A Scandalous Proposition

 

 

A Scandalous Proposition

 

AN INDIREADS NOVELLA

 

 

MM
George

 

 

 

Version
1.0

Copyright
© MM George 2013

Published
in 2013 by

Indireads
Incorporated

 

All
rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the
prior permission of the publisher.

The author asserts the moral right
to be identified as the author of this book. This is a work of fiction and any
resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

ISBN:
978-1-927826-03-4

Cover
Illustration by Zain Mursaleen

 

 

 

 

DEDICATION

To the two men in my life, who had
to be coerced into setting aside their guns-and-murder regulars to read my
first foray into chick-lit!

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to acknowledge the
huge role my parents have played in encouraging me to write since I was six.

 

 

NOTE TO THE READER

 

A
Scandalous Proposition is an Indirom novella published by Indireads. As a young
publisher that aims to bring the best popular fiction from South Asia to
readers everywhere, we are keen to hear from you—our readers.

 

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Prologue

 

 

“Mira?” The voice on the phone was
hard, authoritative, a voice that sent shivers down her spine. “We have to
meet.”

“Why?” Even to herself, she sounded petulant.

“There’s a problem.”

“What problem?” she cut in.

“We’ll talk about it when we meet.”

“I so do not want to meet you.”

“Well, you’ll have to,” said the voice grimly. “It concerns
Reema.”

“Reema? What about her? How do you know her?”

“5 o’clock at the Costa in Vasant Vihar. I don’t like being
kept waiting.” The phone clicked abruptly.

Mira spluttered in irritation. What could Ranbir Dewan
possibly have to do with her sister, Reema? Where could he have even met her?
Ranbir moved in the kind of social circles one reads about in newspapers and
magazines.
And how did he get my mobile number? Could Dhruv have given it to
him?
Mira wondered.

She sighed. She would have to go and meet Ranbir. Where her
beloved baby sister was concerned, she could take no chances. She opened her
purse. She had just enough money to take an auto and get to Vasant Vihar on
time, if she left immediately.

 

***

 

An hour later, Mira walked into the Costa Coffee cafe. It
was relatively empty for that time of the day. Ranbir Dewan sat at a table at
the far end, an empty espresso cup before him. She felt goose bumps form on her
arm when he looked up at her. He was so utterly sexy. A pity he was also so
arrogant, so contemptuous of the world around him.

“You’re late,” he said curtly.

“Some of us have to rely on public transport,” Mira said,
wiping her face with her
dupatta
and pushing back wet tendrils of hair.
“You might have noticed it’s raining out there?”

“Always ready with an excuse, aren’t you, Mira?”

“With good reason, usually.” Two could play this game, she
fumed inwardly. “Why have you called me here?”

“A situation has developed…” Ranbir’s brows knit together as
he frowned, his attention apparently focused on the stirrer he was
systematically breaking into small pieces.

Mira momentarily wondered how those fingers would feel
caressing her and she shook her head to drive it away. “Why are you so
destructive?” she asked instead, using belligerence to cover up her disheveled
thoughts.

“I am not being destructive. I’m thinking. The stirrer would
have gone into the dustbin in any case.”

Mira looked at him in surprise. Ranbir was not usually given
to explaining his actions, at least not the Ranbir she thought she knew.

“So, what’s this big emergency that made you call me here?”
she asked.

“My cousin Tarun told me two days ago that he’s in love with
your sister Reema.”

“What? How on earth?! Where did they meet?”

“Well, she seems to have dug her claws properly into him. He
declares he cannot live without her.”

“It’s more likely that your cousin set out to seduce my
sister.”

“He wouldn’t be talking marriage if seduction were all that
he had in mind. I did advise him to bed the girl and get it out of his system,
but he seems to think it’s true love.”

“Reema is not that kind of girl,” Mira replied, color
blazing into her face. “She hasn’t said anything about meeting Tarun.”

