Chapter 16

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Important note at the end of the chapter. Please read.



"Where were you the whole day?"

Khushi's heartbeat stopped for a moment before it restarted and she slipped into the dining table chair on the left side of her grandfather.

"Out," she lifted the cover of the curry bowl in front of her with an unaffected air.

"Out? That's all you have to say?" Lala Amarnath narrowed his eyes.

"What else, dadu?"

"Where were you exactly? In absence of your brother I expect you to keep me updated on your whereabouts."

"Dadu, even bhaiya doesn't worry about my whereabouts when he is in the city. I am safe with Mohan and NK. I have a backup security too."

"I know. It's not your safety that I am worried about. Girls from good families don't stay out the whole day like this. Who do you meet? And don't tell me you wander alone and window shop. I am old, not senile."

Think fast. Think fast. Think fast. Khushi urged her worried brain.

"Khushi?" Lalaji prompted, his voice now laced with suspicion.

"Who do you think I meet in secrecy, dadu? Archie has already gone back, hasn't he?" Khushi shot in the dark, praying the deflection hits the mark.

"Aha! I knew it!" Lalaji took the bait.

Khushi could weep in relief.

"I knew there was something going on between you and that firangi. You think I am too dumb to figure it out, don't you? You even fooled your brother, didn't you? I can bet my empire that he would not approve of that gora for he wants someone he can keep under his control for..." he abruptly stopped.

The relief she had felt turned into a stone.

Lalaji cleared his throat, "I mean he wants someone properly vetted out for you in the light of our business. He wants to see you happily settled with a safe boy."

But she had caught the slip. Keep under his control? The stone dropped into her stomach with a thud. Why? Wasn't she obedient enough for bhaiya? When has she gone against him? Ever? She was even making Arnav jump hoops for his sake. Arnav of all the people!!

"Anyway, I wanted to discuss something with you today. That was primarily why I was waiting for you," Lalaji slid across an envelope that had been lying in front of him all this time towards her.

She wasn't paying attention as the word 'control' kept grating on her brain. So, she was not to marry a man but a puppet? A well educated, probably good looking and of course a rich puppet, but a puppet nonetheless. In essence, a marriage consisting of her, her husband and her brother. Bhaiya will be taking it too far this time. He wanted to manage her all her life, is it? When was she going to be allowed to live the life like she wanted to live it? Marriage was supposed to be her ticket to freedom. She felt suffocated, not for the first time. But the feeling of betrayal was new. Like she was being denied her due after a lifetime of being a biddable and loyal sister. Like a dog being denied the bone even after performing every single trick he knew.

"Khushi?" Lalaji prompted

She forced herself to look at the white rectangular thing.

"Open it," her grandfather encouraged.

She ripped the poor flap.

"Easy."

Pulling out a six-by-four photograph of a smiling young man, she looked at her grandfather, "What is this? Who is he?"

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