North London – Nineteen years earlier
No. Lia could not go through with this.
If she married anyone, it would be Devraj.
“No!” Her shrill scream reverberated around her in the huge synagogue.
Whereas a few moments ago she was numb and unable to walk, now she was all motion.
Among the gasps and shocked voices rumbling through the congregation, Lia bolted up the aisle so fast she prayed she would not fall.
Reaching the huge doors she pulled one cold handle towards herself and the slight screeching of the door made her take in another deep breath.
Racing down the stairs she stopped on the dark wet asphalt. The icy rain dancing loudly off the ground instantly soaked her and her cumbersome dress.
Devraj’s car suddenly shifted from its parked space and she choked out, “Oh, no . . . .” She was too breathless to scream.
Breaking into a clumsy sprint, with the freezing silk swooshing around and between her legs she forced herself to run onto the thankfully quiet London street. But Devraj’s car roared away from her with every second.
She shrieked his name and it echoed and disappeared into the booming thunder and the clattering rain. Uncaring about being soaked through, she took in a deep breath for the cool air to enter through her nostrils and feed her overtaxed lungs.
Lia screamed again, “Devraj, I’m here! Stop. Please.”
Her throat tightened with tears. She prayed that he heard her or saw her in his rear view mirror. The screeching sounds of his brakes made her release a chocked laugh.
His car came to a halt and she escaped towards her destiny, blinking away her tears and the rain.
Then Devraj was running to her, holding out his arms ready to catch her and hold her forever.
“Oh my Lia, I’ll never let you go again. Never.”
“I’m so sorry, Devraj. I should have listened to you. I can’t imagine my life with anyone but you.”
“I know, my Lia, I know. I love you so much.” His laughter reverberated through his chest into her heart. They were finally home. Together. And nothing and no one could ever stand in their way.
* * *
9 Minutes later
Lia sat up from within Devraj’s protective arms when she heard the repeated urgent blare of the ambulance flying by them.
A few minutes ago, she was on top of the world, having abandoned her family and bridegroom, determined to elope with Devraj, her gorgeous Hindu prince who seemed to have sprung straight from a Bollywood movie set.
Now, here she sat next to him in his cramped sports car, in a soaked wedding dress. The warmth of his arms could no longer keep her from shaking.
Lia knew she could not go through with this crazy idea after all.
“What are you thinking, Lia?” Devraj scanned her face, frowning.
“Devraj . . . I can’t . . . .” Hardly breathing, the pain in her chest grew triple-fold as the ambulance ominously went silent a few yards behind them.
Without daring to look back, she knew it had stopped outside the synagogue.
Her strong instincts warred against everything else. What had she done?
Her grandfather’s heart must have given way under the shock she had just inflicted.
“Here we go again,” Devraj said through gritted teeth. Sighing, he brushed his fingers through his still damp hair. “Don’t say the words I can see coming. Don’t fall for this, Lia. What if it’s a coincidence? And what if your grandfather is fine and it’s a ploy to get you back there?” The agony bordering on anger shone clear in his beautiful hazel eyes. His tension palpable within the car.
Lia bit her trembling lower lip, staring at her clasped, cold hands on her lap. The damp, limp dress full of ridiculous lace and satin made her feel like a foolish child playing dress-up. “We both know this can’t happen. I know what we both want more than life itself, but I also know what I have to do.”
“No, Lia, be strong for us. I beg you. We love each other and we’ll be fine without any of them, your family, my family, Jewish, Hindu, none of it matters. Only us.” He grabbed her but the seat belt stopped her being pulled into his protective arms.
How many times had he repeated these same words to her over the past few months?
“I’m so sorry, Devraj.” Tears blinded her vision of his face, but she could not bear to see the suffering she was inflicting on him yet again.
With all her remaining resolution she unbuckled her seat belt with numb fingers and reached for the door handle. “Please help me, Devraj, by letting me go. I’m not marrying Howard only for my grandparents’ sake but for—”
“No, I won’t let you go, I can’t.” He nearly shouted, grasping her arm. When she looked at his fingers and then at him, he let her go. “Don’t marry him, at least wait until your family no longer have such a hold on you. Then we can marry. I’ll wait for you forever if I have to. Please, Lia.”
She shook her head, closing her eyes. What was the use? They could go round and round like this forever. Like his father’s warning to her only weeks ago, she now finally admitted that no matter how much they craved it, Lia and Devraj could never be together.
Opening her eyes, she would not look back at her first love. Grabbing the door handle, she pushed it open with too much force. Even though her heart was breaking further, she had to go back.