Title: Wholly Matrimony
Author: Charlene Namdhari
Genre: Multicultural Romance
Cover Designer: TRC Designs
Publication Date: June 19th, 2020
She wants a divorce. He wants her back.
Three years ago, billionaire heiress, Jiya Malhotra married stripper Aiden Grayson in a quick, unexpected Vegas wedding. However, her arrival back in South Africa with a husband in tow puts not just the spanner in her father’s marriage plans for her, but the whole damn toolbox.
An argument ensues between her father and Aiden, who walks out and takes Jiya’s broken heart with him.
Now, she’s ready to tie the knot again, but her missing husband stands in her way. Messages to Aiden go unanswered until his sudden appearance back in town leaves her breathless, wanton, and conflicted.
Aiden agrees to sign the divorce papers, but he has one condition.
Will Jiya succumb to the wiles of this six-foot-something of walking sin?
Born and raised in the coastal city of Durban, South Africa, she now lives in the City of Gold, Johannesburg. Charlene’s days are an energetic mixture of a full time job, a wife and mom to two beautiful kids, three dogs and three cats. She holds a law degree and is a passionate events manager.
Charlene enjoys travelling, a Mediterranean cruise being her most recent venture. She hopes to retire to a beautiful seaside cottage where she can spend lazy days on the beach drinking cocktails and focus all her energy on writing. She is of the firm opinion that one should not give up on a dream but rather make every attempt to get there no matter how long it takes.
Her love for writing stemmed from an avid interest in English at School, more so Literature and enjoyed writing short stories. She attempted her first full length novel fifteen years ago and although she loved the finish product decided she’d write mainly as a hobby and only recently sought publishing.
Believing writing is the wings to holistic escapism, she makes the time in her busy schedule giving life to her dreams of bringing together passion filled heroes and heroines in a happily ever after.
Three years ago
“What are you up to? You made a mockery out of marriage by marrying without our consent and in a church, not the temple like we planned. Did we spend the last twenty-five years raising you to disrespect your parents, your family, your traditional values?”
Jiya Malhotra stared at her father, her body tensed in anger. “Jesus, dad, why are you making such a big deal out of this. He never forced me. It was consensual. Am I not adult enough to make my own decisions?”
“Thank you that you think you’re adult enough not to require our consent or blessings for that matter. What nonsense.” He shook his head, lips pursed in anger. “After everything I’ve given you, is this how you repay me? Blatant disregard?”
“Calm down, Nathan,” her mother whispered.
“Don’t tell me to calm down.” The harsh sound of him scraping back his chair from the dining table, filled the room. He stood and stomped over to the window.
Jiya puffed her cheeks and blew out a frustrated breath. She glanced at Aiden Grayson, her new husband. The deep frown etched into his brow hinted at his irritation with this whole disastrous situation. Everything was going well for the last three weeks since she and Aiden arrived back in South Africa after their hasty wedding in Vegas two and a half months ago. Her father appeared to take her unplanned marriage in his stride. Although he hadn’t spent much time with them since their arrival, he hadn’t said anything untoward. Until they sat down to breakfast this morning, and her father decided it was the perfect opportunity to advise them of just how inadequate Aiden was as her husband.
“Dad,” she whispered. “It’s my life, and I can marry whomever I want—”
He swiveled sharply, forcing her to bite back her words. “You’re my daughter, Jiya—a rich, well-known, revered man’s daughter, and you will respect me as your father. I’ve been nothing but lenient toward you and your stubbornness. I accepted your reasons for the unexpected trip to New York, but this marriage has overstepped a boundary I cannot and will not tolerate. You bring a White man, who has no money, no job, no future, into my house—”
Aiden shot up from his chair, stopping her father mid-sentence. “With all due respect, Mr. Malhotra, I never married your daughter for her money, and I certainly didn’t arrive at your home because I wanted to. I did it out of respect to you and your wife, and because I love your daughter as hard as that may be for you to accept right now. That said, I’d appreciate it if you would show me the same courtesy.”
