One month earlier
She kept her eyes fixed on his face, watched as orbs of ember flare with pain, driving anguish across the harden planes.
Why? The wild bullet ricochets in her head, seeking escape. The tense fingers hovering at her knees locked together. Something about his lonely silhouette had her biting down on her lips until slick copper filled her mouth, drowning the question at the base of her throat.
Their connection had played out on many stages, each act painstakingly revised until a hypnotizing promise of ‘us’ emerged from the ashen solitude of ‘you’ and ‘I’.
On the strength of butterfly wings, she’d begin to weave the red threads of a most tender dream. Of a warm presence beside her, soothing whispers in her ear, gentle lips meeting hers in the dark. A lover, in whose arms would be a small world, a safe haven for secrets and fears, hopes and desires. A home to call her own.
Since childhood far too many hands had captured her spirit, folding and refolding until it matched the appropriate proportions of the social mold. She had been afraid it would morph into something unrecognizable, fragile and tragic. So she’d fought, long uphill battles that yield tiny victories. It was just enough. She was still Khushi.
On the eve she was prepared to lay down her defenses, to offer everything, she’d learned she was wrong. He wasn’t the dream lover she yearned for. No, he was her opponent. And he hated her.
The brilliant blue that had sent rivulets of sunshine dancing along her skin was devoured by streaks of faded hues, coalescing into a heavy blanket of grief. A sharp ache coursed through her as she inhaled, pierced deeper as she exhaled. Exhausted she looked away, glancing up as the sky cracked under the weight.
He had been intently cataloging everything he loathed about the woman separated by the glass panel when she broke their eye contact. The sudden loss of her gaze jarred. His knuckles cracked with strain as he fought the urge to storm over and tilt back that stubborn chin. His muscles were screaming from the relentless tension. No part of his body was spared from this wretched throbbing.
The bride amid his garden was rose and thorn. Dream and nightmare. His and not.
Why? Arnav clamped down on the question blistering the edge of his tongue as a kaleidoscope of unwanted images dug into the trenches of his mind without mercy. It fed the disparaging conflict of the desire for truth and deep rooted fear of her confirmation.
Worst, his chief tormentor wasn’t the devil of betrayal; no it was a far crueler mistress – hope. Within a crazed beat of desperation he had allowed it control over his actions, laughable actions. A dramatic elopement that ensured tangible ties between himself and the woman he –
The wolf in his chest snarled as it tore into another piece of flesh. Despite hours of rapacious feasting, the damn organ would not quit. When the beast threatened to devour the last scrap, it would valiantly fend off the attack and rebuild itself. Pulsing and pumping until life poured back inside.
Arnav shut his eyes, forcibly ignoring the warfare at his center. But even here, alone with his thoughts, there was no peace. His mind was a field of jumbled lines of thoughts, running circles of aggravated emotions, each adding to the dark shadows of his cloak of misery.
The boom of rainwater thrashing the roof filled his ears just before the scent of heartbreak assaulted him.
Startled, Arnav opened his eyes to violent diagonal sheets tumbling over the quaking lines of her slender form. He was momentarily ensnared by the vision of black rivers flowing across pale slopes before settling into crimson.
Within seconds she was encased in a marble-like pallor, as if life itself had been dispensed from her pores. The congealed fragments that formed the vibrant chaos of Khushi were drowned out by the torrential downpour until she was supplanted by the pristine statue of Venus.
It rattled him. The force of terror, just as impressionable as his animosity, compelled him to act. Cursing at himself, at her, Arnav shoved the sliding patio panel aside. Not knowing what reaction he was about to evoke, his knees hit the muddied puddles as he carefully gathered Khushi into his arms.
Unexpectedly, her head moved to rest pliantly against him, fragile fingers curled into his collar. Relief wrenched his body as her gentle breath fanned his chest, edging out deeper contemplation of his actions.
She belonged here. The thought pulled him into the undertow of wistful. Her lids fluttered open, sending nebulous hazel clashing into imprisoned black. For a moment, the saturation of anguish dimmed.
They stood within a slate of grey above and below. And in between played the cataclysmic duet of heartbeats and heaven’s tears.