Her name means "miracle" in Sanskrit, and to her parents, that's exactly what Kimaya is. The first baby to survive after several miscarriages, Kimi grows up in a mansion at the top of Mumbai's Pali Hill, surrounded by love and privilege. But at eleven years old, she develops a rare illness that requires her to be confined to a germ-free ivory tower in her home, with only the Arabian Sea churning outside her window for company. . . . Until one person dares venture into her world.
Tasked at fourteen years old with supporting his family, Rahul Savant shows up to wash Kimi's windows, and an unlikely friendship develops across the plastic curtain of her isolation room. As years pass, Rahul becomes Kimi's eyes to the outside world-and she becomes his inspiration to better himself by enrolling in the police force. But when a life-saving heart transplant offers the chance of a real future, both must face all that ties them together and keeps them apart.
As Kimi anticipates a new life, Rahul struggles with loving someone he may yet lose. And when his investigation into a black market organ ring run by a sociopathic gang lord exposes dangerous secrets that cut too close to home, only Rahul's deep, abiding connection with Kimi can keep her safe-and reveal the true meaning of courage, loss, and second chances.
Infused with the rhythms of life in modern-day India, acclaimed author Sonali Dev's candid, rewarding novel beautifully evokes all the complexities of the human heart.
About the Author
Award winning author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after. Sonali’s novels have been on Library Journal, NPR, Washington Post, and Kirkus Best Books lists. She won the American Library Association’s award for best romance in 2014, is a RITA Finalist and RT Reviewer Choice Award Nominee, and is a winner of the RT Seal of Excellence. Sonali lives in the Chicago suburbs with her very patient and often amused husband, two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog. Find out more at sonalidev.com.
Read an Excerpt
Rahul Present day
Kimi had summoned Rahul to The Mansion and naturally he had come, because relationships, like people, were creatures of habit. He stood at one end of the massive gilded room and watched Kimi pace the silk-carpet-covered marble. The glow of the huge crystal chandelier picked out every nuance of her restlessness. If he didn't know better he'd say she looked like an imprisoned princess. But she wasn't. Not anymore.
Earlier that morning she had sent him a text message saying: We need to talk.
Those four words had never in the history of humankind ever led to anything good. Nonetheless, it had been two months since Kimi had shut him out after that bastard gangster, Asif Khan, attacked her in broad daylight on the streets of Mumbai, a city Rahul was tasked with keeping safe. So roughly half an hour after her text had arrived, here he was.
The Mansion's main living room never failed to make him feel like he had wandered up to the forbidden first-class deck on the Titanic. For all the time Kimi and he had spent in her home, they had barely ever been together in this royal-court-like living room. But today, Kimi had greeted him with nothing more than an uncharacteristically curt nod, led him here, and then wordlessly proceeded to pace. Watching her struggle with what she wanted to say made an all-too-familiar heaviness drag at Rahul's limbs, the kind that made him restless to move while also digging him into place. Not being able to form words out of feelings was his special gift, not hers.
Kimi and Rahul had been friends since he was sixteen years old — a friendship that had spanned fourteen years. For most of those years their friendship had been cloistered within these walls, where all that they shared had been safe, where they had been only who they were to each other. Over the past two years, their friendship had been let out into the world where it had never stood a chance.
Suddenly, she stopped and spun around to face him. Her ever-present ponytail whipped around her neck and spilled across her shoulder. With a flip of her head she flung it all back in place. Her face was, as always, all eyes. He had missed her eyes. Missed all she was able to say with them. Now, every golden-brown fleck trapped her struggle to get the words out.
"Just tell me what the bastard did to you, Kimi," he pushed, finally abandoning the subtlety that had earned him his reputation for having some of the best interrogation skills in the Mumbai police force. His legendary patience was also suddenly nowhere in sight. The Asif Khan case had consumed him for two years, and he hated that the gangster had somehow found a way to drag Kimi into his cesspool of crime. The man's evil wasn't just inexhaustible but downright immortal in its power.
Two months ago, Rahul had finally caught up with the bastard and emptied five bullets into him. But instead of dying, the gangster had slipped into a coma with all the answers Rahul needed trapped inside his seemingly indestructible brain, leaving Rahul, and all the people Khan had wreaked havoc on, holding their breath until he woke up.
"Good is strong," his father had loved to say. But ten years in this job and Rahul knew evil possessed all the real strength. Good just had to keep on faking it to stay in the fight.
"Is the case all you care about?" she asked, and the sadness in her tone multiplied the weight dragging at Rahul's limbs many times over. "Never mind," she said before he could answer, letting him off the hook and reaching for the anger she had embraced so determinedly these past few months.
Over the years, Rahul had marveled at how Kimi kept herself from anger. From real anger. Because whether she was throwing her playful bluster at him to push his boundaries, or trying to hide from him all the frustration of wanting impossible things, she never let the anger consume her. Not the way he did.
Even now when she had every reason to be furious with him, it was taking her some effort — her shoulders squared, her jaw tight, the deliberate effort reminding him of the way she had once tried to walk in heels too high — and that made him feel at once too big and too small.
