The buzzing of my phone was what brought me awake.
Ugh…..who would call so early in the morning. I am not the president or something.
“Hello.” I said sleepily.
“Hey Sissy. Thanks for the money.”
Annie. I gritted my teeth thinking about yesterday.
“That’s good.” I snapped.
I heard some shuffling in the background.
“What happened, Anika?” Her voice sounded concerned. Almost like the sister I knew.
I felt a lump in my throat. “Ri, he tried to force himself on me.”
There was silence at the other end. And then the call got cut.
Had I gotten through to Aarya? My little sister hiding under the facade of Annie.
Then my phone buzzed. It was a message.
(Hope you enjoy it next time.)
My heart deflated. I had not even managed to get in kink onto her armour.
When The first thing I saw when I came down with Shivani was a cheque on the table with a letter.
I am so sorry for last night. I should not have broken my word…..
The letter went on but I lit it. Shivani looked at me shocked.
“For someone who sleeps with men for a living, you did take my brother’s actions rather harshly.” A voice came from the door.
I turned around to see Om near the door. He had a mocking smile.
“How was it last night? Hmmmm…..What an achievement…..2 brothers…..wow….”
I felt like leaping over and killing him.
“Well, one was a man who I seduced and the other is the man who I married. You are neither.” I hissed in my best Annie tone. I turned away from him and started walking out of the room.
He held my hand. “When were you going to tell him that he got the wrong girl?” He asked in a whisper.
A chill ran through my spine. I turned to look at him. He had the most gentlest eyes but the cruelest expression. He guided me to the table.
“I saw the painting.” I looked up at him. He had bought it?
He looked up at me and glared. “Yes Anika….I was the one that bought the painting by Ani R. called the Twins.”
He got up and brought Shivani’s milk bottle from the table. He gave it to her.
“It arrived today morning. Guess my shock when I saw my Bhabhi and someone with the sweetest smile. I did some digging. Guess what my sister-in-law has a twin. A twin, who has a small girl. That was when I realised that the woman who is called Anika Raichand, who was married to my brother was not the mother of my niece. What did you get by doing that? Money?”
I slowly shook my head. “Shivi.” I said in a whisper.
Om thumped his hand on the table. Shivani looked bewildered. “Asha, please take Shivani to her room.” Asha came from another room and took my baby away.
“Om please don’t do this. Don’t take Shivi away.” Om smirked. “Shivani or do you mean your money bank?”
I felt rage rush through my body.
I threw a glass onto the floor.
“Do you really think that for money I would marry a man who hates me? Do you think that I am that desperate that I would dash all my dreams of a prince charming? No! I did it because my sister, Aarya Raichand ran away leaving me with her child.”
I dropped to the ground and started crying. I felt a pair of arms slowly help me up to a chair. “Why didn’t you tell Shivaay?”
I let out a sigh. “I was afraid he would take her away from me.” I whispered.
Om sat down opposite me. “Anika….I am sure he would have allowed you to be around her.” I could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
“Really? A woman who is the sister of an escort. Do you think so?”
Om gave a grimace. “You could have fought for the rights.” He suggested half-heartedly.
I gave him “Oh really!” look. “Are you mocking me? Do you think a mere nobody would be able to fight against the Shivaay Singh Oberoi?”
He looked at me pityingly. “Anika…..I am so sorry.”
I shook my head. “I understand Om. If someone did what my sister did to your brother, I would have hated her but she is my sister.”
He squeezed my hand.
Suddenly, Asha walked into the room. “Om beta, the taxi has arrived.”
She left soon after.
“In case, you need to talk to someone, call me. Take care……Bhabhi.” He finally added.
My heart trilled. “Take care Om.”
Om stopped near the door. “You know Ani R., the offer to be my apprentice still stands.” He smiled before he left for the door.
I was shocked. Om was Mr. Omkara…….He was the one who had offered me the place.
I stood in front of the window, watching the taxi take my new ally away from me.
“Ma’am, do you need something for Shivani?” Mina asked as she cleaned the broken glass. Asha had brought her back to the kitchen.
“Naheen, Aap Rehne deejiye. I will see to it.” After the words left my mouth, did I realise my blunder.
Mina was staring at me. Her mouth opening and closing like a goldfish.
I gave her a cold look. “I should have told you earlier. I speak and understand Hindi.”
“Mr. Oberoi did not tell me.” Mina said, her eyes narrowing slightly.
“Mr. Oberoi doesn’t know.”
The housekeeper’s dark eyebrows shot upwards. “You have not told him?”
