A/N - hello lovely readers! I have to start by apologizing for the long break! I was on a long weekend vacation which, while in itself was just what I needed, completely destroyed my plans to write and post. Sorry for the long wait.
Here's Chapter 4 - enjoy reading!!
Aryan cleared his throat and reminded her, impatience evident in his voice, “The rental agreement.”
Imlie was shaken out of her trance, wondering for the first time if she really was here illegally.
“The rental agreement is in my bag downstairs. C…can you give me a moment to dress up and I’ll meet you downstairs? We can then decide who needs to stay and who will leave?”
A sneer marred Aryan’s face.
“I love how you think you have any room for negotiation here. You have five minutes to come down and show me this agreement or I’m calling the police” he finished and strode past her, leaving the bedroom.
Aryan paced around the living room. This is so not how he planned to spend this night. Being at the villa after all these years was hard enough. Especially after the day he’d had.
The last thing he needed tonight was to deal with a squatter who claimed to have rented their family villa legitimately. Either she had come up with a very creative lie to cover up her intrusion or this was all a massive confusion.
Whichever it was, this evening was turning out to be an adventure Aryan had not signed up for.
He rubbed his hand over his eyes, pressing his palms into the sockets of his eyes, and walked towards the glass doors that opened to the patio. He pulled the sliding door ajar and let the cold mountain air rush over his face, closing his eyes.
He didn’t know how long he stood like that, but after what seemed to be several minutes, he heard the tinkle of anklets coming down the stairs. The sound made the hair on the back of his neck stick straight up.
Swiftly recovering from the involuntary reaction, he turned around and dug his hands into his pockets again, his face deadpan.
He observed the squatter as she tentatively walked down the stairs, her palms twisted together.
She wore a plain light pink kurti and leggings, with a sheer dupatta wrapped around her torso and over her left shoulder, tied in a knot at her right hip. Her hair, still somewhat damp from his interruption of her hair drying routine, fell around her face and down her back. Aryan wondered if it were as soft to touch as it looked, his mind drifting to the lavender and coconut fragrance that had wafted from her hair and had made his breath hitch when he had held her close in the bathroom.
She reached the foot of the staircase and raised her gaze to look at him. He surveyed her face in the dimly lit room as she took slow steps towards him. Her small, doe-like eyes glimmered in the light reflecting from the kitchen.
His gaze stayed a few extra seconds on the tattoo on her chin. He felt an odd desire to trace a thumb over the tattoo, wondering if the three small black dots arranged in a triangle held any meaning.
Giving himself another mental shake, he tamed his thoughts and looked away before she could catch him staring.
Imlie looked at his impassive facade and remembered his threat to call the police. She had had a fleeting thought of calling Rupi Didi from the bedroom after he had left her alone, when she remembered there was no cell reception in this place.
Seeing no other option but to go through this interrogation, she had dressed and made her way down to face this man who looked sharp and much too intimidating.
Without making a sound, she stopped mid-way in the living room and changed course to walk in the direction of the couch, retrieving her bag that lay next to it.
Just a few minutes ago, the biggest decision she had to make for the evening was to lose herself in the comfort of this couch versus the bed upstairs. Now, here she was trying to prove the legitimacy of her presence in this house, unsure whether she would have a place to spend the night in at all. When will things start getting easier for me?
She pulled out the rental agreement from her bag and walked towards him. Silently handing the piece of paper to him, she placed her bag on the coffee table behind her.
Aryan took the document from her, his eyes scanning the information on it, his expression unreadable.
Imlie crossed her arms across her chest and waited for his reaction. After several seconds, his pokerfaced expression turned into a frown, and quickly into annoyance.
Without saying a word to her, he unlocked his phone screen with a tap and dialed a number, turning away from her so she couldn’t see who he was calling.
The worst-case scenario immediately popped into her head. Is he calling the police? What was wrong with the rental agreement?
