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Finally got the time to read it in peace. Once again, I was glued to this story. It's filled with so many emotions which you cannot help but fall in love all over again.
I know I always tend to say it, but you have done an amazing job as always.
you for writing the horrible past of Aahil and the heartbreaking flashbacks of
his childhood. God, you totally made me cry by the line..
"Leave me alone." He buried his head in the pillow to hide the tears that had begun to fall. "I just need to sleep. When I wake up, it'll be fine."
God, how can you write so well. So profound. So real..
It really tucked my heart strings yet it made me fill with hope of how Aahil stood his ground and told his father that he could no longer hurt him of his sisters..
was evident. The pain of knowing you have no one in the world to call your
own.. But deep inside, he has all the love to offer and receive.. From Seher..
His heart fell at the tears. He had been a stone . . . he had been resolute behind closed doors and with Lateef between the two of them last night. But the wall he'd built around his heart was melting in the light of day. Nothing he told himself, no warnings, worked to stop his mouth from opening and the words pouring out.
The tension Sanam and Aahil had totally got me burned.. I have to admit that I needed to pause once in a while in order to keep reading your beautiful story.
Aahil's body stiffened even further, the desire inside of him growing into a furious storm. He clenched his fists, seeking the power to control that storm before it destroyed everything.
She moaned softly, passion burning inside of her. It was too much. The tears that had been ready to fall had burned away under the fiery passion. And now, she could only feel him, taste him, breathe him.
And that dilemma followed by the heavy flashback... I was NOT ready for this. But you did a splendid job.
"It's not okay. Using force against a woman is never okay," he retorted.
I loved it all. The truth coming out in front of Zoya and Asad.. Haya and Rehan.. Aahil and the meeting with lawyer. Damn, he was furious - and I kind of enjoyed how badass he actually was. Is that bad?
Great job darling. You've done it again and again. Update soon..
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Woah!!! The revelations... The confrontments... Just Wow!!! You've managed to put it all so well! Loved it!! Sooo enjoyed reading the chapter! It's been worth the wait. SaHil & SeHan interactions are so true to the actual ones (before the butchering of characters that is)
Seher managed to get it all out of Rehan... And the way she responded to it was so overwhelming. Rehan is so guilty of the fact that Tanveer, his mother, is the one who caused so much pain to the women he has fallen in love with
Aahil is so reluctant yet gives in to his desires ... Sanam on the other hand... well, she has to deal with the Nawab right?? It ain't going to be easy ... Aahil's flashbacks are so full of pain... After all the confrontations & requests to reveal the truth, & Aahil's faade of ruthless retorts, the fiery Miss Dhabevali finally makes a comeback ... Now Mr.ARI you've landed yourself in trouble
The different reactions of the Khan family members to the news... It seems so realistic... the way SaSe take their time to tell her, & then Zoya reacts so dramatically counting their sins on her fingers. Asad being Asad is so protective of his family. Dilshad the ever understanding... After all they've seen such terrifying days
AND you actually managed to show the beautiful relationship between Haya & Rehan!!! Wow!! I'm so very impressed!
The marriage clause' bombshell in the end?? I actually chuckled when I read the will states that you must be married before your 30th birthday or all of the properties...' Double trouble for Mr.ARI ... Let's make way for SaHil, eh??
I'm actually speechless... I can't even pin-point my favorite part of the chapter. I loved the flow... The update is too amazing for words.
Do update soon.
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Chapter 12: Zara Sa
Sanam dropped her files in her hurry to get to her supervisor's office, her thoughts centered for the moment around what this meeting could be about. She didn't have time for this. She wanted to be thinking about the subject that had kept her engrossed all morning, the DV hearing scheduled for two hours later. She had spent the morning preparing. Now she had to deal with this interruption, especially when she had been ready to slip into her professional shoes and head out the door. Sighing deeply, she knelt down to grab the scattered papers.
She heard movement from down the hallway, her ears picking up the hushed conversations of coworkers in their offices, as she gathered the papers. LSB's office building was huge, with numerous offices spread out over a sprawling maze of hallways. When Sanam had begun at the office, she had gotten lost many, many times, but now the office was a second home. She blinked as a ray of sunlight caught her right in the eye. Turning, she looked at the big windows lining one of the walls, letting in sunlight, and hope, at the same time. She smiled softly, thinking that it truly was a beautiful, energetic home where she could do lots of good.
"Miss Sanam, you're here!" a young girl's voice cried out, right before Sanam heard the pattering of eager feet as they ran to her. Sanam looked up and smiled warmly at the little girl who had knelt down beside her and was now gathering up the papers in her little hands.
"Sarita, you're here with your mommy?" Sanam asked, reaching out to brush back the hair that had fallen across Sarita's face.
Sarita nodded her head, and then handed the papers to Sanam. "You said that you were going to help me with the essay I had to write for school," she reminded Sanam plaintively. "It has to be done in English. Remember, you said that you would check it for me?" she asked.
