From the moment Ram knocked on her door the pace with which her life progressed seemed surreal. Priya was emotionally numb throughout the car ride to the Kapoor Mansion. The look of distraught on Sudhir’s face flashed before her eyes each time she blinked. However, at that point, it was too late to debate whether she had made a mistake by delving into a life-altering plan with a man whom she equated to the devil. In that case, Priya had sold her soul and if legend unfolded remotely close to how it was told, there was no getting it back. The thought of no escape was most stifling for Priya but one look at Kush was all it took to ease her tension. Placing a soft kiss on his forehead Priya caressed his hair setting it back, neatly. Kush kicked his legs and flailed his arms emphatically in response. Priya smiled, her expression bittersweet. Ram witnessed the emotional doozy glancing periodically at the rearview mirror in his car. The thing with suffering in silence is that it projects a sense of composure, which in Ram’s case was false. Although, this was in fact a plan he himself had hatched; an imminent fear resonated within him that stemmed from the roots of inevitable change. Eventually he would pour his insecurities over a glass of whiskey on the rocks with his buddy Vikram but for now he opted to remain silent. Besides, after last night he was in a bit of a tussle with his drinking partner. Apparently, he had locked horns with Vikram’s morals when he revealed the way in which he conned Priya for her signature. Ram had thought it was a genius execution but Vikram scolded him instead. “Whatever,” Ram thought making the final turn into his driveway “He will come around sooner than later, but for now I have to deal with this problem.” He glanced at Priya in his rearview mirror and incidentally she caught his gaze as the car screeched to a halt in front of the mansion. “Let’s go.” Ram spoke in a boisterous tone opening the door to his car. Instructing his driver to have the suitcase in the trunk of his car sent to his room, Ram waited impatiently for Priya. “How rude,” She thought to herself as she held Kush firmly in her arms and shifted in her seat to get out of the car. “Apparently, chivalry is dead.” She glanced mockingly at Ram who stood leaning against his car obliviously with his hands in his pocket while she struggled to open the door for herself. It’s not that the act of opening a car door was difficult but an overly hyper toddler bouncing in her arms had something to do with her shortcomings. Distracted by a harsh tapping sound, Ram turned in the direction of the noise only to realize that the ruckus was Priya’s knuckles drumming the classily tinted window of his car. They exchanged frustrated glares, as Ram hesitantly assisted her in the simplest of tasks.
“You can’t even open the damn door.” He sneered at her, tauntingly.
“You can’t even open the damn door.” He sneered at her, tauntingly.
“Why don’t you try to get out of the car with Kush jumping in your arms.” She retorted expertly.
“Whatever, just don’t get accustomed to me opening the door for you. I am not your servant.”
“I couldn’t have agreed more…You’re hardly a gentleman… All I expect from you is that you stay as far away from me as possible while we pretend to actually care about each other.”
“Hmm.” Ram rested his chin on the back of his hand momentarily while he surveyed the length of Priya’s body. “That should be easy.” Ram jeered with an arrogant smirk on his face.
Flashing Ram her classic, sarcastic smile Priya re-directed the argument to neutral grounds. “Let’s just get this thing over with. The sooner we expose Sheena, the sooner I can leave.”
“I couldn’t have agreed more.” Ram stated; accepting her proposal to cease-fire he marched towards the mansion; a man on a mission.
Drawing in a deep breath, Priya muttered, “It’s show time…” before taking her first step forward. Ram nonchalantly paced a few strides in front of Priya having walked the path to his mansion, his home, numerous times to count. Kush remained calm, nibbling on his little fingers and babbling in different pitches as they all made their way to the doorsteps of the mansion.
The passionate display of affection was breath taking; literally, Ram struggled to calm his nerves. “I am so sorry Ram…” Priya whispered, pecking his numb lips that were too shocked to partake in the passion. “I was just so scared.” Ram spoke breathlessly when given the chance to catch his breath. “What can I do to make it up to you?” Ram was beyond excited; he had no idea as to how to react. Priya continued her repentance, stamping soft kisses along his neck waiting for his final verdict. But Ram remained silent, drugged on ecstasy he was rendered speechless. “Was this really happening?” He wondered as Priya recaptured his lips. “Or was this just a beautiful dream?”
