THANKS FOR EVERYTHING……LET’S CONTINUE……
On Saturday night, Ragini decided she couldn’t avoid the Club forever. She might run
into Laksh, true, but such a meeting was going to occur sooner or later. Considering the
people and places they had in common, they were going to see each other again.
Repeatedly. Somehow they would have to get back on a normal footing.
Still, she didn’t expect to see Laksh her very first time back. Walking into the lounge of
cool green walls and smart white furniture to find him sitting there in an overstuffed
armchair was something of a shock. He had one smartly clad knee crossed over the other
and was joking with Jagan and Mithun. Ragini’s immediate reflex was to
turn around and leave the room.
But she suppressed the cowardly impulse. This was her club, too. If she wanted to sit
in the elegant, half-lit lounge and enjoy a glass of white wine then she shouldn’t let the
mere presence of Laksh stop her.
Pinning a casual smile on her face, she straightened her shoulders and waltzed on in.
But she was acutely conscious of Laksh across the room, still chatting with his friends and
apparently unaware of her. She was terribly conscious of her own body, the working of
her legs and hips beneath her St. John white dress as she moved toward the bar. And she
was blisteringly conscious of the precise moment Laksh caught sight of her. From the
corner of her eye she saw his nonchalant smile falter.
An astonishing rush of satisfaction went through her.
Behind her cool smile, Ragini gritted her teeth. Oh, but feeling satisfaction
was…inappropriate. She shouldn’t want Laksh to notice her, nor should she want him
disconcerted because he had.
Deliberately, she placed her back to Laksh and his little group as she slid onto one of
the leather cushioned bar stools. “Glass of the house white, please,” she told the bartender.
The young woman with the blond ponytail smiled and nodded. “Right there, Miz
Ragini kept on smiling but her heart pounded at the sound of Laksh’s voice, recovered
from his shock and now rumbling in and out of the conversation going on behind her. It
was no lie they needed to get back to a normal footing. For three days now she’d been
hearing that voice, seeing his face. She’d been over and over it, the image of his stark
features right before his mouth had come down on hers. The gritty sound of his voice
telling her he was attracted to her, that all this time he’d actually liked her.
At odd moments of the day her heart would speed, just as it did now, simply from
Ragini breathed in and out deeply, determined to calm down.
“You okay, Miz Galodia?” The bartender’s youthful features showed concern as she
set a glass of pale gold wine in front of Ragini.
Ragini brightened her smile. “What? Oh, I’m fine.” To prove it, she lifted her glass and
took a small sip, smiling again at the bartender as she lowered the glass.
The young woman’s expression relaxed and she turned away. Ragini’s smile faded.
The wine, which she knew was excellent, tasted like water. Nothing, actually, had tasted
very interesting since Laksh’s kiss.
Meanwhile, Ragini could hear the group behind her breaking up. Joe was announcing
he had a dinner meeting. Martin grumbled that he had a wife and kids waiting for him at
home. Ragini felt her heart pounding mercilessly against the wall of her chest.
Laksh was going to leave, too. He was going to walk out with the other two men. She
tensed, in anticipation of being able to relax.
“Tennis tomorrow?” Laksh asked someone.
“Noon,” Martin replied. “On the dot, man. Some of us have jobs.”
Laksh chuckled. But then, instead of leaving with the others, he walked right up to
Ragini. The hair on her arms stood up straight as he sauntered oh, so casually, to the
barstool on her right.
She wanted to look at him. She wanted to send him a cool and casual smile,
something to say that he’d never rattled her. But all she could do was sit there, staring
fixedly at her wine glass.
A tanned hand moved into her vision, long fingers reached into the ceramic bowl of
cashews in front of her.
“Hi, Ragini,” Laksh said.
Finally, Ragini managed to pin on a bright smile. She managed to turn his way long
enough to flash it at him. “Hello, Laksh.”
He didn’t smile back. “You okay with me sitting here?”
While her fingers played with her wine glass, Ragini gave a light laugh. “Okay? Why,
of course I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
From the corner of her eye, she saw his gaze turn mildly deriding. “I haven’t seen you
on the tennis courts recently.”
“That’s because I haven’t been playing recently.”
His voice pitched low as he asked, “Have I driven you away?”
