Blame Jislane for this. It's all her fault. She put the idea in my head and it wouldn't go away.

HOWEVER: Someone has returned and I have a lot of things to catch up on and I don't plan on getting a lot of writing done. Other things to do at night…

Yes, I know I have to finish "Only Once" and it is, just waiting for feedback from my unofficial Beta


Torn Between Two Lovers

Chapter 1

She paced back and forth in front of her corner office windows, hardly noticing the panoramic view of Los Angeles that they afforded her.

Her perfect life, ruined. Her hopes and dreams all realized and now…in ashes. How dare they! How dare they threaten her with…an arranged marriage! It was medieval, an archaic tradition and one which, as a modern woman, she found both insulting and demeaning. She was not chattel.

Last evening, she and Rajeesh had Skyped with her parents in Delhi and after the usual chit-chat and information exchanges, her Mummy asked Rajeesh to 'excuse' himself because she wanted to have a mother-daughter talk with Priya.

"Priya, you are not getting any younger and since Rajeesh has no prospects on his horizon, his head in outer space, your Daddy and I have made an arrangement that will ensure us grandchildren to keep us company in our later years. You know, Priya, Dr. Rinji Rangikara has always expressed a very wholesome interest in you for years and so – "

"No! You didn't! You couldn't have – "

"Priya! Is that what they taught you at Cambridge – to interrupt your Mummy when she has awesomely great news? We have arranged a marriage for you to Dr. Rangikara and we require that you return at once to Delhi and – "

"But Mummy, I am already engaged. I was going to tell you later when I asked Rajeesh to give us some private time. We are going to select my engagement ring in the morning! I am so happy, Mummy!"

"What? Who is he? What does he do? Is he wealthy? Is he Indian or Jewish? I thought – oh, Priya, no! Not that little man with the bad eyes? No. No. No. Your children will be myopic little dwarves and what kind – "

"No, Mummy. You are thinking of Leonard who is already engaged to a waitress and Howard, the Jewish man who I told you earlier was not my type because I'm not inflatable – "

"Priya! Such language!"

"…and is already married to a waitress/microbiologist. No, Mummy. I am engaged to…

In retrospect, she knew that she'd panicked. She, an experienced barrister, an international trade lawyer, a devastatingly ruthless negotiator, a unflappably calm, cool and collected mediator, had momentarily lost her mind and blurted out the name of the only man in the entire Universe that she found absolutely barren of any redeeming qualities…

"…Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper!"

And now she had to sweet talk the androgynous annoyance into saving her from a fate worse than death, all the while deceiving her parents (something she did with astounding regularity) and convince him to participate in what she had come to call 'The Great Deception'.

Her brother's reaction had been…forceful for Rajeesh, very uncharacteristically bold and pointed.

'Priya, have you lost your MIND? Sheldon Cooper detests the air you breathe and makes an effort to avoid you like a…a…a dirty sock! He will not do this, I tell you. He is a man of some degree of honor and he cannot lie, Priya. His face contorts and twitches and he perspires – "

"Rajesh, I have only to halt this arranged marriage from Mummy and Daddy's choice for a month or two at the most. Dr. Ranjikara will lose interest and seek a bride elsewhere, perhaps in the countryside where some unsuspecting but available female with poor eyesight and poorer prospects will favor him with her hand."

"RINJI Ranjikara? Oh, Priya, this will not work. He and Sheldon were colleagues on a research project and each has great respect for the other despite the differences in their ages. NO, this will not work and you will end up hurting two men who are both unlikely to ever marry without outside assistance. Besides, what could you possibly offer Sheldon to get him to agree to such a deception? He respects Mummy and Daddy and our ways. No, he will not do it."

"I will appeal the angels of his better nature. I'm sure that once I explain my situation he will be willing to help me. After all, Rajeesh, his is your friend and I'm sure he doesn't wish to disappoint you."

"The only person Sheldon Cooper worries about disappointing is his mother or his beloved grandmother, Meemaw. Sorry, Priya, but I shall dance and drink and flirt at your wedding in Delhi and then toast your union with your new husband wishing you both many, many children."

She felt trapped, and like a tiger in a cage, she paced the confines of her office, ignoring her tasks and indulging in a bit of personal introspection.

'I have much to offer Dr. Cooper in exchange for his cooperation. He must be lonely living in that big apartment now that Leonard has moved across the hall so that he can access his fiancée without being constantly bombarded with requests to 'have quieter coitus, Leonard'.

She grabbed up her legal pad and started listing the advantages she would use to persuade him to cooperate.

First, she would offer to move into the Leonard's old bedroom and split the rent and utilities. The additional advantage was that he would be able to actually tell her Mummy and Daddy that they were living together without lying.

