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Mark looked at the ceiling. He was getting agitated. No point checking his watch, or his phone, or straightening his tie, or fiddling with his cuffs; it wouldn’t make any difference, wouldn’t alter the one single fact: he was going to be late.
He tried to stay calm by reminding himself that this was an occupational hazard, that, if you do business around the world, you are going to encounter delays. It doesn’t matter how well you prepare or how important the meeting, something unexpected is always likely to insert itself into your meticulously planned schedule.
He looked again at the concierge, deeply engaged in what Mark felt sure must be an utterly futile conversation with an elderly couple. Probably discussing whether the temperature outside was slightly more blistering than yesterday, or maybe the wind had changed direction so that didn’t matter. Why wasn’t the concierge screaming down the phone for Mr Carpenter’s taxi?! Couldn’t he just – politely – tell the oldies to buzz off and get on with helping a guest who had a serious, essential need to be out of the hotel and into the crazy Mumbai traffic if he was to have any chance of making the meeting at all?
The concierge’s phone rang. He managed to effortlessly keep talking to the couple while listening to the phone. Then, still focused on the people in front of him, he nodded to a bellhop, spoke a few tense words, and continued with the couple.
Mark felt his pulse drop slightly as the bellhop walked towards him, and was already standing and picking up his briefcase when he was told that his taxi was outside.
It was a faster walk than usual that took Mark through the sliding glass doors and out into the intense heat of a Mumbai morning. He often doubted whether aircon was such a good idea, given that at some point you always had to leave it.
Whatever, there was the cab, and a feint prospect of making the meeting at something approximating to the right time. Mark was almost at the door when, out of nowhere (or so it seemed, but Mark had been so focused on his ride that he hadn’t had eyes for anything else) a woman walked in front of him and climbed in.
Mark felt his temperature soar. He pulled the taxi door open. “Hey, this is my cab!” he shouted, his face contorted with stress and rage.
The woman looked startled, perhaps a little frightened, at the sudden intrusion. Despite his fury Mark took in the fact that she was Indian, probably in her late twenties, with a fine face and sweet pouting lips. Elegant and regal in a way that only some young Indian women can be.
“No it isn’t,” she replied simply.
“It is! I just got called by the concierge.” Mark looked angrily at the driver. “Taxi for Carpenter, right?” The driver just shrugged. Typical.
“Well I got here first,” the young woman said. Her accent was well-educated – a mix of old-school British, American business school and the “Indian” accent that – to Mark – always sounded a bit Welsh. (He was sure he’d read that it was something to do with Welsh missionaries…) “And I have to get to VT by noon.”
Mark’s initial reaction was to tell her he didn’t care, that he had an important meeting in just a few minutes, and that, whatever plans the woman had, didn’t make any difference, particularly as it was *his* cab.
But something about the way the woman’s lips were slightly parted, as if she wasn’t finally convinced of the rights and wrongs of the situation, persuaded him that she wasn’t just another spoilt Mumbai yuppie jumping the queue. Something about her lips, definitely…
He took a deep, deep breath, reining himself in. “You know what, it’s fine. You take the cab.” He hoped he didn’t sound bitter, and even tried to smile. “Be my guest.”
The woman smiled, a mixture of relief and – it seemed – genuine gratitude. “Oh, thank-you. You’re a gentleman.”
Mark shut the taxi door, and watched it pull into the frenetic traffic. Less than a minute later, another cab pulled up, which Mark managed to secure for himself. Gallantry, it seemed, didn’t always carry a heavy price.
Mark wasn’t in the habit of frequenting hotel bars on his own; it had always seemed a lonely thing to do. But the meeting had gone better than expected – the clients had been late too, so no problems there – and he felt like winding down somewhere other than his room. Certainly, the Johnny Walker tasted good as it burned the back of his throat.
He was half-checking emails, half-observing the comings and goings, when he saw the woman from this morning walk past the edge of the bar. She had a lovely slow athletic pace, unhurried but powerful. Seeing her fully for the first time, Mark realised that it wasn’t just her lips that were very attractive.
Almost without realising he was doing it, Mark got to his feet and hurried after her. “Hey!”
She turned, and seeing it was him her face again took on that slightly startled, slightly anxious look. “Hello.”
Mark stumbled over his words, desperate to persuade her as quickly as possible that he wasn’t intending to reopen the argument ataşehir escort bayan over the cab. “Listen, I just want to apologise for this morning, I’m sorry I was so aggressive.”
