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Timeless Best Sellers
Aspiring Author

Her Dream Date
-by Ruchita Vasudeva

A date with a Bollywood star.

Who wouldn’t be excited at the chance? Any girl would dive in headfirst, especially when the date was Zaheer Saxena, the hottest male lead of the year.

Yet Vishakha Sehgal had her smile missing. She tried to fight the fish-out-of-water feeling she’d been having since she’d stepped into the glitzy make-up room someplace in Mumbai. “We’re all done,” the stylist told her, “I’ll go check when you’re being picked up.”

Her stomach felt hollow. If not for the cruel workings of fate she would be getting married today. In a plot twist straight out of the Bollywood movies she thrilled over, her fiancé had fallen for her sister and was marrying her instead.

His parting phone call still rang in her ears. “Sorry Vishakha. I shouldn’t have gone along with my parents choosing you. I knew arranged marriage wasn’t the thing for me. But you being a doctor and all... Anyway, I can’t regret it. Otherwise how could I have met your sister?”

She winced and glanced at the walled mirrors. A slim if busty girl in a svelte midnight blue gown stared back at her. Squinting myopically, she reached for her glasses and slipped them on. Except for her rectangular black frames, she didn’t remotely resemble her usual no-frills appearance.

Winning the Dream Date contest had been exciting. She’d shopped for her engagement dress at a certain designer outlet which offered a questionnaire and happened to answer it correctly, courtesy her addictive interest in Hindi films. She’d however happily put it on the backseat, busy preparing for her more important occasion.

Her wedding.

Her bravado crumbled and she sank into a chair. In front of her family and the gathered relatives, she had kept her chin up, defying their pitying looks. How easily she had assured her mom, “I’ll be fine. Relax. It was only an arranged match. It wasn’t as though I loved him.”

But the blow had been big. She hadn’t loved him but she’d liked him and liked the dream of building a new life. Settling down as her friends said.

If only she’d tried to impress him more. Had she been witty and interesting, with more dress sense...

She knew only to talk shop. Her passion was her work at the children’s ward. Buried in medical books, she had never had time to scour fashion shops or look up the latest trends. Her lively sister might recount how she and her cohorts had pulled a bartender’s leg by pretending to find a bug in her cocktail and getting drinks for free. She talked only of her relief at switching her patient from iv line to oral intake. No contest which a man would find fascinating.

Oh! She gave a silent groan. There she went again. Putting herself down. She needed time to get over this. What she didn’t need was a publicity event to add to her stress levels.

What could a serious-minded doctor say to a film hero? How to spend a whole dinner with him? Two hours when the date would be filmed and clips chosen to be splashed for the public eye.

A mental image of women Zaheer Saxena must date usually cropped in her mind. Sophisticated ladies seen onscreen. Draped in designer labels and saying, “love you all,” with mwahs and dripping confidence.

I have to get out of here. I’d just feel like a crow among swans.

She’d meet Zaheer Saxena at the venue, a posh Mumbai hotel and make suitable apologies.

She was so not up to this today.

“What does she mean she can’t do it?” Zaheer frowned at the event manager, impatiently flicking back a cuff to glance at his broad strap gold watch. He had a script recital at eleven tonight, with a bare two hours for this dinner. And this supposed to be star-struck girl was throwing tantrums?

He’d had it with tantrums. And other wiles females seemed to have in their arsenal for achieving their whims. His leading lady had been giving him hell on the sets, her latest notion being that she wanted them to practice a certain scene in his bedroom.

“Here she is. If you want to talk...” The manager tailed off, leaving the room as a woman entered it.

Zaheer glanced up. A dolled up woman stood there. Glossy mouth. Dusky skin tinted with luster. Eyes seductively darkened. He smelt danger instantly, his bloodhound instincts awakening. Why gear up and then bow out? Definitely some ulterior motive here. Was she looking to ask him for a break in Bollywood? After years of shaking off determined and devious females, their roundabout ways of doing things no longer surprised him.

“Is there a problem?” Impatience laced his voice.

“Er no, Mr. Saxena. I mean yes. But it’s nothing to do with you. It’s all my fault.”

Her voice was breathless and she seemed to be focusing on his shirt button. Disconcerting. Women didn’t avoid looking at him.

His gaze slid on her. The dress fit her to perfection, outlining sensuous curves. He felt awareness jerk up the tension in his body. Sudden and unreasoning. Why this flare of attraction heating his blood? Nothing special about this woman after all. Just another made-up face looking to be in the limelight.

Or not. Why had she refused?

“Why don’t you sit down and we can talk it over?” he suggested.

Vishakha couldn’t believe she’d heard the gentle note in his voice. He’d been so curt before. The moment she’d stepped in here she’d been surrounded by a prickly awareness of him. A raw powerful aura that oozed from him like oil from her mom’s buttered paranthas. He wore a black dinner jacket with a metallic blue sheen and dark trousers that buckled on a lean waist, showing off his superb fitness. His hazel eyes narrowing on her had caused her breath to constrict. He always wowed her on screen but she’d expected it to be cinematic magic. Up close he was more rugged, the laughter lines adding to his charm, making him more real somehow. Dark brown hair, streaked with lighter colour waved low to his collar.