Panicked, and annoyed that he won’t even give her a chance to explain before taking a drastic step like turning her in, she took hurried steps towards him and said, “What’s wrong? Who are you…..”?
She was interrupted mid-sentence as he held his finger up without turning, indicating to her to stop talking.
She frowned at his rudeness, but stepped back confused, and unsure of what was going to happen.
Aryan was quiet but furious. One look at the rental agreement had made the entire situation clear to him.
The document was a legit rental agreement from a renowned website that allowed property owners to offer their homes as vacation rentals. The Rathore villa had apparently been registered as an available property on the website, with the host listed as his property manager, Manoj Mishra.
The b*stard took advantage of the fact that the family hadn’t visited in years and decided to make some quick money with the villa.
It took Mr. Mishra a few rings to get out of bed and answer his phone. Confused that his employer was calling him after months and at this hour, he muttered into the phone, “Yes…yes sir?”
“Mr. Mishra, you are fired. I’m sure you know why. Your termination letter will be mailed to you and my lawyers will be in touch. I’ll be suing you for employee misconduct.” Aryan declared in a grim tone and ended the call.
Imlie stood a few feet behind Aryan, stunned in silence as realization dawned on her as well.
The guy whom she had liaised with about the booking was also one Mr. Mishra and the payment had been made to his account. It was clear that Mishra was an employee of this daunting man standing in front of her and had rented the property out without the owner’s knowledge or permission.
Yes, that kinda sh*t would get you fired.
What wasn’t clear to her was what any of this meant for her.
Would her stay still be considered illegal since she wasn’t party to the misdeed?
She was as much a victim here, right?
Could this Aryan guy kick her out when she had only followed procedure for renting this place?
Where would she go in the middle of the night if he decided to kick her out right now?
Would she be able to get a cab to a nearby hotel?
Wait, is there a hotel nearby in the first place?
Imlie’s brain was processing these questions a million miles a minute when Aryan turned around, quietly facing her, and shoved his phone back in the pocket of his slacks. She stared at him, preparing for the worst-case scenario in her head.
“Miss…” he started, then paused, lifting the rental agreement that he clutched in one hand up to read her name. An eyebrow shot up in amused surprise as he saw her name on the document. Imlie Narayan. I’d eat my shoe if that’s her real first name, he thought.
Deciding to focus on her last name, he looked back at her and continued, “Miss Narayan, if you are smart enough, you have figured out what has happened here by now. You are squatting in my home illegally and you should not be here.”
“Mr. Rathore, I was not aware….” Imlie started hurriedly.
“I have no reason to believe…” Aryan interrupted her and went on, “that you were oblivious to Mr. Mishra’s shenanigans and weren’t as much his partner in crime.”
Imlie’s brows wrinkled in annoyance. She suppressed the angry quaver in her voice before speaking.
“Mr. Rathore, you have no right to insinuate that I have participated in any wrongdoing. Like I said earlier, I rented this place fair and square. You are holding the rental agreement in your hand and here’s the proof of the payment made to his account for the rental reservation.”
She moved forward, shoving her phone screen in his face where she’d pulled up the transaction details of the payment Rupi Didi had made in her name.
Aryan took a step back and looked at the phone, amused.
He already knew she was innocent. He had seen the rental agreement and had quickly looked up the rental website to see the Rathore villa listed as a vacation property on it. If it wasn’t her, someone else would have rented the property from Mishra. Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure how many others had rented their house in the past already.
Even so, he couldn’t resist himself from trying to get a reaction out of her, hoping he could see another glimpse of her flushed skin just as she had looked when he had pointed to her state of undress in the bedroom upstairs. Her angry tirade wasn’t the outcome he was going for, but it was just as interesting.
His lips twitched into a small, barely-there smile.
Sweet and sour, just like tamarind.
Imlie stared at him, confused.
Did he just smile? What was this sudden change in mood?