The crystalline brown of her eyes darkened with the words she was about to say and Rahul braced himself. "I'm going to give you what you want. I'll tell you what happened with Asif Khan. But after that you have to promise that you'll leave me alone." She took a breath, steadied her voice. "Forever. I never want to see you again, Rahul."
It was the ninth time in the span of their friendship that Kimi had said those words to him.
Yes, he kept count. He kept count of everything.
Four surgeries, one hundred and eight hospitalizations, twenty-six transfusions, seven times that the doctors had asked her family to say their good-byes. And nine "I never want to see you agains."
He gave her his disbelieving look. Because he couldn't let her see how much he hated when she said those words. When he believed them for those first few seconds.
"I mean it this time, Rahul," she said with her jaw set, but then the impact of her declaration gathered in a sheen across her eyes. He was about to reach for her, but she caught the hesitation in his fingers and he stopped.
The rush of longing in her gaze lasted the barest second before she turned it back into a glare. Her anger regained steam as she squeezed her eyes shut and stemmed the tears before they fell. She backed away from him without waiting for him to respond. She knew him too well for that.
"Let's do this in Papa's office. He's waiting for us." She headed up the dramatically sweeping marble staircase that still felt alien beneath Rahul's feet even though he'd stopped using the servants' stairs years ago. "I want Papa to be there for this."
Kirit Patil greeted them without leaving his deep wing chair in his dark-paneled, high-ceilinged library office. The wall of windows behind him framed an orange morning sky over a blue-gray ocean. A backdrop befitting the longest serving home minister of Maharashtra state, and one of Bollywood's greatest erstwhile superstars. But Rahul's mentor no longer looked anything like the larger-than-life hero who had saved Rahul from every roadblock and land mine life had thrown in his path. He looked defeated. After all these years, they were just two men equalized by their inability to protect the girl who tied them together.
Kimi walked to the windows and stared out at the ocean across the building-covered hill that The Mansion was perched on top of. Rahul tried not to think about how a reckless trip down to that very strip of beach with her had changed the course of his life. Tried not to think of how well she wore the calm she'd always known how to pull on for the benefit of everyone around her. More than anything else, he had wanted her to learn how to pull it on for her own benefit. And now here it was.
She rubbed the transplant scar that ran down her chest under the intricately embroidered silk of her kurta and threw him a glance that caught the flash of all they had shared in his eyes before he looked away.
Kirit pointed to the chair next to him, but Rahul couldn't sit. It had nothing to do with the fact that he never sat in the minister's presence. He was too wound up to sit down.
"This won't take long," Kimi said, her entire focus back on the ocean. "Two months ago, I was working on a story and waiting outside Mithibai College to speak with students about a starlet's private pictures that her jerk boyfriend had leaked. I noticed the SUV that had been following me around for a few days." She threw Rahul a warning glance and he swallowed his interruption. "Papa already had two bodyguards tailing me everywhere."
She didn't bring up the fact that she had come to Rahul and begged him to convince Kirit to call off the bodyguards and Rahul had refused to get involved.
Kirit opened his mouth to say something, but then he too thought the better of it and slumped back in his chair.
Kimi hesitated, then squared her shoulders. "I walked right up to the SUV to ask why they were following me."
Rahul groaned. "What the hell, Kimi?"
"I know it was stupid!" she snapped. "I shouldn't have done it. I know that. But I had bodyguards with me. I thought I was safe." Her voice went quiet again. "I just wanted to scare them off. They were making me feel trapped."
He shut up after that and let her finish.
"When I saw Asif Khan ..." She swallowed and Rahul felt all her sickness at saying that name turn into rage right in the pit of his stomach. "I knew I had made a mistake. I tried to get away, but he reached out of the SUV window and grabbed my shirt. Before I knew what was happening one of his men had a gun to my side." An eon passed before she spoke again, her voice dipping to a whisper. "He ripped open my blouse."
Rahul didn't move. If he moved, he'd break something. And this was hard enough for her without him losing it.
She cleared her throat and strengthened her voice. "He wanted to look at my scar." She touched her chest, tracing her scar, and finally met Rahul's eyes again. "He knew about my transplant. He wanted to know where my heart had come from."
That was the last thing Rahul had expected her to say. Why on earth would Asif know about her transplant?
Before he could ask, she turned to her father, then back to Rahul. "Papa won't tell me who my donor was. Do you know anything about it?"
Kirit stood, cutting her off from view for a second before she stepped around him. "You have to stop this nonsense, Kimi beta, please. The man is a sociopath. He messes around with people's heads. It was a confidential donor. We signed papers agreeing to let the donor be anonymous. It's wrong to break that confidence, not to mention illegal. You're letting a madman get inside your head."
How had Rahul never asked about Kimi's donor? How had he never wanted to know who had given her the ultimate gift?
Maybe because when you found out that your best friend had a new lease on life, yanking apart the jaws of the gift horse to stare into its mouth wasn't your first instinct. Apparently not his tenth or twentieth instinct either. Plus, she was right, the bloody case had completely consumed him. Even now, two years after her surgery, when Kimi had refused to speak with him for weeks, he had been too absorbed in the case, and he had convinced himself that her silence was an extension of the deep freeze their friendship had descended into since her transplant.
