When Annie, a woman who loves to travel, decides to take her dream vacation to India, all she intends to do is have some exclusive time for herself. Little does she know that she is to lose her heart and soul to the handsome, dark-haired young man from Delhi, India, with whom she has developed a friendship while preparing for her trip. When they finally meet upon her arrival to India, sparks fly and set off a fire of emotions, passion, and love between them.
After her tour is over, they spend some idyllic time together, visiting ancient places of the famous city, where Ashok takes Annie through a whirlpool of exotic experiences and emotions as he acts as her guide. Annie is sure that she has met her soul mate in Ashok, and he is sure that Annie has given him the joy, love, and passion no one has given him before. But once back in the United States, she is not so sure. Ashok seems distant, and suddenly their differences in culture, religion, and age rear their ugly heads, and Annie begins to wonder. Can their love sustain itself through the obstacles they have to face, or are both of them heading for heartbreak?
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Under the Indian Sun
By Sarah Roberts
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Sarah Roberts
All rights reserved.
A few months later, Annie disembarked from the jet at the Delhi International Airport. It was almost noon, and even though it was almost winter, it felt hot. She had been traveling for almost three days now, stopping briefly in London. Her eyes felt gritty from lack of sleep, and she wished fervently for a warm shower. But the journey was not yet over. She had to clear immigration and customs, both of which entailed long lines, and then there was the baggage retrieval.
Annie believed in traveling light, but she did not know what to expect from the Indian weather, so she had packed several items of clothing suitable for all conditions. Now, laden with three oversized bags, which she piled up on a trolley, she left the airport. Annie hoped she would not have to wait too long for the tour bus that was scheduled to pick her up. There was a line there as there were more members of the tour group waiting as well. Sighing, she got in line and wondered again whether she had done the right thing. Then she saw the bus driver waving frantically at her.
As soon as the bus rolled out of the airport, Annie was assaulted with a cacophony of sensations far different from home: a riot of colors and smells, dusty roads, and scenes of people in their ethnic dresses. Everything seemed a jumble of sights and sounds, which she felt ill equipped to handle in her exhausted state. It was a relief to reach her hotel and seek the air-conditioned comfort inside.
After Annie checked in, a bellboy led her up to her room, which was tidily furnished. The air-conditioner hummed softly, and some floral fragrance soothed her tired and jangled nerves. She tipped the bellboy with a smile of thanks and flopped down on the soft, inviting bed. I'll rest for a while, then shower and look up some lunch, she thought before drifting off to a deep sleep.
When she woke up, it was dark outside. Her head felt heavy, and her mouth was dry. She stumbled out of bed and opened the closest suitcase, snatching a fresh T-shirt and a pair of shorts before bolting to the bathroom. After washing away the grime in warm water, she felt much better, and when she emerged a few minutes later into the bedroom, she felt hungry. There was a menu on the bedside table. Most of the food was unfamiliar, so she settled for some chicken soup and a sandwich, which she ordered to be brought up to the room. Exploring could wait another day, she decided.
Her gaze fell on her cell phone. She bit her lip, pondering what to do. It seemed such a huge step. What had seemed the most natural thing back home seemed like a gigantic, bold step now that she was in India. Suppose he thought she was easy? She suddenly wished Becky were there — she would know what to do. But Becky was thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic; she didn't even know about this relationship. Annie had never told her.
With hesitant fingers, she took her cell phone, scrolling down for the number she was looking for. Taking a deep breath, she punched the number and then held her breath as she listened for the other side to pick up. She could hear her heart beating; maybe calling him was a bad idea. But she held on.
After a few rings, he answered. His deep voice made Annie shiver. She had felt like this for the last few months. Just the sound of his voice excited her.
With an effort, Annie steadied her voice before speaking.
"I am so glad that you have arrived safely." Then he suddenly sounded concerned. "You have arrived, haven't you? You are not calling from home?"
"No, I have arrived. I landed earlier today."
"Great. I would love to see you. When can we meet?"
"You tell me. I am on vacation; I should be free for the next few days until my tour begins."
"That is great. I will call you later. Right now I am on duty, and I am very busy here in the restaurant, so I cannot talk much longer. I get off at two in the morning, and I shall call you after that if that's okay with you."
"Okay. Good night."
"Good night, Annie."
Annie flung the phone on the bed and flopped over, stretching her arms over her head as her thoughts took her back to how she had met Ashok. She got to know Ashok while looking for an upscale restaurant in Delhi to have dinner on the last night of her tour. He was the assistant manager of the restaurant she had decided on. Annie then contacted the restaurant to make arrangements for the night that she wanted along with some special requests. She was put into contact with Ashok by the general manager who was going on vacation and couldn't work with Annie on her reservations. After a period of time of going back and forth during the preparation Annie and Ashok had become close. Annie found him witty and fun, but he had his sensitive side as well. After Zack, Ashok was a balm to her wounded soul. She felt she could talk to him about anything and everything, and he felt the same — they were both wonderful listeners. Annie never once felt self-conscious as she talked about her divorce, her disenchantment with men, her children, and family. Ashok soon opened up to Annie about his ambitions and dreams and his hope to one day leave India and seek greater opportunities. They both listened patiently to each other. And now — in a few hours — they were going to see each other for the first time.
