Arnav took slow but steady steps into the room before shutting the door behind him. He did not look pleased at all, and Khushi was sure he would gladly fillet them if there were no witnesses to attest to his crime.
"What do you want?" Payal snapped, refusing to be intimidated. "You're not welcome here."
"You think I care?" Arnav asked, surprising Payal and causing Khushi to raise an imperious brow.
"You really have no business coming in here Raizada. I would politely ask you to leave," Khushi said softly.
He stared hard at Payal first, making her squirm involuntarily, before his gaze swung to Khushi and he addressed her, "You will wear the piece Dia bought for you Payal. And you will thank her for it."
Payal gasped, shocked and angry that Arnav would be so bold, "Just who the hell do you think you are to ask that of me?!"
"Do you really want to find out?" he asked softly, swinging his gaze from Khushi back to Payal, "You're marrying my best friend Payal. You're not married to him yet. A lot can happen between now, and Sunday evening."
A gasp went up from both women, "How dare you try to threaten us?!" Payal almost shouted.
"Do I really need to threaten you?" he asked, "He loves you Payal, but he trusts me. He will do as I say. And even if he doesn't, there are still lots of things I can do to tear this whole wedding apart if I so please," the last statement was directed at Khushi, "So in your own interest, do not tempt me."
Khushi paled, a violent quiver shaking her frame. She shook her head as she took an involuntary step backward. Payal turned surprised eyes on her. He wouldn't dare...
"Oh but I will Khushi," Arnav said, as though reading her thoughts, "You once told me, as did Dia, that you were not afraid of anything anyone could do to you provided they had nothing you wanted or needed. Well, we both know I have something you need, and it would do you well to do as I say or prepare for the consequences."
So saying, he turned and strode out of the room, turning to give the box a pointed look, before leaving. He had more than passed the message on. Of course he would do nothing to jeopardize his friend's wedding, but they didn't need to know that. Better to let them think he could if he wanted to. In this regard, he was glad for the so-called middle-class mentality. They feared scandal more than death. He would do whatever needed to be done to hold this family together while he did what he came to do. He would have gone easy on them had he not been trying to catch up with Dia before she entered Khushi's room, and ended up overhearing their conversation.
They were justified in their anger, he wasn't taking that away from them, but pushing Dia away on a day like this would result in regrets that could not be changed, and on his account, he could not have that. As much as he wanted to do some serious damage here, he would not destroy their relationship so much that it could not be rebuilt.
"Didi, what was that about?" Payal asked.
"It's nothing," she said, resuming her task of fixing up Payal's hair.
"It's not nothing Didi. He sounded like..."
"He was threatening us Gudiya, and we will do well to take him seriously. I have seen what he can do up close and personal, and I would not want anything to jeopardize this day for you."
"Akash is not afraid of him and neither am I!" she cried, "I am not going to have him dictate my married life to me because..."
"Gudiya, enough," Khushi said tiredly, her own thoughts plaguing her, "Just wear the jewelry, whatever it is, and we don't have to find out whether or not he's serious."
"But Didi..." Payal protested.
"Mein nahin kaha na? Bas, bahut ho giya. Now sit still so I can finish this. The guests will soon be here."
Payal sulked the whole time her hair was being done, but said nothing else.
Payal's lehenga and choli were canary yellow with a blue dupatta. Khushi watched as Dia smiled in shocked pleasure seeing Payal alight the stairs, putting on the turquoise and gold drop earrings she had bought for her. Her gaze flew to Khushi's face, which was a mixture of understanding and appreciation that Payal wore them after all, but the distance was still evident in her face. She had also gifted Khushi the blood red lehenga and choli she wore right now, her own cut a little more conservative than the one Payal wore. Khushi however, looked beyond Dia with somewhat angry eyes, and then averted her gaze.
Dia had turned around to find Arnav watching with that odd expression where his eyes were amused but his face was devoid of expression. Dia stepped closer to him and whispered in his ear.
"Did you have something to do with this?"
He looked down at her, noting the pained look she was trying so hard to mask, "Something to do with what?"
"Payal...the earrings...did you say anything to her?"
"Why would you think I did?" he asked smoothly, a soft smile playing on his lips as he watched Khushi ordering people around in her usual quiet tone.
Dia said nothing for a few seconds, watching his expression that didn't change, then quietly said, "Thank you Arnav."
He looked down at her with the same smile, but said nothing.
