In the car they finalized their pitch.
"We have a pretty decent case for Imran being the baby's father. I don't know how I'm going to bring it up to Abbu and Ayaan. It's so sordid." He rubbed his forehead in agitation.
As he rested his hand on the gearshift she covered it with hers silently offering support. He needed to sound it out for himself. She stroked the back of his hand comfortingly.
"May be we just show them the pictures and reports we've gathered and leave it up to them to take the decision?" She offered tentatively.
He sighed heavily.
"Aapki koi galti nahin hai, Asad."
"I know." He lifted her hand to kiss it. "But I feel so rotten. Not only did she try to ruin our happiness but now she's all set to strike at them too. And I don't trust her. If she could stoop so low as to con me into marriage by drugging me, then there's nothing stopping her from blackmailing Imran. I wouldn't be surprised if she's already done that given how many times she calls him in a day."
The SIM card had been a treasure trove of information. While other contacts of hers were still being investigated the detective had been able to zero in on Imran's cell number as the most frequently called since she had arrived in town.
"If they are in it together to fleece both families with this baby drama, I will actually kill him. I can't even imagine how Nikhat will take all this."
Bringing his clenched fist to her mouth she kissed it and said softly, "let's leave it to Allah's will. We are doing the right thing. Once at the dargah the words and strength will come, I'm sure of it."
Spreading his fingers open she placed a kiss on his palm. The stress began to ebb away. He felt her bite the pad of his palm and grinned. But he hissed in a second when she trailed her tongue over the same spot.
"Is it working?"
"Umm hmm. Now I have only one thing on my mind!"
Slowly sliding one of his fingers into her mouth and sucking hard on it, she teased, "good."
"Zoyaaa," he groaned and exhaled while slamming his head against the seat back.
As they walked toward the dargah entrance, he saw Ayaan from a distance and could tell by his sloped shoulders and downturned mouth that he was suffering. Bowing his head toward Zoya he said, "look what you've done to him. The poor kid looks miserable."
"Serves him right for hurting Humaira by his indifference for so long. But I'm surprised that Humaira didn't have pity on him. Good girl! Some suffering will do him good."
"Like it did me?"
She looked at him and he couldn't look away or say anything. They stopped midway, unable to take their eyes off each other.
"Ahem," they heard, and broke their spell. "You guys should get a room." Ayaan said crossly.
Zoya looked away, her face blazing and heart thumping. I wish!
"Sorry, sorry. Just slipped out." He ran his hands through his hair sheepishly.
"Mona darling," he greeted her, without managing to snarl too much.
"What? Kya hua Raabert, why so grouchy?"
"Nothing!" He turned away, and then back again, "just tell Omar to stay away ok?"
"Why should I do that? He's my best friend and not here for too long."
"Then don't invite Humaira along."
"I will if I want to, I'm happy to make new friends and love introducing new and old friends to each other. And they like each other, toh tum kyun zakhmi sher ki tarah gurra rahe ho?"
"Dammit!" he growled and lunged toward her. She assumed her warrior pose and glared back at him.
Asad chuckled. She looked so incongruous in her suit and dupatta and just as adorable. He wanted to scoop her up in his arms and kiss her right there and then.
"OK, stop it you two, we're not here for a cat and dog fight as much as I would love to watch it. Settle down and behave!"
"Aapko pata nahin hai Bhaijaan, Zoya ne Humaira ko kya ghutti pila di hai, but all of a sudden she's not the same person anymore. She actually had the nerve to yell at me today when I offered to teach her how to ride a bike."
Asad looked at Zoya in alarm. Did she tell ...? She shook her head and held up her hands in defense. He relaxed. That bike ride was their thing. And how he wished they could do that again. He reluctantly returned his attention to Ayaan's tirade.
"Enough, bahut ho gaya tum dono ka. Where are dadi and Abbu?"
As they started walking towards the building Zoya took Ayaan's arm playfully. "OK give me one good reason why I shouldn't set up Humaira with Omar. Kya kharabi hai usme? He's such a nice guy."
He shrugged out of her grip. "I don't care if he's Santa freaking Claus. Just keep him away from her!"
"Just do it!"
"Not till you tell me why."
"Because, she's mine!" He yelled and stalked off.
Behind him he heard Mona darling and Bhaijaan laugh out loud. He turned around and saw her hold out an open palm and him slapping it with a broad grin.
"See Mr. Khan. Maine kaha tha na, Zoya Farooqui kucch bhi kar sakti hai. Apne dewar ke liye dewarani bhi la sakti hai!"
"Mujhe kabhi bhi aapki abilities ya super powers par shaq nahin tha."
Ayaan was furious yet intrigued. What super powers and abilities?
"Kya baat kar rahen hain aap dono mere bare mein?"
"Kucch nahin Raabert." And she sang as she skipped ahead of him, "samajhne wale samajh gaye, jo na samjhe..." and she looked at Asad coquettishly.
" ... Woh anari hain!" he completed in tune.
"Very funny!" fumed Ayaan and glared at these two lovesick idiots. Wait, did he just say what he just said about Humaira? ... and did Mona darling say ...?
Dadi had caressed her face and then held her close with tears in her eyes. Zoya had shown her the earrings she was wearing and she smiled in beatitude. Rubbing her hands over both their heads she had murmured a prayer of protection and benediction and then given them taawizes.
While she and Dadi sat in the dargah listening to the qawwali and later visiting with Dadi's friends, Asad haltingly and then more surely told Rashid and Ayaan about his suspicions regarding Imran.
