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I've got to let you know how many times I've actually stopped at the beginning to control my laughter. God, both daughter and mother is on the roll.
"To see the boys?"
Seher nodded again, wincing at him being referred to as a boy. He was all man!
"Which one?" Zoya shot at her.
Aww... Seher is seriously way too cute. She is falling in love and I adore her bluntness.. Also the small cute conversation Dilshad had with her daughter-in-law, was so heart touching
I love Sanam! I love Seher. I love every single character which is in the story! There I said it.
I could so picture this! Such a lovely grumpy young woman.
Abu liked to tease her that gardening was just an excuse for her to play in the dirt, just the way she used to when she was a child.
*Gives a standing ovation!*
Wow! I think I just shed a tear.. This is seriously so deep. So heartwarming and touched me beyond words.
"They will know their beloveds, no matter how alike you look. If a man doesn't know you . . . can't tell the difference between the two of you, that means you don't affect him. You don't affect his mind, his heart or his body." She blushed softly as she said those words. "If you don't affect him in any way . . . is he really meant for you?"
It was such a nice insight we got into Sanam's inner thoughts. About Seher and the Handsome Stranger. The following quote is so apt - If only you really knew, Sanam.. If only you knew the real truth..
I'm actually really stoked on reading the moment when Sanam will realize that the boy she met years ago is the Stranger.. I get goosebumps just to think of the possible scenario will happen in future.
She couldn't believe that she'd given the man who had impacted her life to such a degree almost no thoughts . . . at least nothing compared to how many times she had thought about this stranger.
That moment where she sees him swimming is so intimate. I actually blushed a few times. I mean, all she is doing is peeking behind the pillar.. Gosh.. That's what you create with your words... The want and need is so raw and I can actually feel it burn my skin. Ouch...
Oh, how she wanted to trace those drops of water, touching that skin. She wanted to trace them with her lips . . . to taste him, taking his taste deep inside of herself so that she could keep him there forever.
HOTNESS OVERLOAD.. I REPEAT.. HOTNESS OVERLOAD..
I loved how the ping-pong is going between Aahil and Rehan. They are really looking out for each other and making sure nothing goes amiss. This is my favorite part. Seriously the sheer awesomeness the way he arrived at the table and casually answers.
Aahil's eyes had widened at those words, his face paling. He swallowed and said, "I'm not sure . . ."
"You remember that house, Aahil," a husky, male voice called out from the dining room entrance. "You told me many stories about it."
And the way Aahil cleaned the dirt from Sanam's cheek and he could tell the difference between the two sisters. Although I liked the small comic timing with Rehan. Haayeee...
Oh, you've got me wanting more.. again..
His eyes had burned with the fire inside, speaking of his own need.
She did affect him. Mind, heart and body.
You can't end it here. I need more to calm my heavy thoughts and beating heart. Once again, such a beautiful chapter filled with so much intensity and feelings. I hope you update soon, because you're so good at this. I will not get tired of no matter how many times I've said it before - this story deserves so much love for its incredible portrayal.
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Chapter 6: Knowing Her, Knowing Him : Part I
D - 90 . . . .
"Did you enjoy the food?" a voice cheerfully asked from his left.
Aahil turned to gaze at its owner, his eyes widening when he met his hostess' laughing eyes.
The older woman was dressed in jeans and a blouse for the family dinner. It hadn't taken long for Aahil to discover that the younger matriarch of the Khan family had grown up in the United States, which explained her clothing. His eyes moved over her impish features, marveling at how much the daughters looked like their mother . .. down to the matching dimple she was flashing at him right now.
"I saw you had the chicken korma," Zoya said with a laugh. "I made it. How did you like it?"
Aahil pursed his lips, wondering how he could answer the question truthfully, but without actually hurting any feelings.
"Zoya, stop making fun of the poor boy," a male voice interceded from the side. It was his host for the night, Mr. Asad Ahmed Khan. In contrast to his wife, Mr. Khan was wearing a traditional shalwar kameez, his manner much more sedate than his wife.
The three were standing in front of the pool area, discussing the evening and the food. Or rather, Zoya was questioning the guests one by one on how they had liked her cooking. He had seen Rehan being questioned moments ago, but had thought nothing of it. But now it was his turn, and he understood the panic he had seen in Rehan's eyes. Aahil met his host's understanding gaze, realizing that the man knew just what he was thinking.
