Out of all the men on the planet why did she have to fall in love with Riaan, the one man she couldn’t have? She closed her eyes in despair, the tears hot on her cheeks. Rolling on to her side, she reached blindly for the pillow next to her and hugging it tightly, she buried her face in it as the memories came unbidden.
Six months ago, Nia met Riaan when she was in Tooting, visiting her friend, Ishani. She had gone for a long walk, enjoying the weather and the buzzing neighborhood. She ventured into the marketplace and visited a few of the stalls. She had fun looking through the vintage clothes and handbags of one stall and the African art and exotic masks in another. She picked up some natural and organic skin products before she left the market, happy to be back in the bright sunlight.
By the time she went back to her friend’s building, it was noon. She was hungry. As she approached the entrance, she saw a tall man standing there. Then, he seemed to drop something on the ground. He squatted, his eyes searching the area. As she got closer, he turned his head and their eyes met. She felt as if her heart had stopped. He was absolutely gorgeous. He had thick, raven dark hair an olive complexion and dark brown eyes. He was dressed in a navy blue jacket, tee shirt and jeans. A part of her was tempted to ask him if she could help him to find what he was looking for but the rational part reminded her that he was a perfect stranger—no matter how attractive he was.
She dragged her eyes away and walked past him. Her pulse was still racing when she reached Ishani’s flat. “Something smells really, really good,” she remarked when her friend opened the door. “I’m famished.”
Ishani smiled. “I’m not surprised. You were gone for a while. I was beginning to wonder if you had walked all the way back to your place.”
“What is that smell?” Nia asked as she followed her into the kitchen. “It smells familiar.”
“It’s chicken Madras,” Ishani informed her as she opened the pot to taste its contents. Satisfied, she turned the stove off. “Tooting is famous for its curry. And this is one of my specialties.” She glanced at the clock. “I hope Riaan gets here soon.”
Nia frowned. “Who’s Riaan?”
“My cousin. I invited him to have lunch with us. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Why should I mind? Does he live here in Tooting?”
“No, he lives in the city. Oh, that must be him now,” she added when the doorbell rang. She hurried from the kitchen. Nia went into the living-room, curious to meet this cousin and when she saw who it was, her heart somersaulted. The gorgeous man she had left downstairs, searching for something was standing there in her friend’s flat. He saw her and a surprised look came over his face.
Ishani introduced them. “Riaan, this is my friend, Nia. Nia, my cousin, Riaan. Riaan, make yourself comfortable while Nia and I get things ready.”
Nia helped Ishani set the table, trying to stay focused on the task at hand but she was acutely aware of him sitting there, watching her. She prayed that she wouldn’t drop or spill anything. Finally, the table was set and the food was on the table. They sat around the table. Ishani said grace and then they tucked in. “This is so tasty,” Nia exclaimed. It was the best curry she had ever had. How she wished she could cook as well as her friend. This wasn’t the first time she had sampled her cooking. Ishani was an excellent cook.
Ishani smiled. “Thanks.” She turned to Riaan. “Is it as good as Aunt Faiza’s?”
Riaan grinned at her. “Almost.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Riaan’s mother makes the best curry,” she explained to Nia. “My brother and I used to love going over to their house just for her cooking.”
As they ate, Nia learned that Riann’s parents and younger sister lived in South India. Riaan left there to come to London to go to school and university. He lived with Ishani and her parents until he graduated from university. He shared a flat with a friend until he got a job.
After they finished eating, they lingered around the table, talking until it was time to clear the things away. Riaan helped to clear the table. As he and Nia passed each other, he leaned over and whispered, “Have dinner with me tonight.” When he looked at her, she could tell that he was very serious. She nodded, wordlessly, her heart pounding.
Ishani served them slices of Chhena Poda which Nia learned were the Indian version of cheesecake. They were delicious and she had to resist the urge to have another slice. Ishani gave her a few slices to take with her. “Riaan said he will take you home,” she told her. “I will call you tomorrow.”
On the ride home, Riaan asked her questions about herself and her family. He walked her to her flat and outside he reminded her of their dinner date. “I will pick you up at seven,” he said, his eyes staring into hers.
“I’ll see you then,” she said breathlessly and watched him walk away before she turned and unlocked her door, her hand trembling.
Seven came and so did he. When she opened the door, she couldn’t help staring. He was dressed in all black. There was something about a man wearing all black. The black suit, black shirt and tie complimented his olive skin, black hair and brown eyes. Her fingers longed to bury themselves in those thick, silky tresses. He smelled good too. The musky scent of his cologne tantalized her senses. She wondered if he had any idea of the effect he was having on her.
She saw the way his eyes traveled over her and the admiration that shone in them. The dress fitted her snugly and the shade flattered her complexion. Her hair fell in thick waves about her shoulders. She had washed it, blow dried it and curled it and was pleased with the results. “You look amazing,” he said, swallowing hard. Unable to resist, he leaned over and brushed his lips against her cheek. His eyes were dark when he raised his head and gazed down at her. “I want to kiss you but I know that once I start, I won’t be able to stop.”
She wanted him to kiss her but the sound of the doors of the lift opening and voices brought her back to her senses. Turning, she fumbled with the key as she locked the door. He moved aside and she preceded him on trembling legs to the lift. On the ride down, she leaned against the wall, trying to compose herself. How on earth was she going to get through the night feeling the way she did? All she could think about was how much she wanted him to kiss her. She knew if he had, they wouldn’t be going out for dinner now.