"I know this is a shock but I had to share this with you so that we can ensure Nikhat's best interests."
They were shocked silent after having listened to him and seen the pictures of Imran and Tanveer at Kanpur, records of her pregnancy, the damning dates of both, and the number of calls made from Tanu's phone to his.
Ayaan was the first to erupt.
"I will kill that bas*tard. How dare he come to our house with that vile mother of his and act all innocent and charming?"
Asad put his hand on shoulder.
"Ayaan humein thande dimaag se isse handle karna chahiye. Don't you think I wanted to do the same? But then we decided to gather concrete evidence first."
Rashid spoke brokenly, "who else knows about this?"
"Ammi and Zoya. They are the ones who gathered most of the evidence by searching her room and getting her phone. We don't have DNA evidence or anything, but I think the next step is to confront him."
"I can't believe it! How he acted as if he didn't know her that day." Ayaan ranted.
Rashid looked up in confusion, "You've seen them together?"
Ayaan looked at Asad guiltily. "Yes, abbu, we bumped into each other at a restaurant the other day. Bhaijaan was there with Zoya and Najma and that woman, and Imran and I had taken the girls for dinner that night."
Rashid rubbed his hands over his face wearily. "At least Nikhat can be free of that terrible woman now. She will be hurt but ..." He nearly broke down. He couldn't bear his oldest daughter, who was the most gentle creature on this earth, to suffer for being so simple and trusting.
"Abbu..." Asad placed his hand on his father's shoulder and said through a choked throat, "abhi uske bhai zinda hain uski khushi ka khayal rakhne ke liye. We'll find her the best man who really deserves her. She deserves much better than this worthless ..."
Ayaan kicked a stone with great force, "that worthless, spineless piece of sh*it!"
They saw Dadi and Zoya headed their way.
"Will you let Dadi know?" Asad asked.
"I don't know. My head is still spinning. I still can't believe it. Let me think about it. I will call you tomorrow. I am assuming you want to be there when we talk to Imran?"
"Of course. The more of us, the better. And if we can show that the two families are united in this then they have no way of turning us against each other."
"I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news ... Abbu. I know how happy you all must have been for the first wedding in the family."
Rashid clapped a hand on his oldest's shoulder proudly, "You are the best big brother and doing a father's job much better than me. I wish I had your courage. Your Ammi has raised the finest man I know."
Asad had beamed and Zoya's heart lurched to see him get his heart's desire. Thank you Allah miyan for taking care of Mr. Khan! Always keep him smiling like this, please.
Looking fondly at Zoya and putting his hand on her head, Rashid said, "and the first wedding in the family is still on. It is the firstborn's birthright. Kyun, sahi kaha na maine, dost?"
Zoya bowed her head and her lashes grazed her cheeks shyly.
"Lekin ab to tum meri dost nahin rahi."
She looked up in alarm with eyes wide and worried.
He smiled and patted her cheek, "Ab to bhai, hum tumhare sasur ban gaye."
Ayaan, Rashid and Dadi looked at him smiling down at Zoya, and each said a prayer of thanksgiving for returning, with interest, Asad's lost smile and happiness.
Song in Title:
Ghulami (1985): "Zihaal-e-Miskeen"
In the car ride back home they had laughed about two other weddings that would be coming up to keep the families busy for some time.
"Wouldn't it be such fun if we all got married on the same day, together?" Zoya asked.
"I would love that but I don't think Humaira's parents would let that happen. And we still have time for Omar to tell his parents." Asad replied.
"Kya, Mr. Khan why do you always have to be so practical? Aap sab mazaa kirkira kar detein hain! Why can't you let me dream and hope?"
"Asad," he prompted.
"Mr. Khan!" she pouted.
"Oh, so when you'll be mad at me you'll call me Mr. Khan?"
"Ji, Mr. Khan," Zoya said haughtily, with her arms folded across her chest.
Asad pulled the car over and dragged her over in his arms to fiercely kiss her. "And when I'm making love to you?" he looked down her intensely, his eyes skimming over her lips. Her breath hissed and eyes widened. One hand had already crept into his hair and the other gripped his collar.
"Mr. Kh--!" He silenced her again. With a lot of tongue.
"Asad," she breathed as her head fell back.
"Good girl," Asad crowed triumphantly.
"Oh really?" And she framed his face with her hands and sucked on his lower lip and then bit it. Hard. But then, taking pity on him, Zoya rubbed her tongue back and forth over the sore spot. He gasped with pleasure and she thrust her tongue in this time to tangle with his.
He cradled her head as they disengaged.
"I want you so bad, I can't wait any longer! I don't want to wait for my brother and sister to figure out their love lives. They can afford to wait. I want us married as soon as possible. That's why no multiple weddings, OK? Is that impractical enough for you?"
Zoya nodded in wonder and pulled him in for another kiss.
A passing car honked several times and they could hear drunken hoots and catcalls. They both straightened in a hurry and Asad swore under his breath. But he held her hand and planted a kiss on her open palm which curled around his cheek.
"Oh thank god! But Asad, we have the Tanveer mess to resolve first."
"I thought that too." He started the car and merged into traffic, then re-gripped her hand interlacing his fingers with hers.
"But now, I don't want us to put our lives on hold anymore. We'll be talking to Imran pretty soon. And after that, I'd like to spend more time and energy on what's good and positive rather than the bad and ugly. She's done enough damage and I won't let her do any more."
Zoya smiled hopefully and squeezing his hand decided to tease him again.
"Iraade toh bahut nek hain aapke, jahanpanah. But will you be able to say anything besides voh, actually, main' to Phuphi?"
