Friday, 9 October 2020

Part 24 : In My Heart

The sun shone brightly through the clustered milky clouds and the air was thick with humidity. Armaan swiped a hand across his forehead to wipe the trickling sweat after he placed the bags in the trunk of his Audi. His gaze traveled to the stairs from where Riddhima and Muskaan were descending hand in hand chatting animatedly. He walked to the passenger side and opened the door for Riddhima to climb in but his jaw fell down when she settled in the back seat comfortably next to Muskaan, completely ignoring him. Armaan looked behind when Rahul tapped the trunk and gestured to the bag in his hand.
"I think they forgot the part where I said we were going for only 3 days and settled on taking their entire wardrobe along." Armaan said adjusting the bags.

"They believe in the motto, the more the better when it comes to clothes and accessories." Rahul replied giving him a helping hand.

Armaan looked in the rearview mirror after typing the destination in the GPS to see Abhi giving thumbs up from his SUV. He nodded and put on his aviators as he put the gear and drove off from Garewal House.

It had been half an hour in to the journey and Armaan was waiting for Riddhima to acknowledge his presence yet. He drove fast on the bumpy road on purpose to interfere her game but she remained indulged oblivious of his intentions. His nostrils flared in irritation and he ran a hand through his hair.

"Hey Bro. How's all back home?" Rahul answered in to his phone.

"Yes, they're with me. We aren't at home. No, I'm not driving, Armaan is. Okay. Prem it's on." Rahul said putting his phone on loudspeaker.

"Hey guys." Prem greeted all of them but was returned with only one reply.

"Where are the girls?" He asked.

"Busy with some stupid game on their I-pad and listening to music." Armaan said irritated.

"That's Muski and Ri for you. Rahul and I have been through many of these episodes of being ignored by the duo. Welcome to the family Bro." Prem chuckled.

"I'm taking everyone out of Mumbai as thanks for being so helpful throughout the engagement function and whole fiasco. Arjun and your treat remain due on me." Armaan informed Prem where they were headed.

"Hey Prem. How are you?" Both the girls chirped together. Rahul had waved frantically to get their attention.

"Hello Sweetie pies. I'm fine. Looks like you're quiet busy as both of you have ignored my calls."

"Oh. Sorry we didn't notice. Prem, Armaan is taking all of us out for a trip. I wish you were here too." Riddhima said leaning forward and resting her elbow on the back of driver's seat.

"Well I wish I was there too but since that's not possible, can you two keep me posted on the activity there?"

"Of course we will. We're going to take lots of pictures and send them to you immediately.. That is if we have network coverage there." Muskaan added.

"Okay guys, talk you later then. Enjoy yourselves. Ri and Muski, please don't go anywhere without informing."

"We won't, don't worry. Bye Prem. Love you." Riddhima said moving back as Rahul ended the call.

"You want to go to the washroom or want something from the shop?" Armaan asked stopping the car at a petrol station.

"No, we'll just stretch our legs till you fill the tank. Come Ri." Muskaan and Riddhima went over to Abhi's car to chat with Nikki and Anjie.

"Girls, there'll be no change in seating arrangement. Don't say anything because it's final. Now move both of you." Armaan said taking Riddhima's hand in his.

"We have a final police check post after another 65 kms so I want you all to please co-operate with me. In case they stop our cars, I don't want Rahul and Basket to be questioned. It's only an hour left before we reach the place. Then you all can do whatever you want but staying within our sight." Armaan explained seeing the girls pouting and sulking.

Riddhima gasped coming out of the car at the sight before her. Lush green covered the earth and dark thick clouds formed a blanket above as far as the gaze went. They had arrived at the Rusticville campgrounds which were situated at the base of fort Tikonapath. Calm and serenity engulfed everyone setting foot here. It gave them the required break from their daily hectic and rushed lives. Riddhima breathed deeply looking in a trance as the sun rays filtered through the clouds forming spectrum of colors. Armaan wrapped his arms around her and placed his chin on her shoulders. She leaned against him and held his hands.

"This is so beautiful Armaan."

