I gently placed my baby girl into the cradle.
“Coming.” I shouted when I heard another knock. Couldn’t she just use the key? Why was she so insistent to wake Shivani up?
I walked to the door and opened the door with a scowl etched on my face. Probably Raj ditched her.
“Did that….” I noticed that I was staring at a pair of sunglasses.
I slowly nodded. “Yes?”
He slowly removed his sunglasses and the most beautiful pair of eyes rested on me. He looked so much more commanding and imposing in real than in the magazines or newspapers. His eyes held no trace of friendliness. His perfectly tailored business suit and his strong lean body held a vibe that made my knees tremble.
“I am assuming you know who I am.” His voice was deep and had a hard edge to it.
I nodded. Where had I lost my tongue. The one that jabbered to all our neighbours.
I understand you have my brother’s child,’ he said into the stiff silence.
“I….yes that would be right.’ A vision of Shivani’s dark bruises flashed into my mind.
Oh no. I have to keep him away from her. He would think I did it.
“I would like to see her.” He said gruffly.
“I’m afraid she’s sleeping just now, so…” I left the sentence open ended. I crossed my fingers praying he would take the hint.
But like all men, He didn’t.
He held my gaze for a lengthy moment and just when I began to close the door he put his foot out to block it.
“Perhaps you did not hear me, Miss Raichand.” His tone hardened. “I am here to see my brother’s child and I will not be leaving until I do so.”
His words were so sharp that I knew he would not leave till he saw her.
“Don’t wake her, she just went to sleep.” I prayed that she would reman asleep.
He gave me a sweeping up and down look and when his eyes met hers they were full of contempt. “Rudra told me all about you.”
How can Rudra tell him about me? I had never met him. Annie never brought him home. Their affair had been very brief. She had tried to trap him as soon as the pregnancy test showed positive but when he had refused. She decided to try again when the Baby was born.
I saw him glance at me again. I pulled against the hem of my dress. It was a blue summer dress. Annie had gifted it to me on my birthday when she first started working. It was one of my favourite dresses as then I had no idea what sort of a life she led.
“He told me you were trouble, but little did I realize how much” he continued when she didn’t respond.
Oh my…..he thought I was….
I stared at him for a moment, wondering whether I should correct him of his error. But he was just here to see Shivani, he would leave soon and he would be a the end. After all, what harm could it do? All I needed to do was pretend to be Annie for a few minutes.
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t done this type of thing before. We had done the Twin switcheroo so many times. I had protected my baby sister so many times. Whether it was punishments from their mother, or whether it was at one of the foster homes. Surely if Mama had not been able to find out, a few minutes with Shivaay would be easy.
“Your brother’s comment is ironic considering his own behaviour.” I put in snidely. This was exactly how Annie would talk. As long as I did not slip up in these few minutes, Shivaay would be out and Shivani would be mine.
A menacing glare came into his dark-as-night eyes. “You dare to malign my brother?”
She lifted her chin. “He was a cheat. While he was with me, he was committed elsewhere.’
“He was promised to Soumya when they were kids.” he said bitterly. “It was made official after your little stint with him. My brother knows better than to cheat on women. You set your sights on him, no doubt lured by the prospect of his money. Did you really think he would stoop so low as to tie himself permanently to an unprincipled opportunistic little tramp who has slept her way around most of New York? Ever since he has been engaged to Soumya. He has been devoted to her.”
I felt anger rage through me. I knew Annie did not have the best character but life had made her like that. But the way, Shivaay had phrased it made it sound as if she had done some black magic.
“How absolutely typical, a man always takes the side of another! Just last week, the media saw him step out of the terribly promising area.” I spat back, shoving a newspaper into his hands. “Why is it men like your brother can sleep around but women must not? Get in the real world, Mr. Oberoi. Women have rights too regarding their body and minds.” I saw his face change a little seeing the article.
His eyes hardened again. “While we are speaking of rights, the little matter of Rudra’s child needs to be addressed. As much as I lament the fact that the child belong to our family, the fact remains that she is entitled to see her paternal relatives.”
Oh no, he wanted Shivani.
“Surely as the mother that decision is up to me?”