He bit her knuckles.
"Oh really? Then why don't you talk to Ammi? Aakhir koi aisa kaam hai jo Zoya Farooqui nahin kar sakti?"
Yanking her hand from his grasp, she slapped his thigh. "Mr. Khan!"
He grabbed her hand and held it firmly on his thigh. Zoya felt heat radiating from him through his jeans. His thumb traced delicious circles on her hand.
"But seriously Asad, when?" Zoya gasped.
Letting go of her hand he squeezed his temples with his thumb and fingers. "I'll talk to Ammi tonight. I don't know how many cold showers I can take any more. I want you right now and am barely holding on to my self-control."
Caressing his thigh, she leaned over and gave him a peck on his cheek.
"I love you," Zoya breathed. "And the window coverings and privacy panels are just about done, so yes, please talk to Phuphi soon!" she said huskily.
Nipping his ear, she giggled, "we better conserve water and save on the bill, after all!"
He nearly swerved into oncoming traffic when Zoya moved her hand up higher and whispered hotly, "Mr. Khan ... we should probably make up for the high water bills by showering together the first month of our marriage!"
Ayaan was reeling. Did she actually slap him? But he had only ...
Damn, who was this woman? And what happened to the old Humaira?
Talking to Bhaijaan would be useless. He called Zoya.
"Mona, what the hell is wrong with Humaira?"
Zoya knew exactly what had happened. Humaira had just called and tearfully told her. She feigned ignorance.
"What's up Raabert? What did you do now?"
"Voh actually ..."
Zoya rolled her eyes. What was with the Khan men?
"Voh actually, kya kiya tumne Ayaan?" She asked more gently. She didn't want them to suffer any more. She wanted for them what she had with her Mr. Khan. Well, not exactly what they had, but ... something close would be nice.
"Remember the pictures of Humaira you sent me that day in a skirt and jeans?"
"Well, I went back to the store and bought that skirt, kurti and boots for her and surprised her with them as a gift. And she had the nerve to throw them at me. And then when I grabbed her wrist to stop her she ... she hit me!"
Zoya held her head in despair.
"Ayaan, do you love Humaira?"
"Haan," he said scratching his head. Wasn't it obvious? What was wrong with Mona darling asking such dumb questions?
"Which Humaira do you love? Photo wali, ya asli wali?"
"Yeh kaisa vahiyaat sawaal hai Zoya? What's the difference between the two?" He bellowed.
"Fark hai, Ayaan. And that's why she reacted so strongly. The real Humaira isn't the girl who wears skirts and boots. She thinks that you don't like her for who she is ... and that you wish she was more modern."
He fell silent.
He dragged his hand through his hair, "but I don't see them as different. She is still the same no matter what she wears. Why would I love her based on what she wears?"
"Tell her that!"
"But why does it need to be said at all?"
She sighed heavily. "Ayaan, you don't know how insecure girls can feel. When I didn't know that your Bhaijaan loved me, I thought that he would never accept me because of who I was, the way I dressed or acted. I always felt that that's why he chose Tanveer," Her voice broke. "Because she seemed to be the image of the ideal woman for him."
She took a deep breath, "and if he hadn't said that he loved me for being exactly who I was, then we wouldn't be together today."
She felt a pair of warm hands encircle her and she drank in his scent. Taking the phone from her hand Asad said, "bye Ayaan," switched it off, and threw it on her bed.
Zoya turned in his arms and cried softly in his arms.
He held her without a word. Nothing needed to be said any more.
She lifted her head when she was done, and he sucked her tears away.
"Aap yahan? What about lunch?" She eventually asked.
He framed her face in both his hands and rested his forehead against hers. "I talked to Ammi. She's gone to talk to Maulvi Saheb right now. We'll keep it small and simple. Just the family. Let Aapi and Jeeju know."
She hugged him tightly, "finally!"
Asad swung her around in his arms and looked deep into her eyes, "finally."
She burst into tears.
"Baby, what is it?"
Zoya was feeling too raw today for some reason. She had held her father's music box and even visited his gravesite, but the hollowness remained.
And then the conversation with Ayaan had brought to surface all her feelings of rejection and loss when she had first confessed her feelings to Asad and he had said nothing in return.
And the next day he had been engaged.
She wiped her tears and took a steadying breath.
"Remember at the dargah in Ajmer, when you offered me the thread, and I refused?"
He nodded and a shadow of pain crossed his eyes. Zoya reached up and smoothed his forehead.
"I refused because ... because I'd just found out about Abbu's death and then when I found out about your enagement ... I told myself that if I asked Allah for anything he'd just take it away from me."
Asad held her tight burying her face in the crook of his neck, "I'm sorry, so sorry. If I could turn back time, I would."
She rose on her toes and kissed his mouth shut, "I know."
Although he had come home wanting to take her out to lunch to celebrate, they had fed each other on the sofa in between tears and kisses.
He sensed that she needed him to just hold her today.
Thank god they had the house to themselves this afternoon.
Song in Title:
Agneepath (2012) "Saiyaan"
That night, he'd been unable to sleep. Zoya's broken sobs kept intruding into whatever snatches of sleep Asad was able to steal. He felt a heaviness and unease about her fragile state of mind today.
He got up restlessly to get a drink of water and sensed before hearing the muffled sobs.
She was crying again.
A few steps, and Asad was holding her as she let herself be rocked into comfort. Her bed linens were twisted violently as though she had thrashed around in them.
"Nightmare?" he whispered.
She nodded and clung to him.