On the way to the restaurant, she tried to distract herself by looking out the window and talking to him about all sorts of things. Over dinner, he asked her questions about herself and her family. They were at a Lebanese restaurant. The ambience was warm, friendly and cozy. She was beginning to relax a little. After dinner, he took her for a drive and then to her flat. At the door, they said their goodbyes and this time, he kissed her hand. The following day, he took her took her to see Windsor Castle and then a bite to eat at Limes Bakery. And after that they were dating. He took her all over London and outside of London.
One Saturday evening after they finished having dinner at her flat, he announced, “I’m leaving for India tomorrow.” They were relaxing on the sofa.
“Tomorrow ? This is so sudden. Is everything all right?” she asked, surprised and concerned.
He shook his head. “No, nothing is wrong. Something has come up and I need to see my parents. It’s nothing to worry about.”
“How long will you gone for?”
“Two weeks.” She sighed. “Two weeks seem like a long time. I will miss you.”
His eyes darkened on her face. “Not as much as I will miss you,” he said. “I will call you when I get there.”
“You’re leaving tomorrow evening. That doesn’t give us much time.”
“It doesn’t,” he agreed.” He got up from the sofa. “but, I know just how to spend what little time we have left together.” Reaching down, he pulled her up and roughly against him, making her catch her breath. As his mouth closed hungrily over hers, he picked her up and carried her to her room.
The next morning, she woke up and rolling on to her side, she reached for him but he wasn’t there. There was a note on the pillow. Dear Nia, I wanted to say goodbye but I didn’t want to wake you. I wish I didn’t have to leave you but it’s something that I have to take care of. Don’t worry. I will see you in two weeks. Until then, please know that I love you very much and will be thinking of you. Riaan. She read and re-read the note and then folded it and placed it on the bedside table. She missed him already. How was she going to get through the two weeks? She didn’t want to get out of the bed but she had lots of things to do and it was back to work tomorrow. She hoped the two weeks would go quickly and that he would let her know when he was coming back so that she could meet him at the airport.
It was Tuesday evening and she had just finished cleaning up in the kitchen when the phone rang. It was Ishani. They spoke about arbitrary things and then, Ishani said, “Riaan is in New Delhi. I expect he’s gone to see his fiancée.”
Nia nearly dropped the phone. “His fiancée?” she sank to the floor as her legs gave way. “Riaan’s engaged?”
“Yes. Didn’t I mention that?”
“No.” The word came out as a moan. She closed her eyes, feeling sick. “How long has he been engaged?”
“I think it’s been nine months. Nia, are you all right? You sound strange.”
“I’ve got to go, Ishani. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She managed to get the words out before she hung up. Then, she dissolved into tears.
For the next few days, she was a mess. When she saw Ishani, she told her everything and her friend tried to comfort her. “If I had suspected that you two would develop feelings for each other, I would have told you about Aisha. I’m so sorry, Nia. I blame Riaan. He should not have gotten involved with you. I’m going to let him have it when he comes back.”
Nia was so depressed that she called in sick the following day and just spent it lying on the sofa, trying not to think about Riaan and how much she still wanted him. The first week passed and then the second week was almost over. Soon he would be back in London and then, what? She couldn’t face him. She didn’t have the strength to fight him or her feelings. Perhaps, she should take a trip…
The phone rang, bringing her back to the present and she stared at it, afraid to answer it. Then, she reached over and picked it up. It was Ishani.
“Daya, Riaan’s sister just called me. She said that her parents have disowned Riaan because he broke off his engagement. She said that he told them that he couldn’t go through with it. He said that didn’t love Aisha and that he loved someone else. Aunt Faiza begged him to reconsider and Uncle Bhagesh threatened him but he refused to change his mind. Uncle Bhagesh threw him out of the house and told him that he was no longer welcome. Daya didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to him. She said that whoever this girl was, she must be very special for Riaan to go against their parents’ wishes. She’s right, Nia. You are very special to Riaan. Not many men would stand up to their parents like he did. I’ve heard about men who go through with their arranged marriages even though they are in love with other women. I expect Riaan will be coming to see you when he’s back in London and that you have a lot to think about. Call me if you need anything.”
Nia promised to do that and hung up the phone. She lay there for a moment, her head spinning from what Ishani had just told her. She got up from the bed and took a quick shower. It looked nice outside and she thought of going for a walk but changed her mind. She was heading to the kitchen to fix herself a cup of tea when the doorbell rang. She went to see who it was and her heart lurched when she saw Riaan. She fumbled with the lock and pulled open the door.
Without saying anything, she pulled him inside the flat and closed the door. They stood there for several minutes just staring at each other, the raw emotions on their faces. Riaan’s looked drawn and his eyes were filled with torment. His hands were clenched at his sides as he fought the urge to take her in his arms. “I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you,” he muttered tightly. “I wanted so much to tell you but I was afraid of losing you.”
“Ishani told me everything, including the part about your parents disowning you.”
“Yes, I told them that I couldn’t marry Aisha when I loved you.”
“I’m sorry about your parents but I’m not sorry that you broke off your engagement.” The broken engagement had exonerated him.
He reached for her then and pulled her into his arms. His lips found hers and they exchanged feverish kisses, making up for the time apart and the agony each endured. “Do you love me?” he asked, when he raised his head, trying to catch his breath. “I want to hear you say it.”
“I love you, Riaan,” she said huskily, her eyes swimming in tears. Then, she was swept off her feet and carried to her room.