, using it to trap her arms by her side, then bent and tenderly captured her lips.

He pulled back a little and said “mera present to tum ne khud unwrap karliya Geet. I thought I was going to get to unwrap you myself. Ab dekho, jo thodi si wrapping reh gayi hai, woh to main khud hi utaaroonga”

Keeping her wrapped in her sari, he picked her up and sat her on the bed in a half-kneeling position; when she started to move, he stopped her with a look. He stood next to the bed and removed his shirt; dressed only in his linen trousers, he retrieved a small box from the bedside table then turned to face her again.

“I have a gift for you too, though its not nearly as beautiful as the gift I’m going to receive”

He smiled as he opened the box and retrieved the items nestled inside it- a pair of emerald earrings to match the ring he had given her together with a matching pendant. Placing the box on the table next to some interesting looking bottles, he turned and half-knelt on the bed behind her.
Maan moved her hair gently out of his way, then placed the necklace around her neck, caressing the smooth skin below his finger tips. Next he put the earrings on her one by one, lingering over the curves of her ears- the smooth skin there had always fascinated him. He whispered “Do you remember the first time I helped you with your ear-ring”

He could hear the smile in her voice as she answered “I remember”

“All I wanted to do then was this” he continued, as he bent forward to lick the skin just below her ear

She leaned back onto his hard chest, the skin of her back tingling where she touched him. His hands slid round to encircle her, his long fingers caressing her body through the silky chiffon of her sari. She gasped, arching back into him as his hands cupped her breasts; she tried to get her hands free so that she could touch him too, but he had her arms firmly secured.

As his lips continued their assault on her neck and his hands stroked her through her bra, her breathing grew faster and faster, until finally she was reduced to begging “Please Maan, please- let me touch you too”

With a pained laugh, he opened the circle of his arms, then lay back on the pillows as she fought her way free of the length of material and turned to face him; as he stretched his legs out on the bed, she stretched along the full length of him. She used her whole body to caress him, sliding her lace-covered breasts over his nipples and pulling his face down to hers so that she could take his lips in a ravenous kiss.

As the kiss grew even more heated, he moved his hands to her back and unhooked her bra, then slid the straps down her arms; within moments there was nothing left to dull the sensations aroused by the feel of her skin on his. He took hold of her by the waist and lifted her high up above him; as he laved the tips of her breasts with his tongue, she supported herself on his shoulders and tried not to faint with the pleasure.

After a few minutes, she became aware that his hands had undone her petticoat and were sliding it down her hips; she was soon left clothed only in a pair of green lace briefs and the jewellery he had given her.

She drew back and smiled as he lay back with a smile on his face- it was as if he was inviting her to touch him as she wished.

“Unwrap karliye aap ne?” As he nodded in a saitsfied manner, she said “ab meri baari”

She bent forward and put her lips to his nipple; she caressed him till he broke, the final victory coming when she used her teeth.

As he started to come up off the bed, intent on having his way, she pulled back and waved her finger

“Abhi to maine unwrapping poori nahin ki hai” she said as she moved her hands to his waistband; as she undid his trousers then smoothed then down his legs, she kissed every inch of skin she bared. As she finally finished kissing her way up his body, her hand continued to stroke the most eager part of him; she smiled as she whispered in his ear “I’m all done now; I think my present is ready to go”

He was nothing but a mass of sensation, aching for her touch to continue, but when she bit down hard on his ear lobe, his eyes opened and he surged up off the bed and rolled over to pin her beneath him in one move.

They were touching almost along the whole length of their bodies, with only the lace of her briefs left between them. He kissed her deeply, then smoothed the briefs down her legs. As he slid into her waiting heat, he whispered in her ear “Happy Anniversary Geet” just before he started the driving rhythm that was designed to take them both flying high.

As they neared ecstasy, he bent his head and suckled on the underside of her breast, just over the tattoo of his name, seemingly intent on leaving another sign that she was his. The sensation of his mouth on her sensitive skin pushed her over the peak and she screamed his name in pleasure; his movements didn’t stop, driving her higher and higher with every thrust until he joined her in a moment of pleasure so intense as to make her lose awareness for a moment.

When she came back to herself, she found his eyes searching her face. As she smiled and put her arms around his neck, he leaned forward and kissed her tenderly.

“Geet” he said “agar tum har saal mujhe aise hi tohfa deti rahogi, to phir mujhe kissi aur tohfe ki kabhi zaroorat nahin hogi. You’re everything I’ll ever need. Waada karo ke mujhe har saal aise hi unwrap karne do gi”

He rolled onto his side and lay watching her as she turned to face him.

“Its been the most amazing year of my life Maan” she said as she snuggled into him, taking hold of the taaveez as she normally did “Thank you for my happiness”

As she drifted into sleep, he curled his arms around her and held her close. The last thing she heard before she slept was “Geet, thank you for my life”.