"Well..." He finally managed to whisper, teasing the side of her arched neck with the warmth from his breath.
"First, I am going to take you in my arms," Ram paused for a second and only a second as he was consumed by the overwhelming thrill of her fingers kneading through the strands of his lush black hair.
The shiver that coursed through his body triggered by the soft scratch of her freshly manicured nails against the base of his skull forced his voice to quiver as he continued in a huskier tone. "And into our bedroom..."
His words coupled with the soft, subtle caress of his overpowering presence held Priya willingly captivate. The vigor with which Priya’s heart pounded in her chest was an audible declaration of forfeit in the name of love.
“And than what?” Priya questioned softly in his ear, trying to infuse some level of serenity in the frenzy, which had been made of her senses.
His arms were clamped securely around her slender waist pressing her body against his own without even an ounce of persuasion. Ram’s lips grazed along the side of her face setting ablaze a swirl of emotions at the pit of her stomach. Loosely hanging her arms around his broad shoulders Priya closed her eyes and panted, awaiting the pleasure thrill of his next move. The anticipation was unbearable but anyone who has ever been in love would agree that subtle torment made for the best foreplay. Unexpectedly, Ram rested his forehead against hers having lingered around her lips, weaving assumptions in her mind of a foreseeable kiss, which remained at a glance as an unfulfilled promise.
“I want to take you in our room, rest you on the bed and than climb next to you…” Ram professed at last answering her question. She immediately blushed, sheltering her face in his chest as she embraced him suddenly… A smile sneaked its way to his lips, “And for the rest of the day Priya… It’s going to be me…” Ram felt her breath quicken, enticing him further. “You…” She tightened her hold on him bracing herself for his blunt proclamation… “And cricket…” Barely concealing his amusement Ram unveiled the innocent trick he had hidden up his sleeve all along.
Inside the mansion Krishna paced the foyer waiting for the arrival of the trio. Amarnath and Sheena observed her peculiar behavior. They had each questioned her but her response remained the same, “It’s a surprise… Have some patience.”
Sheena massaged her forehead, voicing her annoyance in mumbles to herself, “This old lady bhi na. She chose today of all days to act crazy.” She bit her lips, anxiously glancing in the direction of her bedroom where she had unwisely left her cellphone, “Raj must be wondering why I haven’t called him yet.” She pondered worriedly; unaware of greater problems headed her way.
“They’re here!!” Krishna shrieked, clearly overjoyed. Ram had informed her of the plan and although this was all part of the performance, he just knew that his mother would overact her given role. “Bansi! Get the Pooja Thali, jaldi.” Krishna ordered dramatically, as Amarnath made his way hesitantly to the entrance. Ram and Priya glanced at each other nervously; even Kush looked around, baffled by Krishna’s initial shriek.
“What is all this?” Amarnath finally spoke as Bansi brought forth a golden tray, which Krishna had prepared beforehand for the welcoming ritual.
“Amarnath, I would like you to meet Priya.” Krishna began enthusiastically, hoping to slowly ease the lines of confusion etched on her husband’s forehead. “As of a few hours now Ram and Priya are legally married. Priya is now officially our bahu… And yeh chota sa Kush, is finally our grandson…” Krishna poured the truth basking in the overwhelming feeling of pride.
There was a moment of pin drop silence before Sheena hurled a bomb of insecurities upon the awkward situation. Striding with urgency, she made her way to the entrance glaring murderously at Priya. “I knew it… From the moment I laid eyes on this cunning woman I knew that she was after Ram and his wealth.” Sheena’s words landed as a vulgar jab on Priya’s character. “Ram…” She started, proposing an implausible pitch attempting to con a businessman using his own tricks. “This woman is a gold digger… Think about it Ram… She came out of nowhere and into our lives. Ram I would never want to ruin your happiness but I can’t watch you ruin your life… This is a big mistake Ram…” Priya’s heart pounded as if it were doing back flips off the walls of her chest. She could have never imagined the level of intensity, which had swarmed into an uncontrollable frenzy of words in the tension filled mansion.
