Defrocked Hindu love god seeks virgin amnesiac runaway bride
Sent to Los Angeles by her Delhi family when she was only nine, Rathi grows up into a prim, virginal overachiever. Now she’s a lonely, workaholic attorney in a high-power women’s rights firm in Chicago. Just having coffee with the mailroom boy would be a career-limiting move.
Kamadeva, once the lusty Hindu god of love, has never forgotten his long lost wife. She stomped out on him after he got demoted via flamethrower by an angry Shiva. After 500 years as a sex demon, he finally finds her! But Rathi has reincarnated so often that she doesn’t remember Kama.
She can’t find her love button with both hands. And he’s still the happy-go-lucky idiot she left.
Can he revive her goddess memories before Shiva’s curse fries him to a crisp…again? And will she still want to dance with her underachiever cupid?
I loved this, loved the writing, loved the premise and loved the story. — Sonali Dev, author of A Bollywood Affair
Read a Sample:
I first saw her getting off the elevator and my heart stood still. It was her very first day with the firm, and she looked every inch a lawyer, a partner, no less. On second look I wasn’t all that impressed. I’m used to doing lawyers, even partners. I saw a thirtyish Indian woman with pale skin three shades lighter than mine, skinny maybe, but still pretty. She wore a dark blue, aggressively stylish yet professional power suit, like all lady lawyers, as if it would be an insult to both of us if she cut my balls off while wearing anything frumpy.
I also saw the hunger. She’d been hiding it so long, she probably didn’t even notice.
I thought, This one’s gonna be a pushover.
But my sex demon senses picked up something else. A whiff of the old country? The hairs on my arms stood up.
It had been sixteen days since I last got laid. Maybe I was being hypersensitive.
She had good legs. She hadn’t acquired that lumpy look around the middle some Indian women get after a certain age. Probably plenty flexible. Good thing. I had moves that called for flexibility.
The senior partner introduced her to everyone in the reception area. I didn’t expect to be included, but the old bat was showing off how Bentwater Coralaine was the foremost civil rights firm in Chicago and everyone had personhood. I put on my humble face when my turn came, dead last of course.
“And this cheerful young fellow is Kamadeva, our mailroom manager. He also handles bulk copying and supplies, if you ever need a pencil or a thumb drive.” The old senior partner winked at me. “In a pinch, he’ll bring you coffee.”
Something about the new partner’s humorless face and condescending glance made me want to poke at her.
I pouted. “Ayo, for a pinch from you, I vould get you more than just cauffee,” I fluted in a fresh-off-boat accent.
The new partner turned shocked eyes to me. After all, sixty percent of our billable hours came from sexual harassment litigation.
I put my hands up in apology. “I only made a joke,” I explained, straight-faced.
The old bat shook her white head at me. As they passed into the inner offices, I heard her tell the new partner, “We keep him around to remind us how tempting sexual harassment can be.”
Two hours later, I called the Lair on my break. Baz answered, my only roommate who’s been a sex demon longer than me. I warned him I wasn’t sure what time I’d be home and told him why.
“Another feminist? This time, get all her stats for the monthly report to hell. We get paid extra for seducing those.”
“This will be snaps, yaiss,” I lilted, remembering my cartoon fresh-off-boat act and her fastidious, professional-caste, superior smile when we were introduced.
I ripped open an interoffice envelope addressed to me. Greeting card with puppy on the front. Big lipstick print on the outside. Inside: Thanks, Kama. I was such a mess last month and you really helped. I still miss my dad. But I know I’ll make it now. I fed it through the shredder, smiling.
“‘Snaps?’” Baz said incredulously.
I laid on the FOB accent some more. “I am loving these new jobs for a certainty. I mean real success story. Head of firm one day, see if I am not right.”
I could picture Baz shaking his head. “When will you pick up somebody fun for a change?”
“Funs is my middle name,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone had come to the counter at the mailroom door, and I amped up the accent. “This job is thee best one yett. I will have itt sewn together by Thursday. End of week at thee latest.”
“You’d better, if you don’t want to spontaneously combust. Twenty-eight days go by fast.”
“Don’t remind me.” I winced.
“But she’s a partner,” Baz said. “Means she can fire you without having to go through HR. Dude, pick women up in bars, not at work.”
