Whatever You Want
Diya was typing out a text on her phone when she noticed a man looking at her. Not in a sleazy way, more like he was trying to figure out where he’d seen her before. And he didn’t look away when she made eye contact, giving her a quick smile instead. He was in his late 40s, perhaps even over 50, too old to be a stalker, but still too young to be a dirty old man.
“Can I help you ma’am?” A salesgirl had appeared noiselessly at her elbow.
“I need a black sleeveless dress with an asymmetrical hem,” Diya said. “Chiffon, preferably.” This was the sixth store she’d tried, progressing from high street brands to the more exclusive labels on the top floor of the mall, and she was at the end of her tether.
The only black dress available was a skimpy sequinned number that she privately thought would make her look like a bar-dancer. “With your figure, ma’am you can carry it off,” the salesgirl said, but Diya shook her head.
“Do you have something in dark blue?” she asked. “Or grey. With an asymmetrical hem.”
“I think so,” the girl said as she scurried away. “I’ll just check in the fresh stock we got yesterday.
“Can I take a minute?” The man who’d been staring at her earlier was now standing right next to her, a younger man in tow.
“I guess,” she said, eyeing him warily. Close-up, he looked older, and a little haggard. Her eyes switched to the younger man and stayed there. While not conventionally good-looking, he was disturbingly attractive – his features were irregular, and his unruly hair could do with the attentions of a hairdresser, but there was an air of raffish charm about him that went beyond mere good looks. And his eyes were amazing, toffee-coloured with golden flecks, fringed by short, very thick eyelashes. The older man spoke first. “Are you related to Namrata Trivedi by any chance? I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be accosting you like this, but there’s something about your voice and your eyes…”
Oh, the joys of having a famous mother. Reluctantly pulling her eyes away from the good-looking younger man, she said. “I’m her daughter.” The resemblance between Diya and her activist mother wasn’t marked to begin with, and Diya had done her best to minimise it by cutting her hair short and only wearing Western clothes. This was the first time a stranger had made the connection.
“That’s great,” the man said, his tired face lighting up with boyish enthusiasm. “I’ve been a fan of hers for years. I even knew her slightly – she was a couple of years ahead of me in college.” Try as she might, Diya couldn’t drum up a corresponding show of enthusiasm, but she smiled politely anyway.
The younger man spoke, his voice warm and unexpectedly sexy. “She was the one who led the campaign against the 2003 land allocation scam wasn’t she? My entire college joined her protest marches. It was amazing, the kind of courage she showed.”
It had been equally amazing how she’d forgotten that her only daughter was appearing for her tenth board exams that year – Diya had needed a police escort to her exam hall, because death threats had been issued against their entire family. But people didn’t like to hear about that part of it, and Diya only smiled politely.
“I’m Priyesh Jhaveri by the way,” the older man said, holding his hand out. “And Advait is my nephew.”
“Diya Trivedi,” she replied. The salesgirl had returned with a heap of dresses over her arm that Diya shook her head at after taking a cursory look.
“You’re pretty picky,” he said, sounding amused.
“I’m curious though – why does it need to have an asymmetrical hem?”
“It’s for a cocktail party I need to attend on Friday,” Diya said shortly. “On work.”
“What do you do?”
“Public relations for a telecom company.”
“PR,” he said sounding surprised, and Diya was quick to read condemnation in his tone as he went on. “I wouldn’t have imagined…”
“That Namrata Trivedi’s daughter would do a money-grubbing corporate job,” Diya said, cutting him short. He might be nice, but Priyesh Jhaveri was beginning to get under her skin. “You’re right – I sold out. A long time ago. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to leave.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” he said, catching up with her as she walked out of the store. “I know it must be difficult dealing with your mom being so well-known.”
Diya lost her temper quite suddenly. “I don’t give a hoot about her being famous,” she said. “She was never around when I needed her – my dad and I had to manage on our own while she rushed around saving the world. And why an asymmetrical hem? That’s to hide a scar on my knee that I got when I was knocked over in a stampede at one of her rallies.”
Advait had materialised next to his uncle and was looking down at her, his toffee-brown eyes inscrutable. Embarrassed at revealing so much to a pair of strangers, Diya quickly turned and almost ran out of the mall.
On Thursday, a package arrived for her from an online clothing store – opening it, she found the absolute perfect dress inside. Made of a black gauzy material with a satin lining, it fitted like a dream, skimming her curves lovingly, and showing off her well-toned legs while hiding the scar on her knee. There was no indication anywhere as to who had sent it. The first person she dialled was her mother – they’d grown closer in the years after her father died.
“Mom, did you send me a dress?”
“A dress? Why on earth would I send you a dress, child? The last dress I chose for you was when you were ten, and if I remember right, you tried to feed it to a cow because it was the wrong colour.”
Diya grinned. “I always hated pink.”
“I didn’t know,” her mother said, and there was a hint of sadness in her tone. “And afterwards you told me you wished you had a fairy godmother who knew automatically what you wanted.”
“I was a kid,” Diya said, feeling guilty as she remembered her recent childish outburst. “Don’t worry about it Mom.”
So, not her mother then. Diya tried to think of anyone else who could have sent her the dress, and came up with a blank. It was still perfect though, and she wore it for the cocktail party, teaming it with silver heels and a tiny matching clutch.
“Rather odd, someone sending it to you without a note,” her best friend remarked. “It looks pretty expensive – high end prêt I’d say, if not designer.”
“I tried calling the store, but the order was in my name,” Diya said. “And they aren’t allowed to give out the name on the credit card that was used to pay for it.”
When she got home, Diya logged onto the store website.
