For the ones who love romance as much as me. Here's an excerpt from my second novel,
The Bootie and the Beast.
Beauty Mathur: Flirting with the Fairytale.
The bold, black caption was scrawled across Diya Mathur’s burlap-clad hips gracing the cover of last month’s Vogue India. The tattoo of a budding red rose teased upwards over her left hip, inking a path to the limpid oval of her bellybutton that apparently had the power to send men into fits of irrepressible psychosis. A year ago, an online tabloid had made Diya’s bellybutton infamous by citing that world famous men—movie stars, princes, sheikhs, Fortune 500 list-makers and the like—fought to sip champagne from it.
Krish Menon stared at the glossy image of Diya’s navel for a deliberately prolonged moment and snorted when it failed to induce in him any kind of flight of fancy. Admittedly, he wasn’t a movie star or a sheikh or a prince or a tycoon. That must be it, he mused, and the fact that Diya was a bud and not a babe might have something to do with it too. Plus, if he jogged his memory hard enough he could almost visualize the ugly, knotty umbilicus it had once been. Diya was the first baby he had been allowed to hold all by his five-year-old self. Diya’s parents, good friends and neighbors to his own parents, had trusted him not to drop her on her perfectly round 33-centimeter head. He hadn’t. Not two months later, his own sister, Alisha, had been born and by then he had been a veteran baby handler.
Krish drew his eyes up from the fantasy button to Diya’s fabulously toned, religiously worked-out abs. Above the abs, her perfect handfuls of breasts—a different tabloid had run that story and yes, the writer’s completely arbitrary form of measuring had irritated Krish to no end. It still did. Anyway, Diya’s “handfuls” were flimsily covered in a swatch of burlap, artfully peeking through her explosion of black hair that spilled over peaches and cream skin. Smoky black eyes stared out from a fresh and healthy face and nude, rosebud lips parted slightly, showcasing the tips of her twin rows of white teeth that were poised to take a bite out of the big red apple that she cupped in her right hand. The picture merged innocence with the sensual, as if Snow White had been superimposed on the biblical Eve.
Krish flipped the magazine open to the dog-eared center where the main article ran. Cinderella laughed out of the page fortified by a mountain of shoes. On the adjacent page, Belle coyly offered a blood red rose to a starry-eyed Beast. The theme of the article was bang on target for its model. Diya’s head forever wallowed in the clouds. She skipped through life dressed in designer clothes, smiling and waving at the world with a pair of rose-tinted sunglasses perched on a slightly stubby nose. Even the cute imperfection of her nose did nothing to skew Diya Mathur’s fairytale take on existence. Would the rumor that had gone viral across the media change that status quo?
Krish rolled the magazine close with a few deft twists of his hands and stashed it into the dark-grey glove compartment of the Range Rover as a private jet made a smooth landing on the far end of Dallas Executive Airport. It started sailing down the airstrip, towards the open hangar in front of which he was parked. He watched the white and grey plane with a capital AES written on its tail in—what was that color? Red? Pink? He shook his head, gaze riveted, as the plane rolled to a stop a few dozen feet away from the Rover. No, not a mere fairytale, he amended, Diya’s life played like a Cannes Film Festival these days, complete with palatial villas, race cars, jets, yachts and glamour-red carpets to strut on.
The mid-size aircraft’s door pushed out and slowly dropped open as a staircase. A bright red carpet did not automatically roll out. Obviously, Dallas was not yet in league with the fashion capitals of the world but with Beauty Mathur visiting it might just become a contender. He should take out a warning ad in the local papers come morning: Run for cover, ye unsuspecting fools, or be made-over!
Krish continued to amuse himself at Diya’s expense as he waited for her to appear. A group of uniformed personnel walked by. Two of them had met him at the front of the airport terminal and guided the Rover around the glass-paneled building to the open airfield. They exchanged nods, smiles and a couple of muffled, “’afternoons,” with him before they climbed aboard the plane. They would verify IDs, passports, visas and whatever else needed to be verified before letting the passengers disembark—standard procedure for private planes or so the Customs and Immigration officers had informed him.