“I am not worrying.”
“You never do. You’re a four-hundred-dollar-a-week mail clerk, and she’s pulling down what, six figures?”
I heard a sniff from the doorway. I raised my voice.
“Oah yaiss, six figures this year, seven in the next two years. Trust me. Hard-asses get paid more. You should have more faith in me.”
“Hard-ass,” Baz said with scorn. He proceeded to give me his favorite scold, Don’t shit where you eat. I pretended to listen while I stuck the phone between my shoulder and my ear and turned to my visitor, holding out my hand for the paper she carried.
It was my brand-new partner. She vibrated with energy—ambition? Feminist outrage? All the women here had those. She stood pressing her hands on the counter until her fingers turned white. Something in her eye made me cut my call short.
“I must to go now, love to Papaji, ’bye.” I stuck the phone in my pocket with an apologetic nod. “Moms.” I shrugged. “What can I do for you?” I gave her the dimples.
The new partner leaned toward me. Her glare drilled two eyeholes in me. In a low voice, she hissed, “You should be ashamed.”
That look made me double take. A very old alarm bell inside me began to clang. I forgot to use the accent. “F-for what?”
“For lying to your parents.”
I opened my mouth, but she silenced me with an impatient gesture.
“What’s wrong with you? They spent thousands of dollars getting you over here and they paid for your education and you’re treating this like it’s a semester of backpacking through Europe. What do they do for a living? Don’t tell me.” She sent her Indian girl’s glance over me, probably running my clothes through the cash register in her head.
I looked down at myself and then gave her a What? look. I had on the latest limited-edition Nikes, unlaced, ching, black khakis that hugged my gymnast-perfect rear end, ching, and a chaste navy polo shirt so tight you couldn’t slip a dime between the cuff and my biceps, ching.
She got to the diamond stud in my ear and her eyes widened. Ka-ching. “They’re small-town small business owners, right?”
“They own a drug store in Bangalore,” I confessed. Six thousand years ago. But she was darned good to get that close.
“And what are you doing with their hard-earned money?” she said scornfully. “Delivering pencils?”
“And the mail,” I offered. “Very important in a law firm, timely mail.”
She looked over her shoulder. Of course it was uncool for a partner to be seen talking to the mailroom guy. She must not have seen anybody coming, for she turned on me with both barrels.
“Shame. Shame on you! They put all their hopes into you. They want to be proud of their son. Now they’re going to tell their friends back in Bangalore about this fancy six-figure promotion you’re up for. And the truth is, you can’t afford to send them a dollar, because you blow it all on bling—and the gym.”
I allowed myself another ka-ching. I’ve developed my body just so. Too much muscle puts some women off, but they all like nice abs and nice arms.
I figured I might as well play this hand to the last card. I drooped my head. “Oah, I am wanting always to send them money. But this job does not pay many dollars.”
She snorted. “And you can forget the fake accent. This isn’t The Simpsons and you’re no Apu. Irene Bentwater told me you’ve been over here nearly your whole life.”
“Been back and forth,” I lied.
“Did you even go to college?”
I nodded, trying to look shamefaced, keeping my eyes on the countertop.
Her hands were beautifully kept. I saw a ring on her fourth finger. Huh. She didn’t come across married. Frankly, she came across like a stuck-up heifer.
“You could do better than this,” she said, her voice softening. “How were your grades?”
“Okay,” I mumbled. She smelled great. Very clean, but all girl.
She tapped the counter. “You should be able to do much better with okay grades.”
That ring—I frowned. It looked familiar.
“Kama.” I gave her points for remembering my name, which means love. “Look at me.”
I looked up, letting the puppy eyes do their stuff. I would swear a spark shot between us.
She snorted. “Cute, but you can do better.”
You have no idea, baby. I slumped. “Okay, okay,” I confessed. “I can do better. I just—I don’t know where to start. I kind of backslid after graduation, you know? And I got this job, and it pays okay, and I’ve been having fun—okay, okay!” I blurted, before she could say what she thought of my having fun. “It’s just—what can I do? I don’t think I’m good for much more than—than having fun.”
I looked away and worked my neck muscles awkwardly.
The vibe was running between us like a freight train.
