One Indian Summer
by Nicola Marsh
Once upon a time in Goa, a lovely maid dreamed of finding romance and adventure, just like in her beloved Bollywood films….
Khushi longs to escape the boredom of her life as a hotel housekeeper, but she learned long ago never to believe in dreams. So when she stumbles—literally!—upon a handsome Australian tourist with flashing eyes and a way with words, she knows the sparks between them can come to nothing.
With one week left in his yearlong tour of India, Harrison Rayne is not looking for romance. But he can’t deny the special connection he feels to the beautiful Khushi, and soon he knows they are meant to be together forever! Can he convince her that love at first sight happens in real life, too?
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“Harrison, stop, please...”
Her plea died on a whimper as she started to tremble, gasp for air, little black dots dancing before her eyes.
He leaped to his feet, steadied her as she started to sway. “Not quite the reaction I expected to my proposal.”
He helped her down to the top step, sat next to her, his arm comforting and solid around her waist.
“I have to go in. My aunt will be—”
“That’s all I get? Some lame brush-off?”
It was all she could give him, all she could ever give him. She’d had two days to chastise herself over losing her heart too easily, two days to get used to the idea they’d never be together. Sure, his proposal shook her—she’d almost fainted from the shock—but no matter how badly she wanted to scream yes, her answer would always be no.
“Leela needs me. I’m sorry, I can’t.”
After gulping several huge lungfuls of air, she stood, headed for the door on wobbly legs. “Here, take these.”
He thrust the documents into her hand and her fingers convulsed around them despite wanting to drop them, for whatever connection the papers and the envelope had to him, she didn’t want them.
She needed a clean break. It would take long enough to get over him without any reminders.
“I’m hoping you’ll change your mind.”
Her breath caught as she peeked at the top form.
“That’s where I’ve been the past few days, chasing up a contact to speed up your passport application.” He dug into his top pocket, pulled out a slimline folder and shoved it into her other hand. “In case you want to use this. It’s an airline ticket.”
Her heart expanded, filled to the brim with love and futile wishes and pain, so much pain she had to turn him away.
“I’ve got a month before I start work. All my contact details are in there.”
Capturing her face, he kissed her, a long, slow kiss filled with tenderness and love and promise.
“For a long time, I thought no one believed in me. Then the organization came through for me, I survived the leukemia and my belief system was tilted on its head. Now I need you to believe in me, in us.”
Pain slashed through her, cutting deep. “I wish I could but—”
“This isn’t goodbye. I’ll see you in Melbourne.”
Her whispered refusal echoed in silence.
He’d already gone, taking her heart with him.
Khushi’s hand trembled, the documents Harrison had given her rattling noisily as she shut the door, leaned back against it and closed her eyes.
Fatigue seeped through her body, rendering her muscles useless, making her skin crawl with dread. She felt old, ancient, like she wanted to sleep for a million years so when she woke up the pain would be gone.
Instead, as she took a deep breath and opened her eyes, the situation worsened.
Leela stood in the doorway, arms folded, expression formidable.
“I’m sorry I lied to you, Auntie. I wanted to tell you—”
“I already knew.”
Maybe the sorrow clogging her throat had wedged in her ears, too, for she could’ve sworn her aunt just said she’d known about Harrison.
“Come. Sit. We’ll talk.”
Leela slipped an arm around her waist, drew her back to the kitchen, to the table, helping her like she was a frail invalid.
“My child, I’ve raised you. I know your every mood. Did you think I wouldn’t realize you’re in love?”
Khushi didn’t respond, couldn’t summon the energy. Besides, what could she say? She’d been foolish enough to fall in love with a man who lived a world away?
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Hating how much pain she’d cause her aunt by bringing up the one name she’d vowed never to say in this house, she finally raised her gaze from the documents and met her aunt’s eyes, surprised by the compassion there.
She’d expected anger at being deceived; judgment, even censure, but Leela’s steady stare was as benign as ever.
“Because we never talk of love in this house.”
“Why would you think...? Because of Byron?” Leela spat the word in bitter disappointment. “Just because that relationship didn’t work out for me, doesn’t mean yours won’t.”
“But I loved him, too!”
She’d loved him as only a six-year-old can: innocently, ferociously, wholeheartedly. She’d only been living with Leela three years when he’d breezed into their lives, sweeping Leela off her feet, and she’d followed suit. She’d trusted him. For years. Then he’d gone, leaving a hole in her heart, in her life.
Leela shook her head, hugged her belly as if in pain. “This is my fault. When he left, you were young and we never spoke of it. I should’ve realized...”
“He broke your heart. How did you cope?”
Leela blinked, a film of remembrance misting her eyes. “Byron never made me any promises. He would come and go over the years and I let him. I took whatever he gave me but I knew he would never stay.”
Leela blinked, the memories instantly vanishing, replaced by sadness. “Because he was married.”
The revelation shocked her, more at the thought of her aunt carrying on an affair for five years knowing it would lead nowhere.
“Not that he ever told me but I knew from certain things he said.” Leela reached out, took hold of her hand. “I’m sorry, I thought he was good for you, a father figure in your life. I guess I never realized how deeply you cared for him.”
“I loved him.”
“So did I, dear, more than was good for either of us. When he left that last time, I knew it was for good. I was tired of our arrangement. You were growing up, I didn’t want you believing it was enough to settle for a man rather than having him one hundred percent, so I told him not to come back.”
