Sapna Srinivasan stopped by the Tule blog to discuss the third book in The Sood Family series, A Mantra for Miss Perfect!
Where did you get the inspiration for A Mantra for Miss Perfect?
Sahana is a key secondary character in both book 1, A New Mantra, and book 2, A Rebel’s Mantra. She is positioned as the perfect, overachieving cousin who often comes under fire for how loyal she is to her mother, Sharmila Sood. She emerged organically as the third heroine, when I was ready to write book three in the series, since she has such a strong, often misunderstood personality. I thought she—and all the seemingly hoity-toity personality she brings—would make for a good story.
How do you relate to your heroine, Sahana, and how do you hope readers will relate to her?
I am not like Sahana at all. She’s way more organized and perfect than I can ever be. She is the type of personality I would love to be. I think we all have a Sahana in our family, you know, that perfect, overachieving cousin who seems to check every box with ease. She’s beautiful, she is professionally successful, she respects her family, her parents and her family’s Indian traditions, she seems to have it all, which leaves everyone else seething and annoyed with her. But she also has an underbelly. She’s human, she has a beating heart and she feels the pain when it breaks. And this is what I hope people—and I relate to the most. The fact that at the end of the day, Sahana is human. She struggles with finding true love, despite her mother’s best matchmaking efforts, and Sahana is desperate to please her mom. I am hoping that vulnerability will be that connection point between her character and readers of this story.
If you could spend the day with Sahana or Ryan, who would you choose and what would you do?
I would love, love, love to go shopping with Sahana (on her dime, since my credit card couldn’t keep up with her favorite stores). She likes nice things, and she is lion-hearted when it comes to taking care of the people she loves, cherishing them the way she does herself. So, I would shamelessly milk that, assuming she will like me, and she’s real, standing before me. On a side note, I’d pay good money to watch a topless Ryan mow my lawn.
What was your favorite scene to write and why?
I wanted there to be some serious chemistry, positive tension between Sahana and Ryan throughout the story. And I had fun writing all the scenes between them, where they butted heads while having this undercurrent of attraction between them. My favorite would probably be the first time the two meet at Ryan’s inn, The Wildling Inn. Here’s a snippet:
When her meeting with George wrapped up, Sahana marched past her cubicle down to James’s desk in the open bullpen. “What does the rest of my day look like today?” she asked him, when she was close enough to accommodate a whisper.
James turned to his monitor. “You have some internal one-on-one meetings and some follow-up client calls you need to make.”
“Reschedule the meetings, but not the calls. I can take those from the car,” she said with urgency.
James looked up at her. “Wait, are you leaving for somewhere?”
“We are, yes. We’re driving to The Wilding Inn,” Sahana said.
“The Wilding Inn?” James frowned. “But I thought the team wasn’t actively pursuing it anymore? Weren’t we going to wait for Ryan to get back to us to see if he wants to reengage?”
“I know, I know, I just…I need to understand what happened, James. I want to give it one last try. If I can’t get to Ryan, then I want to try my luck with his aunt and uncle—get a foot in the door. It’s not a clear shot, but it’s a chance, and”—Sahana lowered her voice—“it’s a tipping point that could affect my promotion.”
James’s eyes widened. “Did George say that?”
“He implied it,” Sahana said.
James sighed. “How about I meet you in the lobby in ten minutes?”
Sahana nodded. Turning, she began walking away. “Eight. Meet me in eight minutes,” she amended, tossing the words over her shoulder.
Back in her office, she sent out a couple of last-minute emails, before gathering her laptop bag. Her cell phone rang just as she exited her office. It was her mom. “Hey, Mom. Look, I can’t talk right now…”
“Can’t talk? What do you mean? I’m not one of your clients, I’m your mother who gave you the gift of life.”
Sahana sighed. “Okay, could you at least make it quick?”
“I’m calling to remind you to stop by your cousin Shaan’s house this evening. Don’t forget, no matter how busy you are, okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll remember,” Sahana said quickly.
“He is your cousin and we haven’t heard a word from him since he moved back from India. His mother has barely spoken to him or her grandchild since they returned,” her mother continued. “You know she came by for lunch today? She was weeping. She was so sad she didn’t even compliment my cooking like she always does.”
Sahana arrived at the lobby and caught James approaching in the distance.
“Are you even listening?” her mother asked, fervently.
