Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 12

It was one nasty decision she made in the spur of moment. Dua was amazed and amused by her survival. When her car fell, she thought fish will be feasting on her yet, here she is. Alive once again.

“Leave us alone.” The nurse looked at Xian when he entered the room and nodded reluctantly.

“Asfandyar.” Why is she not surprised? “His men were keeping tabs on your activities these past days. He hasn’t involved the covenant yet and your previous attack is irrelevant to this one as well. That was Thompson’s doing.” Dua twisted her ring while listening. “We traced their vehicles.”

“Did you get them?”

“No. Their cars were found trashed and burnt in a junkyard. There are no traceable records of them. In simple words, the trail has been wiped out.” Dua fisted her mouth. She underestimated Asfandyar. She knew she needed to be more sagacious around him yet she made a slip. “There is something else.” She watched Xian silently. “Someone looked into your identity a few days ago. It was done in roundabout manner and the current IP address is shown in Istanbul.”

“Did they find anything?”

“Nothing.” Dua visibly relaxed in her pillow. “It is all under control.”

“Dua?” Xian stepped back in respect when Dar-jee rushed inside her room with an equally worried Haider and Amber. “Khudara! How did this happen? Xian!”

“Dar-jee! I am fine. It was just a minor miscalculation on my part.” She looked at Xian in warning. “I was driving too fast. I am good.”

“You call this good?” Haider chided. “Look at the amount of bandages covering your body.”

“Haider! Let her recover first.” Dar-jee then turned to Xian. “I want a word with her doctor. Accompany me.” Giving one glance towards Dua, Xian left with Dar-jee. Amber sat beside her on the stool.

“How careless can you be Dee? What if something serious happened?” Dua smiled at her worry and her eyes traveled to the bundle in her arms.

“How is he?” Dua inquired with something akin to adoration in her voice. Amber got up and adjusted Rayan in her arms so that Dua could see him properly. “He looks healthier than before.”

“He is growing just fine Alhamdullilah.” Amber smiled and watched little Rayan looking at Dua with his big blue eyes. “He got Haider’s eyes.” Dua nodded and played with his tiny fingers. She was still reluctant in touching him. All this while Haider kept watching her silently which was putting her off the edge.

“What Hadi? Stop looking at me like that. You are freaking me out.”

“Why did you leave alone?” Amber looked between them in confusion. “If you were going to take the highway, you should have taken protection with you-”

“It was an accident Hadi” Dua emphasized on each word slowly. “Stop feeding your fantasies.”

“Are you two fighting again?” Their squabble died when Dar-jee brought her doctor in tow. “I want to hear your verdict doctor. Because she will jump out of the bed next instant.” Doctor chuckled and examined Dua again. She wanted to tell him off but kept mum because of Dar-jee.

“There is nothing serious. Ms. Sahi was quite lucky but she will need to stay in hospital for a day or two. We just want to run few more tests to make sure of things. Rest, proper bed-rest and medication will do.”

“Thank you doctor” he nodded at Dar-jee and left. “Did you hear what he said? No moving out.” Dar-jee finalized everything and there was no other choice. Her leg was heavily injured. She will need to stay put for a few days to get it functional. “Am I clear?”

“Yes Dar-jee. Very clear.” Haider chuckled at her obedience. “Not that I can move in the first place.”

“I don’t know what to say to this?” Dar-jee shook his head. “Good or bad?”

“A bit of both” Haider grinned suggestively. “At least, she will stay put now.” Dua shook her head and focused out through the window. She zoned out on them when they discussed her security and stuff. Not that Xian and Haider were going to sit back and relax in the first place. She knew some action was on its way to be executed. She closed her eyes when fatigue and sleep took over her body. The relaxants finally kicked in. Their voices became distant as she fell further in a nameless limbo.

“Sleep well Dua”

*********

Incapacitating the remaining two guards standing below her room, he climbed his way up stealthily. It was near to impossible. Getting close to her. There was strict surveillance throughout whole hospital building. Not even doctors were allowed to go inside without proper identification. Xian kept close watch of everything. Why won’t he? After all, she needs to be protected.

Her identity needs to stay hidden. Her life was too valuable and he knew what fortune will land at his feet upon having her. In every way. He knew what line he will breach by going to her right now. An old rivalry could reborn with his one little move. But he didn’t care.

