For almost a decade, successful 37-year-old Samira Broderick has used her bustling LA practice as an excuse to avoid a trip home to Australia. She still resents her meddling Indian mother for arranging her marriage to a man who didn't stick around when the going got tough, but now with a new job Down Under, she's finally ready to reconnect with her. And while she's there, a hot international fling might be just what she needs to get out of her recent funk.
Aussie stuntman, Rory Radcliffe, has been hiding his stutter for years by avoiding speaking roles. When a job he can't refuse comes up as a reality show host, he knows he'll need some help for the audition: a dialect coach. But he finds himself at a loss for words when he discovers it's the same sexy woman with whom he just had a mind-blowing one-night stand...
Samira can think of many reasons why Rory is completely wrong for her: he's ten years her junior, for one, and he's not Indiansomething Samira's mother would never approve of. Even if things were to get serious, there's no reason to tell her mother...is there?
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.51(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.07(d)|
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Samira jiggled her key in the lock the same way she’d done over twenty years ago, when she came home from school. It felt strange to let herself into her childhood home in Dandenong, the heart of Melbourne’s southeast ethnic hub, especially after having lived in California for so long, but her mom never heard when anybody knocked. Kushi would be in the kitchen with the stove exhaust fan on full blast to absorb the cooking smells while watching Hindi news on high volume or listening to jangling bhangra music.
The ancient lock finally clicked, and she turned the key and knob simultaneously, bracing for the inevitable. Her mother may not have seen her for five years, but Kushi would pretend like nothing had happened, and the first order of business would be finding her another husband candidatedespite being partially responsible for Samira fleeing her home city a decade ago after her mom’s first choice turned out to be a lying, cheating sleaze.
During their frequent phone calls, she didn’t have the heart to tell Kushi to leave her alone. The few times she’d been firm with her mom over the years resulted in crying jags that went on forever or guilt trips insisting Kushi would be dead before she held a grandchild.
Samira had no intention of getting married now or anytime in the near future and certainly not to a guy of Kushi’s choosing, some Indian doctor or lawyer straight off the plane from Chennai or Kolkata or Delhi who’d insist she be proficient in cooking him aloo gobi and parathas and rava dosa but could barely turn on a stove himself. Been there, done that, had the divorce decree to prove it.
Dad had been her buffer, and she missed him every day. Ronald Broderick, the quiet academic who’d traveled to India on a gap year and fallen in love with Kushi Singh, a progressive student of architecture in Mumbai but originally from Melbourne, ensured Samira had grown up a hybrid of two cultures: with her dad’s laid-back American spirit and her mom’s traditional Indian values.
She’d always managed to tread a fine line between both, never telling her folks about being bullied at school for being a “half-and-half” or a “mongrel.” Born in Melbourne, she was Aussie through and through. She loved Australian rules football and Vegemite and couldn’t let a week pass without a Tim Tam Slam, but she felt just as comfortable eating with her hands and attending Indian dances at the local town halls. The best of both worlds. Now with her dad gone, she felt increasingly stifled by her mom’s maneuverings despite the Pacific Ocean separating them.
The fragrant aroma was the first thing she noticed as she pushed the door open. The comforting familiarity of onion, garlic, and ginger being sautéed in ghee, along with ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek, and garam masala, filled the house. The smell permeated everything, from the curtains to the blinds, and had for the last forty years since her parents moved in. Growing up, her mom had whipped up Indian feasts for people living on their street, and their house had been filled with Sudanese, Sri Lankan, and Lebanese neighbors. Since her husband’s death, Kushi rarely mentioned them. All she could talk about was the disgrace of divorce and her only child being three years off forty without procreating.
“Hey, Mom, it’s me,” she called out as she slipped off her sandals at the door and padded up the hallway to the kitchen. Her fingers trailed along the ancient wallpaper, gold-embossed elephants on a cream background, the instinctive reaction the same as when she’d been a child cavorting up this hallway after school.
Back then, she’d been eager to get to the kitchen, knowing her mom would have plenty of snacks laid out on the tiny wooden table tucked into a corner. Mango lassi, the sweetness of the fruit combining perfectly with the tart homemade yogurt, carrot halwa, and almond barfi, the Indian sweets made predominantly from milk and sugar she could never resist.
