It had been an extremely long summer of working in Mexico with an extremely talented artist who had been commissioned to provide Las Pozas with his work. Paige herself had been called to create a wonderous jungle atmosphere with exotic vegetation and vibrant orchids to cage the artistic sculptures. The idea was to create a small little world of discovery and she was extremely happy with the finished article. After the opening of the enclosure, she had planned to head home for a few weeks for a break before starting to work on whatever project would come her way next, but a phone call had disturbed that plan. But how could someone, especially someone as caring as she was, turn down the wishes of a man who had passed from this world. So instead of heading home to Columbia she was on a plane to Mumbai.
Paige had been there before, working for one of the richest men she had ever worked for. He had a beautiful family, and the man knew that he was dying and wished to make sure that his estate was perfect for his family to enjoy when he was gone. Exactly a year ago was the last time she had been there, designing and creating the perfect oasis for him and his family. Her return was a little bitter-sweet since she was returning to design the garden surrounding his mausoleum.
For now, she had one hour left of the day long trip to India and she had already sketched out ideas. There wasn’t much else to do on a fourteen-hour flight and that was the second one she needed to take just to get there. She hadn’t even had time to figure out where she would be staying when she arrived, but she was sure that there would be a hotel with a spare room for however long it would take her to finish the project.
Soon enough, the pilot was announcing that the plane would be landing soon, and she packed away her things into her hand luggage so that her exit could be as swift as possible. At least she didn’t have to worry about getting a taxi since someone would be meeting her at the airport.
Thirty minutes passed and she was finally through airport security, and she had collected her bag. She walked through into the arrivals lounge and scanned the room for someone holding her name up.
The grounds were buzzing with activity. Rahul Anand had been dead for only twenty-four hours and his family had already started the preparations for his funeral. It’s what the public expected, after all. He was a businessman. But more than that- he was kind. Of course Hamal had no idea if this was true or just propaganda the man had created for himself to be successful. It wasn’t his job to know, either. It was his job to give a funeral Mumbai wouldn’t soon forget.
He spent the day barking orders in a mix of Hindi and English at his employees. Everyone who worked for him was terrified of him, but also half in love with him because they couldn’t imagine someone else being so direct and stating exactly what they wanted from their workers.
Hamal’s business did everything and that wasn’t something others in his line of work could boast. He took all stress off the family and provided them with every service, which allowed his business not only to boom but to also offer lower rates, in turn, pulling in more business. Of course his work depended on people dying, but this was Mumbai. People were always dying.
“Mr. Rashid, the numbers so far,” a man said, stepping close to him as Hamal looked out across the family’s estate and the city in the background. He took the tablet from him and looked over their budget for only half a second before handing it back and nodding. They were doing fine.
“Is the landscaper here yet?” When he advertised he did everything- he meant [i everything]. But it was this family's wish that someone else come to do the garden. He was being paid to organize her transport and find her housing. He did [i everything]. And he liked it that way. Having others meddle in his path and take things over was just a nuisance.
“Uh, no, sir.”
“Did I not tell you to go pick her up?” He glanced at his watch. It- like the rest of his outfit- was sleek and fashionable and made the statement that he had made something of himself. “She’ll be off the plane in twenty minutes and in this traffic you’ll be late. I told you to leave early.”
The man shrunk away from him, feeling Hamal’s wrath practically come off of him in waves. “Fuck it,” Hamal said, pulling his keys out of his pocket. “I’ll do it.”
“Sir, I’m so sorry! I can go, please. Please, Mr. Rashid, I can-”
“Have everyone pack up at eight,” he said, starting towards his car in the rounded lot out front of the estate where Mr. Anand was to be buried on his own land. He rounded on the man since he insisted on pleading with him further. “And if I hear anyone was late getting home today because of your inability to keep time, then I’m not sure you’ll have a job tomorrow,” he said through gritted teeth. When he turned back to his car, the man followed him no further.
Hamal climbed into the sleek black car and booked it for the airport through the back streets, past the black and yellow taxis and the trucks and the people on their bikes. Of course when he came near the airport, the traffic came to a near standstill and he drummed his long fingers on the steering wheel. By the time he made it to the airport he was twenty minutes late. He had to charm an old woman into letting him have her cardboard sign and marker when she was done with it, scribbling out [i Paige] on the clean side, hoping she hadn’t already left to get a taxi. What a first impression that would have been.
He couldn’t remember her last name, but the chances of there being another Paige looking to be picked up at the Mumbai airport were next to nothing, so he wasn’t concerned. He was still seething with the incompetence of the man he had asked to do this in the first place, his appearance far from welcoming as he held the sign, looking through the crowd with dark eyes and an even darker cloud over his head.
Nothing…no one. Not one person in the airport had her name on display and she checked her watch and sighed. She was quick getting her luggage, but not that quick that she was earlier than the pickup time was arranged. It wasn’t even like Paige could jump in a taxi, even though she was being flooded with offers from local taxi drivers hanging around in the arrival lounge. She didn’t even have a destination that she could go to unless she went directly to Mr Anand’s estate, but she had no idea what was going on there and there was not a chance that she would intrude at such a time. So instead, Paige let out a sigh and made her way over to a bench where she would wait for someone to turn up and if no one did, then she would end up having to make a phone call.
Paige scrolled through her phone, checking her e-mails and social media accounts for any queries about her work and it seemed to take up enough time to distract her from waiting an extra twenty minutes. It wasn’t so bad really. Every now and then she would glance up from her screen to see if anyone turned up, knowing that the crowd in the lounge would only grow with another plane due to land in the next ten minutes.
That was when she finally saw her name on a piece of cardboard. She smiled to herself and rose from her seat, making her way over to the man holding it. Paige took the time to look him over and weigh him up as she approached him. He was [I not] in a good mood. He looked frustrated and almost inconvenienced by the fact that he had come here to the airport, and she wondered if that might be due to traffic making him mad or whether it was something else entirely. Either way, this man had an aura about him that just scream [i ‘don’t piss me off’]. His style suggested that this man was far more than just a driver though. He was smartly presented and she could tell that everything the man wore likely cost more than what most people in the room were wearing. If he wasn’t a driver, that would certainly explain the aggravation upon his face.
Paige approached him with a smile and pulled up her hand to offer him a friendly wave.
“Hello! I believe you are looking for me. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Paige.” She said, now offering her hand to the man, although there was something about his stare that suggested him might not even take it.
After just a couple of minutes, the mysterious landscaper appeared, which he was thankful for because he wasn’t sure how long he was willing to wait around. He saw her wave through the crowd first, pulling her luggage. Her dress was bright and floral and flowed smoothly with her movements as she stepped up to offer him her hand. At least she didn’t seem upset that he was late.
He looked from her face which practically glowed like honey to her hand. He eventually took it, his long fingers enveloping hers.
“I’m Hamal. We’ve been emailing,” he told her, pulling his hand back and discarding the board with her name on it in a nearby trash can. “I’m sorry for the delay. One of my people should have been by half an hour ago, but they can’t seem to keep time,” he grumbled. He reached for her luggage, pushing the bar down and simply picking it up like it was nothing. Then he led her out into the parking lot where his car was parked.
He didn’t say another word to her as he popped the trunk and loaded up her things before rounding the car and opening her door for her. He was moody and controlling, but he was also a gentleman. Once she was inside, he made his way to the driver’s seat and started the car which purred almost silently.
“I have you set up at a five star hotel close to Mr. Anand’s estate so the commute won’t be too bad. I have a driver assigned to you, though it won’t be the one I sent to pick you up today since he insists on not doing his job.” He sounded so calm as he spoke, but there was an underlying storm.
The drive out was not nearly as bad as the drive into the airport and it was only fifteen minutes to the hotel. He really hadn’t been planning on getting her checked in and playing chauffeur, but this is how the day turned out. And he might as well do it himself since no one else wanted to put forth the effort.
He reversed his previous action, opening her door and taking out her luggage. Her hardly glanced her way the entire time. When they entered the hotel and they approached the receptionist, she looked at them and smiled.
“Room for two?”
“No,” he corrected. “I’m checking her in for business. Under Hamal Rashid.”
The woman looked at her monitor and typed a few keys. A few more. She started to look nervous, having already gathered that you did not want to make this man angry. “I- I’m so sorry, sir. But it doesn’t look like there are any reservations under that name. What company is it for? I could search that way.”
“Rashid Funeral Services,” he said, biting back his anger.
She typed a few more words and shook her head, biting her lip nervously. “I’m sorry, sir. Are you sure you made the reservation?”
Hamal sucked on a front tooth, pissed. “No. Not anymore. Are there any open rooms?”
She shook her head. “Not with the funeral. Everyone has been coming to gather outside the estate’s gate to watch.”
“Sorry for wasting your time,” he said and lifted Paige’s luggage once again before heading back out the door and taking her back to the car. Behind him, the receptionist seemed to deflate with relief that he wasn’t going to explode on her.
He knew it wasn’t her fault, though. He knew exactly whose fault it was. The same failure who missed his appointment to pick Paige up from the airport…
“Excuse me,” Hamal said, after letting her back in the car. He closed the door and pulled out his phone, calling the man.
In short, he was fired. The long version was Hamal yelling at him through the phone. How could he forget to book the room? Hamal had given him a very detailed to-do list and he had failed to perform the two most important items on it.
When it was over, he returned to the car and pulled out of the parking lot. For a long moment, he didn’t say a thing. He needed to calm down. He was far too angry. Finally, he spoke.
“We’ll have to figure something out for you tomorrow,” he said. The sun was starting to set. “If you have a place in mind, I can take you there, or you can take the guest room back at my flat.”
If things had gone smoothly he wouldn’t even have to be [i thinking] about entertaining someone at his place. But this is what he got for trusting someone else with something as important as this.
“Never again,” he mumbled to himself. “I will never again let someone else do the important work. Today has not been a good representation of my services,” he told her. “There are some people who owe me some favors. Tomorrow, all of this will be fixed.”
