It’s Monday and we’re starting the week the best way we know how, with an exclusive excerpt from Sonali Dev’s upcoming novel, The Bollywood Bride, out next week! We fell head over heels for Sonali’s debut The Bollywood Affair, so we are super excited to see what her next novel has in store.
The past is catching up with Bollywood’s undisputed ice princess Ria and a trip home to Chicago for her cousin’s wedding only exacerbates things. Her childhood love Vikram is displeased by her return and perturbed by her success, but a timeless connection draws the pair together. Want more? Lucky us, we’ve got an exclusive excerpt!
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Even today, ten years after her first time, being in front of the camera felt like being stripped naked and held down against her will. Ria let the gush of relief wash over her as she stepped away from the blazing set lights. The forced synch-sound silence dissolved into the din of pack-up that erupted around her. Her mind turned back on and slid back into her body just as it switched back into itself. Years of practice made it easy to use the rituals of pack-up to reorient herself. She relaxed and adjusted her sari so it didn’t show quite so much cleavage.
“Excellent shot, Riaji!” Shabaz Khan, her hero in the film followed her as she walked away from the set, and beamed at her with all his newcomer enthusiasm. “Thank you so much for all your help.”
Ria nodded politely. Five minutes ago he’d been holding her as though she was his life’s blood and it was a huge relief that he was able to drop the character just as quickly as she did.
“You too, Shabaz.” She should have asked him to dispense with formality and call her just Ria. But she liked the distance the ji tacked on to her name provided. This was his first film. Between his small town upbringing and his eagerness to please, she doubted he would have called her just Ria even if she asked him to. Truth was his newcomer reticence made her own social ineptness in the industry seem less awkward. It was one of the reasons she always agreed to act with new heroes when none of the other established heroines were willing to take that chance.
She hated the usual hugging and kissing in the industry and her greatest horror was one of those sets where everyone acted like it was one big party with the pranks and the spontaneous get-togethers. Fortunately, her reclusive reputation preceded her and all she got for hiding away in her room was a few sniggers and some name calling behind her back.
She returned Shabaz’s smile and was about to walk away when he took a step too close and reached for her hand. “The film is done now and we don’t have to pretend anymore,” he said, his smile turning suddenly heavy lidded and far more bold than she’d ever seen it.
Ria stepped back, so startled that for one second she forgot how to hide it..
His mouth tightened along with his grip. “Oh come on, you don’t really think I buy the “benevolent senior actor” bit, do you? It’s not like I haven’t heard what they say about you.”
In a rush of cold hard fury Ria’s composure returned. With all the calm befitting an Ice Princess she looked around the set. Everyone appeared to be absorbed in packing up and there wasn’t a journo in sight. Good. Without a single word she turned her glare on his hand, which was still gripping her wrist, until he dropped it. He stepped back, both hands raised as though it was her reaction that was completely irrational and not what he’d just said.
She regained her polite smile and gave him a second to return it before walking away. And when he mumbled the words “frigid bitch” behind her, she blocked them out just as she blocked out the sting of his fingers on her wrist.
“Funtastic shot, Riaji.” The lanky unit boy caught up with her as she made her way to the dressing room. He held an umbrella over her head to keep the harsh sun off her face and handed her a bottle of water, smiling at her with such sincerity, the useless anger that had flared inside her calmed.
She took a long sip. “Thank you, Rameshji.” She presented another rendition of the signature Ria Parkar smile.
His eyes lost focus, his mouth fell open in a besotted “O,” and Ria quickly dialed it back.
“You’ll kill someone with that smile someday.” How her agent knew the exact wrong thing to say in any given situation, she would never know. He strode up to her in his all-black ensemble. Quintessential DJ in all his intimidating glory. The poor unit boy cowered.
Ria frowned at DJ. He ignored her and snapped his fingers, signaling for the boy to leave. “We need to talk.”
She turned to Ramesh again. “Did you get Choti’s board results?”
He brightened. Brotherly pride turned him larger, older than he was. “She got eighty percent, Riaji!”
This time Ria didn’t have to make herself smile. She patted his head. “Excellent! I told you she would do well. Remember what I said about marriage? Wait until she finishes college, okay?”
He nodded shyly before running off.
“You can barely remember your costar’s names and you know everything about the unit hand’s family?” DJ said as though it were somehow an accusation.
“You needed something?” Ria turned and headed for the cottage that served as her dressing room in the sprawling studio complex. She had steadily refused to buy a trailer. Too many bad memories.
DJ fell in step next to her, but didn’t answer. Ria could hear the cogs in his brain turning. DJ was never at a loss for words. Everything about DJ was out in the open, and what wasn’t was barely contained. He was one of those small men who cast a large shadow. Everything about him, except for his height, was huge. Huge hair, huge mannerisms, huge ambition. And amazingly, for someone most women had to look down at, he also had a huge reputation that suggested he wasn’t called Big DJ for nothing.
As they approached the cottage, a uniformed security guard who had been smoking under a tree ran up and unlocked the door for them. Ria thanked him, but instead of his usual cheery greeting, he gave Ria a formal smile and DJ a stiff salute and stepped away quickly.
“How is it they only smile at you, never at me?” DJ asked, one of his spectacular frowns darkening his face.
