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Chapter 16: Ae Humnava
Sanam spun away, pacing across the room to put some more distance them. Her steps were agitated, her mind in turmoil. She hadn't wanted to believe it, but she had to face the truth. He had married her for a will, for money. And, here she had been feeling sorry . . . almost desperately so, for trapping this man. She ran her fingers through her hair, pulling at it. Her conscience had eaten away at her for taking away his choice.
That guilty conscience had prevented her from pushing Aahil too fast. She'd wanted to be his wife in every way, but she'd held back. When he'd run off on their wedding night, she'd let him go. When he hadn't called her for three weeks, she hadn't reacted. When he awakened every morning and ran from their marital bed, she didn't complain. This marriage was supposed to be a new beginning for the both of them. She loved him so, so much. And out of that love came the driving need to save him. To heal him. To become a part of him, so much so that he wouldn't know where he ended and she began. She'd wanted him to need her as much as she had come to need him.
Her stomach lurched sickly, as she remembered the truth she'd discovered at Aahil's office. Aahil had had a meeting offsite, and she knew that he would be coming directly home afterwards. Taking the chance, she'd gone to meet Rehan. Things were stagnating between them, and she'd hoped to brainstorm some solutions with Rehan. While waiting in Rehan's office, she'd seen the documents on his desk. A letter to some attorney about their marriage. Documents acknowledging the will and its terms. Their nikahnama, showing the proof that they were married. Affidavits from Aahil that their marriage was real and not entered into for the benefit of the will. An affidavit from Rehan as a witness.
She'd sat there, numb, her mind struggling to process that reality until Rehan had returned. Those moments had felt like hours, but they couldn't have been. The sun was still high in the sky while her world had been crashing down around her. When Rehan had entered the office, he'd seen the papers on the table. He'd seen the stricken look on her face. Rehan had tried to explain, but she hadn't stuck around to listen. After all, what else was there to say? Aahil Raza Ibrahim had only married her for money. She rubbed at her stomach, the thought still making her feel physical ill. She wanted to pretend as if she'd never found out, but she had never been any good at pretending, had she?
"Is this why you married me?" she repeated, stalking back to glare at Aahil from inches away. She grabbed his collar and jerked his face closer to hers, giving him no way to hide the truth. She stared at his beloved face, her eyes tracing the sweep of his brows. The arch of his cheeks. The sensual lines of his lips. For a moment, she was mesmerized by him . . . by his beauty . . . inside and out, before reality came crashing down. He was a lot darker inside than she had believed.
"You did this for money? Is that why we don't have a real relationship?" The questions were like bullets shot at him, giving him no time to answer. "Is that why you won't touch me? Because you knew that you were going to end this farce as soon as you met the requirements of that damned will?" She pushed him away. He'd never loved her. A trembling hand came up to cover her lips, as she fought the tide of emotions rising inside of her. She would not cry in front of him!
"No!" Aahil protested, gripping her shoulders, trying to soothe her with his touch. His heart was beating rapidly, as he fought to find the right words. He had broken her today, and he couldn't bear that. "Sanam, I know it looks bad. But don't ever think that I married you for money," he beseeched her, hoping that she would believe him. He saw the fire light up in her eyes, and knew that making her believe him wasn't going to be easy.
"What were you going to do, Aahil? What was your master plan?" Sanam cried out, jerking away from his touch in rejection. Her hands flailed for a moment in the air, before going to tug at the dupatta wrapped around her neck, loosening it to find the air she needed to clear her head. "Were you going to keep me happy for a year and then just nullify our marriage, pretending that we were never married at all?" She stopped and swallowed the lump in her throat. "Would it have been so easy," she asked in a bleak tone, "To erase me from your life?"
Aahil stared at the pain in her eyes, wanting to wrap her in his arms. But would it help? He curled his hands into fists, irritated with himself. He was hesitating again. Hadn't he said there would be no more hesitation? Sanam deserved so much more than him, but she had chosen him. The least he could do was give her all of himself. He pulled her into his arms, and murmured soothingly, "It'll be okay."
"It won't be okay!" she burst out, trying to push him away. "Because you're going to divorce me. And it's going to be as if we never were. As if I was never a part of your life." She stopped fighting. She stopped moving, as if the reality of those words had just settled into her heart. She hadn't thought the pain she was feeling could get any worse, but it could. It so could. Burying her face in the hollow at the base of his throat, she began to sob. Her pain was like an acid eating away at every bit of hope she had held so close to her heart. There was nothing left.
Aahil clutched her close, his hand cradling her head to rest against him. His other arm wrapped low around her waist, his hold leaving not even a breath of air between their bodies . . . between their hearts. She was crying, and he wanted her to stop hurting. He ran a soothing hand up her back, pulling her even closer.
Sanam's fingers clutched at the shirt at his waist, her nails digging into his back. Her sobs were loud in the silent room, and they beat at him.