For the briefest of moments she could have sworn that the man was not going to take the hand she had offered to him. It was clear that he was looking her over in the same way that she had to him only moments before, except the stare that he had was enough to make anyone want the floor to swallow them up. He was evidently not the kind of man you would upset and she was beginning to realise the he was far more important than a driver. He didn't need to introduce himself for her to figure that one out. It was more about the way he held himself.
He did take her hand though, which she was relieved by because it saved her the embarrassment of her highly impeccable manners. The handshake itself was short and when he introduced himself she instantly realised that she had already been communicating with this man. Paige had not expected him to be picking her up from the airport himself and it was clear upon further explanation that he hadn't expected to be picking her up either.
"Oh it's not a problem as all Mr. Rashid. It's a pleasure to finally meet you." Just as she had finished speaking, she reached for her luggage but before she could even place her hand upon it, Hamal had taken it upon himself to carry her luggage for her. Of course she was more than capable of carrying it herself but she did not want to frustrate the man further the by insisting that she carry it herself. Instead she followed him out to the car and he didn't say another word to her until the engine was on and they were back on the road. She had thanked him for loading her luggage into her car and for holding his door open but she didn't even get so much as a grunt in response.
Soon he was explaining her accommodation arrangements and she had to admit that she was relieved she didn't have to worry about booking somewhere herself. "Oh! I wasn't expecting such lavish accommodation or a driver but I appreciate you going to the effort to arrange that for me." Although, upon arrival to the hotel it very quickly became clear that it hadn't been arranged at all. Hamal was growing more and more angry at the fact that things kept going wrong. Firstly, someone had forgotten to pick her up from the airport, and now apparently a member of the staff had forgotten to book the room at the hotel that they had arrived that. She had no doubt in her mind, that from the look on his face, that member of staff would no longer have a position with him by the end of the day.
Paige offered the receptionist a smile before they returned to the car. It wasn't her fault that something had gone wrong with the booking and she was glad that Hamal didn't take his rage out on her. Clearly he knew who was responsible and would prefer to take out his frustration on that person. As expected when they got to the car he made a phone call that sounded rather heated before climbing back in. She had no idea where they were going now and she didn't want to speak to him until he spoke first because she thought he might snap if he didn't have the space to calm himself.
"I...don't really know anywhere. When I was last here I rented an apartment because I was here for a few months." Honestly, The last thing she wanted to the do right now was go back to his apartment and take his spare room. He wasn't exactly pleasant company, but did she really have much of a choice? She sighed quietly and when he spoke once more she wanted to let him know that everything was fine.
"You have nothing to worry about. These things happen and it can be rather frustrating when you think you have someone you trust to complete a job." She looked towards him and smiled. "If it's really not a problem to take your guest room for the night I would appreciate it. I'll be out of your hair. Twenty-four hours is a long time to spend travelling so all I need is a bed."
When it was decided that due to someone else’s failure, Hamal’s flat would be used as a hotel for the night, they spent the rest of the ride in tense silence. He knew everything he needed to know from her through their email correspondence and he wasn’t about to make small talk. She mentioned being here before, but he wasn’t about to ask or pry, especially since he didn’t much care. And Paige seemed kind and understanding, so at least he didn’t have to contend with someone who was just as upset as he was, but still. This was not how he saw this day going.
Some time later he was pulling into the parking lot of a tall building that looked more like a mirror on one side. Once more, he grabbed her luggage and led the way inside to a fancy lobby with sconces and rugs and the works. It wasn’t long before they were at the top floor, the entire floor being his own. The door opened into a large, minimalist living room decorated with black couches and black curtains covering the open windows along the side wall. The entire atmosphere felt entirely masculine and untouched. He hardly spent any time here, after all.
He pointed to the left where the wall opened up into a massive kitchen with dark granite tile lining the counters and floors. “Kitchen,” he said. “Help yourself if you’re hungry.” Then he headed down the hall in the opposite direction, pointing out the bathroom and the guest room. He set down her luggage just outside the door to the room as if he didn’t even think about stepping inside.
He also didn’t mention anything about the room across the large hallway. It could be inferred that it was his own room. The door was open, but one couldn’t see inside if they wanted to. It was like a cave with blackout curtains and dark walls, dark bedding, dark furniture. There was a door on the wall that led to his own master bathroom. Just like the rest of the house, the rooms were incredibly clean.
The truth is he found it hard to sleep at night and needed something to do. He was most active when it was dark out and he found it calming to keep his space spotless and under control. He decided to try and emulate the night with his decor. It didn’t much help.
“Make yourself at home,” he said, entering his massive room and pulling the door shut behind him. He was not in the mood to entertain. He had employee exit papers to file and budget plans to update.
He flipped on the dim light by his large desk and ran a hand through his dark hair with a frustrated sigh. He opened his laptop and got to work.
There wasn't another word exchanged between them on the car ride. That told her everything she needed to know about how annoyed he was that he was hosting the stranger and sharing his space with her. It was clear that he was a very private person and she very much doubted that he ever enjoyed the company of anyone else. She wondered whether he had any friends and whether they were just as stoic as him or whether he was a loner. It didn't really matter though. She was here to do a job and she very much doubted that the two would interact much during her stay here. With any luck, she would get her job done quickly and she would be able to go home and enjoy that break she deserved.
When they approached what seemed to be his building, she wasn't too surprised. If his dress sense and watch was anything to go by, she expected an expensive home. Mumbai was among the richest of places in the entire country and she would likely rub shoulders with people who likely had more money than she would ever be able to make in a lifetime.
Once again, Hamal took hold of her luggage and she follow him up to the top floor of the building which was clearly his home. Upon entering if felt very clean and dark, reflective of Hamal's physical presentation and personality. It wasn't exactly to her taste but it was emmaculate and oozed money. Paige's home was much brighter and contained huge walls of windows to let natural light I'm to her home.
Hamal gave her a short tour, pointing out the things that she might need during the night and before she really had much of a chance to say anything other than a thank you, he had shut himself away into his room.
"Well okay..." she said quietly, shaking her head a little. She made her way into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and made her way straight to the room she would be staying in. Paige didn't have any intention of intruding more than she had to. Besides, she was exhausted so she dragged her case inside the room, washed and changed into pyjamas and then climbed straight into bed. The mattress was comfortable and the sheets were silky and soft. There was no doubt she would have a good night sleep here and as soon as her head hit the pillow, she was out.
Hamal worked until there was nothing left for him to do that evening and by then it was ten at night. He showered, made himself dinner, and caught up on the news. All the while, the guest room door remained closed. If he were to wonder, he would assume she was exhausted from her travels, but he was too preoccupied with the events of the day to care much. She would be gone tomorrow and that would be that. He would no longer have to worry about her.
Several hours later, well into the early hours of the morning, he finally called it a night. As long as he could remember he didn’t ever need much sleep. And when six came he hit his alarm clock and rolled out of his silk sheets, naked, as that was how he preferred to sleep, with or without company in the house. He dressed in his usual chic way, his loose dress shirt open just one more button than might have been publicly acceptable had it not been hotter than blazes and had he not been the man of status he was. He was rolling his sleeves up his forearms and adjusting his watch just as there was a knock at his door.
On the way to his front door, he noticed the guest room door was still closed, which was probably for the best. He didn’t want to frighten the poor girl with the beasts that were about to bound inside excitedly.
He opened the door and the young woman on the other side looked exhausted. All three dogs, upon seeing their master, lined up in a row without him having to even utter a single word. She looked relieved that her arms weren’t being torn off anymore. He leaned down, unclipping their leashes and they remained right where they were, watching his face carefully, ears perked, waiting for the signal.
“Thank you for taking them for the night. I had something come up,” he explained to her, pulling out his wallet and handing her the largest bill inside which was much more than he usually paid her. She looked at the money with wide eyes and slowly took it.
“Oh, Mr. Rashid, you don’t have to- I mean-”
“Please, I insist. You did me a favor and you must be rewarded for that. Have a good day.” Even when he was being kind, he sounded so surly.
She nodded and started to walk away, still looking at the money in her hand in awe. Hamal looked at the three massive, all black dobermans. Then, with a short, curt word in Hindi, they all three got up and raced for the door, knocking into each other, too eager to be home again to pay the others any mind.
If anyone was there to see it, they would not have believed the small smile that came to Hamal’s face. They would also second guess they saw it at all because it was gone in an instant.
Hamal followed the dogs inside and closed the door behind him. They excitedly sniffed around, clearly smelling something- or someone- new. He left them to wander and went to the kitchen to start the coffee.
Paige wouldn’t have managed a better night sleep in a five-star hotel. The bed was so comfortable, and she was sure that the sheets were the most expensive money could buy. She woke up to the sun beaming through her window and she stretched herself up with a smile upon her face. She felt so refreshed, and she was ready to take on whatever the day would bring her.
After giving herself a few moments to fully wake up, she climbed out of bed and made her way into the guest bathroom so that she could freshen up and as soon as she was ready she looked through her case and found a comfortable dress that would allow her to cope with the Indian heat. She pulled her hair back and checked her appearance in the mirror before she decided that it was time to emerge from the room. She was sure that she could see shadows moving around outside the door and the smell of coffee hit her as she approached it.
Cautiously, she opened the door and before she knew it she was being stared down but three huge dobermans. Paige didn’t recall seeing any dogs when Hamal brought her to his apartment the night before and the apartment itself was impeccable that there was not a single shred of evidence that any dogs resided here. She stopped at her door for a moment, looking them over and then she smiled.
“And who are you?” She asked as she reached her hand out to fuss them. All three of them bounded towards her, sniffing and licking at her hands. When she realised that they were friendly and just wanted attention, she stooped down to their level and fussed them even more. Paige chuckled slightly and one of the dogs decided that he rather liked her face and ran his tongue all over her, leaving a trail of slobber behind. “Well, aren’t you just charming? I don’t usually allow anyone to use tongues but you’re just irresistible.”