All this was not enough to keep Asfand from going to her. Even at the cost of his life and reputation, he was going to meet her. To confront her. He was supposed to have her but she chose death over being captured. Again. Asfand didn’t know what to call it.

Gallantry or gullibility?

Well! He can ascertain it later.

He landed on his feet soundlessly after making sure no one was inside. His green eyes surveyed the dark room and finally rested on its occupant. His fists clenched upon the sight of white strips covering her body. She sustained heavy damage. Her face had minor bruises and cuts. Damn this woman. But she still managed to look breathtakingly beautiful.

Asfand stopped by her side. Those fairy-tales were true. Sleeping beauty does exist. He mused silently and observed her sleeping form carefully. Her lips were slightly parted, hair sprawled on the pillow and her chest was rising and falling with her steady breaths. She looked so defenseless and the mere thought ran certain thoughts wild in his head. He grabbed the headrest and leaned over her.

“You drive me crazy myaen janaan." His bandaged hand traced the outline of her plush lips with a hushed murmur. So soft. “I don’t know what to feel towards you? Attraction for what you are or repulsion for who you are?” His thumb caressed her cheek and came to rest under chin. “Hatred for what you caused or” His eyes found their way towards her closed ones and he just couldn’t resist.

“Wary” Her burning ambers bore in his cold forest. A click echoed and Asfand stopped midway in his path towards her lips. Asfand looked towards the muzzle of the gun pressed to his heart and a throaty chuckle left his mouth. “I thought touching a woman unrelated to you was forbidden. And yet you dared approach one.”

“Are we going to talk about right and wrong now?” Asfand raised a challenging brow when Dua pressed the gun to his chest in warning. “If it’s about that, I am not committing any sin. I am touching what is mine.”

“Nothing is yours.” Dua retorted steadily though her heart was ready to burst out of her chest in this moment. “You should leave before situation turns dire. You already made one big mistake.”

“Are you threatening me?” Asfand chuckled deeply. “You underestimate me...Dua."

“Dee” Dua corrected him through gritted teeth. “It’s D. Sahi for you.”

“Why? You don’t like your name?” Asfand hummed lowly while observing her closely. “Why Dua?”

“Leave” Dua snapped. “Just leave before I empty every bullet in you-”

“Do it” Asfand countered calmly. The early mischief vanished and a dark shadow overtook him. “Come on!” He grabbed hold of her hand and held the gun in place. “Who is stopping you? Who stopped you Dua?” A dangerous smirk made its way to his lips at her murderous glare. “Shoot.”

“Leave Mr. Sherzai” Dua pulled her hand back roughly and pressed the call button. “Just go away and never approach me again.”

“We will see about it when time comes.” Asfand retraced his steps all the while keeping her heated hazel locked with his green ones. “You can’t escape me and I assure you.” Dua watched him climb out of the window. “Next time, I will come with everything to claim my stake.” Asfand jumped at the precise moment Xian burst through the door.

“Fire the idiots you hired.” Xian raised a brow in question at her flustered and infuriated expressions. “They are nothing but trash and get my discharge papers ready. If it’s about rest, I can do it at home.” Xian didn’t argue and left. On his way, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed a number before placing it against his ear.

“Haider!” He stopped by the hallway and gazed out through the glass wall. “We got a problem.”

*********

Dua was sitting in her green lounge and going through some important files when her phone buzzed. Checking the caller’s identity with a deep huff, she placed the file on table and got up to listen his new banter.

“Are you coming?” Haider twisted the paper-weight on the table. He knew there was no need to double check but it was the only excuse he could use to know if she was fine or not. Her last attack left an unsettling feeling within him.

This was what he feared the most. Dua getting hurt. And the enemies were only going to increase in number. Although he made sure, she was always protected but it was an undeniable fact she will be alone at one point. He just feared not being able to save her once again.

“How many times are you going to ask? I will be there Hadi.” He just hummed which caught Dua’s attention. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah” Haider heaved a tired sigh and sunk in his chair. Dua didn’t buy it. His lies. He was definitely up to something but she didn’t probe much. Not when she herself was keeping a lot of things from him. “You heard about Sherzai?”

“He left, that’s all.” Dua observed the green vines keenly. He has to. Because of the gift she sent to those people. She had no idea what position he held in the covenant until later. If she knew before, she would have done it sooner.

“You think he doubts?” Haider inquired “About you?”