She put one finger under my chin, and wow, the zing. Her eyes softened.
“I think there’s a lot in you.” Our eyes met, and the zing became a deep humming inside that rocked my style. She pulled her finger away and I swear the connection twanged when it broke like a snapped guitar string. “Why don’t you let me buy you coffee, and we’ll look into this more systematically. Bring your transcript.”
“I remember all my courses and grades,” I said, letting hope into my voice.
“Really?” She looked surprised. I nodded. “That’s a good sign.”
I widened my eyes, meeting hers, and the ka-ching hit an all-new high. It wasn’t hard at all to put humble sincerity into my voice. “If I haven’t screwed myself forever.”
She patted my arm. “I’m sure you haven’t screwed yourself forever.” She gave a tiny smile. “Meet me tomorrow with your transcript after the office closes. What do you say?”
I swallowed. “Sure. Uh, thanks.”
She nodded briskly, then handed over her requisition.
I gave it a quick glance. “I’ll have this at your desk by this afternoon.”
She started to walk away.
“Thanks, Ms., uh” —I looked at the form again— “Ms. Singh.” RathiRaani Singh. DesireQueen Warrior. Perfect. “Thank you, ma’am, your majesty.” I risked the dimples.
“You can call me Rathi.” She lifted that forefinger and smiled, this time for real, and walked away.
RathiRaani. Desire queen. Kind of inappropriate for an obvious virgin.
Well, she wouldn’t be for long. I could make her a queen of desire.
That little bell chimed in me again.
Was it possible?
I gave it ten seconds’ consideration.
Naw. No way. She was too stuck-up, too bossy, too much of a lawyer.
But oh, she made me zing.
Holy summer sunshine. My heart was pounding way too hard for lawyer poon. This was rock-star fibrillation. I took her req back to my worktable and started pulling pencils and yellow pads. Coffee tomorrow, score Wednesday.
I decided not to hit the singles bar. My queen of desire was worth the wait.
On the train after my first very long day as a law-firm partner, I thought about the mailroom boy and shook my head. What on earth had I been thinking? For my first week at the firm I could expect to be dining with partners and senior associates every evening. Having coffee with the mailroom clerk was a career-limiting move.
But he infuriated me. I had been sent to the States by doting parents, too, but I certainly hadn’t wasted my time or their money. Of course, I came over when I was only nine.
According to Irene, he came over as a child, too.
The nerve of him, faking that accent, trying to fool me.
Still, he’d looked adorable, ashamed of himself, and pathetically hopeful. If I haven’t screwed myself forever. If he had been a puppy, I might have patted him on the head.
He also knew how charming he was. That annoyed me too.
I would give him an hour over coffee. If he could be saved, I would know soon enough. And if he was a hopeless fool, I knew how to freeze him.
My computer was nearly dancing on the desk when I returned to my apartment in the Darth Vader building, as it was called, a black glass tower at the base of Navy Pier, with Lake Michigan at its foot. I made a cup of tea, checked my watch—eight thirty, they might be awake—and Skyped home.
“Well, Rathi?” My mother was dressed up for company. “How was the first day?”
Oh, dear. She had the whole family over. And her gin rummy friends. I could see the gilded edges of their saris behind her, barely within the camera eye. Good heavens, she got them all up! It’s seven in the morning there!
“Marvelous, Mummy. The senior partner is a cranky old darling. I love her already. My office is beautiful, has a view of Lake Michigan. So does my apartment. I’ll be joining a big harassment case.”
Mummy nodded over her shoulder at my invisible audience. My daughter, the big shot. “So explain now please this partner-shartner business. How come they don’t give you normal salary like a normal job?”
“I told you. I get a junior partner’s cut, plus a percentage of my hours. I’ll be vested within two years. Bonuses will be based on case outcomes.” I had explained this a dozen times. But the money wasn’t the part of the job that excited me.
“What hours?” Mummy was clearly in the mood to impress her friends.
I was a good daughter. “By ‘hours’ I mean the firm charges four hundred and ninety dollars an hour for my time, and I get nineteen and a half percent of that.”
The collective gasp of awe in my mother’s living room wafted across the world to mine.
I won’t say it didn’t make me feel warm.