Sanam closed her eyes in chagrin, realizing that she had forgotten that particular promise. "I'm sorry, Sarita," Sanam murmured, reaching out to lightly pinch a chubby cheek. "I think I can find my red pen." She chuckled at the pout that appeared on Sarita's face. "Leave it on my desk, and I'll check it after I come back from court."
"Sarita! Let's go," a voice called out sharply from the doorway of one of the offices down the hallway.
Sanam looked up. "Good morning, Mel," Sanam called out, getting up and walking over to Sarita's mother. "Are you here for your career counseling appointment?"
"I . . . I don't have time to talk right now," Melina said abruptly. "Sarita, let's go."
"But, mommy, I was going to put my paper on Miss Sanam's desk! She said she would check it for me!"
"Not now, Sari," Melina muttered. Pulling the protesting girl down the hallway, Melina left with nary a goodbye to Sanam.
Sanam wrinkled her brow in confusion, unable to figure out what had just happened there. Shrugging her shoulders, she began to walk to Shaleen Malhotra's office, her thoughts again on her upcoming court appearance and the cross examination she needed to get through.
"Shaleen, couldn't this conversation wait?" Sanam demanded, striding into her supervisor's office. "You know that I have to leave for court soon."
"I'm afraid you won't be going into court, Sanam," her supervisor answered carefully, silently inviting Sanam to take a seat across from her. The office was small, just like any of the other offices that housed the staff at LSB. The room itself had a single desk with three comfortable looking chairs placed around it. The table had a computer and big stacks of files waiting to be reviewed and approved. Despite the fact that she was one of LSB's supervisors, Shaleen Malhotra did not demand nor expect any special treatment. And her passion for her work and her attitude was the reason that Sanam had chosen to work at this organization.
"What do you mean?" Sanam asked, plunking the files on the table and sitting down.
Raising a finger, silently asking for a minute, Shaleen picked up the receiver and spoke into it. "Pammi, could you please come in here?" Pammi was there in half a minute and standing at their supervisor's desk. "Please take these files and look through them," she said, fingering the folders on the desk.
When Sanam moved to protest, the other woman raised one hand, asking for some more patience.
"You have been helping Sanam with this case, so you already know what was planned for court today. You take lead, and Pratik will be there to support you."
Sanam stared, her mouth falling open, as Pammi left with her files and an apologetic glance he way. "What's going on?" Sanam asked icily, her anger leaking through despite her efforts to control it.
"Things have come up that require me to pull you from the case," Shaleen began carefully.
"That is my case," Sanam protested vehemently. "That is my client. I promised her that I would be there today. I told her that I would have her back. I have spent the past month preparing for this case, and I have let nothing distract me from it. Nothing." Her eyes were deliberately wide, as if she was trying to stave off tears. Taking a deep breath, she continued. "And you just took that case away from me so easily. You made me break my promise. What could justify your actions, Shaleen?"
"Sanam, there have been certain rumors that are going around," Shaleen explained, "rumors that have begun to hurt the program."
"What does that have to do with what you just did?" Sanam asked, leaning back and crossing her arms across her chest in angry defiance.
"Those rumors are about you, Sanam," Shaleen revealed after a pause.
"What?" Sanam asked, her eyes widening when she saw the sympathy in the other woman's eyes.
"About you and your night with the Nawab. And what that says about you."
"What night?" Sanam yelped, leaning forward angrily. "We've never had a single night together! Believe me. I would know if I'd spent the night with the Nawab of Bhopal."
"You were seen returning with him one morning," Shaleen pointed out delicately, "after one of the city's biggest storms. The Nawab left you outside your door. Remember that?"
"That night?" Sanam asked incredulously. "That was the night we were stuck in that storm and spent the entire time in his car! We had no choice!" Sanam protested, banging the desk with her fist.
"I'm pretty sure that you spent last night preparing for the hearing," Shaleen said, abruptly changing the subject. "And all of this morning, too, right?"
Sanam nodded, confusion writ clear across her face.
"Was your family acting strangely?" Shaleen prompted.
Sanam nodded, a sinking feeling growing inside of her. "Abu seemed a bit stressed, and Ammi had to hush him up a few times. But they know to leave me alone the morning before I have a court appearance. They don't want a repeat of the last time; I threw up on Abu when he insisted I eat something." She knew she was saying too much, but Sanam also knew that when she stopped, she was going to hear something she definitely wouldn't like.
"The newspapers came out with some pretty salacious stories this morning, painting you as a scarlet woman, Sanam," Shaleen said with difficulty. "We've been contacted by reporters; they're all asking about you."
"But," Sanam began, unable to breathe, the world whirling crazily around her. "Nothing happened."
"No one believes that, unfortunately," her supervisor responded with a sigh. "The Nawab of Bhopal has come out as a convicted killer, practically taunting the public with that truth." Shaleen leaned forward in chair. "Now imagine the speculation that began when someone first whispered that this man spent the night with the daughter of an esteemed family. With Asad Ahmed Khan's daughter. Your family is well known, and infamous because of what happened decades ago. The reporters are digging all of that old history up now, directed that way by some very disapproving people."
