No Other Love - 1
The Writer Gal Letter Novella
I’m listening to the dulcet divine tones of Lata Mangeshkar, the singer of India, who passed away yesterday at the age of 92. Our whole nation is in mourning at her passing and we even have a national holiday today! This has happened twice in my living memory, both for political leaders. So, to have an artist, a singer be appreciated and revered so gives me hope that my words…someday, somewhere, will matter too. Because Art matters <3
NOTE: So MANY of you are writing back to me in these NLs but your replies end up in my spam. One way to avoid this is to whitelist my email or mark this address/email as important. Then it will land directly in YOUR inbox so your replies will end up in MY inbox and we can chat away :)
I’ll just get this out of the way so you can get to the first chapter of No Other Love, Postmate!
I’m rehauling some old covers, driving Merril crazy with my demands. And thinking HARD on how I want Nihaal and Mili’s story to thrill me so it drives YOU crazy :P While no actual words might be written today, the thinking cap is on for BURN’s cover - both paperback and ebook since I CAN DO A SIMUL-Release!!!!! Yayyy! Also, yes, I’ll be doing the bonus Claim scene because it will go in the paperback version of Claim ….which should come THIS MONTH!!!!!!!! (I am bouncing in my seat as I type this)
Question of the Day
Do you prefer ebooks or paperbacks?
I adore my Kindle and I am very pro-digital device. I’ll share a pic of how many books I have in it next time. But, I swear, this would be the exact moment I become a true writer. When I hold my book in my hands!
Now, without any more fuss, let me share the very first chapter of my sweetly, angsty, second chance, marriage in trouble, small-town romance novella starring a desperately nerdy doctor and his feisty surgeon wife!
Author’s Note: I’ll be writing down the English translations of the Indian words to this story, as I introduce you to Indian culture :)
Fun fact: This novella is actually set in a town founded by one of my oldest friends. I’ve been fascinated with Aronda since I heard her talk about it back when we studied together and wanted to set a story here forever! Vikrant and Anika’s is the one finally. :D
NO OTHER LOVE - Chapter One
‘You’re really doing this?’ Anika asked, her voice rough with unshed tears. ‘You’re really leaving?’
Vikrant couldn’t answer. He continued tossing things in his battered suitcase. At this point, it was all he could do to not howl. He picked something from the cupboard and placed it next to his running shoes in the suitcase.
‘That’s mine,’ his wife said.
He blindly looked at the item he’d packed. It was a tee shirt, torn at the hem. Splattered with cream paint. The howl threatened to come up again. Because he remembered, exactly, how the paint had gotten there.
On a rare mutually free weekend, they’d decided to paint the ceiling of their bedroom a neutral cream. It was pouring cats and dogs in Mumbai and their air conditioner had stopped working. They’d listened to Sting and The Police, the whole time.
He’d scraped and sanded for two hours, then Anika had worn scandalously short shorts and this tee-shirt and climbed on the step ladder.
He’d watched her in fascination like she was Queen Mumtaz and their bedroom ceiling was the Taj Mahal.
He’d always been fascinated by her. That was the problem. Fascination was unrealistic. Impossible to live up to in real life.
Anika wasn’t fascinated with him anymore. If she had ever been.
‘Vik,’ Anika spoke again.
He grabbed the tee-shirt and threw it back into the cupboard. The howl of misery and lost love continued to simmer at the back of his throat.
‘Sorry,’ he said, in a low voice.
‘For what?’ His wife asked. Like she really meant it.
Vikrant looked up at the ceiling. The cream paint was peeling at the edges, because of leakage and seepage problems with their upstairs neighbor. And the landlord had asked him to wait for a year before doing any repairs, another monsoon season was imminent.
He wasn’t going to be able to give it a year.
‘The rent is paid for till August,’ Vikrant said, locking the overflowing suitcase. The muscles in his wrist protested at the added pressure. The physical therapist had told him to stop using excessive force in his right hand, after the last visit.
‘The utilities are automated in the app. But I will keep checking in between and paying them anyway, so you don’t have to worry about it.’
‘I can pay the damn utilities on my own!’ Anika snapped. ‘I have the app on my phone. And with the new promotion, I can save up and take care of these things.’
‘I know,’ Vikrant said. ‘I’ve heard of nothing but your new promotion for months now.’
He turned and looked at the love of his life, dressed in crisp blue scrubs, a staple of all medical staff at the hospital where they were both employed.
Usually, scrubs were meant to be shapeless, sexless even. But the scrubs did nothing to hide her innate curves, or the long, lean length of her legs, a product of intensive running.