I’ve lived in the States since I was sent to Auntie Lakshmi in Los Angeles at age nine. My family, however, has stayed very closely in touch. It can be stifling at times, but when I consider what my life could have been if I had grown up back there with them, I’m grateful—both for the distance between us, and for their never-waning love and concern.
There’s irony. My mother loves my salary, but she’s deeply suspicious of me getting paid that much to work for women’s rights. It makes me especially grateful for the distance.
I changed the subject. “How’s Miri’s pregnancy coming?”
Mummy scooted forward on her chair. “Well, Rathi, you know how she—” And off she went into prenatal obstetrics. My mother is an OB-GYN specialist. I know. More irony. She sputtered out a hail of prolapsed uteruses and weight gain and serum levels of I-didn’t-catch-what, and I heard murmuring voices behind her and saw people getting up to leave. Show’s over.
When that topic wore down, Mummy came back on the attack. “The priest is asking about you. He says—” She looked behind her, and I knew she was making sure that the audience had left. She hissed, “Your stars are very dangerous right now. Be very careful.”
I rolled my eyes. “Mummy, you’re a scientist.”
“I do my job, and the priest does his job,” she said flatly. “You do yours. Oh, and he sends a warning.”
I sighed. “Let’s hear it.”
Mummy lifted her chin impressively. “‘The storm may uproot the trees, but not the mountains.’” She relaxed out of oracle mode. “This is no time to take chances, with your future looking so good.”
I thought of my mailroom boy with his dimples and his smart mouth and his boyish pride in his muscles. Had his mother ever talked to him like this? If she had not, at least she would have me standing in.
“Don’t be too lazy to wash the dishes, my beti,” she added, rather spoiling the high tone of her earlier message.
“‘A young crow is wiser than its mother,’” I retorted. She sputtered, so I changed the subject again. “Did my father get that contract looked at by a real-estate expert? Because that second sublease clause didn’t sound right when we talked about it last week.”
“Yes, and you were right. It was biased against him. He had it redone.”
“Good. And Lata and Leela?” I hardly knew my sisters. They’d been born after I was sent to Los Angeles.
“Um, I think they got up early and went shopping—”
“Hm.” Anything to avoid being dragged into my mother’s daily Skype to their perfect older sister in Chicago.
“They’re just jealous,” Mummy said dismissively.
Of what? I wondered, not for the first time. “And those Delhi Romeos?” I could only imagine what shenanigans my boy cousins might be up to.
“Healthy. Chasing unsuitable girls. Sunil wants to change his field of study again.”
“Put him on,” I said grimly.
“Sunil!” she shrieked. I heard my cousin grumbling from another room.
I got him straightened out, and then Papaji came in and said hello. By the time I shut the computer and ate my microwaved macaroni and cheese, it was nine thirty, and I hadn’t opened my briefcase.
I was paging through piles of the Sandsreicht case paperwork when my cell rang. Auntie’s ring.
I swallowed the last of the macaroni and cheese. “Hi.”
“Hi yourself. Did your mother call?”
“Just rang off.”
“Did she tell you your stars are dangerous right now?”
“She called you?” I said incredulously. “Next you’ll remind me to do the dishes.” I tossed the plastic pasta tray and ran my fork under hot water, feeling guilty.
“Just remember to have fun,” Auntie said.
“Do you know, that is exactly the opposite of her advice? And exactly what I would expect from you?”
Auntie chuckled. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“There isn’t anything you wouldn’t do.” This was true. My hippie-dippy wild-child auntie had been shocking me since we met. “How my mother ever reconciled it with her conscience to put me in your clutches, I’ll never know.”
“She expected you to straighten me out,” Auntie said.
I smiled. “I know I tried.” Auntie had been married to my mother’s brother, a very affluent American physician, before he died. Auntie was everything a good Hindu girl should never ever be, but she had given me one great social skill and one tremendous gift: She had taught me how to drink, and she had made me a feminist.
Auntie whined dramatically, “If you won’t take my advice, at least follow my example.”
“Tomorrow,” I promised, thinking of my career-limiting coffee break with a runaway Indian charmer. “I have thirty depositions to get through tonight.”
She tsked at me. “Love you.”
I hung up and flipped open a deposition, licking my lips.