I had not put Shivani to sleep when the doorbell rang. I did not have to check the peephole to know who it was, I knew it was him.
I opened the door and stepped aside to allow him to come in. “You should have called to say you were going to visit. Lily just went to sleep. I don’t want to wake and unsettle her.” I said in a reprimanding tone.
“I am not here to see Shivani right now.” Shivaay said, closing the door behind him.
I tucked a strand of hair behind one ear and did my best to hold his unwavering gaze.
“W-what did you want to see me about?” I stammered.
“Where were you today?” he asked.
“Um…why do you ask?” Had he seen me?
“I called you for hours but you didn’t answer.”
“I am allowed to go out, aren’t I?” I gave him a glare or what I could muster as a glare. “Or is my being a prisoner part of your contract?”
“No, but I would prefer it if you would keep me informed of where you and Shivani will be in case I need to contact you. Do you have a mobile phone?”
“Yes, but I don’t have it on a lot as it wakes Shivani.” I said half truthfully.
“I have something else I would like to discuss with you.” he added and, reaching into his coat pocket, took out the magazine Nia had shown me in the morning.
I took it from him with unsteady fingers and placed it on the coffee table without opening it to the damning page.
“I take it you have already seen it?” he said.
“And?” His eyebrows arched.
I found that I was so ashamed of my sister’s antics that I could not look at him in the eyes. “That was more than a week ago. Besides, you know how these magazines like to blow things out of proportion.”
“Did you sleep with this man, Anika?” He said in an abnormally calm voice.
My stomach quivered at the steely edge to his tone but I forced myself to respond with a steadiness I was nowhere near feeling. “No.”
“You lying little”‘ His mouth snapped shut as if he felt tainted by even uttering the rest of the vilifying sentence.
“I am not lying.” I stated quietly. I had not slept with him. He had asked Anika not Annie, I reasoned.
His jaw tightened and his hands went to fists at his sides. “I am going to ask you again where were you today and I expect you to tell me the truth.”
“I went to the neighbourhood pre-school.”
I lifted my chin and folded my arms across chest. Yes, it’s this really annoying place full of books and kids. I thought I’d check it out, you know, after all I have to send Shivani somewhere.”
“You were there all day?” He looked skeptical.
“For a big part of it,” I answered.
“You do realise that Shivani is only 4 months right?” He sneered.
“It is never too early to look.” I replied glumly.
He sneered. “She will not go to some neighbour pre-school. She will go to a well-reputed school.”
I nodded and asked him “What did you do all day?” With the aim of changing the subject
“I was working.”
“Oh, really?” I gave him a skeptical look. “Can you prove it?”
He frowned at me. “I do not have to prove anything to you.”
I frowned back at him.“Nor do I to you.”
“If I find out you are lying to me, Anika, you will be very sorry.” He threatened.
“I don’t have to answer to you until we are married.” I challenged. A stupid move when your opponent is a lion and you are nothing but a mouse. “And even then I will not tolerate you bossing me around as if I don’t have a mind of my own. Now, if you have finished discussing what you came here to discuss, I think you should leave.” I said while passing by him.
Shivaay gripped my hand and pulled me firmly against him. “I will leave when I am ready to leave.” He said angrily and closed the small distance between us, his eyes holding mine as his body pressed close.
I felt a sharp nudge of desire at his closeness. Anika, you seriously need to be around attractive men more often. My legs weakening and my heart thumping behind my chest.
“Ma!” We heard a wail from the opposite room. Both of us stilled. His hands still gripping mine.
“P-please let me go.” My voice came out choked as I looked into his eyes. I was not even sure whether she had said anything.
I felt myself drowning in the fathomless depth of his dark eyes. The silence stretched and stretched until we heard another shout.
“Papa!” Another shout came.
Immediately he released me and shot into the room. I followed behind him. Shivani was sitting on the bed with her wide eyes staring back at us.
Shivaay went close to the cradle.
“What did you say Princess?” She gave a grin.
“Ma!” She squealed holding her hands out to me. I felt an overwhelming feeling of happiness. Every sacrifice I was making felt like nothing.
I glanced at Shivaay, he looked annoyed.