Anika’s waist-length hair was in a severe plait, so not a hair escaped to frame her stunning face. The only concession she made to femininity was the thick line of kohl she’d applied around her golden-brown, almond-shaped eyes.
Desire hit him, inconvenient and consuming. Unrequited.
He couldn’t want this woman anymore.
Now, hurt and old grief moved through Anika’s expressive eyes.
‘I know,’ she whispered. ‘I know you hate that I got promoted. That I am not just Dr. Anika Chakraborty, MBBS anymore. I’m Dr. Anika Chakraborty, MD in pediatric surgery. It kills you that I was able to manage the internship at the hospital and pass my exams too, doesn’t it?’
Vikrant’s jaw tightened, as an instant denial sprang to his lips. But he swallowed it down because she wasn’t fully wrong. She just was wrong about the why of it all.
‘I don’t think we have to discuss this again, do you?’
‘No,’ Anika said bitterly. ‘No, we freaking don’t. I’m sure your mom will love that I’m finally out of your life for good.’
Vikrant’s eyes flashed. ‘Don’t you dare bring my mom into this, Anika. She isn’t responsible for what happened to us.’
‘No,’ Anika shot back. ‘She isn’t.’ There was a pregnant pause before she continued with all the venom he knew she carried in her heart. ‘But she didn’t help things either, Vik. And I’ll take care of rent and the utilities and everything from now on. You don’t have to worry about me anymore.’
‘You’re my wife.’ The words were a declaration.
They made Anika pause in the act of unwinding her gorgeous jet-black hair.
Vikrant clenched his fists as he saw it, as he’d always seen it a million times.
Anika undressing was erotic and sensual because she was so uninhibited, so unselfconscious about it all. She claimed it came from having lived in boarding schools all her life, but he suspected it had more to do with who she was on the inside.
He came from an ordinary, middle-class, small-town family with conservative parents. The first time he’d had to take a shower in the common bathroom at the medical college in Mumbai, he’d almost gotten on the bus straight back home. As it was, the seniors had ragged him mercilessly for wearing tightey-whiteys.
Unwilling, his eyes went to the sexy, silk boxers he’d packed along with the rest of his stuff. They were Anika’s doing. She’d told him she preferred him feeling like she was touching him all day long.
She was insane like that.
He’d kissed her senselessly when she’d told him that after gifting them to him last Valentine’s Day. Then she’d actually touched him and then there was no more talking. Only loving.
God, how he wished he could turn back time and go back to that moment and tell her he loved her, he loved only her, had since the first time she’d sat next to him in Basic Anatomy class and that he didn’t give a fuck what promotion she got…
In fact, he could do it even now. Couldn’t he?
‘Anika,’ he began rustily, pathetically eager.
‘Well, the lawyer said I’m your wife only for six months because we wanted to try counseling,’ Anika observed coolly. ‘And he was clever enough to get the judge to agree to phone couples’ counseling so you could go be a saint in the village and I could continue working here. So, it’s only a technicality at this point, isn’t it?’
How cold she sounded. How unfeeling.
She continued unbraiding her hair, averting her face from him. But her voice was cool, pitiless.
And he remembered…they’d hurt each other too much. Been through hell. There was no going back now. This is what they were. This is what they’d become.
‘I’m not trying to be a saint,’ he protested. Like he had a million times. ‘I just think…’
‘I know. I KNOW!’ She threw the scrunchie holding her braid together on the floor. ‘And it doesn’t matter anymore.’ She took a deep, sniffling breath, which did interesting things to her scrub top.
‘I’m going out now. I’ll stay with Anu tonight. You can leave your keys on the table’
The cold statements hit him worse than a punch. ‘You won’t even come to see me off?’ he asked, hurt beyond belief.
Anika finally looked at him then. And two years of misery and torture and the sheer horror of watching the person you love become a hollow shell of themselves was revealed in that look. There was also anger and recrimination in that look but she wasn’t alone in that.
The only thing missing in that look was tenderness. Affection. Goofiness.
‘What’s the point, Vikrant?’
Then Anika picked up her heavy backpack, slung her hospital ID around her neck, and walked away.
Leaving Vikrant more alone than ever.
Almost a year later….
‘You give the best back massages in the whole world, you know,’ Vikrant murmured.
‘I know.’ Anika dug her fingers at the edge of her husband’s vertebra where L4 met L5 and he let out a groan that mingled pain with pleasure. She kneaded at the knot lodged firmly there which came from hours bent over an operating table, marveling at his taut skin and sexier back.
It didn’t have too much hair but was ‘dusted’, which made it all the more fun when he was on top and she could run her hands all over the territory she called hers.