“Oh, Laksh.” She gave another little laugh, so superior, so above it all, and made
herself glance at him again. “I wouldn’t let you do that.”
But Laksh simply looked at her.
She smiled, held up her wine, and looked directly back at him. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“So.” She waved a hand. As if to say she’d just proved her point.
Laksh leaned an elbow on the bar, rested his jaw on his hand, and gazed at her. His
dark eyes did amazing and mortifying things to her physiology. “So,” he said. “You’d be
willing, say, to play on a tennis court right next to the one I was playing on?”
“Certainly.” Ragini took a sip of her wine, meanwhile imagining Laksh playing tennis,
his muscles moving under his shirt. Her heart sped the way it did when she remembered
“And you’d sit at a table for dinner together with me and your friends, the
Hunsington’s?” Laksh asked.
Ragini inclined her head. Forget her speeding heart. This was what she’d been after.
Establishing a normal footing between them. Getting things back to the way they’d been
“Really,” Laksh demanded.
Ragini smiled. “Really.”
Laksh’s lashes lowered while he reached out his free hand to snag another cashew.
Ragini watched with a low heat beneath her bodice as he put the nut between his lips. His
gaze flicked up to hers again. “You’re just so all-fired cool with me that you could do
“Really, Laksh, you give yourself too much credit.” She leaned closer to whisper. “Just
because you kissed me isn’t going to change the world, you know. It was no big deal.”
Laksh’s gaze didn’t leave hers. “No big deal.”
“That’s right.” Ragini lifted her wine. She maintained her lighthearted smile. No big
deal. It had only reversed twenty-eight years of believing herself immune to men. It had
only made her realize the incredible vulnerability she had toward Laksh, of all people. Laksh!
Even now the blood was racing through her veins.
“Then…” Laksh watched her closely. “Then you wouldn’t mind going out to walk on
the terrace with me…right now.”
Ragini’s wine paused on its way to her lips. “What?”
“If you’re so unaffected by me, then you wouldn’t mind going out on the terrace with
me right now. There’s something I want to ask you…in private.”
It took every ounce of self-possession Ragini owned to maintain her composure. He
wanted to go outside on the terrace with her, so they could be alone…to discuss
something private? Well. It was one thing to pretend indifference when she was sitting in
the safety of the lounge, with the bartender and a few elderly couples scattered here and
there. But to be alone with him, in the dark…
Ragini drew in a sharp breath. To be alone with him, in the dark, would teach him
once and for all that she was not in his thrall. It would put them squarely back on the
normal footing she so wanted. “If there’s really something you must discuss with me in
private, then I have no problem going out on the terrace with you.”
Laksh’s eyes glittered, suddenly looking dangerous, but Ragini was certain he didn’t
intend to kiss her again. Laksh might be tricky, but he had his pride. He wouldn’t kiss her
now unless she indicated she wanted to be kissed. Meanwhile he straightened and held out
his hand. “Come on, then.”
Ragini took his hand. Her stomach did an amazing somersault at the touch of him, but
she kept her expression bland. Fortunately, once she was off the barstool he let go of her
and let her simply walk by his side as they strolled toward the glass doors that led out to
The night was cool, but not uncomfortable. Laksh led the way to the stone balustrade
that overlooked the grounds. A dark mass of trees stretched in front of them. On the
terrace, they were alone. Ragini gritted her teeth together to keep them from chattering.
Nothing untoward was going to happen. Instead, she would make certain they went
back to a normal footing, one where he held no kind of power over her, s*xual or
He turned and leaned his hips against the balustrade. With his arms crossed over his
chest, he announced, “I’m not going to apologize.”
His jaw set. “I’m not going to apologize for kissing you.”
“Well, I — ” Ragini was glad it was dark enough he couldn’t see her blush. “I’m sure
I never asked you to.”
“No.” Laksh’s reply was curt. “You didn’t.”
“Fine.” She started to turn. “Then I can go back inside?”
Ragini’s brows went up.
Laksh hissed out a breath from between his teeth. “We are not through dealing with
“I think we are.”
“Then you’re nuts.”
