29: Can you Love me Again
“Why what’s the matter?”
“There goes our romantic dinner. I mean…,” Shan laughed, “Sorry I sort of got carried away. It’s Dibubhai fault. He’s taking this thing way too seriously.” He said shaking his head while looking at a note pinned to a dartboard that hung on the wall.
Khanak was perplexed. She had been relegated to such a state ever since earlier in the day when her boss’ housekeeper had addressed her as ‘bahu’ or daughter-in-law. Matters appeared to have gotten even more complex and indiscernible with Dibubhai and Shaan’s mysterious discussions and now this.
The look on her face almost made Shan laugh out loud. But he controlled himself. It would be disastrous to give himself away especially when Dibu had come up with such a brainwave. Dibu you are a genius! He thought then cleared his throat, “Dibu in all his wisdom has given us an advice…”
“Yes advice,” he nodded with as much seriousness as he garner. “According to him if we want our farce to be ironclad we both need plenty of practice. He would be terribly put down if he’d have to serve madam Tash;” Shan said and frowned. He couldn’t imagine such a scenario. Then he looked at Khanak. No. He couldn’t let that happen at any cost. He would likely perish if he didn’t have her permanently at his side and in his life. “I think he has a point there for sure,” he murmured.
“Practice? What does he mean by that?” Khanak asked. Hadn’t the act she had put on for that lout Tarun’s benefit been good enough?
“He means that we can’t let our guard down at any time. Even in the company of friends. Nobody should know the truth except ourselves. That is vital for our plan to succeed.”
Khanak thought Dibu was crazy but didn’t say so since her boss seemed to be giving his so called advice very serious consideration. That meant she would have to do so too but the whole idea was giving her the jitters. “Where is Horse?” she asked looking around.
“Horse?” Shan echoed. For once he was glad the pup wasn’t in their midst. “Dibu took him away for the night in order to give us perfect privacy. He says he’ll be good company for his cat Panda which I doubt very much. They hate each other’s guts.”
Khanak clasped her hands together as they had begun to tremble. They were alone. All alone. Dibubhai had abandoned them, rather he had abandoned her his bahu! Her chaperone was gone as well. The big furry creature had been a comforting presence but now. And Shan wasn’t helping either. Suddenly she found him barely inches away. So close that she could sense the heat of his breath. It made her shiver.
He whispered though there wasn’t any need to. “So what shall we do now. We cannot disappoint Dibu can we? I can whip a mean omelet and set up a picnic on the terrace. What do you say?”
“No. Can we if you don’t mind go out somewhere?” She looked at him with beseeching eyes.
He inclined his head, “As you wish.”
Leaning against the hood of the shiny black Jag and dressed to match, Shantanu could have given James Bond a run for his money but he seemed to have other things on his mind. Khanak was worried she had made him wait too long then breathed easier when she saw his face brighten as soon he heard her approach and he whipped the passenger door open for her.
Drawing her silver stole snug about her shoulders, she gazed out of the window at the city lights. She couldn’t bring herself to lay eyes on his elegant profile. It hurt to do so. How long how far would she be able to carry on like this? Sooner or later the truth would be out. Then what?
Shaan looked at her and felt a terrible pang deep inside his gut. He wanted to reach out and tell her that he wanted to take care of her forever but he feared she would consider him frivolous. He couldn’t afford that. He had to wait for the right occasion.
“Here we are!”
Khanak saw the name of the club flashing in neon and her throat went dry. It was the same spot where she had been subjected to painful humiliation. She turned to her companion with panic stricken eyes.
He had been anticipating it. “I know Khanak and that is why I’ve brought you back here. They need to know we weren’t just putting up a show. The records need to be set straight.”
As she stepped gingerly on to the curb in her silver wedges, Khanak was blinded by a series of flash bulbs that began popping all around. Instinctively she raised a hand to her face and stepped back and would have fled hadn’t a solid arm wrapped itself firmly around her waist.
“C’mon Khanak buck up!” Shan growled. “This is reality and you better get used to it. Smile!” He said while beaming broadly at the cameras. She reluctantly followed his cue. Then he looked at her intimately feeding the paparazzo’s frenzy. “You are no longer a nonentity. You are a star like none other. It’s your time to shine. Take what is rightfully yours. Embrace your popularity and leave the others to lick their wounds.”
Khanak nodded. She had lost track of her goal. Holding her head high she stood poised gracefully at Shan’s side, just like she remembered Tash had a while ago. The image from the magazine was still sharp in her mind. But now the tables were now reversed. Her rival was in for a nasty surprise. All of a sudden the attention didn’t appear so overwhelming. She began to enjoy it. Perhaps it was the magic of Shan’s charm. She even fielded some of the questions that were hurled at her. Those she could decipher.
“Ms. Mishra, how does it feel to be a celebrity?”
“Me a celebrity? (with an amused laugh) I’m hearing that for the first time.”
“You better get used to it. Your performance at the fashion show has brought the entire world on its toes. On YouTube you’ve had more than a million hits already.”
“Really?” She found the fact hard to digest.
“Yes! When are you going to wow us next?”
“Soon, I hope.” She turned her eyes to Shan, “It’s the Boss’ prerogative.”
Shan grinned at her, “Aww don’t be coy darling, you know your wish is my command.”
