Chapter 1

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Will Rogers

Orchids belong to one of the two most prominent families of flowering plants.

Their number equals the bony fishes, is more than twice the number of bird species, and is about four times the mammal species.

Example Vanilla

Vanilla in the urban dictionary means unexciting, conventional, boring

“On a dark desert highway,” I sang aloud.

My vocal technique compensates for talent with volume and feeling.

Agreed, Bihar is no desert. However, it was past eight post meridiem. The dark highway deserted or had been till two creeps showed up.

Here the parallels diverged.

I did not feel any cool wind in my hair. It is hard to feel winds with your car windows rolled up and gas tank empty.

Beads of sweat trickled down my forehead if that counts for cool.

The warm smell was watermelon, not colitas.

The car rearview mirror did show shimmering lights in the distance. But after five hours of waiting, I was done holding my breath.

Renewed fury overrode the heavy head and dimming sight.

I parted the curtain of hair screening my face. Stiffly held fingers displayed red talon-like fingernails.

I rolled my eyes to a squint then opened them wide. The men clutched each other.

I smirked. My gap-toothed grin received a screaming reception.

I lunged forward.

They sprinted to their car to take off for places unknown, in their wild, tearing hurry.

My ghost look was a runaway success.

“This could be heaven, or this could be,” I roared with renewed emotion.

A knuckle rapped at the car window.

“Hell,” I squeaked, jumping out of my skin.

Rajveer Singh made quite the impression.

A gory scar ran down the side of his right cheek. Hooded eyes, hollowed cheeks, aquiline nose, and stubborn cleft jaw composed a nightmarish face that compelled one to stare.

His gray eyes widened when they met mine. Head tilted as if to study my deathlike pallor with morbid fascination.

The overhead mirror reflected what he saw.

My powdered white face with black hair streaming unfettered, cascading over shoulders, to pool on the seat all around.

I looked unstable, edgy.

A red streak resembling congealed blood trickled from the corner of a left eye and to strike a delicate balance from the right corner of my mouth.

Between my teeth, I had stuck watermelon seeds.

Rajveer’s thin lips compressed.

I did not expect him to petrify with terror.


Hell, no.

But a girl merited recognition for rescuing herself.

This man, who resembled a terrorist, seemed unenthusiastic, more than impressed.

Impatient hands toggled my car-door handle. “Open the damned door.”

I craned my neck about searching for a kindred spirit, but he seemed the total of this rescue operation.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I muttered, unlocking the car door.

Rajveer yanked the car door open.

I backed when he came advancing at me like a river in flood.

He sniffed at my face.


An index finger lifted the thin sliver bleeding out of my mouth and inserted it in his.

I clutched at the air. My knees melted to the consistency of freshly churned butter.

“Watermelon!” He pronounced a veritable Sherlock Holmes. “Only you can find watermelons in the middle of nowhere.”

He did not speak like he thought this trait admirable.

Having had his say, he swiveled on a booted heel to head back to his parked car.

“I thought entrepreneurial men admired enterprising women.”

“Or maybe you misjudged. What if those men stopped to help?” Rajveer presented a different viewpoint.

“Still a risk I am not prepared to take.”

I heard him snort.

Of course, I followed without waiting for an invite.

I do not expect Rajveer to know the proper etiquette on how to rescue a damsel in distress.

I opened his car passenger door the same instant he opened its boot.

We both craned our necks out to look at the other.

Wordless, he held up a can of petrol for me to see.

I felt my throat constrict.

Given our history, I did not need for him to spell things out.

If he was this desperate to see me gone

I slammed the car door hard.

Probably all crops growing in a hundred-mile radius stood up to take notice.

On a national highway passing through Bihar, there was not much action that night. The desultory traffic, such as it was, showed no interest in our cars parked by the roadside.

I watched Rajveer refuel my car.

I switched on its ignition minute he stepped back, empty can in hand.

“Follow my car.” Rajveer stopped by my window to issue the imperial order.

“I am not going back.”

That got his attention. Compassion gleamed in snow-gray eyes.