Ragini drew herself up and raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“It’s still between us,” Laksh gritted out. “You know it is. We want to get each other’s
Stunned, and to be truthful, excited, Ragini did her best to appear yet haughtier.
“Speak for yourself.”
“I’m speaking for both of us and you know it.” Laksh uncrossed his arms and pushed
off of the balustrade. “That kiss was…addicting.”
Ragini’s heart was going crazy again and her breathing sped. “That kiss was…the
simple result of a release of psychic energy,” she declared.
Ragini waved a dismissive hand. “We were both angry at each other. The kiss came
out of that. It was a natural result of the built-up angry energy. Nothing more.”
Laksh’s chin lowered and his eyebrows raised. “A result of built-up anger.”
Ragini stuck to her guns. She was not going to admit there’d been anything more to
that kiss, anything deep or personal. Though, of course there must have been. She’d never
enjoyed a kiss with another man, never imagined, over and over, having another one. Now
she simply lifted a shoulder.
“Huh,” said Laksh. He spread his feet and put his hands on his hips. “So…we only get
hot for each other when we’re mad. Is that what you’re saying?”
Since he was sounding less dubious and more credulous, Ragini agreed. “Yes. I think
that describes the phenomenon.”
Laksh rubbed his jaw. “I’m not so sure, but I’ll tell you one thing, we have no business
going around kissing each other.”
“Agreed,” Ragini said. And, though she did agree, she felt piqued.
“The question is,” Laksh went on, tilting his head. “How the hell do we avoid getting
angry with each other?”
It was a darn good question. “Perhaps…” Ragini thought quickly. “Perhaps we should
always have something nice to say to each other, when we chance to meet.”
Laksh stared at her. “Always have something nice to say.”
“That’s right.” Ragini tried not to bristle. It wouldn’t do to get angry at him now. “In
fact, why don’t we start immediately?”
“Saying something nice to each other.”
He rubbed his jaw again, his expression more dubious than ever, but he agreed.
“Well…all right. At this point, I’m willing to try anything.” He paused. “You go first.”
Ragini stiffened. “Why should I go first?” He would no doubt let her say something
nice, then turn around and insult her.
Laksh threw up his hands. “All right, I’ll go first. Something nice about Ragini.
Something nice.” He put his hands down and clasped them behind his back. “Okay. Here’s
something nice about you.” He drew in a deep breath. “You’re a good person. Honest-to-
God, basically good.”
Ragini’s jaw dropped.
“Well, hey, come on, you know that.” Laksh sounded defensive. “You pour every
ounce of extra energy you have into half a dozen charities. What is it — ? All the way
from more art programs in the schools to battered women? And you’re good at it. You
help an awful lot of people. It’s admirable. Yup.” He nodded. “Downright admirable.”
Ragini knew she still looked like a woman out to catch flies. Laksh thought she was
admirable? He noticed or cared about the charity work she did? “Am I supposed to believe
this?” she finally asked.
Laksh scowled. “Look, if this is going to work, you’re going to have to at least believe
what I say.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll…try.” But she couldn’t believe him. Laksh didn’t admire her.
“Now it’s your turn,” he said.
“Right, right.” But how was she to top that? Ragini licked her lips and tried to think.
“Something nice about you…” She grimaced.
“Oh, come on. It can’t be that hard.”
“All right, all right.” She held up her hands. “It isn’t hard, really. I know what I admire
about you: how easy you are with people.”
Laksh scowled. “That’s nothing admirable.”
“Oh, yes it is. It’s a talent you have. I — I wish I had it, too.”
“You’re fine with people.”
“Oh, I have impeccable manners. I know how to make small talk, but you — ” Ragini
sucked in her lips as she wondered how to put it. “You have a way of drawing people out.
You put them at ease and make them laugh. You make them feel…as if they’re charming,
too.” She laughed. “Why do you think you get invited to every party that happens around
here? People know that wherever you are, they’re going to feel good.”
Laksh was still scowling. “That doesn’t sound like much of a virtue to me.”
“That’s because you take it for granted. Believe me, it isn’t easy for most people.” She
tilted her head and decided to add, “And it’s why I think you’d do marvelous at that
fundraising job for the Boston Aid Foundation.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake — ”
“Laksh.” Ragini was laughing. “Do you think I would keep offering you, of all people,
this job if I wasn’t convinced you’d be good at it?”