"Mhmm." He hummed in response and closed his eyes inhaling her scent.

"It's a relief to be surrounded by nature. I wish I could stay here forever." They heard Anjali say from behind.

"Anjali, agar tum chaho tou hum shadi ke baad yahan aa sakte hain rehne keliye. Hamara aik chota sa ghar hoga, us mein tum, main, sita, gita, tina, ree.." Atul trailed off after looking at Anjali's glare. Riddhima giggled softly and Armaan smiled hearing another bickering between Abhi and Nikki regarding bags.

"Come, I'll help you unload the bags."

"No need. I'll do it. You go with the girls and look around but don't go far." Armaan stepped back kissing her temple.

"Armaan, why the hell did you ask them to go? They should help in settling the things in the tents." Abhi said coming with bags in his hands.

"Common yaar, un se kya kaam karwana? Hum itna tou kar hi sakte hain. Thora sa tou kaam hai." Armaan replied casually taking Riddhima's bags out and pulling his over the shoulder.

"Whipped." Abhi muttered.

"Gladly. I recommend you clear all the mess between you and Nikki before we leave otherwise I'm taking things in my hands and you my friend know that, that won't end in your favor at all. So.." Armaan said slapping Abhi's back.

The girls walked around arms in arms, giggling over some joke Muskaan had cracked. They halted seeing a familiar face coming towards them from the opposite end. They exchanged pleasantries and spoke for some time till Armaan came in search of them.

"Sameer, this is Armaan. He is.." Sameer cut Riddhima short.

"Muskaan's brother."

"Yeah and my husband." She added. Sameer's eyes went wide and then he started laughing. Everyone looked at him in confusion except Armaan and Muskaan. Armaan eyed her murderously to which she shook her head negatively to let him know she had nothing to do with Sameer's presence there.

"You've got a terrible sense of humor Rhea." He said calming down.

"But I'm not joking. Armaan is my husband." She repeated. Sameer eyed the rings in their ring fingers and then Armaan's possessive hold on her waist.

"I can't believe this. You married a guy whom you didn't know more than a few months but you couldn't say yes to going out with me once. I remained with you all the time after your accident but you never gave me a chance. What did he have that I didn't?" Sameer was mad at losing her. Armaan was seething in anger but controlled himself as Riddhima gripped his hand.

"You were Muski's friend, I never asked you to follow me around nor did I know your intentions were purely of going out with me. I'm not answerable to you but because I considered you a friend once, I'll answer your question. Armaan had my heart all along, even before I met Muski. So not you nor anyone had a chance with me ever. Let's go guys." Riddhima threaded her fingers through Armaan's and turned around to leave.

"Rhea, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have reacted this way. I really like you and this news just shocked me. I want us to stay friends. I'll be glad if you all join me at my guest house tonight for dinner." Sameer said hurriedly.

"We're here to celebrate our wedding with our family so we won't be able to join you. Plus I don't keep any relation with the person who looks down on my husband. Now please excuse us, we've got things to do." She replied without turning and walked away.

"Armaan this is just so cool! How did you manage to do all this?" Anjali asked.

"Haan, mujhe laga tha humein place dhoondni hogi, tents khud lagane hongey per yahan tou we're getting everything done. When did you get all this done?" Nikki quipped.

"Riddhima wanted to thank you all for being by our side always and she had gone out to arrange a lunch for all of us that day when she got kidnapped. I had promised you all a treat once she recovered and you all wanted to go with us on our honeymoon so I thought this was the best way to do all the things at once."

"So you mean to say you're here on your honeymoon?" Muskaan inquired.

"I might be."

"No we're not." Armaan and Riddhima answered together. The gang shook their heads seeing them getting lost in each other's gaze once again as they sat opposite each other of the bonfire. Armaan winked getting up to collect the marinated kababs from the trip organizer. Abhi and Rahul stood up to help him set the bbq grill while Atul brought in the drinks.

"These kababs are nothing in comparison to the ones you make Ri." Anjali said munching on the lettuce from the Caesar salad.

"Yeah, I second that opinion. Yours were so soft and juicy, these are a bit dried." Abhi added.