"Sanam, please don't," Aahil murmured, kissing the top of her head. Placing his hands on either side of her head, he gently raised her face to his, forcing her eyes to meet his. He carefully wiped her tears away, striving to rid her face of all traces of her pain.
"But what ab--?" she began.
Placing a finger against her lips, he silently told her to hush.
"But!" Sanam began. When he leaned closer, she jerked back, her heart beating rapidly at his proximity . . . her body begging to yield to his heat. She struggled to pull away, knowing that the longer she was in his hold, the more she would want to yield. "Don't think that you can just use your animal magnetism to keep me under control!" she told him fiercely. "How could you get married for money? Who does that?"
"I didn't," Aahil shot back, resting his forehead against hers, holding her in place by a hand on her neck when she tried to jerk back. They stood there for a moment, both breathing hard, their hearts beating almost in unison. "But if you're in the mood to talk," he said speculatively, smiling lightly at her, "Why don't we talk about something else?"
She raised an eyebrow at him silently.
"Tell me, Mrs. Sanam Aahil Raza Ibrahim," he said, pulling back just a little. "Why don't we talk about the rumors that were spread all over Bhopal just a few months ago?"
She blinked at him, taken aback by his questions. "What . . . rumors?" she began uncertainly, momentarily sidetracked.
"You know. The rumors that forced us to get married," Aahil prompted.
"Oh! Those rumors," Sanam murmured, frantically looking around, trying to avoid his gaze. Did he have to bring those up now, just when she was justifiably angry at him? "What about those rumors?"
"Haven't you wanted to find out who spread them?" he asked, watching her try to get out of his arms once more. It was a futile effort. He was never letting her go.
"Nope, not really," Sanam replied, continuing to struggle in his hold. "Will you let me go?!" she yelped when his arms became just a little too tight.
"Nope," he replied. "I wondered. I really thought about it. Who would have seen us that morning? Who hated you . . . or me enough to spread something poisonous like that. Who would try to ruin your life that much? I really wondered. Didn't you ever think about it?"
Sanam shook her head, staring up at the ceiling, the floor, the wall behind his head, before giving up and stealing a glance at his face. "I don't think it's fair that you're just changing the subject," Sanam threw at him. "We were talking about the will. And suddenly you pulled up ancient history."
"It's related," Aahil replied, pulling her over to the sofa and forcing her take a seat when she remained stubbornly standing. Grunting in satisfaction, he sat down beside her. "But I can understand why you wouldn't have wasted your time thinking about this," he said, placing an arm across her shoulders to hold her in place.
The vibration of the phone distracted him from his full blown intent to leave the stage, this home, maybe to leave Bhopal and prevent Sanam Ahmed Khan from making the biggest mistake of her life. After all, if he didn't do it, then who would?
Frowning slightly, he took out the phone. All of Bhopal knew he was getting married today, so who would have the temerity to call him at this hour? Raising an eyebrow at the name that appeared on the screen, he answered the call brusquely, "What's so important that it couldn't wait until tomorrow?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ibrahim. I know that today is your nikah, but you really need to hear this. I've found out about the person who spread the rumors," the private investigator explained on the other end.
"What is it?" Aahil asked, after a pause.
"I'd like to tell you in person," the man said apologetically. "There is proof that I must show you."
"I'm already sitting down for the nikah," Aahil replied.
"Sir, you paid me to find out a very important thing. I'm afraid that I would fail in my duty if I didn't tell you what I discovered before you say 'qubool hai'. I'm outside the Ahmed Khan residence. Please allow me to come in."
That had been the first hint. Before that, he hadn't suspected anything. He'd only wanted to know who should be punished for perpetrating this farce in their lives. Acquiescing, he had called Lateef over, asking her to go and get the man outside. She'd gone and come back with the investigator quickly enough.
"Sir, I did the research. Starting with the newspapers . . to their sources . . . back to the beginning of this entire thread. I did just as you asked. Here is the evidence to back up my findings." The man held out a stack of papers.
"Just what did you find, Amjad?" Aahil barked impatiently at the man, his eyes lowered behind the sehra. His hands were clenched into fists in his lap, his heart beating furiously in his chest. "Just tell me where all of this started."
"Sir, I'm sorry to tell you this, but it was your bride," the other man explained apologetically. "Ms. Sanam Ahmed Khan began the rumors. I double and then triple-checked my sources. She was the one who began everything. She was the one who fanned the flames and watched the scandal spread."
"What?" Aahil yelped, turning to glare questioningly at the man, one hand coming up to push aside the flowers covering his face.
The other man nodded, shrugging apologetically.
Taking a deep breath, Aahil stiffly nodded and gestured for the man to leave. Turning back from watching the PI leave, his gaze was caught by Sanam coming down the steps. Her face was covered in a ghoongat, her eyes hidden from him.
