I felt like laughing out loud when I heard her. She was just as Rudra had described, innocent one minute and a siren the next. He had to admit that he could understand why Rudra had been floored by her. But I am not as stupid as him. She is certainly not what I would have in my partner. For that matter, Tia Kapoor would have to be dealt with once he goes back. She was not going to be happy on being dumped, especially for the girl that had lead to her cousin’s fiancé accident.
I watched as she walked to the cradle and watched my niece sleep. It was difficult to believe that she was the one who had messaged him just 5 days back. I felt like wringing her neck. I hated shallow money-hungry witches like her who had nothing better to do than to throw themselves down just to attract rich husbands.
No, Miss Anika Raichand was fooling herself if she thought he would fall for her physical charms.
“I am not like my brother, Miss. Raichand.” I informed her. “My tastes are a little more classy.”
I saw hurt flash over her face. What did she think that Shivaay Singh Oberoi was a new player? I had been playing these games since I was 18.
“I could make you eat those words and we both know it. I saw the way you ran your eyes all over me the moment I opened the door.”
“I admit I was a little intrigued as to what made my brother act so incautiously.” I gave her an indifferent look. “But I can let you know that I am not at all interested in gold-digger woman like you.”
“I take it this marriage arrangement you’re proposing leaves you free to interact with other women?” She looked a bit……I don’t know.
“I will do my best to be discreet if the need should arise.” I did not want her to know that my playboy rumours were just media hype and that I was always loyal to the women in my life.
I saw her expression change. “Does the same apply to me?” She inquired tautly.
How dare she? She was getting what she wanted. All the money she wanted.
“Well?” she prodded with an arch look.
“No.” I replied. Not really understanding why I was getting annoyed.
“No?” She asked. Her voice sounded mocking.
I shook my head. “Absolutely not.” I confirmed. No one would expect an Oberoi woman to indulge in such things.
“You can’t possibly be serious.” She snapped her brows together again.
“I am. When you are married to me, you carry the family name and I will not have the dignity of all the women before you dragged through mud.” I enforced.
“You surely don’t expect me to agree to such a double standard?” she asked. She sounded rather annoyed.
“You get to keep your child, with a rich husband thrown in as a bonus.”
She let out her breath in frustration. Guess she loved money and something else. “I thought men like you died along with the dinosaurs. Seems I was wrong.”
I am not by nature a chauvinist but I am sure it will do you good to concentrate on your responsibilities as a mother.’
She laughed. Her sister had lost her virginity at a very early age, while she had not But being a feminist, she believed in at least in words being equal and for some reason, she could not digest her husband even though namesake sleeping with other women. But even she was impressed by the way she had absorbed Annie’s behaviour.
You find the prospect of being responsible amusing?’ His tone dripped with contempt.
“You’re very slow considering that you are still young, Mr. Oberoi.” she said. “All this talk of not enjoying life is hilarious. I haven’t been alone in bed for years and I’m not about to start for you or anyone.” Anika, how can you dump yourself to the bottom? Then another voice spoke. Anika it is for your baby girl. Do it. Harness Annie through and through. Close Anika in a box.”
I saw him scowl and clench his hands into fists.
“Since you seem unwilling to agree to my terms, I am willing to make a small compromise…”he announced. “For the period of two month following our marriage I will stay away from women how about that?’
She pursed her lips as if considering it. In her mind, she was giggling. “Two months? Hmm…I think I could just about manage that.”
His jaw tightened. Time to put my hand into the lion’s den. “But no longer or I’ll go out of my mind. But looking at your record, I know you will too.”
“I think I will manage to contain myself.” he responded coolly.
My heart clenched. But after that….what would happen? He would go out with women and I would be the unwanted wife at home just like mama. But probably by then I would be in jail for impersonation. I grimaced.
The cradle squeaked as Shivani moved in her sleep. She started whimpering. Shivaay looked concerned.
“Is she se okay?” He asked with concern.
I glared at him in my usual now-see-what-you-have-done-look at him. Although I knew he had done nothing. I walked over to the cradle. I lifted her out slowly. I was careful not to touch her where I knew the bruises were. After a few minutes, she was sleeping again.
I felt his gaze on my back and I knew that he was assessing my capabilities as a mom. I felt like I was writing an entrance exam or something.
“You said that you wanted to marry in 2 weeks. Why so fast?” I inquired.
He grimaced. “Rudra’s mom is undergoing treatment but she is not responding well. It is almost like she has given up. For the first time, she demanded something from me and I want to give it to her.
“Two weeks is such a short time.” I needed more time to convince Annie to give Shivani to the Oberois and me.