Krish had no personal experience with such travel. As Chief Financial Officer—correction, soon-to-be ex-CFO now that the company had been sold—of Armadillo Farms and Foods, he’d enjoyed many perks and privileges, including flying business or first class across the States and sailing across the Gulf of Mexico in Danny “Dillo” Jones’ boat for the annual company holiday in the Florida Keys. That was as far as Krish’s jet-setting ways went. And even those days were numbered with Dillo soon retiring to his Florida villa and Krish being offered a job at the headquarters of the newly expanded Wisco Foods in Wisconsin. Said new job came with a demotion in designation and a negligible pay cut.
Krish took a long, bracing breath, pushed aside all thoughts of his foggy future and got out of the Rover. Sunlight beat down on the tarmac, making him squint even through his shades. It was a pleasant Thursday afternoon, neither hot nor cold and not a cloud to be seen in the clear blue sky. A lazy end-winter Texas day that he had planned to spend on the living room couch in his UT Arlington sweatshirt and ratty shorts, flipping channels, when Kamal Mathur’s phone call late that morning had foiled his grand plans. Kamal Uncle’s request had surprised him and then galvanized him into calling Diya and arranging the how, when and where they would be meeting. Krish had been equally surprised at how meekly Diya had accepted her father’s decree and how willingly she had agreed to come visit for a few days. Frankly, he’d expected a horrendous phone joust with a fire-breathing virago when he’d called her, screaming at him about male chauvinism and female empowerment and he felt a bit letdown that it had not come to that. After hanging up the phone, he’d taken a pounding-hot shower, pulled on a pair of crisp jeans and a newish, navy-blue pullover before getting in the Rover and driving to the airport.
Just then a trio of energetic dull-colored chickadees flew by him, momentarily obscuring his vision of the plane. They circled each other comically, chattering away, flying closer and closer to the open door of the jet and after a bit of mad spinning settled down on the right rail of the stairs.
The birds’ joyous chirping only increased when Beauty Mathur, brand ambassador for Arabia Enterprises and Shipping’s fashion label, Scheherazade, stepped out of the aircraft and onto its landing. And of course, the sun beamed brighter and focused its golden spotlight on her. She wore a wide-brimmed straw hat that protected the top half of her face from his view and from the sun. Diya never allowed her skin to tan. The bottom half of her face curved into a stunning smile when she saw the chickadees and just as he’d taught her when she was eight she began whistling to them.
Krish felt his own face split into a grin at the familiar sight and was about to call out to her when a tall man in white linen trousers and a short-sleeved shirt joined her on the landing. His olive-skinned, overly handsome face creased into laughter as he heard the cooing going on between woman and birds. He put his hand on Diya’s shoulder and rubbed, murmuring something to her. She turned to him, smiling widely. He pulled her close and kissed her upturned cheek.
Krish’s smile froze. His hands curled by his thighs as he watched them. Shit, he thought. The rumor could not be true. Could it? He swallowed the lump of spit that had pooled in his mouth and started striding towards the jet. “No circumspection even now, Diya?” he growled low but loud. Kamal Uncle was right. Someone needed to drill some sense into her and it looked as if he’d been selected for the job.
Diya stiffened, noticing him finally. Her smile cooled as she turned to face him. “And a nice, polite hello to you too, Beast,” she said frostily and started down the stairs on a pair of shiny white stilettos like she hadn’t a care in the world. Her long, lean-muscled limbs looked fluid and graceful in a pair of white culottes held together at her waist by a bejeweled belt.
She called him Beast whenever he growled his disapproval at her, which was pretty much all the time in recent years. She had developed a knack for irritating him, sometimes for no apparent reason. At least this time he had a solid reason for being pissed. Her poor parents! What must they be going through by her latest debacle? He bit back a string of curses he wanted to sting her with, kept his focus divided equally between her and the man following her down the steps. He reached them right as they stepped onto the tarmac.
Diya’s hand swished elegantly between them all. “Krish meet Hasaan Jabbir, the man behind Scheherazade…”
Krish had already deduced that at first glance. He’d seen enough pictures of Hasaan and Diya over the last few months to recognize the billionaire Anglo-Saudi shipping mogul and international playboy. The Jabbir family held several and diverse business interests all over the world, including their latest fashion venture, the House of Scheherazade.
“…And Hasaan, this is Krish Menon, a friend…” Diya paused, the ice leaving her eyes as a slow smile melted her haughty expression. “A good friend,” she added softly before throwing her arms around him for a quick, warm hug. Just as quickly, she stepped back and held on to her hat, giggling nervously.