I have not told him a lot of things. “There’s a lot I haven’t told him.” I turned to look at Shivani, who was sucking noisily on her fist. “So very much I haven’t told him.”
I looked back to see Mina seizing me down.
“Mr. Oberoi told me to tell you that he has some business to see to. He will be home in time for us all to leave for the airport together.”
I gave the woman a faltering smile.” Thanks Mina.” I could feel my confidence drain.
“He will be a good husband.” Mina said after another little pause. “You must give him time. He is afraid of losing his brother; he is not himself at all.’
I smiled at the irony of the housekeeper’s statement. Shivaay wasn’t the only one who wasn’t himself! At least he knew that he was Shivaay. I had even lost myself.
“Shivani is such a beautiful baby.” Mina said, gazing down at my baby girl. “She has brought joy to Mr. Oberoi’s life.’
Unlike her fake mother, I couldn’t help thinking as I reached to hold my baby girl’s chubby fingers.
“She’s my world, aren’t you, Shivi?” Shivani giggled as she gnawed my fingers that held hers.
“You are a wonderful mother.” Mina said. “No one could doubt it for a moment.”
I looked around in surprise. The housekeepers had been nothing but hostile towards me for days. What had happened to bring about this sudden change?
She was watching me intently.
“There was a phone call for you while you were in the shower.” Mina said into the sudden silence.
I stilled. Who had called? Was it her.
“Oh?” I was cautious. I had to be ready to make an excuse.
“I did not want the sound of your mobile phone waking Shivani so I answered it.” The housekeeper paused for a single heartbeat and added, “I hope you do not mind.”
“No.” I swallowed. “No, of course I don’t mind.” I forced my voice to remain calm. “Who…who was it?”
She kept silent and I felt like strangling her. “For a moment I thought it was you. It was uncanny, really. Her voice sounded so similar.”
“Did…she leave a message?” I stuttered. “She said she would call back some other time.”
“Why Thank you, Mina.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
There was another small pause.
“Mr. Oberoi has instructed me to help you pack for your trip.”
“It’s all right, Mina. I can manage. I haven’t got much to pack anyway.” I smiled.
The housekeeper gave me a look which I could not decipher. “If I can help you with anything, Madam, you have only to ask. It will be my pleasure, I assure you.”
“Should the need arise, I will call you. Thank you, Mina.”
I waited until the housekeeper had left the room before I released my breath. I sighed as I looked down at my baby. “I am drowning fast, Shivi.”
Shivani gave me a toothless grin and stuck her fist back in her mouth.
I had avoided her in the morning and now it was clear that she wanted to do the same. She spoke to Mina politely and coddled Shivani but she had not uttered a word to me. Even when her gaze landed on me, she was quick to avert it.
Om had yelled at me on the way to the airport as he left for London. He had said that I had been close to breaking the bro code by almost sleeping with her. He was right. I had to keep away from her.
Mina and Shivani were at the back. I slanted my gaze her way as we drove to the airport. She was crammed in the corner of her seat and her hands were fidgeting restlessly in her lap and her bottom lip being nibbled by her teeth as she stared anxiously, almost fixedly, in front of her.
What had I done? I felt like killing myself. She had not wanted to spend a night with me and I almost forced myself on her.
I was a fool to believe that I would be able to resist Anika. She was a real angel. Even though Rudra had walked away from her, I knew I was not going to find doing so as easy. In spite of everything he told me about her, I was falling hard. My every thought was controlled by her whether it was during the day or during the night in my dreams,.
After Mallika’s death, 3 years ago, I had avoided any emotional entanglement. Falling for someone meant a lifetime of commitments. The emotional heart break was something I am not ready for again. It made me uneasy that the power balance had subtly shifted, leaving me open to the sort of hurt I had sworn I would never expose myself to again.
Why couldn’t I hate her? She had hurt my baby brother. But Rudra seemed to have described someone else entirely. If she was truly the sort of woman he had described why was she avoiding my eyes all the time? He had said that she was in Rudra’s words, a hot-wired witch who would do anything for his money or his attention. But after last night I was not sure. It didn’t make sense. She’d supposedly had numerous affairs since the birth of Shivani; the papers had been full of her exploits. But whenever I touched her, she just freezes. Unless someone had got their wires very crossed, the Anika Raichand I was married to was nothing like the woman who had pursued and subsequently destroyed his brother. I mean people do change for worse or better. But the sort of change she had gone through was impossible to explain.
“I am assuming from your tense expression that you are not looking forward to the flight.” I said finally when we parked at the airport.