“Not sure Hadi. We can just hope to never see him again.”

Not until I have achieved my purpose.

*********

The commotion in the room stopped when Asfand entered. His eyes scanned through six faces and with a scoff, he went ahead to sit on the head chair. Everyone watched him warily which satiated his black soul to no end. They knew who to fear.

“What’s this about?” Asfand inquired calmly which made their sweat drop. If Saeen was devil, this spawn of his was the ruler of seven realms in hell. “Why have you become mute now Ismael-” Asfand looked to the man sitting on his right. “Malik?” The man gulped and wiped the sweat on his forehead. He coughed thrice while standing with faltering confidence.

“It’s preposterous” Ismael began shakily and looked towards his companions who refused to acknowledge anything. “Why are you avoiding me? You saw it yourself. That container which arrived in my shipment. You saw the bodies of my men in it. And two of my warehouses exploded on the same day. No one knew of their location, then how the fuck did it happen? It is not government or any other enemy we know of. I suffered the loss of millions. The Russians are asking for shipment money but what I am supposed to give them when nothing is left.” He then turned towards Asfand. “I told Saeen that girl was not safe-”

“What girl?” His instincts already knew the answer but he wanted to hear it from this fucker. “Who are you talking about Malik?”

“D. Almas Sahi.” His fists clenched on table. “I told you all she was playing at something. Who else will send the charred and butchered bodies of my men back? They were the ones I sent after her.” Everyone looked around frantically upon feeling the hostility slowly seeping from Asfand to the very air around them but Ismael remained oblivious.

“I’m telling you she blew up my places. She might have looked them up through Nawab’s accounts. If you all have supported me, that girl would have been-” He watched Asfand wide-eyed when he slammed his head against the table.

“Do you even know the spit you spit while talking shit?” He raised his head and banged it hard on the table again.

“Asfan-”

“How many of you were in on his plan to kill that woman?” Afroz Sherzai seethed silently when his nephew disrespected him so blatantly. He was behaving too cocky just because Saeen favored him a little. But the moment his son returned, the bastard will know his place. “I asked something.” Asfand glared at his so-called uncle.

“We tried to stop him” His companion spoke hesitatingly. “Saeen told him to withdraw instantly but his men were already caught. We didn’t know where they were and a week ago, we received their bodies.”

“So it was you” Asfand asked blankly. “Azfar Baig? Elections drew close and you didn’t waste one second in losing your shit.” He watched them in contempt. Why were these fools even alive? “Didn’t you do the homework before taking such a drastic step? Didn’t you know whom she was related to?”

“We knew and that’s why I took that step.” Ismael replied breathlessly. Asfand still had him pinned to the table. The moment he spoke, Asfand increased the pressure in his grip around his neck. “Thompson was keeping tabs of that woman from past years. He said she could be Feroze Rahija’s youngest daughter. The one that escaped that time.”

“You saw her dead body” Asfand replied emptily. Damn that Thompson. He should have known. “What makes you think she could be that man’s daughter?”

“We just saw a body. We couldn’t identify her.” Ismael breathed harshly when Asfand let him go roughly. “Nawab was murdered and next day, she bought his entire business. Why? And she is related to Shahs.”

“That woman has no connection to anything.” Ismael opened his mouth but Asfand stopped him with a raised hand. “She know Shahs but its strict business. Next time you decide to act this inane, think hundred times.” Asfand towered him. “I am not like Saeen. If you came in my way, I will kill you myself. Keep that in mind and mind your fucking actions.” He looked at all of them in clear threat.

“They won’t defy you again” Behroze spoke up at last. “They know very well not to mess with you.” Yusuf and Jalal nodded in silent agreement. These three knew very well where to say yes and when to draw a line. Last seven years taught them enough lessons which others failed to learn. One already lost his life to an unknown enemy and these two fools were too blind, walking the same path as Nawab. Unlike them, Yusuf, Behroze and Jalal preferred to live in muteness. Because they knew what kind of fate Sherzai could give them if they dared to raise their heads against them.

Especially Asfandyar Sherzai and Saeen.

So, they are not even on each other’s side. What lameness. Asfand turned to Ismael who gulped loudly. “Dare to do something like this to hinder me again and I will dig your grave with your own hands.” They nodded in silence and dispersed immediately, leaving Asfand alone in the dimly lit room. “Find out what happened and keep an eye on them.” Safan came to him after making sure they were alone. “If they did it once, they will do it again.”