"What do you mean, Mr. Khan?" Zoya snapped back at him, her smile disappearing.
"I mean, of course he loved it," Asad quickly replied. He looked at his guest, before turning back to his now smiling wife. "He's no fool."
Zoya turned to glance at Aahil questioningly. Glancing to the right, he saw his host silently urging him to agree. Aahil quickly nodded in agreement. "It was great, Mrs. Khan," Aahil added, throwing truth to the wind. When had white lies really hurt anyone?
"Call me, Zoya Auntie," she ordered with a smile. "You really liked it?" she asked eagerly, moving closer.
Aahil nodded again.
"That's great!" she said, clapping her hands. "The Nawab said the same thing! I'm going to bring over a lot of dishes for you boys," she promised. "My husband and daughters always tell me to rest and all, but I'm sure you two will appreciate a mother's cooking," she chirped before slipping away to join her mother-in-law, who was in conversation with Aahil's sisters, Nazia and Shazia.
"I promise that I'll make her forget that promise," Asad murmured in Aahil's ear, before walking away to speak with Rehan standing at the bottom of the steps.
Aahil smiled, shaking his head at their interaction. The smile quickly slipped away when other thoughts intruded. What was he doing here? Hadn't he promised himself that they would avoid their neighbors at all costs?
Hearing the sound of girlish laughter, he turned to look at his sisters. The two were sitting with Dilshad Begum in the living room area, occupying the sofas situated around the coffee table. He smiled automatically when he heard them giggle over something Zoya Ah. . . Auntie had just murmured to them.
Shazia and Nazia had come home from the hostel today. They seemed so happy now, talking to Dilshad Begum and her daughter-in-law. Staring at the two girls sitting on the sofa, one dressed in shalwar kameez, the other in jeans and a tank top, Nazia and Shazia were as different as night and day. Nazia was the softer one . .. the one who needed protecting. She was sweet and wanted the best for everyone. Shazia was the prickly one, the one who tended to lash out when she was scared. She would feel sorry afterwards, even he could see that, but nothing would stop her from voicing her displeasure if she was unhappy. She'd been constantly complaining about having to leave her friends since coming to the house.
Rehan had been unable to handle this 20-year-old woman who still acted like a child, and Aahil had had to step in as the Nawab's "right hand man". He wasn't exactly sure how to feel about his sisters coming back into the same home to live with him. They hadn't even been in the same country for years. There was a certain discomfort there . . . a worry of how all of this would go. He was responsible for their lives now, too. He leaned a shoulder against the pillar, staring at the water below. His miserable expression was quite apparent in that reflective surface. He felt guilty for not telling the two girls the truth, but he didn't know if he could trust them with this secret. They hadn't lived together as siblings for a long, long time. He sighed, turning around to stare morosely at the girls once more. He didn't know if they would be willing to keep the truth a secret. And he wasn't ready to come out as the Nawab of Bhopal. Not yet.
"We have tea!" Sanam called out. Aahil looked up, catching sight of her standing at the kitchen's entrance.
"And sweets!" Seher chimed in, bringing in another tray. "Gather around." Rehan turned around to glance at the other twin.
This was their first dinner at the Khan mansion, and the two had only agreed after Zoya had personally called and threatened to nag them until they came over to "eat with the family." This mansion seemed more of a home than theirs did, but he would do his best to make their house into a home like this. Rehan, his sisters and him deserved a home. Of course there was the same random pool in the middle of the home, but the mansion itself had a different layout than theirs. Certain areas, like the kitchen were closed off, but the dining room was just another setting of furniture in the open living room space. The open layout was quite attractive, and the colors made the room come alive. He hoped that his sisters would help make their house into a home.
There was another burst of laughter from the living room area, echoed by Sanam and Seher standing at the kitchen door.
Aahil frowned, unhappy at having been thwarted in his decision to stay away from the Khan family. Since the impromptu tea party they had had with the twins, he hadn't laid eyes on the woman. Lateef had taken great pleasure in telling him about Sanam peeking at him from behind the pillar while he was swimming that day. And for a horrifying moment, he had even thought to ask Lateef if had done anything embarrassing. He tugged at his collar, feeling a tightness around his throat. That was weird, since the shirt's first three buttons had been left unbuttoned. It wasn't the shirt . . . it was the feelings that woman had aroused inside of him. She made him hope, and he didn't want to hope. They hadn't spoken three words during the dinner party, besides the general pleasantries. It had been a deliberate choice on his part. Just as it had been a choice not to answer the confusion in her eyes.