Aryan recovered and cleared his throat, assuming a serious face again.
“Fine, Ms. Narayan. I will give you the benefit of doubt. It is late in the night, so I’m not going to ask you to leave right this minute. But you do need to vacate my house first thing tomorrow morning.”
Still miffed at his implication earlier, Imlie straightened her back and muttered, “Yes, I understand. I am no squatter and have no intention of staying anywhere uninvited or unwelcome. I will leave in the morning.”
Aryan nodded, turning his attention back to his phone. Imlie turned around to pick her bag sitting on the coffee table behind her, and began again, “Please give me a few minutes and I will vacate the master bedroom for you.”
She spun around to face Aryan again and bumped into his hard frame, not realizing that he had walked up right behind her. Losing her balance, she grasped onto his shoulders to steady herself and felt his arms slip behind her waist, preventing a very embarrassing fall.
Strong muscles on his shoulders felt like rock under her soft palms; his intoxicating cologne flooded her nose and made her dizzy. He held her close, and she could feel his rough palm on the small of her back, sending tingles across her entire body. Lord, he smells good.
“Careful! Are you alright?”
His voice felt like a deep rumbling in the pit of her stomach. She kept staring at his chest and tried to form words, but nothing comprehensible came out.
“Ms. Narayan? Are you okay?” Aryan prodded again.
Imlie looked up into his deep brown eyes, surprised to find a worried look. She nodded.
Aryan let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and nodded back, releasing his hold on her. A strand of hair had fallen on her face, and Aryan’s hands itched to tuck it behind her ear.
He’d held her close for the second time this evening, and he couldn’t help wanting to touch her dusky skin to see if it felt as soft as he imagined. Deciding against acting on his instincts, and irritated at his thoughts, he took a step back and held out the piece of paper in his hand to her.
“Here’s your document. Don’t bother with vacating the master bedroom for me. There are several other rooms in this villa I can use for tonight.”
Imlie nodded again, words still eluding her. Aryan stared at her for a few more seconds, then turned to his side and walked off into the study towards the far end of the living room, closing the door behind him.
Imlie sauntered back up to the bedroom, perplexed at the events from a few moments ago.
She couldn’t understand her body’s reaction to his touch or why she couldn’t speak when he held her. The least she should have done was thank him for his generosity to let her stay the night, but she had been completely stunned by his touch; his cologne causing a mayhem with her senses.
Some impression you left, Imlie. What must he be thinking!
Unable to shake the questions from her mind, she absent-mindedly packed her stuff and tidied up the room. When she was satisfied that she’d gotten the last of her belongings and cleaned the room to leave it how she’d found it, she got into bed and turned the lamp off.
After several hours of tossing and turning, Imlie gave up on sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, the vision of one Aryan Singh Rathore holding her close to his firm chest floated in front of her and her eyes would snap open.
Worried that she was going insane, she decided to wait for the break of dawn when she could leave.
Following a fitful sleep, Aryan tumbled out of bed and walked into the living room, hoping to find Imlie there. He had spent the rest of the night thinking about the turn of events, his thoughts largely occupied by this woman who he had found in her home, the one with the strangest name, the one who was one of the most beautiful women he had laid his eyes on.
He was hyper aware of her presence in the house through the night….so reachable, yet a stranger. He wanted to get another glimpse of her before she left, maybe come up with a reason to make her stay a little longer.
Aryan was shaking his head at the absurdity of his thoughts when he spotted some cash sitting on the coffee table over a piece of paper. He stopped in his tracks and picked up the cash, turning the paper to read its contents.
Apologies again for the confusion that led me to your home and thank you for letting me stay the night. Considering that you’re the true owner of this house, it’s only fair that you receive the payment for the duration of my stay here. I have left the house in the condition I found it in before leaving. Good luck with Mr. Mishra.
Aryan scowled, anger slowly bubbling up inside him. What the hell did she think of herself, leaving him money!