"Are you kidding me?" Sanam yelped, jumping up and pacing to and fro across the room. "How? How the he** can this be happening in the 21st century? I'm talking to my boss about rumors that are hurting my reputation! And are now hurting this organization? I haven't even seen the man for the past month! Practically since the night the truth came out! He's avoiding me like the plague, and now suddenly there are rumors about that innocent night? What do those rumors have to do with this job? Why are you even talking to me about this? The people that I help don't care." She turned and stalked back to the other woman's desk. Leaning over, she planted her hands flat on the desk. "Those women and men, those kids, still want me here to help them."
"You haven't seen any difference at all in their behavior? Not even today?" her boss asked gently.
Sanam's mind flashed back to Melina and Sarita. Melina hadn't even said hello, and she was a very courteous woman.
"You're right," Shaleen continued. "Most of them don't care. But some do. And our funders do, as well. The private funders. The conservative lot who use their donations as tax write offs; they are unhappy. Especially since the Nawab is holding them hostage and forcing them to work with him despite their aversion to . . . him. Since rumors spread like wildfire and reach many, many ears even before newspapers publish their stories, those disapproving many spoke with our executive director. From what I can understand, based on the rumors, they think that you mean something to him. And they want to hurt him any way they can."
"Mean something to him?" Sanam burst out. "If rumors reached their ears, then why haven't they figured out we haven't had any interaction since the truth about his past came out!"
"Well, even if whatever you had is in the past, they think that by slighting you, they can get a little bit of their own back," Shaleen said morosely.
"What does that mean?" Sanam asked. "Okay, let's say that I was still the Nawab's love. Let's forget all of the good I can do . . . have done here. Let's focus on that. What if I am his love?" Sanam asked, her mouth twisting bitterly, "And he gets angered by your treatment of me? He has given a lot of money to LSB. Recently, before all of this blew up, he promised a lot more. I told you about our conversation. If he refuses to donate that money? What then?"
"The executive director has decided to deal with that when the problem arises," Shaleen said on a heavy sigh. "It's easier to think about the money already in hand, then a donation that may not have been made anyways."
"None of what I do matters because a bunch of old fogies want their revenge against Aahil Raza Ibrahim," Sanam said bitterly. She clenched her fingers, trying to control the shivers that were running through her body. She was so angry that her mind had begun to spin.
"I'm sorry, Sanam. There was a board meeting last night, and a decision was made. I'm going to have to ask you to resign. It's for the good of the program," Shaleen explained unhappily.
Sanam nodded, quietly getting up and moving towards the door.
"Where are you going?" Shaleen asked, her eyes focused on Sanam's back.
"Sarita," Sanam began, and then paused to clear her throat. "Sarita asked me to review her essay. If she has left it on my desk, I want to keep my promise before I leave. I hope that is okay?" she asked, throwing a challenging glance at her former supervisor.
Shaleen nodded silently, her eyes trained on Sanam's retreating back. She had hurt a good person today, all for the greater good. That was one part of her job that she did not like at all.
Aahil sat on the floor near his bed, his eyes focused on his hands. These hands had grabbed at that whip, and for the first time, he had held it. He had grabbed his father's collar and pushed him back. And the man had stumbled. He had walked away.
Aahil Raza Ibrahim had fought back. And he'd succeeded.
And that wasn't it. That confrontation had been two weeks ago. When that man had returned from wherever he had gone, Aahil had stood in front of his sisters' bedroom door. He had held the whip in his hand, his eyes staring into his father's, daring him to raise a hand against them ever again.
Things were going to change around here. Things were finally going to get better. He was going to protect his sisters. He was going to protect himself. No one would ever take his sense of self again. The confrontation just last week flashed through his mind.
"How many times do I have to tell you?" Aahil shouted, pushing his father bacl. "You're an old man. You've become weak. And you will no longer hurt us. If you do, I will make you sorry. The next time you touch any of us, I will call the police. This isn't Bhopal. They don't know or revere you here. And then," he said, moving forward and staring into his father's eyes from inches away, "I'll notify all the newspapers in Bhopal about this. All of this. Your alcoholism. Your abuse. Your perversions."
"Don't get too big for your britches," the Nawab of Bhopal growled, grabbing Aahil by the back of his neck roughly. "You don't seriously think that you can beat me, do you? I'm so many steps ahead of you boy, that you don't even know what I have planned. You wait. I will make your life hell."
"And exactly what would be the difference between that and what I'm living through now?" Aahil asked softly.
He was pulled from his reverie by the sound of heavy footsteps thundering up the stairs. His brow wrinkled in confusion, wondering who it could be at this time. He could see lights under the doorway, and then it burst open, causing him to jump from shock.
He had seconds to take in the black clad figures, with guns in their hands, before those hands were roughly pulling him up.