"And when did you all eat Basket's handmade kababs?" Armaan asked popping a baby tomato in his mouth.

"The last dinner we had together.. Oh yeah you couldn't make it due to the meeting." Armaan just nodded. The dinner was followed by chocolate pastries. The box was rotated around so that everyone could pick one.

"This one's got nothing over your chocolate cake Basket." Armaan said swallowing a bite of the dessert.

"When did you make a cake and why didn't I get to taste it?" Muskaan asked quickly with her mouthful. Riddhima realized what Armaan was up to seeing the naughty glint in his eyes as he saw the sweet.

"I remember waking up to the smell of choco chip muffins Ri baked earlier. They used to be delicious." Rahul remembered.

"That's it, you're baking us a cake as soon as we return. In fact you should bake every morning just like before." Muskaan demanded.

"She won't do any of it. You make them on your own or ask your cook for it. My wife won't make it for anybody."

"May we know why is that Mr. Mallik?" Abhi asked.

"Because I'm saying so." Riddhima lowered her head to hide the smile forming on her lips at Armaan's childish behavior.

The dark sky was lit with infinite twinkling stars and few glowing lanterns in the tents as the occupants readied to sleep. A cool breeze blew making the temperature fall a notch. Armaan and Riddhima sat against a rock wrapped in one blanket as they took in the beauty of the night. It was as romantic as it could be in this setting.

"Why didn't you save some bbq for me?" Riddhima rolled her eyes at his sulking tone but he couldn't see as her back was against his chest.

"Armaan, I made the bbq and everything specifically for you but you couldn't come that day. Nothing was left and even if it was, I wouldn't prefer giving you 3 days old stored food. You shouldn't have brought out the topic of baking. It was so childish."

"So what? I wanted them to know that only I get special treatment from you and no one else. Isn't it?" He asked bringing her more into him.

"You'll always be my priority and have my full attention Baby." She cupped his right cheek over her shoulder.

"Good now that this is clear, why don't we move on to our honeymoon?" He smirked as she gasped loudly.

"I meant discuss the place where you want to go for honeymoon, but we can do whatever came in your mind first, discussion can wait." He grinned.

"Armaan. Leave. I'm going to sleep.." She fidgeted in his arms.

"Shh.. You're not going anywhere or sleeping unless you tell me the place."

"I.. I don't know. You can choose."

"Really? You must have a preference or a dream place where you want to go?" She shook her head. Armaan turned her in his hold and looked deeply in her green orbs. His gaze flickered to her full pink lips as she bit it shying away from him. He pulled her forward so that she was straddling him. Armaan kissed her face and neck all over with precision, not missing any spot except the lips. Riddhima opened her lips twice as he neared her mouth but he just kissed the corners. He smiled as she whimpered in protest. The third time she pulled his face up and pressed her lips to his. The kiss turned heated soon. Riddhima held his shoulders tightly as Armaan's hands roamed over her body. He slipped his hands inside her shirt, skimming over her back and stomach. She moaned into the kiss as his deft fingers left behind a trail of fire wherever they touched. Armaan pulled away to make her lie down and adjust on top of her. They lost the track of time in their hot and passion filled kisses and tender touches. But they slept peacefully after a long time in each other's arms completely at peace.

Riddhima woke up to as the soft pink, orange and purple colors scattered across the sky while the sun sent its rays to the earth. The green mountains in the backdrop, the chirping of the birds and the ringing of temple bells in the distant made it scenic. She looked down to see Armaan's head tucked beneath her chin. His soft breaths caressed her skin. She carefully adjusted his head on the make shift pillow and covered him with the blanket up to his chin. She sighed when she reached back to the tent before anyone woke up. Riddhima and Nikki stood at the local tea shop, run by the villagers, collecting cupcakes, sandwiches and doodh patti tea for breakfast while the others freshened up. Nikki walked out of the shop with the bag full of breakfast while Riddhima stayed back for the tea.

