Tuesday, 16 January 2018

part 3 : It all Depends on Love(AR)


Only when she was out of his sight and hearing did she let her amusement ripple into laughter. It had been naughty of her to carry on the joke for so long, but Mr. high and Mighty needed this………

Gupta House

"Hey you are back... So, enjoyed the beautiful weather?" Mrs. Mehta asked

"Yeah, totally…" she answered with a big smile

"I am glad to see you bright and happy."

"I was thinking about Mr. Mallik."


" I am sure many young ladies d think about him, I have only seen him once, the day Jerry went to there kitchen for the first time and her came storming in here with Jerry. He was handsome as a Movie star." She continued "Her housekeeper says he is also a real gentleman."

"Has she worked for him long?"

"She and her husband have been with the family since Mr. Mallik was a boy. It seems the girls were chasing him since he was in short trousers."

"And no one has caught him yet?"

"It seems he gets what he wants without marriage. Girls these days are fools!"

Eager to know more about her neighbour, Riddhima tried to keep the conversation flowing. "What is he like with people other than girlfriends?"

"According to his house keeper, his employees stay forever."

"Maybe he pays extra well."

"It's more than that, his house keeper says, he treats everyone as his equal."

Not always, Riddhima thought amusedly.

"I believe he has a very high powered assistant. She is quite….." the woman's eyes shot to the clock and she pushed back her chair "Oh God! If I don't hurry I'll be late for my appointment with the doctor…. I have to go for a routine checkup."




*************



Riddhima settled on the sofa with a murder book. An hour later, eyes glued to the last page, she only vaguely registered the series of happy barks coming from the fire side.

"Be quite, Jerry." She ordered and when he refused, she tore her eyes from the page and saw he was wagging his tail at something behind her.

Glancing round, she spied Armaan Mallik peering through the door. Slowly she swung herself off the sofa to let him in.

Jerry's ecstatic barking blotted out conversation and Riddhima tried to shush him.

"You won't do any good that way." Armaan said catching Jerry's collar with one hand, he forced the dog's rump to the ground with the other. "Some dogs don't bark in the sitting position, remember that?"

"Yes, Mr. Mallik." She said. "You certainly know how to handle them."

"It's simply a matter of showing them you are the master."

" He obviously responds to a firm hand." It was an effort for Riddhima to keep the sarcasm from her voice. " And I can see you are very fond of dogs.."

"In their place."

"Which is?"

"As guard dogs, hunting dogs, dogs for the blind. But certainly not as pets… Anyways, I am not here to talk about animals." He went on extracting a foot from a shaggy paw. "I came here about the job. I have engaged an admirable women today, but she can't start for two months and I wonder if you would fill in for her?"

"You mean you will appoint me?"

"I don't have a choice. The others were worse than you."

"Thanks." Riddhima scowled. He really was an ill-mannered brute. "You know how to flatter women, don' you?"

"Well…" he said , " Will you take the job temporarily or not?"

"How do you know you can trust me?"

"You have an honest face."

"Sorry, Mr. Mallik. I can't help you."

"Why not? A few days ago you wanted the job."

"I have changed my min. I think you would make a lousy employer."

"What? It was a moment before he found his voice again. " Let me tell you, no one has never left me."

"I dare say you pay well."

"Money doesn't come into it. They enjoy working for me."

"Work…. Enjoyable?" she burst into laughter, bouncing on the sofa as if she was truly an eighteen year old. "You said I'll have to stand in for your staff, but I haven't a clue who they are and what they do."

"There are Mr. and Mrs. Malhotra, my cook and butler; Maria, kitchen assistant and Sarah, the waitress."

"For God's sake, stop dithering," he ordered " I have work to do."

Annoyed by his ton, she made her decision. "I accept."

"Good." He rose to his feet, his face expressionless. " You'd better buy yourself a few decent things to wear."

"Isn't it casual at the hall? It's not the proper office." She asked

"There is a difference between casual and scruffy. And you are definitely scruffy."

"When do you want me to start?"

"Monday, at nine."

*************



Mrs. Mehta was horrified when she heard Riddhima's plan at breakfast the next morning. "You are behaving like a child, Riddhima. I am surprised at you."