Hamal was just pouring himself a mug of coffee when he heard the feminine voice down the hall. He figured he should go pull the dogs off her and assure her that she shouldn’t be frightened of them, but when he rounded the corner, his brows rose. She obviously didn’t need to be told this small detail as she seemed to be getting along just fine with them. He almost couldn’t believe the sight. Usually, people ran from the sight of his dogs, but here she was, kneeling to greet them happily. Talking to them even.
Hamal leaned against the entrance to the hallway, unseen as of yet. He wanted to see how this played out. He brought his mug to his lips, taking a slow sip of the hot coffee, but he coughed on it a moment later having heard her last words that oozed with innuendo. The dogs looked up at the strange noise and he ran a hand over his lips, making sure his moustache was clean of coffee.
“Sorry,” he mumbled and turned away from them, heading back towards the kitchen. [i She sure seems pure enough that tongue would be out of the question,] he thought to himself, a small smirk coming to his lips.
But he had also just let her see a glimpse of himself in that moment. He was supposed to be collected and cool. Not choking on his coffee at the slightest sexual reference. It had simply caught him off guard.
“Haddi! Parth! Batuk!” he barked and two of the three dogs came running after him into the kitchen. He pulled three massive bowls from a cupboard and set them down in front of the island, only to fill them with expensive dog food. Parth and Haddi ate greedily and Hamal went back to the hallway to see what was holding the third doberman up. Batuk was still sitting in front of Paige, his short tail wagging the best it could, his massive paw reaching out needily for her.
“Batuk!” he said again and the dog looked his way. “Do you want your breakfast or not?”
Finally realizing what was at stake, the dog tried to run at such a speed on the hard wood floor that he slipped, all four legs sprawling, before he righted himself to join his brothers. “I should have warned you about them,” he said by way of apology. “They usually come with me to work, but I had a feeling yesterday was going to be a long one.”
He turned away again, heading back for the kitchen. “I made some coffee.”
He leaned against the counter and after getting down a mug for his guest, he pulled out his phone to answer a few emails. Then he set his empty mug down and started making calls to various hotels as he left the kitchen to pace his flat. He grew frustrated, but refused to settle for any hotel under three stars. He knew Paige wasn’t working for him, exactly, but he had still promised to provide housing for her. And anything under three stars in Mumbai meant you were just paying to have your things stolen.
He returned to the kitchen and shook his head. “This funeral has the entire city locked up. Anand’s business and politics were enough to gather quite the crowd, even to watch through the gate. So there’s nothing. Nowhere has any space other than the shady hotels at the edge of the city. So unless you’re looking to get mugged in the middle of the night, I suggest you stay with me or I can find someone else for you to stay with if you’re uncomfortable with that.”
Paige was completely unaware that she was being watched until she heard the sound of chocking. She looked up, as did the three dogs and sure enough Hamal was stood there watching them and she had no doubt that it was her comment that had caused him to chock on his coffee. She bit her lip to hold back the laugh that threatened to escape her. Although, she was also slightly embarrassed that he had heard her. When he turned back into the kitchen she shook her head and watched as two of the dogs ran towards their master after being called. However, one of them seemed to be simply enamoured by her and decided that he was going to stay with he, pawing at her as though he was simply craving her attention and she granted it to him willingly.
“Batuk huh?” She smiled and ran her hand over his head. “At least I have a name now.” Paige watched as the huge hound went running towards the kitchen to enjoy his breakfast and she placed her hands on the floor and pushed herself off the ground. “It’s not a problem at all. They are sweet.” She said before following him into the kitchen to enjoy a cup of coffee. It was the best, of course and she had no doubt that everything in this apartment was the best of the best.
“Thank you.” She said with a smile and perched on a chair in the kitchen. Hamal was not a talkative person, and she didn’t want to interrupt his calls because it seemed he was attempting to find her somewhere to stay while she was here. Although, it seemed that was becoming very difficult as every hotel he called was full.
Paige raised her brow at him when he suggested that she should stay here. “I wouldn’t want to intrude… you seem like a private person and I’m sure you didn’t sign up to house the landscaper.”
Hamal watched as the dogs finished their meal. Haddi and Parth padded into the living room, now through with the excitement of the morning, but Batuk stayed behind and sat down at Paige’s feet, looking up at her where she sat and drank her coffee.
It was a curious sight to say the least. Normally people were afraid of his dogs. But Paige didn’t seem put off by them in the least. Especially Batuk. Hamal loved all three of his dogs, but he would be blind if he didn’t see that Batuk was a little special and rather slow sometimes.
He watched the doberman while Paige spoke, but he shook his head, finally making eye contact with her for the first time since they had met.
“I am a private person,” he told her truthfully, “And no, I didn’t,” he added to her comment about not signing up for this. He wasn’t going to deny it to make her feel any better. But then he added, “But I also promised I would take care of you during your stay. And I am a man of my word. I have a guest room and the space to spare for the next week so why shouldn’t I offer it to you? Besides,” he reached out to pour himself just a little bit more coffee. “It’ll save me money in the long run,” he said with a raise of his brows almost like he was saying [i as if I need it].
He couldn’t be sure if she understood his joke or not. After all he didn’t smile or laugh.
“Anyway,” he said, draining his cup. “I need to head out. You have my best driver’s number so stop by the estate whenever you’re ready. I promise he’s much more competent than the hands I left you in before.”
And with that, he turned towards the door and grabbed his keys from the entryway table. He whistled once and all three dogs came bounding after him and out the door, leaving his new guest alone in his flat.
Paige couldn’t deny that she enjoyed the company of Batuk. It had been such a long time since she had been near animals. She loved them but she travelled far too much for her to be able to keep any at home. It wouldn’t be fair to them, and she would be constantly worried about them. So, if she was to say here at least she could the company of his three handsome hounds. She reached down to stroke him one more before she finished her coffee.
Then she looked up at Hamal and noticed that for the first time, he was looking directly at her. Not only was he private but he evidently liked to make sure that people couldn’t get close to him, so he appeared cold and shut himself off from people. She listened to his honesty and nodded when he made a valid argument. She wasn’t here for long and he was a proud man, and she was sure that he never failed to deliver on his promises.
Paige was surprised that Hamal made a joke and she almost missed it since his delivery was void of ay humour or emotion, yet he was still able to get a laugh out of her. “You’re right. Every penny counts. Thank you Mr. Rashid. I really appreciate it.”
There was a short silence between them then and he announced that he was leaving, and she was left alone in the apartment. She noticed that there was still some more coffee in the pot so she took it upon herself to finish it off since it would just go to waste if it was left there. Once she drained her own cup of coffee, she washed the utensils used and the coffee pot and dialled the number of the driver who claimed he would be with her in twenty minutes which gave her enough time to grab her things.
She worked a little in the car and when she arrived at the estate, it was exactly as she remembered it. It was some of her best work and she took a moment to reacquaint herself with the grounds before she made her way towards the main house and knocked on the door. Paige made a mental note to take Hamal’s number at some point today because it would be easier if she had it.
Hamal loved his work. It provided him absolutely no time to think about anything other than what was right in front of him. He wasn’t a fan of being still and ruminating about himself or life or what it had to offer. He simply enjoyed existing in the way he did. He liked to be busy. He liked to clean. He liked to give orders and to be in control. And he liked working with death.
It was all he really needed. That and the occasional lay which somehow always left him feeling like there was something lacking. It was a wonder anyone even wanted to get in bed with a man who hardly smiled, anyway.
He spent that morning giving orders outside and offering the grieving widow and son anything they might need inside the estate. Sure, he had workers for these things, but he wanted to be hands-on with his work. He wanted them to see his face. They asked about Anand’s body and he understood how hard this must be for them to not have an immediate home funeral. But they understood Anand’s influence and wanted to make this occasion as spectacular as it could be for the public that had adored him.
They were just exchanging pleasantries when there was a knock on the door. Hamal held up a hand telling them not to move as he went to grab it. He walked through the massive house, huge compared to his flat, even. When he pulled open the massive door he found Paige on the other side.
He was just opening his mouth to greet her when he heard a heartfelt cry of happiness from behind him. Mrs. Anand had followed him into the entryway despite his protestations and crossed the massive rug to wrap Paige in her arms.
“Oh, what a wonderful sight you are!” she said, pulling away and holding Paige at arms length. Her colorful saree hung low on her wrinkled arms.
Hamal remembered something from their emails about her working for this family before, but he had no idea they had this kind of standing. He stood back and lowered his head to give the women a moment to greet each other.
“I heard what a terrible mess it’s been since you’ve arrived,” Mrs. Anand said. Despite her grief, she made the effort to comfort Paige, patting her on the hand gently. “I do hope Mr. Rashid has been taking care of you.” She leaned in close, smiling. “He may look scary, but I assure you, his insides are just as delicate as yours or mine.” She let out a small giggle and took Paige’s arm, leading her back into the living room. Her son, Fariq Anand, still sat on the couch, sipping his tea. Hamal followed after them.
“Fariq, you remember Paige, right?”
The man stood swiftly upon seeing Paige and extended his hand to shake hers. “Of course I do. Yes, yes indeed.” He seemed suddenly nervous. Unlike Hamal had seen him before. “H-how are you?” he asked Paige, wiping a nervous hand on his trousers, no doubt getting rid of the sweat.
It took all Hamal had not to roll his eyes. Fariq had a crush, it seemed. He was taking a moment away from grieving to try his best to flirt.
Paige did not have to wait too long to be greeted at the door. She remembered how large the house was and knew that it would take a little bit of time for someone to get to the door unless they had someone permanently manning it, which seemed like a waste of time and money. Upon seeing Hamal, she smiled towards him. He wasn’t lying when he said that he took care of absolutely everything and it was becoming obvious that he knew exactly how to take care of his clients. He was the best at his job and he, once again, was proving that he was a proud man.