Even as she said it, though, Mira remembered that Reema had
seemed a little withdrawn in the last few weeks and had begun keeping to
herself. She had noticed a soft smile on her sister’s lips when she thought no
one was looking at her. She had put it down to the strain of commuting and the
long hours she had to keep at work. Was it possible? Reema and Tarun? It was
too fantastic a notion.

“So,” drawled Ranbir, frowning at the confusion on her face,
“we have a situation.”

“What do you want to do? What can we do? They are both old
enough to get married if they want to.”

“Personally, I don’t care who my brother marries so long as
he is happy. Your sister may really love him, or maybe it’s his money she’s
after. If that's what it is, I can take care of that with a proper pre-nuptial
agreement.”

“She is not a money grabber,” spluttered Mira. “She must
really love him if...”

Ranbir’s eyebrow lifted a fraction. “Just a minute ago, you
said you didn’t know about this.”

“Of course, I didn’t…I don’t, I mean…oh you know what I
mean!”

“Do I look like I care? This little love story has a long
way to go before it reaches a happy ending. Tarun’s mother, my Chachi, will not
take kindly to her son choosing a wife for himself. Even now, as we speak, she
is probably on the hunt for the daughter-in-law of her dreams.”

“So what can we do then? Help them run away?”

“Life is not a TV soap opera, no matter what you may think,”
he said caustically. “The Dewans do not elope. We have to find a way to
introduce your sister to my aunt and make sure that she sees her ideal
daughter-in-law in her.”

“Reema would be an ideal daughter-in-law in any situation,”
retorted Mira.

“Possibly, but Chachi doesn’t realize that yet. We have to
get her there.”

“What are you proposing to do?”

“First of all, I think your sister should give up her job in
that shop. It would not go down well with Chachi to learn that Tarun’s intended
bride is a salesgirl.”

“What’s wrong with being a salesgirl? She’s earning an
honest living,” Mira’s voice crackled with anger.

“She could be working as a bar girl for all I care,” Ranbir
interjected impatiently. “But this is Chachi that we have to work around. Stop
going off on a tangent, will you? All I am trying to do is help my cousin. Our
goal here is to get Reema and Tarun together. And I need your cooperation to be
able to do that.”

Mira nodded a mutinous assent. The man had a point. “So?”
she asked.

“Dadi is looking for a girl to help her, a social secretary.
I suggest we get Reema the job.”

“What’s wrong with your grandmother?” she asked curiously.

“She has acute arthritis and can’t write or handle phone
calls. She had a girl helping her, but she’s left to get married, so we need
someone new. If we can get Reema to be with her, Chachi will see her every day
and, provided your sister behaves herself, we should be able to swing this.”

Mira nodded. Her mind was whirring with all the information
it had just absorbed, so much so that she ignored the bit about Reema behaving
herself.

She stood up abruptly, lifting her hand to smooth her hair
back. “I’ve got to go now. First of all, let me talk to Reema and see whether
she’s really in love with Tarun or this is just a spoilt, rich boy’s passing
fancy.” She couldn’t resist the return thrust, but he seemed not to notice. He
was, she realized, busy watching her.

She blushed and tried to bring her hand down, but her
dupatta
was caught in her earring. She pulled at it impatiently, but it refused to
budge. She was just about to tear it away recklessly, when she heard the scrape
of a chair and then felt his warm breath on her neck as a long finger
extricated the flimsy material from the little bell in her ear. She closed her eyes
to quell the thudding that started suddenly in her heart.

“You still haven’t learnt how to get yourself out of sticky
situations, have you?” said a soft voice in her ear. She shivered suddenly as
Ranbir caught hold of her hand, forcing her back against him, his fingers
rubbing softly on the sensitive skin of her inner wrist. “These are the Dewans
you are tangling with, Mira. Be very careful.”