"What's going on?" he asked, feeling the handcuffs come around his wrists, the metal harshly cold against his skin.
He heard a child's wail, and his eyes swung to the door. His sisters were standing there, fear in their eyes. Nazia was crying, while Shazia stood there, holding her hand.
"Aahil Raza Ibrahim, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you . . ." The voices came as if from a distance; the words themselves were garbled, making no sense. The hands began to move him towards the door, the pressure inexorable.
"What's going on?" Aahil demanded. "What did I do?!!" But there had been no answers. Not that night.
"Aahil Bhai! Aahil bhai!" He heard Shazia cry out, as they went past them. He turned to look at her. He wanted to say a word of comfort, to tell her everything would be okay. But there hadn't been a chance. He was being pushed out the door before he could take a moment to think, to process.
" Don't leave us! Please! Aahil bhai!"
"Aahil bhai. Aahil bhai?"
Aahil shot up in bed, his heart pounding rapidly in his chest. Looking around, he realized that he was in his bed. He wasn't in that mansion. It was now, not years ago. He was almost 30 years old, not that 15-year-old scared child. He was here, not there.
His eyes moved across the navy blues walls, and the starkly white furniture. There was a hard sofa at one end of the room. A TV cabinet placed under the LCD screen hanging from the wall. A king sized bed was situated in the center of the room, its back against the wall, a blue comforter covering its expanse of white. The closet across from the bed had mirrors for doors, allowing him a glimpse of his face in those mirrors. He flinched from the darkness he saw in his own eyes.
The light coming in through the doors was enough to break through the sticky web of the nightmare. By forcing himself to think about the now, he brought himself to the present. He wasn't stuck in that nightmare. Never again. He took a deep breath, turning away from the mirror and from his own darkness. He was the master of his own destiny.
The doors shut, sealing out the light and leaving the room in darkness once more. "Aahil bhai?" Rehan prompted softly, coming to stand on the side of the bed. "Are you okay?"
"What is it, Rehan?" Aahil barked at him, running a frustrated hand through his hair, making it stand up even more. He glared at him grumpily. "You know that I don't like waking up early in the morning. Just let me sleep," he muttered, lying back down on the bed and snuggling up to his pillow.
"Aahil bhai," Rehan said apologetically. "I thought you'd want to see this. I waited as long as I could." Leaning down, he placed the newspaper on the pillow next to Aahil's head. "I really dropped the ball on this one," he said, clearly unhappy with himself. "I should've kept my ear to the ground. I don't even know why I am so surprised."
"Just what are you muttering about, Rehan?" Aahil asked, opening one reluctant eye and staring at the newspaper print in front of him. Both eyes popped open once his mind actually processed the words on the page. "What the heck is this?!" Aahil roared, sitting back up in bed. His hands gripped the papers, almost tearing it in his fury. "Just what the hell are they talking about?"
"You don't know?" Rehan asked in a surprised tone. "Just how many nights have you spent with her?" His voice rose on the last words, demonstrating his shock.
"None!" Aahil exclaimed. "I mean, we were out for one night, but that one night was us being stuck in a broken down car. I'm sure we can find someone to vouch that we were at the DV location until late evening. And that the first thing we did at dawn the next day was to find someone to help us fix the car. We came right back home."
"There are a lot of hours between late evening and dawn, Aahil bhai. No one believes it was innocent," Rehan said after a moment of silence. "And they're all blaming her for what they think happened. This is just one newspaper. Every paper has picked up this story, and all of Bhopal is talking about her." He paused and then continued reluctantly. "There's one more thing."
"What more?" Aahil asked in a disgruntled tone.
"Seher just called me. Sanam was forced to resign from her job at LSB."
Aahil groaned, furiously tugging at his hair and then turning his fury on the newspaper, the reporters, and what those rich men had done to his Sanam. He tore the paper into bits and pieces.
"You need to do something about it," Rehan prompted him.
"Well, obviously," Aahil shot back.
Rehan laughed suddenly, shaking his head.
"What are you laughing about?" Aahil demanded. "What is there to laugh about?"
"Nothing. It's funny, you know. Well, not really funny," he backpedaled, seeing the incredulity in Aahil's face. "More like ironic. You thought that being in her life would hurt her, but now look at this."
"Look at what?" he asked, throwing the pieces of the paper up in the air, and watching the pieces float down to land around him.
"Your absence is hurting her even more, Aahil bhai. The hyenas think they can close in while the lion is away. They don't even care that you never intended to go back."
"They're going to pay," Aahil said grimly, jumping out of bed and striding towards the bedroom door.
"Bhai!" Rehan called out.
"No, Rehan, don't stop me. We have to help her. You just said that this is my fault."
"But, bhai," Rehan began.
"Call the reporters. And then begin making calls to each of the companies we have contracts with," Aahil ordered. He pulled open the doors.
"Hui Ma!" Lateef could be heard through the now open doors.