“Enough Sheena!” Amarnath scolded at once, breaking his vow of silence. Sheena was slightly taken aback by the unfamiliar projection of anger in his voice but by no means was her own rage tamed by the sudden outburst. “Ram… Why didn’t you tell me before you did all this?” Amarnath probed further…
“Because I don’t trust you with anything let alone my decisions…And if you or anyone has a problem with Priya or Kush, than I would be more than happy to leave.” Priya observed Ram’s expression of immense dislike as he replied arrogantly and off script. It wasn’t a glare of hate, which Priya had analyzed in Ram’s eyes for his father; that look, it seemed, was reserved for her. But nonetheless the tension amid father and son was palpable and it made no sense to Priya because she could have sworn to have seen a simmer of love just aching to break through the pretense of bitterness between them.
“Please Amarnath, just relax…” Krishna pleaded sensing the situation could easily escalate out of control.
“Nobody tells me anything around here. Why the hell should I relax?” He overreacted in the moment but if the situation was looked back upon, he might have been right in his place.
Driven off course by the outpour of emotions, Krishna blurted out, “Because I already lost one son to your stubbornness, I don’t want to lose another.”
Silence occupied the foyer once more and this time it had morphed into a suffocating blend of regret and awkwardness. Even Sheena was stunned, trapped in a web of her own, which she had spun for Priya.
Amarnath turned to leave, pausing momentarily with his back turned to his family before heading up the stairs to his bedroom. Sheena marched to her room shortly after. She was not about to stand there and witness Priya’s grand entry into the mansion.
Bursting into a laughing fit, Ram thoroughly enjoyed Priya’s knotted expression. The look of utter disbelief was truly priceless. Although, he was tempted to veer into a land of lustful fantasy with his wife, Ram managed to perform a miracle, keeping his eyes on the prize and his desire in check.
“I told you I would win the bet.” Ram boasted through his amusement.
Swinging her right arm in the air Priya landed her fist on his broad chest screaming, “Ram, you jerk!”
“What?” Ram whined while broadcasting a smile; an expression on his face that cheered pure gratification. “You’re the one who kissed me… It’s not my fault that I am so irresistible…” The delight in his eyes was persuasive but Priya was too overwhelmed by her defeat to indulge in his charm. Childishly, she pouted her bottom lip, positioning her back to Ram.
“I hate you Ram…” She spat out an unconvincing lie.
“Hmmm…” Ram embraced her from behind and held her tightly around her waist. Resting his chin on her shoulder, their cheeks kissed inevitably, owing to the closeness. The darn butterflies shamelessly fluttered just below her navel where his palms were so conveniently placed. Ram saw right through her feigning anger. “I am no expert Priya…” He whispered in her ear as if he was disclosing a deep, dark secret. “But I’ve heard that when women say, ‘I hate you’ it actually means, ‘I love you’.
“Where’d you hear such a stupid thing?” She attempted to maintain an angry stance. However, seriousness the very basis of anger, refused to assert itself in the tone of her voice.
“It true Priya. And for the record, I love you too.”
Priya silently gasped, closing her eyes, she bit her lower lip as Ram placed two slow, soft kisses on the side of her face. She spun in his embrace resting her palms on his chest; her waist remained secure in the sling of his manly arms.
“Are you really going to make me watch cricket?” She asked, manipulating her expression wisely she looked up at him. “Can’t we just go out? I want to spend the day out with my handsome husband.”
“Really?” He proposed flirtatiously. “You know I could never say no to that look.” Priya smiled coyly. “Anyways, I had no intention of actually watching cricket with you?”
“What? Why?” Priya questioned, slightly offended for no valid reason.
“Watching cricket with you would be boring.” Priya glared at him while he continued cleverly… “And besides I’d much rather make my own cricket team with you…”
“Haw…” Priya mouthed shyly. “You are so bad Ram…” She stated bluntly, concealing her flush red cheeks in the shelter of his embrace.