“She said her first word.” I whispered as I picked her out of the cradle. Shivaay nodded and I knew he was dying of jealousy. I smirked.
Then Shivani held her hand out in his direction. “Papa! Papa!” She said as he pulled his short towards us.
He smirked and raised his eyebrows.
Suddenly, I felt a competitive streak in me. “She said Ma first.” I argued.
He grinned like a cheshire cat. “So, she called me thrice.”
Hmph. “So?” I challenged.
Then Shivani started gurgling like we were some joke. I and Shivaay stared at each other. We noticed that Shivani had brought him so close that we looked like an ordinary couple enjoying their daughter’s first words with his arms draped around my waist and Shivani sandwiched between our bodies. But we were everything but ordinary.
He quickly took a step back, his expression closing over.
“I will see you tomorrow. What time would be convenient for me to call around?”
It took me a few seconds to get my brain back into gear. “Um…about this time is good. I’ll be out all day.”
He gave me a wry look as he reached for the door. “The pre-school again?”
“Yes…I thought I might take Shivani there and introduce her to the kids there. It’s supposed to be good for language development.’
He looked as if he was going to say something but apparently changed his mind at the last minute. I watched as he opened the door and stepped through, casting me one last inscrutable look as he shut it behind him.
I stared at the door while I waited for her heart rate to return to normal. Shivani placed her head over my heart as she sleepily said ‘papa’ and I felt an irrational fear of her hearing my fears and secrets. Would she forgive me for cheating her uncle.
Nia was right, I thought as I let out a little uneven breath. “As far as falling for Shivaay Singh Oberoi went, she was more than halfway there already.”
The next day, Shivani was in an even worse mood. She was screaming and struggling in the assistant’s arms as I tried to leave. The pitiful cries shredded my nerves and, even though the assistant was just as reassuring and confident as the day before, I felt the full weight of my guilt drag mee down as I made my way to the front door, my eyes stinging with the threat of tears.
I stood near my car. I was not convinced with her answers yesterday, so I had followed her from home today. She had just left my princess in a childcare centre. Where was she going? To continue her business with that golf guy? But she looked miserable like someone was dragging her away. She was looking down and wiping her face.
She took a few steps. I followed her leaving the car behind. She came to a stop suddenly and she turned around. I could see tears running down her face. Her face paled when she realised that I was standing there.
“Sh…Shivaay…what are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the very same thing but I already know the answer.” I said glancing back at the childcare sign. “So that is where you relieve yourself of your responsibilities towards Shivani, no doubt so you can roam around all day with your lovers.” I accused
“No…no! It’s not like that at all.”
Seriously, how much can she lie? ”Perhaps you would like to explain to me why you have placed my niece in the care of complete strangers.”
“They’re not exactly strangers.” She snapped. “They’re highly competent childcare workers.”
I felt rage ignite me as I held her by the arm. “Then we will go and see just how competent they are, shall we?”
I knew she would have no choice but to come as I dragged her.
It wasn’t hard for me to find where Shivani was being looked after. Her cries were echoing throughout the building. As we approached the babies’ room, my hands tightened around her wrist as if my anger was traveling through my body to where it was joined to hers.
“There, there…..Shivani.” the childcare assistant was cooing as she cuddled her. “Mama will be back later…now, now, don’t cry…Oh, hello again, Miss. Raichand” she said as she turned around. “I’m
afraid your little girl is not settling all that well this morning.”
Shivani after all the sobbing was gasping. She held her hands out and yelled. “Mama.”
The caretaker looked immensely happy but I was not. I mean what about me?
Seriously Shivaay, you are mad that a four mouth old is calling for her mom over you, not even her real dad. “Miss. Raichand, she said her first word. You must be very happy.” The caretaker chirped. Anika glanced at me.
“She said it yesterday.” The lady suddenly turned around to focus at me. Anika paused. My baby girl’s eyes lit up.
“Papa!” She said gleefully and held her hands out. I took her. I saw Anika’s expression change.
“Oh Mr. Raichand. I did not know. You must be very proud of your little girl. Very few 4 month old babies take their first word so fast.
“It is Mr. Oberoi and this is soon-to-be Mrs. Oberoi. Come here, Love.” Anika looked horrified and annoyed all at once.