"Aahil!" Rehan yelled to his retreating figure.
"What?" Aahil shouted, coming back to stand at the door.
"At least put on some clothes," Rehan said in an exasperated tone.
Aahil looked down at his boxer-clad body, and made a face at Rehan. "I'm glad that you continue to find things to laugh about, Rehan," he said through gritted teeth.
"Aahil baba give me a warning next time," Lateef called out playfully from behind them.
"Just where were your rushing off to?" Rehan asked with a laugh.
"To save . . . Sanam," Aahil explained slowly.
"Did you have some plan in mind?" Rehan asked.
"I was going to gather the reporters and those CEOs together and put the fear of God into them," Aahil said straight facedly.
Rehan shook his head at him. "That's fine, but do it tomorrow. Zoya Auntie called and said that she still wanted us to come to the party they invited us to months ago. Remember? It's their wedding anniversary party. They tend to celebrate that in a huge way, since it took them so many tries to finally get married."
Aahil looked at him, surprised. "Why?"
"She's hoping that maybe your presence will get the rumormongers to back off," Rehan explained. "Maybe take this opportunity to scare them?" he asked reflectively.
"Fine. We'll go. We'll play it that way instead," Aahil said grimly.
"What are you doing here?" Asad Ahmed Khan growled angry, staring at the two men standing in front of him. "Anyone with common sense would have realized that they were no longer invited after what happened in your own home a month ago." He practically bit out the words.
"I invited them, Asad," Zoya said quietly, coming over to stand beside her husband. Reaching out a hand, she curled it around his arm, gently squeezing it in an effort to calm him. "No matter how much you might not like it, he can make things right. Your daughter lost her job today. She was heartbroken when she came home today. She cried, Asad. How often does our Sanam cry? Please let it go. Think of it as an anniversary gift to me?"
Aahil's lips tightened, his jaw muscle twitching, when he heard her whispered words. But he said nothing.
Smiling lovingly up into his eyes, she continued, "We've invited some of the people who had a hand in getting her fired. We mix with the elite of Bhopal, and they stabbed us in the backs. He is the Nawab of Bhopal. He has the power to put the fear of God into those men or women," she said furiously. "And he will let us know who is our enemy. Who is our daughter's enemy."
He nodded and grudgingly gestured for the two men to enter. "Don't make me regret letting you come in."
The two of them had been at the mansion many times, but everything look completely different. The room had been transformed completely for the party. The normally sedate colors had been replaced with black and red. Every item in the living room, from the chairs, to the tables, to the napkins and wall decorations were in one color or the other. Plants had been set up around the perimeter of the room, creating private alcoves for the guests to use for intimate conversations. Food and drinks had been set up in one corner of the room. Tables had been set up around the pool for people to sit and enjoy the delicacies.
"You're here," a woman's voice called out gaily. The men turned to see Seher rushing towards them. "Asalaam Alaikum," she said, raising a hand to her forehead.
Rehan smiled bashfully at her, blushing lightly at the wink she threw his way.
"You are so cute," she said, reaching out a hand to grab at his arm. "I've been waiting for you. Badi Ammi wants to see you."
Rehan blanched at her words. "I don't think," he began doubtfully.
"Rehan," Seher said warningly. "Aahil will take care of everything out here. You get to talk to Badi Ammi. She explicitly stated that she wanted to talk to you when you came in." She quickly pulled him away, ignoring the green cast to his features.
"Aahil bhai, I'll be back. We can begin then," Rehan called back, despite his own worry. In mere seconds he was dragged away by Seher to some private corner of the home.
Aahil was left alone, his eyes clinging for a moment to their retreating backs. He raised an eyebrow in confusion. For a moment, he had felt a flash of uncertainty, but no, he was the Nawab of Bhopal. He had nothing to fear. The monster that had terrorized him had left this world. And now, he was the biggest monster in Bhopal. It was time to face the crowd.
Adjusting his suit jacket, he turned and crashed into a slight figure.
The soft exclamation at the contact, the feel of her, the scent that came to engulf him, gave him the clues he needed to divine how had landed in his arms. It was Sanam Ahmed Khan. And for the moment, she was back in his arms, his hands around her naked waist. He inhaled softly, wanting to savor her and this sensation. He wanted this moment to last forever. And on that thought, he closed his eyes, wanting to close the world out but for the sensation of her in his arms.
Sanam stared up into his face, but his eyes were closed. He was wearing black. A black suit. A black shirt. A black tie. The prince of darkness. Was he trying to prove something to the world? But those morose thoughts were swiftly swept away by his scent. By the warmth of his lips, so close to hers. She inhaled his scent, the movement causing her chest to lightly graze his.
This was the first time they had touched since their kiss. It was the first time they had seen each other since that last confrontation. His hold was strong, protective, so that she wouldn't fall to the floor. She wondered suddenly what was going on through his mind now, as he held her in the middle of a filled room, with all of those judgmental eyes fixed on them. She angled her head to the side, her eyes landing on her parents' stricken gazes.