"I dreamt that you were trapped in the fire this time and I couldn't get to you," Zoya hiccupped. "I tried to scream your name but no sound would come ... my throat was raw. Asad!"
"Shh, I'm OK, see, I'm fine. Nothing's happened to me."
She ran her hands over him to make sure that he was indeed fine.
"Zoya, is the wedding too soon? If it's too stressful for you, we could postpone it. Just say the word."
"Then tell me how can I make it better? Please. It's killing me to see you hurt like this."
She cupped his face, "make love to me."
Asad's heart lurched and his arms involuntarily tightened around her.
"I don't want to take advantage of you in this state. You are so vulnerable right now."
"You won't be doing that. Asad, I feel like I'm drowning. I don't know what's happening to me. Something cold ... this unknown fear is clawing at my insides. I'm so scared of losing you."
He kissed her urgently hoping to banish all her fears. "I would never let that happen," he soothed.
Laying her back on the bed he murmured soothing words into her ear. He lay down and pulled her head to rest on his chest as he stroked her back.
Asad could still feel her shuddering and her hot tears scalded him through his kurta.
He got up and she clamped his hand tightly between hers, "don't leave me, please!"
He held her face gently in his cupped hands and reassured her after lightly brushing her lips with his, "I'll be right back."
He locked her door and took off his kurta before getting into bed with her and covering them with the comforter. She sighed deeply as she snuggled into his warm chest.
"Thank you," she mouthed against his skin and his blood leaped.
"Zoya, are you sure? What if you regret this tomorrow?"
"Just love me Asad," and he was undone by the directness and simplicity of those words.
He kissed her slowly, one hand stroking her throat while the other cradled her head gently. She let her hands wander over his shoulders and caressed his arms feeling their sinewy strength. His skin warmed her fingertips. Zoya's fears slowly receded, and the ice in her veins thawed as the blood coursed through her body thrumming in response.
She arched her throat to give him more nibbling room and her breath caught as he dipped his lips lower to the vee of her partially unbuttoned kurta. He snaked his tongue out to taste her and she moaned with pleasure. His hands crept up under her kurta as he explored the warm skin of her stomach and lightly feathered his fingers up her rib cage. She swallowed in anticipation of his hands moving up and cupping her, but he was taking too long.
Her breath expelled.
She impatiently grabbed his hand and placed it on her heart over her kurta silently begging him to relieve her of the pressure.
"Zoya," he moaned in her ear and she felt her pulse throb.
He rose to look into her eyes and she traced her fingers over his lips. With her thumb she brushed his parted lips and pressed the pad to his teeth. He licked and sucked at it. Wild desire flared through her. She dragged his mouth over her bre*ast straining and arching against him. Finally, he had mercy on her, and she felt moist heat clamp on her as he suckled her.
"Asad," she moaned breathlessly holding his head and gripping his hair.
His body surged to press into hers.
He sat up guiding her up as well. Nuzzling her neck now his hands floated under her kurta to tug it up and off.
She went deathly still.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have," Asad said quickly and tried to disengage himself. She held his hand and put her finger on his lips.
He looked into her eyes seeing fear and guilt and his heart melted.
"Baby, if you're not ready we don't have to," he held and soothed her.
"I want to ... but there's something ..." Zoya trailed off uncertainly.
"What? Are you worried about protection?"
"No," she said quickly. "It's just that ..."
"It's OK, we don't have to. It's fine. You know I love you."
"I know, and I love you. But there's something about me that I haven't told you. And I'm embarrassed."
"Don't be. Nothing can come between us."
She covered his mouth with her hand to silence him and reached over to the bedside lamp to turn it on.
Then she pulled her kurta off.
His breath quickened as he took in the delicate beauty of her exposed skin. She turned slightly toward him and he felt the wind knocked out of his lungs. There was a long and wide patch of darkened and puckered flesh along her right arm. He reached his hand out to touch her and she flinched.
He looked up in confusion and saw tears streaming down her face.
"I don't know how I got this," her voice was barely a tortured whisper. She gulped painfully and soldiered on, "but it must have something to do with my nightmares. I'm sorry, I should have told you earlier. You don't deserve to know like this."
Zoya bent her head in misery and covered her face. She wouldn't be able to bear seeing him flinch or cringe in revulsion.
She felt his breath first, and then his lips on her scarred flesh, and gasped.
She looked up to see him hold her arm toward him and kiss his way from her wrist up to her shoulder.
"Did you think I would love you any less because of this?" She saw that his eyes were moist.
"I should be really mad at you Ms. Farooqui. How could you torture yourself like this? Why didn't you share your pain and worries with me?"
She flew into his arms and hugged him tight as they both fell back on the bed with her on top of him.
"Are you mad at me?" Zoya asked after she'd stopped sobbing.
Stroking her scarred arm, he said, "very much."
"Will you call me Ms. Farooqui when you're mad at me?"
She sighed and yelped as he pinched her on the waist.
"I'll call you Mrs. Khan."
She giggled, and he rolled them over to rain a thousand kisses on her face and down her chin and neck to her cleavage.
He looked up at her, "are you sure about this?"
"Yes. Please Asad."
And he made such tender love to her so ardently that she was reduced to tears all over again.
Afterwards, he went to the restroom and brought a damp washcloth to gently swab her clean. Again she felt her eyes moisten. Asad came back, switched the lamp off and got back in bed with her. He held her as she snuggled up against him. Their bodies molded and fingers played with each other.
"I'm sorry for being so weepy today," she whispered. "I've never cried so much."