Anika grinned to herself…it was fun now too.
She ran a lazy hand down one side of his oiled back.
‘I should give up peds and go become a professional masseuse,’ she mused out loud.
He squirmed under her.
‘Fuck, no.’ Vikrant reached out with one long hand and caught her knee with his rough fingers. He squeezed. ‘This is all mine. I am not sharing.’
His voice was sleepy, pleasure-filled; a little lazy. He was rarely like this, her intense husband.
Anika still couldn’t believe that Vikrant and she were actually married. And that too, straight out of medical school. It was the most divine of fates that the hospital they’d both applied to had accepted them both, so getting married made the most sense, since living together in Mumbai – the cosmopolis of India – was still considered taboo.
Vikrant ran light fingers over her knee. ‘Right?’ he asked.
‘You know I don’t like it when you get all possessive alpha male.’ She kneed him in the back as she slid away to the side of the bed.
Vikrant yelped and glared at her. Looking, for all the world, like how a doctor on TV would look like – sexy and smoldering and intense - with an unshaved beard and pitch-black eyes gritty from lack of sleep.
Anika winked at him. Ran her tongue over her lips.
Then she leaned in close and whispered right in his ear, her breath blowing hot into the soft shell. ‘I love it.’
In a move that never failed to delight and arouse her, Vikrant whipped her under him, catching her hands in a tight hold so their bodies were lined up perfectly. He pressed his center to hers, he was aroused too (she’d been massaging his glutes for ten minutes) and she went wet.
‘You’re the devil,’ he muttered. ‘This is the on-call room, you know. We can’t just…’ He shrugged impressive shoulders that had her squirming under him.
‘So what?’ she asked, raising her head and inviting him to kiss her.
She could see the intent in his eyes. And, even though they were both fully clothed and exhausted from working double shifts, that massage had heated things up nicely. ‘It’s legally allowed. I have a marriage license in my backpack that says this is okay.’
‘You know, it would also work if you wore that mangal sutra my mother, gifted you.’ He named the chain of gold she’d been presented with on her visit home to her in-laws. The symbol of her marriage to Vikrant. As if she needed one! ‘It’s such a small thing, isn’t it?’
Anika shrugged. ‘I am a doctor, idiot. We aren’t supposed to wear that kind of jewelry, no?’
‘Everyone else does,’ he muttered.
‘I’m not like everyone else.’ She tugged at her hands and he released them immediately. She wound them around his neck and tugged him closer. ‘That’s why you want me so bad you’ll fuck me in the on-call room.’
Vikrant glanced back at the closed door. Anika settled deeper into him. The bed they were in, was a torn and sagging sofa with the stuffing coming out at one end. It was home to about a million butt impressions and perpetually soft.
‘Anika, the springs will give out,’ he tried half-heartedly.
‘So?’ She smiled, sexy and inviting. Knowing she had him. ‘Go slow.’
Anika kissed him. Swallowing his mouth in a deep, luscious kiss that went on and on. He wrapped one palm around her skull, and kissed her back, with a little desperation. And she knew why.
It was because of that mangal sutra comment. The sore point every time Vikrant’s mother called on the video chat and he made her wear it.
‘I love you, Vikrant Pandit,’ she whispered against his lips.
He took her scrub top off, an expression of utter, focused bliss on his face. And she felt love and desire and a million other emotions move through her. Maybe she could wear the stupid mangal sutra if it made him happy.
‘I can’t stop wanting you.’ He squeezed her through the sheer lacy, lemon-colored bra she wore. ‘You’re perfect.’
He tongued her nipple and bit it lightly. Anika moaned, squeezing her thighs around his arousal. He did it again and she dragged her core against it. His other hand drifted over her inside thigh and rubbed against her center.
‘Fuck.’ She gritted out. ‘You’re evil.’
‘If I am.’ He dotted kisses over the swell of her breasts on the bra and then dragged his tongue inside and swirled it around her nipple. ‘It’s because of you, wife.’
Anika dragged his head up with one hand and untied his scrub pants with the other. ‘Stop torturing me.’
Her words and the kiss mingled in desperation. A hot, wet, writhing mass of exploding desire and consuming love. He gentled her with nothing but his lips on hers so the kiss turned soft, questing…pretty.
‘No.’ Vikrant said coolly and plunged one hand into her pants.
Anika moaned. Arched into his touch and the burning intent of his desire. Knowing heaven and hell were about to open in her…any minute now.
The violent shaking of the bed woke Anika up. The soft moan died on her lips as she looked around, wildly. Expecting to see Vikrant on top of her, ready to give her the best hospital orgasm of her life. Aching for him…
‘The NICU patient’s parents want to talk to you, Ani,’ Nurse Tara said loudly.