He believed what Amjad had discovered. The man was a good PI. He would never have disclosed this unless he was sure of his facts. Sanam had spread those rumors. The only mystery now was why. Why had she done it? He couldn't even ask her that question, since she was already sitting across from him, ready to be married.
Rehan was there, a worried expression on his face. Aahil ignored his questions, his mind still pondering the reasons. As the maulvi sahib came over and began to make dua before the nikah, he sat there quietly, unsure of his next action. Should he leave? He had been so close to just getting up and running just five minutes ago. Deep in his heart, he knew that her family wasn't happy with her actions. He feared that there would come a day that she would also come to regret her decision.
He clenched his fingers into fists, his body tensing to move, to get up. His heart stopped him, wanting him to stay.
"Janab Aahil Raza Ibrahim, wald Raza Ibrahim, kya aapko yeh nikah qubool hai?"
He knew he had to respond, but he couldn't find the right answer as the seconds ticked by. Say yes or say no?
"Aahil bhai?" Rehan again, pulling at him.
"Hmm?" Aahil asked, turning to gaze at him from under the flowers.
"The maulvi sahib is asking you a very important question.".
"Janab Aahil Raza Ibrahim, wald Raza Ibrahim, kya aapko yeh nikah qubool hai?"
He opened his lips, but hesitated before a sound could pass those lips. Sanam had made it so they had to get married. Did that mean that she had voluntarily chosen him?
If he said no now, he would lose her forever. He knew it. He'd already let her down by lying to her about his identity. Strike one. He hadn't told her about his criminal past. Strike two. If he left her at the altar, it would be strike three. Would she even give him another chance? Honestly, would he deserve another chance?
If he said yes, then he could give them time to work this out. He would find out her true motivations. Maybe, just maybe, he could tell her about his past. He could save Ibrahim Corporation and the thousands of jobs that hung in the balance by meeting the terms of the will. He could . . . who was he kidding? He didn't want to lose her. That was the only thing that mattered right now.
Aahil relaxed his body, raising his head, and spoke the words that would tie them together. "Qubool Hai."
"Janab Aahil Raza Ibrahim, wald Raza Ibrahim, kya aapko yeh nikah qubool hai?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Glancing down, he met her eyes, his eyes trying to tell her something she couldn't understand. If she got it wrong, it would break her just a little more. She didn't know how much more she could take. She looked away, and then back at him. "Why are we even talking about this?" she asked petulantly.
"It was you who spread the rumors," Aahil stated, confirming that he knew.
Her eyes widened. Had he known this entire time? "When . . .," she cleared her throat. "When did you find out what I had done?"
"Right before the nikah," he responded.
"You knew," she murmured. "You knew, and you still said yes." Sanam began to smile, her heart filling with joy at the thought that he had known this dark secret about her . . . had known what she had done, and still accepted her into his life. He hadn't blamed her. He hadn't ascribed nefarious motives to her actions. He had knowingly accepted her. But seconds later, the smile disappeared. "You knew, and you still yes. That's how intent you were on fulfilling the terms of the will." She began to struggle once more, wanting to get away from him. This up and down was too much to bear.
Turning on the sofa, he place a knee on the cushions and braced his other foot on the floor. Pulling her in, so that she sat between his legs, her folded legs resting on his, he stilled her struggles by holding her hands in his. "Sanam, I never suspected that you would be the one who forced us into this marriage," he began speaking fiercely, his hands moving up to land on her shoulders, gripping them carefully. "I had to find the person who had spread these rumors and took away your choices. You think I would have ever let it go, Sanam? When I finally learned the truth, I had seconds to make a decision. Imagine my surprise and shock after all this to find that it was you." He hold loosened, his thumbs almost caressing the skin over her collar bones. "My joy that you had chosen me. That you wanted me so much that you would risk losing everything for me."
She raised her arms, and knocked his hands off her shoulders. "Aahil," she began, unable to meet his eyes, "How can I believe anything that you're saying right now? I just found out about the will, and the fact that you hid all of this from me. All I can wonder is . . . did you really love your wealth that much?"
"Sanam!" Aahil said softly, "On the day of the nikah, I went against my better judgment and what my brain was telling me was the right thing to do. I went against everything that I have learned about myself and the world till now. And it wasn't because I wanted that bas***d's money. Believe me, nothing . . . nothing would have convinced me to dance to his tune. You know enough about the psychology of an abused child to know that."
Sanam raised her head abruptly, her eyes meeting his. This was the first time that he had ever openly referred to himself with that designation. Her heart melted a little at the desperation in his eyes.
"So, work it out. Understand that if I said yes that day, it was because I loved you that much," Aahil whispered, bringing her hands up to his lips and kissing them lovingly. "And after I found out about the rumors, I knew that you wanted me, too. My only fear was that you would come to regret your decision. I also knew that if I stayed with you on our wedding night, I would end up making this marriage all too real. Before you had the chance to really think about it."