“No, I am afraid not, Miss. Raichand.” His voice lowered threateningly. “Perhaps you do not realise who you are dealing with here. The Oberois will not stand back and watch a low-life raise a blood relative. Unless you do as I say I will do everything in my power to remove her from you so you cannot taint her with your lack of morality.”
My eyes widened. Everyone knew of the power that the Oberois held. It was undisputed. If they wanted something, they would get it. I cursed Annie. If only, she hadn’t messaged him. With the best legal defence and with her inability to prove Annie’s morality which had been tarnished with visible proof, I knew it wouldn’t be long before Shivaay Singh Oberoi did exactly as he had promised.
I tried to calm my beating heart. I would not be terrified. If he found out that I was not her real mother, he would take her away right now and I would be left empty handed.
Anika, channel Annie if you want to keep Shivi in your life.
Garnering what courage I could, I stood rigidly before him. I stared at him straight in the eye hoping that it looked challenging enough.
“I might appear to be a woman of few morals, but let me assure you I love that child and will not stand back while some overrated playboy’s brother sweeps her away. She’s a baby and babies need their mothers.” I retorted.
I watched her rigid form. Her tightened mouth and eyes that flashed venom. I realised why Rudra had fallen for her. She had an amazing body considering she had just given birth to a child. Her air of innocence, however, he knew was just fake. How could a woman who tried to sell her daughter just days back suddenly want her. Was she trying to sell her to someone else? A woman like her did not have maternal instincts. She had already done what gold-diggers like her did. The oldest trick in the book. “Pregnancy.”
“Under normal circumstances I would agree with you.” I said in an even tone although I could see red. “Having had the benefit of a wonderful mother and aunt, I would be the last person to suggest a child should be raised by anyone else. However, your track record does not inspire confidence in me that you will be able to support and nurture my baby brother’s child. After all, you sent me a message just 5 days back stating your intentions to have the child adopted?” I said as I thought back to my darling mother back at home. Her ‘Oh my mata’ chiming in my head and my cool-headed aunt, who always supported our every move.
“I…It was a momentary thing. I was upset and not thinking straight.” she said quickly. “I have no intention of giving her up. Shivani is mine and no one, and I mean no one is going to remove her from my custody.” She jutted her lips out in defiance, an act that I had seen Prinku do whenever we asked her for something, she was not going to give.
I pushed her against the wall. Her hands trapped under mine. I saw fear rise in her eyes.
Perfect just perfect.
“What if you have more moments like that?” I questioned. She tried to wrench her hands out of mine. I could see her breathing hard, which was kind of strange considering that she was always around men for money.
Oh money. How could I forget?
“How thoughtless of me.” I said as I released her hands. She slumped down. I removed my wallet. “I should have known you would want to twist the screws a bit. How much?”
She looked at me blankly. Her eyes did not seem to register what I said. Guess she was as dim-witted as Rudra said. I had always thought girls like her would be kind of shrewd.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” she said. She sounded rather raspy.
Hmph…..keep up the act Annie.
I smiled sarcastically. “Come on Annie. I am a rich man. I think I can afford to buy your child. Name your price.”
I smiled seeing the gears spin in her head. Stupid Rudra, he was a real dumbbell. The girl in front of me was not dim-witted. She was cunning. I waited for her to name her price. I wanted the baby. I watched her, waiting for her to cave. I knew she would. Girls like her always did.
“My real name is Anika and I don’t want your stupid money.”
My eyebrows rose. What was she doing? “I thought your name is Annie. Rudra told me or were you lying to him?”
Her expression seemed to change into something more sassier and nastier. The expression that looked nothing like the doe-like look she had before. So this was the real Anika or Annie or whatever.
“Anika is my real name and Annie is just what I use for work.” She inspected her hands before raising her eyes back. “How did you know where to find me?”
“There is only one Miss. Raichand listed in this area.” I replied.
She nodded. I could see thoughts flash through her eyes. But what I could not decipher.
She allowed one almost inaudible breath to escape the tight frame of her lips.
“Well, then…Ms. Anika.” He drew her name out suggestively. “If you are not after money, what do you want?”
“Nothing. Just my daughter.”