Jerking up into a standing position, she slowly and steadily pushed him away. By the time they were inches apart, his eyes were open and aware. Shaking her head at him, she turned to walk away, without feeling the need to say a word.
She felt his hand come out to grab her upper arm, and she closed her eyes at the feel of his warm hand on her bare arm. She cursed Seher for convincing her to wear this sleeveless choli lehenga in her favorite shade of red. That direct skin to skin contact made everything so much harder to bear. His hand slid down her arm to her wrist, and then to her hand.
She pulled lightly, refusing to turn back.
He held on, refusing to let go. It was as if his fingers had a life of their own. They twisted slightly, causing her to gasp, but it was enough to awaken him. Letting go, he stepped back and she walked away.
And he watched her walk away, unable to say anything. The pain of loss was burning inside of him, eating away at what remained of his soul, but this was a decision he had made. He would just have to learn to live with it.
Anyone looking at him, would not have seen the turmoil inside of his heart. His jaw muscle twitched, and his lips firmed. Grabbing a drink from a passing waiter, he sipped it, watching the crowd mill around. He was here to do business, not moon over the one woman he had already decided to give up for her own good.
His eyes alighted on Ashok Mehta, one of the bigger companies Ibrahim Corporation contracted with. He knew that their contract had saved Mehta Industries from bankruptcy a few years ago, and the loss of that same contract would put them right back on the brink.
Walking towards the man, he called out, "Mr. Mehta, a word please. I've been hearing some rumors that I wanted your feedback on."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
An hour had gone by, and Aahil, soon joined by Rehan, had worked his way through the room, warning the men that Sanam Ahmed Khan wasn't their prey. He'd spent the hour reminding them of the power he had over their wealth, and the thin line they were walking by hurting Sanam in this way. He'd seen the suppressed anger, the frustration, but he had also seen and heard them acquiescing to his demands. The calls would be made tomorrow morning, and he was sure that Sanam would have her job back by end of business tomorrow. He smiled, satisfied with a job well done.
Sitting down in one of the alcoves, he allowed himself a moment to relax, ready to take a breather. Rehan had gone off with Seher; she had been intent on having some time with him. He'd laughingly urged his brother on, wanting them to at least have a happily ever after.
His eyes landed on a svelte figure in red at the other end of the room. Sanam hadn't looked his way the entire night. She was heartbreakingly beautiful, and achingly vulnerable. The mere fact that her name had been linked to his had almost ruined her life. Taking a deep swallow of the drink in his hand, he rested his head on his hand. He had made the right decision.
"Look at her," a female voice said from the other side of the plants, disturbing his peace. Making a face, he took another swallow, wondering who the woman was talking about. Ah, but he didn't really care, as long as they didn't get too loud.
"Sanam Ahmed Khan. Asad and Zoya were so proud of her. Their daughter, the lawyer. Their daughter, the serious one. Their precious, precious daughter," another woman said, laughing maliciously.
Aahil's eyes widened, realizing that the catty remarks were directed at Sanam. His hand tightened around his glass, but he forced himself to stop, wondering how far they would go.
"The newspapers are tearing her apart," a third voice chimed in. "Can you believe it? How must Zoya and Asad be dealing with that? Their unsullied daughter spent the night with a convicted felon. They must be so embarrassed," the woman gleefully crowed the words.
The satisfaction had long disappeared, and a fire was burning inside of him now. They were talking about her. How could he make them stop? His body stiffened, as he tried to deal with the yawning darkness inside of him. This darkness had always been his constant companion, but now it was growing with each vicious word. How could he make this right? What he had done hadn't been enough. Why was it never enough?
"Shh!" a male voice interrupted. "I have told you not to gossip, Nandini."
"I'm just saying the truth," the first woman protested. "She was out all night. She was with that man. He is a convicted killer. It's not like any of that is okay."
"Well, you can't talk about her," the man ordered. "The Nawab has spent the night warning all of us about the dire consequences."
"Please," the second woman said, snorting in disgust. "That man doesn't scare me. Who is he going to silence? He can't get everyone. They have no relationship. They have no connection. They have nothing that would have made this night okay. Her behavior makes her a s**t, and I am not afraid to say it."
Aahil shot up, his hand crushing the glass in his hands. His hold was so strong that the glass broke into pieces, stabbing into the palm of his hand. And it was enough, barely enough, to drown out the cries of that ever increasing darkness. He ignored the shards of glass biting into his skin, and stepped out of his alcove.
One by one, the members of the group fell silent, belatedly noticing his presence feet away from them.
Opening his hand, he let loose the shards of glass, the only sound in the room the tinkle of the glass against the hard, unforgiving floor. His face was clear of expression, but anyone stupid enough to look into his eyes would see the fire of retribution burning there.