Finally it was time to get the ball rolling as most of the guests had arrived. Of course there was the challenge of male and female attendees, and finally the couples dance. Akash flat out refused to move from his seat, deciding he ought not to break a sweat on his big day. Payal had been pleading with Khushi to do a number for her, insisting it would be the last time she got to see her dance at home or anywhere else, seeing as Nahar would also be taking her away in a few months from her own home. Nahar finally succeeded in persuading her and the chairs were rearranged to allow her and her ever ready troupe to take to the floor.
"Only because it's the last time," Khushi said, wagging her finger at Payal who blew her a kiss as the opening strains of Payal's favorite piece filled the room.
Khushi's smile as usual was rapturous as she danced around the room, always making sure to keep Nahar in her sights. She was dancing for him but she had to be honest and admit her eyes strayed every now and then to the enigmatic Arnav Singh Raizada.
Akash watched with keen eyes, the exchange between Nahar, Khushi and Arnav. He hated to admit it, but he felt there was more than a little something there. I mean, there's taunting a man, and there's what Khushi was doing right now. He looked at Payal and saw that she also had a questioning gaze on her face as she watched her sister dance. He looked at his mother who noticed everything and she was looking amused. He looked at Arnav whom it seemed was enjoying himself immensely, casually leaning against a pillar and watching Khushi intently, apparently not caring who saw it.
As Khushi finished up her number, a huge applause went up from her audience. Nahar took that opportunity to sweep her into a bear hug, dropping a kiss to her forehead.
"I think I have to keep you locked up from now on," he said jokingly.
An embarrassed Khushi darted a glance toward Arnav before extricating herself and doing a mock bow and hurrying off to where the fan stood, to cool off her skin. If she was right, Nahar was doing that too annoy Arnav and she didn't want any kind of confrontation between them on her behalf...or so she told herself.
Arnav didn't miss it. He straightened up from the pillar, an eyebrow raised in humor at Nahar's need to show possession of Khushi, and Khushi's quick look in his direction. He looked at Akash whom it seemed had caught the look too. He smiled in Akash's direction, that one smile loaded to the seams with a conversation only them two understood. Akash shook his head in resignation, knowing exactly what his friend was thinking.
The evening wore on with lots of drinking and lots of eating, voices raised in excitement. The few of Akash's friends and business associates that had been invited kept on teasing their friend and embarrassing Payal by asking if she had anymore sisters or cousins they could grab because it seemed there was something in the Chandigarh air that just made these Mumbai boys come back for more. Even Akash had to laugh at their antics, shooing them away from Payal declaring she was already taken.
Dia looked around. Despite the cold treatment from her sisters, she was happy Arnav forced her to come. Whether or not she was particularly welcome was immaterial. You couldn't reproduce this day even on tape. Khushi, as always had been phenomenal. She never placed a step wrong so long as she was asked to dance. Dia thought of what Nahar bhai had done when she finished. Just what was he trying to prove, she asked herself with a small shake of her head, and a knowing twist of her lips. Poor Khushi had looked about to pass out when he had hugged her like that in front of everyone! Speaking of whom, where was she? She was by the fans a few minutes ago...
Khushi had gone up to her room for a bit, just to get some quiet. All the noise and merriment had taken a toll on her. She had turned off the lights so that no one knew she was there. She heard voices in the farm below and went out on the balcony quietly to see who it was. She was not too surprised to see Aman and Maya sneaking off toward the dais for some alone time. All Maya could talk about was Aman every chance she got. Payal had already told her Akash and Arnav had approved it and that they should have no problem just because he wasn't exactly from one of the wealthiest families of Mumbai. But wealthy, he most definitely was. She watched them from the shadows of her room, the lights switched off so as not to embarrass them. It felt so good to be carefree and in love...
Her door opened behind her and she assumed it was probably Masi or someone else, but a few moments later, the hairs on the back of her neck stood as the familiar smell of his cologne drifted into her nostrils and she whirled around, to confirm her worst fear. Arnav Singh Raizada was in her room! What in the world did he think he was doing?!
Before the first words were out of her lips she was in his arms, the scream that should have escaped, swallowed by his lips capturing hers. She gasped at the suddenness of it all and tried to struggle out of his grip but he held her still, exploring the softness of her mouth. Her protests died where their lips met as he lifted her off the ground so she was standing on her toes. It was a precarious position because she had to hold on to him as opposed to fighting him off, lest she fall. He held her close, loving the feel of her against him as he deepened their kiss, his guttural groan elicited a responding moan from her as she relaxed into his kiss, her hands buried in his hair as she kissed him back.