Her father hesitated for just a beat. “Courtesy? This marriage is a farce. It won’t last. Hasty marriages never do.”
“Dad!” Jiya screeched. Why did she even bother having a conversation with him when he was in this mood. Running on a railway line with an approaching train on her ass would be far easier to maneuver. She sighed torn between the two men she loved so much despite their confrontational demeanor. “So, what do you want me to do? Divorce him?”
Aiden’s neck jerked in disbelief. “Jiya, you can’t be serious.” He leaned against the table fingers pressed into the glass top filled with half-eaten breakfast plates. The pressure turned his tips from pink to white.
She caught his pained look before he glanced at her father. “If it’s any consolation, Mr. Malhotra, I’m leaving in the morning.”
“You what?” Her jaw dropped. “Aiden, what are you talking about? We haven’t discussed anything about you leaving.”
Aiden ignored her question and neared her father. “Tell me, sir. If I had been an Indian man, would you have treated Jiya’s rash decision with such contempt?”
“Don’t patronize me, boy.” Her father scowled. Jiya recognized his struggle for control. He teetered on the brink of anger, which could ignite worse than a strategically planted bomb.
“I’m not.” Aiden shook his head. “It’s sad that you give your daughter everything a westernized woman could want—lifestyle, food and alcohol choices, cars, money, freedom to holiday when and where she wants, right down to the clothes she wears. Yet when it comes to marriage, it must be to an Indian man. I find that rather contradictory to your traditions, don’t you think—”
“How dare you?” her father yelled. “How dare you stand in my home and tell—”
To her chagrin, Aiden turned his back on her father. “I’m leaving, Jiya, pack your bags. Let’s go.”
“Is this the type of man you want as your husband,” her father said, his voice an octave quieter. “A man who disrespects your father in his own home. A man who wants to take our daughter away?”
Shocked, Jiya could only switch uncertain gazes between him and Aiden. “I-I…” She remained at a loss for words.
“Princess?” He neared her chair. “Let’s go.” Although his tone was firm, the uncertainty in his eyes pleaded with her—something her parents couldn’t see.
“Walk out that door, Jiya and I will disinherit you. Your parents and brother will cease to exist for you.” Her father took a step forward, his words threateningly low, a vivid warning.
Her mother’s soft gasp drew Jiya’s gaze. “Don’t, sweetheart,” her whisper followed with her reaching across the table to squeeze Jiya’s hand.
She shifted her gaze back to Aiden. “Can’t we discuss this?”
He leaned forward. “Discuss what, Princess? Your father isn’t happy about this marriage. I can’t stay here knowing how your family feels. I might not have money, but I sure as hell won’t tolerate being treated with such disdain. I married you because I love you, you know that, right?” She nodded. With a soft sigh, he added, “And it’s all I need.”
“Nathan, please, don’t do this.” Jiya caught her mother’s pleading words.
She glanced at her father, her eyes pleading for his understanding. “Dad?”
The deep frown told her he was contemplating the whole situation. Nathan Malhotra never gave up without a fight, but when it came to his daughter, he could be persuaded to at least think things through before deciding. She’d seen this deliberation many times, the last being her trip to the USA when she became tired of her parent’s nagging to accept an arranged marriage. He eventually relented, forgot the arranged marriage nonsense, and allowed her to go.
With a deep breath, her father reached for his phone, scanned it, pressed some random buttons then took a seat. “Aiden, if you don’t mind.” He gestured to a chair.
Aiden looked at him and hesitated. Jiya squeezed his hand lightly. He glanced back at her, and she smiled. “Okay.” With his broad shoulders pulled back, he lowered his athletic body onto the chair.
“I’ll accept this marriage on one condition.” His gaze drifted between her and Aiden.
“Which is?” Aiden cocked a brow.