There was a knock at the door; her dinner had arrived. She sat on the bed watching television and ate her dinner. About midnight, Ashok called to say he would come over after he got off work, which would be around two in the morning. But Annie knew he would be tired and told him to go home. She suggested they meet in the morning.
It was barely light when Annie woke up the next morning. She lay on the bed staring at the ceiling for some time, confused at first. The surroundings seemed unfamiliar; then she remembered. She sat up on the bed, excited, eager to take in as much as possible of the new place. Carefully pulling back the heavy curtains at the long windows, she peeked out. All she could see was the street below, like a smooth black snake, lying still under the streetlights, which were still on. There was nobody on the street. Disappointed, she moved away and sat on the bed. The hotel was quiet at that early hour of the day. It would be at least an hour or so before the day began.
Sighing, she decided she would go back to sleep and went under the covers again. But sleep would not come. Maybe it was the new place or maybe it was the time difference, but she was simply too awake. After a few restless minutes, she gave up and got out of bed again. After brushing her teeth, she took a quick shower and changed into a pair of white cotton trousers and a yellow, frilly top, for the day promised to be fine. Then she went downstairs.
The lobby was deserted. The receptionist, a young man in his twenties, dozed at the desk.
"Good morning," Annie said pleasantly.
"Good morning, ma'am," said the young man, quickly awakening.
"I just wondered — might I take a stroll outside? The weather is fine, and I would like some exercise."
"Yes, of course. Just do not go outside the gate."
"Oh, but I thought I would walk down the street. I have to get out of the gate for that." Annie was puzzled.
The reception clerk looked nervously toward the front gate. "It is not very safe to go out on your own, ma'am. Is there anybody with you?"
"I am on my own."
"Why don't you stroll inside, and then you can visit our gym if you want to exercise."
"Maybe I will go to the gym now," Annie said. "Where is it?"
"It is closed right now. It opens at nine, so you have to wait till then."
Annie gave up. "May be I will go and sit out in the garden after all."
The clerk looked relieved. "Yes, ma'am."
"And could you please not call me ma'am?"
Annie walked off toward the garden without another word.
But once outside, her mood lifted. There was a light, cool breeze that bought in the fragrance of some tropical flower; she knew not what. The lawn had been recently watered, and the grass looked fresh and green. The white rattan chairs with their pastel cushions looked inviting. She sat on one chair with a sigh of appreciation. It was so peaceful and quiet. As she sat there, she gradually became aware of sounds she had not heard before. Birds chirped on the branches overhead. Carts began to come out on the streets, their bells tinkling. She could hear singing from a temple not far from the hotel. Suddenly she was overwhelmed with a smoky smell; white smoke rose in a plume on the other side of the wall. Annie sat up, alarmed.
"Is there a fire out there?" she asked an old man who seemed to be the gardener. He was wearing a green uniform and carrying a watering can.
"Yes, madam," he replied respectfully.
"Well then, call the fire department!" Annie was taken aback at the man's apparent lack of concern.
"Yes, madam," he said and disappeared at the back of the building. Annie got up from her chair and went in as well.
The clerk at the desk was still there. He looked up as Annie strode in.
"There is a fire outside," Annie announced.
Without a word, the man rushed outside to look. Annie followed him; he stood there, frowning, puzzled.
"A fire, you said?"
Annie pointed at the thick smoke still rising from beyond the wall. "Oh. No, no. No fire. It is the tea stall vendors out there, setting their chula alight." Seeing Annie's look of incomprehension, he elaborated. "You know. Coal oven they cook in those. Make tea and snacks and sell them. They start the ovens at daybreak, put coal in and ..."
"I got it," Annie said. She felt silly but also curious. "You use coal for cooking?"
"Not us. We have electric ovens. Those are roadside stalls. For poor people, you know."
"I see," Annie said. "Well, thank you, and sorry for bothering you."
"No, no, ma'am. No bother."
"Please call me Annie. Ma'am makes me feel so ancient."
The clerk smiled at last. "Okay. Madam Annie."
Annie rolled her eyes. "What is your name?"
"Well, Raj, I shall take that stroll after all, seeing that the fire is not a dangerous one to worry about, I shall be back for breakfast. Say, about eight?"CHAPTER 2
As Annie let herself out of the gate of the hotel, she glanced around curiously. Suddenly it seemed that the street was full of life — old people bundled up and strolling by, little children hurrying along in their school uniforms, bags and flasks dangling from their backs, traders and shopkeepers busily opening up their stores. She located the tea stall by the corner of the street; a coal oven with a large blackened kettle on top of it hissed away on the pavement. She was once again assailed by a riot of sounds, smells, and colors. She took a few tentative steps before turning and going back into the courtyard of her hotel.