“Maybe because I don’t glower at them and scare them half to death.”
“Yeah, you save your glowering for your costars and the press.” DJ signaled the guard to bring them chai, his dark mood perfectly in synch with his black muscle shirt, black jeans, and chunky black elevator shoes. The only speck of color on him was the scarlet prayer thread on his wrist and the scarlet tilak etched across his forehead.
He was probably coming from one of the many poojas—the prayer ceremonies he attended almost every day as part of his job. Religious rites to invoke favors and give thanks were standard fare in the film industry. Success was elusive—no one knew what brought it on or how to keep it from slipping away. So divine intervention was universally accepted as the only explanation and everyone rushed about to lay claim to whatever divinity they could intercept. They changed the spellings of their names and rebuilt their homes to follow feng shui and vastu shastra to open up their energy centers and let in light and peace and the one thing that made all that light and peace worth having—money.
Ria settled into the leather sofa and slipped off her silver heels before placing them neatly in their box and stretched her feet under the heavy zardozi border of her sari. Must be nice to be able to believe that destinies could be reversed by something as simple as prayer.
DJ noticed her looking at his wrist thread. “The Kapoor satya narayan,” he said, doing a quick thing with his fingers, touching his head, then his heart, and the restless set of his shoulders relaxed for a few seconds.
Ria nodded and arched one eyebrow at the oversized manila envelope he pulled out of his shoulder bag.
He handed her the chai and biscuits the security guard brought in. “Eat first.” He tapped the envelope with a finger. “These aren’t going to help your appetite.”
She took a sip of the chai and put the biscuits on the coffee table. “I thought you liked it when I didn’t eat. What happened to ‘There’s no such thing as too thin’?” She reached for the envelope.
He moved it out of reach. “Babes, if you get any thinner, we’ll have the eating disorder police to deal with on top of everything else. Fat bunch of frustrated journos and their fucking sour grapes. Talk about destructive Western influence.” He lowered himself onto the arm of the sofa.
“On top of everything else? I thought I was your easiest client.” She wasn’t much of an actor, but she knew what the audience wanted and she gave it to them, always looking her best, working hard at her dances, and following the director’s directions to a T. Having learned to separate from herself at such a young age had its advantages. Even the critics followed along, calling her nuanced and ethereal if the film clicked, and robotic and plastic if it tanked. She was also his most scandal-free client. He’d never had to clean up a single mess for her. DJ had absolutely nothing to complain about.
Usually, he would’ve responded with a cocky comment. But his frown didn’t budge. He held up the envelope when she reached for it again and opened and shut his mouth a few times in a ridiculously un-DJ-like gesture, before his words finally tumbled out. “My guess is you haven’t posed semi-topless while trying to kill yourself. So this has to be some bastard who got lucky and caught you doing something incredibly stupid.”
The milky chai curdled in Ria’s throat. The paparazzo had worked faster than she’d expected. But why had he sent the pictures to DJ? She swallowed and snatched the envelope from his hand. It opened, spilling pictures on the tightly stretched black leather of the sofa.
There were four of them. All sepia-toned with the hue of night. All surreal.
Her hands were spread-eagled. Hair billowed in a tangle around her face. Her bare toes clutched the edge of the concrete, and her body leaned forward like it was about to go flying to its death. He had even managed to capture a hollow maniacal gleam in her kohl-smudged eyes.
To make things worse, her sheer slip strained against the heavy globes of her braless breasts and the powerful flash turned her nipples into dark darts poking through the thin fabric. The filmy hem of her slip had ridden up, exposing her midriff and throwing into stark relief everything from her bare ribs to the hipbones jutting out of her low-slung shorts. She looked like a complete lunatic trying to put some sort of dark, erotic end to her life.
It looked like a bloody poster for mental illness.
Anger so violent exploded in Ria’s chest, she wanted to scream into his face and shred the pictures until the abomination on them disappeared into nothingness. Instead she didn’t let her tone so much as falter. “They’re completely out of context, Big. Plus, they’re clearly Photoshopped.”
He looked utterly unconvinced and the sympathy that flashed in his eyes made her control stretch at its seams. He sat down next to her, his posture commiserating. “Talk to me,” his face said. “I can help you.”
“Oh for God’s sake, DJ, really?” She wanted to spring off the couch to get away from all that sympathy, but she refused to give him anything that would reinforce the direction his thoughts were taking.
He shook his head dolefully and reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a business card and placing it on top of the envelope. “I knew you wouldn’t talk to me. But this guy comes highly recommended. The highest level of discretion. You won’t believe his patient list.”
Ria didn’t look at the card. She didn’t need to. She knew exactly what DJ had just offered her without looking at it. It was right there in his eyes. He had never looked at her this way, as if she teetered on the edge of madness and he wanted to help, but he didn’t know if she could be helped or if it was easier to just slowly back away before she snapped. That look was a snapshot of her childhood. Her teachers, the girls at her boarding school, that look captured all she had been to them.
The Girl Who Came From Insanity.
The Bollywood Bride will be available in stores and online next week. Buy it: Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | IndieBound (your neighborhood bookstore). For more amazing contemporary romance reads, check out our Everything Romance page!