Authors: Shoma Narayanan
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Contemporary Romance
A secret that could cause scandal!
Jilted at the altar, Shefali Khanna should be humiliated.
Instead she takes the opportunity to start again. Top of the priority list: do
tumble headfirst into another relationship!
But even moving from the city to the country can’t keep
Shefali out of trouble—especially when she catches the eye of local celeb Neil
Mitra! There is no way she can risk a scandal already! He might be gorgeous, but
he’s totally off-limits…right?
And as an extra bonus, included is
The Wedding Dress Diaries
by Aimee Carson, the prequel to our fabulous new Harlequin® KISS quartet, The
Wedding Season, starting next month!
SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT FROM
Secrets & Saris
“I just told youâa serious relationship's not something I can deal with right now,” Shefali said.
“But I do want to live life a little,” she continued. “I've never dated, never had a boyfriend, never stayed up the whole night dancing, never really had much fun. That's all I want out of this. And if you don't mind my saying, I think it'd do you some good, as well.”
Neil scanned her face, searching for a clue to how she really felt. Something about what she was saying didn't ring true. He was incredibly tempted, thoughâthe years since his daughter was born and his marriage ended had been completely devoid of anything remotely resembling fun with the opposite sex. Nothing that made him feel young and alive the way Shefali did.
“I'm not typical boyfriend material,” he warned finally. “And I don't think this is the kind of place you can stay up the whole night dancing.”
“I'm sure we can think of something else to do all night long,” she said huskily, and Neil's senses immediately sprang to high alert.
This is the third book I’ve written for Harlequin, and I’m really excited about it being published under the new Harlequin KISS series.
I guess every author has a different approach to writing—some think of the plot first, some begin with the characters and some with the setting. For my first two books, I started with the heroine, visualizing her very clearly, and then trying to stand in her shoes and figure out what her ideal man would be like. In this one, however, both my lead characters were very clear in my mind from the day I put my fingers to the keyboard. (Sorry, I know “pen to paper” sounds better, but my handwriting is so bad that I use a laptop even for my plot outlines!)
Neil is a single dad, and as you’d expect, he’s a lot more responsible than your average twenty-eight-year-old—but he has a quirky side to him. He’s half Indian and half British, and he combines very traditional Indian sensibilities with a fiercely independent outlook—and of course, he’s stunning to look at, as well.
Shefali is a little stiff and uptight at the beginning of the book. She has her reasons for being the way she is, though, and as she falls in love with Neil, she also discovers a lot about herself. I’ve set the book in an Indian small town—both Neil and Shefali are from big cities, and I’ve had a lot of fun imagining the kind of pitfalls they’d encounter (not all of these have made it to the final book!).
Secrets & Saris
About Shoma Narayanan
Shoma started reading Harlequin romances at the age of eleven, borrowing them from neighbors and hiding them inside textbooks so that her parents didn’t find out. At that time the thought of writing one herself never entered her head—she was convinced she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. When she was a little older she decided to become an engineer instead, and took a degree in electronics and telecommunications. Then she thought a career in management was probably a better bet, and went off to do an MBA. That was a decision she never regretted, because she met the man of her dreams in the first year of business school—fifteen years later they’re married with two adorable kids, whom they’re raising with the same careful attention to detail that they gave their second-year project on organizational behavior.
A couple of years ago Shoma took up writing as a hobby—after successively trying her hand at baking, sewing, knitting, crochet and patchwork—and was amazed at how much she enjoyed it. Now she works grimly at her banking job through the week, and tries to balance writing with household chores during weekends. Her family has been unfailingly supportive of her latest hobby, and are also secretly very, very relieved that they don’t have to eat, wear or display the results!
This and other titles by Shoma Narayanan are available in ebook format—check out
To Vishpala and Paramita for being my sounding boards
for every book I write, and to Malini for
being my sounding board for pretty much everything else!
SECRETS & SARIS
‘In the event
of a water evacuation...’