"It's only a bit of fun"

"What if you are found out."

"Not a chance."

"I doubt it. And what about the rest you're supposed to be having?"

"I am feeling much better and starting to be bored doing nothing. If Mr. Mallik hadn't played into my hands like this I'd probably have returned to work."

"Don't be silly," Mrs. Mehta said.

Riddhima flashed her most winning smile. "Then help me by keeping my identity secret."

"From everyone?"

"Absolutely."

"I still don't like what you are doing," Mrs. Mehta said sighed. "When do you start?"

"Monday"

"For how long?"

"He said two months."

"Two months?" Mrs. Mehta was horrified. "You can't keep up the joke that long."

"I don't intend to, I'll confess soon and watch him squirm with embarrassment."

"Be careful you aren't the one doing the squirming. Jokes can backfire, young lady."

*************


PRESENT

An hour later she open her eyes and drove back to her flat and poured herself a strong black coffee. Then she took from her bag a business card that Armaan Mallik had given her and dialed the number with trembling fingers.

Almost instantly, he answered in a cool tone. "Armaan Mallik here."

Riddhima hesitated, then. "It's me Riddhima Mallik." She said nervously.

"Miss Gupta, what a nice surprise!" Armaan's tone changed slightly, "What can I do for you."

In a voice she could barely recognize, she told him, "About that proposal of yours I have decided to accept."

Riddhima had flown to few miles outside London in one of the Mallik Electronics' company jets, to spent the weekend at Armaan's behest.

They were sitting in the drawing room of Armaan Mallik's home.
"I want one thing to be absolutely clear. The only reason I have agreed to enter into this ridiculous contract is that I know about the secret marriage clause. It's strictly business." Riddhima spelled out

"How did you find out about that secret marriage clause?" Armaan enquired

"Atul found out" Riddhima answered

"That was very clever of your Mr. Joshi to find out about Shashank Uncle's secret marriage clause."

"Of course he is. That's why he is my business partner." She threw him a mocking look

A faint smile flickered at the corner of his lips. H e paused for a moment, then asked, "Tell me something, how long have you been running this business of yours? You could have joined Sanjivani after completing your MBA then why this separate business?"

"Almost four years. My father bought it for me just before he died, I could have gone into sanjivani of course, but I preferred the prospect of an independent career, one that I could control myself."

"Now you tell me something." Riddhima questioned. "Why didn't you tell me in the first place what your proposal was all about, instead of trying to pretend you were doing me some sort of big-hearted favour?"

He leaned bask in his chair and regarded her through amused blue eyes. "Just my nature, I guess, I like to play my cards close to my chest."

"You also like to have the upper hand." Olivia enlightened him coolly. "You like to feel that you are in control. Well, you can forget such notions now; we go into this deal as equals."
"My feelings entirely." He smiled and ran his fingers through his thick, dark hair. "I have always believed that marriage is a contract into which two people should enter strictly on equal terms

Riddhima grimaced at the mention of the word marriage. "I prefer to refer to our contract as a business arrangement. After all, that's all it is."

"Absolutely." He agreed

"You are sure there is not some other secret clause that requires you to remain married? Riddhima asked suspiciously.

He shook his head, "I am afraid that was one eventuality that Great-Uncle Shashank failed to foresee. In his day, divorce was less common than it is now. People tended to marry for life."

Riddhima felt a sharp stab of discomfort at his words. She had been brought up to believe the same. She sat back in her chair and reached for her untouched cup of tea. She drank regarding Armaan Mallik "There is still one thing that puzzles me. Why did you choose me? I am sure a man like your self would have no great difficulty in finding a wife." An image of attentive Anjali flashed immediately to her mind. "Your secretary, for example, I am sure she would have been happy to oblige."

Without a trace of modesty, he assured her, "Yes I am sure she would, but unlike you, she wouldn't have been so easy to get rid of when the time came." The long lashed blue eyes held hers. "That's why you are perfect for such a purpose. Like me you see this as a straight forward business deal."

Riddhima nodded

"Have you told anybody about this contract marriage of ours?"

"I have told Atul." She admitted

"Mr. Joshi?"