“I will see to all the details. You do not have to do anything but turn up at the registrar office.” He replied gruffly.
Registrar Office? I felt my heart break into bits as I thought of my wedding journal in the back of my closet. My dreams for a wedding had been stuffed into those pages. Then I pushed the disappointment out. Anika…No…this is for Shivani.
“But what about a wedding dress?” I asked, trying not to think of Shivaay’s motives for marrying her.
“You can come in pyjamas if you want. I do not care.” he said without any interest. “The ceremony will be over within minutes anyway. I will make an appointment with my lawyer to draw up the necessary paperwork.” He made a move towards the door, slanting a warning look her way. “I should remind you at this point that if you wish to pull out of the deal I will have no choice but to activate proceedings to remove Shivani permanently from your custody. And do not think I cannot do it, for I assure you I can and will if I need to.”
I knew he would do it. I felt my eyes sting. I had always dreamed of going to buy my wedding dress with my husband like I had seen women of all ages do at the boutique near my school.
I wished I could just throw his deal at hime. But never seeing Shivani prevented me. I knew that he just had to see the bruises on her tiny body to remove her from my presence.
I prayed that by the time, I was caught. Shivaay would see how much I loved our niece. But would he?
“I won’t pull out of the deal.” I said. My voice sounded so hollow to even my ears.
“No, I imagine not.” His eyes held mine with a caution reflected in their glittering depths. “I will, of course, be providing you with an allowance for the duration of our marriage.”
I instantly stiffened. He was going to pay me to look after my niece.
“What will you do with all that money to spend, I wonder?” he mused insultingly.
I was about to tell him to get that I did not need the money when I remembered that Annie would never say that.
Giving my sister’s irresponsible shrugs. “Shop probably.”
Shivaay’s lip curled distastefully. “You are a complete and utter materialistic. Have you ever done a decent day’s work in your life?” He scorned.
“Work?” She wrinkled her nose in repugnance. “Why work when you have a rich husband?”
“I must be out of my mind.” He grumbled. “I can’t believe my brother fell for you. Do you even know that Soumya had pushed the wedding because of you? And now their wedding has been pushed till he is well.”
“How can you blame me? He was the one who came to me.” I shot back. Why was he blaming my sister? If his brother had been a gentleman, he would not have slept with her.
“You hounded him for months…” he tossed back. “He told me how determined you were, how it became impossible to keep you at arm’s length.”
I almost gasped. Annie, how could you? Since when can’t you take a No. We have heard it all our life. “I think I can safely say he enjoyed it while it lasted. And I bet you would too. I can guarantee it.”
I almost puked in my mouth. To protect and support my sister, I was losing myself.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but that will not be happening. You know the score and if you put one foot out of place I will use all the weapons at my disposal.” He threatened.
I was appalled. How could he keep threatening me using his niece.
He quite possibly had cards up his sleeve that could prove to be a little too tactical for my liking. I had just two weeks to think of a way out because it was becoming increasingly clear I was seriously outmatched by this man in front of me.
“Will any of your relatives be attending the ceremony?” I asked in an effort to hide my fear and worry.
No, my parents are looking after Badima.”He hesitated slightly.
I couldn’t help feeling a wave of sympathy for his family, they had been already been struggling with the mother. Now had a son in a coma somewhere.
“It must be a very difficult time for you all.” I said gently. After all this man in front of me had to keep everything together.
Shivaay threw her a look of disgust. “How dare you offer sympathy when if it had not been for you, my brother would still be alive?’
This was getting even worse than a nightmare. What did he mean? What had Annie done.
“That’s a heavy accusation” I managed to get out.
“You were the last person to see Rudra before he called me. He was crying and unfocused.”
What? Annie had been with him. Why had she not mentioned it?
“So?” I tried to seem as indifferent as possible but my stomach was feeling queasy.
“A truck ran a red light and he did not have the necessary reaction time to avoid the collision.” he accused.
“And you think that’s my fault?” I asked tightly. “I wasn’t driving the truck!”
“You might as well have been, as far as I am concerned. Rudra was deeply ashamed of himself for getting involved with you. It was killing his relationship with Soumya.”
“He should have thought about the consequences before he gave me the come-on” she threw back.
“Have you not got that the wrong way around?” he asked with a mocking smile. “It was not Rudra but you who persuaded him. It was you who came to his hotel at night wearing one of your skimpiest dress.”
I tried to keep my Annie mask on. I could feel hatred course through my veins for the sister that I had protected all my life. She had never told me all this. She had said that she had met Rudra at a hotel but not that she had gone to seduce him.
Lie after lie after lie.