Neither of them got a chance to talk before the widow of Mr. Anand brushed by him and took Paige into her arms.
“Mrs. Anand. It is so wonderful to see you again. I am so very sorry for your loss. Mr. Anand was a wonderful man, and he will be missed by many.” Her words were sincere, and she found herself glad that the woman experienced some joy at her company. They got along so well when they first met, and Mrs. Anand had told her that she could visit anytime. She was just sad that it was in such circumstances.
She glanced up at Hamal when he was mentioned, and Paige could do nothing but sing his praises. “No mess at all. I know that my presence here was extremely last minute so there is no issue with the lack of hotels. It was to be expected. Mr. Rashid has made me feel very comfortable and welcome. You do not have to worry about that.” She offered him a quick smile before she was being led into the living, no doubt to be reintroduced to her son Fariq. If she recalled correctly, he had been rather nervous around her the first time they had met, so she wasn’t sure what to expect.
Paige met his hand with her own and flashed him a smile. “It’s wonderful to see you again Mr. Anand. I am well.” She took back her hand and looked between the two of them. “Would you like to tell me a little bit more about your husband’s mausoleum Mrs. Anand? Will it be here upon the estate?”
Hamal watched the rather awkward exchange, but no one would be the wiser as to what was going on inside his head.
“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Anand answered Paige’s question, her voice growing soft. “Mr. Rashid and his people have already installed the most beautiful mausoleum in the land out back, right where Rahul wanted it. But I’m sure he will show you everything. For now, let us catch up.”
Mrs. Anand gently pulled Paige down to sit on the sofa across from her son. He knew she was just trying to distract herself from her grief. Fariq looked at Paige and cleared his throat. There was an awkward silence before his mother continued with small talk, asking her how she had been, how her business was, and ultimately, if there was a man in her life.
Hamal put his hands in his pockets and looked out the back window. He could spare a few moments for pleasant conversation, but he would be needing her soon.
“I hope you don’t mind me being so forward, but…” Mrs. Anand said slowly to Paige. “You know our family is less… traditional than other Hindu families and, well. You were so kind and accommodating last time you were here. If I remember correctly, you said you loved India and the beauty here and… Well, Fariq?”
She looked over to her son, who now seemed more nervous than ever. This couldn’t really be happening.
“I’m so sorry,” Hamal cut in, pretending he hadn’t been listening to the conversation. “I really must show Paige the lay of the land before the day gets away from us. I’m sure you’ll have all the time in the world to catch up at a later time.”
Though pleasant sounding, there was a command in his voice. He had a strange power about him. He was able to make people feel like whatever he wanted was [i their] idea. That it would be their gift to him. And they so wanted to please him…
“Of course, Mr. Rashid, of course!” The widow stood with Paige and handed her over happily. “Plenty of time later, of course.”
Hamal bowed his head to her and wasted no time escorting Paige out of the house. When the door was shut behind him he made off for the mausoleum across the back lawn. His dogs were lying in the shade, happily panting. When Batuk saw Paige, he stood up and came lumbering clumsily across the lawn towards them.
“I would not enter that house alone again unless you plan to be roped into a Hindu wedding right after the funeral,” Hamal said, rather abrasively. Batuk ran a circle around Paige until he whistled once and he went back to his brothers. He was also aware that several of his workers had stopped to watch them pass. Mostly to take in Paige. Not only was she a new face, but she was beautiful.
Paige had fully intended on getting to work straight away but it seemed the widow had other ideas, simply wanting to make conversation and catch up with her. They had become close during her three-month stay to complete the grounds of their estate so she couldn’t deny the woman the small talk before she started to get to work. So, as she wished, Paige took the seat opposite her, and they partook in small talk and catching up and of course the conversation ended up exactly where it had done the first time she had visited Mumbai. She wanted to know about her love life and as she had stated before, she was so busy travelling that she very rarely gave any time over to dating at all. Paige confirmed there was no man in her life and the woman seemed to light up.
She was a little surprised when the woman seemed to be propositioning her. She had been here no longer than thirty minutes and she was Mrs. Anand was hoping to get Paige to agree to some kind of arrangement with her son. In her eyes, she imagined that it would be any woman’s dream to be the first choice of a man who was about to inherit such wealth, but Paige did not care about those things.
She found herself unsure of what to say. Yes, she loved the beauty of this country and if she had the opportunity to stay a little longer and see more of it, she would take the opportunity but was this really happening? Paige blushed as she glanced between Mrs. Anand and her son. Is this the reason why she had been chosen to design such and important piece for the family? With her son now inheriting everything, did she want him to marry? Was it always their intention to ask her?
She couldn’t have felt more relieved if she tried when Hamal stepped in and saved her from a potentially awkward conversation. Paige stood and thanked the widow for her hospitality before following Hamal out of the house, breathing a long sigh of relief when she made it outside. She chuckled as Batuk stumbled towards her and glanced towards Hamal when he broke his silence.
“Mrs. Anand is rather fond of me it seems. I did not realise that she was [I that] fond of me.” She smiled and nodded. “Thank you for saving me from something that could have been extremely uncomfortable conversation, even if your intention was simply to get to work.” She looked around the grounds, noticing a few eyes on her and once she was led to the mausoleum, she was beyond impressed.
“This is certainly worthy of Mr. Anand.” She said, a hint of sadness lacing her voice. “Does the family have any ideas about how they want this to be designed? Should it be in keeping with the rest of the grounds or do they want something different?”
“It’s nothing,” Hamal replied. “I try to look out for everyone, not just the bereaved. And sometimes I have to protect people [i from] the bereaved.” He left it at that, knowing he needed to go no further into it as she had already witnessed the strange things grief can do to a family.
Together they stepped up to the small building. It was not like the mausoleums one would normally think of. This one was open with the traditional rounded roof on top. He nodded at Paige’s words. “They’re sparing no expense,” he said, stepping up to a nearby table that held all kinds of tools and blueprints. He sifted through a few of the papers before finding a folder.
He handed it over to Paige, noticing for the first time just how much taller he was than she. “This contains every idea the family had about the landscape of this place. It’s a bit all over the place, but she said she trusts you to narrow it down into something workable. It’s really just a bunch of magazine clippings and print outs of lawns.” After the folder was gone from his hand, he looked at her once again. “Whatever you need, just remember to go through me. I’m the middle man for everything so they don’t have to worry about anything… Except hoping for a marriage, apparently,” he added with a strange look.
“This is for you,” he said, taking a tablet from the table and handing it to her. “I trust you to order anything you need, whenever you need. The budget plan is in the folder on the desktop, so as long as you stick to that, you should be good. I check the plan every night to make sure no one is going overboard, but considering you seem like you know what you’re doing I doubt we’ll have any issues.”
He looked around the grounds at the flora surrounding them. “Besides. It looks like you’ve already done a great job here before.”
It was taking all he had not to let his controlling behavior come out to sabotage this moment. He knew she was more than capable, but he felt ill when circumstances weren’t in his own hands. It didn’t matter. She was loose, now.
It may have been nothing to him, but it did show that little bit of heart that he seemed to close off to everyone around him. Instead, they would now focus on work, and she just had to hope that Mrs. Anand didn’t corner her while she worked, knowing that she often worked alone and didn’t include teams in anything she did. Everything from design, to purchasing and planting…it was all done by her two hands, and she was extremely proud of the work she produced, especially since it really was a labour of love for her.
“That does not surprise me. I think this is the most expensive landscape I’ve ever worked on and that’s simply because of their lavish taste.” She took the folder from him and opened it up, flicking through the clippings they had pulled together, and she nodded as he explained the situation to her. “A bunch of magazine clippings to you…a vision to me.” She said, looking up at him with a smile.
Paige managed a laugh at his mention of a marriage. “I’m sure that she didn’t mean anything by it.” She took the tablet from him. “I appreciate that. I’ll make sure everything is within budget and I will make this place beautiful in honour of such a great man.” She placed the tablet and the folder back on the table, taking a moment to inspect the structure, ideas already floating around in her head. Wherever she looked, her vision almost came to life before her. “Perfect…just perfect.” She whispered to herself before turning back to Hamal.
Hamal watched Paige take in the sights around her. He could tell she was already seeing a plan in her mind’s eye. Something about her in that moment was captivating, but he pulled his eyes away before he could even let himself think about it too much.
“We need to be done here by the end of Friday,” he answered. Then after a moment, he added,”I will leave you to it,” and turned away from her to make the rounds and ask his employees how things were coming along. He assigned one or two of them to check on Paige every so often to see if she needed help in the days to come, but he got the sense that she might be just as independent as he was. She arrived with no help after all.
Mrs. Anand insisted on feeding them lunch and that evening, Hamal was wrapping things up and he came to check on Paige who seemed to be prepping the lawn however she could for her work the next day. He put his hands in his pockets casually.
“I was about to head back to the flat,” he said. “You’re welcome to come with me, or stay a while longer and call your driver,” he said as if he didn’t care one way or the other. He glanced back at the house and saw both widow and son glancing out at the pair of them. The breeze ran through his black curls and he let out a soft sigh. “However it looks like they’re waiting to pounce the moment they get you alone, so maybe staying isn’t the best idea.”
When it was decided, he escorted her to his car, waving at the Anands. He whistled and the three dobermans came running after them and he opened the back door so they could all climb inside. After about five minutes of silence in the car, he spoke again. “If you need any help speaking to them, don’t hesitate to ask. As kind as they are, there is no excuse for making proposals while someone is just trying to do their job.”
Back at the flat he let them inside and set his things down on the table in the entryway. The dogs came in and began to whine for their dinner, but a look from Hamal made them shush up and go to sit in the kitchen to wait patiently.
“Do you like the food here?” he asked her, knowing she would understand that he mean [i here] as in India. He rolled his sleeves up even farther. “I can order you something if you don’t like what I’m about to cook.” This was probably the most accommodating he had been in a long while. “He washed his hands before getting his things ready in the kitchen and trying hard not to feel too out of place in his own home just because he was offering food to a near stranger. “Nothing fancy. Just chicken curry,” he said, trying to rid himself of the feeling.