A cynical smile came to my face. “It has been my experience that women like you are always after money even when they insist to the contrary.” After all I would know. I had spent 3 years fending of such girls from Rudra’s life.
“Your experience must be terribly limited, for I can assure you I have no need of your money.” Hmph….limited…..Ms. Raichand, I have been picking up my brother’s dirty laundry for quite some time.
“Not mine, perhaps, but you must be aware that my brother has a considerable estate. You have given birth to his child, which means she has a legal right to claim some, if not all, of that estate when she comes of age.” After all, even illegitimate children have a right.
She swallowed. I could see her body tense. Guess that was her idea.
“I’m not interested in your brother’s estate.”
“You expect me to believe that? Behind those eyes of yours I can see the dollar signs already glowing.” I looked around the before coming back to glare down at her. “Look at this place! It reeks of poverty and neglect. Do you think I will allow my niece to live in such a dump?”
She straightened visibly in my gaze. “It’s all I can afford at present, Mr. Oberoi. Not everyone is lucky to be born blue-blood.”
“At present is right. No doubt you have already got some other poor unsuspecting man in your sights for your next free ride.” I gave a disgusted laugh. “You must be offering something pretty special. No wonder they are ready to take you knowing you have another man’s baby.”
I saw her bristle. I knew she was going to fight back. I waited for her to bite.
“Are you offering to take up where your brother left off?” she asked in a tone dripping with sultry provocation. She looked up at him with hatred.
What? I had seen cheap women, who bounced from one man to another but this was even worse.
“I can see where you are going with this.” I replied nastily. My dear baby brother was struggling in a hospital room while here she was moving to a new man.
“On the contrary, I want nothing other than for you to leave my home immediately. You’re not the least bit interested in my n…er…daughter. If you don’t leave then I will have no other choice than to call the police and have you thrown out.” She glared at me as though she would just reach and take my heart out.
I glared at her while she glared back at me. Finally, she lowered her eyes.
“Please leave, Mr. Oberoi. I have nothing else to say to you. I want you to stay away from me.”
“I want to see my niece. I want to see my brother’s child.” She looked back up at me.
Her lips were pressed together as she debated on how much to charge me. Then she sighed.
He had thin sheen of tears clogged in his eyes.
This was the first time, Anika had seen such a grown man in tears.
She hadn’t expected him to have such depth of human feeling and it shamed her to realise how seriously she’d misjudged him. After all, Shivaay Singh Oberoi may be a great business man but the world knew what an amazing brother he was. Even with all Annie’s distressing faults, I would have been devastated if he got a phone call regarding her.
“I’m sorry.” I said.
His mouth twisted. “Are you?” Came his spiteful answer.
I could not answer. How could I, when I knew the woman who he thought I was, wanted his brother dead.
I moved to the cradle where my darling baby slept. She had a small smile like she knew her uncle was around.
I felt someone peek over my shoulder. He was looking at his brother’s child for the first time. His arms brushed mine as he moved closer to the cradle.
“Can I hold her?” He whispered. It was so soft that if I was not this close, I would not have heard.
My heart clenched as questions zipped through me. What if he made her cry or even worse, dropped her?
“Um…I don’t think that is”
“Please.” His raw tone made me glance back at him. He looked broken. I was surprised that I had not seen it as he walked in.
I had no choice. How could I deny an Uncle the right to carry his niece especially when he nor I have any idea whether this princess would ever be carried by her father. I carefully lifted Shivani from amongst the covers, cradling her gently before turning and handing her to him.
I watched as a thousand emotions flashed over his face as he brought the tiny bundle close to his broad chest, his gaze thoughtful as he looked down at the tiny bundle in his arms.
“She is…beautiful.” His tone was distinctly husky.
I felt my throat choke. “Yes, she is.”
His eyes met mine. “What is her name?”
Would he hate the name I selected. “Shivani.”
“Shivani” he repeated as if tasting it. “It’s nice.”
He seemed rather adept at holding Shivani. She fit perfectly in his arms.
It was like time had stilled. The two of them looked ready to be painted on a canvas. I would have to paint this as soon as I got to the school.
“I think she looks like Rudra, Don’t you?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to drag them back in.
