A/N - We are all reeling with disappointment from the end of Imlie and Arylie. I am coping by immersing myself in the FFs. How are you doing it?
I hope you enjoy this chapter. Some awkward encounters for Arylie here!
Retrieving his phone, he saw the caller’s name and his face hardened. He needed to take this one away from the family.
Stepping into his study, he pushed the call to answer and held the phone to his ear.
“Mr. Rathore, I have an important update”
“Mahesh Dubey has been found”
Color left Aryan’s face.
“He was spotted at the Mumbai airport this afternoon”
Aryan fingers coiled into a fist, his knuckles whitening.
“I want eyes on him every second of every day.” he spoke into the phone with gritted teeth.
“Copy”, announced the voice on the other side of the line. Aryan hung up and stared into the night through the window of the study, his nostrils flaring and his breath coming in shallow intervals.
I am going to get the b*stard this time.
The next morning.
“What do you have for me?”
Aryan slipped into the driver seat of his car and pushed the central console to connect his phone, placing the call.
He was getting ready to drive to Bhaskar Times, but the newspaper and the impending business was the last thing on his mind. The call last night had left him rattled. After several attempts to get some sleep, he’d given up and decided to get on with this morning earlier than usual.
But first, he needed to find out if there was any progress in the last few hours.
“We are following him. He is staying at a flat in Virar right now, alone. We don’t have much else yet.”
“That’s not enough!”, Aryan boomed into the phone.
A barely audible hiss sounded on the other side before the speaker continued.
“He landed in Mumbai on a flight from Indonesia, but he was traveling under an alias, and we don’t know if he was in Indonesia all this while. There’s nothing connecting the dots to his life before today. We need more time to dig, Mr. Rathore.”
“Do what you need to. I want to know everything about him and what he has done in the last 5 years. Keep me posted.”
Aryan hung up and slammed the pad of his palm on the steering wheel in frustration.
5 years. It’s been that long since I have been trying to find Paa’s murderer. Yes, murder it was. Whatever anyone else chooses to believe.
For everyone, Uday Singh Rathore had died in a car crash driving back from a fundraising event where he was invited by the ruling party for the next elections. Uday Singh Rathore was a busy man, the owner and frontrunner of the Rathore Group of Industries. He rarely ever had time for such events. But he was forced to attend that one. The Prime Minister had called himself and requested his presence and support.
That one event that changed everything for Aryan and his family.
On his way back from the event, a freight truck had rammed into his car, killing him and his driver on the spot. Aryan had forced the police investigators to go through the security camera footage and available facts over and over. His gut told him this wasn’t just an accident.
The highway was busy, traffic was not moving fast. The truck came out of nowhere. Too fast. Too sudden. The driver of the freight truck fled the scene avoiding the security camera. How did he know to avoid the camera? It just did not seem like a coincidence.
Aryan had tried to use all his might and influence to keep the case open with the police, but lack of evidence led to the case being concluded as an accident.
I don’t care what anyone thinks. I will not give up digging, he’d thought.
For the past 5 years, Aryan had private investigators trying to probe into the accident and find something to prove it was premeditated, but they had not found any leads.
The truck was declared stolen by the freight company that owned it, and the driver, Mahesh Dubey, rogue. His investigators had been trying to find Mahesh for years, but it felt like he had disappeared from the face of the Earth.
And now he had been spotted. Finally. After 5 long years.
I am going to find where you’ve been, Mahesh Dubey. I will find out what you did, and why. And then, you will PAY.
Aryan squared his jaw in resolve and rolled the window of the driver’s side down, taking a deep breath. The cool Delhi morning air did nothing to calm the rush of blood in his veins and the deluge of feelings in his mind.
Leaving the window open, he turned the ignition on and decided to head into the Bhaskar Times office to get an early start to the day.
Imlie cleared her desk and prepared to start working on research that the editor had asked the interns to assist on. Early mornings always gave her a clear mind to work on things. She was excited about this assignment and wanted to prove that she deserved the place she was occupying in a big newspaper like Bhaskar Times.
She decided to get a fresh cup of coffee to aid a clear mind and walked to the office pantry, lightly humming a melody.
Grabbing an empty cup from the shelf, she placed it under the fancy coffee machine to brew a fresh cup of coffee, pushing the digital prompts as Aarohi had shown her.