He watched her walk across the room, his eyes following her graceful movements. He watched the way her fingers curled around the tray . . . the way a lock of hair fell across her face . . . the way her lips curled in a half-smile. Straightening, he felt his fingers clenching into fists. She looked beautiful in red, the color of passion. She met his eyes and swiftly turned her own back to the tray in her hands, a flush growing on her cheeks.
The sisters moved over to the dining room table and placed their burdens down. He saw Rehan move forward, as if to help, but then consciously stop himself and go back to his conversation with their father.
Aahil nodded in agreement. It was only right that they keep their distance. Aahil allowed himself another moment to enjoy the vision before him. He then deliberately moved to stand next to Rehan at the bottom of the steps, joining in on his conversation with Mr. Khan.
"Aahil baba, please try this sweet! Sawaiyan." The grand figure of Lateef, bedecked in a medley of orange and purple, barreled towards the two of them, and stopped in front of Aahil and held out a spoonful of the sweet.
Aahil glared at him silently, and then looked over at Rehan.
"Lateef? Do you need glasses?" Rehan asked softly, moving to stand in front of Aahil. "I'm right here."
"Oh! I really need to have my eyes checked," Lateef said with a loud laugh. "You're both so handsome, that I can't even tell the difference. But . . . how can I wear glasses? It'll ruin the shape of my eyes and what a travesty that would be. After all, main to hoon chui mui." She laughed once more.
Rehan smiled at her, shaking his head. Reaching for the spoon, he took a bite of the sawaiyan. "Delicious," he murmured.
"Sanam Ji made them," Lateef imparted, nudging Rehan out of the way. Standing in front of Aahil, she offered him another spoonful. "You'll really like this," she whispered conspiratorially.
Aahil shook his head at her, and then took a spoonful. Looking up, he caught Sanam's eyes. He did a thumbs up, and she smiled at him before turning back to pouring the tea. Aahil closed his eyes in dismay. Why had he done that?
There was a commotion at the entrance, and the doors burst open to reveal a woman.
"Haya! What are you doing here?" Seher squealed happily, running over to hug their cousin. "I thought you couldn't make it to dinner."
"I didn't," Haya said dryly, hugging both Sanam and Seher in greeting. "Dinner's over, isn't it?"
Seher lightly smacked her cousin on the arm.
Aahil stared at the trio, and blinked to realize that he was feet away from them, where moments ago he had been yards away. When exactly had he moved?
"I came for dessert. Rahat's outside parking the car," she imparted, before picking up a serving spoon and starting to fill the bowls with sawaiyan. "Let's get these passed out," she said, "and then I can speak with. . .," her voice trailed off, as she angled her head towards the Nawab. "How's the weather?" she asked secretively.
Seher shook her head unhappily. "Extremely cold. We haven't spoken for two weeks," she murmured disconsolately. "He stopped responding to my texts."
He watched Sanam nudge Seher in the ribs, and look at him. The trio hushed up immediately, their attention now on the bowls and filling the cups with tea. He realized with annoyance that he couldn't have been more obvious about his interest. Turning his head, he moved back towards the conversation between Mr. Khan and Rehan. The two were discussing a project Ibrahim Corporation had begun to work on over the past week.
"Mamu Jaan!" Haya called out, running over to her uncle with bowls of sawaiyan. "I've got dessert." Holding the tray out, she silently urged them to each take a bowl. "Asalaam Alaikum," she murmured to Aahil and Rehan. "We haven't met, but I'm Sanam's and Seher's cousin. Their older sister, you could say."
"By a couple of months!" Seher protested, coming to stand next to Haya. Rehan slowly moved over, putting distance between the two of them. Seher's face fell at that telling action.
"You are . . .?" she asked, turning to glance at Aahil.
"My name is Rehan Imran Qureshi," he murmured, staring at the woman standing in front of him.
"Hey! That's my name!' Haya happily asserted. "I mean, it was my name. My father is Imran Qureshi. So up until a year ago, I was Haya Imran Qureshi." She smiled at him.
"And will your father be joining us?" Aahil asked.
"He's currently out of the county on some business matters," Haya revealed. "He's grown quite famous in business circles," she continued, sounding really proud of her father. "He used to live in Bhopal, close by in fact, but we moved to a small town years ago, away from the hubbub of city life."
Aahil glanced at Rehan, noting the pained expression on his face.