"I didn't just want you, Aahil, I loved you. I still love you," Sanam whispered, her eyes focused on his downbent head.
"After I stopped running, I came back to you. Where else could I go? I saw how you made my house into a home," Aahil continued, raising his head and leaning in to inhale her scent. "I realized one thing. You are my home, Sanam Aahil Raza Ibrahim." He needed to tell her his emotions, deciding that everything else could wait until he got her to believe that his heart was true.
"But, how can I believe you truly love me, that you're ready to make that jump, when you haven't even touched me. Not voluntarily, anyways." She looked at him beseechingly, her heart in her throat.
His thumb passed over her wrist, feeling the quick beat of her pulse under his touch. He closed his eyes, reveling in her touch as she reached up with her other hand and cradled his cheek. "Do you remember that night?"
She tilted her head in silent question.
"The night we first met."
She nodded her head. "I have never forgotten that night. You made quite an impression."
"I was a little boy and you were just this tiny, little girl. We didn't see each other, or just bits of each other. We talked for mere minutes, that was it, Sanam," he stated, finally opening his eyes and meeting her open gaze. "But you were so affected. Me being in your life for minutes changed you on the most basic level. It set you on the path you are on today. How do you think that made me feel when I found out?"
She stared at him, listening and wondering. He was finally talking to her. He was finally opening up, but she wasn't sure what he meant to say. Had that knowledge been too much pressure?
"When I met you again, I'd already taken on Rehan's identity." He lightly caressed her cheek, cupping it gently. "It was hard enough coming back to this place, with its horrible memories, and to come back as that abused boy . . . I couldn't do it. Rehan took on that burden. And I was coward enough to let him do it."
"You were never a coward," she said, interrupting him.
He looked at her.
"Well, you're not," she muttered. "I will sit here, and I will listen to you. I am happy that you are finally sharing this with me, but I will not have you disparaging the man I love."
He nodded, conceding that point to her. "And then I met you, and knew immediately you were that little girl. Because, regardless of how much I wonder at the impact I had on you, you had the same impact on me. I remembered you as the innocent little girl who had made me want to believe. I couldn't tell that girl who I was. I liked the wall between my past and you. In your eyes, I was Rehan Imran Qureshi. The man you fell in love with wasn't a man who had been abused. I wasn't a victim. I wasn't someone to be pitied."
"Aahil, I never. . .," she began to protest.
He placed a finger over her lips, silencing her.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, once he removed his finger. "Please go on."
"When I had to reveal the truth, it was because my history was hurting Rehan. I kept the truth a secret for as long as I did because of one reason. You. And when the truth came out about me being the Aahil Raza Ibrahim, everything changed. I became that victim again. That hasn't changed, it can never change. But I'm also the perpetrator. I'm a criminal now, too. What a prize, huh?" He laughed bitterly. "And so I couldn't trust what you said. I couldn't trust what you did. I couldn't trust anything, until everything you did . . . said . . . all piled together and broke through the wall I had built around myself. I'm just sorry it's taken me so long to begin to talk about all of this."
She heard that same disgust and self-loathing in his voice that she'd heard quite often before. There was anger, clearly directed at himself and his past. And she spoke up, her voice hoarse with suppressed emotion, "You are not a victim, Aahil Raza Ibrahim. You're a survivor. There's a difference. You suffered through something very horrible, but you survived. You flourished." She gripped at his fingers, squeezing them in an effort to make him understand. "You went to school. You became something. You came back and saved this company. You . . . you did all of this. But because of that past, the past that made you so strong," she said, thrusting her index finger into the air, "it has also caused you to distrust. But I don't mind. I will wait. You will tell me the truth when you're ready." Taking his hand, Sanam softly kissed the center of his palm.
"I'm sorry for not telling you before everyone else. I'm sorry for hiding the truth for so long. I'm sorry for thinking I knew better about what you wanted." Aahil pulled her closer, his lips coming to rest against hers.
She gasped softly, her lips opening at his touch.
He smiled against her mouth, tilting his head and kissing her lips once more. He shared her breath, his tongue tasting her, lightly dueling with hers. Pulling away, he began to nibble at her ear, groaning as her hands came up, her fingers raking through his hair.
There was an uncomfortable cough, breaking the sensual moment. He groaned again, his disappointment clear to Sanam.
She laughed softly, and pushed him away.
"I'm sorry, bhai," Rehan said from the door. "I was worried about what Sanam bhabi saw at the office."
"It's alright, Rehan," Sanam murmured, staring intently into Aahil's eyes. "We've figured it out. We're good."
"We're good," Aahil agreed with a secret smile.
"Goodnight, Rehan," Aahil murmured before heading into his room. It was late night, and Sanam had already headed in to sleep, leaving the two brothers to talk.