She finally found a picture of the dress in their luxury section, and her eyes almost popped out of her head at the price tag. “If I’d known it cost that much, I’d have framed it instead of wearing it,” she muttered. No closer to solving the mystery, she began checking out the other sections of the website. She’d always hated shopping, especially in malls, but buying things online was easy – no crowds, no pushy salespeople, and no trial-room queues.
It was only when she was paying her card bill at the end of the month that she realised that none of the stuff she’d bought had been billed to her. This time when she called the store, they sounded distinctly evasive. “Maybe it’ll come on your next bill ma’am,” the girl at the call centre said, and she refused to budge, no matter what Diya said to her.
The books began to arrive next, some from online stores and some in unmarked boxes, delivered to Diya’s flat when she was out on work. Each one of them was a book she’d wanted to read, but hadn’t been able to buy.
“This is getting spooky,” she muttered to herself, as she came home to find yet another package. It was too small to be a book – once the layers of brown paper were ripped away, she gasped in surprise as a dark blue jeweller’s box opened to reveal a diamond bracelet. A simple row of diamonds in a flexible setting, it was.
She was still staring at it when her phone rang. “Do you like it?” a male voice asked. It sounded tantalising familiar, but she couldn’t place the speaker.
A few hours later, she met Advait at a coffee shop, having refused to let him come over to her flat.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “You’ve only met me once, and I was really rude then.”
“Turns out my uncle had a crush on your mom for many years,” Advait said carefully. “And after he met you, he finally pinched up the courage to contact her.”
“Are they….” The thought of her mom with any man other than her father was deeply unsettling.
“Not yet.” He hesitated. “Your mom’s had a tough life, Diya….”
“And she deserves to be happy now,” Diya completed with a sigh. “I know. So the gifts were her idea?”
“Apparently when you were ten, you told her…”
“That I wished I had a fairy godmother! But how….”
He had the grace to look a little shame-faced. “I own a couple of e-commerce businesses. And I’ve always been good with computers. I guess it was unethical, hacking into your laptop and figuring out the sites you visited and the books you put on your to-read list….But I didn’t access anything personal, and I thought it was in for good cause.”
Diya digested this. “How did Mom afford the bracelet?” she asked finally. “She doesn’t have much money.”
Advait put his coffee cup down. “You might want to walk away and never speak to me again after I tell you this,” he said quietly. “I bought you the bracelet. I’ve got to know you terribly well over the last few weeks. Partly by talking to your mom, and partly…well, partly by tracking you while you surfed the Internet. I know the kind of books you like, the charities you support, the blogs you follow, and the brands you wear. And I know you didn’t cry when they stitched up your knee, even though you were only eight. And that you gave up your dream job in London because you wanted to be near your Mom after your father died, even though she refused to come and live with you.”
“My mom’s a stubborn nut,” Diya muttered, but her eyes were welling up with tears.
“So, all in all, Diya Trivedi, I think you’re pretty perfect,” Advait said, touching her hand lightly. “I did consider running into you ‘by accident’, and wowing you with my general awesomeness. But then I decided to come clean. So it’s up to you now – I swear I’ll never cyber-stalk you again whatever you decide, but I’d like to get to know you in the traditional way. Walks by the seashore, candle-lit dinners and so on.”
Diya looked at him for a long moment, and he held her gaze, his golden-brown eyes steady, but with a hint of appeal in them. He already thought she was perfect – and with his lean, toned body and heart-stopping smile he looked pretty close to perfect himself.
“We’ll give it a try,” she said trying to keep her voice casual. Then, as he impulsively took her hand in a warm, slightly rough clasp, she broke into a smile. “And given that you already know everything about me, you could start telling me all about yourself.”
Advait smiled back. “Whatever you want,” he said softly. “Whatever you want.”
Q & A with SHOMA NARAYANAN
YOUR INTEREST IN READING ROMANCES STARTED AT 11. DO YOU REMEMBER ANY OF YOUR EARLY READS?
The first romance I read was a book by Hermina Black. I remember reading books by Denise Robins, several Mills and Boon novels…a book by Carol Mortimer and a lot of Georgette Heyer. The Carol Mortimer book had a strong, independent-minded heroine and a fair bit of humour. I’ve never been a fan of the overly intense kind of romantic fiction. My favourite romantic reads are Erich Segal’s Love Story and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
HOW DID THOSE EARLIER WORKS INFLUENCE YOU?
I’d always read rather serious books till then – encyclopedias and classics. Reading lighter fiction was a bit of a revelation. Over the years, I’ve developed an immense amount of respect for the creators of popular entertainment, whether books or magazines, movies or TV shows – these are the guys who help us stay sane in an increasingly stressful world!
HOW DID YOU THINK OF WRITING?
Some years ago, I entered a short story contest run by a daily – I won a hugely expensive Cartier pen. I give it full credit for being the spur that made me take up writing seriously. In another contest – run by Mills and Boon this time – they were looking for their next set of Indian writers; my short story was one of the three winning stories and I started writing my first romance novel.
HOW DOES YOUR WORK STEER CLEAR OF THE BASIC MILLS AND BOON FORMULA?
I don’t try to steer clear of the formula. In fact, I have a lot of respect for it – the formula is the reason Harlequin (Mills and Boon) sells millions of books every year! But my editors allow me to craft the story as I please – I use typically Indian settings and situations that give the books a unique flavour, especially for readers overseas.
ANY PLANS FOR THE FOURTH WORK?
The fourth romance will be out in November. It’s called The One She Was Warned About. I’m working on my fifth romance novel now, and I’m at the editing stage for a full-length non-romance novel as well.
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