"My mother left me at an orphanage when I was a newborn infant. There was only a note. Something about promising to come back and get me when she was able to. She only left a note, Aahil bhai. She never came back. It took a really . . . really long time for me to realize that she wasn't ever coming back."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Remember when I told you about my mother?"
Aahil nodded, staring at Rehan's figure across the coffee table. The two were in the living room of their home, sitting in near darkness. The light of two candles, nowhere near enough to illuminate the room, were the only things keeping complete darkness at bay. Lateef had just left, muttering something about how weird it was to be sitting with the lights off, but Rehan seemed to need the darkness for this conversation. Aahil had just ordered Lateef to go after lighting the candles.
"I guess I should have told you when I offered to be your 'face' what you were really getting in the bargain," Rehan said heavily.
"What do you mean?"Aahil asked, watching Rehan thread his fingers together, his body stiffening.
"I didn't tell you the entire truth." Rehan looked away from Aahil, staring at a painting behind him. He paused and took a deep breath, which sounded almost like a sob. "I thought it would be so hard to find her with just a name, but that was because I didn't know what my mother was."
"What is there to tell? I know you, Rehan," Aahil said impatiently. "I trust you. Nothing else matters."
"It matters, Aahil bhai. It matters," Rehan said in a frustrated tone, "Especially after what Seher said today. God, you don't even know!" He closed his eyes in agony.
"What do you mean? Rehan speak up!" he barked at him. "Why are you being so mealy-mouthed?"
"My mother seduced my father in a fit of pique. And the man she chose to seduce was Imran Qureshi," Rehan finally said.
Aahil shrugged his shoulders, unsure of the significance of that name.
"The Imran Qureshi that Seher mentioned today. Their cousin, Haya's, father."
"You mean . . .," Aahil began uncertainly.
"Haya is my sister," Rehan murmured. "I met my own sister for the first time, and I didn't even know it." He laughed bitterly. "How screwed up is my life? How could I not even know my sister?"
"How do you even know any of this?" Aahil asked, surprised at the bitterness in Rehan's voice. "You were left at the orphanage, so how did you find out?"
"I told you, I looked for her. When I was old enough, I went searching," Rehan said morosely. "I wanted to find out everything about her. It was really easy. In fact, my mother's name was infamous in Bhopal. I found out everything." He closed his eyes. Swallowed. "How I wish I hadn't," he revealed in a stifled tone.
"What could be so wrong about finding out the truth?" Aahil asked softly. "You have a sister. A father. You have a family."
"I already had a family, Aahil bhai," Rehan said, emphasizing the words. "I found out about my father. I found out I had a younger sister that I could never call my own. And I found out that my mother was a murderer. And guess who she killed?"
Aahil's heart filled with dread; he knew that he didn't want to hear the next part.
"She killed my sister's mother. That woman was my sister, Aahil bhai, and my mother killed her mother. I never thought that I would see her . . . or ever meet her in my life. What would I tell her? I'm your brother, and the son of the murderer who killed your mother? What are the chances that in all of Bhopal we would move next door to the family who had such a relationship with my sister . . . and such a connection to my mother? That we would move next door to the family that lost the woman who was so much to them at the hands of my mother. Those girls even lost their grandfathers to my mother's murderous hands!"
He got up and strode over to a window, roughly jerking it open so that he could breathe the cool, night air. Aahil soon followed, standing next to him. The two stood there, a bleak silence between them. What could one say to a revelation like that? Rehan had had to deal with his identity as the son of a murderer. And now. . . . he had to deal with losing something before he'd even had the chance to dream.
Rehan closed his eyes, blinking away the tears. She had seemed like the brightest star. And now . . . she was nowhere.
Aahil silently placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it in silent comfort.
"You were right, Aahil bhai," Rehan said, breaking that frozen silence. "We need to stay far, far away from these people."
"Aahil, I don't know if Seher mentioned this," Haya continued, having been introduced to the Nawab and given permission to use his name, "But I'm a schoolteacher for the hearing impaired. I was deaf when I was a child, and an operation got me my hearing back, but some people aren't as lucky."
Rehan stared at her, impressed by the woman his sister had grown up to be.
"You were a great help when you came to LSB's gala," Haya noted nervously, twisting her fingers into knots at his continued silence.
Rehan nodded, unsure of where this could be going.
