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Meeting Aditi and Sandeep
Ever since I started self-publishing on Amazon KDP, I’ve realised that I really enjoy writing a connected series because that means readers can glimpse characters from previous books in the series and they can see what they’ve been up to in the current book. But that’s not all. A connected series also gives me the chance to introduce the protagonists of the next book too.
If you’ve read Smitten by You, you would have come across the characters of my new book Enchanted by You. If you haven’t, then you probably should! But I’m including the excerpt where you first see Aditi and Sandeep interacting with each other, setting them up for their own story.
Enchanted by You is up for pre-order and you can get it here. And here’s a recap of their story in case you don’t remember it from Smitten by You.
In another part of the city, Aditi was having a mini meltdown. She had been that way ever since they returned from Jodhpur, or rather, ever since Sandeep had called her and disrupted her entire day, week, month, whatever.
The wedding itself had been uneventful thankfully (if Indian weddings could be called uneventful) and they had managed not to wreck it in anyway. The bride and the groom were thankfully besotted with each other although the bride seemed to have a very special soft spot for her make up artist, a pretty young girl from Delhi who made her look like a million bucks. Aditi refused to dwell on that any further than was warranted. This was not her problem, she told herself as they wrapped up everything, got everyone paid and received their final check from the bride’s father.
But through it all, the thought of Sandeep visiting their office kept beating at the back of her mind like an incessant drum. Uzair noted her discomfort as they were leaving Umaid Bhawan and wanted to know what was wrong. She wondered how much she could share with him. Would he even understand? So she passed it off as a migraine then and he let her be.
But now, all these days later, she was getting worried because Sandeep had fixed an appointment with their office and he’d requested for an evening appointment.
He was late, she fumed as she checked her watch for the thousandth time. How could he be so inconsiderate? Why had Uzair agreed to an evening appointment? Didn’t he want to go back home to his wife? But she didn’t take it out on him. She swivelled in her chair and kept her eyes focused on the door.
She had let Uzair communicate with Sandeep when they got back from Jodhpur. Uzair didn’t think this was odd because it was anyway a part of his job. She stood up and Kimmy looked at her in concern. Kimmy came in for just a little while every week and didn’t take up any strenuous jobs at the moment. She’d been surprised when Kimmy had showed up for this meeting.
‘Uzair told me this could be our next gig,’ Kimmy said by way of explanation.
‘Yeah but the wedding is in August. And you’ll be around 6 months pregnant then. There’s no way Khalil will…’
‘I know, I know,’ Kimmy said serenely. ‘But I was just missing the routine of the work.’
‘Everything all right?’ she asked.
Kimmy had married Khalil, Naima’s ex-fiancé in a quiet registered marriage, sans any ceremony but Aditi’s heart melted whenever she saw them together. They were really made for each other, the kind that would make her want to puke in her early twenties.
‘Yes! It couldn’t be better,’ Kimmy replied with a smile. ‘Khalil is with Anaya and I just needed some time with you guys. It feels like everything happened so fast – us getting together, the marriage and the baby now and sometimes I just feel like I need to catch my breath.’
Aditi smiled. She saw a lot of happily-in-love couples as part of her work but she knew how many of them were actually genuine. Most people came to them so they could outsource the headache that weddings seemed to imply for them. Some people wanted an experience that would be different from other weddings. And then there were couples like Kimmy and Khalil or even Uzair and Naima for that matter, for whom it wasn’t about the wedding but about the marriage. About being together. Forever.
Forever was too long, she often rued. Maybe there wasn’t anyone for her who would want to put up with her forever. Sandeep’s face appeared to her, the way she remembered him – tall and lanky, lean face with that chiselled jawline. He was the last person who wanted forever with her, she thought, even though they’d made a stupid pact in their teens.
No use thinking about that now, she thought as she walked towards the door, intending to step out for a bit of fresh air and opened the door briskly. She came face to face with Sandeep who was figuring out where the doorbell was.
‘Oh!Hi!’ he said, his face breaking out into a smile.
Stupid face, she thought, even though her heart felt like it had dropped out of her body and she was flailing around, searching for it.
‘Hi!’ she said trying not to smile. His face had that effect on most people. It made them want to smile back at him.
The only thing was that his face had filled out slightly, but he wasn’t pudgy or fat. He was just more. More, what? She didn’t know.