Her eyes widened in shock as she opened her sling purse to pay for the orders. She fumbled through the contents but couldn't locate her wallet. She looked back to call Nikki but she was long gone. Riddhima bit her lip in fear of what the shopkeeper would say if she asked to go and bring money.

"Bhaiyya kya main 5 minute baad mein akar apna order le loon?"

"Jee theek hai per pehle paisey de dijye." She ducked her head lower and searched for her wallet again, hoping it would appear miraculously and it did. A hand stretched next to hers with a wallet. Her head snapped to see the owner of the wallet smiling at her one of his deadly dimpled smile.

"Rs. 425 ." She told him the total but he gestured with his head for her to give it. She opened the wallet and smiled widely on seeing her picture in it. The shopkeeper's voice brought her to reality. Both of them walked out holding cups of steaming tea.

"Muski, Di, Nikki, please koi meri help kardo." Riddhima called out of a changing room.

"Basket yahan koi nahin hai. Kya chahye mujhe bata do." Armaan replied from the main entrance of the changing rooms where he stood guarding.

"Armaan, yeh mujhse tie nahi ho raha. Please kisi ko bula do."

"Why do you girls wear clothes which you can't wear on your own? Rahul, Abhi? Koi nahin hai yahan."

"Ab main kya karoon? I don't have anything else to wear." She pouted leaning back at the counter.

"Open the door; I'll tie whatever it is now." He said standing out of her cabin.

"Basket, what are you wearing? Tell me you're putting a jacket over this, otherwise I'm not letting you out of here." Armaan almost screamed seeing the sweetheart neckline of her shirt with lacey strings at the back.

"You don't like this?" She asked innocently through the mirror while holding it in place with her hands.

"You.. I.. I like it a lot but.. I don't mind whatever you wear at home but please cover yourself properly while we're here." He gave her a once all over after tying the knots. The faded skinny jeans hung low on her hips and the yellow top hinted at the curves beneath them. In short, she looked gorgeous as always. But only his eyes were allowed to feast on her body and nobody else. Armaan pulled of his jacket to put it around her shoulders.

"As much I like this place, I'm never coming back here." He grumbled as they moved to their car.

"Why?" she asked opening the zip of her bag.

"Didn't you see how those men were looking at the ladies as they entered and exit?"

"Armaan, they weren't looking at the other ladies. They were all looking out for their wives or families by standing at the door. Unlike you who got the washrooms and changing rooms completely evacuated." She teased.

"Whatever, I was looking out for my wife and I'm never letting you in any of those again." Armaan adjusted the collar of her white jacket and then held her while she pulled on her long boots. He looked at her appreciatively and pulled her behind the car for a quick kiss.

Rahul and Riddhima pulled a very reluctant Muskaan through the wooden fence bordering the large farm house. It wasn't really far from their reserved spot hence they had walked and in this case stumbled dragging a babbling Muskaan all the way. She was frightened at the mention of horse riding as her previous two times hadn't gone well.

"Common Muski, this time won't be like the previous ones. You're not riding it alone, Bhai is with you. Calm down please." Riddhima said while tucking Muskaan's curly hair behind her ear and rubbing her hands.

"Go and choose you horse and just relax." Riddhima pushed her towards a waiting Rahul. She stood back under a tree looking at others choosing their horses from the ones in the wooden ring. She shook her head when Anjie motioned her to join them. Riddhima's eyes wandered to a brown horse which stood alone in the stable. She narrowed her eyes to see him properly. He was a dark brown horse with a dash of golden between his eyes and mane. He moved back and forth in his space restlessly as if waiting to be let out. Armaan looked in the direction she was seeing and asked the helper to bring the brown horse for him as he returned after settling the payment with the owner of the horses.

Riddhima jumped in glee seeing the horse stop in front of her. She quickly pecked Armaan's cheek and ran towards the horse. The horse neighed loudly and moved back at first but after five minutes of Riddhima's cooing and caressing; he was rubbing his long neck on her face. Armaan pulled up from the tree bark and clicked her pictures before strolling lazily towards her.

"I see you've charmed him as well. Your magic works on just anybody, doesn't it?" he asked.