Today, her footsteps slowed as she neared the kitchen. Guilt tightened her chest. She’d stayed away too long. She blamed her mother for too much. She felt like a failure despite kicking ass with a booming physical therapy practice in Los Angeles.
She’d felt the same sense of inadequacy five years ago when she’d last set foot in here, and it looked like nothing had changed.
When would she get past this?
Rubbing her chest, she took a few calming breaths and invoked patience. Her mom would never change. She had to deal with it.
With three strides, she entered the kitchen and spied Kushi by the stove as expected. While Kushi tidied the spice rack she would’ve raided to create her culinary masterpieces, it gave Samira time to study her. A few extra pounds graced her mom’s five-foot-two frame, smoothing out the scant wrinkles that creased her face, lending her an ageless quality Samira hoped she would inherit. A new shade of gray streaked her glossy black hair, which was woven into a thick plait that hung halfway down her back. And her signature gold bangles adorned both wrists jangled as she hummed a vaguely familiar Bollywood hit.
Samira loved the musical clinking of those bangles. It signified warmth and peace and calm: Kushi all over. Except when she was meddling in her love life.
Kushi glanced up from the stove, her face easing into a beaming smile that made Samira’s eyes sting and her throat tighten.
“Just in time, betee. I’ve made your favorites.” She bustled toward Samira, her voluminous sari billowing like a giant blue shade sail before enveloping her in a hug.
Samira wrapped her arms around her mom and lowered her head to kiss the top of hers, fragrant with coconut oil, a smell that never failed to invoke comfort, a smell of home.
Samira knew her mom begged for blessings from Shiva, Lakshmi, Vishnu, Durga, and whatever other Hindu deities would listen to her to keep her safe and happy, because Kushi told her during phone calls that went on forever. Though she’d never admit it, those phone calls kept her grounded. If only Kushi could lose the obsessive focus on her unwed state, their relationship would have a better chance of repairing.
She missed her mom. Missed the closeness they’d shared in her childhood. Back then, her mom had been her champion, her best friend. Then Kushi had pushed her toward Avi, and everything had imploded.
Hating how thoughts of her ex-husband infiltrated every interaction with her mom, she lowered her arms.
“Hope you’re hungry, betee.” Kushi released her and waddled back to the stove, where she removed pot lids with a flourish. “Rasam, spinach with paneer, and okra curry.”
Samira’s stomach rumbled, and saliva pooled in her mouth. No meal came close to her mom’s home cooking. “Let me help.”
She ladled rice onto two plates, then dished the delicious food over it and poured the rasam into a cup. She had loved drinking the fragrant Indian broth flavored with tamarind and spices this way ever since she’d been a kid.
However, they’d barely sat at the table and Samira had taken a sip before Kushi said, “I want you to meet someone.”
Samira’s appetite vanished, and she put the cup down. “Mom, I haven’t seen you for five years. Can we please leave the matrimonial machinations until dessert at least?”
Kushi snorted, the battle gleam in her narrowed eyes alerting Samira to the fact her mom had been softening her up with her favorite dishes. Single at thirty-seven did not make for a happy Indian mother. “No one is pushing you into marriage, betee. I’m merely making introductions in the hope you will find happiness.”
Kushi had called her “daughter” three times since she’d arrived, something she always did when she had some romantic scheme in mind. This latest “introduction” must be a real princenot. But Samira knew all the arguing in the world wouldn’t stop her mother in matchmaking mode.
“I promise you, this one is the opposite of that good-for-nothing ex of yours.” Kushi pressed a hand to her heart and lowered her eyes. “He fooled us all, and I made a very poor judgment call in facilitating your romance with that slime.”
Samira gaped. Not once in all their conversations since her divorce had her mom admitted she’d played a part in the resultant mess of introducing her to Avi. It gave her hope for the two of them.
“You never mention Avi”
“That’s because he’s a kutha.” Kushi made an awful hawking noise in the back of her throat. “Pure scum.”
Samira agreed her ex was a bastard, but there was more behind her mom’s uncharacteristic vitriolic outburst. Kushi couldn’t meet her eyes, and she stabbed at a piece of paneer with particular force.
“What’s going on, Mom?”