Kimi looked so disappointed with her father, Rahul didn't know how he stood it. "It's not just my head the madman has messed with, Papa. He tracked me down in broad daylight. He's killed hundreds of people including Rahul's friend Jen Joshi."
Rahul didn't like the way she made the word friend sound like an accusation, but then there was nothing about this conversation that he did like. "Can you come into the station and make a statement?" Of all the things he wanted to say to her, of course he said the least important one. And the one that would make her the angriest.
She looked up at the ceiling and shook her head. "I should have known DCP 'Stonewall' Savant would only act so interested because the precious love of his life is involved here."
"Jen was not the love of my life." Could they step back from this bull for one moment? When the hell had Kimi learned to derail every single conversation he tried to have with her? No matter what happened between them, they had always been able to talk to each other.
Her eyes dimmed with hurt but her stance remained combative, hand on hip, jaw raised. "I was talking about your job, not about Jen. But thank you for that."
He threw a glance at Kirit. His eyes were squeezed shut in defeat. Rahul hated doing this in front of her father.
His silence only made the anger in her eyes heat up, but then she pulled on that calm once again as though reminding herself that she was wasting her time. "Listen, Rahul, I've already told you all I know. After that the bastard pushed me into the ground and drove away. That's all the statement I can give you. And no, I didn't call you here to ask for your help. I didn't want any loose ends." She gave her father a quick hug. "Bye, Papa." Then swept past Rahul and out of the room.
Rahul followed her into the empty corridor, pulling the door shut behind him. "Kimi."
She was about to take the stairs, but she turned around and faced him. "Don't make this harder, Rahul. You have Asif in a coma. You have the answers you wanted from me. We're done. I know you didn't believe me before, but this isn't like all the other times. I'm not that girl anymore. This time I mean it."
Once again she turned away, tried to walk away. But then she was looking at him again, every familiar brown fleck in those too-brave eyes of hers focused on him. "This was what you wanted." He did. "And you were right, we don't work." They didn't. Not the way she wanted them to. "I need this. I need to get away from you, from everything. Just let me go."
There were so many things he wanted to say, but there was no expectation in her words. This wasn't her riling him up for a reaction. This was her leaving.
She ran down the stairs without a backward glance, yanked the door open, and then she was gone from sight. The ornately carved door slid shut behind her, the subtle click loud in the silent house. Rahul couldn't remember the last time the caged-animal feeling had been so crazed inside him. It had been the bane of his teenage years and now it squeezed outward against his rib cage.
"Let her go, son," Kirit said behind him.
That's exactly what he intended to do. But not while that monster was still alive and his men were running around Mumbai where they could hurt her.
Kimi Present day
Freedom was a beautiful thing! Mumbai in all its grimy, gray, pre-monsoon glory flew past Kimi as her auto-rickshaw sped between cars and pedestrians with the zeal of a bastard child born of a Diwali rocket and an immortal god. She almost asked the driver to slow down, but with the wind whipping her ponytail and the driver's mop of curls in a joint symphony she felt as recklessly brave as the whirring vehicle racing along on its three wheels.
Emblazoned across the dashboard of the rickshaw was the goddess Durga dancing on the corpse of a demon like the evil-hunting badass she was. Bowing to her was Bollywood's favorite superhero, Krish, with his muscles bulging like fat rubber balls and his hair coiffed high. In a perfect background score to her life's drama, the techno-beat-laden remix of an old Bollywood number drowned out the cacophony of horns the driver left in his wake.
The combination was delicious and exactly worthy of what she had just done. What she was about to do.
You know who else was badass? Kimaya Kirit Patil, that's who.
There had been one hundred and twelve instances over twelve years when each breath had been a fight and her limbs had turned to mist. She had fought. Not like a warrior, because that would involve the use of said limbs, but like someone drowning, where all you could do is keep the water out of your nose, so it wouldn't keep the air from your lungs. Breathe out. Breathe out. She had followed those breaths. Grabbed on to those thin wisps of air like lifelines and made herself live one grip at a time.
Then the cure she had waited twelve years for in a sterile room had come. A heart had become available. Surely that meant something. Someone had died, after all, so she might live. Someone with the exact kind of blood and plasma that would let a foreign heart beat within her chest with the confidence of an indegene. Surely that meant she could now have what she never thought she would — all that she had gazed upon from the windows of her room, sealed tight with every technology known to man, so no germ, no pathogen would dare venture into her world, let alone an entire human being. Except Rahul — he had ventured. And then gone on venturing until he was all the way inside.
He'd helped her understand calculus and the nuanced stories of Premchand. He had known how atoms split, why Europe went to war twice within half a century, and the why and when of each invention that transformed the history of civilization. He had touched her, despite promises he'd made. Because it was exactly what she had needed. His gloved hand in hers. He had given her anything she had asked for when everyone else had been too afraid. And she had known that if she lived, if her parents got what they had sealed her in a room twelve years for — a daughter who lived — she would spend the rest of that life taking care of him. The way he had taken care of her.
Excerpted from "A Distant Heart"
Copyright © 2018 Sonali Dev.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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