She unlocked her hands and, started searching in the bag at her feet. Then she withdrew a paper and passed it to me. Her eyes were ablaze.
I slowly opened the paper. It was the cheque I had given her that morning. Why was she giving it back?
I met her resentful gaze. “I apologise for what happened last night. This trip will become even more unpleasant than it needs to be if you do not accept my remorse.”
I knew it was going to be a tough trip for her especially after meeting Tia, Soumya and worst of all mom.
“It’s not your remorse I won’t accept.” she bit out. “It’s your money.”
“I’m sorry okay… I don’t know what got into me.”
She looked up, her eyes full of tears and ripped the cheque into pieces. She threw it into the nearest dustbin. Then she went to help Mina with the luggage.
Seeing her in tears made me want to slap myself. I wanted to fall at her feet and apologise.
At that moment, a group of reporters rushed towards me.
“Sir, are the rumours about your wedding true?” A reporter asked.
Aww great….they had to come here. The wedding had been kept very low profile with only the office staff knowing till I broke the news to my family.
I slowly glanced towards Mina, who gave me a quick nod and led Anika and Shivani to the entrance.
My heart ached even after tearing the cheque into shreds. I followed Mina as she took us through a side entrance.
“Madam, Mr. Oberoi will meet us near the plane.” I nodded.
A short time later our luggage was checked in and documentation dealt with efficiently. I had purposely forgotten Shivani’s birth certificate and luckily no one asked. I mean I was after all Anika Shivaay Singh Oberoi, who was travelling with the Oberoi heir.
Shivaay’s private jet was nothing like the aircraft I had travelled on previously. As I settled into the luxurious seat, Mina was holding Shivani. Suddenly Shivaay walked into the plane. He settled into the seat next to me.
As the jet taxied along the runway I sat with my fingers curled into my palms, my stomach churning in fear. I squeezed my eyes shut, panic making my skin break out in tiny beads of perspiration.
I felt Shivaay’s hand slowly hold on to mine. The warmth of his hand over mine was incredibly soothing. I gave him a sheepish look and then looked down at our joined hands.
“I know it is silly, but I just can’t help it.” I said, looking panicked.
“It is not silly.” he said, giving my fingers a tiny squeeze. “Close your eyes and try to sleep. Before you know it we will be there.”
His kind words acting like a calming salve. I felt my body slowly release itself. My eyes were closed but it was difficult to sleep. I could not ignore the fact that Shivaay was sitting so close to me especially after last night. I could smell his aftershave, and every time he moved in his seat I felt the gentle brush of his arm against mine.
During the flight, I She him watching me once or twice. The thoughtful look in his eyes was very unsettling. Did he already suspect I wasn’t my sister? After last night his suspicion must have grown. I’d seen the same suspicion in Mina’s eyes this morning, the way she had looked at me as if seeing me for the first time. I sighed at least Om knew. Maybe if Shivaay were to ever find out and throw me out, I could meet Shivani by being Om’s apprentice.
When we finally arrived at the airport in Delhi, we were met by Jeevan, driver. He greeted Shivaay reverently while he just ignored me. As we drove, I could pick up bits of the exchange between the driver and Shivaay. Mina was sleeping if not I knew she would have alerted Shivaay.
“Did Rudra reach, Jeevan?” His voice was dripping with concern.
“No Saheb. The Medical Chopper started a bit late from the hospital.” Jeevan replied. “It should reach in another hour or so. The ambulance is already at the airport.” Shivaay nodded.
“Is everyone at home?”
Jeeven nodded. “Yes Saheb. But only Tia Bhabhi and Badima know that you are coming. Bhabhi wanted to come to pick you up.”
I felt my heart clench. Bhabhi…..why did it burn so much? I was just his wife in name. I had stolen the title from a poor girl who was now waiting at the house for a man who was already married.
As we drove into the Oberoi Mansion, I felt my heartbeat quicken. The mansion looked like a ancient palace. My eyes bulged despite my fear of what was awaiting inside.
The car stopped on the side and Mina opened the door when I moved to get down, Shivaay cleared his throat.
“That is the maid’s entrance.”
Oh! I sat back down. We drove further down to the front.
I could see some people standing near the entrance. Here goes Anika. I was going to see my husband’s actual fiancée and family.
Shivaay stepped out of the car. I felt like my legs were glued to the floor.
Anika hide, Become Annie.
As soon as I stepped out of the car, Tia came running down and hugged me. I could see Soumya standing near the door.