Jiya swallowed as a sudden tingle spiked its way down her spine. Unsure she wanted to hear his proposal, she bit her lower lip and waited.
“You and Jiya remain in South Africa and live with us. You take a job at one of my companies: the sugar mill, casino, logistics, textiles. Choices are endless. We can discuss your qualifications and decide on an appropriate role for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Malhotra, but no.”
Jiya’s head swung sideways. She gripped his arm. “Aiden? You haven’t even thought about it. Why? It’s a perfect start for us. Everything set up just the way we want.”
He looked at her and shook his head. “You’re set for life, Princess. I’m not.”
“Huh?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“There will be a salary, of course—any amount. Just let me know what you want to get you started,” her father said.
“In other words, a sizeable handout to the poor White man?” His clenched fingers turned white at the knuckles. Jiya’s shoulder’s slumped in disappointment.
“I beg your pardon.” Her father sprang from his seat.
She glanced at her mother’s tense features before she jumped up. “Dad, please. Let me talk to Aiden.”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Jiya,” Aiden muttered without breaking eye contact with her father. “You might be a fantastic businessman, Mr. Malhotra, but not everything is negotiable like a business deal. I don’t need your money.” Ignoring her father’s deadly glare, Aiden turned to look at her. “Every marriage needs financial stability. Without that, the marriage is a disaster. I’m a man, Princess. One who wants to make a future for his family and not rely on his wife’s money. Come with me, and I promise to give you everything.” His emerald green gaze begged.
“You’re not making sense, Aiden. What’s wrong with the offer to live here and take the job,” she pleaded. While she couldn’t give up Aiden, the idea of walking out on her parents stalled her decision. “We can make a go of this together.”
He blew out a deep breath. “I won’t be a kept son-in-law, Jiya.”
Irritation skirted the edges of her emotions. “What’s that supposed to mean. My father’s giving us the future we want—”
“The future you want. You’ve known no other way of life, Princess. We need to build a new one together, and for me, that doesn’t include taking money from my father-in-law. I married you for better or worse, and I intend taking care of you,” Aiden said then sighed. “I am leaving, and if you love me, you’ll come with me.”
“That’s not fair. You know I love you.” Her fists clenched. How could he question her love for him?
He gave her a soft smile. “There’s one bad thing about good times, Jiya. They end too quickly. But, there’s one good thing about bad times, they do end as well. I don’t intend to stay this way forever.”
“Yes, but I don’t understand your reluctance—”
“And you never will. I love you, Princess. I’ll be waiting upstairs.” Aiden dropped a quick kiss to her lips. Before she could respond, he turned away. “Thank you for the hospitality, Mrs. Malhotra.” He smiled at her mother, and then with a quick nod to her father, Aiden left the room.
Jiya stared after him, her head in a tumultuous mess, then turned a hesitant gaze on her parents. “What just happened.”
“It’s for the best, Jiya.” Her father came forward and slipped an arm across her shoulders.
“How can my husband walking out on me be for the best, dad,” she cried out.
“I didn’t ask you to marry him. This is what you get by jumping hastily into an unplanned marriage.” He snorted. “If the man cannot respect me as your father and what I’m trying to do for the two of you, then he’s not worthy of my daughter’s love.”
“Seriously, dad.” She had the sudden urge to stomp her feet.
“Give Aiden some time, sweetheart.” Her mother also drew closer. “Maybe all this is a bit overwhelming.”
A niggle at the back of Jiya’s mind urged she go after him and discuss this sudden shit storm, but her father’s words messed with her head.
He turned her to look at him. “If you feel my offer was unreasonable, then go with him, but remember this. Few men can handle his wife’s wealth, and some might feel inferior. If you follow Aiden, he’ll never let you come back home. However long it takes for him to build a life for the two of you, your family’s wealth will always be a sore point between you. It’s your choice, Jiya.”
She stared at him. Indecision gnawed at her insides as her eyes welled with tears. She looked at her mother. “Mom?”
