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Authors: Shoma Narayanan

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The One She Was Warned About

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There’s no such thing as a reformed rebel!

Shweta thought she would have the whole marriage-and-kids thing sorted by now. But she couldn’t be more wrong—her love life’s a wasteland! So when she bumps into Nikhil, the bad boy from her past who still sets her pulse racing, she can’t resist flirting with danger….

Nikhil might have gone from zero to hero since they last met—although it’s hard to believe from all the gossip about him!—but soon Shweta’s hooked on the excitement he injects into her life…and on his spine-tingling touch! Perhaps the rumors are true—Nikhil really is as dangerous as his reputation….

SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT FROM

THE ONE SHE WAS WARNED ABOUT

The kiss came as such a shock that Shweta stood absolutely still for a few seconds.

The sensation was indescribable. She’d been kissed before, but the feel of Neil’s warm, demanding lips on hers was something else altogether—involuntarily, she clutched at his arms, trying to pull him closer.

His hands were cupping her face now and with a little inarticulate cry, Shweta arched her body to lean in closer to the kiss. She was conscious of nothing other than the feel of Neil’s lips on her mouth and throat.

A lot of time seemed to have gone by when Neil let her go finally, and she stared at him, her eyes still a little hazy from the effect of his kisses. One of his hands came to rest lightly on her shoulder, and the other caressed her cheek as he ran a thumb gently over her lower lip.

“I should apologize,” he said softly, and his voice was not quite steady. “I shouldn’t have done that. But I’m not sorry I did.”

Dear Reader,

This is my fourth book, and I started writing it almost immediately after I completed the third. I had the characters and plot ideas all mapped out in my head and for the first time in my short writing career I felt I’d got the “hang” of writing—this book would be an absolute breeze. Of course when I started writing about Nikhil and Shweta, they took on a life of their own, deviating from my carefully planned plot at every possible opportunity (I hated it—I’m a control freak who only likes people who do as they’re told!).

Shweta is attractive and outgoing, but she’s been ruled by convention for most of her life, and is terribly risk averse. Nikhil on the other hand is the quintessential bad boy. He’s strikingly good-looking, and while he’s out of the rock bands and fast motorbikes phase, he’s still a far cry from the nice, safely eligible kind of man Shweta is looking for.

Nikhil and Shweta were classmates from the ages of four to fourteen—they fought almost constantly, and if someone had told Shweta that she’d end up falling for Nikhil many years later, she’d have been horrified. Nikhil on the other hand always had a soft corner for her, and he finds the new, grown-up Shweta infinitely alluring. And in spite of my control freakiness, I found myself liking both of them more and more as they muddled their way toward admitting that they are crazily in love with each other.

Happy reading!

Shoma

THE ONE SHE WAS
WARNED ABOUT

Shoma Narayanan

ABOUT SHOMA NARAYANAN

Shoma started reading Mills and Boon® romances at the age of eleven, borrowing them from neighbors and hiding them inside textbooks so that her parents didn’t find out. At that time the thought of writing one herself never entered her head—she was convinced she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. When she was a little older she decided to become an engineer instead, and took a degree in electronics and telecommunications. Then she thought a career in management was probably a better bet, and went off to do an MBA. That was a decision she never regretted, because she met the man of her dreams in the first year of business school—fifteen years later they’re married with two adorable kids, whom they’re raising with the same careful attention to detail that they gave their second-year project on organizational behavior.

A couple of years ago Shoma took up writing as a hobby—after successively trying her hand at baking, sewing, knitting, crochet and patchwork—and was amazed at how much she enjoyed it. Now she works grimly at her banking job through the week, and tries to balance writing with household chores during weekends. Her family has been unfailingly supportive of her latest hobby, and are also secretly very, very relieved that they don’t have to eat, wear or display the results!

Other Harlequin® KISS™ titles by Shoma Narayanan:

Secrets & Saris

This and other titles by Shoma Narayanan are available in ebook format—check out
Harlequin.com
.

To Anna and Megan, my two wonderful editors
for their patience and unfailing support.

ONE

‘That,’ Priya said,
pointing dramatically, ‘is the hottest man I have ever seen in my life.’

It was the first evening of their annual office convention and Shweta was already exhausted. The flight from Mumbai to Kerala was short, but it had been very early in the morning and she’d not slept much. Then the day had been crammed with intensely boring presentations that she’d had to sit through with a look of rapt attention on her face.