She stepped back, silently inviting him into their office but he didn’t step in. He turned around and nodded and she walked backwards into her office so he could lead whoever it was with him. He had married, she thought wondering why she felt so incredulous and hurt when a pretty girl followed him inside. Of course he would have. What did a stupid childish pact even mean?
She was followed by an older woman and then Aditi realised that this was his mother and sister. She felt foolish but then, there was also no saying whether or not he was married. He could be, for all she knew. Not that she cared, she told herself as she sat down behind her desk.
Uzair and Kimmy introduced themselves and Sandeep looked around the office before sitting down on the sofa with his mother and sister. There was a short silence in which everyone looked at each other uncomfortably.
Sandeep finally sat forward and nodded. ‘So, I already told Ditty that we wanted to hire you guys,’ he started. Aditi shut her eyes in embarrassment but pretended not to make a big deal out of him using a nickname for her. The only person who had ever shortened her already short name. His mother looked at her curiously.
‘And we’ve seen your quote,’ he addressed Uzair and nodded, because Uzair had been the one to email it to him. In fact, Uzair had handled all correspondence with Sandeep.
‘We’re happy to go with it,’ Sandeep said.
Great. So you can leave now, Aditi thought. But of course that wasn’t going to happen.
Clearing her throat, she addressed his sister. ‘Would you like to see some of the photos of our previous work, Natasha?’ she asked, glad that her memory had kicked in and she remembered Uzair telling her the bride’s name.
Natasha smiled shyly. ‘I would love to,’ she said. Aditi nodded towards Kimmy and Natasha got up and walked towards the desk where Kimmy was seated and they both murmured quietly as she showed them various photos.
‘Show us also!’ Sandeep said, looking a little miffed. Typical, Aditi thought. Still wants to be at the centre of attention.
Aditi sighed and nodded to Uzair who set up the projector and connected it, switching off the lights so they could all see the photos that they had shot for the various weddings since they’d started working together. As part of this package, they always included Uzair and Naima’s photos from Maldives because that was some of Kimmy’s best work.
Aditi left her desk and came out to sit with the others and watch her work. She felt a certain amount of pride in what she had achieved but she didn’t realise she was standing next to Sandeep in the darkened room, until he whispered in her ear – ‘Didn’t know you’d grow up to be such a badass, Ditty. Ordering about your minions like this.’
Her face felt flushed because of his proximity and his voice but she stood with her back straight, refusing to give him an answer. He could think what he wanted.
Natasha gave an audible gasp when she saw the beautiful photos of some of the brides, and finally, when the last picture came up, of Uzair and Naima.
‘That’s you!’ she said incredulously when Uzair switched on the lights. He rolled his eyes, feeling a little shy.
‘Yeah, that’s him and his wife,’ Kimmy said. Kimmy and Natasha continued talking and Natasha seemed disappointed that Kimmy wouldn’t be shooting the photos for her wedding. Sandeep’s mother was looking around the office critically, a fold between her eyebrows.
Sandeep turned to her and shrugged. ‘So, I guess we can expect regular meetings to set up all the events and what other things that need to be done for the wedding?’ he asked.
‘Yes, we’ll meet with Natasha,’ she said dismissively. She saw him smile at her, his eyes raking over her once, slowly. How? How did he still have it? Whatever it was that made girls go weak in the knees when he looked at them? She was glad she’d chosen her outfit for today carefully. It was the right mix of professional, yet feminine, a dark grey checked jumpsuit whose clean lines she really loved. It had been a pain to go to the loo however, but she’d managed.
‘And not me?’ he asked teasingly.
She smiled perfunctorily at him. ‘We only need to meet the bride to ask what she wants. And if the groom has any particular requirements. We won’t be disturbing you unnecessarily,’ she told him.
Sandeep looked like he wanted to say something but he changed his mind.
‘Tea? Coffee?’ she addressed his mother who refused politely.
‘Okay, Uzair and I will set up meetings with Natasha as per her convenience,’ Aditi nodded and walked back to her desk.
Uzair led the party out and Aditi breathed a sigh of relief. It was done. Hopefully, the next time she met Sandeep would be at the sangeet or the wedding.
Or not. Her phone buzzed. It was a message from him.
‘Ditty, you look great. Meet me for coffee next week?’
It didn’t take too long for Aditi to send him a reply.
No, she typed back succinctly.
If you enjoyed reading this, then there’s more where that came from in the upcoming book on 25th October. Don’t forget to pre-order if you want it in your Kindle/device the moment it goes live!