Imlie remembered rolling her eyes at the complexity of a supposedly simple coffee brewer when Aarohi had given her the lesson. She was used to the tea Amma made on the stove top in Pagdandiya. No drama, no complexity. Just plain, delicious tea.
A small smile creeped on her lips at the memory of Amma, her tea, and life back in Pagdandiya. Lost in memories, Imlie picked her coffee mug and turned to make her way back to her desk.
Imlie squealed and closed her eyes as she crashed into something solid and lost the grip on the mug, hot coffee spilling all over.
Aryan cursed loudly at the sting of hot coffee.
Imlie’s eyes snapped open, widening as they took in a briskly spreading coffee stain on a crisp white shirt, her distressed gaze travelling slowly up to the face of her unintended victim.
He clenched his jaws, picking at the fabric of the scalding hot shirt away from his skin. Ready to yell at the perpetrator of the mishap as a reflex, he raised his gaze to glare menacingly at the culprit only to be rendered tongue tied at the sight of a familiar set of beautiful eyes staring at him in shock.
Almost as if in slow motion, he saw her hands travel up and cup her mouth that had formed a wide O.
All anguish forgotten, Aryan stood and gawked at her, mesmerized. The burn of the hot coffee still stung, but he couldn’t bring himself to care any longer.
His gaze focused on the soft curves of her face, her perfect brows, the tiny nose with a dainty nose pin and hair tied into a loose braid with strands escaping and framing her cheeks, begging to be tucked away. Her current expression only made her look more adorable than ever. Did I say “adorable”? Thank God for silent thoughts!
He was about to say something when Imlie moved away from him, springing into action, apparently having recovered from the initial shock. Frantically moving around the room to grab paper towels, she rushed back to his side and started dabbing at the coffee stain.
“I am SO SORRY Mr. Rathore! Are you okay?”, she cried, appalled at what she had done.
Still in a trance, and slightly amused, Aryan held out his arms in surrender as she worked on the stain hysterically, muttering apologies that were barely decipherable.
Imlie groaned in desperation, kicking herself mentally. Second day with the new boss and she’d ruined his perfect shirt and potentially given him second degree burns. Great Imlie, just great.
Soon, the paper towels ran out without doing much for the stain. She paused for a second before running to get more.
Aryan observed her quietly, arms still held out like a child waiting for an adult to help clean up.
When he’d entered the Bhaskar Times office a few minutes ago, he was in a mighty sour mood. Entering his cabin, he’d barked an order for coffee, quickly realizing that it wasn’t time for the wait staff to report yet.
Muttering silent expletives, he’d decided to help himself to the beverage to help with the throbbing pain in his temple from lack of sleep and anxiety over the recent developments about his father’s case.
Little did he know he’d bump into a sweet surprise in the pantry that will distract him from his burdens. She’d run away last night, without so much as giving him a chance to even look at her properly.
Determined to make up for the missed opportunity, he fixed his gaze on her as she ran around like a headless chicken, gathering more paper towels than necessary and held them close to her chest as she turned towards him, looking ruffled like a cat on hot bricks.
Why did he find her antics so endearing?
She charged across the team to reach him again when her foot caught the rug in the pantry. Eyes widening again, she reeled forward with a gasp, heading for the ground face first.
Snapping out of his reverie, Aryan lunged forward to catch her dropping frame and gathered her shoulders in a grip to stop the fall. Clutching on to his shoulders, Imlie leaned on one side awkwardly.
Aryan draped an arm around her waist and helped her find her balance. Still using the support of his shoulders, she straightened up, closing the distance between his face and her exposed neck.
Aryan closed his eyes at the whiff of her fragrance. His mind immediately transported back to the evening in Shimla when he’d held her in his arms. She smelled the same. Felt…. the same.
The curve of her tiny waist under his palm felt like it was meant to fit. He fantasized touching the skin under his thumb without the cloth separating them like it did now, positive that he’d find it to be velvety soft. Oh, how he wanted to.
“Thank you”, she breathed out “I…. I made…such a mess! I am so sorry”, Imlie mumbled.
Aryan opened his eyes and leaned back to look at her lowered facade.