Horror shattered her shock. “You gave him up for me?”
“No, dear, I did it for me. Five years of waiting for the phone to ring, living for that special knock on the door, grew tiring.”
“So you ended it?”
Leela nodded, the bun perched atop her head wobbling. “And I don’t regret it.”
“But you cried for weeks, shut yourself away, didn’t socialize... Since then you’ve kept yourself so busy you don’t go out much, you don’t date, you don’t—”
“I was ashamed.”
“People around here knew me well, knew what I was doing. I couldn’t face their talk, their smugness when it ended. Besides, I had you, my darling girl, to keep me entertained. Now, tell me about this young man of yours. Do you love him?”
Khushi bit the inside of her cheek to stop from blurting the extent of her feelings for Harrison. It would do no good. And after hearing what Leela had just said, she was justified in her decision to send him away. Her aunt had given up so much for her; the least she could do is return the favor.
Swallowing the threat of tears swelling in her throat, she nodded. “He’s amazing. He’s a doctor, going to work with underprivileged kids. He’s kind and gentle and—”
“And what are you doing here? Didn’t I hear a marriage proposal?” Leela pointed to the documents still clutched in her hand. “And he bought you an airline ticket? What are you waiting for?”
“I can’t leave you!”
An understanding smile took years off her aunt’s wrinkled face.
“Can’t or won’t?”
“But you just said—”
“What I should’ve said a long time ago. Your young man—” Leela paused, screwed up her nose “—I don’t even know his name.”
Leela’s smile widened. “Lovely. Anyway, your Harrison is nothing like Byron. Harrison loves you, has promised you the world, whereas Byron never promised me anything beyond the occasional visit.”
“You need me, you just said so. I can’t leave—”
Leela held up a finger, stopped her. “You won’t leave, there’s a difference. And seeing as we’re being so honest here, I have to say I think you’re using me as an excuse.”
Khushi’s jaw dropped as the implications of what her aunt said sunk in. She’d loved Byron, and he’d betrayed her trust by leaving, not even taking the time to say goodbye when he knew he wouldn’t be returning. And she’d steered clear of men ever since. First she’d lost her father, then Byron, and her heart had hardened. Until a laid-back Aussie with a sexy drawl and a roguish smile had melted it. And what had she done? Sent him away.
Leela was the only family she had, the only family she’d ever really known. She owed her. But there was a difference between paying an emotional debt and giving up the rest of her life to hide away here, using tradition as an excuse for not taking a chance and embracing life wholeheartedly.
She placed the documents on the table, smoothed them, shaken to her core by how far Harrison had gone to prove his love for her.
“What does your heart tell you?”
She loved him, would follow him to the ends of the earth if it meant a life with him.
Leela chuckled, kissed her cheek. “Your expression says it all. I’ll be fine. I have savings, I have this house and I have friends it’s about time I got reacquainted with.”
This was all happening so fast, so unbelievably fast, and her head spun with the implications of what she was considering.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Say nothing. For now, we eat, then you start making plans.”
Plans to take her on the adventure of a lifetime.
Trying to navigate the jostling crowd at St. Kilda’s famous Esplanade Sunday Market with a heavy backpack hadn’t been one of Khushi’s brightest ideas but the moment she’d spied the colorful stalls, she’d disembarked the tram and headed straight for them. Besides, she hoped one of the stallholders could point her in the right direction to Acland Street.
Harrison’s instructions had been specific: call him if she changed her mind and arrived in Melbourne.
Where was the fun in that?
She wanted to surprise him but as she showed a vendor the piece of paper with Harrison’s address scribbled on it and followed where he pointed, maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea.
It was almost the end of the month. What if he’d started work early? What if he’d given up on her and moved out?
Ignoring the “what-if” scenarios running through her head, she passed a giant clown’s-mouth entrance to a theme park, a huge palm tree and made a right into Acland Street, her nose twitching at the delicious aromas of vanilla, cinnamon and roasted nuts.
Her stomach rumbled as her head swiveled, stunned by row upon row of cake shops lining the street, their tempting wares piled high in the windows. Everything from custard tarts and vanilla slices to chocolate éclairs filled with decadent lashings of cream and cute cupcakes iced to perfection.
She’d come to the right place to indulge her sweet tooth. But that wasn’t why she was here and as she scanned the shops for an aromatherapist—more precisely, the flat above—she spied a familiar figure at a roadside café table, surrounded by monstrous textbooks, several cups of coffee and a half-eaten Danish pastry.
Her heart leaped, raced, jumped out of her chest as he looked up, her hungry gaze colliding with a stunned blue one as Harrison broke into a wide grin, pushed back his chair and opened his arms.
Her feet flew, cumbersome backpack and all, and she flung herself into his arms, hugged him tight, intent on never letting go.
“Does this mean—”
“Yes, to everything. I want to be your wife, I want to make Melbourne my home, I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“What about the family I mentioned? Perhaps having a little girl who’s the image of her gorgeous mother?”
With a shy smile, her mouth hovering an inch from his, she murmured, “I think we can work on that.”
Their lips met, clung, savored and when they finally broke apart she traced the curve of his cheek, lingering near his lips.
“I always craved adventure, but I ended up with the love of my life, too. How lucky am I?”
“Not half as lucky as me.”
As he crushed her to him, his arms safe and strong around her, she knew wherever this man was, she’d always be home. THE END