Shivaay swung his gaze to where I was standing, his hard expression instantly clouding. She thought he was going to agree with her but instead he turned back to the child in his arms and asked, looking down at her. “Did he ever see her?”
“No.” I replied curtly. I hated him for not at least coming to see his child. After all, it was not the child’s fault that he was not careful. Sometimes, I felt that that was the reason why Annie never bonded. Through out the pregnancy, Annie had hopes that Rudra would fall in love with his baby and thus, securing my sister a chance to be his wife. When he had denied, Annie had given up hope and moved on to the next man.
“No. He did not. I expect he thought that fiancé of his would leave him.” I said, my tone holding a distinct note of bitterness.
Shivaay didn’t answer but I could see that my words had stung as I watched his jaws tighten.
I watched as he laid the baby down once more, his touch sure but gentle as he tucked the light bunny rug back into place. He would have been an amazing father.
I held my thought. Where did that come from?
He turned back to face me. He eyes ablaze with anger. As he glared at me, I realised that I had dropped myself into a deep pit. If he got to know that I was not the one, he was looking for, he would drag me into the courts. And the courts over here would give him the custody.
“Miss. Raichand.” His deep voice brought me back to reality.
“Y-yes?” I said biting my lips. I was sure he was going to say something that I would not be willing.
“I want to see my niece on a regular basis and, while I understand your aversion to such an arrangement, I think you know I will pursue this legally if you refuse.”
No…..I can’t keep up the act every time he comes.
“I’m her mother. “ I tried to enforce and cringed hearing myself. I sounded like a five year old fighting for her doll. “No court would remove her from my custody.”
“You think not?” His lip curled. “What if I told them about your little affair with a certain prominent politician in Italy just a few weeks after giving birth to my brother’s child?” His lips had a distinct sign of a smirk.
What affair? I thought in panic. What politician? What the hell had Annie been up to? She had not told me about this. She had said that she was going for some important work.
He must have seen the flicker of alarm cross my features as he coughed sarcastically. “You see, Miss. Raichand, I have all the dirt on you and I intend to use it in order to bring about what I want. I have heard how you tried to extort money from the poor fool when he called a halt to the relationship. You have been lucky that little affair did not get the press’s attention, but one word from me and, well…” He paused for effect. “You know the rest.”
I felt all the air move out of my lungs. Even my hands seemed to go ice cold. Anika negotiate. He is a business man.
“What exactly do you want?” I asked him, trying hard to keep the fear out of my voice.
I waited for a few moments. Seeing Rudra’s child had made me want her. I knew that she would agree to give her as soon as I gave her money. I had been so sure that I had not thought of her refusing. But this girl in front of me, had just denied and I could in no way justify that she was a bad mom. Her fluttering as soon as I held the child and the way she looked at her gave me no real reason to take the child away from her. But I wanted Rudra’s child no matter what. That was what Badima wanted and I will never deny her that.
I put my evil Shivaay face on. “I want to claim my brother’s child as my own.”
“You can’t do that! She doesn’t belong to you! She belongs t-to…t-to me.” She stammered. For a girl who basked in the limelight of men, she sure did stutter a lot.
“I can, you know.” I emphasised.
“How?” Okay….she is a dimwit. But she loved the child. She seemed desperate. Now to give her what she wanted. A rich husband.
“I want that baby and I will do anything to have her, even if it means I have to tie myself to you to do so.”
She blinked at him, wondering if she’d misinterpreted his statement. “Tie yourself? What do you mean tie yourself?”
She was amazing at acting innocent. How can women do that? She was probably bursting fire crackers in her mind.
“My brother refused to marry you, but I have no such reluctance. You will be my wife within a fortnight or I will make sure you never see your daughter again.” I kept my face still, would she believe him. I hoped my bluff was convincing enough.
She stood silently. Her expression seemed stuck between anger and shock. Had I got the wrong woman? But she had the child.
“Do you seriously think I will be coerced in such a way?” she finally spat indignantly.
“I am more or less counting on it. Rudra told me your main goal in life was to land a rich husband, so here I am, ready to step into the role.”
She opened her mouth to speak again but then closed it again. I could see gears turning in her mind. She was probably trying to calculate all my inheritance.
“50 Billion US dollars.” I told her.