‘At least look at him!’ Priya was saying, and Shweta looked in the direction of her pointing finger.

A jolt of recognition made her keep staring for a few seconds, but there was no answering gleam in the man’s eyes—clearly he didn’t remember her at all. Not surprising, really. She’d changed quite a bit since they’d last met.

She shrugged, turning away. ‘Not my type.’

Priya gave her a disbelieving stare. ‘Delusional,’ she said, shaking her head sadly. ‘You’re so out of touch with reality you can’t tell a hot man from an Excel spreadsheet. Talking of spreadsheets—that’s one guy I’d like to see spread on my sheets...’

Shweta groaned. ‘Your sense of humour is pathetic,’ she said. ‘Every time I think you’ve reached rock-bottom you find a spade and begin to dig.’

Priya took a swig from her glass of almost-neat vodka. ‘Yours isn’t much better,’ she pointed out. ‘And, pathetic sense of humour or not, I at least have a boyfriend with a pulse. Unlike that complete no-hoper Siddhant...’

‘Siddhant is not...’ Shweta began to say, but Priya wasn’t listening to her.

‘Ooh, he’s looking at you,’ she said. ‘I bet you can’t get him to come and talk to you.’

‘Probably not. I’m really not interested.’ The man had given her a quick glance, his brows furrowed as he obviously tried to place her.

‘You’re a wuss.’

‘This is childish.’ She’d changed a lot since he’d last seen her—if he’d recognised her he’d have definitely come across.

‘Bet you a thousand rupees.’

Shweta shrugged. ‘Sorry, not enough. That pair of shoes I saw last week cost...’

‘OK, five thousand!’

‘Right, you’re on,’ Shweta said decisively.

The man across the room was looking at her again. Shweta took a comb and a pair of spectacles out of her purse. By touch she made a middle parting in her hair and, with little regard for the artfully careless style she’d spent hours achieving, braided it rapidly into two plaits. Then she scrubbed the lipstick off her lips with a tissue and put on the spectacles. She still had her contact lenses in and the double vision correction made everything look blurry.

Even so, Priya’s look of horror was unmistakable.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ she hissed. ‘You look like the Loch Ness monster. Where did you get those spectacles from? They’re hideous!’

Shweta cut her off, nodding at the man, who was now purposefully headed in their direction. ‘Mission accomplished,’ she said, and Priya’s jaw dropped.

She was still gaping at him as he came up to them. Close up, he was even more breathtaking—over six feet tall, and exuding an aura of pure masculinity that was overwhelming. He was looking right at Shweta, and the quirky, lopsided smile on his perfectly sculpted mouth made him practically irresistible.

‘Shweta Mathur!’ he said. ‘My God, it’s been years!’

He’d thought she looked familiar, but until she’d put on the spectacles he’d had no clue who she was. It was fifteen years since he’d seen her last—they’d been in middle school then, and if Shweta had been the stereotypical hard-working student, he’d been the stereotypical bad boy. He hadn’t changed much, but Shweta had blossomed. She’d always had lovely eyes, and with the spectacles gone they were breathtaking, drawing you in till you felt you were drowning in them.... Nikhil shook himself a little, telling himself he was getting over-sentimental as he neared his thirtieth birthday. But the eyes were pretty amazing, even if you looked at them with a completely cynical eye. Her features were neat and regular, her skin was a lovely golden-brown, and even in her prim black trousers and top her figure looked pretty good. Somewhere along the line she’d even learnt how to use make-up—right now, in her bid to make him recognise her, she’d scrubbed off all her lipstick, and the vigorous treatment had made her unexpectedly lush lips turn a natural red.

‘Hi, Nikhil,’ Shweta said, holding her hand out primly.

Nikhil disregarded it, pulling her into his arms for a hug instead.

Shweta gave a little yelp of alarm. She’d recognised Nikhil the second she’d seen him—the slanting eyebrows and the hint of danger about him were pretty much the way they had been when they were both fourteen. But back then his shoulders hadn’t been so broad, nor had his eyes sparkled with quite so much devilry. There was something incredibly erotic about the feel of his arms around her and the clean, masculine scent of his body. Shweta emerged from the hug considerably more flustered than before.