The stewardess’s voice droned on and Shefali leaned back in her seat and shut her eyes. Water evacuation, indeed! Unless they crash-landed in a river it was very unlikely they would need life jackets during this flight between one completely land-locked city and another. She winced. If there was only some way to block out all
Her head was pounding like crazy, and she had to stop herself from opening her bag and digging out yet another painkiller.
‘Cabin crew to stations for take-off,’ the Captain’s voice said over the plane’s PA system, and Shefali’s eyes flew open.
She looked out of the window involuntarily. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen Delhi from a plane window—there had been trips to Mumbai, to Thailand, even to Paris—but this time she was leaving for good, and she couldn’t help but feel a lump in her throat.
The comfortable-looking matronly woman in the seat next to Shefali gave her a reassuring smile. ‘Flying for the first time?’ she asked.
Shefali shook her head. She didn’t want to spend the two-hour flight making polite conversation, and this lady looked the chatty kind. Before Shefali could shut her eyes again, she had started.
‘Are you from Delhi or Jabalpur?’
‘Neither,’ Shefali replied.
But the lady wasn’t about to give up. ‘Going for a wedding?’ she asked, pointing at the henna tattoos that covered Shefali’s hands.
Shefali pulled the long sleeves of her shirt down a little further to hide the elaborate designs that extended all the way up her forearms. The traditional
ceremony had been held three days before her wedding-that-never-happened, and she’d had to wait for hours afterwards for the henna paste to dry. The rich black had now faded to orange, but to Shefali’s paranoid eyes her hands and arms still screamed out
‘Excuse me a second,’ she muttered, and pressed the button to call the flight attendant. ‘Can I shift to a seat in the emergency exit row?’ she asked when the attendant came up to her. ‘I have a...a knee problem. I need more leg-room.’
She picked up her handbag and moved gratefully to the seat pointed out to her. It was an aisle seat two rows ahead, and the window seat next to it was occupied by a man around her age who was peering intently into his laptop screen.
Shefali was fastening her seatbelt when the man spoke without looking up from the screen.
you from, then? If you’re not from Delhi or from Jabalpur.’
She gave him a startled look. ‘I’m sorry?’
The man turned, and Shefali saw his face for the first time. He was quite strikingly good-looking, with blue-grey eyes and perfectly chiselled features. For a few moments Shefali found herself staring stupidly without a word to say. Fortunately he gave her a quick smile and turned back to his computer.
‘I couldn’t help overhearing,’ he said, and lowering his voice. ‘Good thinking with the knee problem.’
‘Thanks,’ Shefali said. ‘I think.’
The man nodded and started typing something into the computer. He didn’t seem disposed to talk any more, and Shefali felt a pang of something approaching disappointment. A random conversation with an attractive stranger might have helped take her mind off things. But who was she kidding? Nothing could take her mind off the single, mind-numbingly humiliating fact that her fiancé hadn’t bothered to turn up for their wedding. The wedding that she had spent the last year planning and preparing for.
Sometimes it felt as if her whole life had been geared towards that one day when she’d marry the perfect man and settle down into happy domesticity. And Pranav
seemed perfect when her parents had introduced him to her. He was rich, successful, and very attractive—and though it was to have been an arranged marriage she’d very quickly started weaving him into her daydreams. Finding out on their wedding day that he’d decided to go back to his ex-girlfriend had been the biggest shock she’d ever had in her sheltered and slightly pampered life.
The attendant brought across their pre-ordered lunch trays. Her neighbour closed his laptop and took his. Shefali shook her head abruptly.
‘No, thanks,’ she said. Her head was still aching, and even the sight of food was off-putting.
‘Can I have it?’ the man next to her asked. He gave her a quick grin. ‘I missed breakfast—and, well...’ He gestured towards his tray. ‘This doesn’t look like enough to keep a mouse alive.’
‘OK,’ Shefali said, taking her tray from the attendant and passing it on. His hands were good, she noticed. Strong, with square-tipped fingers, sinewy wrists and no rings. She’d never liked Pranav’s hands—thin and hairy: an awful combination. Pity they hadn’t been grounds enough for her to decide against marrying him.