“Yeah, yup. I er—I caught every word, and I will strive to be the best daughter in the world, but right now I’ve got to go, Mom. I’ll check in on Shaan after work today, okay? Promise.”
Her mother let out a second sigh. “Fine, okay. Bye.”
James arrived with a smile. “I take it that was your ever-loving mother?”
“Ever-fretting, you mean?” she said, turning to face the reception desk. “Marissa, could you send these out by express mail today, please? I’ve got sticky notes on them with the addresses for each one.”
“Sure, I’ll take care of it,” Marissa said with a smile, accepting the documents.
“Can I ask you a question, boss?” James asked, as they began walking down the hallway toward the elevator.
Sahana punched the elevator button. “Sure. But make it a good one.”
“What happens if you can’t get your foot in the door with Ryan’s aunt and uncle? What then?”
Sahana breathed in, as the elevator door opened for them. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”
The Wildling Inn stood at the very end of a long, tree-lined driveway. The property sat on ten acres of land along the harbor waterfront, peppered with pine trees and Douglas firs. It had taken Sahana and James a little over an hour to drive out to it from downtown Seattle. They’d stopped by Pacino’s to grab a quick bite along the way—a couple of veggie bowls with a side of chips and their homemade spicy salsa. It was a little after two in the afternoon with the sunlight, turning the skies bright blue with a few white freckles of clouds.
Driving up the pathway to the inn, Sahana couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the place—how serene it felt, and how quiet. She instinctively rolled down her car windows to breathe in the warm air.
“Hey, my hair’s going to blow into a mess,” James protested.
“You’ll be fine. Enjoy the view, will you?” she said with a laugh, looking out her window to watch a couple of blue jays dive into the trees. “Well, it’s a stunning property, no doubt about that.” She’d seen pictures of it of course, but she’d never actually visited the place before.
“I think I’m wearing the wrong shoes for this,” James noted, as they drove past the apple orchards that adjoined the property.
“Very clever to have orchards on the property, too,” Sahana added, looking past James’s qualms. “Inns with apple orchards garner thirty-percent more honeymooners than inns without,” she added, steering the car down the pathway.
“Did you just make up that metric?”
Sahana smiled. “I never make shit up…well, unless I’m in court representing a client,” she added with a playful wink. “No, I read that somewhere. Plus, it’s not just the honeymooners, right? Kids love to pick fruit…apples, blueberries, pumpkins? Not to mention orchards are great for a wedding venue. I think it’s very clever.”
James let out a sigh. “I feel like I’m on my way to Mr. Darcy’s house. How long is this freakin’ driveway?”
Sahana peered through her windshield. “There, right up ahead,” she said, her eyes coming to rest on the magnificent Tudor-style inn, with the driveway circling before it, around the lush green front lawn, with cushion-like flower beds and trimmed box hedges.
“On second thought, maybe I did pick the right shoes,” James said, as he considered the place.
The inn wasn’t overly expansive but very elegant looking. Pulling her Mercedes around the full length of the circular drive, Sahana pulled to a stop in one of the open spots on the pebbled parking lot that aligned the front lawns. She stepped out of her car, with James following suit. She did her best to navigate her way across the loose pebbles, as her Jimmy Choos caught in them, tipping her off-balance on more than one occasion. “I think you might be right about the shoes,” she said with a grunt, when they finally made it to the front door of the inn. Taking her shoes off one at a time, Sahana emptied them of the tiny pebbles that had managed to hitchhike a ride.
Slipping them back on, she straightened out her tweed skirt and turned to James. “How do I look?”
“Hot,” he replied casually, straightening his own bow tie.
“James?” Sahana shook her head. “Not the truth. Tell me what I want to hear, please.”
He sighed. “You look like a future junior partner at Yoland and Wiseman.”
Sahana breathed in. “Good. Yes. That’s exactly right.” Turning, she walked in through the open door.
It was a stunningly decorated foyer. Perhaps one of the best Sahana had ever seen—an eclectic design that sported a mix of wood paneled ceilings, darker-colored accent walls that were complemented by colorful, floral rugs, tapestry, and furniture. A beautiful hummingbird-patterned wallpaper, vintage tables, and paintings and art photos along the walls. To Sahana’s left, the foyer appeared to open out to a quiet reading room, to her right was a beautiful common room that captured the best of the day’s natural light. A few people, who Sahana assumed were inn guests, walked through the foyer, which boasted a large stairway that she imagined led up to the guest rooms. And straight ahead, was a reception desk with a beautiful antique lamp, a couple of flowerpots, and a computer. Behind the desk, stood a young woman with curly blonde hair that fell down to her shoulders. She appeared to be in her early twenties, with lively hazel eyes and a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She wore jeans, a flannel shirt, and riding boots. “Hello,” she said, with a welcoming smile. “Are you folks checking in?”
