Author : Summerita Rhayne
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A frown appeared on her forehead as anxiety coiled inside her. Drunk. Why did it strike an ominous pang within to imagine that? No doubt Tahir was used to alcohol much more than she was. The only time she’d taken a little too much she’d ended up with a giant-sized headache. She’d stayed away from hard drinks ever since.
She was just being fretful as usual.
Or maybe it did have the tiniest bit to do with the change she’d sensed in him over the last few months. The rumor that had not gone around the office – because that was one piece of news she’d held close to her chest.
She wasn’t that chummy with the staff anyway. And Tahir’s jibe when she’d stumbled on his divorce papers while sorting the files on his desk had been misplaced. Certainly she wouldn’t have shared the finding as he had implied with his, ‘Something to liven up your water cooler sessions?’ His mouth had twisted in a way she hadn’t seen before.
Whatever the reason, the feeling niggling at her since she’d put down the phone today after his instruction not to disturb him, wouldn’t go away. She couldn’t recall a previous occasion when he had stayed away from the office for a whole day despite being in town.
After reaching her flat, she’d called to check on him. His slurred voice, so totally unlike his crisp efficient tones had sent a shiver down her spine. Tahir wasn’t himself and she couldn’t prevent the spark of anxiety from burning up her peace of mind.
Was that enough to justify racing off to his flat in her car? It definitely didn’t list under her office chores.
She had thought she had achieved total control over the infatuation that had struck hard the moment she walked into his office two years ago. Prepared to wow the chairman at the interview with her background research, instead she’d met the sleepy, almost bored caramel gaze and forgotten to look away. When he had drawled with amusement, ‘Looked enough? I’m not one of the monuments dotting Delhi to be inspected so closely, you know,’ the mockery had elicited a laugh amongst his supporting staff. It had also caused her to pull in her chin and become determined not to gawk like a village belle who had stumbled onto a glitzy fashion show.
He was used to being fawned and mooned over, so why would a stare bother him? He’d become a celebrity of sorts when his company had discovered a rare plant compound that had uses in different medical and cosmetic fields. Quality with Certainty, his company’s short tagline had begun to gain visibility over the telemedia and so had he.
In the office under the cover of work, it was easy to keep her feelings under wraps. It must be the worst of clichés, falling for her boss. She wasn’t that far gone yet, she assured herself. And really one couldn’t blame hormones. He was too attractive and that lazy humor with easy confidence was a winning combination.
A workplace hazard that fell under the ‘irresolvable issue’ category.
The half hour drive cluttered with the late evening traffic wasn’t conducive to alleviating anxiety. She parked her car in the underground facility and rushed to the foyer. Tahir occupied the top floor in the block of apartments which were touted to be the last word in luxury in the capital. She took the private elevator to the penthouse, smoothing her palms over her jeans, impatient to ascend to her destination. The doors swished open and she stepped out on the thick pile carpet lining the corridor. The attendant sitting amid the fronds recognized her and got up. She nodded and tapped the file she had brought along as an excuse to barge in on Tahir.
The sitting room was vast with chunky leather sofas and a whole wall of glass that was framed with showy royal blue draperies and gave a distant view of the lights decking the Lotus Temple.
‘Tahir?’ Her soft query yielded no response. She went to the door that opened off into a smaller but still sizable room. This one had a plasma TV stationed against one wall and a bar set up in the corner.
Tahir sat on the sofa opposite, the drink in his hand confirming the signs she’d heard over the phone.
He’d already got through a bottle if the upturned one on the carpet was anything to go by.
He was so absorbed in the inner demons that accosted him that he hadn’t noticed her. Samara bit her lip as she took in the unruly dark hair falling over half his forehead in disarray and the shadow darkening his jaw. More than that, it was the way he slouched in the sofa and the way his mouth was compressed in a grim bitter line as he stared into the golden liquid in the glass he held that spoke of the darkness he was sunk in.
She inhaled as she tried to suppress a wave of anguish. Pain that lanced her because she could feel his pain. Feel it as her own.