She looked at me a bit out of place. “Sorry?”
“My inheritance alone. Shivani would get a bit as my daughter.”
She glared at me. Her eyes full of greed…..I guessed.
“I suppose it’s to be expected a spoilt man like you would assume he can always get whatever he wants.” she said.
“I will, of course, pay you generously. Don’t think you will have to wait for Shivani to grow up.” I said as my eyes watched her steadily. “How much do you want?”
“I am not selling my daughter.” She replied stonily.
Hmph….she played her cards well.
“Think of it as a salary to play mommy to my child.”
Her face went dark. “She is my child.” She hissed.
I saw her glance at the baby. So she was considering the offer. I smirked.
She tilted her head at me, her arms folded in front of her chest. “If you think you can bribe me then you’ve got the wrong person.”
I saw him shoot an appreciative at my chest when I felt heat flare up my face.
How dare he? Annie what have you lead me to.
“Considering that you were ready to sell your daughter just days back. This is a rather strange turn of events.” He said snarky.
“I told you before, I don’t want your money.” I hissed.
“Nice try, Miss. Raichand.” he drawled back. “I can see what you are doing. You are pretending to be nothing like the greedy young woman who seduced my brother, but I can see through your little act. Do not think that you can deceive me so easily. I have made up my mind, and you will do as I say, whether you accept payment from me or not.”
I held my breath as he walked around me. What was going to happen to me? Annie, I am going to kill you.
Surely I couldn’t be forced to marry the man just to keep my baby?
I could do nothing. I had no proof that I would be a good mother. I mean Annie had no proof. While Shivaay had everything.
“I want some time to think about this.” I was a bit irritated with myself about how I sounded exactly like Annie.
“I am not here to negotiate, Miss. Raichand.” he said snidely. “I am here to step into the role of Shivani’s father and I want to do it as soon as possible.”
My heart squeezed with fear. He sounded adamant and I was so sure, he would do anything to get his way.
Tell him the truth, Anika. Maybe he will let you see Shivani.
“My Badima wants her.” My heart stopped. I knew his family lived in India. If he took Shivi there, I would never see her again.
I tried to think rationally but it was hard with him standing there watching every tiny flicker of emotion on my face. I tried to put the Annie mask on. But Annie had changed so much, that the mask did not fit right any longer.
What if she went along with his demands for now? He’d said two weeks. Surely she’d be able to wriggle out of it by then. Hopefully Annie would be in contact soon and she’d be able to sort something out. She had to sort something out. She couldn’t possibly marry a perfect stranger!
“I will have the necessary papers drawn up immediately.” This immediately drew me into reality. Shivaay took my silence as an agreement.
“But…” I stopped. Oh, God! What had I done? Surely he wasn’t serious?
I tried to speak again. “H-how soon do you want me to…” I found it hard to finish the sentence as his glared at me with a look of total disdain.
“Perhaps I should make something very clear at this point. I do not want you , Miss Raichand. This will not be a proper marriage in the true sense of the word.”
“Not legal, do you mean?” I frowned. What does he mean?
“It will be legal, I would not settle for less, but it will be a paper marriage only.”
“A paper marriage?” I repeated like a parrot. I saw him roll his eyes.
“We will not be consummating the relationship.” he stated implacably.
I knew I should feel overjoyed. But for some reason, this irritated me. I looked down at me dress. I know I did not look glamorous but my figure was good and I was beautiful. I mean, I was after all a copy of Annie. How dare he dismiss me as some rag in the corner.
“You expect me to trust you on that?” I asked with just the right amount of cynicism. I had seen him assess my physique.
He lifted a long-fingered tanned hand and made a sign of a cross over his chest as his eyes pinned hers. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
Something about his air of supreme confidence tempted me into giving him the sort of seductive look I had seen Annie casting men’s way for years. I placed my hand on my hip and the corners of my mouth tipping upwards in a taunting little salacious smile as I drawled breathily, “Then I would say you’re as good as a dead man, Mr. Oberoi.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to rush to the bathroom and do a reality check. Had Anika just left while Annie stayed back to look after her child?
Author’s note: Please review. It is a lot of fun for me to read your reviews. Whether you hate it or not. Let’s me know whether I should continue.