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Half an hour later as Radhika got ready to leave, she thanked the gracious Mrs. Dewan and then as she faced Madhav to do the same, Mrs. Dewan spoke,taking the wind out of her sails, “Madhav can drop you back Radhika.”
What? She could feel him stiffening too.
“It’s a little late and Krishan had to go home a little early tonight.”
“He never said anything.” Madhav frowned. You never knew with his mother; the strange mood she was in.
“He had spoken to me about it earlier when you were busy in your study.” She said.
“I can easily get a cab.” Radhika said hastily. In fact I’d prefer it!
“No. it’s no trouble.” He was already getting the car keys from a drawer in the side board. He couldn’t get her out and dropped back to her place fast enough it seemed.
A few minutes later seated in his luxurious SUV, they sped along the streets of south Mumbai. She wasn’t surprised to observe that he was a skilled driver. Oh she observed a lot about him, she thought mentally rolling her eyes. His perfect profile, not less than a Greek God’s, the woodsy, citrusy scent of his cologne, his hands as they maneuvered the wheel…………she sucked in a breath and put a stop to her fanciful thoughts.
“Mr. Dewan you don’t have to house hunt for me.” She felt it was best to say it. “Mrs. Dewan was just being kind I’m sure……” she resisted the urge to fidget as she spoke. His nearness - and he was so near was winding her up in knots!
“It’s alright Miss kapoor. I will have some people contact you. You can give them specifications of what you require; I am sure they will be of some help.” He told her.
“Thank you. It’s very kind of you.” She said stiltedly.
“Not at all.” He spoke just as formally.
More silence. She relaxed into her seat and glanced outside the window to see with some relief that they were approaching her area. Thank God. Only a few minutes at most. GPS was a great invention. No need for excuses to have redundant conversations like asking each other for directions, she thought wryly.
He pulled up in front of her building and as she turned to thank him, pasting a polite smile on her face and willing her heart not to flutter more than it already was, he cut the engine of the car and turned to her.
“It won’t work you know.” He said.
She frowned with incomprehension as she looked at him. He had twisted in his seat to look at her and one arm was resting on the wheel. He looked very male and strong. Very formidable.
“What won’t work?” she asked with a frown, the confusion she was feeling was evident in her voice. And then suddenly it made sense. “Oh you must mean Aditya!” immediately her frown cleared. “Don’t worry about it Mr. Dewan. He is a bright boy, brilliant in fact. It will-“
“I am not talking about Aditya.” He cut in quietly. It was hard to read his tone of voice. Ridiculously in the middle of what apparently was going to be a serious conversation, she was aware of how stunningly good looking his face looked in the illumination from the dash board. How tall, how well built, how gorgeously male he was. And with how much intensity he was looking at her. Intense sure but still impossible to read…..
“You’re not? Then what? I’m sorry I don’t followyou…” she shook her head feeling genuinely confused.What was happening here?
“It will help if you stop playing the innocent Miss Radhika.” He said in an indecipherable voice.
“What?” Had she heard him right?
“I said it won’t work. It’s been tried before.”
“And I heard you earlier.” She said, her voice trying to hang on to the last threads of patience now. “But whatwon’t work and what has been tried before? I am not good at riddles Mr. Verma. Nor am I a mind reader.”
He continued to pin her down with his eyes before he spoke again. “Ok. If you want me to spell it out for you, I will – trying to get to me through my son won’t work Miss Kapoor. I have seen it all before.”
She couldn’t believe it! Her mouth fell open. She just gaped at him and then gasped as finally what he had just said sank into her brain. Anger, blind anger and humiliation swept through her and before she knew it her hand swung up to slap his handsome face. Except that he was too quick. He gripped her wrist mid swing.
“Don’t even try it.” He gritted.
“Why you! You obnoxious, arrogant, conceited, egotistical, self indulgent, incredible narcissist…..” she spluttered to a stop as she took in a much needed breath. She tried to wrench her hand free from his iron grip.
“Let go! You’re hurting me!”
Immediately he eased his grip and let her wrist go.
“Cut the play acting.” He spoke through clenched teeth. “Like I said I have seen it all before and I am sick and tired of it. Okay so you have done a fine job with my son and I don’t doubt your skills as a teacher but I know my son. Like you said he is bright andbrilliant. He should have no problem.”
She was still breathing hard from the indescribable anger she was feeling and it was mounting with every word he spoke!
“Are you for real?” she asked him. “Do you even know your son? Oh of course you wouldn’t! If only you could get past yourself first!”