“Hi, no, not checking in,” Sahana replied, stepping forward to hand the woman a business card. “I’m Sahana Sood, and this is my assistant, James Ware. We work at Yoland and Wiseman and we’re looking to speak to either Clive or Sigi Harring, who run this establishment…or both?” she added with a dry chuckle.
“Oh, I’m sorry they’re both visiting a vendor. But if you like you can leave a message for them or you’re welcome to wait, although I’m not sure when they’re due back,” she said, gesturing to the adjoining lounge area. “I’m Holly, by the way, their niece. I’m just interning here this summer.”
“Niece?” Sahana repeated, exchanging a quick look with James.
“Niece,” he confirmed.
Sahana extended her hand out. “Very nice to meet you.”
They shook hands, following which Sahana ruefully considered her options. Neither one sounded appealing. She didn’t have time to sit around waiting for Clive and Sigi, and she didn’t think leaving a message would yield a response. She needed face time with these people. “Well, we’re here on business relating to the inn,” she explained. “Is there anyone else we can talk to who’s directly involved in the running of it?”
Holly frowned. “Oh, I think the best person for that would be my cousin, Ryan Mehra. He owns the place.”
“Yes, we’ve been trying hard to reach him,” Sahana said, dryly. “Your cousin never picks up his phone or returns calls.”
Holly laughed. “Yeah, he’s his own boss like that.”
“I thought you were boss, boss?” James whispered to Sahana, who shot him a frown.
“But you can just talk to him face-to-face, since you’re here, anyway?” Holly added, causing Sahana to widen her eyes.
“Excuse me, what?” she blurted. “Talk to Ryan Meh—er, Mr. Mehra’s here? At the inn? Right now?”
Holly paused for a moment, then shook her head. “Sorry, I should’ve mentioned that sooner. He’d been living in New York—”
“Right, right, right,” Sahana said, urgently.
“But he came back about a week ago,” Holly said.
“Where is he?” Sahana asked, as her eyes frantically darted across the rooms as if she were trying to find him herself.
“Oh, usually he’s in the library, or maybe he’s out walking. I can go look for you?” Holly said with a warm smile.
“Yes, could you? Would you?” Her heart was pounding.
“Sure, make yourselves comfortable and I’ll send Ryan your way once I find him. You’re welcome to walk around the property if you’d like.”
Sahana smiled. “Thanks, I think we will,” she said, grabbing James by the arm and leading him out the front door of the inn toward the gardens that surrounded it.
“Aow, aow, ao-w,” he cried. “You’re wrinkling the fabric on my shirt.”
Stepping outside, Sahana turned to him, releasing her grip on his arm. “How did we not know he was back?”
“The man’s been ghosting us, I doubt he was going to text us saying he was visiting Seattle, for God’s sake,” James replied, ruefully examining his sleeve.
“Okay-okay, you know what? It’s fine. It’s fine,” Sahana said, between deep belly-breaths. “We didn’t know it, but he’s here. This is our chance—possibly our best and last chance, to try and rehook his interest in the acquisition.” Her eyes involuntarily darted across the side lawns over to the slightly overgrown vegetation that bordered the inn. She peered in the distance, and for a second her eyes caught sight of a figure looming amidst the weeds and brush a few feet away from the parking lot. “Who’s that?” she asked, squinting against the sunrays before pulling a pair of Ferragamo sunglasses out of her bag to slip on.
James looked up and squinted in the same direction as Sahana. “I don’t know. Workmen? The gardener, maybe?”
“Come on, maybe he knows where Ryan is,” Sahana said, beginning to walk toward the figure, her heels sinking into the soft grass with each step.
As they approached, she got a close-up look at the figure—a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark hair. His facial features mostly lay hidden under the shadows of the trees that surrounded the patch of brush he was hacking down with his large sickle blade. He wore whitewash jeans. Just whitewash jeans, and nothing else. Sahana noticed he had one hand raised upward to the sky. Streaks of dark red trickled down his raised hand like streaks of—
“God, is that blood?” Sahana gagged.