‘You cheated!’ Priya wailed. ‘You crazy cow, you didn’t tell me you
knew
him!’

Nikhil raised his eyebrows. ‘Does it matter?’

Priya turned to him, eager to vent her ire on someone. ‘Of course it bloody does. You looked at her a couple of times and I bet her five thousand she wouldn’t be able to get you to come across and introduce yourself. She should have
said
she knew you.’ She glared at Shweta. ‘You’re not getting that five grand.’

‘Fine. And the next time your mother calls me to ask where you are I’ll tell her the truth, shall I?’

Shweta and Priya shared a flat, and Shweta had spent the last six years making up increasingly inventive excuses to explain Priya’s nights away from the flat every time her mother called to check on her.

Priya’s eyes narrowed. ‘Wait till I catch you alone,’ she said, and flounced off in deep dudgeon.

Nikhil grinned and tweaked Shweta’s hair as she shook it out of the braids. ‘Still not learnt how to play nicely, have you?’

Oh, God, that took her back to her schooldays in an instant. And the feel of his hands in her hair... Shweta shook herself crossly. What was
wrong
with her? She had known Nikhil Nair since kindergarten, when both of them had been remarkably composed four-year-olds in a room full of bawling children. They’d grown up together, not always friends—in fact they’d fought almost constantly. A dim memory stirred of other girls sighing over him as they reached their teens, but she didn’t remember thinking he was good-looking. Maybe she’d been a particularly unawakened fourteen-year-old. Looking at him now, she couldn’t imagine how she had ever been impervious to him.

He was still laughing at her, and she tossed her head. ‘And
you
are quite as annoying as you ever were,’ she said, realising that she was willing him to comment on her hugely improved looks since the last time he’d seen her. He was looking at her intently, and as his gaze lingered around her mouth she wished she hadn’t rubbed off the lipstick. She put up her hand self-consciously. Given her general clumsiness, she’d probably smudged the stuff all over her face and now looked like Raju the circus clown.

He smiled slightly. ‘It’s all gone,’ he said, and then, almost to himself, ‘Little Shweta—who’d have thought it...? You’re all grown-up now.’

‘You haven’t shrunk either,’ she blurted out, and then blushed a fiery red.

Thankfully he didn’t come back with a smart retort. ‘I lost track of you after I left school,’ he said instead, his eyes almost tender as they rested on her face.

Ha! Left school! He’d been expelled when the headmaster had found him smoking behind the school chapel.

‘What have you been doing with yourself?’

‘Nothing exciting,’ she said ‘College, then a chartered accountancy course. Shifted from Pune to Mumbai. And I’ve been working here ever since.’ The ‘here’ was accompanied by a gesture towards the stage, where her firm’s logo was prominently and tastelessly displayed. ‘How about you? How come you’re here?’

She didn’t know everyone who worked in the firm—actually, she didn’t know more than two or three of the people from the Delhi office—but she would have bet her last rupee that Nikhil hadn’t buckled to convention and become an accountant. School gossip had pegged him as the boy most likely to become a millionaire—it had also estimated that he was the one most likely to go to jail. Not because he was a cheat or a thief, but he had always had a regrettable tendency to get into fist fights.

‘I’m helping organise the convention for your firm,’ he said.

Shweta looked surprised. ‘You work with the event management company, then?’ she asked. ‘Leela Events?’

Nikhil nodded. ‘Sort of,’ he said.

Leela Events was big, and organised everything from Bollywood movie launches to corporate bashes. This was the first time her firm had engaged them, but she remembered the HR director saying that it had been quite a coup getting them in for a relatively small event.

The doors of the banquet hall opened and Nikhil touched her briefly on the arm. ‘I’ll catch up with you in a bit,’ he said. ‘I need to go and start earning my living.’

Shweta watched him go, her senses in turmoil. She had never been affected so strongly by a man, and even all the alarm bells clanging in her head weren’t enough to stop her wanting to pull him back to her side.

‘He
owns
Leela Events,’ Priya said, reappearing by her side. ‘Hot
and
loaded. If you’re thinking of making a play for him, now’s the time.’

Shweta turned away, coming abruptly back to earth. She should have guessed that Nikhil wouldn’t be working for someone else. Owning a company at twenty-nine. Wow! So, definitely on the millionaire path, then—if he wasn’t one already.