Ram stormed into his bedroom dragging Priya by her hand. That which started of as a pretense of love had quickly turned into a tight, uncomfortable grip on her wrist. Bolting his bedroom door shut Ram finally relinquished his hold on her, no longer having to put on a show. Priya quickly scanned her surroundings before boldly making her way towards Ram who stood by the window, one hand in his pocket and the other fisted to his side.
“Mr. Kapoor… Where exactly do Kush and I sleep?” Priya asked with no intention to squabble. Little did she know that anything spoken to Ram in that moment was like lighter fluid it was bound to set him ablaze.
It was only when Ram had turned around that Priya was hinted of his rage. “Sleep wherever the hell you want... I don’t give a damn… Just stay out of my way.” Ram snarled, walking past her to his desk, he scrimmaged through a stack of folders.
Narrowing her gaze Priya observed Ram trying to make sense of his peculiar and uncalled for behavior. What had she done after all; this entire predicament was his doing. Kush was rightfully startled and before he began voicing his fear, Priya rubbed his back to soothe him, falsely reassuring him that everything was just fine. Reaching into her purse, Priya pulled out Kush’s favorite rattle and handed it to him. His eyes lit up as if he thought, finally something familiar in this strange place. Laying Kush on the oversized bed, Priya walked towards Ram once more, ignoring all warning signs.
“Mr. Kapoor I know you’re mad about what happened downstairs. But don’t take your anger out on me… If I am here it’s your fault. This is what you wanted. Now deal with it.” Priya cautioned Ram, hoping he’d ease up on the attitude bit. However that thought alone was farfetched even when Priya played it out in her mind. And therefore, she anticipated a slew of bitterness expecting nothing more from a man like Ram.
Ram faced her and replied sternly, “Save your lectures for someone who cares.”
Priya decided to give it a rest; Ram was in no mood to reason as his anger had quite clearly gotten the best of him.
Glaring intensely at her, Ram, who was in a mood to fight, anxiously waited for Priya to say something more. But when it was obvious that she had wisely ceased fire, Ram marched out of his room, purposely slamming the door shut behind him as if he were trying to make some sort of a point. And if his point was to startle Priya than Ram had definitely succeeded.
Eventually the humor had faded; entranced, Ram and Priya swayed to the delicate beat of their hearts, comforted by closeness, mingled in the beauty of their surroundings. Possessively, he squeezed her petite frame encasing her further within him and while caressing her hair he began to speak softly.
“Hmm?” she hummed against his chest sensing the quickening of his heart beat.
“All jokes aside, you really had me worried when you threatened to leave me. Don’t ever do that again.” Ram spilled his fears with ease, knowing his emotions were in safe hands.
“I’m sorry.” She murmured running her palms down the length of his back; the sensation drew out a subtle groan from deep within him.
Priya placed a gentle kiss over his shirt where his heart resided, soothing him in a way she may never fully understand. “We have 24 more hours together, let’s cherish each second of what’s left.”
Ram’s heart sank, recalling the reality of their love story, “What if I don’t want this to end? What if I want to spend the rest of my life with you?”
“I want exactly that too.” She briefly paused swallowing the lump in her throat. She couldn’t break down; she had to be strong, for him, for their love and everything that it embodied. “But Ram, sometimes the end is just a label masking the beauty of perhaps a new beginning.”
Ram loosened his grip on her body. Stepping back slightly he grabbed a hold of both her hands… “Even if the end is indeed the ‘end’, I promise we will live happily ever after. I am not going to give up on our love.”
