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Broken Harmony (New Song Series Book 4)

Broken Harmony (New Song Series Book 4)

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Aaron Lee, New Song Band saxophonist, is in competition with his brother, Boris, for the top position in the family company. However, there is a moral clause that they both must fulfill before either brother can get the position. Aaron is confident that he will triumph but he meets Alka again—the girl who got away. Alka's Hindu family had arranged her marriage to Rajiv before she was ten years old, a boy she didn't even know. Aaron had always been her love, but to be with him Alka had to defy her family and risk losing them. Will Alka overcome the cultural divide and unravel the web of lies that Rajiv has been using to keep her away from her true love?
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Chapter One

Summer 2001

Aaron saw her on his family's private beach in the latter part of the evening. The sun was hidden behind a blanket of gray clouds, its golden rays fighting to peep through the mass that surrounded it.
With every step she took out of the water the sun made a weak appearance, highlighting her golden skin. She rose out of the sea like a mermaid, her long black hair trailing behind her. She pretended she didn't see him, but he knew that she did. She walked over to her colorful beach towel that was spread on the sand, stretched elegantly and then sat on the towel, her feet crossed in front of her. She stared at the gray swells of the sea before her, waiting for him to approach her, or at least that was what he read in her body language.
He resisted. Something held him back—self-preservation perhaps, or rebellion at the unwanted attraction he was feeling. He was not in the market for a relationship right now. He had a battle to fight at work. He was at war with his older brother for the vice presidency, and he didn't want to be distracted, or was his reluctance tied to the premonition of a broken heart to come?
Whatever it was, he pushed his hands into his khaki chinos and refused to analyze why he was feeling the way he did. He turned back toward the house. He could see the colorful bougainvillea lining the back lawn, waving in the wind. It was better if he did not know who she was. He could tell her that she was on private property and that she was trespassing, but she was alone, and she seemed harmless.
"Wait!" she yelled. He stopped and looked back at her, puzzled.
She got up; a line of sand clung to her shapely legs. Her multicolored one-piece bathing suit was modest. He had seen his jovial octogenarian grandmother wear more daring pieces than this girl was currently wearing, but she was not his grandmother. She had golden skin, shapely curves, and a breathtakingly lovely face, which managed to look both innocent and seductive at the same time. He wasn't prepared for the depth of attraction that shook him, and he staggered at the impact of it.
"I am Alka," she said breathlessly as she ran up to him. "My family lives next door."
Aaron frowned and looked across the mooring where the yacht was anchored and toward the thick expanse of trees that separated their property from the Gregors'.
"You are a Gregor?" he asked incredulously. The Gregors were a rich Nigerian family with a large property portfolio.
"No," she giggled, "I live on the other side." She nodded in the opposite direction, toward a beach house.
"Oh," Aaron said, watching as her long sooty lashes covered her eyes. "I thought that house was empty."
"We have lived there for two years!" she said indignantly. "And you would have seen me before this if you would just take the time to relax. You work too hard."
Aaron was surprised. "Pardon me. What?"
"You work too hard," she repeated, crossing her arms over her chest.
"How do you know that?" Aaron asked, intrigued. "I have never seen you before."
"Well, I have seen you. You leave for work at six in the morning and sometimes don't get back until way after eleven," Alka said, pouting. "And I have seen your brother, Boris, too. He comes down here sometimes. He is always hitting on me."
Aaron laughed. "So you're a spy. Spying on me leaving home and getting in, huh?"
"No, I am not a spy," Alka said shyly. "I just...I have always wanted to meet you in person."
She was contemplating whether to tell him that she had a picture of him on her wall; a poster that she had seen in a feature in one of her father's business magazines. He was known as the up-and-coming rising star: Aaron Lee, heir apparent to the Palm Tree hotel group of companies.
She had cut out the picture and hid it in her notebook. She had also liked the picture of him playing with his band at some fundraiser party. He was posing with his band with his saxophone in hand. She had carefully cut him out from the group. She kept that photo under her pillow. She could hardly believe that she was talking to him face to face. He was her crush. No movie star, no famous singer was as good-looking as Aaron—at least, not to her.
Aaron saw the adoration in her fixed stare and groaned inwardly. She was a stalker—a beautiful stalker but still a stalker. He contemplated brushing her off but then she looked at him again with a challenge in her eyes.
"You hardly take the time to enjoy this beach; why have it if you can't enjoy it?"
Aaron opened his mouth to argue but what could he say? The girl was right. His only source of enjoyment these days was the band and hanging with his friends, and that was becoming more infrequent as he fought the battle for the vice presidency.