He glared back at her no doubt trying to put a lid on his own anger. But she was too enraged and continued,“And the funny part is that do you know what? Throughout this car ride, which by the way you were so reluctant to do, I have been thinking how best to politely refuse your mother without hurting her or without giving her the impression that I don’t want to help Aditya because he does need help. I just felt it would be an encroachment of your privacy. I could feel your reluctance in waves!”
“Good so you got the message. That’s perfect then” he snapped.
“Yes it is isn’t it? In fact why delay things and leavepoor Mrs. Dewan wondering?” As she spoke she fumbled with the catch of her little evening bag and opened it and fished for her mobile phone. “I might as well call her right now and tell her of my decision.”Her voice was shaking with anger.
“Do that.” He ground out.
Finally she got the phone out and tucking a heavy strand of hair behind her ear she dialed his mother’s number with fingers that shook. She put the phone to her ear and as the bell went through she used the time to get her bearings back. His mother answered the phone on the fourth ring.
“Mrs. Dewan! I have reached home. Thank you somuch for your warm hospitality”, she spoke in a rush at the same time trying to modulate her voice intosomething resembling a normal tone although what she was really feeling was red hot anger! “And I think I should let you know that I have already made my decision regarding Aditya.” She turned to look atMadhav straight in the eye and lifting her chin defiantly informed his mother, “I think the decision we made earlier was excellent. We have discussed it on the way and his father agrees totally. So I will be more than happy to help Aditya, in fact three days a week would be perfect…”
She saw Madhav’s face turn into a thunderous scowl but she gripped the phone tighter and continued in a rush, “I will call tomorrow so that we can work out the details. Good night Mrs. Dewan.”
She ended the call at the other woman’s exuberant, ‘“Thank you Radhika….”’ just as in a lightening flash the phone was snatched from her hand. A moment’s stormy silence followed.
“Why you spitfire!”
He tossed the phone onto the dash board and gripped her wrist again.
“I could never do that to the poor boy!” she spoke defiantly in his face. “I could never leave him with an ogre like you!”
“An ogre? Is that what I am?”
And before she knew it he had hauled her forward, right across the gear box and into his arms. In the next instant his mouth was on hers and he was kissing her with an intensity that immediately set an answering fire inside her. She could feel the strength of his arms like bands of steel around her and her bones turned to liquid. Sensations she had never felt before swept through her. He kissed her with an expertise that invaded her every sense, every pore. She was lost.
Helpless, totally swept away in the vortex, she kissed him back but then through the foggy mists of her brain, reality began to permeate and with a jerk she wrenched herself free. She could see the same stunned shock she was feeling in his eyes as he let her go. Tears sprang to her eyes. This was humiliation at its worst. She whirled around before he could see the wretched tears in her eyes and fumbled for the handle of the door. She heard a click behind her as he released the locks just as the door gave way. But as she made to push it open he stretched an arm past her, careful not to touch her this time and gripped the handle preventing her from opening it.
She swung around to face him.
“What do you plan to do for an encore?” she spat at him, tears of anger glittering in her eyes.
“I‘m sorry.” He said quietly. Except that his voice was still managing to do things to her! She was the one who was insane! “I don’t know what came over me.” He was saying. “That was uncalled for.”
“Oh don’t worry.” She flashed.
The fire was back in her eyes he was inexplicably glad to see. “You don’t scare me if that was the idea!” she said.
She turned back and shoved the door open and climbed out, her body still shaking. She snapped the phone from his hand as he offered it to her; she had forgotten all about it.
“You can be sure I am going to help Aditya. And youmake sure you are not in my way!”
With that she shut the car door behind her and walkedoff into her building leaving Madhav to let out a heavy breath as he tried to assimilate all of what had just happened and then deciding he just wasn’t up to that now. He started the engine and put the car into reverse.
‘Making a fool of yourself’……was it an idiom? If it was it had definitely fit him well tonight. How else could he describe what had happened back there? He had behaved totally out of character – if you wanted to put it politely. But there was no denying the stark reality of it. She was right. He had behaved like a pompous, arrogant, conceited, egotistical……boor. He was sure that was what she had intended to say when she had run out of steam. But, he told himself as he changed gears to turn into the main road, there was always such a thing as damage control. And with all that he had dealt with in the recent past it was something he was very good at. And with Radhika now more determined than ever to help out with Aditya, he was going to take control of the situation. And be more of his usual controlled, unflappable self. It was a simple as that.
Except that his thoughts drifted back to her. Spunk.That’s what she had in spades. She was the original firecracker. Bright, beautiful, vivacious. And she attracted him beyond words. Beyond self control. Beyond anything else he had ever felt.