He dropped a kiss on her head. "May be the meeting with Dadi and Abbu yesterday made you emotional."
"I never knew I could be such a basket case. May be I'm just hormonal and PMSing," Zoya joked lamely.
He kissed her and trailed his fingers on her arm. "No, you know what I think? You've hidden your pain from everybody for so long that the dam just had to break." He tucked her hair behind her ear and kissed her forehead.
"You are so beautiful." Asad pulled her higher so that he could look into her eyes. He nudged her nose with his, "I'm sorry that you felt you had to hide your scar from me. I wish I was there to protect you from getting it in the first place." He trailed his finger from her forehead down her nose to her lips. "You know how I admire your strength, right? You are the fiercest woman I know, and I'm humbled that you love me."
"But the thought of losing you makes me go crazy ..."
"Don't," his lips brushed hers. "Don't you think I'm equally scared of losing you?" He kissed the tips of her fingers. "The number of times in a day that I think about how I nearly lost you because of some diabolical scheme that kept us apart?"
She slithered down to kiss his chest and feel his heartbeat against her face. "I didn't know."
They kissed to reassure each other, pledging hope against their fears.
Asad rolled her on her back, and put his hand on her stomach possessively, "do you think we made a baby tonight?"
Covering his hand over her stomach, she said softly, "a part of me wishes that we did."
"And the other part?"
"Wishes that we can keep trying for a long time." She felt his chest rumble over her ear as he laughed.
He bent to shower little kisses on her stomach and then rose to settle in between her legs.
"Zoya and Asad making baby, Take 2," he murmured huskily in her ear.
"Already?" She asked with quickened breath and brimming heart.
"All ready," he said and slid in; they rocked hard and fast, and came calling out each other's names.
Song in Title:
Agneepath (2012) "Saiyaan"
They had invited Imran and Haseena bi in a hotel suite under the pretext to discuss the arrangements for the wedding.
Both had been surprised just to find Rashid and Ayaan.
Rashid asked everyone to have a seat, politely offered drinks and snacks, and then turned to Asad.
"Beta, you want to do the honors?"
Haseena bi tried to interject, but before she could utter a single word of disapproval, Rashid glared at her saying, "Asad hamare ghar ka bada beta hai. I would recommend that you listen really carefully to what he is going to say next."
She looked around in confusion and panic. Ayaan had his back turned toward them and was looking out of the window.
His fists were clenched by his side.
Asad slapped down a folder on the table.
"Imran, take a look at this, and then let's talk."
Imran looked anxious. "Why? What's going on?" He looked at Rashid in bewilderment. "I don't understand."
"Look at the file," Asad said sternly.
Imran cracked his knuckles nervously and beads of perspiration tricked down his spine.
"Please," ordered Asad.
The color from his face drained as he flipped through the 8x10 glossies of the worst mistake of his life.
As the pictures and copies of documents slipped through his lifeless fingers, Haseena bi bent to pick them up and look at them.
"Kya hai ye sab? What is the meaning of this rude behavior?"
"Tum bataoge Imran, ki main bataoon?"
Ayaan meanwhile had been pacing like a caged animal.
"I'll kill this ba*sta*rd, bhaijaan!"
He lunged toward Imran and Haseena bi screamed.
"You can't treat us like this. Stop! Main police ko bulaungi."
"Haan, please call the police," piped in Rashid, dead calm. "I also want to file a complaint against you for extortion in the name of dowry."
"But ... but ... what happened?" She whimpered.
"I'll tell you what happened!" bellowed Ayaan.
"This scumbag son of yours has made a girl pregnant and wants to marry our sister so that you can continue to fleece our family."
"What? That's a lie!" She huffed. "My son is the most virtuous son a mother could wish for. Aap sab jhooth bol rahen hain!"
"Hum jhooth bol rahen hain? Ask this son of yours for how long he's been lying to everybody! We are officially breaking this engagement."
"Ayaan wait," interjected Asad.
He gestured toward the discarded folder, "Imran, tell us everything about your relationship with this woman."
Imran haltingly gave details which matched what Zoya and he had already speculated about. He went on to tell them that Tanveer had been blackmailing him ever since she came to Bhopal.
"I paid her off with small sums of money but she keeps coming back for more."
Asad looked at him in anger. "If you were a better man, you would have broken off your engagement to Nikhat, and married Tanveer to take responsibility for your child. That would have been the right thing to do."
Haseena bi cowered on the sofa and wailed about her misfortune and how she and her son were being framed.
Imran twisted his face in shame and tried to incoherently beg for forgiveness, and a second chance to make things right.
"You bloody coward," Ayaan lunged to grab his collar. As he was about to smash his fist in Imran's terrified face, Asad held his arm and looked at Imran, "take your mother and get out of here."
As Imran slouched toward the door Rashid added, "Never show your face around here. We will be filing a case against you for unlawful dowry demands. I want every family in Bhopal to know what kind of greedy monsters you are, so that no one gives their daughter away to the likes of you."
As Haseena bi reached the door, Asad spoke quietly, "Haseena bi, two more things: one, those title papers for the house I gave you in Nikhat's name?" She looked at him fearfully. "I expect them in my office by 11 am tomorrow."
As she started to slink away, he added, "and two: we are reporting your brother for bribery and false arrest to the Anti-Corruption Branch."
Tanveer was raging mad. How dare Imran turn her down for money? Didn't he know what she could do? She kept calling and texting but he had probably blocked her calls.
She would need to meet him in person to set him right.