‘I’m with Siddhant,’ she said, her tone turning defensive as Priya raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, kind of....’

Siddhant Desai was the youngest partner in the accounting firm Shweta worked for. They had been dating for a while, and things were on the verge of getting serious, though Siddhant hadn’t actually popped the question yet.

‘Don’t marry him,’ Priya said impulsively. ‘He’s beady-eyed and boring and he...’ She wound to a stop as Shweta glared at her. ‘He’s just not right for you,’ she said lamely.

‘I don’t want to discuss it,’ Shweta snapped, but she had a niggling feeling that Priya was right. She’d never pretended even to herself that she was in love with Siddhant, but he was nice, her father would approve of him, and she’d thought that she could make it work. Of late, though, he’d begun to get on her nerves with his constant carping and complaining if things didn’t go exactly as he’d planned.

‘Talk of the devil...’ Priya said, and made herself scarce as Siddhant came up to join Shweta.

He was good-looking in a conservative kind of way, and right now he was in an excellent mood. Shweta gave him a critical look. He was
safe
, she decided. That was what had drawn her to him. But safe could be boring sometimes....

‘Sweetheart, you shouldn’t be drinking that muck,’ he said, smiling at Shweta and trying to take her glass away from her. ‘Let me get you a proper drink.’

‘Apple juice
is
a proper drink,’ Shweta said, stubbornly holding on to her glass. She never drank at office parties—alcohol had the effect of disastrously loosening her tongue. There was a very real risk of her mortally offending a senior partner and finding herself without a job. ‘Look, they’re about to begin,’ she said, pointing at the stage to distract Siddhant.

It was set up on one side of the banquet hall, and designed to look like a giant flatscreen TV. A rather over-enthusiastic ponytailed male MC was bouncing around exhorting people to come and take their places.

‘I’m back,’ Nikhil announced, materialising at her side so suddenly that Shweta jumped.

‘I thought you’d gone off to earn your living,’ she said.

‘Just needed to do a quick check and see that everything’s on track,’ he replied. ‘I have a relatively new team working on this event—good guys, but I thought I should be around in case something goes wrong.’

The team was still very raw, and normally he wouldn’t have left their side for a moment—only he hadn’t been able to keep himself away from Shweta. He tried to figure out why. While she’d metamorphosed into quite a stunner, he met equally good-looking girls every day in his chosen profession. It was the tantalising glimpses he could see of the gawky, independent-minded girl he’d known in school that drew him to her. He’d always liked her, in spite of the unmerciful teasing he’d subjected her to. At fourteen, though, he’d never consciously thought of her as a girl. Now it was impossible not to think of her as a woman, and the change was singularly appealing.

‘You’re not the nagging kind of boss, then?’ Shweta asked.

It sounded as if she approved.

‘You don’t hover over your people telling them what to do and how to do it, when they should have it done...?’

Nikhil laughed. ‘It’s a little difficult to be like that in my business,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of planning involved, but people need the freedom to take spot decisions.’

Siddhant cleared his throat and Shweta realised guiltily that she’d completely forgotten he was standing next to her. Nikhil noticed him as well, giving him a friendly smile as he held out his hand.

‘Nikhil Nair,’ he said.

Siddhant took his hand, sounding almost effusive. ‘Yes, of course. Manish mentioned you’d be here. I’m Siddhant.’

Priya had been right, then—Nikhil had to be loaded. Siddhant was this friendly only with the very successful or the very rich.

‘You’re one of the partners in the firm, aren’t you?’ Nikhil asked with a quick smile. ‘I understand you guys are putting on a performance for the team?’

Oh, God. The firm’s senior partner, Manish, had come up with the brilliant idea of all the partners dancing to a Bollywood number. On stage. Manish himself could dance well, though he was grossly overweight, most of the rest were terrible—and that was putting it mildly. Siddhant wasn’t as bad as some, only he was very stiff and self-conscious. Shweta cringed at the thought of watching him make a fool of himself in public.

‘It’s just something Manish thought would make us seem a little more approachable to the team,’ Siddhant was saying. ‘That becomes a problem sometimes in an industry like ours. By the way—marvellous arrangements this morning. Your team did a fabulous job. The elephants and the Kathakali dancers welcoming everyone...and that flash mob thing at lunchtime was also a fantastic idea.’

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