I had read in one of mama’s devotional books that all the problems started with one small lie then it keeps getting worse. At that time, I had thought that it was written by some old man in some old Indian village. But now I can very well believe it.
“So?” I tried to muster as much snootiness as I could. “He could have said no.”
“There are very few men who could say no when such temptation is dangled in front of them.” he said, raking his dirty gaze over me once more.
Hmph……time to play the same game as the lion. Mama always said that against a lion, you always had to be lioness and not like her. “So you admit to being a little tempted yourself?
His hand left the door and he strode back towards me. He pushed me against the wall. His expression full of hate. As he breathed down at her.
“You might have the body of a goddess and the face of an angel but I would not touch you even if you held the key to life itself.” he ground out heavily. “You have destroyed not one but several lives of my family and Shivaay Singh Oberoi destroys that person.”
My pride as a woman had been injured. I knew I should not do what I was going to do but I knew that I was going to anyway.
“Want to lay a bet on that?” I smirked. How dare he dismiss me so easily?
The line of his mouth grew even tighter until his lips appeared almost white and his grip on my arms became tighter.
I had probably taken it too far but now I could not retreat.
“All right.” He finally released my hands. “I will lay a bet on it. If I ever touch you other than in the most casual way during the length of our marriage, you win the bet. I will double your allowance on the spot.”
Suddenly, I remembered that Annie always asked about the money before agreeing to anything. While it made me feel like something that could be easily sold, I asked.
“Um…how much are you intending to pay me?”
“Much more than you are worth, I can assure you.”
I felt rage rush through me. I hated this man in front of me with all my heart.
“That remains to be seen.” I said as I brushed my hand against his face as he turned his face away giving him the sultry smile, I had seen Annie give sometimes. I wished I could just clench his neck and finish it all. But I was not Annie, I was Anika at the end of the day.
He stepped away from me. “We will see.”
Before I could say anything else, he shut the door and I heard the lock click back into place.
I felt my legs sway. I dropped to the ground. Annie what have you done? What have you turned me into?
Two weeks…that was all I had and it wasn’t anywhere near long enough. The moment he got to know, I was not her mother, he would take Shivani away. He had the security that I could not provide.
I held my face in my hands. What have you done Anika? What are you going to do?
When the phone rang, my heart leapt into my mouth. I quickly grabbed the phone and held to my ear.
“Anika?” Annie’s voice rang out airily. “I thought I’d call you before leaving.”
I squeezed the receiver in my hands. I imagined it to be her neck.
“Do you have any idea what is happening?” I yelled through the phone. Tears of frustration running down my cheeks.
“I know you don’t approve of me leaving Shivani.” Annie replied. “But quite frankly I don’t care. I want..”
“Will you just shut up and listen to me?” I yelled at her. “How could you do that to your own daughter? Not only did you abandon her but you hurt her. I saw the marks Annie.”
“Look Anika.” Annie’s tone hardened. “She was crying for ages while you were out. It drove me nuts. So I just…”
My stomach churned at the thought of the abuse happening under my own roof.
“She is just a child. You were one once; don’t you remember what it feels like to be so helpless?”
“I prefer to forget the weakness. I don’t remember a thing, so drop it, OK?”
I felt like screaming in frustration. Annie was an expert at burying her head when things got tough. There was nothing she could say or do to change the habits of a lifetime. She was damaged and all I could do now was accept it and do everything to protect Shivani from becoming another Annie
“Any news from Rudra’s family?” Annie asked as casually as if asking what the afternoon’s weather had been like.
“He Came here.” I said through clenched teeth.
“You very well know who. Shivaay Singh Oberoi.” I felt like screaming but Shivani was looking at me through the bars of the cradle.
“I thought he might.” She replied coldly.
“How can you be so casual about this? He thinks I’m you,.”
Annie howled with laughter. “Does he? How amusing. For the first time, someone mistakes you for me.”
“Well, you better get back now.” I hissed.
“I’m not coming back.” Annie said determinedly. “Raj is expecting me in Sydney tomorrow. Why don’t you just tell him who you are and be done with it?’”
I felt wind rush out of my chest. “Because he wants Shivani, that’s why.”
“Does he now?” Annie’s sugar-sweet voice grated my ears.
“What do you mean?”
I heard the sound of her long artificial nails tapping a nearby surface as if she was mentally planning something.
“He’ll have to pay, of course, but it’s where she belongs anyway. Think of how rich she’ll be when she comes of age.”
“I can’t believe you can be so unfeeling about this.” I said hating the woman my sister had turned out to become. “Do you know what he wants?”
“What?” Annie sounded bored.
