The reception area of Shivaay’s Industrial empire could leave anyone in any doubt of the company’s considerable profits.From the sweeping computer console in the reception area fitted out in shining galaxy black marble, complete with a catwalk perfect receptionist, to the plush ankle-deep carpet on the floor, and the stunning views over the city from every window, it all left one with the impression that the Oberoi Industries knew how to do business and did it extremely well.
“You will never get all this.” Shivaay hissed in my ear.
“Mr Oberoi…” the receptionist said. “Mr. Khan is waiting for you in the guest lounge adjoining your office.’
“Follow me.” Shivay addressed me without even a backward glance.
It irked me for some reason. I am not going to be ordered around in front of his staff. He may be a billionaire but I am not going to be insulted. That too in front of especially the receptionist who had been ogling at him the whole time.
“Hello. I am Anika, Shivaay’s fiancé.” I held out my hand with a smile. Moving slightly closer to the annoyed Shivaay. “And this is Shivani. She is Shivaay’s niece and you know Rudra’s child.”
The receptionist took a step away from the table like as if I was having plague or something.
“I thought your name was Annie.” She finally blurted. “And don’t you remember, we had a very pleasant meeting before?” She eyeballed me accusingly.
When had Annie come here? She had never told me. I felt my pulse drop.
“It was when Mr. Shivaay went to India last November….” the receptionist went on, her mouth tight with reproach.. “Mr. Rudra was in a meeting but you insisted on seeing him.”
I could feel Shivaay stiffen more. I wanted to tell her to keep her mouth shut. But luck was not on my side. I had to find a way out before she blew my cover.
Annie had come here when she was well into her pregnancy. I slowly stroked Shivani’s head which was snuggled against me.
“Yes…well I wasn’t really myself. I thought we should start again.” I stammered.
The receptionist peered over the console at the sleeping baby, her stern expression instantly softening. “She’s very like Rudra, isn’t she?”
I nodded, deciding it was probably wiser not to respond verbally even.
“Hold my calls, Maya.” Shivaay commanded, interrupting the tight exchange. “Come on Ms. Raichand.”
I followed him down the spacious hall where priceless artworks were hung in stately array, each one reminding me of the amount of money Shivaay Singh Oberoi had at his fingertips if ever he decided to chase me out of town without Shivani.
“In here.” Shivaay held the door open for her. “Take a seat and I will call in Ayaan Khan to join us.”
I took one of the plush chairs facing the huge desk and, positioning Shivani into a more comfortable position against me. I squirmed in the seat looking around.
It was a huge office by anyone’s standards. It was lined with bookshelves along two walls, the thick volumes rich with both a wealth of knowledge and variety of taste. Unless they were there simply for show, which somehow I seriously doubted, they indicated Shivaay was a man who read widely, for apart from the obvious financial and legal tomes I could see some recent bestsellers as well as some of the classics I loved.
It gave me a funny feeling to have read the same books as him.
The door opened behind me and I turned in my seat to see a man enter the room carrying a document folder under one arm. Shivaay was close behind with one of his impossible-to-read looks on his handsome face.
“This is Ayaan Khan. Ayaan, this is my fiancé, Anika Raichand.”
I began to rise but Ayaan gestured me to stay seated on account of Shivani nestled against me.
He shook my hand instead and looked down at Shivani, his warm light brown eyes visibly softening.
“What a little treasure. I have two daughters of my own. They are both my life and my daily torture.” He grinned at me.
I gave him a small smile. “It’s not easy being a parent.”
“No, but worth the struggle, I can assure you. My eldest is starting university in a few months; it seems only yesterday she was crawling everywhere.”
Awkward. I gave a weird smile and forced a small laugh. I saw Shivaay stiffen and I had to look away before he saw my truth.
“Now…”Ayaan said as he opened the folder on the desk and glanced across at Shivaay. “I’ve drawn up the document the way you suggested but perhaps I should explain it to Anika first?”
“Explain away.” Shivaay’s tone bordered on uninterested.
I felt myself shrinking in my seat in embarrassment. I had no real understanding of legal terms. Surely the least Shvaay could do was go through it with her as well?