It was almost breakfast time anyway, so Annie went to the dining room.
She was confused again as she looked at the menu. Most of the foods were unfamiliar. She beckoned a passing waiter.
"Tell me what is this ... puri?
"It is bread."
"Ah. Bread. Bring me some — and eggs please."
A little later, she was presented with some round, oily, fried pancakes with a bowl of vegetables. A couple of fried eggs accompanied her platter.
"What is this?" Annie asked, perplexed.
"Puri, madam. You ordered?"
"But you said bread."
"This is bread. Indian bread," the waiter assured her with a smile.
Annie was at a loss as to what to do when she heard a familiar voice, a deep baritone. "Annie?"
She turned around to see a young man standing, smiling down at her. Her breath caught. She had seen him in the images he had sent her, but he was much more forceful in person. Ashok was five foot nine with flashing dark eyes and thick, blue-black hair, a bit on the shorter side. A cream shirt, which showed his lightly tanned throat, and a pair of khaki trousers made him look cool and composed.
Annie stood up. Not sure if she should hug him in public, she instead outstretched her hand for a handshake. His hand was warm and gentle as they lingered for a moment.
"May I sit?" Ashok raised an eyebrow in amusement. Annie suddenly felt gauche and uncertain.
"Yes — yes, of course. Sorry."
Ashok pulled up a chair and sat down.
"Would you like some breakfast?" Annie asked.
"I have eaten, thank you. I don't mind some tea, though." He beckoned a waiter and requested some tea before turning back to her.
"So we meet, finally." He smiled. He had strong, white teeth, Annie noticed.
"Yes, we do."
"You like puri?" That black eyebrow went up again.
Annie gave a small, rueful laugh. "I am not sure what this is. I was told this is bread, but it doesn't seem anything like any bread I have had."
"Well, these are Indian flatbreads, deep fried. You are to have them accompanied with the vegetables. See, like this."
Ashok tore a small portion of the puri and a spoonful of the veggies in the bowl and offered them to Annie. She took a small bite from his hands; he put the rest of it in his mouth. Somehow, the act of chewing food together, taken from the same portion, seemed intimate to Annie. She laughed a little awkwardly, feeling self-conscious. But the food was delicious, even if she was not used to so much spice first thing in the morning. She polished off the rest of it, leaving the eggs aside.
Tea arrived. "So, what are your plans for the coming days?" Ashok asked as Annie poured.
"Well, my tour operator will be here in about an hour. I will know the details of the tour plan then. But I think we shall spend the first couple of days sightseeing locally, by going to Old and New Delhi, see one or two of the famous temples and the local markets, then we shall start the tours of the other places."
"Makes sense. That way you can familiarize yourselves gradually to the chaos that is India," Ashok said, laughter in his voice. Annie smiled. The more she saw of him, the more she liked him. After they had finished having tea, Annie made her excuse and went to one of the bathrooms on the ground floor.
After going in, she splashed some cold water on her face, then grabbed a handful of tissues from the rack and dabbed her face. She peered into the mirror, taking a critical look at her face: a brown face, with curly hair that hung to her back and wisps of it falling on her forehead, straight nose, full lips, brown wide-set eyes with eyebrows that arched naturally. She peered closer; were those lines on her forehead? She pursued her lips, applied some blush from her purse, and stepped back to have another look. She needed more color on her lips. Luckily, she was never without her lipstick, and after applying the soft coral color, she felt she could face Ashok now. His handsome looks made her feel inadequate. Well, this is the best I have in me, she thought, shrugging before going out.
Her cell phone was ringing by the time she reached her table. Fishing it out of her purse, she saw it was her tour operator. Ashok waited, his eyes smiling at her while she talked on the phone.
"That was Niraj, our tour operator," Annie explained after she finished her call. Ashok nodded.
"Do you start sightseeing today?" he asked.
"Yes. In about an hour, the bus will come and pick me up from the hotel and afterward will drop me here as well. We shall have lunch and dinner outside, it seems."
Ashok looked at his watch. "Well, I have to make a move myself. I have a meeting later in the day, and I have to prepare the paperwork before I go there." He stood up, pushing back his chair. Annie wished he could stay a little longer. She stood up as well.
"I think I shall get ready for the tour as well. What do you think I should carry? Is it going to be hot outside?"
"I don't think so, no. Not too hot. I would carry some drinking water though if I were you. Water gets contaminated quite easily in the tropics, I am afraid."
"Right. I shall carry a bottle with me then."
"And I really have to go now. It was good seeing you, Anita." He liked to call her that when he teased her.
"Please call me Annie."
"See you later then, Annie. I will call you. Please feel free to call me any time if you need anything. It will be my pleasure to come to any help you need." Ashok held out his hand, and Annie clasped it in a brief handshake before stepping back. He had a strong grip, his palm dry and pleasant to touch.
Excerpted from Under the Indian Sun by Sarah Roberts. Copyright © 2015 Sarah Roberts. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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