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Hello dear readers!
I know everyone is frustrated and angry and there’s a lot going on in everyone’s head right now. But in the midst of all this, the only way I can be sane is when I’m writing. Yes, even now, I’m writing. Writing doesn’t stop. I have commitments towards my readers and I’d like to fulfill them.
So, I’ve been busy writing away and whittling my ideas into future books and stories and the one I’m working on right now is Shireen and Umar’s story, which is book 3 of the Destination Wedding Series.
Smitten by You has been a long while in coming (yes, I haven’t published a new book in all of February and March! Gasp!) One of the reasons for this was the anthology that I was a part of - Something Old, Something New, was published in February. The other reason was I was involved in another writing project which hasn’t yet been completed, so I was unwilling to begin writing Smitten by You for a while.
If you haven’t read the first two books in this series - It was Always You, and Remembering You, now is the time to get acquainted with the characters there because quite a few of them do make an appearance in this book as well.
(And yes, Aditi will be getting her own story which I should probably publish in July if all goes well. )
Meanwhile, here’s a wee reminder of how the two characters met for the first time in Remembering You.
Umar rang the bell at his brother’s apartment, hefting the strap of his travel bag on his shoulders, as he pulled out his phone to see if there were any messages. There were none. He checked the time – it was around 7.30 pm. Uzair or Naima should be at home but no one answered the door. He was just about to call Uzair when the door opened.
A woman stood inside and Umar found it hard to describe her because of the look of supreme annoyance on her face. But even despite that, he could see she was very pretty. And he was obviously at the wrong house. Feeling foolish, he excused himself to step back and check the number above the door. The young woman had already shut the door.
But the number corresponded to what he had saved on his phone. So he had been at the right house. Then who was she? Before he could ring the doorbell once more, the door opened again.
‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ she said as she opened the door wider, a look of consternation on her face. Bemused, Umar stepped inside.
‘Naima told me you would be coming but I completely forgot. Really sorry about that!’ she said, as she let him inside the house. Umar was confused. Who was she and what was she doing here? He observed her as she walked around, not like a guest but as an occupant. Was she also living here with them? Shit. He’d spoken to Uzair quite some time back, telling him that he needed to stay here for a few days. Why hadn’t he told him about this changed situation?
He lingered in the small hallway, not sure where to go or what to do.
‘You’re…’ he trailed off. She looked embarrassed. She was dressed in a hot pink tee shirt that had seen better days that she had paired with a green flared shalwar and the absurdly outlandish outfit seemed to suit her for some reason. Her hair was loose, wavy strands that fell around her face and she seemed to be annoyed by it. She pulled them back from her forehead and tied her hair into a haphazard bun and the move caused her tee shirt to ride up the slightest bit. His eyes automatically landed on the most perfect navel he had ever seen in his life, adorned by the prettiest navel ring, a tiny little flower thingy that dangled the slightest bit.
He swallowed and focused his eyes back on her face because she hadn’t noticed him behave in this appalling manner thankfully.
‘Sorry! I seem to have forgotten my manners completely. Please sit,’ she indicated the sofa and he went there reluctantly. The image of her navel was burned in his mind’s eye unfortunately and he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
‘Oh and I’m Shireen by the way. I’m Naima’s friend,’ she said, sitting down on the other sofa. ‘You are Umar right? I can see the resemblance with Uzair.’
Umar nodded as he sat down reluctantly, aware of some fruity perfume in the air. Some product she was probably wearing. His younger brother had some explaining to do. Why hadn’t he told him that he already had a house guest. Now he had to go and find some other accommodation and this was annoying. He had an interview the following day and he didn’t want to botch it. Instinctively, he felt angry at his brother for putting him in this awkward situation. The fool hardly had time to text him these days, what with his job and his wife keeping him busy.
‘Um, so I guess there’s been a misunderstanding,’ he began.
‘No, no,’ she shook her head and the bun opened, her hair falling around her.
Tie it up again, please. Shit. What was wrong with him?
‘Uff,’ she exhaled, annoyed with her hair but she didn’t do anything. ‘Anyway, there’s been no misunderstanding. Uzair and Naima told me that they were expecting you to come and stay here for a few days.’
‘And you’re also staying here?’ he had to ask, eyebrows raised.
‘My building owner evicted all of us and he’s apparently demolishing the building and doing it up again. So I was left with no place to stay. Uzair and Naima offered to let me stay here till I found a new place,’ she explained. ‘I moved in just last week. I’ve been trying to find a new place but nothing is within my budget.’
Umar looked away for a minute to compose himself. This was seriously messing his plans. The job interview was for the next morning and he had to press his clothes once more. He’d been hoping to accomplish that and go over a few case studies that the company had worked on, so he would appear knowledgeable tomorrow about the work they had done. He should have told Uzair the truth that he was looking for a job in Bangalore. He would have taken him seriously. Now…
‘Is there a problem?’ Shireen asked softly.