She’d come here, driven by an overriding conviction that he needed someone to be with him. But it took some seconds to gain control over her emotions.
His gaze swung towards her, dark eyes fixing on her. She tried to keep calm as she took in the familiar attractive planes of his face, the hard jaw, the sharply angled cheekbones, the well-shaped mouth, the intense eyes.
‘What are you doing here?’ his voice was rough. ‘Is there a problem at the office? You could’ve called me. As you see, I’m in no condition to receive visitors.’ Samara caught her breath. If he only knew the effect he was having on her, in faded denims that were moulded to his body, the white shirt that was open halfway to his waist, revealing crisp dark chest hair shadowing golden skin.
She dragged her gaze from his lean, muscled body that clothes could only delineate, not conceal.
‘Everything’s fine,’ she assured him quickly. ‘It’s just that you sounded so...You shouldn’t be drinking this much. It isn’t good for your health.’ Concern gave a husky edge to her appeal.
‘Health?’ He glanced at the amber liquid swirling in the narrow glass as he raised it to eye level. ‘It’s good for my mental health.’ As though to emphasize the point he downed the contents in a go. Shock ran through her in a wave.
‘Tahir, I’ve never seen you like this before...’ She protested.
His answer was a short chuckle, the sardonic edge echoing round the room. ‘My marriage is officially over. Over. The so successful Tahir Virani has failed. And Elaine couldn’t wait to tell me how eager she is to remarry...to underline how much it was my fault we couldn’t make it work.’
Samara inhaled at the unexpected pain his words evoked. His admission that his break-up had hurt him was somehow not easy to listen to.
He got up. Instinctively she moved towards him as he swayed on his feet. His gaze turned to her, pinning her where she stood, warning her off.
‘Why are you really here?’ He demanded, ‘To satisfy your curiosity? See what your boss looks like down and beaten – and drunk?’
The displeasure emanating from him made her stop in her tracks. ‘Of course not. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.’
He made a sound of patent disbelief and started towards the bar set in a corner of the room.
‘No.’ She had moved before she knew it, to block his way as she realized his intention. ‘You’ve had enough, Tahir. You aren’t drinking any more.’ As he ignored her to pick up a bottle, her fingers closed over his. The contact was electric but she ignored her response, valiantly trying to wrest it from his grip. She had no doubt that he could have evaded her easily, her strength was no match for his, even in his inebriated state. All she’d hoped was to make him see she was serious in her protest.
Only then she saw the dark anger in his eyes.
‘You shouldn’t.’ She bit her lip, half scared by it. He needed comfort. And she ached that their respective statuses meant that she couldn’t give it to him. In desperation her hand slid over the back of his and gripped his wrist, her palm tickled by the dark hair shadowing his forearm.
‘Tahir, listen to me. You have to stop succumbing to the pain. Whatever damage your ex wife has done, if you knuckled down to it, that would be her win, wouldn’t it? Why are you punishing yourself like this? Don’t do this to yourself please. I - I won’t let you!’
Her brave assertion had him pausing, his gaze keen on her face. She flushed beneath his scrutiny, feeling exposed to the gaze that roamed over her heated face.
‘How?’ he demanded on a soft query. ‘How will you stop me?’ His gaze shifted to track over her. He let go of the bottle and shockingly turned to her, hands curling on her upper arms.
The awareness she’d banked came bursting out. She was used to Tahir overlooking her, disregarding her as a woman. Now he was looking at her as though he saw her, Samara. And the knowledge trembled though her in a tingling stream of response. Her eyes widened, her lips parting as her own gaze dropped to the sensual curve of his fuller lower lip. She could inhale the alcohol wafting from him but it wasn’t enough to put her off.
With the roughness on his jaw, exposed tangle of chest hair and those stormy eyes raking her, he stood darkly male and threatening yet insidiously tempting. She swallowed, feeling the lure of him, the need to touch him that had crept up on her when she hadn’t been looking.
Just wayward hormones. Chalk it up to estrogen and forget it.
Only now the E factor had taken over her brain. Her senses. Her reality.