“As you wish.” Ayaan opened the file and laid it in front of her. “Don’t be put off by all the legal terms, Anika, this is pretty straightforward. This simply states in the event of a divorce you agree to a reasonable settlement but not a division of Shivaay’s total assets.’
I did her best to read through the wordy text but it made little if no sense to me. I kept searching the document for Shivani’s name, hunting for some sort of clause Shivaay might have inserted to take the child away from me if the marriage was to fold, but as far as I could make out there was none.
“This bit here states that you will receive an allowance during your marriage.” Ayaan pointed to the relevant section.
I stared at the figure nominated there. I stood up while trying to cover my mouth in shock. “That seems a little…too much.” I looked up and caught Shivaay looking at me strangely.
I quickly lowered my gaze. My heart pounding. I would have to be more careful in the future. Shivaay wasn’t a fool. If he began to suspect that he had been duped…..then….
“If you could just sign here.” Ayaan indicated the dotted line for her. “And over here.” He turned the page and I dutifully signed. “There, that’s all.” He closed the document and bundled it back in its folder as he turned to Shivaay, who was leaning against the filing cabinet behind his desk, his eyes still focused on me.
Was he suspicious?
“May I offer you both my heartiest congratulations on a happy and fulfilling marriage?” Ayaan said. “I know these are sad times but much joy can come about in spite of it.” He cleared his throat discreetly and added, How is Rudra, Shivaay?’
Shivaay pushed himself away from the filing cabinet. “He is on life support.”
I gasped a little. I saw Shivaay give me a glance.
Ayaan frowned sympathetically. “He will be okay.”
“I hope so.” Shivaay whispered.
I felt very bad seeing Shivaay so broken. His short replies spoke volumes. While he showed little emotion on his face, something in his voice suggested he was a man who felt deeply for all that. It made me see him in a new light. Not so much a hard-driven businessman who wanted to conquer the world, riding over people obstructing his way, but a man with a need to protect those he loved and felt responsible for.
He would make a wonderful father for Shivani.
The thought slipped into my mind and once it did that was all I could think about took hold until I could think of nothing else. Visions of him with Shivani during her first tooth, her first steps, her first day at school…her marriage … But would I be there?
“What do you think, Anika?” Shivaay was looking straight at me.
What had he said? I tried squeezing my brain. I had been lost. “Sorry?”
He rolled his eyes.
“Ayaan suggested we draw up a trust file for Shivi. I mean as of now she is the only heir to Rudra’s estate.”
I felt some sort of weird vibe. I got up holding my sleeping niece close to my chest. “I told you I am not interested in your brother’s estate.”
Shivaay glared at me but it was too late. I noticed Ayaan watching us and was surely making his own assessments.
“I’ll have the papers drawn up.” He informed Shivaay as he walked towards the door. “I wish you both well.”
“Thank you.” Shivaay said as he walked to my side and held me closer to him. I felt heat rush up my face. He squeezed my waist.
I gave him a small smile. “Thank you, Mr. Khan for explaining everything.”
“No problem.” Ayaan said with a smile. “You know you are nothing like I thought you would be.” He blushed. “Oh I am so sorry I did not mean to offend you.”
“I am not.” My stomach clench. Hey Bappa, had Annie met him as well.
“No, Shivaay you are lucky to have her.” He said with a smile. “The gossip magazines have got you entirely wrong.”
My heart sank. I felt a certain level of discomfort. The glossy magazines with Annie in skimpy dresses roaming around with all the men at various events just to have her pictures plastered with them.
I lowered my gaze to Shivani. “Well, there was a time.”
“I congratulate you for it.” Ayaan said. “Bringing up a child is a very maturing experience. Do you have anyone to help you?”
I shook my head avoiding his eyes. He was a lawyer after all. “My father was never in our life and he died 3 years ago and my mother died when we were 8.”
Ayaan laughed. “So you are one of those kids with an imaginary friend. My little one is just like that. She always refers to herself as two people.”
I gave a small smile. I was so close to getting caught. I had almost let Annie take away Shivani from my life.
I frowned as I listened to Anika and Ayaan talk. I knew so little about Anika. What she had gone through? I had just assumed that her mother was like her but I had never thought that she probably did not even have anyone to guide her. She was all alone.
