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Ashish met Rishi’s eye, briefly, and Rishi lifted his eyebrows and surreptitiously shook his head. Ashish cleared his throat. Shredding the paper coaster, he said, “Ah well, maybe there’s no need for that.”

Rishi bit on the inside of his lip to keep from smiling with pride. His little brother—all elbows and knees and Adam’s apple, and still learning so much from his bhaiyya . Dimple shifted beside him, and Celia frowned at Ashish. “What? Why not? You texted me that you wanted to talk.”

“Well, yeah,” Ashish said. “But I was just worried about you. I’m over it now.”

Ha! Ha ha ha. Rishi was so proud of Ashish. And, to be honest, of himself.

“You’re . . . over it?” Celia looked a lot more hurt than someone who didn’t really want to be with a “high school boy,” Dimple thought. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright, like she might actually cry or was seriously considering it. She swallowed and looked at Dimple, who gave her a sympathetic nod. What the heck was wrong with Ashish? If he really liked Celia—and she’d read some of the texts; it seemed like he really did—why was he being so aloof? He kept darting these subtle glances at Rishi too. Dimple looked over at Rishi, frowning a little. He was nodding surreptitiously at Ashish, his eyebrows high. What . . .

“You wouldn’t have something to do with this, would you?” Dimple said, louder than she’d intended.

Rishi jumped and looked at her, the tips of his ears turning pink. He darted a glance at Ashish and then looked back at her. “Uh, what? With what? What are you talking about?”

Dimple raised an eyebrow and looked at Ashish, who looked back at her with an agonized expression on his face that pretty much yelled HELP . “Oh, for . . . Ashish, if you want to talk to Celia, you should. Right now. You should both go somewhere, by yourselves, without any interference”—here she looked sternly at Rishi, who hung his head and muttered something—“and just talk.” She felt maternal toward them, she realized, which was a shock. Dimple hadn’t felt maternal toward anybody in her life, except maybe Papa.

Gratefully, Celia and Ashish scrambled out of the booth and out the door.

When they were gone, Dimple turned to Rishi and tilted her head. “Really? You gave him dating advice?”

Rishi’s mouth fell open. “I resent that!”

She continued staring at him until he conceded with a “Yeah, okay. I really thought it’d work, though.”

Dimple laughed and rested her head on his shoulder, reveling in the hard musculature under his skin. “At least your intentions were good.”

The waiter came over, and Dimple ordered Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, salted cod with onions and potatoes, while Rishi asked for Caldo Verde without the sausage. When the waiter was gone, Rishi wrapped a hand around Dimple’s on the table. She heard the smile in his voice even though he kept his face turned away, his gaze locked on their enmeshed hands. “I can’t believe we’re going to make this work long-distance.”

Dimple snorted. “Why? Because I’m such a pain in the butt?”

He looked at her, his eyes shining. “No, because I . . .”

The pause went on.

Oh my God. He . . . what? Was he going to say . . . that ? Those three little words? “You . . .” Dimple stared at him, urging him with her mind. Poke, poke, poke. Say it, dummy. Because I . . . do too.

I do too, she thought again, her world exploding in color at the sudden realization. I really, really do. It took everything Dimple had to not burst into a grin and launch herself into Rishi’s arms.

But Rishi cleared his throat, took a sip of water. When he spoke again, he said, “I’m just really happy we’re going to make it work.”

Dimple smiled halfheartedly, disappointed but eager not to show it. Maybe it was for the best that he hadn’t said it. That just complicated things, didn’t it? Made them so much more serious? It was crazy enough they were going to do this long-distance after knowing each other six weeks. “Me too. It’s going to be hard, though, you know.”

He squeezed her hand. “I know. But we can do it. I mean, we started out this whole thing with you determined to hate me.” Copyright 2016 - 2022