The woman smiled, dazzling white teeth in that stunning coffee-brown face. “Oh, okay.” She looked a little sheepish, another sign that this was no spoilt princess. “Actually I think maybe it *was* your cab…”
“It’s fine. I shouldn’t have got so worked up. Sorry.”
“Thank you. I guess now I know you really are a gentleman.” She turned to go.
Mark never picked up women in hotel bars. There were many reasons for that, not least the chance that they were there “professionally”. But…
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked. “To assuage my conscience.”
She didn’t hesitate. “Let me get *you* a drink. We may both be guilty, but I feel mine was the initial sin.” Mark was taken aback by her confidence, but the effect was simply to amplify her attractiveness. “I’m Kriti,” she said, offering him her hand.
Mark had a delightful, if confusing, hour with Kriti in the bar. She appeared very assured, but sometimes also vulnerable.
He understood that a substantial part of his confusion was down to his own preconceptions. The reality of his “global” business dealings was that he spent all his time in identical hotels and identical offices, meeting identical businessmen (they were always men). So whatever he knew about young Indian women like Kriti was based on…well, what? Some vague notion that they were either rich and arrogant, and therefore utterly uninterested in a mid-level exec like Mark, or quiet submissive stay-at-homes, happy only with domestic chores. Mark would have struggled to identify one source for these ideas, but wherever they came from, by the end of the hour none of them applied to Kriti.
Not that he could pretend, as he headed back to his room, that he had even begun to understand her.
“So, Mark, you often try to pick up women in hotel bars?” she’d asked him, a teasing smile on her lips.
“No, no! I…I wanted to apologise, that’s all.”
“I see. So perhaps you buy a drink for everyone you apologise to?” The smile still teased.
“No, obviously not. I mean I don’t have to apologise that often…”
“Sure you don’t. British are always in the right! We learned that very well in India!”
“No, not at all.” Was he meant to apologise for the Raj? Or was she still just teasing? “It was just…I felt particularly bad that I got so angry with a young woman.”
“So if I was a granny, you wouldn’t have asked to buy me a drink?” Kriti held her gin and tonic lightly between her fingertips.
As she took a sip, Mark envied the glass. Those lips – not full or lascivious, but perfectly sculpted, fine, inviting… But just how *honest* could he be? With a girl in London the flirting – if that was what it was – would have been easy to follow. But Mark felt thousands of miles from home in more than just the literal sense. “I offered you a drink because I was sorry, and because I wanted to have a drink with you.”
“That’s circular, no? You wanted a drink with me because you wanted a drink with me?” Kriti sat back, waiting. Mark felt as if he was being tested, and it wasn’t a test he felt at all well prepared for.
“Okay. I wanted a drink with you, because…I thought you would be an interesting person to spend some time with.”
Because you’re gorgeous, and fascinating, and complicated, he thought. “Maybe because I thought you’d be the kind of person who asked me difficult questions like that?” Kriti laughed. Good. Mark needed to regain the initiative if he wasn’t to spend their whole time together fending off her mocking probes. “Why did you agree?” he asked.
“Ooh.” Kriti took another sip of g and t. “Because you’re a gentleman, which isn’t so common in this city. And because I knew it was your taxi when I took it.” She gave a look of mock shame. “I felt so naughty,” she breathed, and Mark felt his attraction for her increasing.
“You *were* naughty,” he said quietly, hoping he wasn’t fatally misreading the signals. “But you’re definitely forgiven.”
“You forgive me so lightly?” Kriti put on a face of mock disappointment. “When I’ve been so bad…?”
Mark’s confusion reached new levels of bubbling uncertainty. How far did she want him to go? Was she naïve, or mocking, or flirting outrageously? He felt himself blush, and he saw on Kriti’s face that she had spotted it. “I don’t mind you being bad,” he said quietly. “I like you being bad.”
“But won’t I then get naughtier and naughtier?”
Mark was not the sort of man to stare at a woman’s chest, but out of his peripheral vision he was sure that he could see Kriti’s nipples poking stiffly at her blouse.
“You can be as naughty as you want,” he said.
“But if you want me to be naughty, doesn’t that make you naughty too?”
It was one of those indefinable moments. To anyone looking at them, they would have appeared to be a man and a woman chatting escort kadıöy in a hotel bar. But, to Mark, the air now seemed absolutely full with expectant electricity.
“I think I’m fine with us both being naughty people, Kriti.”