She was mortified at the Khans' treatment of her. While Asad had clarified his position loud and clear, khala and Zoya looked at her with a kind of distaste that made her want to scream bloody murder. Najma was the only one who treated her with any civility, though now, even she would look at her more with pity than anything else.
She would steer clear of them, not sharing meals, eating in her room and staying out most of the day. But by now, the best option for her was to take Asad's money and just leave to find new feeding grounds. She did have one middle-aged suitor in Kanpur, may be he could be the ticket to respectability.
That evening she knocked on Asad's door.
His eyes turned steely when he saw her at the door. He put aside his laptop and stood up. She took time in settling down on the settee and adjusted her dupatta and faked a mournful expression.
"Jammy, I've decided to take your offer. I hate to abandon my child and appear to be a bad mother, but it may be the best thing for my child." She lowered her gaze decorously, and twisted the end of her dupatta.
"I think my child will have a perfect home with his father. A father's name and love is more important after all."
Her words were greeted with silence.
She looked up at him and saw his arms rigidly crossed across his chest and cold anger etched across his face.
"I'm afraid the offer is no longer on the table, Tanveer."
She stood up in alarm.
"What? What do you mean? So you will marry me after all?"
He laughed grimly and said, his voice dead quiet, "no. Listen to me very carefully."
Her spine stiffened.
"I know that you've been lying all along, and that this is not my child." She started to speak but he held up his hand. "I also know that this is Imran's child and that you've been blackmailing him."
She sat down heavily on the settee.
"I should have thrown you out of my house a long time ago. But I wanted to make sure that I had all the evidence against you. Now I do. No point denying it," he said as he saw her begin to speak up again.
His fists were clenched and teeth gritted. He opened the door for her, "I want you to packed up and out of my house by tomorrow morning."
Tanu started to cry and beg for forgiveness. "Please Jammy, don't do this. I'm sorry, I did it out of desperation. I didn't know what else to do. I know I shouldn't have lied to you."
"You're right. You shouldn't have lied to me. If you had told me the truth at the start I would have pleaded your case to Imran, helped you get married to him or even supported you if he refused."
He looked away in disgust. "But what you did was ... Please, just leave. I don't even want to think about it any more."
He slammed the door after her.
Damn him! So that's why Imran had suddenly cut her off.
She went up the stairs slowly thinking of how to regroup.
One last chance still remained, but it was risky.
She saw Zoya at the top of the stairs with a load of freshly dried laundry.
Her eyes were sparkling and face was glowing. She had on her earphones and was smiling and humming lightly to some tune on her iPod. She came skipping down and looked up to see Tanu half way up.
Her smile froze.
Her eyes narrowed into slits.
Oh, so she knew too.
Of course, why wouldn't she? Miss Nosey New York must have played lead detective in all of this. And Jammy was her besotted little lapdog making googly eyes at her all the time.
She saw red.
And, as if in slow motion, her hands stretched out to push her nemesis for wrecking all her well-laid plans.
Song in Title
Rocky (1980) "Aa Dekkhen Zara"
It was a good thing Asad had just stepped out to go to her room.
He wanted to tell Zoya that he had checked yet another item off their to-do list: talk to Tanu and explain in clear terms that her jig was up.
He had already updated her and Ammi about the confrontation with Imran. Rashid had lodged an official complaint against them as well, and Ayaan was in the process of completing the formalities with the Anti-Corruption Branch complaint.
The only downer in all of this was how Nikhat would react to, and cope with this news.
It must have been the setting sun's light glinting off Zoya's ring or watch. Asad turned and saw her a second before she screamed and tumbled headlong down the stairs.
Tanu stood carved in stone right behind her.
He leapt up and caught her just as she crashed into the sharp edge of the bannister.
Dilshad and Najma came rushing out of their rooms at the sound of her scream and his tortured cry.
Dilshad saw Zoya in Asad's arms as he tried to stem the gushing blood from her temple with a bedsheet she still clutched in her hands.
It was the same sheet from last night, he noticed, swallowing a sob.
Zoya moaned in pain.
He looked up to flay Tanu with his glare. "Get out, right now," he ground out through gritted teeth as he cradled Zoya's head gently against his shoulder and lifted her in his arms.
"I want you gone from here before we come back," he barked in cold fury before striding to the door to take Zoya to the hospital.
Luckily, the clothes had cushioned her fall, and his fast reflexes had prevented major damage. Though Zoya did get five stitches, no bones were broken or fractured. But fearing a concussion, the doctor had allowed her to go home on strict orders.
They would have to wake her up every two hours to test her vitals and alertness. If she showed any signs of disorientation, dizziness, blurred vision, or persisting headaches, then they'd have to bring her in to be admitted.
Zoya's head hurt with a dull throbbing ache. Her shoulder and ribs were sore from the fall, but other than that she was fine.
Asad refused to let her walk on her own and insisted on carrying her back to the car. Embarrassed at first for being carried through the crowded lobby like a broken doll, she protested feebly, but then she realized that he needed to do this more.
He was still on edge.
She rested her head on his shoulder in surrender and he looked down at her. "I'm fine," Zoya stroked his shoulder and neck and closed her eyes. The bright lights hurt her eyes and she couldn't bear to see the blood on his shirt; it made her queasy.
Asad settled her in the passenger seat and hugged her slightly, worried about hurting her. He kissed the top of her head and she knew he was in tears. She swiveled in her seat and hugged him. He moved in between her legs and shuddered in her arms.
A worried Omar was there when they arrived home. Dilshad insisted on feeding and mothering her like a baby. She forcefed Zoya hot milk with a hefty dose of haldi.