"We're holding a fundraiser to raise some funds to help increase our tight budget. I was wondering . . ." She stopped, unable to continue. Seher nudged her with an elbow, silently encouraging her.
Rehan understood. He glanced at Aahil, asking for the use of his name with a lift of an eyebrow. Aahil nodded.
"I'd be happy to come to the fundraiser," he murmured gently. "In fact, we'll be donating some funds to the school, as well," he promised, reading Aahil's next signal correctly.
A smile burst across Haya's face, and she crowed in glee, clapping her hands together. "Rahat! Come meet the incredibly generous Mr. Aahil Raza Ibrahim. He's agreed to come to the fundraiser and help our school! See! And you said that he would be too busy!"
Aahil stood back and watched Rehan interact with his sister and brother-in-law. He knew that Rehan had decided to never tell her that truth . . . to never put her in the position of dealing with the problems inherent in such a situation, but he could hope. He hoped that his brother would someday be able to call that woman his sister. Without shame. Without fear.
His eyes moved over to his own sisters, who still sat in the living room area, eating dessert and laughing with the Khan women. He smiled helplessly. He hoped the same for himself.
Rrriiinnggg. Rrriiinnggg. Rrriiinnggg. Rrriiinnggg.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Look, if you weren't going to speak, why did you call?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"I'm going to hang up."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Aahil stared at the phone and ended the call.
D -70 . . . .
"He's here again," Maheen said happily, coming over to stand next to Sanam, as the other woman shelved the last of the books she had been using to write her brief.
"Who's here?" Sanam asked, turning to Maheen in worry. "Do I need to call the police?"
"No! Not an abuser," Maheen quickly said. "Don't be such a worrywart. Our mysterious donor for the shelter," she explained. "He's on the grounds, talking to the children after dropping off the food and blankets. Remember, you said you wanted talk to him?"
Sanam smiled in gratitude and ran towards the doors. Over the past few weeks, a man had come to their main office to make donations. The stranger hadn't made a big deal about it, even though he had clearly spent a lot of money on badly needed items for the multiple shelters that LSB partnered with to serve the community and help their clientele.
Racing out the door, she was soon on the grounds. She saw the stranger kneeling down in front of a group of children. He reached out and patted one skinny shoulder, and then ruffled another child's hair. She saw his skin almost glowing in the sunlight. And she heard his laughter, recognizing that husky note, even though she'd never heard him laugh before. Not like this. She saw the smiles on the children's faces, as he began to hand out candy. She noted the watchful eyes of the parents, knowing that they had already assessed this individual and found him trustworthy.
"Now, share this with your sister," he admonished a little boy, handing him two. "You're her big brother and you'll protect her, right?"
The little boy nodded enthusiastically, looking over to his mother, who held a tiny toddler in her arms.
"Now, go. Look at your sister. She's waving at you and telling you to go to her," he murmured, ruffling the boy's hair with a free hand.
She watched him get up and turn around, and her eyes finally saw what her heart had already guessed. "Rehan."
He nodded his head at her, pulling out his sunglasses and putting them on.
"What are you doing here?" she asked softly. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest. They hadn't seen each other in weeks, but her heart still awakened in his presence. Her skin still burned as his eyes traced her features. Her mind frantically wondered what to say . . . how to act . . . how to impress. His affect on her was ever present.
"Nothing much," he answered, moving towards her.
Her heart fell when he walked past her, continuing on toward the parking lot. She turned to stare at that broad back, encased in unrelieved black. Biting her lip, she wondered whether she should just let him walk away. Besides that one family dinner, she hadn't had any contact with the man. They'd barely spoken any words to each other at that dinner. And when she'd made that phone call that same night . . . having gotten his number by bribing Lateef with a sari, she hadn't even had the courage to say a word.
But . . . he made her heart beat. He made her want. And she wasn't one to give up so easily. "You've been donating for the shelters!" she called out to his retreating back. "Why didn't you say anything?"
He stopped and turned to look at her. "Because I didn't want anyone to know," he pointed out, nudging up his sunglasses with an indolent grace.
"Why would you hide this from the world?" she asked. "This is your third trip in three weeks. The first time you just came and slipped away. If those children hadn't caught you the second time, our staff wouldn't have even known who to thank."
"I don't do this for gratitude," he said, amazed at her words. "Who would do something like this for thanks? Is that why you're working here?"
"No!" Sanam protested vehemently. "But you didn't even tell me that you were doing this," she concluded with difficulty.
