‘Are you sure you want to do this? Your…’ she paused delicately, ‘…friend and Naina might not like the idea of being left behind on the excursion bus while you come away with me on this…’ She waved her hand weakly to indicate the line of taxis waiting outside the rental agency for tourists to hire them.
‘It doesn’t matter, I’m doing what I want to do. I’m not keen on trudging through a tour of perfumeries with forty other people I have no interest in being with when I could be seeing a town I want to visit instead and spend time with you.’
Rhea gasped but he gave her no time to continue the conversation that gave her heart a flutter, and moved ahead to find them a taxi from amongst the line-up. She stood where she was, watching him have what seemed like a long and complicated discussion with a driver, involving a lot of shrugging and hand movements and rapid fire French. She was impressed that he spoke like a native, or at least well enough for a native to understand him. And voila! They found a driver who was willing to take them to St Paul de Vence and back and would throw in Antibes as well. All in good time!
‘Have you agreed to pay a king’s ransom for this?’ Rhea whispered into Kamal’s ear as they settled themselves in the taxi, acutely aware that sitting in the back seat of a taxi with someone so devastatingly handsome, and in such close proximity, was bad for her self-control.
‘Yes,’ he laughed back. ‘But it will be so worth it.’
‘I can’t even begin to thank you enough…’ she began, but he silenced her by putting a finger on her lips and taking her hand in his.
‘Don’t. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the day.’
Rhea felt a warm feeling wash all over her. But the very next minute her body tingled with the awareness of each of his movements. Had it been a good idea to get away, alone with him? It was just for a few hours, how dangerous could it be, she rationalized, and hadn’t she just been telling herself that she needed to be impetuous?
The taxi took them along the Mediterranean coast to the seaside town of Antibes, a resort destination for the rich and famous. They stopped briefly at the harbour to check out some of the world’s biggest, sleekest and most expensive yachts at Billionaires’ Quay. From there, they drove through the picturesque Provençal countryside with sunlight glinting hard off the green of the hills. The fortified village came upon them from the distance, high on a rocky spur in the countryside with its city wall ramparts standing out against the green of the hillside it was located on. The sight took her breath away.
‘It’s beautiful!’ she exclaimed as the driver announced they were at St Paul de Vence. They checked in at the tourist office and got themselves a guide to take them through the village. As they walked through the narrow, cobbled walkways and arches, they realized that much of the village, with its stone walls, ramparts and archways, had remained the same since it was built centuries ago. The only discordant note, if any, were the throngs of tourists. That, however, did not deter their spirits as they visited art galleries in the medieval section of the town, climbing steep stone steps and lunching on a cheese sampler, goat cheese salad, lasagna, French onion soup and some rose wine. Rhea was careful to keep from gulping down the wine this time and sipped slowly to avoid getting into yet another episode of All Men Are Bastards that she had already played out with Kamal a couple of times before.
‘So, all I know about you is that your fiancé ditched you,’ he said over lunch. ‘And that Soni ma’am is your aunt. Tell me more about yourself.’
‘There’s nothing to tell really. I did my post-graduation in English honours, did a media course and landed a job in a publishing house as a copy editor which was hours upon hours of bone numbing copy checking work on technical manuscripts. I quit a few months before the wedding because I thought I would need time to set up my home and then get back to a regular job. In that period I took up some freelance assignments to keep body and soul together.’
She smiled at the memory of those days of worrying about not being able to pay the rent since she moved out of her parent’s on a whim after her father started grumbling about her late working hours.
‘And then, of course, my fiancé ran away to Bali with another woman on the honeymoon I was supposed to go on with him. So here I am, broke and heartbroken…’
‘Are you really heartbroken?’ he asked looking deep into her eyes, with an expression she could not fathom.
‘Why would you say that?’
‘Your body does not respond like that of one who is heartbroken,’ he replied without breaking eye contact. Her cheeks flamed again, and she looked down at her plate, embarrassed.
‘Let’s not go that way,’ she pleaded. ‘I told you we should not, this is crazy and…’
‘But whatever is crazy is always so worth it,’ he replied, taking her hand again and making slow circles on the inside of her wrist.
She pulled her hand away. ‘This isn’t going to work, Kamal,’ she said ruefully.
His face shuttered down as he replied, ‘You aren’t letting it work.’
She looked away and they ate the rest of their meal in a silence that was strained by words they did not dare to utter, words that would have shaken the fragile equilibrium of them being together in a place without sparring.
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