 

 

ONE

 

 

Some Months Ago

Mira stood at the door of the train,
looking eagerly around her. “Mausiji, Mausiji! Here we are!” She waved
frantically at the plump woman making her way towards the compartment. She
jumped down and hugged her aunt, then turned to help her mother out of the
train. “I’ll go get the bags out.”

In the taxi to her Mausa and Mausi’s home, Mira gazed
excitedly out of the window. Delhi had always held a keen fascination for her
the few times she had visited her aunt. Now they were here to stay. She just
wished the circumstances had been happier. Her father had been killed some
months ago in a riot that had broken out in the Meerut locality where they ran
a little grocery store. The shop had been gutted. Her mother, Veena, who had
been in it at the time, had also been badly hurt. Luckily, the insurance money
from the shop had covered her medical expenses, but there really wasn’t enough
left to keep the three of them going any more.

Renu Mausi and Dhiru Mausa lived by themselves in a two-bedroom
flat in Mayur Vihar. They had no children. So when they heard of Veena's
plight, Renu and her husband invited her and the two girls to live with them.
“There’s enough place in this flat, Veena, and we will enjoy having the girls
here,” Renu Mausi had assured her weeping sister, when she had gone to Meerut
some weeks after the funeral. Reluctantly, Veena and her two daughters had
moved to Delhi.

Sitting in the taxi, squeezed next to Reema, Mira was
hopeful of the future. Surely, somewhere in this big city, there would be jobs
for the two of them? Mausa and Mausi had been more than large-hearted in
offering them a roof over their heads, but they would need to earn so that they
weren’t totally dependent on them.

 

***

 

Four days later, Mira stood gazing with trepidation at a
chrome and glass building in Gurgaon. “44, Kotak Chambers,” she said, gazing at
the scrap of paper she held in her hand. “This must be it.” She was still
unnerved by the long trip she had undertaken from Mayur Vihar to here. The
Metro station had befuddled her with all its noise and clamor and the long
queues for tickets. The trains themselves were alarming, whizzing along as they
did, at such speed and stopping for barely seconds. What if she got caught in
the doors?

She was late for her appointment, thanks to a confusing turn
at the Rajiv Gandhi Metro station. Renu Mausi’s neighbor, Mrs. Bansal, had told
her about a vacancy at an office cafeteria in Gurgaon since she had heard that
Mira loved cooking and was an excellent cook. “She watches all the cooking
shows on TV and tries out most of the recipes at home,” Renu Mausi had said.
“After doing her degree course in English literature, she attended several
cookery courses in Meerut.”

Now Mira was here, interviewing for her first job. “It seems
the perfect opportunity,” she whispered to herself as she walked into the vast
expanse of the lobby where a huge gleaming brass plaque proclaimed, ‘Dewan
Group of Industries’. She frowned at the scrap of paper where the ink was
smudged at the edges thanks to her sweating hands—did it say floor six or eight?
“Let’s go for eight,” she thought, hitching up the strap of her bag and walking
to the bank of elevators to the right of the lobby.

When the elevator doors opened, she gasped at the vista that
unrolled before her. Four smartly dressed girls manned the large reception
desk, two of them speaking on the phone, the other two busy with their
computers. To the left was a huge open-plan office, cubicles marked out in
cobalt blue and leaf green partitions, set against pristine white walls. It
hummed with life, people click-clacking on their computer keyboards and talking
on their phones. To the right was a row of doors painted in the same blue, each
with a steel nameplate on it.

Mira stood on one foot, the other rubbing nervously against
her calf. Did she really dare enter this place? Would she be able to speak to
anyone here? A woman in a well-fitting black skirt and ruffled white blouse
hurried out of one of the blue doors and came up to her. “There you are at last.
If you want to work here, you have to learn to be punctual. Mr. Dewan doesn’t
like to be kept waiting. Come along now.”

“But,” Mira began in protest. She was here to see a Dhruv
Gupta, not a Mr. Dewan. But the woman had already entered the blue and silver
room, elegantly furnished in blond wood office furniture. Behind the most
massive desk she had ever seen sat a man, his eyes narrowing at the
interruption.