The silence grew outward, spreading across the room, the roar of the crowd diminishing into whispers from the impact of the Nawab's angry presence. The stone had been dropped into the center of placid lake, and the ripples would not stop until they crashed against the shore. Moving across the living room, he found her red figure standing by the pool, at the top of the stairs. She stood alone, her eyes turned away, gazing at something in the water below. He didn't know what she had been looking at, but her eyes widened when they met the gaze of his reflection.
She turned away, but he reached out and grabbed her, entrapping her before she could escape. Her eyes glared up into his, as he forced her to turn and face the crowd below.
"Just what are you doing?' she whispered furiously to him.
"Saving you," he breathed against her lips.
"Ladies and gentleman," he began, looking at the men and women who stood staring at them. His eyes met the glare Sanam's father was sending his way. He saw the wary looks on both her mother and grandmother's faces. The half smile on Rehan's face and the excited, yet curious, look in Seher's eyes.
"I am sure that you have all heard the rumors regarding myself and the daughter of this esteemed family, Miss Sanam Ahmed Khan. Not only have you heard them, but it seems that some of you seem to relish spreading them," he continued, meeting the eyes of the trio of women that had so avidly gossiped near where he sat. He had to admit that he enjoyed how one of them actually flinched. "You stand in this room, eat their food, share pleasantries with them, and then talk behind their backs and cackle over the fact that their daughter has fallen so low."
He saw Zoya's lips fall open on a gasp, her eyes reflecting the pain of betrayal. He felt Sanam jerk in his hold, and swiftly quelled her attempts to escape.
"The newspapers say that Sanam returned one morning with me. They tell you that we were out all night, eyes witnessing us leaving her place of work, but due to us not returning to any place that these reporters know of, rumors began. But what really is so scandalous about meeting the family of your groom before the wedding?"
The room fell completely still, even the whispers falling silent at his words.
"These efforts to blacken Sanam's reputation have not gone unnoticed. The fact that she lost her job because of these rumors has not gone unnoticed," Aahil roared to the crowd, making them back up from the storm of his anger.
"Just what are you saying, Mr. Aahil Raza Ibrahim?" a voice demanded. "Nothing we have said has been false. Why would you blame us for what both of you did?"
"I do not explain myself, but I will make one exception. This is the only chance you all get. If you do not toe the line, Bhopal will suffer. You will suffer. Sanam Ahmed Khan is my fiance. We have been engaged for a month, a secret well kept because of my history," he said, smiling sardonically. "On that aforementioned night, we took a trip to meet my extended family. We stayed there all night, under very innocent circumstances, and returned the next morning."
"I don't like to repeat myself, but I'll make another exception. She is my fiance. No one touches her. One day she will be the Nawab Begum of Bhopal. Begin to treat her as such from now on."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sanam stared at him, her arms crossed over her chest. He stood against the closed door, leaning against it, trying to appear nonchalant.
The two of them were in her bedroom. She saw his eyes flicker, moving across the room briefly, and wondered what he saw. After all, he was the first man to come into this room besides her father.
The walls were a cream color, the bed in the corner of the room queen-sized, to ensure there was enough room for Seher share on the nights that she or Sanam needed company. A desk was placed in the other corner of the bedroom; the place where she worked and prepared for all of her hearings. Sanam's shoulders slumped for a moment. There would be no more preparation at that desk, at least not for a while. In the center of those two corners, there was a vanity, covered with makeup and bits of jewelry. A little messy, and all her.
She took a deep breath. They were alone in that room, with the doors closed. It was the only place where she could guarantee them privacy without interruption. When he'd entered the room, it hadn't taken him long to realize where they were. Given the choice between staying here with her or not talking to her at all, he had stayed.
A muscle began to twitch in his jaw, as his eyes moved over the place that was so intimately hers. It was stark and to the point. She worked in one corner and slept in the other. The only hint of disarray was the makeup and jewelry on the vanity. Even the sheets were impeccably straightened out and the blankets precisely folded.
"Well?" she asked abruptly, realizing that he could very possibly remain silent all night.
He could see the anger flashing in her eyes. And the irritation, as evidenced by the pursed lips. Sanam was angry. He wondered suddenly if she wanted to hurt him.
"How could you?" Sanam demanded, practically yelling at him.
Aahil raised an eyebrow in surprise. That certainly did not sound like the Sanam he knew.
"What is wrong with you, Aahil Raza Ibrahim? Don't you ever think before you open your big mouth?" she yelled at him, striding over to poke him in the chest with one agitated finger. "No, really! What is wrong with you? Just last month you were taunting the public with your past. The next day you were making out with me one minute, and telling me to leave the next. You haven't spoken to me for a full month. Thirty days. And suddenly you're telling the world we're engaged and being extra chatty with your lies?" With every question she threw his way, there went the finger. Poke. Poke. Poke.
"They were saying bad things about you!" Aahil yelled back at her, his voice replete with his anger. He grabbed her finger, stopping her from doing any further damage. "How dare they do that? Especially when . . .," he stopped suddenly, unsure of how to go on.
