Two best friends rewrite the rules of friendship, love and family…and change everything they thought they knew about motherhood
Paris Kahn Fraser has it all—a successful career as an assistant district attorney, a beautiful home in New York City, and a handsome, passionate husband who chose her over having a family of his own. Neal’s dream of fatherhood might have been the only shadow in their otherwise happy life…until Paris’s best friend comes to town.
Naira Dalmia never thought she’d be a widow before thirty. Left reeling in the aftermath of her husband’s death, all she wants is to start over. She trades Mumbai for New York, and rigid family expectations for the open acceptance of her best friend. After all, there isn’t anything she and Paris wouldn’t do for each other.
But when Paris asks Naira to be their surrogate, they’ll learn if their friendship has what it takes to defy society, their families and even their own biology as these two best friends embark on a journey that will change their lives forever.
Wry, daring and utterly absorbing, The Object of Your Affections is an unforgettable story about two women challenging the norms…and the magic that happens when we choose to forge our own path.
|Publisher:||Graydon House Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Falguni Kothari writes unconventional love stories and kick-ass fantasy tales flavored by her South Asian heritage and expat experiences. An award-winning Indian Classical, Latin and Ballroom dancer, she currently elevates her endorphin levels with Zumba. She resides in New York with her family and pooch.
Connect with her at www.falgunikothari.com and sign up for her newsletter at bit.ly/FKMailingList
Read an Excerpt
The things we did for love.
"Did you know that the global wedding industry is worth three hundred billion dollars? The US stake alone is fifty-five billion?" I waved my phone displaying the appalling data in front of my husband's face.
The stats had gotten worse in the two and a half years since our own wedding.
Neal, as usual, didn't share my outrage at mankind's follies, so he shrugged as if the matter was of no consequence to him — which it wasn't — and with infinite patience he brushed my hovering hand away from his face and continue to do unspeakable things to my mouth.
We were attending our fourth wedding of the year. Fourth! And, I'd been invited to half a dozen baby showers over the past ten months — two of which I hadn't been able to avoid. As if squealing over fake fluffy bunnies wasn't bad enough, such events were filled with busybodies who wanted to know when I was going to deliver some "good news" of my own. Seriously, the next person who asked me that question was going to end up in the city morgue. On an autopsy table. Exactly what was the correlation between pregnancy and "good" news, I had no clue. As if not being pregnant was "bad" news? Aargh! I could scream.
I'd bet that when Neal and I gave them our special news, they wouldn't care for it either. Our families were going to go ballistic when they heard that we were considering gestational surrogacy when I was perfectly capable of bearing children.
Well, physically capable, at least. Mentally and emotionally? The jury was still out.
Since Neal had more faith in our mothers than I did, he was welcome to explain it to them when it was time.
"Homo sapiens. Bat-shit crazy lot," I mumbled from the corner of my mouth, trying to keep my lips still as Neal worked on them, while going nearly cross-eyed as I recounted the zeroes that were peppered across the wedding industry article in Reuters. "And never satisfied with their lot in life." Maybe it wasn't billions but millions.
Nope. Eleven zeroes tacked behind the cardinal number three. My hope for humanity plummeted to earth. If that didn't prove beyond reasonable doubt that Man itself was the natural disaster devastating the world, I didn't know what did. What kind of senseless, overbred animal spends that kind of money on a fantasy ceremony solely created to propagate an even bigger fantasy, that of a perfect union and its glory-ever-after?
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't against the institution of marriage. I fully approved when compatible people tied the proverbial knot or cohabitated in a mutually beneficial fashion. Like my adoptive parents — the second set, as opposed to the first abominable pair — who'd been an excellent example of a square peg in a square hole kind of couple. Mr. and Mrs. Samuel and Lily Kahn had been harmoniously well matched on all fronts until the Judge's death separated them four years ago.
A second great example was my own marriage, which, though not of the square-peg-square-hole variety, was nothing short of marvelous — on most days. I'd married an amazing man who stroked my brain as vigorously as he stroked my emotions ... and other interesting carbon-based assets. I'd absolutely hit the jackpot in the supportive husband sweepstakes. So, it behooved me not to screw things up and tread carefully with the surrogacy plans. Do not dictate. Discuss.
Neal and I had narrowed our list of potential surrogates down to two women and then reached a stalemate. Neal preferred Martha who came highly recommended by his close friends in California. I liked her too — our interviews had gone well — but she lived simply too far away. I couldn't even begin to imagine the scheduling and travel nightmare for both Neal and I every time we had to make it to a doctor's appointment. If it were up to me, I'd Skype in for the ultrasounds. But my husband wanted to actively experience the entire gestation since it would be the only one he'd — we'd — have. The other candidate was from Connecticut, just two hours away by car. We could see her every weekend if we wished. However, we hadn't clicked quite so well with her as we'd done with Martha. Le sigh. It would be so much easier if our surrogate lived in or around New York City, but compensated surrogacy was illegal in New York State thus not an option.
Well, no point in stressing over it right now as we weren't making any decisions this weekend. Better to put everything away and bask in my husband's masterful strokes instead.