Anika blinked against the strong, neon light that illuminated the nurse’s station couch. For the last year, she napped here when she had to work double shifts.
The on-call room was a no-go zone for her. The one time she’d gone there last year, she’d spent the whole time crying into the pillow and ended up with a migraine.
No, thank you!
Deprivation was a physical ache inside her as she processed the nurse’s request.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I’ll come.’
Tara gave her a soft, sympathetic look. ‘You were doing it again. Talking in your sleep.’
Pretending not to hear the nurse’s pitying words, Anika stood up, stretching the kinks in her neck, her entire body.
She knew she talked in her sleep in times of extreme stress. It had begun back when her parents had first sent her to boarding school when she’d been caught smoking with the gardener’s son.
It usually meant she was desperately, awfully, alone and scared. At least that’s what the professor in her Psychology class back in school had told her proudly. What the fuck did he know?
Some people snored. Some people talked in their sleep. It was perfectly natural. Nothing to worry about.
Anika straightened her scrub top, retied the drawstring pants, and wrinkled her nose at the disgusting smell of day-old scrubs that had seen everything – from a newborn pooping green goo to assisting in an emergency C-section. She wore the white coat she’d used to prop her head on and walked out of the nurses’ station.
She reassured the worried parents of Baby Sheikh that their daughter’s lungs were underdeveloped because she was a preemie (prematurely born) and they’d had to operate on her tiny air pipe because of an unforeseen obstruction during pregnancy. But that she was absolutely fine and ready to meet her parents as soon as they were sure there would be no infection.
This was the part of her job Anika loved most. Telling the loved ones of utterly tiny, helpless, new human beings that they could stop worrying. Their wait was almost over. The end was near.
Medicine had once again triumphed over the horrors of life.
Pediatric surgery was delicate in the extreme and required nerves of absolute steel. It also required a certain degree of detachment because the patients were so tiny, hardly bigger than the palms of her hands sometimes, that caring about them was catastrophic. It would mean she lost focus on the job at hand and would cause harm to her patient, an unacceptable outcome.
Vikrant had accused her in the lawyer’s office of being dead inside, of allowing the job to consume her soul….and she’d said something equally punishing to him.
But, lately, she’d begun to wonder if he was right.
If, maybe in the quest to be the best peds surgeon in the department, she had pushed down all empathy and feeling and only used sex as an outlet for a real connection. In the end, even that had withered away.
It wasn’t wrong, of course, but maybe she could have given a calmer ear to his concerns. Maybe her ambition had blinded her to his need for her.
‘There you are, Dr. Chakraborty,’ Dr. Dsouza said as Anika came back to the doctor’s lounge, once she’d finished up with her morning rounds. There were only three patients in the NICU, all in stable condition – so it was a fine morning for her and all the staff on call.
‘Yes, Dr. DSouza?’ Anika straightened her spine immediately.
Dr. DSouza was the Dean of Medicine at the hospital, the ultimate decider of their fate. Having him talk to her, a lowly, second-year surgical hopeful was an honor beyond her imagination.
‘I spoke to your father last night. I didn’t know you were Vivek Chakraborty’s daughter.’ The veneration in the Dean’s voice was sickening. And expected.
Vivek Chakraborty was a god in Indian surgery and being his daughter was not something she was proud of.
Anika shrugged. ‘I didn’t think it mattered who I’m related to.’
‘Of course not,’ he said smoothly. ‘But I’m sure you could put in a good word to your cardiothoracic surgeon father to come to visit us here sometime and show us that new procedure he just won an award for.’
Anika smiled mechanically. ‘Sure, Sir. I’ll talk to him about it. Was there anything else you needed me for?’
‘Oh yes,’ he said absently, checking his phone screen. ‘I just saw your husband down in the cafeteria. I didn’t know he was back from Goa. Why didn’t you tell me?
Anika felt the breath leave her chest in a rush and the floor tilted dizzily, while she clutched her stethoscope tightly in her hands. The cool metal helped her steady her breathing, her wildly beating heart as three words danced in her head like cartoon birds.
Vikrant was back.
To be continued next month.
Writer Gal’s Writer Pal's Present
Today’s writer pal offerings are all for-nothing books! So yay, joy. Am I right?
This is all I have for this edition of The Writer Gal Letter, Postmate. But I’ll be writing in SUPER soon with paperback news, and a super-fab collaboration I’m BEYOND thrilled for and Burn’s COVER!!!!!
Till then, stay safe and awesome.