Second, she firmly believed that someone like Dr. Ranjikari would not want a woman fresh from another man's bed, at least that was the impression she wished to allude to in any conversations with her parents. If she could convince them of her status, time would take care of the rest.

Third, she knew that Sheldon loved Indian food. She would cook for him on occasion and introduce him to Indian culture. That would be a benefit associated with the first but she was going for quantity.

She had two telephone numbers that would provide the fourth and fifth advantages. Sheldon Cooper would cooperate or face the disapproval of his Maata and Daadii*.

She set her plan in place. Leonard, Howard and Raj and their significant others, less Raj's, of course, were all going out to a movie that Sheldon detested so he would be alone, vulnerable, unsupported by his friends, a goat tied out to attract the tiger…and she was the tiger and would have her prey.

*Maata – mother; Daadii – paternal grandmother.

He sat in his spot and switched on the TV and began watching his favorite episode of Doctor Who for the 29th time. Certainly, he could close his eyes and recapture every second of the program from his own memory but he preferred it this way.

The gentle knocking at the door perturbed him to no end and he mashed the STOP button on his DVD player just as the Doctor was about to announce the impending destruction of the known Universe.

"Priya?" His surprise at seeing Raj's sister was fleeting as his suspicious nature asserted itself.

"Hello, Dr. Cooper. May I please come in?"

"Why? I am alone and the others are at a movie. Therefore, I see no reason for your appearance at my door…or in my life for that matter."

'This may be a bit more difficult than I expected. He is already on guard, damn it! Think, Priya, think!'

"Sheldon, I do not wish to discuss my reason for seeking you out in the hallway of an apartment building. I – "

"And I do not wish to discuss anything at all with you and since we are at an impasse…goodbye." He started to close the door but Priya was ready for it and hopped into the apartment, brushing by him and then walking to the couch and sitting in his spot.

"I thought vampires couldn't enter a dwelling without an invitation but I can see I was misinformed again by the false truths of popular culture. And you're in my spot, Ms. Koothrappali."

Being a trained negotiator, she saw the advantage of appearing acquiescent and so she moved to a chair, muttering, "Sorry, Sheldon. I forgot about your 'spot'."

"Not surprising, all things considered. Why are you here?"

"I desperately need your help, Sheldon. You're my only hope!" A little Star Wars references never hurt.

He immediately saw the parallels and sat down in his spot and turned off the TV.

"You have my undivided attention. Pray, continue." She wanted nothing more than to wipe that smug look off his face. 'The man's arrogance will be his undoing one day.'

"Sheldon, how do you feel about slavery?"

She had his attention. He sat up straighter and his face took on a more thoughtful countenance tinged with sadness or regret, she couldn't tell.

"It was and is a horrible institution. To bar an individual from being free to determine their own course, their own destiny, to own another human being…is despicable and an abomination in the eyes of all decent people."

"Sheldon, I am about to be sent into slavery and – "

He jumped to his feet and crossed the distance between them and grasped both her hands in his and stared into her chocolate-colored eyes. "Have you not sought help from the authorities, Priya? Slavery is illegal in the United States as well as India. Who dares to – "

"Perhaps 'slavery' was too strong a word but it is how I interpret what has been done to me without my knowledge or consent. I am not, as you so eloquently stated, 'free to determine' my own course. Not if my parents have their way. Sheldon, please, you must help me…"

Sheldon almost threw her hands from his. The onslaught of emotions of fear and anguish were almost too much to bear. Indeed, she felt what she was saying was true.

"Doctor and Mrs. Koothrappali would never consent to such an act! Surely you are mistaken. They are good and decent people who want only the best for their children."

"My mother has made the arrangements through an intermediary. The man is old, Sheldon, and I met him only once as a child…please help me, Sheldon, you are truly my only hope."

"What can I do, Priya? I don't understand why you've come to me with your problem." Now that he knew it was a family matter and that she wasn't really going to be sold into 'servitude', his interest waned, despite the intensity of her emotional state.

"Because of all the men I've ever met, Sheldon Lee Cooper is by far the most intelligent and…and…compassionate." Butter him up, get his agreement and get the hell out of there – that was her plan and it almost worked.

His eyes narrowed. 'Compassionate' was not a word likely to appear in any definition or description of Sheldon Cooper and he knew it. Not even his own family would ever use the term 'compassionate' and 'Sheldon' in the same sentence.

"The lawyer in you has just made its appearance. 'Compassionate'? Me? What is it you really want and why me?"

"Because – because I am in a corner and I cannot escape without your help. Damn it! This isn't going as planned. Sheldon, in order to thwart my Mummy's plans I've told them that I am engaged already."

"And I still do not see where this involves me in any way, Priya, and since I don't, I'd like to return to my evening's planned entertainment and you can go prowl the alleys for someone else to - "

"I told them I was engaged to you!"