Rehan had been incredibly embarrassed at intruding on the couple. He'd been ready to move out that night, wanting to give the newly-weds their privacy.
Sanam had been quick to talk him out of any such notions. She'd quickly prepared a meal for the three of them with Lateef's help, and the trio had sat down to dinner. Casual conversation, good food, and the happiness on Aahil's and Sanam's faces had finally allowed Rehan to relax.
Wishing Rehan a quiet good night, Sanam had left the two brothers to speak. After telling Rehan the gist of his conversation with Sanam, Aahil had been able to alleviate some of his brother's guilt over Sanam finding out about the will. And that, in return, had made Aahil feel much better. He should never have put Rehan in that position. He knew that the burden of keeping his secrets had worn on Rehan.
Shutting the door behind him, he leaned against the wood. The room was dark, Sanam apparently already asleep. He sighed heavily. He had to admit that a part of him was disappointed. Shrugging his shoulders, he made to move away from the doors and towards the bathroom. He grunted softly in surprise when a soft weight landed against him, pressing him to the door. His arms came up, automatically cradling her close, relishing how her soft curves fit against him. "Sanam?"
"Who else would it be?" she asked against his lips. She kissed him softly, tilting her head to the side and kissed him again. "Although, I did have to kick Lateef out of here when I came in."
He laughed softly, his body shuddering slightly at that thought.
She pulled back and posed for him. "How do I look?"
He shuddered again, only this time it was due to her delectable appearance in the moonlight. His eyes carefully moved over her body, clad in a sheer negligee that revealed almost everything to his eyes. "Mmph," he muttered, unable to get any words out.
"Was that a compliment?" she asked cheekily, seeing the fire that had erupted in his eyes. He was breathing heavily, as was she, and she could feel the electricity rising between them.
Saying nothing, he moved away from the door and pulled her into his arms. Holding her close, he began to kiss her. Once. Twice. Thrice. He knew that he would never stop. Cupping her cheeks, he tilted her head to the side and slipped his tongue past the barrier of her lips. He tasted her, knowing that he would never get enough of her taste. His arms picked her up, silently urging her to wrap her legs around his waist. Supporting her body with his arms under her hips when she complied, he began to move forward.
Sanam's arms wrapped around his neck, as she took a turn at devouring him. Her tongue slipped inside his mouth, tasting him and rubbing against his tongue. She pressed her lips against his, nibbling at them as he moved them deeper into the room.
He grunted softly when his knees found the bed, and giving her a silent warning, he dropped her on the bed, following her down soon after. She held him close, cradling him between her legs. Placing one hand over her shoulder, trying to keep most of his weight off of her body, he asked, "Are you sure?"
She paused for a moment in consideration, and then silently pushed at his shoulders until he rolled off of her and sat to the side. Getting up, she knelt before him, her legs tucked underneath her hips.
Aahil was disappointed. His heart was still beating rapidly inside of his chest, but he forced himself to take deep breaths, hoping that this would help him to relax. He understood her need for time. Turning, he mirrored her position, his eyes completely focused on her. He blinked rapidly when she reached out and grasped the hem of his T-shirt. "What?" he began, but zipped his lips when she shook her head at him.
Pulling the shirt over his head, she dropped it to the side. Her hands began to trace the muscles of his arms and shoulders. He inhaled sharply as her hands went down over his chest and over his abdomen, relishing the satiny smooth skin and the scent that was uniquely Aahil. Putting her hands behind his neck, she threaded her fingers together and brought his head down to hers, meeting his lips with hers.
She kissed him. Once. Twice. And many more times. She nipped sharply at his bottom lip, before pushing him back.
He stared at her, dazed, before his eyes locked in on her with a searing hunger. His fingers came out, ready to grasp and take.
She shook her head and quickly pushed those hands away.
Only this time, he knew she wasn't saying no. Sitting back, his hands braced behind him, he gazed at her intently. His body clenched, when he saw her delicate fingers going to the hem of her negligee. He watched her bite her bottom lip, before she pulled the sheer cloth over her head and cast it aside. He swallowed with difficulty as his eyes moved over what she had revealed. Her skin gleamed in the moonlight. Pulling her over to straddle his lap, he began to run his hands over that tantalizing skin. "Sanam," he breathed, almost drunk on the feel of her satin smooth skin. Leaning forward, he kissed her shoulder, licking it lightly.
She moaned softly at his touch.
Her arms linked around his neck as he began to move his lips across her collarbones and lower down her body. She arched her back as his lips traveled over every inch of her body. He slipped his fingers inside the straps of her underwear and pulled it off, throwing it to the side.
Sanam kissed his shoulder, biting him, when she felt his fingers delve between her legs. "Aahil," she moaned, her body clenching as she felt him at the entrance of her body before he slipped a finger inside. His fingers rubbed against the knot of nerves at the top of that entrance until she could no longer find the air she needed to breathe. He wound her tighter and tighter until she exploded in his arms, seeing stars in that moonlit room.