He broke the kiss first, breathless from trying to take in as much of her as he possibly could, "Ah Kumari," he said softly, nibbling the delicate flesh of her swan-like neck, "You were definitely worth the wait after all."
"What..." She began breathlessly, her hands still wrapped around his shoulders.
She had barely begun to register her surroundings when he fastened his lips on hers again, this one more subtle than the first. He cupped her behind, meshing their bodies together such that she was left in no doubt as to what he meant by worth the wait'. They had somehow ended up pressed against the wall when he finally lifted his head to look into her eyes, his intense gaze intensified more by the darkness that surrounded them. She shuddered in his arms.
"Wh...why are you here?"
He looked at her a moment, but even when he spoke, even in the darkness, she heard the smile in his voice.
"I came to see you Khushi."
"Wha..." She gathered her wits about her as it dawned again, what had just happened. Righteous anger settled and she shoved at his chest, trying to push him away as she pointed at the door, "Get out!" she hissed, "Now!"
He chuckled, "Do you really want me to go?" He loved the expressions warring on her face, "I got the distinct impression you wanted me here, in as much as you pretend not to."
"Are you crazy? Have you gone mad?!" she shrieked in a whisper, as he let her out of his embrace, "You cannot be up here in my room! My fianc is downstairs! There's a room full of people, and it's Gudiya's engagement today! You will not cause a scene here Raizada, now get out!"
The smile was gone from his face as he held her gaze unflinchingly. Khushi must have sensed his intent because she backed away, retreating to the only place left to go...toward the double doors that led to the balcony. He followed her.
"Stop! Why are you doing this? Please go away," she finally resorted to begging, trying to keep her voice down as she remembered that Aman and Maya should be somewhere around.
"But I can't do that," he said softly as he continued to follow her.
Eventually she was trapped with no where else to go. Arnav must have smiled like the cat who ate the canary because Khushi looked down from the balcony like she was about to jump off it to save herself from him.
"You danced beautifully tonight. Your outfit does your body justice. Did I ever tell you red is my favorite color?" he said softly, gently pushing back imaginary hair from her face. He studied her face in the glow of the surrounding lights, "You are easily the most beautiful woman here tonight."
"Please...stop this. Dia is down stairs," she looked about to cry, searching for the best route of escape, but she knew going past him was futile because he had her effectively boxed in against the railing of the balcony, "Nahar..."
His hand stilled, his eyes hardening as he looked at her. A moment later his eyes softened as he caressed her cheek, "You deserve better than him."
Taken aback by the direct insult to Nahar, she was about to give a befitting reply but his hand against her lips shushed her effectively.
She turned away from him then, her back to him as she realized he was not going to budge. Arnav stood with her in the circle of his arms and inhaled her delicate scent.
He closed the distance between them, leaving no space from where her body began or his ended. Her breath caught in her throat at the heat emanating from him. He nuzzled her neck and goose pimples peppered her skin as he inhaled her scented skin deeply.
"I came here for you too Khushi, and I always get what I came for," he said softly.
"But you are engaged to my cousin!" Khushi cried pitifully as his large hands massaged her shoulders, "How can you do this to us?"
"I haven't done anything you weren't already thinking Princess," he said, dipping his head to nip at the soft flesh at the base of her neck.
She shivered at the sparks that jackknifed to the very core of her being, causing her fingers to dig into his upper arm to keep her knees from buckling under the intensity of her emotions. "I ha...have a fianc...I can't let... you keep..."
"Dammit!" he cursed, turning her around, "I told you, you deserve better than him."
"Stop saying that!" she snapped, trying to push him away.
He wasn't having it. He turned her around to face him fully again, "Your loyalty to him is admirable but have you stopped to think how loyal he has been to you?"
That stopped her fidgeting and she frowned up at him, "What do you mean?"
He caught a movement on the ground floor below and smiled again, "Just know that whatever happens, he is not worth your tears."
"What do you mean by..."
The rest of her sentence was cut off as he kissed her again, this time it wasn't like the other two. This one was a show of intimacy, and brief too because he released her ever so slowly, a knowing smile on his face as he looked beyond her, to the ground below. Khushi froze as she saw the look of triumph on his face. She was afraid to turn around, her body trembling but she had to. She slowly turned, to see what he was looking at. She didn't see anyone at first, but when she moved a little closer to the edge, a horrified gasp escaped her. Simultaneously, her legs gave out under her as recognition hit...