All the reasons why he needed to take stock of the situation.
All the initial euphoria she had been feeling last night, all the defiance and all the bravado she had displayed evaporated in the cold light of day. True she had barely slept a wink last night. All she had been able to think about was that kiss. It had been a revelation. She understood now for the first time the electric power of physical attraction. The uncontrollable force of it and how it had made her feel.Madhav Dewan had once again dominated her dreams, strolling in and out of them with his amused smile and eyes that ensnared her with their intensity.
Yes, morning brought with it a stark recollection of all that she had defiantly announced to him. And the reality of all that was well and truly driven home when Mrs. Dewan’s called. She wanted to know if tomorrow would be a good time to get started with Aditya. Yes it would be perfect she had agreed. Why procrastinate she reasoned glumly.
Except that how was she ever going to go around to Madhav’s house every other day to help Aditya? There would be no avoiding him. After all it was his house. She didn’t want to be anywhere near him; he made her forget herself. She lost all control around him. Hadn’t last night proved that in more ways than one?
Not wanting to analyse any further she got up and poured herself another cup of tea. The only reprieveshe thought guiltily was that Kavita was not here. Mohan had taken a day off and they had left early to go to their new flat to do as many of the million little things as possible that still needed to be done before they moved in.
Just then once again her phone rang. Not recognizing the unknown number she took the call, “Hello?”
“Good morning, is this Miss Radhika Kapoor?” a smooth cultured female voice asked
“I am calling from Mr. Madhav Dewan’s office regarding your search for a place to rent.”
“Yes?” she said, not quite believing what was going on. After last night it wasn’t even there on her mind, never mind expecting him to follow it up!
“If you could give me specifications of what kind of place you are looking for, I can have someone get back to you within the week.” ‘smooth cultured voice’ was saying.
Just in time she bit back the instinctive ‘no thanks’ that came to her lips. Instead practicality prevailed and she said, “Thank you” before telling the woman at the other end what she required.
After she hung up a strange kind of feeling swept through her. He had remembered and even more important, honoured his word of helping her with her house hunting. He had put aside last night and all the nasty things she had thrown at him and contacted her first thing in the morning. How honorable was that?
Once again Madhav Dewan was making it impossible for her to push him out of her mind. So he was a man of honor. He had risen above all of what had happened between them last night and acted like the mature, strong man he was, not giving in to any pettiness thatshe might have expected.
Unlike her who seemed hung up on the incident.Guilt set in when she thought of the clueless and gracious Mrs. Dewan and her equally honorable son. There was a lesson for her in this; she too could put that one single aberration behind her and move on and get the job done; which was to help their sweet little boy, Aditya.
And maybe she needed to write it down and paste it in the inside of her cupboard that the reason Madhav Dewan could move on without a blink of an eye was the picture she had seen last night in his house. He was still in love with his stunningly beautiful dead wife. And a stray kiss with a virtual nobody was nothing for him to get worked up about.
With that firm thought in mind she got up and headed for a shower.
Much as he had loathed the idea and had even considered conveniently forgetting about it, his mother had other ideas. She was on his case first thing in the morning, “What an absolutely dear girl this Radhika is, don’t you think?” she asked him over their routine morning tea outside in the lawns.
“Hmm.” He felt compelled to respond even as he continued to browse through the pink pages. What he really wanted to do was to quit the topic before it began. And knowing his mother, began it had. And as if to prove it, she asked him, “She’s all alone in Mumbai and now that we know she won’t even have a place to stay in any longer, it is our moral duty to help her.”
He put down his cup and turned to her to say emphatically, “She is not alone in Mumbai Ma. She has friends remember?” he reminded her wryly. “And you needn’t go all soft on her. It is not our ‘moral duty’ to help her. Believe me, she will manage, I know. She is Aditya’s teacher and leave it at that.” He drawled. Although whom was he giving that bit of advice to, he wasn’t sure; his mother? Or himself?
“Madhav!” his mother sounded scandalized. “How can you even be like that? Didn’t you see how young and innocent she was? You have to help her to find a place. Promise me.”
He almost choked on that. Innocent? If only his mother knew! She was as innocent as a shrew!
He looked at his mother’s determined face for a moment and then sighed. It would be best to do what she said or she’d hound him at every step. He knew he’d never hear the end of it if he didn’t agree now. So he said, “Okay Ma. I’ll see what I can do. Promise.”
“Thank you!” his mother gave him her sunniest smile. And he had the vague feeling he’d been had.
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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