Suckling softly at the tip of one breast, eliciting another moan from her lips, he laid her on the bed. She curled her arms under her head, arching her back to open her entire body to him. Her eyes were glued to him as he got up off the bed.
Aahil smiled at her as he swiftly pulled off his sweats and reaching to the side table, pulled out protection to cover himself.
Sanam licked her swollen lips, her eyes entranced by his body's movements and the root of him that stood proud in the moonlit room. When he got on the bed, mere inches from her, she reached out, wanting to feel.
Grasping her hand, he shook his head. "Not right now," he implored, lying down beside her.
"Why not?" she asked with a pout.
"Because if you touched me now," he said softly against her lips, "It would all be over."
She opened herself to him, reaching up to pull his head down for another kiss.
And was it moments . . . hours later that he stopped touching her? Hours before he stopped pushing her to the peak and catching her when she fell. Hours before he positioned himself at her opening and thrust inside. She didn't know. She didn't care. In that moment, it was just Aahil and her. His body a complete part of hers, her body receiving him at the core of her being. His hands came up to grasp hers, holding them above her head, threading his fingers through hers. She felt him reach his orgasm, and this time, it was her turn to catch him when he fell.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sanam lay in bed, her arm draped over Aahil's waist, her breasts resting against his side. His hand was moving over her back, his caresses making her slumbering body awaken once more. She sighed deeply, burying her face in his neck.
She smiled, remembering the first moment they had met as adults. She had landed in his arms, burying her face in his neck. And they were back where they had started, in each other's arms. She laced her fingers with his, their fingers touching once more. Bringing his hand up to her lips, she kissed it softly.
"I love you," he murmured, his body almost shuddering at the relief those words brought to his body. He didn't have to hide it any longer. "I love you." He loved her, and he would say it over and over again. "I love you." She was loved, and she would know it. Reaching down, he kissed her on the forehead, hugging her close to his side.
"I had a dream," she murmured softly, kissing the base of his throat, feeling his pulse jump at her touch. She smiled sleepily, snuggling back into his arms. "It felt like a dream. Before all of this, I felt that it would never come true." She kissed his shoulder. "But now, I know it'll be our future."
Turning to face her, he brushed the hair away from her face. "I'll make every one of your dreams come true."
"It's simple," Sanam murmured. "I dream about us. As a family. You and me. And our children. Lots and lots of children. And we'll make their lives beautiful. And I'll be back at work. You'll be keeping most of Bhopal employed. I want . . . I want to replace your nightmares with that dream."
Aahil lay there, his body frozen by her revelation.
She noticed the difference immediately. "What's wrong? You don't want that?"
He sat up in bed, his heart stuttering at the thoughts that she had placed in his head. The dreams that could never be. His first instinct was to get up and leave. To get far away and regroup. Even as his body tensed to move, he felt her hold his naked arm. Her vulnerable body pressing close to his. He looked down into her eyes, and stared at the hope in her eyes. "My first instinct even now," he said with difficulty, "is to get away from the hard issues. It's to run away from you and from any emotion that weakens me."
She stared at him, her arms stealing around his waist. "What about my dream is hard? What is so difficult, Aahil?"
He moved back, slipping out of her arms. Getting out of the bed, he slipped on a pair of sweats before turning back to look at her.
She sat there silently, the bedsheet held to her chest, confusion writ across her face.
Coming back to the bed, he slowly brushed the hair away from her face. "I won't run away from you ever again," he promised. "Not from you. Just now . . . I can't get into too much detail, but believe me when I say that we can't have kids. We can't have a family."
She gripped at his wrist, her nails digging into him.
"For some things the past doesn't matter anymore. But here . . . to have children . . . I swear, Sanam, it matters. My past matters."
She opened her mouth, ready to protest.
"It matters to me," Aahil said, riding over any objections that she might raise. "And it should matter to you." He took a deep breath, hoping to expel some of the tension that was building up inside of him. "I hurt you again today. Look at me. At us. I hurt you without even trying because of my damned past. For the longest time, the past was holding me back. And now, now it's this impossible future that's affecting us. That only goes to show," Aahil stopped, swallowing with difficulty.
"Show what?" she demanded.
"I haven't even," he stopped, his voice choking on the words, "Begun to tell you the depths to which the Ibrahims can sink. There's madness there. That's the only thing that can explain why we do what we do." His voice trailed off, sounding lost.
She stared up at him, wanting to comfort him, but she stopped herself, knowing that he still had to share things about his past. She was tired of going in circles. Every time she thought they had reached a place of hope, there would be another setback. Another thing to make her question herself, and him to question himself. When would this cycle end?