Time stood still. Khanak’s breath caught in her throat. He had addressed her by a sweet endearment that a lover reserves for his beloved. She probed his eyes as they held hers without hesitation. She desperately wanted to believe but it couldn’t be true. He was just doing his thing for the world at large and he was way too good.
Shan saw her eyes waver, “Khanak I..” But the moment was gone.
“Shan can we go inside? I’m starving.”
“Yes, of course.”
Placing a protective arm around her shoulders he jostled his way through the wall of reporters as they hemmed them in. Their finely tuned ears had already picked up on the juicy hint and they craved for more. But their targets dodged their arsenal and disappeared into the dark confines of the jazzy club.
“How long what?” Shan inquired as he led Khanak to the semi secluded booth that the club reserved for its choicest clientele.
“How long do we have to carry on like this?”
As long as it takes. He peered into her eyes. To make you mine. To trap you forever inside my heart.
Her hands twisted the edges of her stole as the intensity of his gaze sent a tingle of anticipation throughout her body.
He said softly, “As long as Tash realizes that I don’t care a hoot for her. And…,” he clasped her hand gently in his, “till she knows that I have found someone who is by far more valuable than anyone could ever be to me.”
“Yes, Khanak. I want you, I need you with me. I meant what I said at the studio. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Then when I saw the confidence with which you handled the dancers and spoke to Diya I was convinced. I’m offering you an equal partnership in Jhankar and the post of artistic director.”
Khanak was startled, “But I’m so green, so inexperienced Shan. You don’t even know me that well.”
He smiled and held her hand tighter. “I know all that I need to know and I can’t be more sure. The dedication and passion you possess are matchless. Your art is your life and you guard that relationship fiercely and will never let anything else come in between. That is exactly what I’ve been looking for. By accepting this position, you will make my work so much easier. Please say you will.”
Khanak smiled and nodded.
“Oh my God Khanak! I can’t say how happy and relieved I am. Thank you!” He exclaimed and pulled her into a tight hug.
She broke in a laugh. A lovely delightful sound as his enthusiasm rubbed off on her. He propped her chin up on the tip of his finger and smiled into her eyes, “So now that the stakes are even higher, we have to work doubly hard to make sure we succeed, don’t we?”
“Yes we do.” Khanak colored and dropped her eyes suddenly aware that she had been cleverly ensnared. Yet surprisingly she didn’t feel nervous at all.
“OMGeeeeeeee! Dekho! Yeh kya ho raha hai!”
Their heads turned as one. Rohan Khatri, one of the designer brothers, was standing in the company of a tall heavily made up woman and watching them with keen interest. “Looks like our little classical dancer isn’t so innocent after all. She knows how to play her cards quite well.”
“What are you implying Rohan?” Shan snapped acutely peeved at his tête-à-tête being interrupted.
Rohan’s companion laughed gaily. Khanak presumed she was one of his rich clients. “Oh stop acting so naive Shan. You should know the game just as well. She is trying to bewitch you with her wiles just as Tash said. Though I didn’t believe her at first.”
Shan felt Khanak stiffen at his side. Tash wasn’t wasting any time and gossip spread like wildfire in these circles. But he wasn’t about to let her win. He gave Khanak a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder and gazed lovingly into her eyes. “I’m bewitched already, wiles or no wiles. Khanak is my fiancé.”
Her lips trembled as she smiled and placed her hand on his thus prominently displaying the engagement ring.
Rohan hooted aloud, “I should give it to you Shan. You are an Ace! Fiancé?” He leaned over to Khanak. His alcohol laden breath fanned her face and made her shirk back in disgust. “Little girl, yeh Mumbai hai meri jaan, and this chap is one of us. He has promised you the stars. But soon he will take all he can from you and throw you to the wolves. It’s just a convenient arrangement. Maybe you should move over to my side. I will treat you like a queen.” He yanked at her arm.
Shan grabbed Rohan by his paisley silk scarf and twisted it such his blood shot eyes popped out, “Take your dirty paws off my girl. If I see you around her again I will kill you with my own bare hands!” He then released him and the man stumbled back with a look of stunned disbelief on his face.
“As for the arrangement…” Shan stood up and stepped onto the dance floor then turned around to look at Khanak with a smile. “Let the lady decide for herself.”
As if on cue the floor cleared and the music changed. And as Khanak stared mesmerized Shan began to sing, his eyes focused steadfast on her.
Know I’ve done wrong, left your heart torn
Is that what devils do?
Took you so long, where only fools gone
I shook the angel in you!
Now I’m rising from the crowd
Rising up to you!
Feel with all the strength I found
There’s nothing I can’t do!
As though hypnotized she moved towards him flinging aside her stole in the process. Shan caught his breath. She was wearing a pearl grey dress. The shimmering silky material clung lovingly to her curves while its halter neck left her sun kissed shoulders bare. She looked as seductive and ethereal as a Roman Goddess and he knew he couldn’t afford to lose her. Not now. Not ever. He pulled her into his arms and she came willingly. Her face upturned to his and her eyes sparkling with promise.
They danced as close as physically possible like a couple completely lost in each other. Music flowed from their limbs. The words of the song translated the truth in their feelings.
I need to know now, know now
Can you love me again?
I need to know now, know now
Can you love me again?
“Will you marry me?”
love this song!