“I am sorry Mr. Oberoi. Today the Little Princess seems to be in a worser mood than yesterday.”
What she left her here yesterday as well?
“That’s all right.” Anika said. “I don’t think I will leave her today, after all. Her father wants to spend sometime with her.”
“We can try again tomorrow, if you like.” the woman suggested. “As I said the other day, lots of babies find separation from mommies hard at first but they soon get used to it.”
“Miss. Raichand will not need your services any more.” I announced in an annoyed tone. “We have made other arrangements.”
The woman’s eyebrows rose slightly and Anika looked horrified. “Well Miss. Karen, Shivaay wants to take Shivani with him to the office. They have services there.”
“Oh…well, then…” The woman gave a slightly flustered smile.
“Come on, let’s go, sweetheart.” I said as I took her arm and escorted her to the door.
Anika waited until we were outside before she turned to me crossly. “You had no right to cancel my arrangements like that!”
I gave her a glowering look while unlocking the car. Shivani cuddled closer to me “Your arrangements were putting my niece at risk. Look at her. She has obviously been crying hysterically; she is feverish and tired.’ Anika gave a guilty look. “I cannot believe you would be so insensitive to leave a clearly distraught baby with total strangers.”
She let out a frustrated breath. “Get into the real world, Mr. Oberoi. Mothers all over the world put their children into childcare. They need to in order to work.”
“But you do not work so it is not necessary for you to engage such services.” I turned away to secure Shivani in her baby seat in the car.
“How did you know I was here?” she whispered after a moment of silence. “Were you following me?”
I stood near the car. “In the light of that magazine article, I decided it was wise to keep some tabs on you.”
She gnawed at her bottom lip and then began nervously, “Shivaay…I haven’t been completely truthful to you. I…I have a job.”
“What sort of job?” Was she still involved in some nonsense like that?
“One that pays me money.” She snapped.
Even her other jobs gave her money.
“That certainly narrows it down a bit.” I said sarcastically. “What sort of work do you do?”
“I’m a pre-school teacher.’
What? Rudra….he never said anything. How can she be a pre-school teacher? Which school would take her? “Rudra did not mention it.”
“Rudra didn’t know. It’s been a…recent thing. I started yesterday. I wanted to improve myself…for Shivani’s sake.”
“Doesn’t one have to study at university in order to be a pre-school teacher?”
“Er…yes, I did that a few years ago…before I…you know…went off the rails a bit.”
Was she lying? Her behaviour seemed rather suspicious.
“How important is this job to you?” I asked her. I mean if she kept it a secret. She must have felt like I was going to stop her.
She looked at the now sleeping baby in her baby seat in the back. “Not as important as Shivani.” she answered softly.
I drew in a breath and opened the passenger door for her. “Get in. We will talk about this later. There is also something else that I want to talk to you about.”
I saw her tense. Why does she do that all the time?
Anika slipped into the seat and clipped on her belt. She spent the rest of the journey silently. While I watched her from the wondering whether she was trying to play games with my mind. This was not at all the girl, Rudra had given me a description of.
As we drove into the mansion, I saw her eyes go wide. This was kind of strange considering Mina, our maid had told me she was outside the door everyday when I was in Europe.
She turned in her seat to look at me. “Is this your house?”
What? Did she not remember? Was she acting?
When he did not say anything, I felt myself automatically stiffen. I had always assumed that Annie visited Rudra in one of her usual sleazy hotels. But maybe this time, that idiot had visited him at home…..this house.
“Do you not remember coming here?” he asked. So she had come here. Great Anika! Just great!
I took a nervous swallow. “It looks vaguely familiar.” I replied.
The line of his mouth thinned. Anika, that was the wrong answer. “You appear to have a very convenient memory pattern, Anika. You simply delete the things you find distasteful to recall.” He got out of the car and came around to open her door, his expression still tight with fury. “Let me remind you, then. You came here the night before Rudra had the accident, banging on the door and making a general nuisance of yourself. God knows where you had left Shivani. My brother had no choice but to let you in and once inside you tried to seduce him.” His dark eyes glittered dangerously. “Remember now?”
I opened and closed my mouth, not sure how to answer.