“Baby, how is Rudra?” Was her first question after she detached herself. I glanced towards the car, Anika did not look too well. She was making no moves to get down.
“He is improving according to the doctors.” I replied. She had still not moved.
I walked to the back and opened the door. Anika looked at me with her eyes wide.
I held out my hand. Tia looked stunned and was looking at the back of the car. Anika slowly slid out with Shivani in her hand.
When she stepped out. I could hear a lot of murmuring and gasps. I mean why not, everyone had seen her with Rudra.
Soumya came running down.
“Bade Bhaiya…….what is she doing here?” She sneered.
I was a bit taken aback. I had never seen Saumya in such a way. She had always been the bubbly girl next door.
“It must hurt when you see your fiancé’s child in my hands.” Anika replied snidely. Her expression had changed from the terrified one I had glimpsed in the car.
Soumya face contorted in rage. Tia held her back.
“Shivaay, why did you bring her here? Badima said to bring the child.”
I saw Anika hold Shivani closer to herself.
“Tia, I am sorry but we need to talk.”
Tia’s face grew dark. “We can talk later Shivaay. First, she has to leave.”
Somehow her words irritated me.
“She is my wife. This is her house as much as it is mine.”
Tia, Soumya and Anika looked at me with wide eyes. “Wife?” Tia and Soumya squeaked.
I could see Tia’s face fall. She ran into the house. Soumya looked back at us.
“See what you have done. You have destroyed everything.” Soumya growled at Anika and followed Tia.
Anika held Shivani close. As she adjusted her shawl, I noticed a slight tremor in her hands.
She was nervous.
She nodded but looked in the direction of the car. “Don’t worry the staff will bring in the luggage.”
She followed close behind me. Suddenly, I saw a hand blocking me.
“Shivaay, what is this? Why is Tia crying like this? And what is she doing here?”
I could feel Anika take a step to hide behind me. Where was the catty girl that had snapped at Tia and Saumya.
“Mom, She is Rudra’s child’s mother.”
“Kalmuhi, what are you doing here? Oh my mata! We will have to do shudhikaran of this house. A illegitimate child and a mistress.”
I could feel at the back of my neck Anika stiffen.
“Aunty, I did not want to come. Your son, Shivaay Singh Oberoi only forced me to come. I was happy staying away.”
Mom snarled. “Don’t take my son’s name with your dirty mouth.” Her hand was lifted to slap her.
I was about to hold her hand when I saw that Anika had already blocked it.
“Oh mother-in-law, I can take your son’s name when I want. He is after all my husband. Shivaay, Shivani is tired after the travel. I need to go to our room.”
Mom gasped. “Shivaay…..you married HER?” Her eyes were wide.
Mina came running to the hall.
“Mina, please take Anika to my room.” I ordered. The young maid nodded and guided Anika to my level in the house.
Mom was still standing there. “Shivaay, I asked you something.” Her eyes questioning.
I nodded. “Yes, I married her to get Shivani.”
Mom shook her head. “Shivani? That kid? You sacrificed my Tia’s love for some seductress?” She shouted.
Suddenly my phone rang. It was the pilot indicating that the Medical chopper had reached.
“Ma, not now. They are bringing Rudra home. We will discuss it in the evening.” I said as I rushed to the door. I knew my mom was going to rag Anika but I had to leave.
I was shown to Shivaay’s room. I put Shivani on the bed and lay down next to her. She climbed onto my stomach and went to sleep immediately.
“My little angel, what is going to happen to your maasi here?” I whispered to her stroking her hair. After sometime, I slowly placed her on the bed when I heard some commotion from outside.
I slowly opened the door and walked to the corridor.
Tia and Soumya were standing next to a elder man. Shivaay’s mother was standing across the room.
“Rohan, this is just a minor issue. I promise we will solve it.” She said.
“What do you mean, Pinky? Solve it? Your son, who was supposed to marry my Tia is married to the woman who stole my Saumya’s man. Do I have to remind you that he is your nephew?”
Shivaay’s mom’s face was turning red. “That Kalmuhi destroyed both my son and nephew’s life and my two darling bahus. I will throw her out tonight if not I am not Pinky Oberoi.”
I slowly walked down the stairs like I had seen Annie do several times before. “Mom-in-law, I am the daughter-in-law of this house and my child is the heir. Your son married me. So i do not think there is anything you can do.
Then he looked up at me, my heart stopped. I paled. My hands started trembling. What was he doing here?
He left Tia and Saumya’s hand and strode up to me. He held me by my arms.
“How dare you destroy my children’s life?” He was shaking me and his eyes ablaze with anger.