The Indian community in Dandenong was close, and it wouldn’t surprise Samira if her mom heard regular updates about her ex.
After jabbing at the paneer another few times, Kushi raised her gaze slowly. “Avi’s wife is expecting another child,” she said, her voice soft and tremulous, her expression stricken.
Samira’s heart skipped a beat, but she feigned indifference and shrugged. “Who cares? Can we please eat? I’m starving.”
But Samira did care, the slash of pain in her chest testament to the overwhelming inadequacy that arose every time she thought of her ex procreating with that woman.
In their short-lived, barren marriage, Avi had never failed to degrade her, to make her feel worthless for not bearing him the child he so desperately wanted. He’d known about her infrequent periodsoligomenorrhea, the docs she’d consulted had labeled itbefore they married and the challenges they may face having a child, so impregnating another woman had been the ultimate betrayal.
Acid burned the back of her throat, but she swallowed it down and chased it with several gulps of lassi. She couldn’t show her mom that Avi held the power to affect her after all these years. She’d moved on. Time to start acting like it.
“The sooner you find a nice Indian boy to rid you of the memories of that nightmare of a man, the happier you’ll be,” Kushi announced, with an emphatic nod.
Hearing her mom trot out the old “nice Indian boy” adage she’d heard countless times before sparked a glimmer of an idea. If Samira suffered through the indignity of meeting another one of her mother’s prospective matches for her and likened him to the blacklisted Avi, would Kushi finally back off once and for all?
The idea had merit, and she’d mull it further, but for now, this was her first night back in her childhood home, and she intended on filling her belly with the delicious food and laying foundations for repairing the fractured relationship with her mother.
She’d managed to spoon the tangy okra into her mouth before Kushi said, “Why aren’t you staying here?”
Samira sighed and put down her spoon. They’d had this conversation many times over the last two months, when her cousin Pia first approached her to consult on her new allied health practice.
Samira had given Kushi valid excusesthe Southbank apartment she’d rented would be closer to Pia, she needed to be near the new center, she’d be coming and going at all hours because of her work schedulebut her mom wasn’t a fool. She knew those reasons were vague and nebulous and the real reason stemmed from this: the last time she’d lived in this house had been pre-wedding, and she couldn’t go back.
“You know I would’ve loved to, Mom, but as the primary consultant on Pia’s new practice, I have to be nearby, so living in Southbank is easier right now.”
“Southbank?” Her nose crinkled as she pressed her knuckles to her temples in disgust. “The city is filled with crime these days. You don’t know because you haven’t lived here in a long time. Stabbings every night in Melbourne. Gangs of thugs roaming, looking for trouble. Muggings. Worse!” Her hands rose and fell in the way they always did when she spoke. “Why do you persist in being so independent?”
Samira reached out and laid a hand over her mom’s, when it finally came to rest on the table. “Because I’m thirty-seven and have lived on my own in LA for over a decade.”
Kushi’s expression softened. “You know I worry because you can get hurt”
“Life’s full of risks, Mom, and even when we don’t take any, bad stuff happens.”
Understanding lit Kushi’s eyes, and they immediately filled with tears. “You need to be careful, jaanu.”
Being called “darling” brought an unexpected lump to her throat. “I am.” She leaned over and draped an arm over her mother’s shoulder, pulling her in for a swift hug. “I love you, Matha.”
“Mother” was one of the few Hindi words she knew, and Kushi loved it when she used it.
“You’re a good daughter,” she said, patting her cheek. “Now eat.”
Samira managed to eat several mouthfuls of delicious paneer, the soft cheese flavored with mustard and cumin seeds in a rich spinach gravy, and the amazing okra fried with chili and curry leaves, before Kushi said, “Go live in Southbank, do a good job as consultant for Pia’s fancy-schmancy new practice, but don’t think I’ll forget about introducing you to a nice Indian boy.”
Samira groaned and shot her a filthy look, resulting in a soft chuckle that couldn’t help but warm her heart. According to Pia, Kushi didn’t smile much these days, let alone laugh.
“You will find love again, betee, mark my words.”
Kushi waggled a finger in front of her face, and Samira swatted it away.
She’d let her mom indulge in fanciful daydreams about fixing her up, but Samira knew better.
Love was for schmucks.