"Fudge, that's my Armaan. He's.." He watched amusedly as she whispered something in to the horse's ear and he looked at Armaan at the same exact moment as if understanding what Riddhima said.

"Guys, be back here in an hour." Armaan shouted.

"Come." Armaan helped her to mount the horse and took the reins from the boy. He walked a short distance till they crossed the boundary and came in to the open field then took off on the galloping horse.

"You were really going to go back if Bhai didn't stop you? Riddhima asked softly hugging Armaan from the back as he leaned on the study desk. Armaan clicked the update button and then turned around keeping hold of her hands.

"You know I don't want anyone to assume things about our relationship seeing us like this. But I really didn't want to go tonight and am thankful to Rahul for allowing me to stay."

"I don't want to go without you, Armaan." Riddhima cried going in his arms.

"We've been through this Jaan and I'm not repeating myself. Just concentrate on your work when you go back tomorrow. I've already promised to visit you as soon as I can." He walked them towards her bed.

"I want you to keep this with you." He said holding out a card.


"Shh.. Let me finish first. I know your family would want to pamper you as much as they can till the wedding and I won't deprive them of their right. But when you're on your own, I want you to use this. For me?" Riddhima stared at "Mrs. Riddhima Armaan Mallik" inscribed on the platinum card in her palm and nodded with a smile.

"Please send in the next candidate." Riddhima said to the receptionist. It had been 18 days since she arrived in Leeds. These had been busy and a bit tough too as she had to manage time between doing the interiors of their room and taking care of her business too. But she had done very well so far. Most of the room was done with only the final touches left and she had sold her business to an interested party rather than transferring things back here. She had something else in mind regarding the business. For time being she was taking care of her father's schedule as his PA had taken a medical leave due to a major accident. So here she was conducting interviews to choose one for her father. Riddhima sunk in the huge leather chair after the last candidate walked out, closing her eyes and sent a silent prayer.

Armaan had been running rounds between his office, court rooms and wedding planners for the last 20 days. The trial had begun but taken its time as it involved many charges against Rakesh. Sandeep, his lawyer had done an extremely great job but a few instances the defense attorney gave them tough time. But as they say, all's well that ends well and it was true in their case too. Right now he stood on the court's steps hugging Sandeep on their success. The court had found Rakesh Mittal to be guilty in all the charges. Hence he was sentenced life imprisonment without a chance of appeal in any court and an order was passed for all his accounts and businesses to be seized until the innocent got their shares back.

"Thank you so much. I'll forever be grateful to you Sandeep for all the efforts you done for us."

"Well done man! I knew you could do it." Armaan and Arjun said respectively. Other business men approached them too to thank and congratulate them. Armaan took off his aviators and smirked as he saw the police drag Rakesh in to the special police's van. He walked down slowly towards him. "I told you to stay away from my family but you didn't heed to my warning and look where it brought you. You must have heard of this saying, you reap what you sow. Enjoy your stay in the dark." Armaan turned away glaring at a defeated Rakesh.

"I'm so proud of you Beta. Common now let's go, Prerna is waiting at home." Anurag wrapped his arms around Armaan and Arjun's shoulder. He had flown in last night to be there for the last hearing. The trio trudged their path from between a very active and buzzing media personnel.

A loud knock on the door brought the attention of all the members in the conference room towards the source.

"Yes Rahul, what do you want?" Sujal asked taking off his reading glasses. Rahul just stepped aside to reveal his answer. Riddhima gasped loudly not believing her eyes.

"I'm sorry to disturb your meeting Papa. I just arrived and wanted to see Bas.. I mean Riddhima." Armaan said stepping in the room.

"Riddhima." Armaan said softly opening his arms for her and she ran in to them. He kissed her hair holding her tightly.

"I'm so proud of you Beta." Sujal patted his back and smiled at his over joyed daughter. He introduced Armaan to his board members.

"Papa, can I take Riddhima home with me?" Armaan asked hesitating.

"Of course you can and Rhea you're off till your wedding now. Enjoy yourselves children." Sujal ushered them out of the room. Armaan and Riddhima walked out of the building with smiles and hands intertwined.


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