I am also your child. I felt like screaming at him. The man my mother had waited for till the day she died was standing in front of me fighting for his daughters. He had married her and then kept a mistress.
I felt anger surge through me but somehow I could not say anything. I just stared at him. I felt a wave of dizziness. My legs buckled.
Suddenly, I felt a pair of strong arms tear me out of his hold.
“Mr. Kapoor, I would appreciate if you keep your hands off my wife.”
I heard gasps and hisses but I could not see who it was.
“Shivaay, have you forgotten my child, the woman you were engaged to until you married this wh***.”
Shivaay stiffened. “Mr. Kapoor, we will discuss this later.”
“Shivaay?” I croaked. I could feel my vision darken.
He held me close. “Are you okay?” He whispered.
I shook my head. “I need to….”
His eyes widened. He took me to a room nearby and showed me the washroom. I ran in and felt all my lunch in my stomach being forced out. I felt tears come out of my eyes.
“Anika?” Shivaay called from the door.
I kept silent. I heard the door open and could feel him pat my back.
“It is okay, Anika. Why are you crying? You are okay now.” I felt his words calm me down.
He guided me out of the bathroom and up the stairs to our room. I could hear angry murmurs and crying.
“Is Rudra here?” I whispered.
I felt his hold on me tighten. “Anika, I get that you are his child’s mother but beyond that you have no connection with him.” He growled. “Stay away from his room.”
That was when I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be Annie. I had for a few seconds become Anika, a sister-in-law just enquiring about her brother-in-law.
“I just asked. I really do not care anymore.”
Shivaay pushed me into the room. “I should have just taken Shivani away from you when I first saw you.” He hissed.
I spun around. “Don’t you dare take her away.” I scowled.
Then there was a knock at the door. Shivaay opened the door.
“Shivaay Bhaiya, Mom is waiting for you in her room.” A girl came and informed us. She was peeking into the room.
Shivaay nodded. “We are coming Prinku.”
“Bhaiya, can I meet the new Bhabhi and Baby?”
Shivaay nodded and she bounced in.
She gave me a wide smile.
“Hi Bhabhi, I am Priyanka. Shivaay Bhaiya’s favourite.”
Shivaay smirked. “Prinku!” He warned.
Priyanka gave a cheeky smile. “Now where is my niece?”
Shivani was sitting on the bed playing with her giraffe stuff toy.
Priyanka walked to her side. “Hi Baby, I am your Bua.” She slowly touched Shivani.
Shivani looked up at her. She had a wide smile. “Pua.” She screamed.
Priyanka’s face brightened in joy. “Bhaiya!” She squealed.
Then she walked to Shivaay. “Bhaiya! Can she stay in my room tonight?”
Shivaay glanced at me. I nodded.
“Sure Prinku. Now we should go meet Badima.”
Priyanka nodded and left the room grumbling something about some party.
Shivaay led the way to the room, our footsteps echoing on the marble floors. Shivani was playing with my hair. Yet another member of staff was waiting outside the door of the room and opened it as we approached.
I stepped into the room two steps behind Shivaay, my eyes going immediately to the figure lying down on the bed with her head resting on the headboard.
“Badima!” Shivaay bent over and hugged her. “It is good to see you.
His Badima’s hands gripped the blanket as Shivaay pushed me forward. “Anika and your grandchild, Shivani.
I slightly bowed to show respect but she ignored me and her gaze was on Shivani. Her eyes had a thin sheen of moisture. She slowly reached out for her.
Shivani giggled and leaned out from my arms, her tiny arms reaching out for her frail ones.
I had to fight back my own tears at the sight. I slowly lowered Shivani into Jhanvi’s arms and stepped aside. I felt tears prick the corner of my eyes. I felt Shivaay’s penetrating gaze and looked away. I needed to hide my tears. Annie would never cry.
“Ek dum, Rudra per gayi hai.” Shivaay’s Badima choked. Her voice seemed clogged with emotion. I wished I could ask for forgiveness for everything. But I could not. I was not the one at fault.
I looked at Shivaay. He looked overwhelmed with emotions.
“For once you have done the right thing, Shivaay.” his badima went on in Hindi. “I know it is not what you want, to be tied to such a woman, but it will soon be over. I have already sought legal counsel. When the time comes you will have no trouble taking the child off her.”
I had to fight hard not to reveal that I could understand what they are saying. I pretended to have immense interest in the portraits, but I could feel my blood boil.
Author’s Note: A really long chapter so that I can continue writing the next chapter