“Friday. Not a problem. I will see to it that everything is finished and perfected, ready for your inspection Mr. Rashid.” She smiled and without another word she got herself to work. It was when she felt most at ease and for most of the day she was left alone apart from being coaxed inside for lunch for an hour break.
By the end of the day, she had her perfect vision and she had everything ordered with the guarantee that it would be delivered the very next morning. Apparently, when she mentioned Mr. Rashid’s name everything was sped up and she was grateful for that since she was on a tight schedule.
Paige spent the rest of the day preparing the ground for the work that needed to be done the next day and just as she was finishing up she heard a voice behind her.
“Ah…Mr. Rashid. I was just finishing here.” She said before glancing back at the house. “I’m sure that it’s harmless but…I’ll take the ride.” She brushed her hands together and rose to his feet. “There is no point in taking a driver when you are going the same way.” She grabbed her things and made her way the Hamal’s car. Once inside there was a silence for a short while until the conversation circled back around to the Anands.
“Oh, there is no need. I don’t think it’s anything serious. Besides, I’m only here for a week. I’ll be on a plane back home before they have a chance to arrange a whole wedding.” She looked over at him and smiled. “Thank you though.”
Once they were back at the apartment she sat in the kitchen, fussing Batuk who seemed to be growing more and more fond of her. She looked up when Hamal asked her about food. “I love the food here.” She said as she watched him roll up his sleeves as though he was about to get to work on something. “I would be very grateful for the food. Please don’t feel like you need to order anything. Chicken curry sounds perfect to me.”
Cooking was just another thing that kept Hamal’s mind from running circles around itself, so of course he didn’t mind the chore. In fact, the more elaborate the recipe, the happier he was. As he got started, he watched Batuk continuously ask for affection from Paige.
“If he starts to bother you, you just have to tell him to go,” he said as he worked. But it looked like that wasn’t going to be happening any time soon. “To be honest, I’ve never seen any of them take with anyone else,” he confessed, adding some spices to the meal over the heat.
After a moment of silence, something else came to mind and he paused from his labor. He moved a curl from his face with a wrist so he didn’t get any raw chicken or spice in his eye as he looked over at Paige. “From now on, please call me Hamal.” He knew it wasn’t likely to stick. It never did. His authority made people call him by his last name all the time, even after he asked them to stop. But perhaps since Paige wasn’t from around here, she might let go of the formality easier.
He turned back to the food which was now filling up the flat with amazing smells. He reached for two bowls and served them up. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
In just one more moment, they were sitting at the bar on one side of the island, chewing away. Not a half hour later and the dogs had been fed and he was locked away in his room, continuing his work.
Later that night when he was sure Paige was bound to be asleep, he emerged to get some water. As usual, it turned into a late night cleaning session. He cleaned the dog bowls and put them away. He fluffed the cushions and the pillows on the couch where the dogs slept until it was time for them to join Hamal in his own sleep. Except he noticed one of them was missing.
His brows furrowed and he searched the kitchen and his own room before realizing the guest room door was cracked open. He opened it just enough that the light from the hallway would illuminate the room. Batuk looked up from his place on the bed, his eyes glowing in the dark with a pleading look that asked his master not to make him move.
Hamal looked from him to the back of Paige’s sleeping head. Then left again, keeping the door cracked ever so slightly just in case the dog wanted out again.
He shook his head as he headed back to his own room. Haddi and Parth followed after him, mildly confused as to where their brother was. They hopped up on the foot of his massive bed, as he stripped, finally ready for sleep to claim him.
Paige was enjoying the aromas of the meal Hamal was preparing for them as well as enjoying the attention she was getting from one of his dogs. "Oh he's no bother at all. I love dogs but my lifestyle doesn't exactly allow me to have one of my own." She smiled and rubbed behind Batuk's ear. "I bet most people don't give them a chance. They are quite intimidating to look at I guess. Although I think they are extremely handsome."
Paige watched as Hamal expertly added ingredients to pan and she was growing more and more hungry. She had to admit that she was surprised when he asked her to call him Hamal, figuring that he was usually the kind of man who would prefer the authority of a title but she would call him whatever he asked out of respect. "As you wish Hamal."
Once food was served she asked for a drink of whatever it was that he was having and the two enjoyed dinner together, although there was little in the way of conversation and after she helped him clean up, the two went their seperate ways and Paige was retiring to her room to sleep before long. She still needed to catch up on some sleep from the travelling.
She hadn't realised that she kept her door ajar and she wouldn't until the morning where she would find Batuk guarding her. She didn't even stir when light flooded her room or shortly after when the dog moved from the end of the bed to lay right next to her with his head on the spare pillow.
Paige woke up early though and it wasn't because her natural body clock decided to wake her up, it was because she felt something on her ear and it wasn't until she came to that she realised that not only had Batuk taken it upon himself to sleep on her bed, but he was licking and gently nipping at her face in an attempt to demand her attention. She chuckled and rubbed her hand over her face.
"That's by far the weirdest wake up call I've ever had." She said reached out to pet him and he kissed her in return.
Paige climbed out of bed and left the room to get a bottle of water and decided to fill up the dogs' water bowls while she was in the kitchen. Batuk was grateful and she couldn't help but wonder if the hound had spent the whole night in her room. She shook her head and stood in the kitchen downing her water quickly, not even a thought spared for the fact that she was wearing a rather revealing set or pyjamas. After all, it was a hot summer and she had expected to be in a hotel and not sharing someone else's apartment. Besides, it was early and she assumed Hamal would be asleep for a while longer yet.
The next morning, Hamal woke before his alarm clock, which was not uncommon. He rose, and while he normally would have walked about his own house freely in the nude, he decided that since he had company he might as well throw on a pair of sweatpants just in case he ran into her.
As it would happen, he would be very grateful he had thought to do so as he left his room with the intent to start a pot of coffee because she was already standing in the kitchen when he arrived. Though it wasn’t his outfit he was concerned about.
His eyes couldn’t help but rake over her before she even noticed his arrival. Many women had been in his kitchen wearing their silk pajamas, but none that he hadn’t just spent the night previously with. He cleared his throat and crossed the room to the counter. Batuk got out of his way, but looked up at Paige.
“Coffee?” he asked, starting the machine and choosing to completely ignore the fact that what she was wearing was perhaps one step away from being lingerie and he was only in his sweatpants. After all, it might be a week of this.
He did not look over at her again and instead insisted on watching the coffee drip for a couple minutes.
Paige was so busy hydrating and fussing her new best friend that she hadn't seen or heard Hamal enter the kitchen until he cleared his throat and suddenly she felt very aware of what she was wearing. It was not her intention for anyone to see her in that, least of all the man hosting her for the week. Her cheeks turned a rosy shade of pink and she couldn't help but allow her eyes to drink in Hamal's bare chest as he crossed in front of her to make coffee.
That was the only word he said to her. "Ah...yes...please. I'm just..." she pointed towards her room and the scooted off, not wanting to stand before him on what many would consider underwear rather than pyjamas. She felt very exposed and almost naked. She shook her head and closed the door behind her.
"Idiot." She chastised herself before she got herself changed into someone far more suitable for company. Once she was dressed, she made her way back out into the kitchen to be greeted by the smell of freshly brewed coffee. "I have to say, your coffee beats Starbucks any day." Paige was simply trying to distract herself from feeling stupid.
Paige stumbled over her words, then left, which he was rather grateful for. But try as he might, he could not get the sight of all that skin out of his mind. Even in his dimly lit home, she seemed to shimmer like honey. He sighed softly, allowing himself one last thought of her, and then he banished the want in his stomach.
The coffee was ready by the time she returned and he was pouring them both a mug. As if to let her know that he considered the awkwardness over, he handed a mug to her himself. “Thank you,” he said, knowing she must just trying to be making polite small talk to try to cover up the run in earlier. It did not cross his mind that his shirtlessness might be making it harder for her to move on from it. “I get my coffee straight from the source,” he said. “I grind it myself when it gets here.” [i Just more distractions, really,] he tried not to say.
He sipped on his coffee before finally moving away, offering nothing more to the conversation. He took his mug with him and closed himself in his room to shower and change. He chose something once again of quality: light weight to withstand the heat and fashionable enough to prove he was someone you didn’t want to cross. He groomed his facial hair into submission before exiting his room again to find Paige not far from where he left her.
“Would you like to carpool, again?” he asked, with no prior conversation leading up to the interaction. “I’m heading out. As always, you can call your driver.”
Paige still found it hard to move on from the embarrassment she felt due to the lack of clothes on his part this time. Normally, the men she was around were fully clothed and she have to worry about training herself to look away. She thanked him when he handed her a cup or coffee and did not hesitate to take a sip. "Well that explains why the coffee is so good then." She took another sip as if to prove just how good the coffee was.
Soon enough he left the kitchen to get himself dressed and Paige was relieved. It wasn't because she didn't like what she saw, rather the opposite and it made things extremely difficult for her to concentrate. She shook her head and laughed quietly once she was alone and she used the time to finish her coffee and wash the mug when she was done.
When Hamal returned, he was offering her a lift to work. "Yeah. I'm ready and that would be great. Thank you." She checked her phone and smiled. "Looks like everything I ordered should be waiting for me there."
Hamal was glad to hear that the faith the grieving family had in Paige was not misplaced. She had apparently already ordered everything she needed to get the job done and he wouldn't be surprised if things were finished ahead of schedule.
They both seemed to silently agree to forget their run in with each other that morning and remained professional through the morning. Paige went about her business, Hamal went about his, and the dogs went back to basking in the shade. Hamal would not admit aloud, but he liked to bring the beasts with him because he felt like it made his people work harder. As if he might set the dogs on them at any moment.