"The Ibrahims are vindictive people," Aahil continued. "We hurt everything we touch. My father. My grandmother. Even the littlest things that come so naturally to you, we can't even comprehend as a part of everyday life. My sisters have trouble connecting. And I . . . I can't help but hurt you. How can I pass that legacy on to any innocent child? What if I do to them what my family did to me? I can't . . . I can't even think of ever having a family that includes children. You have to understand." His tone was desperate, his fear of her reaction clear in his eyes. He was ready for her rejection, and her heart hurt at the pain she saw in his eyes.
"I don't understand, Aahil," Sanam murmured disjointedly. Her hands cradled his face. "This is you not letting go of your past once more. You are not your family. You are not your father!"
"I'm not running away," he murmured, "but I do need time to think. Please give me that time."
She nodded, her eyes focused on him as he retreated from her after one final kiss, one final shared breath. Reaching up, she clutched at her hair in frustration, wondering what more could be left now. "What was it? What are you worried about?" Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. She relaxed her body, forcing the stress out of her body. Maybe . . . it was time to stop waiting. Why not make this a little easier for Aahil? She would do what she did best; she would do her research and find out what else Aahil was hiding. Once she found out, she would prove to Aahil that her love would never be affected by his past.
"The meeting ran late," Aahil relayed over the phone, disappointment apparent in his tone. "I've begun the drive home, but it'll take a while. We met at Kohinoor."
"Don't worry about it, Aahil. I'm at Ammi and Abu's right now. We just had dinner. I'll see you in an hour," Sanam murmured into the phone.
"Love you, Sanam," he murmured on the other end.
Sanam closed her eyes, joy welling up inside of her once more. Despite the secrets he was still keeping from her, she loved how open he was being with his emotions. She didn't doubt that he loved her. "Love you, too, Aahil." Hanging up, she turned back to her family with a smile.
Ammi and Abu were arguing over something at the dining room table. Seher was sitting with Badi Ammi, the two watching their nightly round of dramas.
Sanam came and sat down beside them. Her eyes were on the characters onscreen, but her mind was focused on the investigation she had undetaken a week ago. Since Aahil had been a juvenile when he was incarcerated, his records had been sealed. It had taken longer than she had thought to get any information regarding his conviction. Now, she was just waiting for a call back from the private investigator she had hired to look into her husband's background.
Initially, she had felt guilty for not waiting. For not giving Aahil the chance to tell her himself, but this secret was only hurting him. Nightly, she would see the struggle on his face as he began to tell her. And, nightly, she saw the sick defeat as he turned away, unable to relay whatever else was left. She wouldn't let him turn his back on her, not for much longer. She wanted this to end, and it would. Soon. She was expecting a call tonight, and she would finally know.
"Seher, we want to talk to you," Zoya stated, coming over and sitting across from the twins and their grandmother.
"Can't this wait, mom?" Seher asked, her eyes glued to the screen. "The male lead just confessed his love to the wrong girl and the heroine overheard!"
"We want to talk about setting a date for you and Rehan," Zoya responded, a spark lighting up in her eyes.
Asad came and sat beside his wife, his expression calm.
"Date for what?" Seher asked blankly, looking at her parents.
"Your wedding, of course!" Zoya cried out.
Sanam looked at her father in surprise. "When did this happen? Abu, have you accepted Rehan?"
Her father shrugged, his eyes trained on Seher's face. "When have I ever been the master of this home? Your grandmother decreed, your mother agreed, and I guess I have to just fall in line."
Seher's expression grew dark at her father's words. "Rehan respects you two," she burst out. "He doesn't want me to be without a family since he knows how hard that is in this world. Your grudging acceptance is not enough, dad. You have to accept him wholeheartedly. He's a wonderful and caring man! He has a great job. He's loyal to those he loves. He loves me! What more could you want?" She got up and began to pace around the living room area, her anger apparent in her body's movements.
Zoya nudged at Asad, silently ordering him to make this right.
He nodded and got up with a sigh. Walking over to his irate daughter, he stood in her path, forcing her to stop or risk running him over. He gazed down into her defiant face, wondering silently when his daughters had grown up. He'd already lost one to marriage, and now he was going to lose the other one, too. He wondered if this was why he had taken so long to accept Rehan? "I like Rehan," Asad finally said, his hands coming up to grasp Seher by the shoulders. "He has given us no reason to doubt him or his love for you." He squeezed her shoulders gently. "He is a good man. But I'm your father, and you know how hard it is for me to accept that I was wrong. But I was wrong. I was afraid, but that fear was baseless. He has only ever put your happiness first, and I know that he will do that for the rest of his life."
"Dad," Seher said, tears misting her vision. Reaching up, she wrapped her arms around her father's neck in an exuberant hug. "I knew that you would see how great he was."