‘Please?’ His whisper was as soft as hers and he leaned just that bit closer. The warmth of him enclosed her and she resisted the urge to close her eyes and simply melt into his arms.
‘You’re trembling,’ he told her. ‘Hot,’ he added, his hand coming up to touch her cheek. She almost flinched at the contact as the need to hold it there ran under her skin.
Ashamed as she was, she knew her body was betraying her. She could only hope he was too far gone to notice the heat flooding her skin, over the upper curves of her breasts above the wide neckline of her top. She moistened suddenly dry lips, acutely aware of him following the gesture.
‘Are you offering yourself as a distraction?’ He asked with mocking softness, continuing his scrutiny of her. ‘Maybe I should check it out.’ Unnervingly he was drawing her closer, and against every sense, she was letting him. This close, when she hadn’t thought to be near him, her senses soaked up his touch, revelling in it. Objection was out of question. He pulled her to him finally, against that hard, male form, crushing her to him, his hands stealing into her hair to pull her close for his kiss.
His kiss. A kiss that meant to punish her for her interference but which scarcely achieved its purpose. Samara shuddered as she felt the warm contact of his lips, knowing she needed to pull away but weakly giving in, hoping she could consign her lack of resistance to his drunken state. Certainly she was in no state to protest. Weeks she had pretended. Months she had resisted. Now the storm was breaking over her and she had no barrier to offer. Nothing but the overwhelming instinct to give in to the desire that he’d caused to flare up in every cell of her body. His mouth moved and opened on hers, and her lips clung to his, melding to his as her eyes closed to let sensation wash over her. She’d dreamed about this but she could never have imagined the heat and passion that flooded her at the exploration of those velvet lips. Gently but surely he was prying open and delving into the recesses of her mouth, releasing a sliver of wanting that raced through her to her centre, making her moan in the back of her throat. She heard him break off to mutter a curse then his mouth claimed hers, parched, thirsty for more and much more. Beyond salvation, she clung to him, her hands wanting to exceed the limit of contact she was allowed, stealing beneath the opened V of his shirt, moving over hair-roughened warm male skin.
He drew her up against him and she revelled in the contact of his warm, hard body. She felt his hand on the curve of her breast and a shudder rent through her, his name escaping her lips in unmistakable yearning as she felt his thumb abrade against the peaking nipple.
‘God!’ his harsh exclamation sliced the air as his other hand swept down her back, over her buttocks to pull her close till she could feel a nudge that could only be his groin. His fingers tormented the nub they enclosed and she became mindless with the need mushrooming at her centre, her lower body pressed against his unashamedly. He pulled her into him urgently till he was backing her against the bar, so heavily that the bottles jumped. The sound was enough to penetrate the mist of passion enclosing them and Samara found she was looking into eyes so dark, only a brown rim surrounded the centre. They mirrored the shock that made her lose the feel of the ground beneath her feet. Reality trickled in. What had she been thinking of? Tahir was one astute man. How could she hope to make him believe it was drink that had them like this?
‘You’d better leave.’
For a moment she looked at him, trying to get back her breath. If he’d turned her out before he kissed her, it would have been altruistic – but he’d felt her response. She thought it was rejection and it hurt like rejection, even when she knew that he couldn’t have done anything less than tell her to go away.
But bravely, she stood her ground. ‘Not before you put away that bottle.’ Because he’d been reaching for one.
‘One night passed out won’t kill me’ He told her thickly. ‘Go’ He still swayed a little. ‘Now.’ But she wouldn’t move. She stood, hesitating at leaving him like that. It seemed her dithering incensed him, drunk as he was. In a sudden movement he took her in his arms, making her shockingly aware of him again.
‘Would you like to spend the night with me? That’ll be one way of making sure I don’t drink.’ His taunt hit a waft of warmth against her ear.
When she stepped back hastily, he let her go, laughing mockingly. At that moment he wasn’t someone she recognised. Inhaling deeply, she rushed out of there.