No screen hero this, that she could fantasize about and then safely forget once she was out of theatre.

She kept standing. “Sorry. I shouldn’t back out like this. But you can find someone else. Any girl would be glad to do this event.”

“Your name has been announced. People are waiting to see a doctor interact with me.” He pointed out.

“PR people have talked to me. I just wanted to apologize to you personally. I can’t do this.”

“Why not?”

“Because...I’m not well.”

His gaze swept over her. “You look fine to me.”

“I have a headache.” Vishakha realized suddenly that those who weren’t used to making excuses shouldn’t attempt to lie.

“Oh, really?” His deep voice drawled. Her pulse bounded at the resonance of it. How many times she had delighted in its husky whispers to the heroine.

Now that velvetiness had an edge.

She bit her lip. “I’m not being clever. I am just not prepared to do this. I’ve already told the organizers I am ready to sign away to whoever they pick up. This is for publicity only so it can’t matter much.”

“It does to me. I don’t have the leisure to hang around for the changes and if it’s cancelled, I would have wasted quite a lot of time. What’s eating you anyway? You knew what was planned.”

“I’m really not up to facing cameras.” She held back a sniff.

“You should have thought of that before.”

“I know.” She should have thought of lots of things. Like not opting out of her date with her fiancé when an emergency had popped up at the hospital. Had that night been the one when he’d decided he preferred her sister?

Unbidden tears formed at the corners of her eyes. Great, now she was losing it in front of him.

“If you don’t have a valid reason, you better stop this dithering.”

He hit a nerve. “And just what do you call a valid reason,” she demanded, the threatening tears taking over. “Is losing my fiancé to my sister on the verge of my marriage reason enough?” She felt her vision filling with hot tears that spilled onto her cheeks. Oh, why couldn’t the floor just drop out from under her?

Zaheer stared, for a second nonplussed at the woman crying in front of him.

“Sit down.” he told her. When she didn’t move, he led her to the leather sofa. “Take this”. She was wiping her eyes with her hand and he proffered his hanky. Something about the bowed head and shaking shoulders touched him. Her grief was genuine, not the crocodile shower more usual in his experience. Tears were just another of a woman’s weapons. He knew that. So why was he letting her get to him? “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, “It’s been so awful.”

“What is it, tell me?”

The gentleness in his voice was completely undoing. Vishakha tried to wake herself up from the fantasy. The dream of someone like him sweeping her off her feet belonged to the celluloid, not reality. Surely she knew that by now. “My fiancé ran away with my sister. Oh yes. So dramatic. Only I’m on the other side of the fairy-tale. The dumped girl instead of the heroine.” Oh, how sad that sounded. She shouldn’t pour out her story to him.

But she was. “I just wanted to get away from the wedding. I thought my coming here and looking glamorous would show everyone I wasn’t wallowing over him. Stupid of me. Who would be watching Bollywood current news in the middle of a fat Indian wedding anyway?”

His mouth curved, “And here I was thinking you want me to pave your path into films.”

Despite herself she smiled, “Are you crazy? I feel comfortable around injections and stethoscopes. Not the beauty in bottles stuff. I guess my fiancé didn’t like that.”

“He is a fool.” The light shone on her dark strands and he had the urge to touch them to see if they were as silky as they looked. He did so. Softly stroking, enjoying the texture rich and smooth.

She looked up, a sparkle in the brown eyes. “I don’t want sympathy, Mr. Saxena!”

“Zaheer.” he commanded, softening it with a smile. “For a doctor you aren’t very good at analyzing, are you? This isn’t sympathy but desire.” He leaned down and touched his lips to hers, catching her by surprise. Sensation shot down his nerves, enhancing the tension in his body as he felt her unbridled response. Blood raced through him and he deepened the kiss, letting her upper body mold to his.

Vishakha felt the contact run like wildfire through her veins, the heat of his mouth singeing her lips. She drew away. “What must you think of me?”

“I think you’re beautiful.”

“You’re mistaken. This,” she gestured to herself, “isn’t me. This is what I look like.” She fumbled in her purse and put on her glasses.

“I can see what you look like. There’s nothing wrong with you except” she looked up, startled at his words, “your specs need to be cleaned.” He slid them off and wiped them and put them back. He smiled and her heart flipped in her chest.

She looked down, “I’m sorry to spoil your program but I really can’t face the cameras tonight.”

“We’ll have still shots for the publicity. After all, you did win the contest.” He drawled softly, “You’ll have your date, madam. It will be an intimate dinner for two at my place. If you don’t object?”

Her heart jumped once and started racing as she took in the tenderness in his eyes.

“Not at all.” She said breathlessly, “In fact I think it should be implemented with immediate effect. Or as we medicos say stat”.

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