The party was on in full swing. The glittering Ball Room at Hilton Hotel was chock-a-block with the beautiful people of New Delhi society. Entrepreneurs and politicos, corporate honchos and models, fashionistas and aspiring social climbers mingled with ease as champagne flowed and a live band played. She sipped her Cabernet Sauvignon and looked around. She saw her own reflection in an ornately carved mirror and almost didn’t recognise herself. Was this uber-confident woman in the sinfully sexy dress the same Maya Shome who was always ribbed in college for her no-nonsense tee-and-jeans uniform?
The men could not keep their eyes off her and the jealous looks of women said it all. She looked the part she had set out to play. That of a seductress. She had her eyes fixed on her target: Kamalkant Dev or KD, as he was known to friends and foes alike. For KD, it was a double celebration – his 50th birthday and coronation as the Chairman of the Dev Group of Enterprises.
The wily businessman had, after a long struggle with his younger brother, grabbed the lion’s share of the family business that spanned multiple enterprises including airliners, automobiles, rice mills, retail outlets, and hotels. Reflected in the mirror, KD glanced at her even as he talked to a clutch of his sycophants. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her black halter dress that dipped dangerously low, revealing acres of her silky smooth skin. She smiled to herself – men were so predictable! She had planned and strategized for months for this moment. Now that she had his attention, it was time to make her move.
“You seem to be in quite a rush?” She turned around to face the owner of the gruff voice. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches, he was good looking in a dark, scruffy sort of way. Dark strands of thick black hair fell over his forehead and his mane brushed down his collar. He gave her a lazy but thorough look-over. A frisson of excitement ran through her even as she tried not to show her annoyance at being stopped from reaching her quarry. She gave him an equally insolent look, taking in his weather-beaten jacket and genuinely worn-out – not fashionably distressed – jeans. “You seem to have wandered into the wrong party,” she said huffily.
Before she could move away, he caught her arm. “Maybe, I am in the wrong party, but I think I have found the right girl,” he purred.
“Excuse me?” She couldn’t quite ignore the way her body was reacting to his touch and voice.
“Call me Krish…”
“Can I have my hand back please?”
“It’s all yours,” he smiled and let go of her arm, which was still tingling from his touch.
“Maybe I should do my good deed for the day and show you the way out?” she offered.
“Nah…” he drawled, sizing her up. “I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this evening.”
“Well, you will have to do that on your own, Mr. Krish… while I go and find some suitable company,” she countered.
“You know what they say about not judging a book by its cover? The same goes for people, too, Mona Lisa!”
He was indeed annoying but he oozed an easy charm. You better watch out, Maya! she cautioned herself. But her curiosity about this tall, dark and attractive stranger won over her eagerness to walk away.
As a liveried waiter came around with a tray of beverages, Krish chose a glass of fresh pineapple juice. At Maya’s surprised look, Krish reacted with a humorous “I-am-a-saint-don’t-you-see-my-halo?” gesture before giving her a devilish wink. “I am no Saint. More of a Sinner, I would say.” He gulped down the juice and then bore his bedroom eyes into hers before purring into her ear: “But I hate stereotypes.”
Maya’s heart caught at her throat and her toes curled with pleasure. His whispered words were like endearments muttered in the intimacy of a bedroom; his dark-lashed eyes more heady than the Cabernet Sauvignon she was sipping. She shook her silky mane, to get a grip on herself.
“OK, so let me guess. You are a gate-crasher and… oh my god!... you are a terrorist!”
His laughter complemented the foot-tapping Latino beat that the live band had begun to play. He caught her hand, touched his lips to her palm in a feather-soft kiss: “Ready to tango, my gorgeous Mona Lisa?”
Maya’s heart dived into her stomach as his husky voice issued the challenge.
She let loose a laugh that sounded like a beautiful stream gurgling down a mountainside. “You sure you are up to it?” she countered, looking pointedly at his well-worn sports shoes. Krish was at his courteous best, “After you, Ma’m.” Her wild side kicked in. She headed for the dance floor. Krish, a step behind her. She could feel his warm breath on her back; his masculine scent enveloped her making her nerve-ends tingle.
Starting off like a couple of combatants on the dance floor, Krish and Maya moved to the beat of the music, intuitively anticipating and syncing their movements with each other. Maya was soon absorbed into the passionate ritual of doing the tango. Swirling and twirling. Perfectly in tune with each other. Sexy and intimate, the two danced in perfect unison as the crowd watched enthralled. As Maya’s curves fitted into his perfectly lean and muscular body, they looked like they had been practising the tango for years. Not missing a beat. Enjoying every pulsating moment as their bodies twirled as one. The sizzling hot dance ended with a flourish, and Krish planted a kiss on her mouth. Maya’s heart, still thumping from the energetic dance, did a somersault as she pulled herself away amid the thundering applause.
Krish gave her an intimate wink, took her hand and bowed theatrically. “Still wondering how to slot me, Mona Lisa?”
Before Maya could retort, she found herself staring into KD’s grim face. “How like my son to steal his father’s thunder! But at least you are enjoying yourself!”
Maya froze. Omigod! Krish was the son of the man she hated most in the whole wide world! And she thought she had meticulously researched each and every family member in the Dev household. Where did this Krish sprout from? Not only was she totally clueless, worse still, she was dancing with the enemy. And enjoying it!
Now, KD was sizing up Maya. His hostility was perceptible but he had too much savvy to let it affect his demeanour. “Won’t you introduce me to your lovely friend, Krish?”
Maya recovered her poise quickly and flashed a million-watt smile. “Many happy returns of the day, Mr. Dev. I am Maya… Maya Shome…We have not met before but you may be familiar with some of my work. I am Kavita Dayal’s student. She couldn’t make it as she is not keeping well. But she does send you her warmest wishes.”
Krish cut in smoothly before KD could react. “Dad, remember Kavita’s landscaping marvel for the British High Commission? That was based on one of Mona… Maya’s designs.”
Maya looked as if the carpet had been pulled from under her. He seemed to know all about her while she was completely clueless about him! Not only were her emotions overwrought after their sizzling-hot number on the floor; now her mind was buzzing with questions to which she had no answers.
KD’s next words were a polite brush-off: “Hmm…good! You have been monopolising my son, Ms. Shome. I’m afraid he has to attend to other guests as well. But please stay…enjoy the party!”
As if on cue, a girl in her late teens, dressed like a Barbie doll in bridal finery, appeared. “Happy Birthday Uncle! Hope it’s your best ever!” she tinkled, reaching up to kiss his cheek. KD dropped his curt demeanor and hugged the bedecked Barbie: “Thank you Amisha beta!”
Turning to Krish, Barbie batted her eyelids coyly: “I hope you have had enough of romping around in the Himalayas, Krish. Welcome back to civilisation.” Maya tried to pull away from the group but Krish’s strong grip around her waist wouldn’t let her. He smiled at Barbie: “Hullo, Amisha.” And then turning to Maya, “For once, it’s good to be back.”
As KD bristled, Krish said: “Dad, there’s something you need to know about Maya.”
Maya’s heart stopped for a nano-fraction of a second.
“Maya is my fiancée.”
Krish’s words sent shockwaves all around. KD’s face turned stony as he glared at Krish. Barbie stared at Maya, her eyes, deep pools of intense hatred. And a cold dread swept through Maya. Krish was looking at her – a challenge in his eyes.
“Are you out of your mind, Krish?” KD bellowed.
“You should be happy, Dad. I have finally found the girl I want to spend my life with.” His arm around Maya’s waist tightened, pulling her closer to him: “We are getting married next week.”