“Merhaba Krish,” said Hasaan, holding his hand out to shake. A lilting Arabic accent laced his greeting. “Sherry…sorry, Diya speaks of you often and very highly. Many thanks for offering to meet us on such short notice. We seem to have a mess on our hands.”
Hasaan was too good-looking, way too smooth, too damn much of everything for Krish’s peace of mind but the hell of it was that his words sounded absolutely sincere. Krish reined in the urge to punch Hasaan’s smiley face.
“Is that what a pregnancy is called in your world? A mess?” murmured Krish. If he couldn’t punch yet, he’d verbally jab at least. Not that he believed, even for a microsecond, that Diya would be foolish enough to get pregnant, even accidently, and definitely not with a man so unsteady in his affections. But the world believed that she was and neither Diya nor Scheherazade’s publicists were denying the rumors. The question was why?
“Krish…” warned Diya, eyes narrowing. She knew him well enough to know that he was on the verge of losing his temper.
Hasaan, who did not know him at all but had to know the ways of men, smiled crookedly and braced himself to take a hit, just in case. Diya stepped between them, glaring at each of them in turn. Krish kept his eyes on Hasaan. Even the reverse progression of the Border Security officers out of the plane, four of them carrying three gigantic pink trunks and a large carry-on, did not distract Krish.
Hasaan broke eye contact first. “Sherry will explain it all to you in due time. I apologize for my rudeness but I really must be on my way.” He nodded at the plane. “I need to get back to my home before all hell breaks loose.”
That statement did distract Krish. There was more trouble brewing?
In a peculiarly humble move, Hasaan bowed, raising Diya’s right hand to his lips. “Shukran, a thousand times shukran, my friend. Until we meet again. Khuda hafiz.”
Diya hugged him and kissed his cheeks three times in Euro style. “Al’afw, Hasaan. But there are no thanks between friends and please stop worrying, okay? And keep an open mind. Everything will be fine, you’ll see. Allah will make it so. Khuda hafiz.”
When the thank-yous, your-welcomes and God-keep-yous were done, Hasaan bounded up the plane and Krish finally allowed his fists to unclench.
“We already passed immigration and customs in Miami,” Diya explained as they started walking towards the Rover. “And Hasaan prefers to use his diplomatic passport while travelling in the US…so that’s why we got the VIP treatment here.”
Krish grunted in response to the little tidbit on the lifestyles of the mighty rich and moved away to help the officers load the trunks into the Rover. He’d already flattened the backseat to make the trunk roomier; even then the three pink trunks were a tight fit. Diya would have to manage the hand luggage on her lap like a plebian on the drive home.
He opened the passenger door and once Diya was seated and strapped, handed her the handbag. Then he thanked the airport personnel for their help, made sure nothing else needed to be done like tips or fees or signatures of any kind. It was indicated that everything had been taken care of by Hasaan. Krish cast one last glance at the plane. The engines had started up, the stairs folding in on themselves as the door shut. The chickadees had flown, the baggage loaded. He stopped near the car door, his hand on its handle, thinking what a versatile word baggage was. It could be applied to the woman, the trunks and the situation she was in collectively. Snorting softly, he pulled open the door and got behind the wheel.
The car’s interior already smelled like Scheherazade, the perfume Diya was being paid a bomb to advertise. Not at all a bad scent—strong, exotic with just a hint of jasmine. She removed her hat and fussed with her long, bountiful hair, gathering it into ball behind her head. She’d unbuttoned her short-sleeved jacket, revealing the bright pink silk blouse under it.
“Ready?” he asked, pressing the ignition on. KRLD came on, announcing the local weather report. Hailstorm expected tonight and sporadically over the weekend. And because he was still annoyed with her, or rather, annoyed that she could so easily twist his guts, he put on his characteristic honorary brother sneer. “The plastic bags are in the side pocket.” When she frowned at him, he elaborated, “For the morning sickness or afternoon sickness, Dee-Dumbs.”
Diya’s rosebud mouth stretched flat in a cold smile. Instead of socking his smart mouth with a fist—she had stopped retaliating in that manner to his teasing years ago—she fished out a pair of sunglasses from her bag and put them on.
“Oh, by the way,” she said, tossing a heart-shaped box of baklava onto his lap. He loved baklava. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Beast!”
Trust you enjoyed the sneak-peek. I had hoped to release this book today...but c'est la vie. Thank you, dear readers, for your emails and patience and as ever, your enthusiasm.