She smiled, a dazzling coquettish grin. Mark wanted to kiss her there and then, but stayed rooted to his chair.
“I have to go, I’m afraid,” she said, standing. “I’m already late, and who knows if I’ll get a cab?” She smiled again, this time wickedly. “How long are you here for?”
Mark felt desperate, the whole evening slipping away from him.
“I fly out first thing tomorrow.”
“Oh.” It was Kriti’s turn to look disappointed. “Will you be returning to Mumbai soon?”
“I should have another meeting within the month.”
“Good.” She reached into her purse, and handed him a business card. “You can always call me up when you’re next here.” It was surprisingly non-committal, and Mark wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or offended. Did she think that he’d been trying for a last-minute business trip screw?
“I will,” he said. “I definitely will.”
Mark never slept well before early morning flights, but this time it was even worse. Lying on the hotel bed, his mind repeatedly went over the evening. Had Kriti really been flirting? Was she nothing more than a tease? Or was it innocence? He thought he knew the answer, but he was a long way from sure.
Eventually, he gave up on the thought of sleep, and browsed the hotel film selection. Not fancying a blockbuster, Mark browsed the Classics section, and settled on a 1980s film called Heat and Dust. Although it was a rather wonderful film, he realised it wasn’t the happiest selection, depicting as it did – with considerable eroticism – a romance between a young Englishwoman and an Indian prince in the 1920s.
It took two days for Kriti to respond to Mark’s email. Two desperately long days when he thought that he had spectacularly misread everything, and that a spark that to him had seemed wondrously promising had been nothing more than a flitting firefly.
On the flight back, sat comfortably in Business Class, Mark had gone over every second of his conversation with Kriti, and stared repeatedly at the card she had given him. It was the one tangible sign of their relationship, and however much it meant to Mark, he knew that it didn’t amount to a stable bedrock for anything.
But the business card had given him Kriti’s email, and, taking advantage of the plane’s wifi, he had sent her an enthusiastic if restrained message.
Settling back into work in London, he’d waited, and waited. His private email had never seemed so empty.
Then, finally, Mark saw Kriti’s name in the sender list. He felt childishly happy, his heart pounding as he clicked on the message.
Whatever he’d hoped for, Kriti’s words were friendly, but polite. She was happy to hear from him, and yes she’d enjoyed the evening together too, and of course she’d like to see him if he came back to Mumbai. If? Did she doubt him? Or was she quietly letting him know that it wasn’t very important, and that if they did meet it would be another strange teasing evening?
But it was a reply, and almost as soon as he’d finished reading it Mark had sent off a response. Was he being too eager? It didn’t matter, because he couldn’t *not* contact her straight back. He hoped that, having just sent her message to him, she was still online and that she’d reply immediately. He felt strangely intimate with her, sitting in the café drinking a cappucino, staring at his phone. They could chat, straightaway, who knew for how long, and about what.
There was no immediate reply, and no matter how many times Mark swiped reload to check that he had a working connection, nothing came. He even sent an email to himself from his work account to check that everything was working properly. It was, and it was a simple inescapable fact that she hadn’t replied right away.
It took three days for Kriti to reply. She was apologetic, so busy with work and things, the tone friendly as before, but nothing that couldn’t have come from a work colleague.
Mark was a little slower replying this time, hoping not to appear too puppyish, and also wanting to craft his words more carefully. So, amongst other things, he told her that he hadn’t had any arguments over cabs, and that he hoped she hadn’t stolen any cabs either, and that if that was the case then neither of them were being naughty. It was her word, after all.
Kriti’s reply came the following morning. No, she hadn’t taken any cabs, perhaps it was just Mark that made her do naughty things…
He couldn’t wait, and immediately wrote back that she was probably right, they were good when they were apart but ended up being naughty when they were together.
Only minutes after clicking send, a new message from Kriti arrived: “But now we’re kindof together, so are we being naughty?”
Despite being sat at his office desk, Mark could feel his cock hardening in his suit trousers. Kriti’s maltepe escort meaning wasn’t certain, but he couldn’t entirely restrain himself in his reply. “Well I certainly feel very bad right now. Naughty Kriti, and when I’m at work!”
“Really bad. As bad as I can.”
Did she truly want to know? Was he way off course? Mark’s cock was throbbing now, and it directed his words over any possible reservations his brain might have had. “I’m, well, so excited to be talking to you like this,” he wrote.