Giving in to the temptation, he brought his free hand to her face. Gently, he removed the strands of hair that had fallen scruffily over her face and tucked them behind her ear.
The fringe of dark lashes fluttered against her skin before rising to meet his gaze. His chest tightened, a deep ache forming in his torso. God, she is beautiful.
Imlie looked at his eyes and felt herself drifting, unable to look away. She’d never seen anyone with such eyes. They were a fascinating mix of a deep, midnight but lustrous black with amber swimming in the middle. And they stared back at her with such intensity, she could feel heat creeping up her neck and flushing her cheeks.
Subconsciously, her hands trailed from his shoulders to rest on his chest. Feeling his heartbeat under her palm, she realized how close she was to him. Correction, how close he was holding her to himself.
Good Heavens, I need to put some distance between us. What was I doing before this?
She tried to look for the forgotten paper towels she had set out to fetch, twisting her body against Aryan’s. He cursed inwardly at the sensation that coursed through his body from the friction. Jesus, does she know what she’s doing?
Tightening his hold on her waist, he tugged her closer, drawing her flush against him.
“I’m going to need you to stay still, Miss Narayan”, he crooned in his deep voice.
“Bu…but I…. your shirt. I’m sorry”, she muttered in a low voice.
He shook his head mentally at her cluelessness. The innocence made her more alluring if anything. Aryan had met and dated enough women to recognize when they were putting up an act of innocence. The woman in his arms right now wasn’t one of them. Her eyes exuded child-like naivety.
She peered down to the patch of brown on his shirt, now in contact with her tunic. Aryan followed her gaze down to the blemish, then looked up at her, cocking his brow comically.
“You did spoil my shirt”
Imlie looked back up at Aryan helplessly.
“It was an expensive shirt too”, he quipped, relishing the play of emotions on her face.
She scrunched her face in embarrassment, unsure what she could do to fix this.
A silent giggle stirred deep inside Aryan’s chest.
Imlie felt the reverberation building through his body under her palm and opened her eyes again, only to find the deep amber of his eyes swirling in amusement like molten lava.
Wait, was he teasing her?
Frowning, Imlie pursed her lips and gently pushed away from him. Aryan released his hold on her and took half a step back.
Putting his hands on hips, he looked at her and shrugged.
Again. This dance of the brows. Why does he do this?!
“Well?”, Aryan pressed, not being able to let go of the desire to see what she would do next.
The challenge in his eyes was evident. Imlie could see he was being impish. He had flustered her, and he was enjoying it thoroughly. Not cool.
She tilted her head and glared back at him.
“There’s only one thing that can help”, she tried to sound harmless.
Aryan twisted in brows in question, patiently waiting to see what she meant.
Imlie went around the pantry and picked a glass of water. Slowly walking towards him, she paused a couple feet away and gave him a sly smile.
Uh oh. I don’t like the look on her face.
Before he could begin to comprehend, she splattered the glass empty on him, drenching him waist up.
Aryan ran his palm down his face, wiping the water droplets away. Of all the things he thought she was, sassy wasn’t one of them.
What a delightful discovery! Let’s see how you handle this, Miss Narayan.
He took his jacket off, exposing more of the white shirt, which was now very wet, very transparent and clinging to his body like skin.
Imlie looked down and visibly gulped, the triumphant expression quickly disappearing from her face and trepidation taking its place. The shirt was hugging his very well-defined abs, abs that she had been held against just a few minutes ago.
What is he, a Greek God?
Aryan sauntered lazily towards her.
Mortified that she was gawping at him shamelessly, she looked away, suddenly becoming very aware of the shift in energy between them. Her expression turned from captivated to troubled.
This change in demeanor did not go undetected by Aryan. He stopped his advance, reckoning she wasn’t up for this game anymore.
Imlie placed a cold palm on her forehead and then over her mouth, trying to calm her state of panic. She couldn’t believe how she’d allowed this change of dynamic between them from formal to flirtatious, and more annoyingly her welcoming reaction to it.
She looked down and muttered a quick sorry before rushing past him out of the pantry, leaving a perplexed Aryan standing in the pantry.
What had just happened?
A/N - Forgot to add a precap, and it's been requested by readers before...so here it is!!
A flustered Imlie get's back to work. The editor of BT gives the interns a new assignment. Someone from Imlie's past shows up again.