Laksh’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Huh.”
Ragini still felt like laughing. This had been a most odd interchange, telling each other
nice things. And the strange part was, it had felt just as good to say something nice to
Laksh as to hear him say something nice about her. “So.” She chuckled and spread her
hands. “There. We aren’t angry at each other. Wonder of wonders.”
“Yeah,” Laksh said, low. “It’s a marvel.”
Their eyes met and Ragini felt her happy smile fade. They weren’t angry at each other,
but the sizzling awareness between them had not gone away. On the contrary, she could
feel it more potent than ever, pulsing against the new idea that he might admire her, and
the fact she’d admitted some admiration of him.
“Unfortunately,” Laksh said, staring at her. “I don’t think that fixed the problem.”
Ragini swallowed. He was correct. They hadn’t fixed the problem. They’d only made
it bigger. Even though she wasn’t anywhere close to Laksh, she took a step back.
“Don’t worry,” Laksh said, very deep. “I’m not going to kiss you.”
“Oh.” To Ragini’s horror, her voice sounded disappointed.
One corner of Laksh’s mouth quirked. “That is, if we did kiss — which I’m not saying
is going to happen — but if we did kiss, it would have to be your idea.”
Ragini went very still. In the cool night air they stood looking at each other.
Electricity hummed all around them. She could feel her inner motor start to rev. But, no.
She wasn’t about to kiss him! Not only didn’t she want to — of course not — but she
just couldn’t. That would be — it would be —
Ragini hiccupped in surprise at herself. Fun? Fun! Was she crazy? This was Laksh they
were talking about, Laksh who was mean and nasty to her, Laksh who was much too
masculine for her comfort, Laksh who’d kissed her, so violently and so thoroughly that her
knees went weak just thinking about it.
But her blood was pulsing hot through her veins, her insides were going soft and
melting. She imagined going up to him, touching him, lifting her mouth to his. It would be
— it would
Meanwhile Laksh stood there, silently watching her in a way that made him infinitely
compelling. All his male s*xual power was banked, waiting — at her discretion. It made
the whole idea seem so —
Ragini took a step toward him. Yes, toward him, not away. She felt anticipation like
the twist of a screw. His eyes glittered, but not with danger. They glittered with the same
anticipation she felt, and a doubt. Ragini could see the sliver of doubt, the fear that she
wasn’t going to follow through. Anticipated loss.
That did it, actually. She might well have pulled back and come to her senses except
for that moment of vulnerability in his eyes. There was no way she could have stopped
Her heart pounded madly as she dared to reach up her hands. Anticipation was at the
point of pain right before her palms connected with the flat, faintly rough surface of his
Oh, he was all man, but holding himself back, making her master. And, indeed, she
felt a rush of triumph, of power, as he stood still beneath her hands. She saw his nostrils
flare, felt the need crouched tightly inside him. He let her rise up on her toes and press her
lips, ever so cautiously, against his.
Air rushed out through his nose, but he held still. He let her experiment with the
pressure of her mouth on his. A small noise came out of his throat and he closed his eyes
tight, but he held still.
It was pure delight to have him at her disposal, to be able to run her hands through his
hair — it was just as silky as she’d always imagined. It was even okay when he began to
respond to her light kisses. In fact, she liked that even better. She would nip, and he would
nip back. She would press a little harder. He would press a little harder back. His hands
went into her hair, spiking through the strands to hold her to him.
Ragini started to feel a heady sense of power. This hard, strong male body was hers
to control. Laksh was like a dancer, following her lead, going wherever she wanted.
And she seemed to want more. Exhilaration was like bubbles in her blood, curving her
body against his, moving her lips in ever hungrier patterns. Yes, need, she was feeling that,
the need to get closer, more intimate. Her hands swept down from his hair, exploring the
strength of his chest.
Laksh groaned and moved his jaw in a way that opened Ragini’s mouth. It was the first
initiative he’d taken, but she found that it was okay. It was even okay when his tongue
swept into her mouth, touching and then wrapping around her own tongue. It was not the
first time a man had kissed her in this way, but it was the first time such a kiss had given
her a sweet shock of pleasure. And it was the first time it made Ragini reach for more.