"He knows how it is to be alone," Zoya stated, coming over to wrap her arms around her husband and her daughter "Let's show him how it is to be part of a family. I can't wait to plan this wedding. We're going to have a big function! I'm going to do all the rituals we couldn't do for Sanam's wedding. We're going to invite everyone we couldn't invite. It's going to be so much fun!"
"Just one small problem before you all get too ahead of yourselves," Sanam said from the side, her tongue firmly in cheek.
The trio turned to glance at her.
"Rehan hasn't even proposed yet. Ammi, I'd be careful about this big wedding you plan on having. What if Rehan finds out and ends up running away?" Sanam began to giggle when Seher lunged at her, ruffling her hair in reprisal.
Sanam pushed Seher off of her, and looked down at her ringing cellphone. Seeing the identity of the caller, she realized that it had been the call she had been waiting for. Picking up, she moved up the steps to stand by the pool for some quiet. "Yes. You have everything? You sent it to my email?" Sanam nodded, her heart beginning to beat rapidly. "Thank you. Your final payment will be deposited into your account."
Calling out a quick goodbye to her surprised family, Sanam raced home. She sat down at her computer, taking a deep breath before she signed in and clicked on the email. She stared at the words on the screen, trying to understand. Leaning back in her chair, she breathed a wondering sigh. That certainly wasn't what she had expected.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Night had fallen. Sanam still sat at her computer desk, her eyes now turned towards the door. She saw him come in, tugging at his tie. One hand put down his briefcase, while the other pressed something on his phone before putting it to his ear. She saw him jerk in surprise when her ringtone went off in the room, and saw him turn towards the corner of the room where she was sitting.
"You're here. Sitting in the . . . dark," Aahil called out, striding over to their home office and turning on the lights. "I thought you'd still be over there celebrating."
"Celebrating?" Sanam asked, staring at his back as he opened the window, letting in some fresh air. His hair was in disarray, his clothes slightly rumpled. The lines on his face were evidence of his fatigue. It had been a long day.
"Rehan called me," Aahil explained, pulling his tie over his head and dropping it on the desk. Turning, he flashed a happy grin at her. Coming to sit down beside her, he grabbed hold of her hand. "He was so happy. It seems Seher called him over. They had the champagne ready to toast the two of them as the happy couple. He wasn't quite sure," Aahil said, placing a kiss on her hand, "but he thinks that he's engaged now. He's not sure how it happened."
"Maybe Seher proposed to him," Sanam suggested, running a loving hand over Aahil's head.
He glanced up with a twinkle in his eyes. He shook his head. "I think he said that Zoya auntie proposed to him and Seher. When they took too long to answer, she accepted for the two of them, as well."
Sanam burst out laughing, a touch of hysteria in her laughter.
His smile disappeared as he saw her laughter turn into tears. "What's wrong, Sanam?" he demanded, standing up and pulling her out of her chair. Carefully wiping away the tears that were falling from her eyes, he gazed into those warm depths. "Tell me."
"We need to talk," Sanam uttered, caressing his cheek.
"About what?" he asked, a sinking feeling in his stomach. Something had happened while he was gone. What now?
"I couldn't wait any longer," she explained, going on the offensive. She sank into his arms, wrapping her own around him.
"Wait for what?" he asked, impatience growing. He needed to know and she was taking too long. Her silence made him afraid.
"About your past," she explained.
She gripped him even more tightly. He wouldn't escape her now. "All this time," she began, "I bought the picture you were painting for us. When that first shock came, when I learned that you were Aahil Raza Ibrahim, everything else . . . just fell by the wayside. I stopped thinking and accepted everything you said at face value." Pulling back, she cupped his face in her hands and gazed intently into his eyes. "We all found out that you were a convicted criminal. And if one thing was true, then the other thing must be true."
Aahil stared down at her, wondering at the look he saw there. She had caught him in another lie, something else that he had kept from her. Then why was she so calm now?
"I thou-ght," her voice breaking on the words, "That you had taken your father's life. And I understood it. It was self-defense. You had to protect yourself and you had to protect your sisters. Whatever your reasons were, I understood even without you telling me."
He opened his mouth, but he still wasn't sure of what to say.
"Shut it," she murmured, placing a finger against his lips. Moving away, her hands dropping away from his face, she turned to stare at the sleeping screen of her computer, "The truth is always more complicated than you think it, isn't it? Imagine my surprise when I found out that attorneys in California, where you were licensed, have to go through a moral character application process. They cleared you. There was nothing in your background that they considered immoral. Nothing."
She took a deep breath and turned back to look at him.
"You didn't kill your dad, Aahil." She smiled tremulously at him, before her shoulders slumped in defeat. "You aren't a convicted criminal. So, what are you still hiding from me?"
A/N: Sorry for the late update, but I got it done! I suck at writing lovemaking scenes, so I totally apologize for that. Hope you like the chapter! Just 1 to 2 more to go.
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