Neal's touch was liquid cool on my face, arousing even when he didn't mean to stimulate, as it moved across my eyes and cheeks, brushed over my chin and throat. Though he didn't look it, the dear lad was dead on his feet from a sixteen-hour f light — hence the one-word responses, grunts and shrugs at my attempts at marital repartee. Or, was he still brooding over our impasse about the surrogates? Time-out, Counselor. Repetitive.
Either way, my husband was simply too sweet for not succumbing to a jet-lagged stupor after his whirlwind business trip to Asia. Instead, he'd rushed home from JFK, dumped his travel suiter, taken a hasty wake-up shower, loaded our wedding weekend bags in our metallic blue Tesla, picked me up from the courthouse only to dodge traffic for the next two hours on the I-87 North until we reached the vineyard in time for my college friend Lavinia's wedding rehearsal dinner. After all that dashing around, he was still on his feet taking care of my needs. Mind you, I had asked nicely for his help in putting on my war paint. Neal was just so much better at makeup than I was. So, yes, I would recommend the state of wedded bliss — or even unwedded togetherness — to anyone who'd had the good fortune to find herself (or himself ) a Neal Singh Fraser.
In summation, I wasn't against marriage. What I objected to was the hoopla surrounding the ceremony. The wanton waste of time, money and resources in the planning and execution of said hoopla. How could anyone with an ounce of empathy justify spending such garish sums of money on a frivolous party when there were children starving in the world? When scribbling names in front of a marriage registrar in city hall — or the like — worked just as well as an elaborate exchange of vows in front of a priest or officiator? What difference did it make if two souls merged into one entity in front of four people or four hundred? The object of the exercise was to legalize a couple's commitment to each other, wasn't it? But no, some people weren't satisfied until a three-ring circus supplemented their nuptials, even when they knew, deep in their hearts, that sooner or later another even bigger circus would herald their uncoupling. Point in fact were the hundreds of embittered divorces and child custody battles filling up the dockets in family court. I'd been six when I was dragged into one such abominable battle between my first set of adoptive parents, so I knew firsthand what happened when love died and marriages fell apart. It was that kind of wanton waste I objected to. Not that I expected Lavinia and Juan's upstate New York lovefest to end in divorce. Or my own marriage. I didn't.
Shtup. Did I?
Neal sidestepped to the vanity and suddenly the embossed yellow leaves on the maple-colored wall tile were brought up close. We were inelegantly squashed inside a bathroom that was tinier than my office at One Hogan Place — a space the formerly taciturn Lily Kahn had pronounced to be the size of a matchbox. As the crusaders of justice and the wielders of morality, assistant district attorneys deserved nicer offices, Lily had once emailed Manhattan's District Attorney, my boss, and cc'd me on it. My adoptive mother had morphed into one opinionated meshugenah since the Judge's death. It was another thing driving me batty these days — Lily's battiness.
Her growing obsession with horoscopes, while incomprehensible at best, was getting to me. Last week, it had portended a change in my personal and professional life according to Lily. And today, I'd been asked to join a task force that was being set up between the DA's office and the United States Attorney's office, jointly, to look into a human rights violation case. That took care of the professional change. The personal shift could either mean a bairn or a divorce trying to procure said bairn. Double shtup.
After a lightning exchange of brushes, Neal repositioned himself before me. He settled one hand on top of my head to hold it steady, and with his right hand, he began to trace my full, shapeless lips into a discernable form. My mouth molded into a natural goldfish moue that needed special care. Indeed, my mouth and what came out of it warranted close attention. Consider the offer carefully, laddie. Your freedom depends on it, was my daily counsel to the perpetrators of crime. I'd do well to heed my own advice for the decisions I — oops, Neal and I — had to make.
"Quit fidgeting, hen. We're almost done. Close yer mouth. And no, don't frown so. And don't press yer lips together just yet," Neal instructed in his lilting Scottish brogue that never failed to capture my attention. More, the deep commanding baritone demanded immediate compliance.
I froze on the closed toilet seat and tilted my face up to look into my husband's loch-blue eyes. Fringed with thick sooty lashes, those eyes combined with his voice produced goose-flesh all over my skin even though he didn't mean to stimulate me. Was it any wonder then that I'd given in to Neal's mad vision of our own wedding? I still felt ill whenever I recalled — fondly, mostly fondly — the sheer wantonness of our three-day festivities. The truth was that I found it impossible to say no to this man when he was in the mood to charm.
I pressed my lips together as Neal plied his expertise on shaping them. God! But I loved him — all six feet two inches and one eighty-eight pounds of Scottish-Indian stubbornness. I loved being married to him. And yes, I'd loved getting married to him, exchanging vows and rings and kisses under the ballroom chandelier of his family's residential castle in Scotland. Our wedding might have been a self-indulgent waste of resources but it had come from a place of love and pride, and no one was in debt because of it. We'd made promises to each other in front of all the people who'd mattered to us — correction, everyone except the two people I'd loved and counted on the most in the world back then had blessed our union. My perfect day of joy would be forever tainted due to their absence.