‘You’re sure you don’t want any of this?’ the man was asking, gesturing towards the two trays.
Shefali barely repressed a shudder. ‘I’m sure, thanks. Just the bottle of water, please.’
He handed it to her, and she took it, carefully avoiding touching his hand. His proximity was affecting her weirdly, and she didn’t want him to notice. Her head still ached, and she picked up her bag, rummaging around in it for the package of painkillers. They seemed to have vanished, so she pulled out her table and starting putting the contents of her designer bag on it one by one. The painkillers finally turned up, wedged between the pages of the novel she’d been too stressed to take out and read. Heaving a sigh of relief, she popped open the blister pack and put one into her mouth.
She hadn’t opened the bottle of water yet. She tried to twist it open, but the seal stubbornly refused to break. And the pill she’d put in the centre of her tongue—because, according to her primary school science teacher, there were no tastebuds there—was slowly dissolving in her saliva and spreading to parts of her mouth where there
tastebuds. It tasted vile.
‘Ugh,’ she said, as politely as she could to the man next to her.
He had stopped eating and was staring with horrified fascination at the heap of things that had emerged from her bag.
‘Ugh,’ she said again, and finally nudged him with her elbow and pointed at the bottle.
‘Oh—sorry,’ he said, taking the bottle from her and opening it with an effortless twist of his wrist. ‘Here you go.’
She grabbed it from him with more haste than grace and took a few rapid gulps. The pill finally went down, though it cleaved lovingly to the roof her mouth for as long as it could. She made a face—the bitter taste in her mouth was refusing to go away.
‘Have some sugar,’ the man suggested, giving her a little sachet from one of his two lunch trays.
His voice was perfectly grave, but he was laughing, his eyes crinkling up at the corners in the most attractive way possible. His teeth were perfect, Shefali noticed. Having gone through years of painful and extremely expensive orthodontic treatment to achieve her own current flawless smile, she resented people who’d been born to have perfectly aligned teeth. He looked as if he’d never had to go to a dentist in his life.
Her neighbour polished off his second dessert and handed the empty trays to one of the stewards. ‘We’ve almost arrived,’ he remarked, looking at his watch, and the seatbelt sign came on as if on cue.
Shefali didn’t answer, but clenched her hands unconsciously. This was it, then. The start of her brand-new life. In a few minutes they’d be landing in a city where no one knew about her engagement and the disastrous end to it, and she could make a completely new start. She’d never taken her job very seriously—teaching at a playschool had been just something she did to fill the time between graduation and marriage—but when she’d wanted to get out of Delhi it had been her boss who’d come to her rescue, offering her the job of centre manager at their Jabalpur branch, and she was determined not to let him down.
* * *
Neil Mitra was looking at his neighbour curiously. There was something odd about her—some kind of pent-up anxiety that came through in her strained expression and rather jerky movements. Also, from what he’d been able to see of the packaging, the pills she’d been popping were either anti-depressants or pretty strong painkillers. If not for the haunted look in her eyes she’d be an attractive girl—she had neat, very regular features, a flawless complexion, and rather nice eyes with lovely long eyelashes.
‘Everything OK?’ he asked quietly as the plane came to a halt and girl tried to jerk to her feet without undoing her seatbelt.
‘Yes, of course,’ she said, but her voice sounded artificially cheerful.
Her glossy, perfectly styled hair fell across her face and hid her expression as she bent to open the recalcitrant catch of her seatbelt. Finally getting it undone, she stood up and opened one of the overhead lockers, tugging valiantly at her bag. After watching her struggle for a few seconds, Neil got up to free it for her. She was taller than he’d thought, just half a head below his own imposing six-foot two inches. The flowery scent from her hair teased at his nostrils, and for a second their eyes met and held as he took the case out and handed it to her.
