She’d fallen asleep.
The man she’d loved for so long had made love to her so magically, and what had she done? Fallen asleep like an old lady after a buffet dinner.
A week later, Devi couldn’t get the taste of him out of her mouth, or the memory of his body moving inside her out of her head. Every time she saw him, and there had been plenty of opportunities during their endless Diwali meetings, she froze—the musky scent of his body, the sounds he’d made when he’d climaxed, the feel of his fingers at her core playing her masterfully, everything swarmed.
More than once, she’d just blanked out mid-meeting while staring at him or listening to him talk—only to come to and find the Aunties grinning like the devils they were. To find Kiran watching her with a bemused smile. If she thought he’d tease her or wink at her, she was wrong. Instead, it felt like his reserve had only grown after the intimacy they’d shared instead of bringing them closer together.
He stared at her a lot, she knew that. But she couldn’t figure out what it was that she saw in those eyes.
God, why had she fallen asleep like that? One moment, he was kissing her temple, whispering something.
The next thing she knew she had a crick in her neck from sleeping on the couch, and her 6:00 a.m. alarm had woken her up quite rudely. She’d sat up, suddenly alert, and realized Kiran must have covered her with the blanket and seen himself out.
What did he want? Had he had enough of her? Did he want more? Because she absolutely did. Where did they go from making love on a couch in her parents’ living room? Friends who sometimes shared benefits? Friends who scratched an itch with each other but didn’t want anything deeper? Friends who dated others in the meantime?
God, no. She couldn’t bear to see him with anyone else now. But neither did she want a commitment of marriage or anything like that from him when he’d been so badly burned and she wasn’t sure he was ready.
Of course, her parents would be scandalized if she just lived with Kiran without getting married. But she knew that they would also get over themselves if…if Devi was truly happy.
And she would be. She would be deliriously happy and well content to know he returned her feelings, even if only to a small extent. She didn’t need him to offer her the traditional path.
What did Kiran want, though?
She’d been both relieved and disappointed that the days leading up to the festival and the Mela had been a mad rush from sunup to sundown. Even with close to two hundred volunteers, there were always last-minute things to do.
After a few years of falling on a weekday, this year the lunar date for Diwali had actually coincided with a Saturday. Which meant the morning pooja and lunch were taking place at her parents’ house—with the usual twenty-five guests and the Diwali Mela beginning at three in the afternoon.
Now, as Devi let her mother wrap the beautiful turquoise silk sari around her—no one had the knack for making the sari’s pleats behave like flowing water except Amma—Devi studied her reflection in the full-length mirror in front of her.
Since she had to go onstage to emcee the evening’s entertainment, she’d done her makeup a little heavier than she usually did.
The kajal and the shimmery pink eyeshadow made her eyes big in her face and the lipstick was the perfect red for her golden-brown skin. She’d washed her hair, dried it and used some leave-in conditioner to control it but mostly let it fall to her waist in its natural waves. Her mother’s pearl-and-diamond choker shone at her neck, just as the matching earrings did at her ears.
But there was a glow to her that she’d never seen before. A happiness, despite not knowing how things would end up between her and Kiran. A fierce verve for life, whatever it threw at her next. And she knew then that loving Kiran had only made her braver and stronger. That she couldn’t wait anymore to seize her future. That telling him she loved him, whatever his reaction, was vital to her well-being. It was as essential as air. Because loving him had only made her life complete.
Amma looked up from where she was kneeling in front of Devi, straightening the pleats of her sari. “You look beautiful, Kanna.”
Devi smiled and gave her a hand up. Her mother, clad in a beautiful red sari, looked elegantly beautiful like only she could. She gathered the mass of Devi’s hair and straightened the necklace at her throat. “Now, when should we talk about the Reddy boy?”
Devi blushed and laughed. “Amma, I’m forty-two years old. And the boy is all man.”
Her very traditional Amma threw her head back and laughed. “Well, you’ve always been a firecracker.” She raised a perfectly threaded brow and said, “I’m assuming that man is good for you.”
Devi blushed so hotly that she was sure her lipstick paled next to her cheeks.
Amma kissed her cheek. “You deserve the best, Kanna. I hope you know that.”
“Don’t I always make sure I get it?” Devi said with a wink and Amma smiled. She linked her arm through Devi’s and turned them so their reflections were visible in the mirror. Her mother’s gaze moved to her beautiful necklace. “It’s yours.”
Devi squealed with joy, even the pearls and diamonds paling next to her smile today. “Vani and Lakshmi will be so jealous.”
Amma shrugged and winked. “They’ll understand. And they’ve always agreed that it looks best on you.”
Devi kissed her cheek and whispered, “Happy Diwali, Amma.”
It was almost eleven when Kiran spotted Devi again.
The air outside the event center was redolent with the smoke from the sparklers that everyone had lit and the aroma of the mint sherbet that had been circulating around the Mela earlier. The stars were out in full brightness and a soft breeze finally cooled the muggy Houston night.
He sat down under the huge oak tree that had been there since he’d been a boy and watched Devi to his heart’s content. This pleasure in the stillness of the night, in hearing the people he’d known all his life bid goodbye in more than three or four languages, it had been hard earned.
He saw Devi’s turquoise silk sari fluttering in the breeze and outlining her stunning curves. The pearl-and-diamond necklace shimmered at her throat, and that lovely hair had been tied up in a rough bun after the long evening.
He’d seen her onstage when she’d announced the evening’s entertainment, adding small anecdotes about the performers, as only someone who knew the families and the community so well could.
And all day, his heart had been racing away, pumping that strange urgency through him. He’d tried to tell himself that it was too soon. That he couldn’t make a mistake with Devi, he couldn’t commit himself when there was even a little chance that he could hurt her.