“Ranbir, the typist is here. I’ll be off soon,” said the
woman in the black skirt and moved aside to let her in. Typist? Mira frowned.
She stepped into the room and immediately tripped over the rug. Strong arms
appeared out of nowhere to brace her. She was uncomfortably aware of the warmth
emanating from the broad chest pressed close to her breasts, the warm breath
that tickled the top of her head. Her heart was racing so fast, she was scared
she’d stopped breathing.

“Look where you’re going,” said the man, releasing her
abruptly.

A deep flush spread over her face and she stammered,
“I...I'm...er...sorry...I...”

“You realize you’re late?” asked the voice rather brusquely.

“I’m sorry, Mr. ...” she stuttered, still shaken by his
presence. How had he reached her side so quickly? She looked at him, her breath
catching as she took in the figure in front of her. Ranbir Dewan was tall—at
least six feet two inches, she guessed. And she could vouch first-hand for how broad
and muscular he was. His face was chiseled and he had full, sensuous lips. For
a moment, she was beguiled by the thought of how those lips would feel on hers.
She blushed at the thought and shook herself back into reality as he pushed at
his unruly mop of black hair impatiently with one hand and asked, “Have you got
the Dictaphone from Jasmine? No? Take it from her and type out the letters I’ve
dictated into it.”

“Jasmine…?”

“The woman who brought you here. You’ll find her in the
anteroom you passed outside my office. I want the letters done by lunch-time.”

“Mr. Dewan, there’s been a mistake…” But Ranbir was already
speaking into his mobile.

Mira walked out of the room and found Jasmine packing papers
into her briefcase and clicking it shut. She turned around with a small machine
in her hand.

“Here’s the Dictaphone and here’s the computer. Tomorrow,
you’ll have your own computer, but today you can use mine.”

“Jasmine, I…” Mira tried to stop the flow of instructions to
clarify her position, but Jasmine was already picking up her handbag and
briefcase.

“I’m going to be out all day, busy with arrangements for the
annual conference next month. After you finish, ask Mr. Dewan if he wants you
to do anything else for him. If he doesn’t, you can leave. But be here at nine
sharp tomorrow morning.” And that was that.

Mira sat down in the chair Jasmine had just vacated and let
out her breath in a long whoosh. What had happened here just now? She had come
for a job in the cafeteria and here she was being asked to type out letters.
She fingered the keyboard gingerly. She could, perhaps, handle the computer…she
knew the basics. And she had been for typing classes, thanks to an enlightened
father who believed that girls should work and be fully self-sufficient. The Dictaphone
was another matter, though. She picked it up and studied it before pressing
‘play’. Ranbir’s voice filled the cubicle, arousing memories of the few moments
she had been pressed against his chest. She felt an unfamiliar tightness in her
breasts at the sound of his voice and shut off the machine quickly. She took a
deep breath and switched it on again.

Two hours later, the door from the office opened. “Are you
done yet?”

Ranbir’s voice sent her pulse hammering. She looked up
miserably, “No…”

“How much have you done?” He stepped up to the computer to
take a look. Her breath caught as he drew close. “Not even one yet? What have
you been doing all this while?”

“I don’t know…”

“Haven’t you used a Dictaphone before?”

“No, but…”

“Who the hell hired you? What was HR thinking of to send me
such an idiot?”

“I…” But Ranbir had already stormed back into his room.

Mira felt the tears well up in her eyes. That stupid
machine! She had tried to type out the first letter, but by the time she’d
typed a couple of words, the Dictaphone had whizzed ahead. It took her several
tries each time to rewind to the point where she had been. And it had taken her
two hours to type just a couple of paragraphs!