“So you were in the system?”
She nodded. “I was in the system till 7 years ago when I turned 16.”
I thought back to the article I had read. It had stated that being in the system took a heavy toll on the kids. Some became shadows of themselves while others became selfish and materialistic. Yes, she was undoubtedly the second kind and she had pushed my brother to the hospital but she loved Shivani…..this surprised me.
After a bit more small talk, Ayaan left. Shivani began to squirm. Anika looked up at me.
“She needs to be changed.” She said.
She was going to become my baby girl till Rudra woke up. I should offer to help. I want to be involved.
“Would you like me to do it?” I offered.
I saw her visibly stiffen. “No.” She replied flatly.
I felt anger rush into my mind. Did she not trust me? But Shivaay, why do you care whether she trusts you.
“Where is the bathroom?” She asked.
“It is down the hall.” I sat on my chair. “Do you have what you need? I can tell Maya to get it if you need something.
Anika rolled her eyes. “I have done this before you know.”
Did she just ROLL her eyes at me? She then stalked out of the room. Shivani had her hands buried in her hair.
Strangely, my own fingers ached to do the same. Was it as silky as it looked.
“Shivaay….what are you getting yourself into?” I grumbled to myself trying to bury my head in work but all I could think about were her doe-like eyes.
I took a long time in the bathroom. I was too nervous to go back. What was happening and whatever it was, it is happening too fast.
I felt like an idiot for not thinking that Annie would have come here. There would so many more people she would have met and I will have to act like I knew. Also that time, when I slipped about the allowance. Annie would have demanded more. I felt like someone was strangling me. Yes, my lies were.
I could not even imagine what Shivaay would do when he got to know.
When I walked back into the room. Shivaay was looking out of the window. When he heard me, he turned and walked towards me. I felt my heart leap into my mouth.
“It has occurred to me that there are quite a few things Shivani needs, such as new clothing or toys.” he said, taking the baby from my with gentle hands. “I have some time available now, so we could go shopping if you like.”
I stared up at him. How would Annie answer? I know Shivani needed knew clothes as she was growing fast and Annie had not bought a lot of clothes for her. But was I ready to shop with Shivaay like a normal couple?
I lowered my gaze. Wracking my brain for an excuse.
“Since your own clothes are designer labels, surely your child is entitled to the same?” A hard edge had crept into his voice.
What this was designer? I had just grabbed the most conservative clothing in the closet. Where did she get all that money? What should I say now? Anika, be Annie.
“This old thing?” I sneered with a haughty glance down at the dress I was wearing.
Shivaay’s mouth curled. “I suppose you only wear an outfit once before it is thrown to the back of the wardrobe?” He asked with a sneer.
I almost laughed at how close he was to describing Annie’s attitude to clothes. She left her clothes everywhere in the house after her night time endeavours. That if someone paid me one dollar for every time I picked her clothes for laundry, I would have bought several designer clothes.
I tossed my hair over my shoulder. “Is it my fault that I get bored so easily?” I smirked saucily.
“You know something, Anika Raichand?” He gave me a distasteful look. “I am looking forward to being married to you so I can teach you how to behave. You are the shallowest young woman I have ever had the misfortune to meet. I think it will be a great pleasure to teach you some manners as someone should have done a very long time ago.”
I pretended to shudder in anxiety. What was happening to me? “Oh! I am sooo scared of you, Mr Khan.” I giggled.
I saw the struggle he had to control himself playing out on his features as he stood before her. The line of his mouth was grim, his jaw tight with suppressed anger and his eyes sparking at me as if he wanted to slap me right then and there.
The intercom on his desk broke the brittle silence.
“Mr Oberoi?” Maya’s cheerful tone entered the room like a light being switched on in pitch blackness. Your badima is on line two.’
Shivaay handed Shivani back to me without meeting her eyes. “Excuse me.” He turned his back to attend to the call.
I reached with one hand for the baby bag when I heard the first few words of Shivaay’s conversation with his badima. Even though he spoke Hindi rapidly I had learnt the language long enough to pick up on the general gist of the exchange.