He was late coming in the next morning. He hadn’t shaved and that dark stubble reminded her of its scrape against her skin, causing tension to coil in her stomach. He gave her a curt nod and went in. Her intercom buzzed a minute later, jerking her to the awareness that she’d forgotten to go in for her morning instructions as customary.
Tahir stood with his back to her, the buildings and traffic of Lodhi Road spread out below, visible through the clear glass of the almost wall-length picture window. He turned when he heard her.
‘Last evening was a big mistake.’ He said without preamble. ‘I can’t tell you how sorry I am about it. Believe me, I don’t make it a habit to get drunk and accost my staff.’
For a second she could just stare at him, the rest of his words after big mistake not really penetrating her brain.
All night she’d dreamed wonderful, impossible dreams. Dreams in which he’d confessed to burning desire and unbridled passion for her. Of course it was all the end result of reading too many romantic historical novels. She knew how silly those imaginings were. Still, to have him denounce the kiss that had left her world spinning as a ‘big mistake’ was a hard lump to swallow.
‘It’s alright.’ She said, trying to sound as though it didn’t matter. ‘You were upset.’ Her thudding heart steadied a bit. Look on the bright side, Samara. At least he was blaming their kiss on alcohol.
‘Which doesn’t excuse my crappy behavior.’ His mouth twisted in self disgust. ‘I don’t lose control like this usually...last night I was a lost case scenario.’
The words stung her. How hopeless to desire him when he felt like this about his wife. Ex wife, that was.
‘Please don’t blame yourself, Tahir. You were drunk.’ Samara took a step towards him, ‘It was one of those things that just happen. There’s no need for either of us to get into a tizzy about it. I shouldn’t have come to your apartment anyway.’
‘No, you shouldn’t have.’ He looked at her, his gaze dark and brooding, ‘I was the one who initiated that kiss but the fact remains that you didn’t resist me. It wasn’t just me last evening, was it?’
The tide had turned. Her legs trembled a bit. She moistened suddenly dry lips. ‘What do you mean?’
He came closer, his tread silent on the deep pile carpet. ‘Why did you let me kiss you, Samara? Why didn’t you stop me?’
His words sent a jolt through her. Had that sharp gaze of his managed to penetrate and look into her mind? She had known how astute he was. How long before he pieced everything together to discover the truth of her feelings for him?
She thought quickly. Didn’t they say if you said the truth casually enough, it could pass off without attracting attention?
‘Well…just because.’ She offered and shrugged.
Dark eyebrows rose at her admission. She said with more confidence and a touch of carelessness. ‘You do yourself less than justice, Tahir. You’re idolized by hundreds of women. So why not me? You’re attractive and I admit, for a moment, curiosity got me…’ She held her breath. Would he buy that?
‘Whatever your reasons, you crossed the threshold as much as I did. Keep that in mind, if you talk about it.’
She frowned, ‘Talk about it…? Tahir, are you insinuating I’ll spread the news that we kissed?’
‘Girls are fond of gossip. And what better snippet to pass around than the experience of kissing the boss?’
‘That was a sexiest remark!’
‘Was it?’ He shrugged, not too bothered. ‘Or you can consider it as an observation about the social nature of your gender. Whatever. Can you honestly say you would resist the temptation to share it with your friends?’
‘When it casts an aspersion on the whole of my sex, I would have to, wouldn’t I?’ she said, trying to inject a lighter tone. Then she saw he was really waiting for her answer and said more seriously, ‘It was a matter between you and me, Tahir. And neither of us stands to gain by making it public. I can assure you, I know that. Have I ever given you any cause not to depend on me?’
He looked back, meeting her steady gaze and at last nodded.
She took a deep breath she hoped he wouldn’t notice and added, ‘I know we can’t have anything spook our work relationship, Tahir. And I think we are both sensible enough to put that kiss out of our minds. So there’s nothing to write home about.’ She was proud of her lightly voiced and totally calm summing-up.
He kept looking at her but he too didn’t want to pursue the matter because he said, ‘Whatever you say, Samara. All I want is the status quo maintained. No distractions. I won’t compromise on workplace conduct. Enough said. Let’s get our calendars rolling.’