She choked back a sniff. It would be most demeaning to burst
into tears now. Okay, so it had been an overwhelming morning, what with her
early start and the rigors of the Metro and then the mix-up once she got here,
but Mira Talwar did not do tears, no matter what. She blew her nose vigorously
and got up from the chair. Should she go and explain to Mr. Dewan? She picked
up her bag and went to the door, her hand held out to knock on it. Then she
drew it back and crept out of the room. She didn’t think she could face that
forbidding countenance again, not in her current frame of mind.

At the reception desk, she finally plucked up the courage to
ask one of the girls about the cafeteria. “Go to floor six and turn left. It’s
right next to the terrace garden,” said the girl without even looking up at
her.

Mira climbed down to floor six. Even the elevator was too
much for her in her current state of nerves. At the cafeteria, she found Mrs.
Bansal’s cousin, Dhruv Gupta. Dhruv was in charge of the cafeteria and he was
looking for someone to fill the post of his assistant.

“You should have been here two hours ago!” he said
disapprovingly, when she introduced herself to him.

“I went to the wrong floor,” she said apologetically.

Dhruv nodded and asked, “What makes you think you are
suitable for this job? This is not your normal office canteen. Mr. Dewan is
very careful about what his staff eats. He wants all the food served here to be
healthy and nutritious.”

“I’ve always been interested in cooking. My degree is in
English literature, but I’ve been for several cooking courses, including one,
actually two, three-month cookery courses run by the Army Wives Welfare
Association in Meerut,” she told him. “One of those was in fusion cuisine. The
CO’s wife had been to school with a top chef in Delhi and she persuaded him to
come and teach us.”

“Okay!” said Dhruv, looking impressed. “But still, let me
tell you once again that we don’t do oily
samosas
and rolls here, like
you would find in most office cafeterias.”


Samosas
need not be unhealthy,” argued Mira. “If we
bake them, and put in carrots and peas and less potato, they could be
nutritious and tasty.”

Dhruv smiled. “I would advise you to go slow. Let them get
used to you first. You can start tomorrow morning. Be here at seven sharp—don’t
be late. We have to get breakfast going for those who come in early.”

Mira picked up her bag and made her way out. When she
reached the elevator, the doors were beginning to close. She just about made it
in and found herself facing a broad chest in a familiar looking striped blue
shirt.

One eyebrow cocked up sardonically. “Well, well, well, it’s
the girl who fled the Dictaphone. And where did you disappear to?”

Mira’s hands went to her
dupatta
, which had fallen
off one shoulder in her rush. She could feel Ranbir’s eyes on her breasts,
which were rising and falling rapidly as the result of her scrambled entry into
the elevator. She blushed a fiery pink, confused by her body's own response to
his gaze. She felt her breasts tighten in response to his insolent gaze, her
nipples pushing against the thin cotton of her
kurta
. She looked up at
him uneasily. His eyebrow remained raised in a question mark, the gleam in his
eyes revealing he knew exactly what was happening. She moved back and hastily
pulled up her
dupatta
to cover the evidence of her body’s betrayal,
straightening her
kurta
at the same time.

“The cafeteria,” she squawked in confusion. She couldn’t
understand the effect this man had on her body. It was as if it had a life of
its own when he was around. He reduced her to a blathering idiot and she just
couldn’t understand it. Get a grip on yourself, Mira, she told herself sternly.

“The cafeteria? You went to the cafeteria for a cup of tea
while I waited for my letters to be done?”

Mira lifted her chin up. “No,” she said, taking a deep
breath. “I landed up in your office by mistake. I was supposed to go to the
cafeteria. I am going to be working with Dhruv Gupta.”

His eyes raked her once again. “Really? And what would a
chit of a girl like you know about cooking for an office like Dewan Industries?
This is not your usual grease and spice fare that we are talking about.”

“Mr. Dewan, I am an experienced cook and capable of handling
your cafeteria.”

“If your efforts at typing are any indication, I would be
seriously worried.” The elevator doors opened and he strode out. Mira gazed at
him resentfully.

“You’ll eat your words, Mr. Dewan—and my
samosas
—before
too long,” she swore silently.


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