Shefali looked away first, flustered by her reaction to him. Perhaps she was going crazy, she thought, suddenly furious with herself. Pranav’s betrayal was making her overly susceptible to the slightest bit of attention from any good-looking man. She tried to take a step away from him, but there was nowhere either of them could move—everyone in the plane was standing in the aisle, trying to get at their luggage, and the doors hadn’t opened yet.
‘Relax, I don’t bite,’ he said, sounding amused as he noticed her trying to move away.
Shefali flushed angrily. It was bad enough realising how pathetic she was without him noticing too. Luckily the doors opened just then, and she was able turn towards the exit.
‘Here—let me take that,’ he said, leaning down to take the handle of her case from her.
Relinquishing it, she followed him into the airport, her nose wrinkling just a little as she noticed how tiny it was.
Neil grinned at her reaction, Neil grinned. ‘Doesn’t match up to Delhi T3, does it?’ he asked.
Refusing to be embarrassed any further, Shefali shrugged. ‘It’s quaint,’ she said. ‘Oh, look—my cases are here.’
Neil helped her get the bags off the carousel, his smoky blue eyes widening as he realised how many there were. ‘Arctic expedition?’ he asked, his brows quirking up.
‘I’m moving here for work,’ Shefali said stiffly. ‘Two of the cartons are full of educational aids I’ll need for my job.’
It had taken her days to pack, choosing between sentimental reminders of her growing-up years in Delhi and more practical things like dishes and clothes. And then her boss had landed her with the two cartons to carry, airily offering to pay for the extra baggage. The last thing she needed now was to be given grief for the amount of luggage she had. She eyed his mid-sized rucksack contemptuously—he was probably carrying clothes for a two-day trip, and she had her entire
in her bags.
Suddenly overcome by the enormity of what she was doing, she shoved her remaining bags onto the trolley and said gruffly, ‘Well, thanks for everything. I guess you need to head off now...’
Looking slightly taken aback, Neil gestured towards the trolley groaning under the weight of three cases, two large cartons and a carryall. ‘Are you sure you’ll be able to manage that?’
‘Perfectly sure,’ Shefali said, dredging up a polite little smile, though her heart sank into her shoes at the thought of having to wrestle with all that stuff on her own. Then her sense of pride reasserted itself. She wasn’t
She’d be fine. She didn’t need help from random strangers, however good-looking they were. ‘Thanks again for your help,’ she said, trying to sound as gracious as possible. ‘I’m sure we’ll see each other around, this is such a small place.’
‘It has a population of over a million,’ he said drily. ‘But if we do run into each other I’ll come across and say hello.’
Someone from the throng of people outside the airport yelled, ‘Neil—over here!’, and the man gave Shefali a brief nod before turning away.
Flushing, Shefali watched him stride off, his broad, athletic frame a stark contrast to the frankly pudgy man with a ponytail who’d greeted him exuberantly as soon as he’d stepped out.
He was nowhere in sight when Shefali finally managed to get her trolley out, but by then she had other things to worry about. The airport seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Apart from a small car park there was nothing—trees and more trees surrounded the area, and there was not a cab in sight. Everyone else who’d got off the flight was being met by someone, and the couple of auto-rickshaw drivers who were hanging around looked as if they spent their spare time mugging little old ladies and stealing candy from kids.
She looked around a little helplessly—the man Neil was driving out of the airport in a black SUV, and she wished she’d asked him for a lift.
‘Need a lift somewhere?’
Shefali turned to look into the concerned eyes of the motherly woman she’d been sitting next to at first. Shefali shook her head. The woman seemed nice enough, but she reminded her way too strongly of all the curious aunties back in Delhi, who’d been simultaneously horrified, pitying and excited at her wedding being called off.
In her hurry to get away Shefali beckoned to the least ruffianly-looking of the auto-rickshaw drivers and gave him the address of her hotel. The auto was cramped—her bags took up most of the back seat of the three-wheeler—and she had to sit to one side, almost falling out of the open vehicle as it zipped through almost deserted roads. For a while she tried to look out and interest herself in her surroundings, but then her shoulders slumped and she leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes. The first day of her new and independent life had been exhausting, to say the least.