“Oh, sweetheart.” She pulled Jiya into a hug and caressed her hair. “Aiden seems like a man who knows what he wants. But as Dad says, it’s your choice. What the future holds, we can’t say for sure. Whether Aiden accepts your wealth or not, only time will tell.”
Jiya let the tears fall and snuggled into her mother’s arms wavering between the desire to stay with her parents and follow Aiden. “Am I being selfish? What’s wrong with accepting a job with one of Dad’s company?” What did Aiden mean by being a kept son-in-law? Was her father’s offer that unreasonable? The questions popped relentlessly into her head. Did her wealth mean more to her than Aiden?
“No, sweetheart, you’re not,” her mother consoled.
“Sometimes pride gets in the way of a man’s choices, and he ends up making the wrong one,” her father said. Jiya looked up.
“Come, let’s go for a drive, sweetheart,” her mother coaxed. “When we return, you and Aiden can sit down and discuss this properly. You both just need some time to think things through. What do you say?”
Jiya heaved in a deep sigh. A breath of fresh air might help stimulate her muddled brain onto the right track and give both her and Aiden some downtime. She nodded. “Dad, if Aiden comes down, would you please tell him to wait for me, we’ll talk when I get back.”
“Sure, sweetheart.” He nodded. Jiya followed her mother to the garage.
Three hours later, after relaxing with her cousin and her mother, Jiya felt better, her mind clearer. When she entered the living room, her father’s solemn features caused her brow to crease with worry.
“Dad? Is everything all right?”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I tried to make him stay.”
Baffled, she stared at him as her mother walked in. “What are you talking about?”
“Aiden, sweetheart.” He took a deep breath, and the same warning tingle she’d experienced at the breakfast table snaked down her spine. “He’s gone.”
“W-what do you mean, gone?” She shivered as an invisible chill, fanned her tense body.
“He left, gone back to New York.”
Jiya’s jaw dropped, and at a momentary loss for words, she raked a hand through her hair. Confusion didn’t even begin to describe how she felt. “I don’t understand. How? Why? When?” she rattled on. Her feet moving back and forth, she began pacing, frustration spearing her through the core.
Her father shrugged. “Fifteen minutes after you left, he came down. Before I could give him your message, he said he was leaving. He never gave me a chance and refused to listen. Then he was gone.”
“And he didn’t leave a message for me?” Her stomach muscles clenched as agony wound its way through her body. He shook his head. “How could he just leave?”
“I tried calling your mobile, sweetheart—”
“Shit. I left it at home.” She lifted both hands to her head and squeezed. Absently, her gaze wandered to the view outside—her mind in turmoil. “How did he just leave without a message?” she repeated.
“Call him, sweetheart.” Her mother neared her and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“The man didn’t afford her the courtesy of a message. He upped and just left, why should she call him?” her father muttered. “Why should my daughter run after a man who sees no reason to make this work? Don’t bother.”
“He left because he wants to do something for our future, dad. He wants to become someone, and I don’t doubt his capability,” she cried out. Frustration, anger, and uncertainty tinted her words.
He took a step forward, his shoulders stiff with irritation. “I agree with you, Jiya. Let’s just say he comes back to you once he’s successful. What happens when there’s a problem again. When the money he makes runs out? Is he going to leave you once more? What kind of relationship is that? Is that how you want to live the rest of your life. Not knowing whether your next meal will hit the table in time to banish your hunger.” Her father was on a tangent again.
She swallowed against the lump in her throat. The words floated around her, but she couldn’t grasp them enough to let it sink in. Aiden left. “I can’t, dad. I have to know.” She glanced at him.
He sighed then nodded. Jiya raced upstairs. Inside her bedroom, she stopped short. Her gaze searched for anything that belonged to Aiden. Nothing. It was like he’d never been there, ever. She walked into the bathroom. Her gaze drifted to the shelf above the sink.