At least, the Judge had had a legitimate excuse for missing my wedding, being dead and all. But my best friend and maid of honor, Naira, had bowed out at the last minute. Her husband's business had been in trouble. Kaivan the Criminal had gotten his comeuppance the Indian media had claimed, and still Naira had stuck by him like a good little wife. Her choice had broken us for a while — I was a prosecutor, for God's sake, I didn't stand by criminals. And then he'd died.
Things were slightly better between us now. We messaged each other off and on, and I mostly understood her stance, her choices — especially now that I knew just how much I would do or endure for Neal. But I still felt acid well up inside me when I remembered just how awful I'd felt on my wedding day. How alone.
Neal cocked an eyebrow at me, divining my mood dips as expertly as he was reshaping my lips. "Are ye practicing your apology to her in your mind then? Is that why yer nervous?" My back and shoulders went taut. "Why should I apologize? She's the one who got all bent out of shape because I pointed out the truth."
"And I suppose ye would let people get away with badmouthing me to yer face, aye?"
"If it was the truth," I began but stopped when Neal raised a second brow high. Another stalemate. I let my shoulders droop. "Fine. I'll be ... nice." I didn't do apologies. Mainly because I didn't make mistakes or speak out of turn.
Neal was right though. I was nervous about meeting Naira. It had been four years since we'd seen each other in person. Two days ago, I'd received a message from her after weeks of iMessage silence: Hopping on a plane to NY. See you at Lavinia's wedding.
What the hell kind of message was that?
"Stupid weddings." I pressed my phone to my stomach, willing the awfulness to abate. I was a mess at weddings — about weddings. I was better at marriage.
Because it served no purpose to get upset about the past or the state of the world, I made a concerted effort to shut a mental door on all my current grievances pertaining to weddings, best friends, starving children — any children, for that matter — and the task force. All that could wait until Monday. This wedding would not.
Sexy times with my amazing man should not.
Said amazing man skimmed his sexy finger down my nose and tapped its slightly upturned tip — yup, I'd been born disdaining the world — as he scrutinized my face.
"Ye look bonny. Now get dressed so I can start on yer hands." He'd offered to paint henna designs on my hands.
Neal was a globally coveted jewelry designer, a metal artiste and an honest-to-goodness lord — he was fourth in line to a Scottish baronage — and as such an expert on beautiful things and luxury lifestyle. He pulled me to my feet and nudged me out of the miniscule bathroom to get on with getting dressed. I stopped in the doorway to thank him with a kiss but he'd already turned to face the tiled vanity and was putting my makeup bag to rights.
My pout swelled into a laugh as I watched my husband recap bottles of glitter and gold, click-shut eye shadow palettes, wipe faux-hair brushes with tissue and pack each one of the items into their designated pockets in my cosmetic bag with ferocious care. For a man who dabbled in paint, pencil shavings and liquid metals for a living, Neal did not handle mess well. He tolerated my slovenliness without batting an eye though, and it was one of the million things I loved about him. One of the zillion things I hoped would never change between us.
I hugged him from behind, pressing a kiss on the nape of his neck, careful not to mess up the fashion-plate paint job he'd done on my face, complete with intricate swirls of a bindi design in the middle of my forehead. It shone like a piece of jewelry embedded into my skin. The women at Lavinia's three-ring circus were going to hate me — they always did when Neal did my makeup.
My thank-you left a perfect bow-shaped pink kiss on his bare skin.
"There now, my gorgeous-ship. You've been branded as mine like the Fraser sheep on your family's farms." I wasn't a possessive person by nature, but with Neal all bets were off. I continuously did things against my better judgment with Neal, for Neal.
We were going to have a bairn together! If that didn't explain how weird my life had become with him, I didn't know what did.
Amused, his gorgeous-ship twisted around to shoot me a smug grin. Shirtless and barefoot, he still managed to look sophisticated and sexy. He was turning me on, probably why his smugness didn't irritate me. And gauging from the height of the tent in his pants, my lingerie-clad state was affecting him too.
Neal had been away at the Hong Kong gem and jewelry trade fair for the past week and we hadn't even hugged properly when he'd picked me up from work this afternoon, much less ravaged each other like we usually did after one of his business trips. And, today was our third engagement anniversary. It was our marital duty to put everything aside and celebrate with monkey sex.
"Fuck henna hands and wedding rehearsals. Let's fuck." I slid my hands up his hair-roughened chest to his shoulders, my intent as clear as the day was bright.
Third engagement anniversary. We'd been together for more than three years already. It baffled me that we'd lasted this long, considering we'd come together in an explosion of instinct and not intellect. After a mere six weeks of dating, Neal had impulsively suggested we get hitched on the night I'd taken the bar and in my post-exam fugue state I'd grunted, "Why not?"
I'd changed my mind the next morning, after guzzling down a gallon of coffee and sense. And lost them marbles again, a couple of months later, when I'd been giddy with excitement that I'd passed the bar on my first try. We were married within a head-spinning six months of my reproposal. Best impulsive decision of our lives.
Neal's hands came to rest on my hips. "Didn't ye say this weekend is dedicated to yer college friends?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Object of Your Affections"
Copyright © 2019 Phalguni Kothari.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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