Chapter 18

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The dreadful implications of what she had heard and who she had seen assailed Khushi as she absently stared at the swirling steam rising from the hot mug of Chocolate cradled in her hands. She was wrapped in a warm blanket, still, torpedoes of chill travelled down her arms. Her hands trembled.

"Drink it. It will help with the cold."

She looked up at the owner of the voice. Rizwan Baig. While she sat sideways on his three-seater regal couch, her back resting on the brocaded pillows that were stacked against the armrest, he sat on a stately settee. His living area was an exquisite ode to the Mughal era and while her experienced eyes had involuntarily registered her surroundings, she couldn't find slightest of enthusiasm for the classic details she would have otherwise gone crazy over. In fact, she had been lying along the length of this couch lifelessly, before the hot choco came along and forced her to sit up.

Khushi glared at the younger Baig brother, but when another shiver raked her body, she gave up and took a token sip. Her heart was so heavy with the dread that she was unable to shove more than a tiny sip at a time down her throat.

For a considerable time that followed, the silence of the room was challenged only by the tick-tock of the antique wall clock. Khushi buried her attention in the beverage mug in her hands and Rizwan found staring at Arnav's girlfriend a little weird so he resorted to studying the design of his carpet. Both Arnav and him had a fair idea what first aid to provide in case of a gunshot wound spewing blood like a fountain but had zero clue about what to do when a female faints on them. And since that female was Khushi, Arnav had crossed over to the state of panic pretty immediately. So it had been left to Rizwan to take charge. He had gone ahead and lowered the AC temperature to the minimum in the room where a dazed Arnav had carried her. He had then gone ahead with an ice-pack on her head and cold water sprinkles on her face. When she had come about, he had shoved ice cold water, more ice less water, down her throat. Hence, all her shivering. He hoped that the hot chocolate will counter the effects of his stupidity.

He glanced up at the occupant of the third couch in the room and found him silently worrying his ear-stud while staring at Khushi with unfathomable eyes.

Khushi, however, had resolutely kept her gaze away from that direction.

Man, how he would hate to be in Arnav's position right now!

He had no idea how much of their conversation she had heard and what all she had figured out yet. But since those few days that she had spent in his care, he knew she was in a possession of a fine brain. She knew when to listen, when to speak, when to shut up and when to fight back. Her survival instincts were good. She also knew how their world worked. He was sure that sooner, rather than later, she will connect the dots and fill in the blanks.

"Khushi," he hesitantly called.

Two sets of eyes looked at him.

He cleared his throat. "Can I call you Khushi, if you don't mind?"

For a moment it appeared that Khushi would refuse, but then she shrugged, not bothering to speak.

Rizwan didn't let that affect him. Taking a deep breath, he spoke, "I know you don't want to be in the same room as me, let alone get on first name basis and I don't blame you. In fact, if anyone in this room is without a blame, it's you."

He could say that again, Khushi thought.

"I just want to say a few things to you and then I will leave you two to talk. Actually, I have been waiting to tell you what I am about to say for almost four years, although I never thought I would ever get a chance. But now that you are here I might as well take the opportunity. I worked for my brother Usmaan, but I didn't like the way he operated. Familial ties made us work together but there wasn't any grand love lost between us. You see, I had loved a girl since childhood. She was our neighbor and her name was Shazia. She was extremely beautiful and I was extremely shy. Needless to say, I never had the courage to go up to her and confess my feelings, so I loved her from afar for almost sixteen years. I lived in the hope that someday she will love me back the same way I loved her. Of course, that never happened," he said bitterly.

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