No Bvlgari Pour Homme Soir. Aiden’s favorite cologne. Bold enough to be noticed, yet a subtle hint lingered when he moved on. No Tom Ford Black Orchid, his distinct aftershave that left her salivating every time he kissed her. No shaver. No sky-blue electric toothbrush. No shampoo. No conditioner.
With each subtle tick, her breath hitched, shorter, sharper, and with it, the ache in her chest intensified. Shoulders slumped, she sat down on the edge of the bathtub. “Why, Aiden. Did our love mean nothing?” Her breath filtered out in short bursts as she struggled to inhale. She stared at the tub where she’d spend so many nights cuddled in his arms while the warm water embraced their bodies. Dejected, she sank to the floor and bringing her knees close to her chest; she rested her head between them. How could he? Wavering between anger and hurt, the tears streaked down her cheeks. “Was I stupid to believe this would work?” she mumbled between sobs.
Several minutes passed, and when she could wipe away the tears, Jiya stood, walked back into her bedroom, and retrieved her phone from the bedside table. She scanned it for missed calls and messages. Nothing. Her finger hovered over Aiden’s number as she debated whether to call him or not. Her body shook, her breathing ragged, uneven sobs. She dropped to the edge of her mattress and hit the dial symbol. Her fingers tightened on the device. Anticipation froze her breath. Voicemail. She disconnected before it reached the ‘leave a message’ part. Unyielding tears blurred her vision. Her body shook harder.
“This isn’t happening.” This can’t be real. This is just a dream. There’s no way this is real. Wake up, Jiya.
She shook her head. Nothing changed. Aiden’s number still glared at her from the screen. She sucked in air through clenched teeth and dialed once more. Her heartbeat raced. Voicemail. Her heart shattered. Every part of her broke. She waited for the phone to ring, for Aiden to call her and tell everything was going to be all right—that he was on his way back. Panic grabbed the air from her lungs. Fingers shaking, she stabbed the green dial icon over and over. Tears wracked her body. She stood and paced the room. Each time the call disconnected, her heart sank a little more into depression territory.
“One more time, Jiya,” she sobbed and dialed. Voicemail. “No!” she screamed, sending the phone flying across the room. “Why, Aiden? Wh—” Blunt sobs drowned her words. “Y-you promised me f-forever.” She fell to the floor, her knees hitting the merciless carpet, yet the pain nothing compared to the ache in her chest. Her tears relentless, she curled herself into a tight ball.
“Jiya? Oh, God, sweetheart,” her mother’s sudden cry followed by her gentle arms pulling Jiya into a warm embrace.
“He’s gone, mom,” she cried into her mother’s chest. “G-gone.” Her chest heaved body shaking.
Her soft hands caressed her hair as Jiya tried to stop crying. Her heart wouldn’t budge. Each sob chipped its strength a little more than the first.
Jiya wasn’t sure how long they’d sat on the floor with her cuddled in her mother’s arms until she said, “You need to get up, sweetheart. I need to get you into bed.”
She managed to lift herself off the floor and, somehow, with her mother’s help, dragged her feet to the bed.
“You want to change, sweetheart.” She pulled back the covers.
Without a word, Jiya slid down onto the mattress and curled inward. Barely aware of her mother pulling the covers over her quivering body, Jiya reached for the pillow Aiden had used and held it tightly cossetted between her arms and her legs. She stared at the spot next to her. The emptiness drained the love from her tired body.
“Why, Aiden. Why did you leave me?” Even as the words left her mouth, she couldn’t accept he was gone. Deep down, Jiya recognized what her father said held some truth to it. How could she be sure? That Aiden was wholly committed to their marriage? That he intended to come back for her.
She tightened her grip on the pillow and inhaled deep long breaths. Still, her tears fell once more as his familiar scent shackled her in its invisible chains. “I hate you, Aiden,” fell from her lips, over and over until exhaustion claimed her weary body, and she drifted off to sleep.