It’s not just the roses that have thorns.
Bollywood Confidential, Book 3
American-born ingénue Rakhee “Rocky” Varma knows a career in Bollywood is no fairy tale, but that truth hits home when her outspoken nature lands her in hot water with the media.
Banished to her leading man’s crumbling mansion on the outskirts of Delhi until things cool down, she is wholly unprepared to meet her costar’s reclusive brother, Taj Ali Khan. Taj, a former action hero until a stunt gone horribly wrong ended his career, wears a cape of scars and a crown of rudeness.
As his cynicism collides with her determination to stick it out in Bollywood no matter what, sparks fly. But little do they know that demons not of their making may turn their fiery, fragile connection to ash. And it will take more than sheer grit to face down the most frightening monsters of all—the ones inside themselves.
Product WarningsThis book contains lewd comments, forbidden love, lots of angsty glances, inappropriate use of an Indian scarf, and an oddly appropriate reference to Lord of the Rings.
Copyright © 2014 Suleikha Snyder
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
After two wrong turns from her bedroom, Rocky somehow found the stairs and managed to trace her steps back to the house’s once-grand foyer and the dark, forbidding parlors that winged it. Had no one in this place heard of lights? Or feather dusters? It was like a haunted house, Hindi movie-style. Any minute now, she was going to be ax-murdered by a psychopath.
As if a celestial director had a window into her thoughts, she was drawn into the west parlor, a sprawling living room that had more shadows than light despite its huge windows and a dormant fireplace. Most of the furniture was covered with sheets. And one piece was occupied.
All she saw were his legs at first: dark track pants, the reflective white stripes up the sides ruining the camouflage of a man encased by a high-backed wingchair. Gradually, as she walked farther into the room and her eyes adjusted, the rest of his outline took shape. Broad shoulders, shoulder-length hair, a hand curled around the edge of the chair’s arm. And a voice as dark and rich as chocolate. Deep and glorious, like Amitabh Bachchan’s. “Who are you?” he asked, even as she mentally answered the same question about him.
Taj Khan. The mysterious brother. The infamous brother. Her curiosity would be sated far sooner than she’d expected. All she knew of him was his movies and what little Ashraf had told her on the flight from Mumbai. “Stay out of his way” and “Don’t make him angry” and “His favorite food is street food. But Usha will make gol-gappa at home because he does not go out into the old city.”
He didn’t go out at all. Forget visiting the stalls and shops in Chandni Chowk or anything else.
“I’m Rocky Varma,” she said, hurrying to fill the sudden yawn of silence between them with chatter. “I’m shooting a movie with Ashraf. I know he must have told you. Have you seen him around anywhere? I can’t seem to find him. This house is huge.”
There was a rustle of movement in the chair, but she still couldn’t get a good look at his face. It was obscured by his hair, by the dark, maybe by the entire chilly ambience of the haveli. “Rocky? What sort of name is that?” His icy tone left no room for doubt that he’d already made up his mind what kind of name it was. “Sylvester Stallone picture ki fan ho kya? Go back to Hollywood, little girl.”
Or what? He’d ax-murder her? Get a grip, Rocky. “My name is Rakhee,” she said, willing her voice not to shake, to stay cheerful in the face of his creepitude. “But there was a Rakhee in the industry before me. More famous. A total fan favorite. So my mom and dad thought it’d be like trying to do movies with the name ‘Natalie Wood’ or ‘Audrey Hepburn’. And they’ve got a point: I shouldn’t remind people of that Rakhee, right?”
“Haan. If you are reminding…why not go for Madhubala? Widen the gulf.” It wasn’t a nice suggestion. And though she couldn’t see his eyes, she could feel his gaze. Flickering from her head to her toes, it dismissed her as so much less than the legendary heroine. He said something else, too rapid for her to catch it, because his Delhi Hindi was heavily accented, oddly paced and different from Mumbai Hindi—not that she could really understand either one. Maybe that blankness showed, because he translated into English, and it managed to sound three times as condescending. “Madhubala. The great. Where is she, and where are you?” Insult coated his words like a layer of grime, and he followed them up with hand motions to indicate the gap in their statuses. In case she was really stupid.
Maybe another girl would’ve cried a little at that. He probably liked making people cry. Rocky wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of getting to her. She’d dealt with plenty of assholes on movie sets trying to play head games. One of her earliest lessons in the industry had been how to push back when someone shoved her. “You know what, buddy? Screw you. I didn’t come all the way out here to put up with your crap or for a refresher course in Bollywood history. Now where’s Ashraf?”
He ignored the question. “You need lessons,” he whispered in that insanely hypnotic voice. He probably used it to lure his victims to their doom. “So many lessons. But who will teach you, sweet Rocky? Kaun hain woh lucky admi?”
Her completely unladylike snort was automatic, and combative. “Not you, that’s for sure,” she spat, shaking her head. Ashraf’s warnings had not quite encompassed just what a jerk his older brother was. “I mean, a real man doesn’t have to make a woman feel small just so he can feel bigger. I’ve met the lucky guys, the legitimate heroes. Michael Gill, Harsh Mathur, Avinash Kumar…where are they, and where are you?”
He only stared at her, wearing the room’s shadows like a crown…letting the minutes tick by until she was shifting from foot to foot and he could laugh at her show of discomfort. “You think to hurt me with the truth? I don’t feel pain, Miss Rakhee.” He leaned forward until the faint streaks of sun finally illuminated his features. “I’m made of stone. Broken stone.”
The tears she’d resolved to stifle sprang to her eyes unbidden. Not because of the vicious network of scars and the sunken lid where his left eye should have been, but because of what was untouched: the perfect slope of his right cheek and the thick-lashed, mutinously angry brown eye were still absolutely gorgeous. Half of Taj Ali Khan’s face was more handsome than the whole of many of the stars in Mumbai.
And the other half reflected his soul.
Rocky backed up. Her feet hit the threshold and she nearly tumbled over the short divide. The raw sound of his laughter dared her to run…and assumed she would.
Everyone, since the moment she’d set foot in India, had expected her to turn tail and run. To give up and crawl back to the U.S. regretting the day she’d ever wanted to be a Bollywood star.
F*** that noise.
He could play psycho lord of the manor all he wanted. He could cue up the music and do his Phantom of the Opera reveal a million times. She wasn’t going to run.
She took a deep, steadying breath and clenched her fists. Like she could hold on to her composure that way. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily, Taj,” she assured him. “The thing about being nicknamed ‘Rocky’? It means I’m a fighter. And I’m here to work. So, for the next eight weeks, you’re stuck with me. Not the first Rakhee, not Madhubala. Not Sridevi or Rekha or Trishna. Just me. Deal with it.”
She turned and walked away with measured steps, so there was no possible way he could think she was beaten.
“Stay out of his way.”
“Don’t make him angry.”
Oh, yeah. Her stay in Delhi was off to a great