I was former Miss India and Miss Universe. My face was on the hoarding beneath which I had parked the car.

Yet, Rajveer Singh, whose face would be at home on a Wanted poster issued by the police, felt sorry for me!

I pulled the most lethal smile out of my repertoire.

The one I teased with over my shoulder, turning for a final strut up the catwalk as the showstopper.

It always got a standing ovation.

“Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Singh. I won’t need anything further tonight.”

That was when he pulled the Neanderthal.

He lifted me as if I weighed nothing.

Air in my lungs gushed out. I squeaked when his left hand cupped my bottom. Rajveer’s hand did not budge.

He could do that!

I raised my head cautious. His right hand banded about my knees.

I could feel the power in his constraining hold.

What a time to realize I liked his domination!

“You crabby, tetchy, capricious, hoity-toity snob.” Rajveer used choice epithets. Maybe he had spent time in the past thinking them up to describe me.

We could do a duet hurling insults, and what a glorious time we would have, I thought sarcastic.

Rajveer opened his car passenger door, bent, and stowed me on the seat.

“I don’t need to be rescued by the likes of you, Mr. Singh.”

“Tell me that when you are not smelling of sweat and pee.”

Talk of being caught on the back foot.

No other man would have been so forthcoming to my face except for Mr. Home Truth Singh.

He made two more trips back and forth to transfer my bags to his car while I tried not to rub my bottom.

Acutely self-conscious, I edged towards the door when Rajveer was buckling his seat belt.

“Should-should I lower the window?”

“Not required, darling. You forget the earthiness of life inures me.”

The endearment naturally got my attention.

“Harrumph!” I sniffed. “Are you feeling sorry for me?”

He tossed a tissue box my way. I caught it reflexive.

“Why were you crying?”

I looked at my swollen red-stained eyes in the car mirror. I might be ex-Miss Universe, but I do not weep prettily.

“My car broke down in the middle of nowhere. It got dark. I was alone. Naturally, I was frightened.”

He gunned the accelerator, one hand thrown lazily over the wheel while he regarded me with derisive gray eyes.

“It’s strikingly coincidental that your car ran out of petrol right under a brightly lit hoarding of you.

Now, try the truth, mylove.

I am all ears.”

That’s the problem dealing with people who have known you your entire life.

“I was waiting for you, Lochinvar. And you were a laggard!”

He grinned. Being a voracious reader, he got my literary allusion.

“Businessmen close deals, fair Ellen. Had you waited but no”

“Ha-ha! I know when to call it quits with that Give an Inch and They Take a Mile family of yours.

Your Mum’s script read to break the engagement and get the hell out of there.”

“For that, we owe you.” He agreed gracefully.

“And now my day is made,” I fumed. “Everything I do, I do it so your royal priggish self can overwhelm me with gratitude.”

He drove the car off-road onto the shoulder.

Finally, I breached his self-control.

He would strangle me then leave my dead body to decompose in a mud pit where the watermelons grew.

A male hand cupped my cheek. His thumb traced the incline of my nose.

He turned my head to face him.


“Hmm,” he mused, watching his thumb dip in the v of my upper lip.

“What are you doing?”

“Overwhelming you with my gratitude.”

His hand fell away the moment our lips bumped. He stayed thus lip to lip, waiting for me to break free.

I sat all two hundred and six bones locked into immobility.

Softly his lips moved over mine as a gentle symphony playing. So might the dew dance on a flower petal?

I blinked when I finally came out from under the ether. My old friend, unbridled lust sparked wildfires all over my body.

Rajveer was licking his lips as if savoring my surrender.

“You taste like the forbidden fruit of baby powder.”

His ragged breath lifted fine hair near my ear.

I gaped, baffled.

He flicked crumbs of baby powder out of his mouth with the knuckle of a finger.

Dazedly I recalled dusting baby powder over my face for the ghost act.

The Over-Fastidious Most Exacting Mr. Singh had kissed me out of my freaking mind when I looked like the lead Scream Queen.

“So you want to go home?” It was the slight inflection in his tone.

Men have been asking ever since I turned eight.