“I don’t know, I haven’t noticed the blood-part yet,” James replied dreamily.
Sahana turned to him, only to catch him blushing spectacularly as he continued to ogle the topless gardener. “Will you please be professional? And remind yourself you’re married?”
James let out a sigh. “I might be married, honey, but I’m still human,” he said as they walked closer to the gardener in the brush.
They now stood just a few feet shy of the man. “Er, excuse me, sir?” Sahana said, trying to wipe the muck off the heels of her Jimmy Choos onto the grass. When she looked up again, she saw the man had paused his sickle-action and turned to face her and James, offering them both a full-frontal view of his ripped upper bod, complete, with a remarkable set of six-pack abs that glinted under the afternoon sun. His vanilla-white skin appeared sun-kissed, contrasting the dark hair on his head. He had that classic, Vogue-model jawline, made pretty by stubble—the kind of annoying distraction that could trip up an otherwise professional, female corporate attorney on her way to a junior partnership. His sculpted features appeared to soften under his hazel eyes and thin lips that curved at either end.
James let out a gasp, which Sahana quelled with a hard frown.
“Sir, do you know where I can find Mr. Mehra?” she asked the man.
He walked toward her, sickle in one hand, a deep-set frown on his brow, his injured hand still raised up to the sky. Sahana could now confirm he was bleeding profusely. She cringed. “Er, you’ve got a little cut thingy, there,” she said, vaguely pointing to his bleeding hand.
The gardener inched closer, decidedly making his way through the few remaining patches of weeds between them. He was headed straight toward Sahana.
“Would you like a Band-Aid?” she added, slipping a hand into her bag, trying to locate her travel-size, emergency first aid kit. The man now stood before her, in all his sweat-blood glory, and with James hyperventilating beside her.
“What do you need Mr. Mehra for?” he asked. His voice was deep and warm. His frown hadn’t budged an inch.
“It’s business related,” Sahana replied, with a calm nod. Her desire was evenly split between wanting to check the state of the man’s bloody hand, and admiring his perfect five-o’clock-shadow.
“Mr. Mehra’s busy just now,” the gardener replied. He began turning away.
“This is important,” Sahana said, catching him in his tracks. “Do you at least know where he is?”
The man turned again. “I know his exact location,” he replied, his face looking directly down into hers. She felt their gazes collide, through the tinted lenses of her sunglasses. “And I’d be happy to point you to it, if you tell me what it’s about.”
Unbelievable. Sahana felt her jaw drop open with disbelief. She turned to James for assistance. “Could you j-just…please reason with the farmer?”
“Gardener,” James amended, clearing his throat. But before he could say another word, Sahana dove back into the boxing ring.
“Look, pal, we don’t have time to play games here, alright?” she said, lifting her sunglasses up above her head, her brown eyes directly meeting her oppressor’s piercing hazel stare for the very first time. The moment felt like a pause, as they took each other in. She could smell his scent—spicy cologne, with a hint of blood, a whiff of the outdoors, and a whole lot of nerve. The two of them remained locked in a staring contest, with Sahana refusing to concede, and the gardener refusing to comply. Her heels were sinking into the grass, however, and her neck hurt from staring up into his face because he was so damn tall. But no way was she going to let this topless, bushwhacker with his steamy good looks get in the way of her professional agenda.
What are you currently reading?
One of my friends recently gifted me a copy of Maye Musk’s book, A Woman Makes Plan, and I just finished reading it.
About the Author
Sapna lives in Seattle, WA with her perfectionist husband and perfect daughter. Her name in Hindi means “dream” and true to its meaning, Sapna finds gratification in dreams and storytelling. She was born in southern India, raised in northern India, and spent the better part of her adult life in the United States. She, therefore, unabashedly clutches her Indian roots while embracing the American in herself. She loves to cook traditional Indian food and, yes, she uses cilantro in practically everything. When she isn’t cooking, writing, or being intellectually stumped by her daughter, she may be found running down the nearest trail by her Pacific Northwest home. The inspiration for her debut novel, A New Mantra, has been her own journey as both a woman of color and a runner; the latter being a sport that was introduced to her by her husband.
Congratulations on your latest book! I wouldn’t mind going shopping with Sahana either.
I can’t wait to read this story. I loved the excerpt. You can see the sparks already flying with them.