Before she could have a chance to respond, Ram swooped down and kissed her lips; it wasn’t the first time he had done it and it definitely wasn’t the last but the spontaneity of his action caused her nerves to stand on end. The so-called composure, which she had harnessed, slipped easily and out of her grip. There she was squirming in his hold, pleasure uncontained. But she remained in the battle of passion amidst the heat competing toe to toe with a man who made her feel like no other man ever possibly could. Shattering the precious seal of their lips Ram rested his forehead against hers. His fingers weaved through her heavenly scented hair cradling her head in the palms of his hands, holding it gently in place while he whispered against her lips, “What do you say we get started on that cricket team of ours.” Priya lowered her gaze blushing at the thought of his blunt implication. Ram traced his fingers along the side of her face; she gasped and held her breath basking in the overwhelming swirl of emotions his mere touch beseeched. Her eyes were shut tightly making sense of the sensations he made her feel. The heat from his breath splashed against her already warm, throbbing lips owing to his recent passionate onslaught, which she had enjoyed thoroughly. The gentle scratch of his stubble as he rubbed his cheeks against hers tickled her in the deepest of places. She sighed softly hoping he didn’t hear her. But her hands had a plan of their own, travelling promiscuously up the front of his body, past the faint beat of his heart until they disappeared into the million strands of his hair. Than her mind took over, guiding his head deeper into the crook of her neck. Her breathing became erratic as his lips pelted the sensitive skin on the part of her neck where she had led him. Priya felt Ram grin against her stinging flesh as he kissed his way up her neck, suddenly taking her earlobe between his lips; he tugged gently. She nearly fainted, her mind completely blank. Finally expressing her pleasure, no words could be found all that slipped past her parted lips were sounds. “I’ll take that as a yes.” Ram inferred reading her mind. Lifting her swiftly in his arms he began walking, drinking in the lust laced in her gaze.
Priya sat at the foot of bed trying to hold back her tears. She had wept buckets initially when Kush had taken his morning nap. But it was as if Kush had sensed that something was wrong cause he had woken up earlier than he usually would. “Come on Priya… Be strong…” She kept repeating to herself, anything to keep from crying. Priya had never felt anxious, lonely, scared and sad, at least not all at once. She was afraid of the unforeseen future, chained helplessly in the present situation and for the first time she questioned who she was as a person. All that defined Priya was her family and at first she found solace in the fact that she was doing this for them. But as the minutes passed by, her sacrifice felt more and more like a burden on her brittle shoulders. Priya was ashamed to accept the fact that all she wanted to do was run and hide. She sighed and closed her eyes hearing Kush babbling happily to himself behind her. As Priya tried to console her nerves she felt a firm grip on her shoulder. She opened her eyes at once and stood up.
“Aunty-ji?” Priya uttered hoping her voice would hold up its own at least in front of Krishna.
But being a mother let alone a mother of three, nothing got past Krishna. “Beta, it’s okay to cry…”
Tears welled up in Priya’s eyes and before she knew it she was sobbing like a baby in Krishna’s embrace. “I miss everyone aunty-ji. I am so sorry…”
Krishna broke the hug and wiped Priya’s tears with the palm of her hand like any loving mother would. “Why are you sorry Beta? It’s okay I understand…”
Priya sniffled and smiled regaining some strength after a bout of much needed comfort.
“That’s more like it… Smile, you are not alone. We are all in this together… I made a promise to Sudhir this morning to keep you safe and happy. Kapoor hoon mein… I don’t take promises lightly…” Krishna stated playfully earning a chuckle from Priya.
“umm Aunty-ji is there anything I can help you with downstairs. Dinner… I can make dinner.” Priya offered…
“First of all Priya, its not aunty-ji, it’s mummy-ji to you. If we’re going to act we might as well give an Oscar worthy performance, right?... And secondly, you didn’t even have lunch so forget about dinner…”
“Sorry mummy-ji…” She stated awkwardly, addressing Krishna as such was one of those things she would have to get used to. “But I am not really hungry…”
“Accha…” Krishna walked over to the right side of the bed, lifting Kush up in her arms excitedly. “Did you hear that Kush, your choti momma is saying she is not hungry? Hmm… That’s very bad na?” Kush observed her curiously, glancing back at the bed where his rattle was placed. “Lunch is not up for debate Priya… Let’s go…”
“But mummy-ji...” She paused… “Sheena and Papa-ji?” Priya voiced her concern having reached her daily threshold for drama.
