FLAME OF LOVE

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Chapter 4

Erica's POV

Time froze. I went blank and was lost, being oblivious to my surroundings. Did she mean 'HIM'? I felt a tsunami of mixed emotions that were hidden deep inside my heart.

Clara shook me and pulled me out of my trance. Acknowledging her, I stepped out of my car, locked and walked towards the mall entrance. Clara followed right behind me, waiting for my reaction as I avoided her gaze.

'Erica, wait and listen to me.' Clara called out. I stopped outside Claire's and Michel Kors outlet. I asked her - 'Where to go - jewellery or handbag?'

She sighed - 'We can check both, but could you hold on for a sec and hear me out?'

'I don't know who are you talking about, Clara. Let's just get this gift thing done. I may have to go back to the hospital too.' - I told her with a hardened expression on my face.

We were greeted by a young girl as soon as we entered the store who showed us the latest collection of earrings, bracelets and rings.

Clara kept mum and didn't bother to give her suggestion on anything that she showed.

Finally, I chose a simple yet exquisite bracelet which had an elegant girly charm. The sleek make and vibrant colours of emerald green and rose gold made it the more alluring. The Swarovski elements embedded in a crescent-shaped stud threw enough sparkle that will certainly complement her bright smile.

August is the fashionista of our gang, a jewellery designer by profession; I was sure she would love this ethnic design which gives a modern look to the bracelet.

My eyes fell on a Michel Kors truffle-coloured shoulder bag which was put on display and went inside the store to check it out. It was designed in a slouchy shape, detailed with polished hardware, had 2 snap compartments, a secure zip pocket, and also held their signature logo-print canvas. Clara too liked it and signalled me to go ahead with it. So, we bought the MK shoulderbag which belonged to their latest collection and I was sure that August will love it. She loves collecting different types of bags, purses, etc. and owns a huge collection.

I was relieved that we settled on her gifts and the cake was made to order from her favourite Simma's bakery.

The whole time Clara just replied curtly and was keeping to herself. We headed to Starbucks next and ordered a Caramel Frappuccino Grande for Clara and a Chai Tea Latte Grande for myself as I was on the verge of getting a headache, and took a corner seat.

Clara flinched and I gave up, then nudged her to speak, without which she would not have left me at peace. So, I decided to just hear it out and then hesitantly Clara began - 'Erica, I know that the past still affects you. But this is important because what I saw and what we assumed, are poles apart. I didn't tell anyone else yet. It's been 3 days since I met him and I can't shake it off my mind; I think we have got something wrong.'

I forced a smile and responded - 'If there is anything that I have learnt well in my life then, its "looks are always deceptive". I don't trust anyone easily, I did once and I, in fact, all of us were left shattered.'

Clara sighed and continued- 'I know what we all went through but I suspect it to be some sort of foul play. I was at the GE summit 3 days back and he & his gang were sitting exactly a row behind me. I didn't know it until he was called upon to the dias by the organisers; he was awarded as 'the Best Businessman of the Year' and his gang began to hoot for him. That's when I saw everyone- Ziva, Alice, Cherry, Phil and Simon.'

I raised my eyebrows at her, sipping my latte. I was least interested in hearing about those folks but I had to for the sake of my friend.

When I didn't stop her, she continued back - 'Later, everyone was off to the party at the rooftop lounge. Believe me, Erica, I too have not forgotten the ugly fallout and everything but my instincts keep telling me to find out the truth. They never knew about my presence until my colleague Dean suddenly tagged me along to introduce to our new clients. That's when, we came across face to face and guess what just like mine, the colour from their faces too drained out. I stood still and Dean did the talking. What affected me the most is: just like us, I could see that they too went through pain, grief and especially Aron.'

My body stiffened as soon as I heard His name 'Aron' my BFF, once upon a time.

She glanced at me - 'Erica, they too seem to have masked themselves, hiding their pain. We can't dismiss the fact that they too lost their family, isn't it? Huh.. Aron has built an entire business empire all by himself and is a multimillionaire yet quite prudent. He runs an orphanage, providing several orphans the best of everything.'

'Erica, I have been spying on him and have mined the Earth to find out why he is here. I found nothing against him that proves him or them guilty now. I visited the orphanage too and everyone simply adores them, like real affection and respect; not just because of his riches and power.'

I gazed at her, unable to comprehend this new piece of info and couldn't form any words.

Clara added - 'We were cordial as we were surrounded by our clients. Yesterday, we had a meeting at 'Layton Heights, with the board members of 'Layton Group'. I had no choice but to go along with my team, switching on my professional mode. Honestly, I was in awe of the office, the building itself and their work culture. Aron is nothing that we have been thinking and hating him for. Not even once, did he or his friends who happen to be his close business aides, acknowledged that we knew each other. Nor did he try to know about you, about us; they all were as congenial as one could be considering our past.'

'Enough!' I snapped at her after losing my calm; it was already too much for me. Before I could say something harsh to her, my phone buzzed and I had to rush to the hospital for an emergency.

Clara insisted on driving the car as I was quite crappy ever since she took his name.

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