"I never meant for you to know," he finally uttered in a remote tone, gazing at her. He began to walk backwards, as if seeking to end their brief conversation.
When she only stared at him in hurt silence, he exhaled roughly and turned around, unable to look into her eyes any longer.
"Can I just ask one question before you leave?" she asked in a choked tone.
He stopped, but did not look back. At least he was listening.
"Why?" she threw at that back.
His shoulders stiffened.
"I thought . . . I hoped." Her words were slipping away from her. She couldn't find a way to express her emotions, but she had to try. She spoke again. "Why?"
He walked away without answering.
Rrriiinnggg. Rrriiinnggg. Rrriiinnggg. Rrriiinnggg
"It was you who called." There was a lazy sort of satisfaction in that tone.
She froze, unable to say anything. "Why did you save my number?" she demanded after a moment's pause. "At that point you couldn't have known."
"I had a feeling," he said finally.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Why are you calling me? I thought you didn't want me knowing things." A strangled note in that voice. A feeling of uncertainty, especially after what had been left unsaid today.
"I don't know," he said uncertainly. "I don't know why I called you."
"Should I hang up?" she asked grimly, hurt by that uncertainty. Why wouldn't he just want to talk to her? Why did it have to be so hard? When there was only silence, she pulled the phone away, ready to end the call.
"Wait!" There was a strangled desperation in that tone.
"What is it?" she asked softly. "What do you need?"
"Nazia and Shazia decided to go back to the hostel," he blurted out.
She raised her eyebrows at those words. "The Nawab's sisters?" she asked, unsure of where this conversation was going.
"Yes," he responded. "He's hurting right now."
"I thought they were practically strangers. They haven't lived together for years," she answered. "What kind of relationship did they even have that their leaving is hurting him that much?"
"He . . . he hoped that they would be able to live as a family. He wanted to spend time with them, to get to know them . . . to love them and have their love in his life." He paused for a moment, and she let him find the words he needed to say. He cared so much for his friend.
"He wanted to help them achieve their dreams . . . to get them settled . . . but they said they felt too uncomfortable in this home. That he was a stranger. They didn't want the bother. And he's hurting," he finished in a choked tone. "He's all alone."
"He has you," she reminded him. "You're with him."
"He doesn't feel he can talk to me," he replied. "I have sibling issues myself, but he probably feels that at least he can call his sisters his own without shame. He can own that relationship and have hope for a better relationship some day. I don't have that. He doesn't want to burden me."
"Do you want me to talk to Seher, maybe have her go over and talk to him?" she asked after a pause."I don't know if it'll help, since he's stopped responding to her, but they were beginning something."
"No! I just . . ."
"What?" she prompted.
"I just need to talk to you," he admitted in a grim voice.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
D - 55 . . . .
"What are you doing here?" a grumpy voice asked from the direction of the kitchen.
Sanam glanced over at Lateef and shook her head. "What's wrong with you?" she asked, walking over to her. "Is something wrong? Look, I come bearing sweets. My Badi Ammi made gulab jamuns and wanted to share with you all. She asked me to bring them over immediately," Sanam said, hiding the fact that her Badi Ammi had actually been asking Kuljeet to do it. God! She was acting like a total juvenile about this. If Seher had been there, would the two of them have fought over this opportunity to sneak over and peek at the men?
After that night and their talk over the phone, she had not spoken to Rehan again. She made a face. Why was it so easy for him to just turn off? Would she ever learn how to be that cool around him?
"Ooh, I love those!" Lateef said, clapping her hands together. But the distraction of sweets was too small to keep her distracted too long. She was back to being cranky, even as she bit into one of the gulab jamuns.
"What's wrong?" Sanam asked again, going into the kitchen. She gasped at seeing the mess in there. "What happened here?! Did you have some sort of accident?"
"No!" Lateef barked at her, moving to pick up the pots and pans that were scattered on the floor. "It's just . . ."
"Lateef, you can trust me," Sanam assured her, helping her to put the dirty dishes in the sink.
"Laad saab has been in the worst mood ever!" Lateef said dramatically. "He hasn't been eating or drinking anything. I swear I can see Aahil baba's bones poking through his skin! Why did he even come back to this country? He was much happier in America."
"The Nawab is that unhappy to be back?" Sanam asked, her heart going out to the man who used to be that little boy. Was he never fated to be happy? He had gone through a horrific childhood, and she had thought he'd escaped his past. At least, that was how it seemed when she looked into his eyes, but now it seemed the past was catching up with him.