“Mmm, yeah, it *is* exciting, isn’t it? ;)” The mmm and the winking emoji seemed suggestive, but Mark still felt unsure of himself.
“It proves you’re naughty,” he wrote, “making me feel like this at work. Someone might see.”
“See what? ;)”
“You want me to tell you?”
“Yeah, sure, tell me!”
Mark took a deep breath. “Well, I can’t get up from my desk…;)” He’d never been a fan of emojis, but suddenly they seemed quite helpful.
There was an agonising wait. Then: “Oh, wow.”
Was that a good or a bad response? Had he just told a poor unsuspecting woman thousands of miles away that he had an erection, when all she’d wanted to hear was that he was blushing?
“Was I okay to write that?” he asked.
It seemed like he waited for ages. “Sure, that’s what I wanted you to tell me.”
“That you excite me? You turn me on?”
“Is it good to know you turn me on?”
“Sure, Mark, but actually it makes me feel *bad* 😉 to know I make you have to hide yourself from your colleagues.”
“You’re so naughty.”
“You make me feel naughty, Mark ;)”
“So, do you feel the same way?”
“The same way?”
“Naughty. Turned on.”
“Sure I’m turned on. Knowing you’re like that, what else would I be?”
Mark was so engrossed in his phone that he hadn’t noticed Ian Devlin, his boss, coming up to his desk.
“Hi, Mark.” Mark dropped his phone hurriedly on the desk, sure that every inch of his face and body betrayed what had been going on. “Time for a chat?” Ian nodded towards his office.
“Sure.” Mark wanted to at least “sign off” his chat with Kriti, but Ian wasn’t the kind of boss you could put off. “Right with you,” he said, reluctantly slipping the phone into his pocket.
For the second time, the Mumbai deal was causing Mark to lose his temper, although this time for entirely different reasons than an argument at a taxi rank.
“Why on earth are you taking me off the deal, Ian?” he asked, trying not to sound pathetically desperate.
“Mumbai’s a done thing, Mark, your talents are wasted on it. Leave it to Sally. We need you on the Jeddah project right away.” Jeddah? Oh for Christ’s sake.
“There’s still some complex odds and ends. We could get tripped up.” Mark knew he sounded feeble.
“Your commitment is A1, Mark,” said Ian in an annoyingly patronising way, “but we have to deploy resources appropriately. I need you in Jeddah tomorrow, and be prepared for a long one. You know what the Saudis are like.”
Back at his flat, packing, Mark sent an email to Kriti, apologising and explaining how he’d been interrupted. She didn’t reply, and again he wondered if she’d felt he was using her. Or even – though this seemed unlikely – if she was using him, teasing him to reveal himself without ever intending to offer any more.
Jeddah was every bit the ball-buster that Mark had expected. Endless hours of negotiation, without even the prospect of a whisky at the end of the day to soothe Mark’s nerves.
Frazzling his mood even further was the ongoing absence of any contact from Kriti. He hadn’t wanted to tell her that, because of Jeddah, Mumbai was off, and when she hadn’t replied to two emails he’d begun to think that the whole thing had just been a game for her.
Then, unexpectedly, the Jeddah talks stalled. A prince was out of the country, and nothing more could be done until he returned. Mark had twenty-four hours to kill, and, with a blinding realisation, he knew exactly what he had to do.
“In Mumbai tomorrow evening,” he emailed. “Can we meet?!?”
The usual agonising wait. “I’m so busy at the moment, Mark. How long are you here?”
“Twenty-four hours :(” Bless those emojis.
“Oh. 🙁 We could have another drink, maybe for an hour. Okay?”
My God, she’s beautiful, Mark thought. He realised he was, at the very least, hopelessly infatuated with Kriti, but even so, looking across at her, at those eyes, those lips, he honestly couldn’t think of a more ravishing woman.
At first the conversation had been stilted and awkward, the limited time and the suggestive nature of their last contact hanging over everything. But Kriti seemed to find security in her mocking teases, and this time Mark felt they were meant in the way he wanted them to be, the prickly defences of a vulnerable young woman rather than haughty barbs.
“You going to seal the deal, then?” she asked.
For a moment Mark wondered if she meant with her. “Oh, yeah.” Maybe she would have found it indescribably romantic that he had flown to Mumbai just for a drink with her, but Mark had taken the cowardly route and persisted with the idea of a business trip. “Mumbai feels like a place of unfinished business at the moment.”
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