Laksh’s breathing grew deeper and faster. His hands smoothed up and down Ragini’s
back. But it was okay, she didn’t mind that he was starting to take control, because she
knew she’d been the one to set everything off. Meanwhile Laksh’s hands, strong and
assured, circled her buttocks, then skimmed up her sides. His tongue was deep in her
mouth when he curved his thumbs over the surface of her br*asts. The sensation was so
sharply exquisite Ragini flinched.
Fortunately, that didn’t stop Laksh. He moved his entire hands over her br*asts,
massaging, testing, squeezing. It was heavenly. Ragini had to wrench her mouth from his
and throw her head back.
Thank God he didn’t stop. She could hear him breathing heavily as his head lowered
to her br*astbone. She felt his lips there, hot and wanting. His fingers squeezed her
Ragini groaned deeply. This was beyond anything. Who knew? Surely nobody could
have convinced her before tonight that such activity could be so marvelous.
“Oh! I say!” A deep male voice suddenly intruded on the delightful scene. Ragini felt
as if she were being jerked awake from a deep sleep. Both she and Laksh froze. “Do excuse
us,” said the voice, but sounding annoyed, as if the opposite were the case. One of the
older club members, apparently, and not amused.
Ragini could hear feet moving, clothes rustling. The intruder had stalking off.
Meanwhile, Laksh pressed his forehead against her collarbone. His hands stilled on her
br*asts. “Okay,” she heard him murmur. “Okay, okay.”
Fighting a physical pain that was almost equal to the pleasure that had come before,
Ragini drew her hands from his hair.
Slowly, he lifted his head. Slowly, he let go of her br*asts. He let go of all of her, and
“Ho, boy,” he breathed, and looked down at her.
Ragini self-consciously straightened her silk bodice. Her gaze flitted up at him, then
“That really didn’t work,” Laksh muttered.
Ragini simply nodded. There was no point belaboring the obvious. Why, she’d nearly
let the man have his way with her — on the public terrace! She, Ragini, who’d always
thought she was frigid.
It appeared she was nothing of the sort.
At least…not with Laksh.
Ragini frowned. There it was again, the grand contradiction, that this should be
happening with Laksh, the most irresponsible, least safe man she knew. Her whole life had
been spent trying to avoid involvement with a man like her father, the kind of man who’d
desert his wife and family in everything but name — and here she was throwing herself
straight into the arms of just such an individual.
Meanwhile Laksh was looking as grim as Ragini felt and shaking his head. “We really
have to avoid doing that again.”
Ragini cleared her throat. “Agreed.”
“So, at the risk of acting responsible for once in my life, I have a suggestion.” Laksh
pulled down his shirt. “We don’t have anything to do with each other. No conversation
beyond ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ And we absolutely never, ever, be alone together.”
Ragini drew in a deep breath. “Agreed.” Of course she agreed!
“Because,” Laksh went on, getting puritanical, “there is no way we could have any
kind of a thing going between us.”
“A — a relationship?” Ragini’s eyes widened. “Definitely not.”
“Right.” Laksh’s gaze flicked away and he pulled down on his shirt again. “It would
“We’re far too different.”
“You are a goody-good.”
“And you’re unreliable.”
Laksh’s gaze shot toward her, then flew away again. “Right. So. Ahem. I’m going to go
inside now. And you…you just take your time out here, giving me enough time to, uh,
clear out. Okay?”
He turned to go then, but not before shooting her one last look, a look that belied
everything he’d just said, a look that told Ragini he’d be ever so glad to kiss her again, and
more, if she were so unwise as to let him.
And she, crazy woman, came very close to doing just that as if — as if she had no
sense of self-preservation. As if she hadn’t just found out, both tonight and on the sidewalk
outside the restaurant in Boston, that she had the capacity to play the fool for this man.
She could easily make the same mistake with him that her mother had made with her
So Ragini managed to stand her ground as Laksh walked away. She didn’t move as he
went through the lounge doors. She stood outside for a good long while, making extra
sure that Laksh would, indeed, have time to clear completely from the Club’s grounds
before she dared go back inside the lounge, herself.
Her heart pounded painfully all the while. Close. That had been so awfully close…
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