“He’s forcing me…I mean you to marry him,. Well, he thinks it’s you but it is really me as you have ditched the nest and he does not know that. And I am so drowned in lies that I can write a series of books about my lies. I don’t know if I can face it because I have no idea how to handle men like Shivaay Singh Oberoi and I have work commitments and no childcare and….”
Annie interjected. “Slow down; you lost me at the marriage bit. What do you mean he wants to marry you?’
“Not me, you!” I whispered seeing Shivani look at me with teary eyes. “He thinks he’s forcing you into a paper marriage.”
“A paper marriage?”
“He wants to adopt Shivani and is prepared to marry me….I mean you.… ah I give up.” I said as I raked my hand through my hair.
“And you agreed?” Annie sounded surprised. Why wouldn’t she, I was the girl who had saved herself for Prince Charming instead he was a beast……okay…okay maybe not a beast but certainly not a Prince.
“Well, he did not exactly ask me.” I replied grouchily. “He threatened to expose me…i mean you as an incompetent mother and you gave him all the evidence he needed by hurting Shivani the way you did. It was just pure luck that he didn’t notice.”
“What’s he paying you?” Annie asked.
I gritted my teeth. How could she be more concerned about money than her own baby?
“Even if I have to starve I am not taking his money.” I growled.
“Tell him you’ve changed your mind…” Annie said, interrupted. “Tell him you are willing to give him the child. Ask him for 30 Billion.”
“Never. I will not do it. I am not giving her away. For even the entire galaxy.” I hissed.
“Then you’re a fool…it is not even your child.” Annie said. “He is rich, he will pay you anything.”
“No, I will not. Shivani is my niece. I will not sell her with my own hands.”
Annie sighed in disappointment. “Anika, when are you going to open your eyes. Life is not that stupid school of yours. You are being handed a golden spoon…no platinum. Take it.”
“No, absolutely not. This marriage thing is bad enough. I will not have my niece taken away from me. Besides, I feel sick at the thought of what he’s going to do when he finds out he’s got the wrong person.”
“Don’t tell him.”
“What? Are you going to marry him?” I squeaked. I mean why wouldn’t she….he was rich, he could give her everything she wanted.
“Hmph…coming back. No Deary that is not happening. You are going to because you want to keep that niece of yours. If you play your cards right, even I would benefit.” She chuckled.
“What do you mean?” I hated it when she acted like this.
Annie gave a soft little chuckle that sent a river of unease up my spine. “You are about to marry a billionaire by inheritance and self worth. You will have access to cash, lots and lots of cash. I could have come back and married him myself but Raj is much richer than him and easier to manipulate. But we will profit more if you marry him.’
I cleared my throat to remove the lump of disgust that had choked me. “I can’t marry him. I am cheating him into a relation of seven lifetimes.”
Annie scoffed. “Seven lifetimes…seriously Anika. if it lasts this lifetime you should be happy. And about him knowing…..I never told Rudra about you. So Mr. Shivaay Singh Oberoi will only realise it if he sees us together, which is not going to happen as I am leaving in an hour. And from what I understand, it is very profitable. You will get Shivani while I will get money from both your husband and Raj.”
I felt my stomach drop to the depths of tartarus. “Annie, you can’t do this. How can I marry a man who hates the air I breathe.”
“Chill Anika. He hates me not you. And you are not too bad to look at especially if you put a bit of makeup and wear some decent clothes. He might start loving you or at least keep you around.” Annie said indifferently.
“I am a pre-school teacher. I can’t afford those designer clothes you wear.” I said sourly.
“Come on, Anika. Think about it. This is a chance in a lifetime. You’ve always wanted to get married and have kids. What are you complaining about?”
“I would have liked to choose the groom for myself, that’s what I’m complaining about!” I shot back. “And I wanted a proper wedding.”
“You’re such a hopeless romantic. Do you think a marriage has any more hope of survival if it’s performed in a temple? Anika, we are orphans with no money to our name. No Prince Charming is going to knock at your door. Marry him and make up for the absence of the big fat Indian wedding. Mama told you stories about her wedding that is the problem.” Annie grumbled.
“Yeah well Mama taught us both to lead lives of honour. And that included a man who respected us and not someone who bought us through their money. She told us to find love.” I hissed.
“You could spend your whole life looking for love like our mother dearest did and, just like her, never find it.” Annie said. “If I were you I’d grasp at this with both hands and make the most of it.”
“But I’m not you, am I?”’ I reminded her.
“No.” A hint of amusement entered Annie’s voice again. But Shivaay Singh Oberoi doesn’t know that, does he?’
Author’s Note: Thank you for all the reviews. Hope you all liked this chapter. Please review. And I am sorry but I can’t reveal when Shivaay will come to know except that it will be after the wedding.