“Yes…..” Shivaay said. “I have found a solution. I am marrying her on the fifteenth.”
I couldn’t hear what his badima said in response but I could more or less piece together the rest on Shivaay’s reply.
“No, she insists she does not want any money or anything to do with Rudra’s estate…I am not sure but I suspect she is trying to butter me up by pretending to be a changed person…Yes, I have arranged an allowance but it will not take her long to spend it, I am sure…Yes, I know she is everything that Rudra said and more.”
I felt anger rush through my veins. I would take revenge on him for his insulting assessment of me. I struggled to keep my reaction disguised.
“Yes…I know, I will watch my back. Don’t tell Tia. Okay….Fine. Bye.”
I smiled innocently as he turned back to face me. “So, where are we going shopping?”
As expected she had yielded to shopping. As we began to walk through the department stores as well as exclusive designer boutiques , I observed her. She was looking at everything like she had never seen such a place. She looked like she had reached some sort of dreamland. We bought all sorts of things for my little girl. Beautiful clothes and expensive toys and all were parcelled off to be delivered to his office.
Suddenly, my phone rang. It was a call from a client. “I will be right back.”
Anika looked at me and nodded. I walked to the side. After the call, when I turned around, I noticed Anika was not there.
Did she run away with my niece? I will kill her.
I searched the stores. Then I glimpsed an emerald green dress. I walked into a jewellery store. I saw Anika looking at some necklaces.
“Ma’am, are you here to purchase a mangalsutr?” A saleswoman said.
She quickly shook her head. “No, I was just looking.” She looked visibly upset. Then she turned to see me. She smiled.
“Oh you came. Let’s go.” She dragged me out of the store.
“What were you doing in there?” I scowled.
She gave me an annoyed smile. “I was just looking at all the things I could buy after I get my allowance. Then that stupid girl and started irritating me.”
Why was she lying? Maybe Anika was not so bad after all. Probably she just yearned for a family. I nodded.
“Okay you go find a seat at the cafe and give Shivani her milk. I will be right back. She nodded and walked off.
I walked back to the store. The girl was still there.
“Hello Sir. How can I help you?” She smiled at me.
I was so clueless about such things.
“Ummm…..I actually wanted to buy a mangalsutr.”
She had a wide grin. “Oh you are with the other lady, the one with the child.”
I grimaced. What the hell are you doing? You hate her. But I nodded.
“Can you help me choose one?” I asked.
She smiled and took a few pieces out. “Sir, it depends on your choice. From what I understood Ma’am likes simple ones.”
Simple and Anika? Hmph…..but just imagine Shivaay, how angry she will be with the simple one. I grinned.
“Sure….give me a simple one.”
She helped me pick one out and somehow I liked it. “Could you please pack it?” I picked up the bag and stuffed it into my pocket and walked to the cafe.
Anika was sitting there. A waitress brought a baby bottle to her. She gave Shivani the bottle. I walked to them and sat down. I watched her give the bottle to Shivani.
“Would you like to feed her?”
I looked at her shocked. She was trusting me with the child that she treated like a mother wolf guarding her pup. I slowly nodded. She lowly placed Shivani in my arms. Shivani started drinking from the bottle. When I looked to the side, I saw a mother br*astfeeding her child then I looked at Anika. She was looking out of the cafe , a juice of some sort in 1 hand.
“Why do you not br*astfeed Shivani?” I asked.
Her eyes went wide and I saw a blush run up her face. Then she turned to me. She had a sultry smile. “It is not good for my body, my dear Shivaay.”
I shot a look of disgust. “Are you for real?”
She smiled like a dimwit. “Shivaay, I have to look after my body for my daughter.”
The waitress came over and took the order from Anika, lingering to hover over the baby who had by now finished her bottle.
How old is she?’ the young girl asked.
“Four months” Anika answered.
The waitress smiled as she looked between the baby and Shivaay. She’s like her daddy, isn’t she?’
I was about to tell her that the child was not mine when Anika spoke. “Yes, she does.”
And for once, her eyes did not look mean and cute mixed. She looked just genuinely happy.
“Have you given any thought to having a child of your own some time in the future?” she asked.