“Amarnath and Ram have both gone to the office. I swear those two are more alike than they would like to accept. And as for Sheena she has gone out for lunch with her friends. Besides sooner or later you have to face her and defeat her too…” Krishna stated reassuringly.
Exhausting all her options, Priya had no choice but to agree to have lunch. They ate in the dining room, an area of the mansion, which hosted the least amount of fun. As Krishna explained, the growing animosity between Ram and Amarnath especially after Sid was gone resulted in the family no longer eating together. Sheena was usually out and about. Ram would have his meals served in his bedroom while reviewing reports. So Krishna and Amarnath would eat alone.
Once lunch was over, Priya gave Kush a quick bath. As always it seemed his clothes ate more of his baby food than he did. Krishna insisted that Kush have his afternoon nap in her room, making up for lost time. Priya agreed hesitantly, unsure of how Kush would react. To her surprise Kush seemed very content. “Knock on wood.” She thought. “He’s having a good day.” Afternoon quickly transformed to evening and Kush was still in Krishna’s room, playing. Krishna was overjoyed and Kush was happy too. Although Priya missed him, she didn’t have the heart to rob Krishna of her right to bond with her grandson.
Priya was sitting on Ram’s bed flipping through the pages of a book from his shelf when he walked into his room.
“Who told you to touch my things…” Ram shouted, carrying on with the trend from earlier. Startled, Priya nearly dropped the book, catching it before it hit the floor.
“When the heck did he come…” Priya thought to herself as she tried to concentrate on catching her breath. “Umm… Woh. I was bored so I thought I would read…” She stammered, answering conservatively. Seeing that her response made not a dent in Ram’s understanding, Priya walked over to the shelf and placed the book back. “There…” She concluded.
“It’s alphabetically ordered by the authors last name. Pretty conventional system, for someone who claims to read you should know that much.” Ram retorted arrogantly, having observed her like a hawk. “Put it back where you found it and don’t touch my things again.” He added before making his way to the bathroom.
“What an ass…” Priya murmured while fixing the book as ordered. “I’ll show him.” She snapped, recalling a minor detail from their earlier argument.
Ram stepped out of the bathroom all ready for bed. The day had been a long one, threatening to never end at times. But finally the night prevailed and Ram was thrilled more than anyone to finally get some rest. Stepping into his room he stopped abruptly, angered by the sight in front of him. “What are you doing in my bed?”
“Well I am not dancing… I’ll tell you that much… You’re a smart man figure it out.” Priya replied feeling empowered. She lay down comfortably pulling the duvet up to her neck.
“But that’s my bed.” Ram stated, obviously annoyed.
“Yeah so?” Priya began. Propping herself up in bed on her elbow… “Do you recall when I asked you earlier, where Kush and I would sleep? You said, rudely I might add, sleep wherever you want…” She mocked. “So the bed is mine…”
Priya smiled victoriously, thoroughly amused with the expression of confusion and anger on his face. She fluffed her pillow and laid back down on the mattress, adding, “Turn off the lights will you? After you decide which sofa to sleep on.”
That was the last straw; Priya had really done it this time. Ram fumed, thinking to himself. To hell with this… Slamming his phone on the night table he climbed into bed, shifting his body to find a comfortable spot. “Ahh this is perfect…” He sighed finally settling down. Priya opened her eyes immediately, the second she felt the mattress sink. Sitting up quickly, she tried to get out of bed but Ram grabbed a hold on her hand.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Ram turned to face her… “Like I said you can sleep wherever you want… I don’t mind sharing.” He taunted, calling her bluff.
The fear she had suppressed resurfaced at once in her expression. “Leave me…” She demanded, twisting and pulling her hand to break free.
“I want you to be comfortable. I am just looking out for you my dear wife…” Ram continued, refusing to let go.
“I said leave me Ram!” Priya shouted, the adrenaline taking charge.
“Wow Priya… Less than a minute in bed with me and you’re already calling me Ram… That’s how good I am…” Ram boasted teasingly while Priya wriggled to break free...
She wasn’t sure what he was capable of, but one thing was certain, she didn’t trust him at all.