"Sab undar ki chote theek ho jayegi beta. Bas roz yeh haldi wala dudh peena, OK?"
"But Phuphi, it tastes vile!"
Omar grinned and shook his head. Same Zo.
He held a thumbs up sign to Asad and said, "no worries. Everything's still in place. We may soon even be treated to some terrible shayari."
Even Asad cracked a half-smile at this. Zoya looked at Omar gratefully.
Dilshad continued, "drink up, it's good for you, so no arguments."
Zoya tried to nod but winced in pain.
Asad stood by her bed stiffly with his arms crossed. Ocassionally he would uncross his arms, clench his fists and then stuff his hands in his pockets.
She knew he wanted to crush her in his arms but couldn't. She smiled up at him. "I'm fine Mr. Khan, really. Please relax."
Asad expelled his breath loudly. His jaw clenched and the veins in his forehead were close to popping.
Dilshad left to put the dishes away and Najma was despatched to gather magazines and books and generally stay out of the way. Omar followed her to give them privacy and steal some private moments of his own.
He sat by her side.
As the door closed softly after Omar, Zoya put her hand on Asad's. He picked it up and kissed it.
"If something had happened to you, I would have killed her."
"I'm sore and bruised, but I'm really fine, Asad. Please freshen up and change out of that shirt."
He kissed her fingers and got up to go. She held on to his hand. He looked back at her. "I love you," Zoya whispered.
He smiled after what felt like decades.
Dilshad decided to sleep with Zoya that night to keep a close watch and also to wake her up each time to check on her.
Asad paced outside her room. The second time Zoya had to be woken up, Dilshad let him check her.
Zoya was grumpy by the third time, and he chuckled at her crankiness. "You are such a baby," he cooed softly, kneeling by her side.
She harrumphed. "You would be too if someone woke you up and poked you around every other hour!"
Asad bent to whisper in her ear, "umm, it didn't seem to bother you last night."
"Mr. Khan!" Scandalized, she looked guiltily at her Phuphi. Thank god she was fast asleep! He kissed her ear and Zoya shuddered with longing.
He looked exhausted. She wanted to hold him and soothe the frown lines on his forehead. "Go get some rest, please."
"I'm OK. I'll rest on the sofa in the living room," Asad dismissed her concerns.
He stroked the back of her hand which his thumb in circular motions, "does it hurt a lot?"
"A little. But it hurts a lot more to look in your eyes." Zoya cupped his face, " a lot of sleep, some painkillers and I'll be as good as new, I promise. Please Asad, go rest."
"Good. I'll come back in two hours."
She groaned. Grabbing his collar, she whispered in his ear, "I'm going to make you pay for this Mr. Khan, just you wait."
"I'm counting on it." He kissed her lightly on her lips.
He shot up like an arrow, "ji Ammi?"
"Ab jao, thoda rest kar lo beta," Dilshad said sleepily.
Zoya stifled a giggle as she saw him walk away regretfully.
The next day she ran a low-grade fever but mostly slept through it.
Asad had cancelled his meetings and worked from home.
He stirred restlessly and rotated his stiff shoulders.
He itched to hold Zoya, but neither Najma nor Ammi left her alone, and he was scared he'd hurt her.
Her shoulders and back seemed to be causing her the most discomfort.
If Tanu's offense hadn't been so serious, Zoya would have laughed at Asad's overprotectiveness and paranoid concern. He had even posted a security guard outside their home.
In the evening she was well enough to sit up in the living room. Her neck still felt stiff, and her head hurt, but she was getting bored out of her mind in her room.
Ayaan, Humaira and Omar had come to pay a visit. Humaira didn't know about Tanveer's role in all of this, but Ayaan and Omar knew.
Zoya was nearly back to her old self and was enjoying listening to the conversations around her. Only a bit weak and achy, she caught and smugly relished the intense looks pass between Raabert and Humaira. Hmm, looks like Humaira relented and allowed Raabert back into her graces.
She turned to look at Asad to silently celebrate, and her heart flipped. He had fallen asleep with his head leaning on the sofa back and one arm stretched out. Zoya wanted so badly to snuggle up and hold him.
Poor baby, so little sleep in nearly forty hours.
She gestured to everyone to move to her room so that they wouldn't disturb him. Najma brought a shawl and covered him with it.
Over tea and snacks they quietly chatted.
Omar ribbed her about how he was supposed to be marrying her but instead he'd have to attend her marriage to someone else.
Ayaan too chimed in about losing his chance with Mona darling.
What were these guys up to? Zoya looked up in alarm at Humaira and Najma. Would they be glaring at her?
No, they were glaring at the men instead.
She giggled. She asked Humaira to dish the details of her reconciliation with Ayaan. Humaira shyly bent her head and quietly showed them the suit she was wearing. She told her and Najma that Ayaan had presented it to her and told her that he loved her, no matter what she wore.
Zoya clapped her hands in glee and raised her thumb in congratulations when Ayaan looked her way. He actually ducked his head in embarrassment.
She got up to go to the kitchen. Najma immediately tried to settle her back. "What do you need, Zoya? Let me know."
Omar to the rescue as usual. "Nah! She probably just wants a sneak peak at her sleeping beauty."
Zoya blushed. Everyone laughed.
She left as Ayaan told Omar to back off unless he wanted to encounter Mukka Ahmed Khan after he'd had his beauty sleep.
"I'm not scared of the Mukka," joked Omar. "I'm the Love Guru, and the Mukka Khans bow before me."
He and Humaira high-fived.