"Especially when what?" She shouted, jumping onto that slip. "What relationship do we have that you would even care? Who said it was up to you to make things right? Why should it matter to you?" And there she went, back to poking at him with the finger that had escaped his clutches.
Brushing her finger away, he gripped her by her shoulders, gently shaking her to stop the tirade that was coming at him. "It matters. You matter, Sanam Ahmed Khan."
She gazed up at him, caught by surprise at his words. "Do you really mean that?" she asked brokenly, her lips beginning to tremble.
"Of course," he affirmed. "Especially since I am the reason all of this is happening. And those people dare to try and come after me through you. How dare they think the Nawab of Bhopal would be so weak?"
Sanam's expression had hardened as he continued to speak, realizing that it only mattered because he thought it was about him.
"Tonight was just the warning. I've let them know that you are untouchable," Aahil said confidently, seeing that she was finally listening. "And I kind of owed you that, anyways. We'll let the engagement go on for awhile. Once the stories die down and the next scandal hits the papers, we can quietly break up." He gently pushed her back, making room between the two of them.
Her mouth fell open at his arrogance. She shook her head, stepping further back and folding her arms across her chest. "Oh, no, you're not ending this that easily. You just said in front of the "whole world" we're engaged. You say we're engaged, and we're engaged? You say we're done, and we're done? That is not how it's going to work."
"What do you mean?" Aahil asked, becoming wary of the sparkle in her eyes.
"If you have any honor in you at all," she uttered, silently daring him to deny that, "Then we're seeing this through."
"We're getting married, Aahil Raza Ibrahim," Sanam said, grabbing him by the collar. "You will not embarrass me by backing out now." She shook him with each word. "I will not be a shamed woman in the world's eyes for what they think I did and then for what you do. You don't make me part of a scandal thrice in so many months. You said we were engaged, then we're engaged. We're getting married."
Aahil's lips opened and then closed, and he seemed to be ruminating on something. Staring at her, he lightly smirked. "Even if we torment each other for the rest of our lives?"
"Even if," Sanam said softly. "I'd rather torment you than live a carefree existence with anyone else."
He shook his head at her. At this moment, he didn't know what to say. The only thing he could do was glare at her, muttering, "We'll see." Turning, he opened the door and quickly left the room. He'd spent the night fighting and winning every battle. Then, why did it feel like he had just lost a war?
Sanam stood there, her eyes focused on his retreating back. Slowly, very slowly, her fingers uncurled and her body relaxed. And slowly, so very slowly, the worry fell away, a calm acceptance replacing it. Going to sit down at the vanity, her eyes focused on her own reflection. She met her eyes in the mirror, wondering who this woman was. On days like this, she wondered if someone else was taking over. She certainly didn't feel like the Sanam she had known herself to be all these years.
"Haye, Sanam ki bacchi, I can't believe it worked!" Seher cried out from the doorway. Striding forward, she sat down on the bench next to Sanam.
Now there were four of them. Sanam smiled slightly, seeing the happiness on the face of Seher's reflection. Was it any wonder that those men hadn't had a chance?
"But was it worth it?" Seher asked with concern, putting an arm around her sister's shoulders. "We haven't had a chance to talk since you were forced to resign. Was it worth it, losing your job?"
"That wasn't planned." Sudden tears welled up in Sanam's eyes. "I didn't expect that at all," she admitted in a broken voice. "I never thought they'd let me go. I loved that job, Seher. I trusted that Shaleen would understand. I was doing good there!" She took a deep breath, and willed her tears away. Straightening her shoulders, she raised her chin. "But I have to help him first. People who come to us, to LSB, are ready to change their lives. They ask for help."
She got up and moved towards the window, her eyes focused on the starry sky outside. "He will never ask for help. He hasn't so much as spoken to me since the blowup over his identity. That was a month ago, Seher. As far as I can see, he was serious when he told me to leave. I'm going to help him regardless of that. Once that's taken care of," she paused and took a deep breath, "Then I'll go back to helping everyone else."
"But it's still a huge sacrifice," Seher mused, coming to stand by her sister. "I don't think I could put my life on hold like that. To give myself so totally for one mission."
"Despite what you're saying now, Seher," Sanam said softly, "You would have done the same thing if Rehan needed it. It hurts a lot to let go of that part of my life, especially since I've worked toward this goal for almost two-thirds of my life. But I gave it up with only minor regret, just so that I can save that person who set me down this path."
"What if he doesn't appreciate it?" Seher asked suddenly. "What if he doesn't appreciate any of this. What if he finds out . . . ?" her voice trailed off.
"What if he finds out that I spread the news myself? That I was the one who began the rumors?" Sanam completed for her. "I'll deal with it when I have to."
A/N: Here's Chapter 12 for your reading pleasure. Hope everyone is having an awesome 2016 so far. Leave a comment if you like the chapter. As always, these comments are what keep me posting this story in this thread. Thanks everyone who took the time to comment on the last chapter. I appreciated each and every one of them.
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