It wasn't until much later when he was told by Mrs. Anand that lunch was ready that he went in search of Paige again. He found her in front of the burial structure with flowers about. She was kneeling in the middle of them all, organizing them based on something only she knew.
Hamal put his hands in his pockets and crossed the lawn to greet her, but something made him slow to a stop to take in the sight of her in her flowing dress amidst the colorful flowers.
Something akin to a freight train hit him in that moment. His gut at least. Or was it his heart? There was something so familiar about the image before him. And while he had no memory of feeling this way ever before in his life, it felt almost like an old friend. An old, old friend.
He realized his breath had caught, his eyes were wide. He swallowed heavily, forcing himself to look away. When he did, all was right with the world again. But when he returned his eyes to her image, he felt it all over again. A singing feeling. A want. No, a [i need] so intense he wanted to-
His brow twitched. Was this what happened when you avoided feeling your own emotions?
He shoved everything down again, packing the strange new- yet not new- feelings down. Then he dared to approach her.
"Lunch," was the only word that came out at first. "Lunch is ready."
The journey to the estate was rather like every other car ride she had taken with Hamal…silent. She used the time to enter the numbers into the budget spreadsheet now that her delivery had arrived and since it seemed they had everything she requested and so far she was coming in well under budget. Of course, she would likely need more things in the next day or so but the bulk of it was ordered and she was ready to get to work. And that’s exactly what she did once she arrived at the estate.
Paige had managed to avoid the grieving family so far, but she knew that they would insist upon lunch being served in the main house again, but for the entire morning, she focused on organising the flora and preparing them for the arrangement. This was her favourite part of her job. Being amongst the foliage with the scents surrounding her. She was knelt amongst them, careful not to crush anything around her. Every single movement she made was delicate and gentle, as if anything could break in her hand at any minute if she chose to be less careful. Paige adjusted herself slightly, pulling her dress around so that it was no longer tight at her knees and continued to work, not even knowing how much time had passed, or the fact that Hamal was nearby.
She had no knowledge of the experience he was going through or the new emotions that seemed to overwhelm him. She only knew that Hamal was watching her when she heard him approach and heard his voice over the gentle breeze that danced around her ear.
Paige smiled and placed one of the flowers down and glanced around at her organisation as if to check that she was happy enough to leave it for lunch and when she was, she nodded happily and placed her hands upon her knees and pushed herself up. “Thank you! I’ve only just realised just how hungry I am. That’s the thing with my work…I can get so engrossed in it that hours pass me by without my knowledge.” She checked her watch and chuckled. “Where did those four hours go?” For now, anything that Hamal might have been feeling had gone unnoticed by her.
Hamal was so busy trying to quell this new feeling that he could hardly make heads or tails of her words. Eventually he managed to pull himself together just enough to nod at her politely before holding a hand out towards the massive house before them and made his way with her. He opened the back door for her which opened up into a massive sun room where the family usually hosted their lunches. Half of his staff were already inside, complementing Mrs. Anand once again on her cooking.
If Hamal had been hungry before, he surely wasn’t anymore. Not after the strange shower of emotion that had just overtaken him. So he politely shook his head at the plate the widow tried to offer him. He sat in a nearby chair, looking moody as ever with his brows knit together and his fingers smoothing out the hair on his lip. He looked at a spot on the floor nearby before he let his eyes finally lift up and seek out Paige.
It seemed Fariq decided now was as good a time as any to approach her, nervous as he was. He couldn’t hear what they were saying and a part of him wanted to jump up and rescue her from a proposal again, but he knew the young man wouldn’t do it in such a public setting. Either way, there was a fire in him at the sight. Another feeling he could not explain. He was growing sick of this.
He stood abruptly and left the room, heading outside again. That room felt stifling. He didn’t realize that his feet led him back to the flora that Paige had accumulated. He knelt, picking one of the planters up and stared at the bright red flower. He brought it close and smelled it, hardly letting the petals touch the tip of his nose as he did so. As he closed his eyes and let the aroma flow through him, he remembered the image of Paige sitting among the blooms and greenery. He could not explain the significance of the image or why it had conjured up such emotion in him, but he knew this was not him. He set the flower down.
Once again, there was no response to her attempt at making a conversation. She knew that he was going to be difficult to work with the moment they met but she figured that they were getting somewhere. However, he seemed to pick and choose when it was a good idea for him to talk to her and it was something she was hoping to overcome. Perhaps she just needed to accept that things were likely to remain this way for the rest of the week. Still, it didn’t mean that the woman had to be rude to him. Besides, she didn’t really have it in her to behave in such a way.
Paige thanked him when he held the door open for her and extended her gratitude to Mrs. Anand when a plate of food was handed to her. She didn’t really take much notice of anyone else in the room from the point onwards, wanting to simply finish her food so that she could head back towards the mausoleum and focus on her work. What she hadn’t counted on, which she should have done really, was the fact that Fariq took this opportunity to talk to her, no doubt sent over by his mother. Paige was polite to him, making sure that she did not appear disturbed by his presence, and she made sure that she kept the conversation friendly.
Once she finished her food, she knew that she simply wanted to get back to work, not wanting to extend her lunch so that Fariq or his mother could use the free time to lay down any foundations with her. Grieving or not, a marriage was not something she was willing to entertain. She smiled politely towards Fariq. “Excuse me, but I must get back to work. Thank you once again for your kindness but I do have a lot I need to do.” She said with a friendly smile and excused herself from the table, not even noticing that Hamal had left the room himself. That was, until she arrived back at her place of work.
When she saw him, she noticed that he was taking a moment to smell one of the flowers in her arrangement and she wondered if he had decided to take the time to inspect her work. “I didn’t see you leave the sunroom!” She said with surprise as she approached him and joined him in looking over her work. “Is something not to your liking?”
Hamal stood when he heard her approach and he cursed himself for dallying too long here. He turned to look at Paige, shrugging ever so slightly at her mention of his leaving their lunch so quietly. That had not been his intention, but he supposed, looking back now, he had escaped rather silently.
When she closed the distance between them and stood beside him to look over her work, he shook his head at her inquiry.
“Everything is fine,” he told her. “Besides, you don’t work for me, remember? My opinion doesn’t matter.” He moved to step away, but turned back to her. “But for the record, Ms. Paige, it’s very much to my liking. You’re very good at what you do.”
He offered no smile as he said this, but anyone could tell he meant it. He finally walked away from her, then, feeling strange and out of place in his own skin. Something was happening to him. Something that simultaneously felt extremely familiar and also incredibly foreign. He avoided her the rest of the day to bury himself in his work and to prevent himself from thinking about her in any capacity.
By the end of the day, he almost felt normal again, but he knew it wouldn’t last. He had to face her again sooner rather than later. She [i was] a guest in his home after all. So, against his better judgement, he sought her out.
“Are you ready?” He asked softly, not wanting to startle her out of her work. He checked his watch. “It’s nearly time and I was thinking about stopping for something to eat on the way back. Of course, if you’d like to stay…” He trailed off, taking in the sight of her.
He had no luck identifying this feeling. This emotion. And it had not gone away, he had simply grown accustomed to the strangeness of it throughout the day.
If anything, Paige simply felt like her presence in general was a huge inconvenience for Hamal and the fact that she was also staying at his home meant that she felt it from him here and there. However, she had to remind herself that this was only temporary and by the end of the week she would be on a plane back to Colombia so she could finally get some time at home. She sighed a little when he went to walk away but she found herself surprised when he seemed to stop to make sure that he gave his opinion. Paige smiled but there were no more words exchanged between them as he walked away to go about his own work.
She threw herself back into her work then, making sure everything flower she had organised found it’s place and she was slowly seeing her image come to life before her. Several more hours passed and once again she had become that engrossed in her work that she barely even noticed that the end of the working day was approaching. If she was honest with herself, she might have been able to continue working for several more hours but the familiar voice behind her reminded her that her expected working hours had come to an end.
Paige looked behind her and raised her brow. “That time already?” She asked as she finished smoothing over the soil around one of the plants she had just placed in the ground. “I don’t want to intrude on your evening any more than I have to…” She said as she got to her feet and moved some of her supplies around so that they were organised for the next day.
“Of course, I’d be happy to join you for dinner if it truly is no trouble? Otherwise I would be just as happy calling the driver take me back in a couple of hours."
“It’s no trouble,” Hamal found himself saying rather quickly in response to her hesitancy. He could understand why someone might think that of him, but he truly did not mind. After all, it was his people who had messed up her accommodations. And besides, he found his curiosity suddenly piqued.
It wasn’t that he was a selfish man, just private, as he had heard many people say before. But after that moment earlier, for the first time since he could remember, he found himself wanting to get to know someone else. It was new. Strange.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t mind the company,” he heard himself say. He wondered if that was true or if it was just some way to get her alone so he could figure out what all of this meant. Despite avoiding her all day, he was no closer to understanding what his gut was trying to tell him.
The journey back to his flat, despite his claim about wanting company, was silent as usual. They stopped to grab food where he went inside to pick it up, having it prepared beforehand. He would never have even thought about a drive through. When they returned home, he opened the door, fed the dogs as usual, then laid the food out. He did so not on the bar like before, but in his actual dining room which he rarely made use of.
“I hope this is okay,” he said, sitting down across from her. He watched her start to eat and realized he was staring, so he turned to his own food.
He assumed she suspected another silent meal, but his soul would not still. He needed to know more about the beauty in front of him for reasons he did not understand.
“Where are you from?” he finally asked, reaching out for his glass of wine. His dark eyes found hers in almost a challenging stare.
Hamal’s reply was much faster than she expected and rather than simply accepting that she had a driver she could use if he wanted his privacy, it seemed that he actually [I wanted] company. Whether it was her company or just the presence of another she did not know but she wouldn’t question it. Instead, she joined him in the car and as usual the two spent most of the car journey in complete silence. Hamal had called ahead to order some food and he left her alone briefly to pick up the food, so she spent the time looking through her e-mails and job requests that were coming in. She would prepare quotes for them when she had more time to focus on something else and just replied with acknowledgements for now.