Najma and Ayaan looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
Zoya couldn't resist the picture of him asleep. His chest rose and fell with even breaths, the stark planes of his face looked relaxed. The dark lashes on Asad's cheeks made him look so vulnerable. Kissing him lightly on the cheek, she snuggled in next to him under the shawl, resting her head on his shoulder for just a minute.
It had been so long since she had held him and breathed in his scent.
He shifted slightly to pillow his cheek on her head.
When it was time for them to leave, they decided to tip-toe out through the living room. But everyone stopped briefly to smile at the charming tableau before them: Zoya and Asad with their heads together, fast asleep.
Song in Title:
Blood Money (2012) "Chaahat"
That night he sneaked into her bed like she knew he would.
Asad turned on the bedside lamp to look at her. The swelling on her forehead was receding. But the bandage reminded him of the blood that he'd seen spilling out as he frantically tried to stanch it with trembling hands. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, brushed his nose against hers and kissed it.
"So much," Zoya said wrapping her arms gratefully around him. She really had missed holding him and having him hold her.
She knew he'd still be scared to hold her for fear of bumping her bruised ribs or shoulders.
His breath caught as he felt her against him more fully. Zoya was wearing his kurta from the night before last.
And nothing else.
While his body tightened with desire, Asad smiled at the memory and dropped a kiss on her shoulder breathing in her scent. That night, when he had tried to put on his clothes to leave her room before anyone woke up, Zoya had tugged the kurta out of his hands to slip it on, and grinned up at him impishly.
He had lingered to punish her for it, but then relinquished it for good.
It looked much better on her anyways.
Now, Asad gently pulled the kurta off her and gasped. Her skin showed darkening bruises on her entire right side, more around the ribs and neck and shoulders. He was sure her back would tell the same story.
"Zoya," he whispered in anguish, "you are hurt so badly. I couldn't stop you from falling! If only I'd come out of the room even a second before."
He ran his fingers tentatively over her collarbone and both arms.
"Asad, you have to stop blaming yourself. She did this, not you." Zoya cupped his face in her hands. "I know you can't forgive yourself if Phuphi or Tamatar or I get hurt. But you can't be everywhere all the time. You aren't Superman. Besides, this looks more dramatic than it is. I'll be OK. I bruise too easily."
He shook his head as if disagreeing with her. Asad's grip on her arms tightened slightly, "I have to know," he choked out. "All those times before, when I grabbed you angrily, did I ..." He shuddered to a stop, unable to continue.
"... did I leave bruises on your arms?"
"Shh, stop tormenting yourself," Zoya cupped his cheek with her hand.
"I'm going to be fine. Just kiss me and make it all better."
And he did.
He kissed all her bruises, and she kissed his worries and guilt away.
They fell into a bone deep sleep holding on to each other.
In the early hours of the morning, Zoya's eyes flared open as she felt his warm fingers lazily tracing around, and stroking, sliding firmly in and out of her.
Oh my god, yes!
Asad kissed his way down, his mouth soon supplanting his fingers.
She arched and spilled over.
He kissed her and she tasted herself on him.
"Good morning," Zoya said shyly.
"Are you okay?"
"Never better," she stretched and winced only slightly.
His arms came around her protectively.
"Asad, I won't break."
"You're really OK?"
"YES!" And the giggles and mock-anger in her voice warmed his heart.
"Then I have some plans for you." Asad gently helped her up to the side of the bed and eased her on her back.
"I've had my own fantasies you know," he breathed as he he lightly ran his finger down from her collar bone to her navel. He kissed it.
"Tell me." Zoya rose languidly to kiss and lick the scar on his stomach. She loved to hear him hiss! But he had yet to tell her about how he got it.
"Or better yet Jahanpanah, show me."
"Voh ... actually ..."
Zoya couldn't believe that he was actually blushing, even after standing before her in all his naked pulsating glory. She loved this "voh actually" mode of his. It was the opposite of his Jahanpanah mode, but just as se*xy, and Allah miyan, way cuter!
"That day, when I saw you in those heels I could've ..."
She giggled leaning back on her elbows. "Great minds do think alike! Under the bed," Zoya prompted.
"Are you sure?"
"Asad!" she complained impatiently. "Hurry!"
He dove to fish them out and slipped them on. But only after slowly kissing the soles of her feet, biting her arches, and tantalizingly licking between her toes.
The crystal-encrusted, spiky silver slingbacks bounced on his shoulders as he fulfilled their mutual fantasy.
Only now Rashid understood why Ayaan had agreed so suddenly to the engagement with Humaira, and why Haseena bi had re-agreed so eagerly to the wedding. While his younger son had signed away his life to bribe his father's passage out of prison, his older son had bribed Nikhat's way into being Haseena's bahu.
He was humbled by his sons' courage and sacrifice.
And then there was Nikhat.
He had thought that the news of Imran's betrayal would shatter her. It was hard telling her about it. He had debated whether to tell her the truth. But he did not want her to think that she had been rejected by those cowards yet again. He wanted her to know that her father and brothers had rejected them for not being good enough for her.
She was sad but not broken; she had held her head higher.
He was awed by his children's dignity and compassion; it gave him the strength to confront his own demons.
He would not let Ayaan be forced into any nikaah.
History would not repeat itself.
He would make things right with Dilshad, Asad and Najma.
He put a call through to his assistant to find him the best investigator in town. It was time to marshall his forces to deal with Raziya once and for all, so that she could no longer threaten him or his family.
But before he did anything else, he needed to speak and come clean with Asad.
Song in Title:
Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) "Bol Na Halke Halke"
Topic started by dixeij
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