“No” I shifted Shivani to my other shoulder.
His answer intrigued her. She knew there were lot of guys who liked staying bachelor, but somehow Shivaay didn’t seem the type.
“Was this your badima’s idea for us to marry?”
Where did she get that idea. “What makes you say that?”
“I…” She fiddled with the edge of the tablecloth, doing her best to avoid my eyes. “A hunch, I guess.”
Hmph. Yeah Right!
“I suppose you thought getting the media to speculate about your and Rudra’s child would make her want her grandchild.” he said, leaning forwards on the table. I moved back on the chair away from him. “Did you ever consider how much you were hurting a mother who is already doing her best to cope with the fact that she may not see her son ever again and she can’t even fly to see him one last time?’
I wished she could tell him the truth. It hurt so much to have him think so poorly of me when in fact it had been Annie who had acted so unthinkingly. I did not even know that she had sold the information.
“No.” I let the edge of the tablecloth go and raised my eyes to look into his condemning ones. “No, it was very insensitive of me. I’m sorry.”
He looked shocked. I mean if Annie had said the same, I would have been shocked. Thinking back, I just can’t remember a moment that she apologised for something. She never said ‘sorry’. It was not in her dictionary. Not even when we were small.
“Sometimes sorry is not enough” he said, leaning back again, settling Shivani more comfortably against his shoulder. “Once the damage is done there is no going back to undo it.”
I felt my stomach curdling at the truth of his curt and straight statement. How much damage had I already done with all the lies that I have to tell on Annie’s behalf?
“Yes, I know.” I stared at the salt and pepper shakers standing side by side like small china soldiers on the table in front of me. “I guess I was so confused at the time…I hardly knew what I was doing.”
There was a small silence broken only by Shivani’s giggles, who had found the br*ast pocket of Shivaay’s business shirt, her tiny fingers clutching at the fabric in delight.
“You deliberately tried to trap my brother, did you not?” he accused me. “By using the oldest trick in the book.”
I wished I could deny it on Annie’s behalf but knew that too would be yet another lie. Annie had deliberately set about to snare Rudra Singh Oberoi by hook or crook. I had been shocked when Annie had told me of her plan to trap him, as if it was all a game, not real life with the potential for irreparable damage to occur. I still hated myself for not pulling Annie away from destroying the life of 2 innocent people and a family. Maybe if I’d spent more time with her, had counselled her to think a little further ahead.
“It was a stupidly impulsive thing to do…” I finally said, my voice low, my eyes dipped down for something that was not fault of mine. “I had no idea of how it would backfire on…me.”
Again my answer seemed to surprise him. I looked at him nervously and found his hard accusing expression had softened slightly as he looked across, the child in his arms nestling against him ready to sleep.
“Well you should I have thought about a mother somewhere watching the news about her son being in a coma and also about a grandchild, she never knew she had. But everyone has a regret or two?“ he said in a low voice.
I gave him a rueful smile. “Don’t tell me the great Shivaay Singh Oberoi admits to getting it wrong now and again?’
He held my gaze for a moment before looking down at the child in his arms. “I have made one or two errors of judgement in the past but I have no intention of ever doing so again.”
I wondered if he bore the internal scars of a broken relationship which had made him wary of emotional commitment. The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed. What better way to take himself out of the game than to marry for convenience, not love? He would be free to go around with whomever he chose without the pressure of formal commitment due to the piece of paper that would soon be documenting her as his wife.
I slowly swallowed a lump of panic about what such a relation meant. I mean yes he had said the marriage would never be consummated, but they would be living in the same house and that would force certain intimacies regardless.
I pulled back from my thoughts with a little jerk in her chair, my guilty glance met with Shivaay’s questioning one.
Is something wrong?’ he asked.
“No, of course not.”
“You do not seem yourself.” he observed.
“Oh, really?” I gave him one of Annie’s scathing looks. “And you know me so well after, what is it……” She checked her watch for the date and looked back at him. “Less than a week?”
“Sufficient enough to say I am familiar with your type.” he answered smoothly.
“So you believe one size fits all syndrome?”
His smile was cynically lopsided. “I have been around long enough to recognise danger when I see it.”