He leaned forward and she sat back, as though surprised by his sudden move. ‘It’s just that I wasn’t expecting anyone here. I have to rethink my plan.’
‘Plan? No no! I knew you were coming. The room is ready for you. Please keep your things there and do whatever you have to do,’ she said.
‘What? Where will you go then?’
She patted the sofa. ‘I can sleep here or if it gets too uncomfortable, I plan to kick Uzair out so I can sleep in his room. It’s fine. Really.’
‘But won’t you be inconvenienced?’ he asked, still not okay with the idea of this girl here.
She shook her head. ‘No, not at all. I leave for my work quite early, so I’m not here the entire day. I come back at 7. Usually, Uzair and Naima are here already.’
‘Yeah, where are they?’ Umar asked. They should have both been back by now.
‘So, um, they’re at a wedding,’ she started. Umar rolled his eyes.
‘I know. My brother is a wedding planner,’ he said.
Shireen shook her head, smiling widely and he felt like someone had just hacked a knife into his chest suddenly. Her hair moved like it had a life of its own. Annoyed with it, she bunched it to one side and then brought it to rest over her shoulder.
‘This is different,’ she said.
‘Well, you know the man Naima was supposed to marry last year?’ she began. And then she went on to tell him about an impossible love story, between the bridegroom of that wedding and the photographer and how they were getting married today.
‘Um, I’m sorry, they met last month in Kolkata and they’re getting married so soon?’ he asked. This was unbelievable. Uzair’s life was really exciting, he mused.
Shireen’s delicate shoulders lifted and fell down and she smiled at him. ‘When you know, you know. Anyway, they wanted to keep it a small event because Khalil’s parents aren’t on board with it.’
‘And Naima was invited?’ Umar asked incredulously.
‘You don’t have to look so judgmental, you know!’ she said with a frown marring the smoothness of her forehead.
‘They all became friends in Kolkata. And Naima anyhow is a good friend of Kimmy’s. So…’ she said, leaving the sentence open ended.
Umar was tired. The bus had been crowded and he needed to plan everything for the interview and he wanted a hot shower. But this…this girl sitting here cross legged on his brother’s sofa, like she belonged here, intrigued and irritated him at the same time. He wasn’t expecting this. He’d expected some amount of awkwardness but Naima had always been extremely friendly every time she and Uzair had visited Mysore. Still, this was not what he’d signed up for.
‘So, it’s just you and me today. I hope you don’t mind Maggi because that is all I can cook.’
‘How long have you been living in Bangalore on your own?’ he asked.
‘A while now,’ she said, her face screwing up in concentration as she thought back to the years. She made an absurd picture, yet, one that was oddly attractive.
Damn that navel ring.
‘I think I’ve been here for the past six years I think. At least,’ she said.
‘And you still don’t know how to cook?’ he asked, the words left his mouth without him realising that it could sound offensive. Her mouth curled up and the happy and joyous creature she’d transformed into was quickly going back to the annoyed girl who had opened the door the first time.
‘I’ll make the Maggi and keep it on the table. You can have it whenever you want,’ she said, getting up from there. Without thinking, his hand reached out to hold her wrist and she yanked it away from him, her eyes widening.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked, shaking her hand as though he’d hurt her. He was digging himself deeper. What a fool he was, touching a woman however innocently, without her consent.
‘Um, I’m sorry,’ he said, standing up too. He towered over her. ‘I’m really, really sorry for my remark and for…holding your hand.’
She nodded and made to go towards the kitchen. ‘You can put your things in the room,’ she called out over her shoulder.
He’d really screwed up, he decided. She’d been smiling, laughing with him and he had been enjoying her company far too much for his own liking. And now she had shut him out completely.
Shireen stalked off in the direction of the kitchen. He picked up his bag and was quite sure he wanted to clobber his brother when he returned home. Couldn’t he have warned him a little at least?
He went inside the room she had pointed towards earlier and switched on the light. It had a single bed in one corner near the window and a wardrobe on one side. There wasn’t much else in the room except a bedside table and a mirror on a wall. Thankfully, there was a tiny cramped attached bathroom where he took a hasty shower. He sniffed the slightest bit. It smelled of her light fruity perfume faintly and he wrinkled his nose as he stepped outside.
He dressed quickly in a tee shirt and sweatpants, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he would be able to glimpse that tantalising navel ring once again.
Smitten by You is up on pre-order and while that means zilch for my Indian readers, you can still ask to be notified when it goes live. Of course it’s going to be on Kindle Unlimited as well, so be ready to grab your copy on May 10th.