But that yearning behind his ribs had solidified into something fierce in his chest. He didn’t want to wait. He didn’t want to spend another day without telling her how much he loved her. He didn’t want to go to bed without her for even one more day. He couldn’t wait to wake up every morning with her curves pressed up against him, her stubbornness and her loyalty and her strength, all his to claim, his to cherish.
“Hey, you want some company?”
He looked up to find her standing with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. “It’s okay if you’re—”
“Of course I want company,” he said. “Especially yours.”
She nodded and settled down beside him on the bench.
“How did the Aunties do?”
“We sold every single box for a huge profit. They were a smashing hit. Someone suggested they make it a quarterly thing, but I’m not sure the Aunties could manage it. They’re getting on a bit now.”
He turned and watched her face, animated and so achingly beautiful. Fifty years more and it would shine just as brightly. “They love you.”
She smiled wide. “I love them too.”
“Not really a surprise that they love you, you being you,” he said, swallowing away the thread of fear. “The entire community loves you. I’m probably the fool that’s last in line, but I’ve fallen in love with you too.” That wasn’t the segue he’d have chosen if he’d been thinking rationally and properly. But thinking rationally and sensibly had only ever brought him to the wrong place. To the things he truly didn’t want in life.
It was time to listen to his instincts and his heart. Time to put himself out there and stop hedging his bets.
This woman deserved the very best he could give and he was going to try, even if he failed.
He felt her go still next to him.
Her gaze was wide, her mouth trembling, her eyes instantly filling with tears. But all she said was “Oh.”
But it didn’t deter him and he realized nothing ever would when it came to her. He wanted her so desperately in his life and yet there was a visceral satisfaction, a completeness he felt in just telling her how much he loved her.
Slowly, Kiran reached for her hand and his heart settled in his chest when she gave it. “I mean, you know that I’ve always loved you. But this is different. This is like…coming home. Like…finally recognizing the person who brings out the best in you. Who soothes the worst. Who…makes you understand yourself better, your place in the world better.”
He pulled her hand up and kissed the back of it softly. “You’re that person for me. And the most important thing is…I want to be that person for you too.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and she came closer. He pressed his forehead against hers, loving her so much that each breath was a joy.
“Kiran,” she said, but he hushed her with his finger against her lips.
“No, I need to say this first. I need to say it before you feel obligated to give me an answer.”
She nodded and one lone tear fell onto her cheek.
Kiran caught it with a finger and rubbed his nose against hers. “I want to be the one who gets to take you home after you’ve been run ragged all day by the Aunties. I want to be the one who brings you a glass of chai and listens to how your day went. I want to be the one who loves you as much as you love this community. I want to be the one who rubs your feet after a long day, holds your hand when you cry over sentimental Telugu movies, and the one who kisses you, the one who brings you pleasure every day, every night.”
He pressed his mouth to hers in a gentle, loving kiss. His entire soul rushed out of him when she moaned and returned it. Soft and sweet and incredibly hot, the simple contact flared faster than the sparklers at tonight’s celebrations. “I’m so in love with you, Devi.”
She trembled, but the clasp of her fingers was tight around his. “I love you too. I don’t remember when I wasn’t in love with you.”
He turned then and she hid her face in his chest. Kiran cradled her head in his hands, feeling an overwhelming rush of tenderness and love. So much that his fingers shook. “God, I’ve no idea what I did to deserve you.”
She shook her head and looked up. “Haven’t you figured out that it doesn’t work like that? I’ve loved you always. And nothing will change that.”
He kissed her bent head, his arms wrapping tight around her. “But I want to be more than friends who share benefits. I knew I wanted more, a lifetime of more, the moment you pushed me out the door of your hotel room. The moment you sank into my kiss and moaned into my mouth. I just…I wanted to be sure. I wanted to do nothing that would hurt you.”
She looked up, her brown eyes lustrous in the moonlight. “You did?”
“God, yes. So please say you’ll marry me. As soon as possible.”
“You thought wrong,” he said, instantly understanding her. “I want this to be a commitment before God and our parents. I want to be your husband. I want to build a family with you, if that’s what you want, whatever shape that takes.”
“You mean you’ll do diapers and late-night feeds at your advanced age?” There was that hint of naughty humor that only came out to play once in a while.
The shawl slipped from her shoulders. He leaned forward and kissed the bare skin of her upper arm. “Yes, sweetheart. I’ll do whatever it takes to make you happy.”
“And if I want to get married but not move from the townhome?”
Damn his jumpy heart but he was a traditional man at his core. “Then we will marry as soon as possible and I’ll move in with you and simply rent out the house I bought on your street.”
“You did what?”
He shrugged. “It’s a good investment. But like I said…whatever you want.”
“If I don’t want to get married?” she cooed, her mouth reaching the hollow of his throat.
She pressed her tongue to his pulse and it took Kiran a few minutes to reply. The woman had him completely wrapped around her finger and he adored it. “Then we’ll just spend a few days at your place and a few at mine and scandalize the Aunties, your parents and the whole town. Whatever you want, sweetheart, however you want it, it’s all yours. All I ask is you let me love you, you let me make up for more than twenty years of being a fool.”
Her arms came around his neck then and she crawled up into his lap. “That’s my fiancé you’re talking about. So you’d better mind your language.”
Kiran kissed her and she laughed and they both jumped as a rush of people emerged into the parking lot.
The sky suddenly shimmered bright with Diwali fireworks, but not even the multicolored shimmer could match the color and texture of the love in Kiran’s heart. Nothing in the sky could match the brilliance of his love’s eyes, not even the stars.
If you loved this holiday romance by Tara Pammi, don’t forget to look out for her sizzling Born into Bollywood series.
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