"Those two dratted girls!" Lateef continued. "If they hadn't been so adamant on going back to the hostel, he might have been happier. You know, when he called them back home, he was afraid on how they would get along . . . but I think he was hopeful. But they left. And then . . . I don't know why, but he grew even more unhappy," she said with a frown on her face. "And I can't do anything to take his pain away. I can't even get him to eat! And his friend is no help! He's just joined him in his depressed state. What is wrong with these two men!"
Sanam listened to the words, but most of her attention was on the food and preparing it. She wanted to help, in some small way, the boy she hadn't been able to help so many years ago. And she wanted to help that other man, too. She began cooking, her mind intent on feeding them a good breakfast.
Lateef watched open mouthed, and then began to act as her assistant, handing her the proper ingredients in a timely manner. Pretty soon, she was even suggesting dishes for Sanam to make. At the end of the cooking marathon, the table in the kitchen was set with grilled cheese sandwiches, a Spanish omelet, fruit and toast. And to top it off, she had made apple pie.
"By the way, who eats apple pie for breakfast?" Sanam asked, staring down at the dishes.
"He loves it!" Lateef protested. "But you tell me, are you a lawyer or a chef? How could you have cooked everything in such a small amount of time?"
Sanam laughed softly. "I love to cook. Cooking is my passion, but being a lawyer was a calling. I couldn't turn away from it." She was silent for a moment, her mind reliving those memories once more. But for a single, brief meeting, she would never have gone down this path.
Did she regret it? Not for a single moment.
The two froze when they heard approaching footsteps. Without volition, Sanam found herself moving back and towards the doors leading out to the kitchen garden. "I'm going to be just leaving," she murmured. She slipped through the doors, planning on going around the back and to her home, but something held her rooted into place and peeking through those glass doors.
"I don't want us working with this company," Rehan ordered someone, striding into the room. He turned to look back through the entry. "They put profits first, not employee satisfaction . . . not the long-term future of the company . . . or giving back to the community." He paused for a moment to listen to a response. "We can't work with someone like this. Ibrahim Corporation has enough power and reputation that we can afford to make decisions like these."
She felt sorry for the hapless minion on the other end of that lecture. Sanam's eyes widened when she realized the Nawab was following him and quietly nodding his head in agreement.
"Did you look at the business plan?" he continued.
The other man nodded silently. "What about this contract?" the Nawab asked, changing the subject.
"I read it over last night. The terms are fair, but I want to put something in there on employee support. There will be a lot of changes. Anything else?"
"That foundation you wanted t--"
"Enough of this business talk. Breakfast is ready!" Lateef called out.
"Lateef, just give me some coffee!" Rehan barked at her.
"But look! Please, just sit at the table," Lateef urged, moving forward to push Rehan to the table. "You need to eat. And we have some great dishes today!"
Lateef had been right about the both of them. Rehan was also looking thinner, his features sharper. Something had caused an unhappy look to mar that manly beauty. What could it be? Her fingers curled into fists. "Eat!" she ordered in a whisper.
He reluctantly sat down, gesturing for Aahil to sit, as well.
Lateef pushed the dishes in front of him, urging him to eat the food. "It's good! Look, I got someone else to cook it since you weren't enjoying my cooking. I'm sure you'll like it," she said slyly.
Rehan stared at the omelet and the sandwiches. Allowing Lateef to spoon some of it over, he put an unenthusiastic bite into his mouth. There was a pause. He closed his eyes slowly, and seemed to be really tasting the food. What if he didn't like it? But then he took another bite. And then another.
She smiled helplessly to see him clearly enjoying the food. The most important thing of all? He was eating.
And watching him, the Nawab began to eat, as well. The two began to converse once more. The food clearly giving them the energy needed to get overzealous about their projects. Soon, Rehan began to make other orders, and Aahil happily complied with the note taking, being sure to take some hearty bites of food in between.
She turned to go, but she stopped once more. Turning back, she saw Rehan grab the apple pie and place it in front of him. Wrinkling her brow, she turned to gaze at the Nawab but he said nothing. Turning back to Rehan, she saw him take a big bite directly from the serving dish itself. He groaned, closing his eyes, as he savored that bite of pie.
She flushed at how sexy he looked. Biting her lip, she began to walk away, promising herself that she would be back to make some more food. If she could help in this small way . . . she would.
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