“I could go into more detail if you would like. I have all the information from Mina.” he added. “Or are you starting to remember all by yourself?”
“I don’t need you to tell me how dreadfully I behaved.” I said hoarsely, lowering my gaze. “I was…upset and lonely, and I didn’t know which way to turn.” I felt tears prick my eyes.
I saw Shivaay watching me silently. I could see what he was thinking in his eyes. He was super confused. He could not understand why she behaved like this. He was finding it difficult to connect the image of me with that of Annie. The Annie that had been described by his dear little brother. He was confused how the girl that was so selfish could be so motherly to her child. As a matter of fact, if it was Annie, even I would have been shocked and probably dead as this feelings were poison to her.
“It is pointless discussing it now.” he finally said. “What is done is done and cannot be undone.”
As they approached the large front door of his house, a young man opened the door. Shivaay’s expression changed as he ran up the stairs.
“Did you see him?” He asked the stranger. The man nodded.
“The doctor said that he is strong and that his vitals are still working fine.”
Then they switched to Hindi.
“Is she the witch?” He hissed and mumbled other things that I did not quiet catch.
Shivaay admonished him which shocked me. “Om, I do not expect you to love her as your sister-in-law but she is my wife.”
The man, whose name I now knew was Om held Shivaay’s collar. I took a step forward. His attention focused on me. It was a glare but when his eyes settled on Shivani, the storm in his eyes calmed down.
He came in front of me and I took a step back. He held his hands out to Shivani.
I guess blood recognises blood. She jumped into Om’s arms.
“She looks just like Rudra did.” He whispered. She held his hand and was bringing it to her mouth.
“Shivi!” I said sternly. She immediately left the hand.
“It is okay. You didn’t have to scold her.” Both brothers stated.
Oh this is great just great. Her two uncles are going to make her a spoilt brat.
Suddenly, a woman in a maid’s outfit came out. Her expression was of obedience to the brothers but as soon as she saw me, it changed.
Shivaay said something to her in Hindi.
The maid grunted something in reply and sidled away as he turned to me. “Just as well you do not understand my language.” he said. “You have not made a good impression, it seems.”
“Good? Try even okay?” Om mumbled as he held Shivani, who was now playing with his hair.
“No, I imagine not.” I saw the brothers exchange a look.
I followed him inside and tried not to look too much in awe of the surroundings, but it was impossible at times not to openly gasp at the priceless works of art which hung from every wall and the plush furnishings that spoke of unlimited wealth.
“I will have Asha bring us coffee shortly.” Shivaay informed me as he opened the double doors leading to a formal sitting room. “But first I would like to speak to you about the arrangements I have made for our marriage.” Om casually plonked himself on a sofa.
I followed him into the room, watching as he repositioned Shivani, who was still fast asleep in his arms. He indicated for me to be seated and once I had sunk, his long legs stretching out in front of him as he tucked Shivani close to his chest. The two of us stared at each other while we waited for Shivaay.
Shivaay came into the room closely followed by their maid, who shot me a glare.
“I have to go to Singapore on business.” Shivaay said. “I will be away until the day before our wedding.”
“I see.” I was stressed as I could see Om watching me from the side.
“I would like you to move in here while I am away to settle Shivani into her new home. Asha and Mina can help you with Shivani so you can continue to work, if that is what you would like to do, although you will
need to take some leave of absence, as the day after the wedding we will be leaving for a short trip to India to visit my family. Om will also be there to help you. He will also be there at our wedding.
I had to stop myself from springing off the sofa in agitation. I stared at him in anxiety. I couldn’t leave the country with a child that wasn’t mine! And, even if I dared to do so and wasn’t stopped, how would I cope with a long-haul flight after what had happened the last time she’d flown? My flight home from a friend’s wedding in New Jersey had hit severe turbulence during a storm. It had been the most frightening experience of my life and I had not flown since. The mere thought of boarding a plane made me want to rush to the bathroom but boarding it with a small child could only be a hundred times worse.
Also once I reached there, I would have to face his family.
“I…I can’t go.” she said. “I don’t like flying.” I heard a snicker.
“Oh, really?” Om remarked. “Is this a recent thing?”
“Yes. I had a bad experience 7 months ago.”