Once they were back at Hamal’s place he set the food up in the dining room and after washing up after working in the dirt, she joined him and found that a glass of wine had been poured for her. “This is perfect.” She said with a smile and lowered herself into the chair where he had food set up for her. “Thank you.” Paige didn’t waste much time digging into the food. There was one thing to be said about the food here, and that it was full of flavour. She loved it and she figured that she would have to enjoy it in silence, but Hamal surprised her by starting a conversation with her.
Paige looked up from her plate and met his eyes, watching him take his glass of wine. “I’m from Medellin in Colombia. Have you always lived in Mumbai?”
Hamal nodded at her answer, suspecting as much. After letting the wine sit in his mouth for a moment, he finally swallowed and set the glass down gently so that he could answer her question.
“As long as I can remember,” he said, not seeing the strangeness in the statement. “But people around here tell me I don’t sound like it,” he confessed. In truth, his accent was somewhere between what one would expect and something else. Something very noble sounding. The same could be said for Paige’s voice, though he couldn’t tell if it was just his mind playing tricks on him again.
“And your work. You seem to have a passion for it.” That was the lightest way he could think to word it. In reality, she seemed to glow when she was surrounded by nature.
Paige had expected a different answer from him since his accent sounded more like something that one would pick up by being emersed in a culture. She expected him to say that he was from somewhere else but had lived her for a large portion of his life…but then her Colombian accent was not as strong as people expected. That was likely due to the amount of travelling that she had done though.
Paige picked up her own wine glass, taking and sip before nodding when Hamal spoke of her work. “Oh, I do. It’s a hard one to explain but it’s just something I feel a pull towards and being responsible for creating such beauty with natures gifts leaves me extremely fulfilled. It’s my one and only love. Besides, I get to travel the world too and it’s beautiful.” She shook her head for a moment. “I’ve always felt that…I have a limited time here…It’s hard to explain. Like, I have to see everything because soon I will have to leave.” She looked back up at him. “I must sound crazy.”
Normally when people spoke, Hamal found himself only half listening. Most people didn’t have anything interesting to day, anyway. But with Paige… He hung onto her every word. And while someone else might not have understood her or thought her crazy, the confession of the strange feeling she got with her work was similar to how he felt with his own. It was the closest he managed to get to filling some deeper need within him. And while he didn’t quite understand her, he felt a little less alone.
“No, not crazy,” he said softly, pushing his empty plate away from him. He rotated the stem of the wine glass between his fingers and looked up to meet her eyes once again. “Everything is temporary, after all. Isn’t that why you’re here?” he asked. He knew she hadn’t been speaking about death, but that is how he saw the world. Everything had its cycle. Jobs, trips across the world, life.
He stood, then and picked up his plate. He crossed over to her side of the table to retrieve hers as well.
“Thank you. For the conversation. Despite my lack of talent,” he said, looking down at her. “All my money and resources and it seems to be the one thing I can’t quite perfect.” He actually offered her the smallest of smiles, then. It was hardly there at all. And then he was gone, taking their dishes to the kitchen.
He spent the rest of that evening buried in his work and did not allow himself to think about Paige until well into the night as he was drifting off to sleep.
Paige couldn’t explain what the feeling was that came over her when he looked her directly into her eyes. It was like he was peering into her soul and wanted to bare it to him. Which was strange in itself since she had just met him, and he had been far from welcoming. Although, she was realising that it was nothing personal and it was just part of who he was and while others seemed to keep their distance from him, it didn’t make her feel any different towards him.
“Yes…I suppose it is.” She said, finished off the food on her plate and the wine in her glass. She was about to take it into the kitchen, but Hamal took hold of her plate before she even had the chance to stand. She looked up at him and she could have sworn that her heart quickened when he leaned over her, and she saw that ghost of a smile he clearly tried to hide before he walked away. She chuckled to herself knowing that the few brief words exchanged between them was likely the most conversation he had with anyone outside of a work capacity.
That night, her dreams were a lot different from what she usually experienced. Her body was being traced with kisses and there was not a single inch of her body left untouched. The kisses were loving and made her feel worshipped and safe. Gasps of pleasure escaped her, her body arching against the man who was giving them to her until finally his lips met hers and the two shared a passionate kiss. It was something that words could not describe but it was unlike anything she had every shared with anyone. When the man pulled away, she recognised the face instantly. It was Hamal.
Paige brought her hand to his face and stared into his eyes as she allowed her hand to run through his hair. “You always treat me like a queen.” She said with a smile and in reply he had leaned down to kiss her once more, leading to something far more intimate. In the morning, she would be embarrassed to be around him knowing that she had such dreams about him. It was not something she had ever experienced before but her mind kept the intimacy on play throughout most of her slumber.
When she awoke the next morning, she was overcome with a weird sense of comfort and satisfaction but when the memories of her dream flooded back, she had no idea how she was supposed to face Hamal that morning. It was strange though because it didn’t feel like a dream at all. It felt real, like she was reliving a memory and a small part of her that had always felt empty seemed to glimmer with a little bit of hope. It was a feeling she was going to have to push aside, and she hoped that a shower would help wash away the strange evening.
The sun was far too bright, but Hamal faced it anyway. Despite how used he was to his darkness, his curiosity got the better of him and he emerged with a sigh into the warmth of summer. His hair was longer, brushing his back in dark curls, and he wore robes that were darker than any black. Hamal could sense himself apart from this dream, feeling how odd it all was. He had never dreamt anything like this, and yet it felt so familiar.
He took several steps into the sun and his eyes found what he hadn’t known he had been searching for.
And she was beautiful.
She was picking flowers. Her hair fell in waves. He could sense her purity [i and] her sense of wanderlust. And he felt another kind of lust rise within him altogether. He watched her closely for several minutes. And he knew he had to have her.
The dream shifted, showing him things old, but new. He heard his own demanding voice. A face that felt like a brother’s. A shift in the world. He tumbled backwards and the woman’s form fell with him into the deep darkness he had originally emerged from.
She had Paige’s face, he realized, as his dream self reached out for her to protect her from the fall. Yet, no pain came, just the soft, silky sheets of a massive bed. He rolled over, tracing her face, making sure she was unharmed. Her smiling face looked up at him, then leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth.
“I’m so sorry,” he heard himself say. He felt her hands run through his hair as if to make him forget about his guilt. He kissed her then, deeply, with need. He felt every moment of their intimacy as if it were not just a dream, but as if he were living a memory.
He woke with a start, sitting up quickly. The chill of his sweat ran down his back and it took several minutes for his heart to slow. As soon as he was able, he threw the sheets off and headed for the shower.
He managed to write the dream off as he got himself ready for the day, but he knew there had to be more to it. He didn’t know what that could even mean, but there was something so real about it. Not to mention the dream stayed with him all through the morning. He usually would forget details by the time he was adjusting his shirt, but this time it remained in his mind like a memory.
His mind still felt foggy by the time he emerged from his room and started the pot of coffee. This time he made sure he was fully clothed. He wasn’t sure he could handle another encounter like the previous morning after the dream he had just had.
She heard the door creak open, and Paige was startled, instantly covering herself to maintain her modesty but when she looked back, all she saw was Batuk looking up at her with a tilted head as if he was confused about why she was no longer cuddled up in bed with him by her side. Once her heart rate returned to normal she laughed it off and continued to shower. “You gave me a fright Batuk!” She looked back at him and shook her head. “Put your tongue back in your mouth.”
Once she finished showered she climbed out and got herself dressed for the day and found her mind flitting back to her dream. It was the last thing she wanted to think about in that moment, especially since she had to emerge from her room and see him at some point. With any luck, Hamal was already gone, and she could call the driver to pick her up and take her to work. He avoided her there anyway so it would give her more time to recover from the intensity of her dream.
“Come on buddy. We can’t stay in here all day.” She said towards the hound as she clicked her fingers and he jumped off the bed to follow her out of the room. She heard movement in the kitchen which told her Hamal had not gone to work yet so she took a deep breath to prepare herself for seeing him. Paige gathered herself and walked into the kitchen with Batuk in toe.
“Good morning.” She said, trying to sound like her usual cheery self. Yet, she looked at him differently today. She was hyperaware of every detail upon his face, the way his jaw tensed, the way his suit clung to the contours of his body… She cleared her throat. “I’m going to work late tonight. I think I can get the bulk of the work done today.”
Hamal heard Batuk before he saw him and he knew that Paige was not far behind. That dog seemed to be glued to her side lately. He had even seen him pad his way over to her while he was working the day before.
“Morning,” he replied, glancing over at her before pulling another mug down to pour her one as well. He nodded at her next words and turned to hand her the coffee. “Whatever you wish,” he said, their fingers grazing in the exchange. He pulled back slowly, trying his best not to stare at her.
He wondered if there was something different about the way she was looking at him, too, or if it was just his mind playing further tricks on him. He used Batuk as an excuse to look away from her.
“He’s taken a shine to you,” he said, gesturing with his mug to the dog who pawed at the hem of her dress. “Off,” he told him and Batuk huffed and laid down at her feet. He returned his eyes to hers, but she was still looking at the doberman. “None of them have ever been so warm to anyone else,” he said, and as he spoke his eyes traced her collarbone while she wasn’t looking. For a split second he wondered if that delicate neck of hers would feel the same as it did in his dream if he gently wrapped his hand around it and pulled her close.
But the thought was gone as soon as it came. He cleared his throat, turned to rinse his mug, and grabbed for his keys.
“I’m heading out,” he said. “Should I wait for you?”
He did even notice that he was starting to sound significantly less demanding.