His brother, Boris, was truly born for adversity and competed with him for everything. Boris accused him of the same several times—Aaron had no idea how to have fun. Boris had boasted how he could juggle the best of both worlds: partying and business, but Aaron couldn't.
"You know what? You are right," Aaron said. He took off his shoes while she watched him silently, a pleased smile on her face.
"What's your name again?" he asked as he pulled off his shirt.
"Er," she croaked.
"Alka," Aaron supplied for her because she was staring at him with a frozen, fascinated look in her eyes. "I just remembered. That's an Indian name, isn't it?"
"Yes…well, no. It is Hindi." He removed his shirt and Alka swallowed. He was seriously muscular and more toned than she had imagined.
"What's the difference?" Aaron asked, trying to put her at ease. She had started stuttering and acting like a teenager. Is she a teenager or in her early twenties? Aaron wondered. He couldn't tell.
"Well, India is where I'm from. Hindi is the official language there, and my parents practice the Hindu religion. Some people get the words mixed up, you know."
Aaron stepped out of his pants. "You are Hindu? I can't say I have ever spoken to a Hindu person before."
"There you go again," Alka said, getting exasperated. "Would you like me to call you a Christian person?"
"Wouldn't mind," Aaron said, grinning.
Alka smiled. He looked so yummy when he grinned. He went from handsome to swoon-worthy.
"How come you don't have an accent?" Aaron asked, heading to the beach.
Alka followed behind him breathlessly. He was in black shorts and shirtless. She had to pinch herself while walking behind him. She was actually walking behind Aaron Lee! The Aaron Lee: businessman, musician, and seriously good-looking.
She took a few extra strides so that she could draw level with him. "I have been living here since I was ten."
"How old are you now?" Aaron asked, looking across at her.
"Eighteen," Alka replied. Her heart was racing uncomfortably. She wondered if the question meant that he was interested in her.
"Eighteen." Aaron's heart deflated. She was too young for him. He preferred slightly older and more mature women. She was just a teenager with a crush. He could see it shining from her eyes; he would have to kill this crush. Even though seven years was not such a bad age disparity, he couldn't ignore the fact that she was also Hindu. He had no idea what their beliefs were, but surely that would be the height of being unequally yoked.
He made up his mind to shake her. He entered the water and swam out to the deep end where she could not follow and then swam back ashore. He walked back to where she was sitting on her towel.
"Listen," he said to her sternly. "Alka, I am going to ask you to stay on your side of the beach."
"Because you like me," Aaron said arrogantly. "And..."
"Don't you like me too?" Alka asked before he could go on with his carefully prepared speech.
"I don't know anything about you," Aaron said, except that you are extremely pretty, he added in his head silently.
"Then get to know me," Alka said. "It's not as if I'll be around much longer, anyhow. I have just six months left here."
"Where are you going?" Aaron asked. Sitting before her, he adopted her cross-legged pose.
Alka frowned. "I am going back to India."
"Is your entire family going back as well?" Aaron asked. He suddenly regretted being so blunt with her. Her face looked troubled.
"No. Just me." Alka sighed. "I don't want to go, though."
"Then stay," Aaron said flippantly. "Nobody can force you to do anything that you don't want to do in this day and age."
Alka smiled at him sadly. "If I don't go, I would dishonor my family's name."
"My brother is good at that," Aaron grinned, "and we still keep him around."
"It's different for me." Alka grimaced. "I married into the Singh family. They are a wealthy family back home, and if I don't honor the marital vows it will dishonor my whole family back in Punjab..."
"Run that by me again," Aaron said, shocked.
Alka managed a weak smile. "Which part?"
"Did you say married?" Aaron asked incredulously. "For a moment there I thought I heard wrong."
"Yes, I am married." Alka nodded. "Marriages in our family are arranged long in advance. In my case, my family hired a marriage matchmaker when I was eight."
Aaron gasped. "Eight?"
"It's our custom. My family is not a modern set. The law in India says no dowry price and no child marriages, yet it is still a big part of life there, especially in Pamal, the village where our family is from," Alka said despondently. "My family are traditionalists, and I am not kidding. They are Hindu to the core, and in Hinduism, one is considered incomplete and unholy if not married. My family takes that very, very seriously."
"So you and your husband—have you two…er..." Aaron struggled to find the right words. The very thought of her as a little girl having sex made him feel strangely icky.
"Had sex?" Alka shook her head. "No. I've only seen him twice: once when the elders discussed dowry, they put us at the back of the room some distance apart, then we glanced at each other, you know, to check each other out, and the second time when he led me around the fire seven times. I was ten. He was twelve.