“But I assume not bad enough to prevent you from flying to Paris 5 months back to harass Rudra.” Shivaay remarked.
I felt like slamming my head against the wall. I had forgotten all about Annie’s trip to Paris.
“I…It comes and goes. The fear, I mean. Sometimes I’m fine, other times I get all panicky.” I stammered out.
“Well, perhaps flying in my private jet with my staff to wait on you will alleviate some of your fears.” he said coolly. “I will need your and Shivani’s passports to make the travel arrangements.” While I heard another snicker. Oh god. I would shoot that fellow if he does not stop.
“I would really prefer not to go.” I got to my feet and moved towards the door. “I have to work.”
“I think in the interests of Shivani you might consider taking leave from work. Most new mothers take a few months off. I am providing you with a generous allowance, so unless you are in particular need of any mental stimulation your job provides, I would suggest taking a break. After all, it is just a new job.” He growled.
I wished I could tell him what to do with his money but unless I went along with Annie’s plan everything I had fought so hard for would be lost.
“What am I supposed to do with my time?” I asked after a moment of silence for the looming end of my career.
“Look after your child.” he answered. “I do not expect you to do so all on your own, of course. I will help whenever I can and so too will Asha, Mina and Om.”
“I don’t want to live here until absolutely necessary.” I snapped
“You have no choice, Anika. I have already contacted your landlord and informed him you will be terminating your lease as of tomorrow.”
“You had no right to do that!” I shouted.
“Last I checked he has. He will be your husband in a matter of days.” Om remarked coolly.
“You’re only doing it because you don’t trust me, so don’t insult me by pretending anything else.” I shouted at Shivaay.
“You are correct. I do not trust you. As soon as my back is turned, no doubt you will be off with one of your boyfriends, but this way I get to keep Shivani safe.” Shivaay said.
“You make it sound as if I mean to do her harm.” I shouted back. Shivani woke up startled.
He held my gaze with equal amount of hate. You may not intentionally mean to do so but your erratic, irresponsible behavior of the past indicates you do not always act in her best interests.” Then he turned to Om, who was watching the scene unfold. “Om, please take Shivani to the room.”
Om nodded and walked away with my baby. Suddenly, I started feeling claustrophobic. I was being smothered by the two brothers.
“It seems I have little choice in all of this. You have organized it all without consulting me.” I growled
“All I have arranged was what we agreed on. We will live as husband and wife and jointly raise Shivani until such time as we both feel the marriage is no longer viable.”
“It’s not viable now! We hate the sight of each other; what sort of marriage is that going to be? One where I start losing myself?” I shouted. I felt tears roll down my cheeks.
Shivaay glared at me.
There was a knock at the door and the housekeeper came in bearing a tray of and snacks. Shivaay exchanged a few words with her and she left with a black look cast in my direction.
“Do not mind her.” Shivaay said once Asha had left. “She had rather a soft spot for my brother.”
“So, like you, she blames me for his death?” I snapped.
Shivaay gave me a studied look before responding. “It is hard sometimes for those who are still grieving to see the other side of the story.” He glanced out of the window and added, “It cannot have been easy for you, left alone with a child to raise without her father’s support.” He lifted his eyes to mine and asked, “Did you ever consider an abortion?”
“I……I was talked out of it.”
I looked at my hands. “By someone who has done her best to support me through my difficult years.”
“A close friend?”
“More than a close friend,’ she said. More like…a sister.” There was a small silence.
“I am glad you did not get rid of her, Anika.” he said. “Shivani could be my last link to my brother. Thank you for having her. I know it cannot have been easy, but I cannot tell you how much it will mean to my aunt to hold Rudra’s child in her arms. If you want you can invite your friend for the wedding.”
I gave him a weak smile as I reached for my cup, my stomach fluttering nervously at the thought of how complicated my life had become. Within days I would be married to Shivaay Singh Oberoi, living with him and jointly raising Shivani as our child. At least Nia could be there.
For now my secret was safe……..but how long was it going to be before he realised he had married the wrong woman?
Author’s Note: Do you guys want me to kill Rudra’s character completely or put him in coma?
Anyways apart from that Thank you all for the reviews. 🙂 I enjoy reading them.