One thing Paige was growing accustomed to and enjoying here was her morning coffee. Not just because it was already made by the time she emerged from her room, but because it was damn good coffee. In fact, she could even argue that it was almost as good as the Colombian blend she was missing back home. She was grateful when he poured her a mug without even needed to ask and when she reached out for it, her breath caught in her throat. Their fingers brushed each other and she was reminded of the feeling of his fingers running down her sides in a heat or passion.
Paige brought the coffee to her mouth and hoped the rush of caffeine would be a good cover for the blush now staining her cheeks. Yet, she didn't want to make it obvious that someone was off with her so she just smiled and looked down to Batuk when he was mentioned.
"I'm glad he likes me as much as I like him." She said, leaning down to stroke him after he was told to stop messing with her dress. "He can keep me company as often as he likes until my job here is done." She looked back up at Hamal now that she trusted herself to and finished her coffee.
"I'm ready to go...as long as you don't mind." A part of her wanted him to say that she needed to use the driver so that she had more time to get over this strange feeling she was getting around him now, but the other side of her couldn't even think about leaving his side... she cleared her throat and followed him out to the car when it was clear he didn't mind.
"I was thinking of staying for the funeral and booking a flight out the next day. I should probably start looking at them later tonight. Don't want to leave it until last minute."
Hamal half hoped Paige would come with him, half hoped she would stay behind. The feeling of having her close was near intoxicating to him after his dream. When they got to the car he opened the passenger door for her as he usually did. When she moved to sit, he couldn’t help but discreetly inhale the scent she left behind and he realized it was not far from the aroma of the flower he had smelled the day before.
He rounded to the driver’s side and nodded at her words as he pulled onto the road. “I can arrange everything for you,” he said, not taking his eyes from the road. “That is my job here after all.” Truth be told, he was not usually responsible for the flights of others, but he felt like he owed something to her after last night. Even if it was a dream, he had seen her in a way he shouldn’t have… It wasn’t like him to feel guilty about a sex dream. He must have had enough of a commanding tone in his voice because there was no argument.
When they arrived, Hamal helped her out of the car as well at the dogs. Two went running off to their tree, but Batuk remained at Paige's side. He looked from the dog to the woman he was so infatuated with. "Let me know if he starts to bother you," he said. "Sometimes he's clumsy and doesn't know his own strength. I'd wouldn't want him to ruin your hard work."
Normally he wouldn't let him remain with her, but she truly seemed to enjoy the dog's company and there was something in that that warmed his cold heart.
The week was already half over and his people were almost done setting up. Just as he suspected they would be done ahead of schedule. He made his rounds, checking in with workers and checking budgets. All the while his eyes kept driving back to where Paige was working.
Paige glanced over at the man beside her, daring to take in the sight of him after such a vivid dream the night before. She found herself watching his lips as he spoke and for a moment she found the desire to kiss him overwhelming. Paige had to force herself to look away again, catching herself before she made herself look completely foolish. The desire she felt was painted all over her face.
"That would be great. Thank you Hamal." She smiled and focused on the road for the rest of the journey, not trusting herself to remain clear headed. It served her well because she seemed to be able to control herself when Hamal circled around to her side of the car to open her door upon arrival to the estate.
She thanked him and watched as two of his handsome dogs ran off. Batuk, of course, remained by her side. "He could never bother me. He's just perfect exactly how he is." She pat him and made her way over to her work space and got straight to it. Batuk lay as close as he could without laying all over the flowers and he only really moved or lifted his head when he detected movement behind him.
Fariq had been on his way over to speak to her but the dog growled subtly and before Paige even had the chance to see him, he was turning around and going in the other direction faster than he came.
"Batuk! What's gotten into you?" She said as she picked up the growling sound. She reached out to stroke behind his ears and looked around. "There's nothing there." She said and he seemed to calm and lay his head back down onto the ground.
Just as he suspected, they were making great headway. He spent most of his time supervising. The final touches of the mausoleum were being placed and Paige was nearby, draping it in florals. When she was near he could hardly tear his eyes away from her.
Lunch came and he suspected that this feeling might dissipate throughout the day, but it was a false hope. Paige seemed so wrapped up in her work and while Batuk seemed capable to keeping Fariq at bay (something that make Hamal smirk to himself) he still didn't want her to have to face anyone inside. Especially the man after her hand.
He filled a plate for her as well as one for himself and he crossed the lawn to where she continued her work. When she noticed him, he sat upon the first step to the mausoleum and handed her one of the plates without a word about it.
Paige was making good progress and she had no doubt that her work would be finished tomorrow. She needed a few more flowers to fill in the gaps and she ordered them before lunch time to make sure that they would arrive nice and early the next morning, but aside from that she has no intention of pulling herself away from the mausoleum now. She was beginning to see her vision almost complete and this is when she became most excited about her work. So, she made the conscious decision to skip lunch that day.
Although, it seemed that Hamal had other ideas about that. She only saw him coming because Batuk reacted to his presence and when she saw him with two plates of food she was rather surprised. She watched him as he lowered himself onto the step and she took the plate from him.
"You didn't have to..." she trailed off and then looked back up at him. "I appreciate it." Paige took a break from her work and started to eat. The silence was a little awkward so she decided to talk about work.
"I'll have this completed by midday tomorrow. A day ahead of schedule. That way, the Anand's can request any adjustments before the funeral."
Hamal could only keep his eyes focused on the flowers or on Paige. Everything else around him seemed dull in comparison. Even his food seemed to have no taste, yet it ate it anyway, listening to her speak.
"That's good to hear," he said. "We'll also be finished tomorrow." He didn't mention that this meant they would have a day off between work and the funeral which Paige wanted to attend. Normally that wouldn't come to his attention, but he was her host at the moment.
Hamal came back to check on her a couple more times that day, and by afternoon he had to remind himself that she was planning to stay late and he didn't need to ask if she needed a ride.
He left without goodbye, as he would be seeing her shortly, but also because this was all new to him. He felt so drawn to her and he wished he knew how to talk to her as freely as she did with him.
He let Batuk remain with her, knowing she wouldn't leave him behind. He looked too happy with her to move. He made this decision easily, only to reflect on the fact he would have let very few people look after his dogs.
Once home, Hamal made himself a small meal then made for his room to finish work for the day. He passed Paige's door on the way and try as he might, he could not resist the urge to look inside.
The space was tidy. Not as much as he kept the rest of his house, but it was nothing that bothered him. His cleanliness came from his need of distraction, after all. Her clothes were all neatly folded, her bag in the velvet chair beside the bed. He took one step into the room, then thought better of it, and retreated back to his own and shut the door.
"I'm glad that everything is on schedule." She said as she finished up her food. As soon as she did, she returned to work and retreated into a busy silence that no one could disturb and she only stopped working when the sun began to go down so the visibility was no longer good enough for her to finish her job. She sighed and looked back at Batuk. "I think it's time to get you home." She said leaning down to stroke him as she dialled the number of the driver. He would be twenty minutes or so which would be enough time for Mrs. Anand to corner her. Of course she had every intention of being polite.
"Paige! I didn't know you were still here."
"I'm just finishing up. I'll be leaving shortly. How are you coping? Is there anything I can do for you?" Paige had a heart of gold and that was one of the reasons the widow had taken to her so easily when they first met.
"Oh we are doing just fine. I'll be glad when we can finally lay him to rest and give him the funeral he deserves." She said as she took hold of Paige's hand. "You will come to the funeral won't you?" Whe asked with a hopefully look.
"I wouldn't miss is Mrs. Anand."
"You should stay for a while...enjoy Mumbai. Both times you have been here it's been for work. You should socialise...Fariq can show you around..."
"That's very kind of you both but I planned on returning home after the funeral." Paige was glad then when her phone rang. "My driver is here. I'll he finished with the design around midday tomorrow so make sure you and your son are free to inspect it. That way if there is anything you want to change I still have time." She said as she leaned in and pressed a kiss to the woman's cheek.
"This about what I said Paige. I'd be happy to house you here should you decide to stay."
She nodded in response and called Batuk to follow her to the car and the two made the journey back to Hamal's apartment. Once inside, he joined his brothers and she looked around to see if Hamal was around but it appeared that he wasn't. She lowered herself onto the sofa and let out a sigh. "It's been a long day." She said to no one at all and lowered her head. Paige had no intention of falling asleep there, but exhaustion decided to put her to sleep on the couch where her mind decided to give her more vivid dreams about a life she could have sworn was real.
The sun had set by the time he heard the door open and Batuk’s excited feet against the hardwood floor. Of course it was hard to tell the time in his room with his shades drawn, keeping him in perpetual darkness, but a glance at the clock told him as much. He gave her another hour to settle in before he stopped replying to emails and stood up to feed the dogs and check on her.
He expected her door to be closed, but it was exactly as he had left it. He ventured into the living room and found her on the sofa, sleeping deeply. Her small body hardly filled the massive couch and he wondered why he even had the thing if he never had guests.
He approached slowly, looking down at her sleeping form. That feeling was back and in the silence he was starting to identify what it might be. It felt like… longing. And a whisper of memory. Just like the dream he had.
He pulled a blanket, neatly folded, from the back of the couch. It’s quality was unmatched, just like the rest of the items he owned. He let it fall out of its folds and gently lay it over her before heading to the kitchen. It was the most interaction he would allow himself.
He fed the dogs and washed the dishes by hand. He wiped down the counters and took inventory of the fridge and cabinets. Anything to keep his mind busy. Anything to keep him from thinking about her.
He went back to his room for a while to continue working for some time and the next time he looked up it was three hours later and he heard the sound of strangled crying. He furrowed his brows, unsure if he was equipped to deal with his crying guest, but when he looked out onto the couch, he realized that Paige was not awake. She was crying in her sleep, her head moving from side to side. The blanket had fallen to the ground.
His heart quickened and as if on instinct he rushed forward as if he had done this a hundred times and knelt beside the couch.
“Paige,” he said, and reached out to shake her shoulder gently. “Paige, wake up, you’re dreaming.”
Continue reading this role play by signing up to Roleplay.cloud Roleplay Now ! No email required!