She nodded. "But don't worry, I can trust him. He won't spread it around."

"Make sure he doesn't." he warned her.

He stood up. "And now I'll show you around the house." As she hesitated "After all it's your going to be home too, at least for next six months."

Riddhima reluctantly got to her feet, smoothing the skirt of her suit, and all at once was uncomfortably aware of his gaze drifting downwards to her chest. Then she recoiled in sudden horror as he reached out one hand to touch her blouse. As she jerked away, "What the hell do you think you are doing?" his free hand came out to grab her by the arm, preventing her from moving away.

"Nothing to worry about," he smiled. "just one of the buttons of your blouse undone." And with unhurried fingers he proceeded to complete his interrupted task. "That's better." He held her eyes, lightly the side of his hand brushed against her bosom. "What have you done to your self? You don't look like a kid anymore."

"That's because I am not a kid."

"How old are you now?"

"Twenty-six"

Riddhima's face flaming as he continued to hold her there, the fingers clamped around her arm

He looked down at her with a slow mocking smile "My Dear Riddhima," he told her, "You really mustn't let such a small intimacy upset you," he reminded her with relish, "After all you and I are practically husband and wife."

"We are not."

"Ok fine, we are going to be."

His face was so close to hers and she felt her stomach contract in sudden panic as the wide mouth parted in a smile. " Let me go" she commanded, struggling futilely as he held her firm, trying to decide just how hard she would hit him if he dared to try to kiss her now.

With a shake of head, Armaan stepped away and abruptly let go his hold on her arm. "Come, Riddhima let me show you the house."

"Damn you, Armaan Mallik!" she muttered to herself, "Don't you dare try another trick like that!"

*************




Ten days later, in a registrar office ceremony, a somewhat tight lipped and nervous Riddhima officially became Mrs. Riddhima Armaan Mallik. As Armaan had predicted, the whole thing had been organized with alarming speed.

She called Rahul at his boarding school to give him the news. After their mother's regrettable experience with Shashank Mallik, the Malliks rated no more highly in her brother's book than in her own.

"OH GOD!" he commented. "What's with these Mallik men? Haven't they already done enough damage to our family through one marriage? First Mom and now you too….Sorry, sis I thought you had better taste."

She sighed, "Visit us sometime Rahul."

"I'll try." He replied coolly

As she laid the phone down she had consoled herself with the thought that at least it would be that much easier when it came to breaking the news of the divorce to him.


First there was the marriage and the wedding to get through.

All around her flash bulbs were popping and Riddhima had a tight smile pinned to her face. As Armaan slipped an arm round her waist, drawing her close in a mock romantic embrace, she fought the urge to pull away from him. Then all of a sudden some joker shouted out, "Kiss the bride!"

"Relax!" he admonished her under his breath. "I am not going to assault you. Not in front of all these people."

"I'd like to wish you both all the best." From the crowd a tall women with a perfect figure stepped forward. One person who, quite clearly, was not very happy by this hasty union was Armaan's secretary, Anjali Mehra

She shook hands with Riddhima. Then with an ambiguous expression, she turned to Armaan and reached up to kiss him on the cheek. "Congratulations Mr. Mallik," she paused to look at Riddhima "I hope you don't mind if I kiss the groom?"

Not at all. Do anything you like with him, Riddhima added mentally to herself

Armaan turned to Riddhima and asked, "It is time we thought about leaving.We have a plane to catch."

Riddhima frowned

"I hope you have brought your passport with you. I have booked us a week in Paris."

"Paris?" she gaped at him

"Where better for a honeymoon than the most romantic city in the world?"

"A honeymoon?"

"What do we want a honeymoon for? She protested "This isn't even going to be a proper marriage."

"you and I know that , my dear Riddhima, but the rest of the world is under the impression that this marriage of ours is perfectly regular."

They were booked on the flight of six o' clock flight and it was already after four.

"Come, Riddhima, we have a flight to catch." Playing one final scene to the gallery of photographers, he swept her up in his arms and deposited her bodily inside. As he climbed in behind her. Riddhima could not help quietly congratulating him to herself. He performed his phoney role of loving newly-wed so well.


*************
Annu

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