“Danger, eh?” As I smirked. I knew I had to harness Annie as he was coming too close to Anika. “You see me as dangerous? What exactly are you threatened by? My s*x appeal?”
His mouth tightened and I knew I had hit the mark. It was kind of ironic, he was fighting an attraction to me when I was pretending to be someone else. What chance did I stand of him being attracted to me as Anika, just a pre-school teacher, a girl who had never slept with anyone, a girl who was in very great danger of falling in love with a man who despised the very sight of her.
“Your ego no doubt has had considerable praised over the years but I refuse to join your band of avid admirers.” he said. “If you are looking for compliments I am afraid you will have to go elsewhere.”
I gave him an arch look. “But you do find me attractive, don’t you? Go on, admit it. I don’t mind. I won’t charge you.”
“I admit nothing.” His pursed look told me all.
I laughed. “Liar.”
I saw his jaw tighten another notch. “Women like you think they are irresistible but let me tell you, you are not.”
My eyes looked straight into his silently challenging. I held his look with a spirited defiance I hadn’t thought ever myself to be capable of.
“It’s time to leave.” His announcement was curt as he got stiffly to his feet.
Shivani gave a soft rumble of protest about the sudden movement but soon settled back against his chest, her tiny eyelids fluttering closed, her miniature fingers still grasping his br*ast pocket.
I rose with less speed, taking my own sweet time to gather up the baby’s changing bag and my own handbag, I shot him a glance from across the width of the table.
Do you think it’s worth disturbing her by giving her to me?’ I asked.
Shivaay looked down at the tiny infant against his chest and shook his head. “No.” He lifted his gaze back to me. “I will carry her.” He scooped up the bill the waitress had left and added, “Is there anything else we need to buy?”
When he said ‘we’, a chill went down my spine. Seeing him with Shivani, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of regret over how the circumstances had led to this. How different things might have been if we had met without the baggage of both of our wayward siblings. If the truth were known we probably had more in common than not. He was the solid dependable type, anyone could see that, and I…well, I was hardly the sleep-around town woman he thought me to be.
If only he knew!
“No.” I said carefully avoiding his eyes in case he saw the glitter of sudden moisture. “I think we’re more or less done.” and followed him out of the cafe.
The city streets were so busy as to make conversation both difficult and unnecessary. I was glad of the reprieve. Guilt flooded mw from every direction. Maybe I should have been firmer with Annie, should have insisted she stay and face her responsibilities. But then, when had Annie ever faced anything? Her policy had been to move from one disaster to the next with me picking up the pieces behind her.
Shivaay pressed the pedestrian button. “You are very quiet all of a sudden.’
I was pulled out of my world of her mental anguish by his statement. Annie never kept quiet.. “I’m just tired.” I replied yawning artificially. “Shivani woke me early.” I patted my mouth and forced another yawn. “Kids, who in their right mind would have them?”
I felt like strangling her. But before I could say anything the lights changed.
It was clear to me that money was Anika’s primary motive and she had targeted the richest man she could and had got on with the business of falling pregnant to him. But it was still somewhat of a mystery to me why she hadn’t asked for a whole heap of money when I’d offered her marriage. I’d been expecting her price to be in the billions and yet even the allowance I’d organised for her had seemingly surprised her. And, as for pretending she had no interest in Rudra’s estate, what possible reason could she have other than to try and fool me into thinking she had somehow changed from a money-hungry pleasure seeker to a woman of high morals?
But I know Anika was trouble from top to bottom. She had a disturbing habit of switching from sultry siren to wide-eyed innocent as if she was deliberately trying to confuse me about who she really was. If Rudra hadn’t told me how manipulative she was, I was sometimes be tempted to think I was dealing with someone else entirely.
I secretly glanced at her, instantly noting how she was nibbling at her bottom lip.
I gave a rough inward sigh. Marrying her was going to be the easy part; however, I was getting a very bad feeling that living her was going to be someone else entirely.
Author’s Note: Hope you all liked this chapter. I was wondering whether you all want her twin to change. Cause you see Annie is not bad, it is just that she has become so hard hearted with over the years of torture and a secret Anika does not even know.