"Walking around the fire is equivalent to what you would call the wedding ceremony. After that, they had a big party where both families come together and interact. I got to dress up in a pretty sari."
"So what happens after that?" Aaron asked. Despite himself, he was fascinated by the glimpse into her world. It was so alien and surreal, at least to him. He only ever heard about things like this in documentaries.
"After that, I am allowed to go back home with my family until the other family, or my husband summons me, and then I get to do all of the wifely things that my aunts and mother and all the traditionalists think is so grand. The very thought of a traditional life turns my stomach." Alka shuddered. "I want to have a different life from them."
Aaron watched her animated expression, and he said lightly, "So do it!"
Alka sighed. "I wish I could. My family can't wait for me to go and live with Rajiv. The marriage is only considered legitimate when it is consummated," she grimaced, "but my family and his family consider it a done deal, so..." she made a face, "it's a done deal.
"I used to pray that Rajiv would forget me and find somebody else to love in the years since our marriage, but he hasn't forgotten, and I have been summoned. Rajiv is moving to Mumbai. He is starting up a movie production company and wants me with him. So I leave in six months."
That's barbaric and unconscionable, Aaron wanted to say out loud, but it was her religion, and he didn't want to offend her. Besides, he had read somewhere, years ago, that the divorce rate in countries with arranged marriages was less than one percent.
He looked at Alka again. Her hair was beginning to dry in a wavy cloud around her face. Some strands blew across her strawberry-shade plump lips. She was naturally beautiful and unselfconscious. Attraction and regret swirled within him, both fighting for prominence.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Alka asked him uncertainly.
"I am just trying to digest what you said, put it in context. You got married at ten; your husband is summoning you to live with him. I don't know. This sounds like something out of a fiction book or something. Are you playing…spinning some kind of story to make yourself look more interesting?"
"It's crazy, huh?" Alka chewed her lip and looked down at her fingernails, which were chewed to the quick, a downcast slant to her shoulders. "I wish I was spinning a tale."
Then she looked at him earnestly, her expression almost pleading. "Can you just please grant me one wish?"
"What?" Aaron asked, a frown pleating his brow. He had difficulty not thinking about the fact that she had been married since age ten.
"Be my friend." Alka straightened up, an impish light to her eye. "Show me what it is like to be Aaron Lee's girlfriend."
"No," Aaron said firmly, "I can't. I would be setting up myself for heartbreak. I have more self-preservation than that."
Alka pleaded, "I'll be out of your life in six months anyway. What harm can it do if you humor me? Pretty please." She batted her long eyelashes at him. "I know you don't have a girlfriend since that witch Tenaj Silvera left you for that older guy—what's his name, Paul Kincaid the third."
Aaron frowned at her. "What? How'd you know that?"
"It's not exactly top secret," Alka said. "I read it in the Montego Bay Chronicle. The gossip section generally carries stuff about your family, like your brother's various exploits at nightclubs and your Uncle Graham's many wives. But anything that relates to you, I have to read because I find you interesting.
"If you ask me, Tenaj was fake. She deserves Paul Kincaid. He is like seventy, and he has gray hair growing from his ears. Uhh..."
Aaron got up. "Alka..."
"There you are," Boris shouted, running up to them. He was wearing bright yellow swim trunks and nothing else. He had the leanly muscled body of a long-distance runner.
Alka stood up quickly and grimaced. "Oh no! It's your brother, Mr. Touchy-Feely and totally creepy!"
Aaron watched as his brother bore down on them, grinning. His white teeth gleamed in the waning light, and his thick, overlong wavy hair was blowing in the wind. He looked the picture of health, and with the golden sunlight and the slight breeze he would make a good picture to promote the easy life.
"Why are you talking to my mermaid?" Boris asked Aaron, grabbing Alka's hand and pulling her to him.
Alka pushed him away. "Stop it, Boris! I told you, I don't like you!"
Boris scowled. "Why are you acting like this? You know you like me. Whatever Aaron has been telling you about me isn't true. Unless, of course, he told you that I am the brighter, smarter brother."
Alka dragged her hand from his and stepped closer to Aaron.
"Oh come on, ma petite," Boris said, imploring her, "there is no reason to be acting like this."
Aaron sighed and hugged Alka around the shoulders. "She is my girlfriend. Leave her alone."
"No, she's not," Boris said, looking uncertainly between the two of them.
"Well, apparently she is," Aaron said, a resigned feeling settling over him. He would go along with this charade until Boris backed off. Curiously, though, he didn't mind when Alka squealed and hugged him tightly around his neck.