“What do you intend to do?” Asfand leaned over the table and breathed heavily. “They doubt her-”

“They can’t prove anything.” Asfand looked at Safan from his periphery. “Did we find anything on her yet?” Safan frowned when Asfand chuckled lowly. “That woman is no ordinary player. She knows her game so fucking well.”

“You need to be wary of her then. If she is really Feroze Rahija’s daughter, she is the sole witness of everything. She impose a danger to you Asfand. Why are you being so relaxed about it?” Asfand laughed lowly which irked Safan. “What’s so funny about this?”

“It makes you worried but it thrills me. If she is really Dua Feroze Rahija, you have no fucking idea what I got my hands on.”

“But there is no data on Dua Feroze Rahija anymore. We dug deeper-”

“It was not deep enough. Like I said, she is no ordinary woman.” Asfand faced away from Safan and leaned against the table when the screen came to life. “I have a feeling” he muttered when her picture popped on the screen. How badly I want to see you in person.

“What feeling?” Safan inquired impatiently but Asfand stayed quiet.

“Keep an eye on her Safan. Monitor every fucking move.” Asfand couldn’t go back to America right now. Not with how things were messing up. Safan was right. He needed to pay attention to his agendas first. But that doesn’t mean he can’t know. “There is a special gift you need to deliver to someone for their extraordinary service of years.” Andrew Thompson! You will be rewarded.

“Leave now” Asfand couldn’t deny his restlessness but something could be done to put it to ease for a while. Because his gut was telling him, it won’t be for long.

He will see his Dua very soon.

*********

Dua was making her way to the main entrance when her phone buzzed. She frowned upon seeing the i.d. of Xian and slowed her pace to listen his call. “What?” He knew she was visiting Dar-jee. Unless it was something that needed immediate attention, Xian wouldn’t disrupt her time like this.

“It’s Thompson.” Dua stopped dead in her tracks and immediately opened her email. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing and reading. How the hell did it happen? She was keeping close eye on his movements.

“How did this happen?” She turned away from the mansion. “Did you-”

“We didn’t” Xian replied calmly. “Someone else got him.” Who else could have a motive to kill Thompson? “There is no evidence and the tracks are completely covered. It’s shown as a suicide. We cannot do much about this. Whoever got to him, messed the trail we were paving for our next move.” Dua twisted her ring furiously.

How could he die? He didn’t even pay half the price for betraying her father. He couldn’t die this easily? How could he die after selling her father’s trust and life to those leeches?

“Find out” Dua gritted lowly. “Find out however Xian. I don’t care what law you have to breach but I need the name of the person.” She disconnected the call and breathed deeply with closed eyes. Nothing is lost. Nothing. “He was just a pawn. The game is not lost.” Composing herself back, she turned to go inside.

“Sorry” he apologized and bent to pick her phone. “I wasn’t expecting you to turn.” Brown-eyed, dark haired, well built and almost six feet tall. Dua gave him a once over when he stood to his full height. “Here. Fortunately, it survived.” When Dua made no attempt to take her phone back, he raised his brow in amusement.

“Dee?” He looked at Haider and turned to Dua with newfound interest. “Took you long enough. All good?” Haider inquired while looking between them.

“Yes. I just bumped into her.” Haider watched the phone he was extending towards Dee and took it on her behalf. He knew Dua was not going to take it herself anytime soon.

“Meet Sarim Raza Chaudhary. He is grandson of Dilawar Chaudhary. He is an old friend of Dar-jee and shareholder in Globaviations." Dua took her phone from Haider with a nod. Friend or not, she was getting irritated with the way Sarim was watching her.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Sahi” Sarim extended his hand but Dua made no attempt to shake it.

“Is Dar-jee inside?” She turned to Haider, completely ignoring Sarim who was a bit flustered by her attitude.

“He is in main hall.” Dua nodded and excused herself. “Sorry man. She is not usually this cold and mean.”

“It’s okay. I might have crossed the line.”

You have no idea. Haider mused to himself. “Shall we go back inside?”

“I will come shortly.” Haider followed after Dee, leaving Sarim in the driveway. “Interesting” he mused, remembering his short encounter with the feisty woman. “This is going to be an interesting trip.”

*********

The visit of Dar-jee’s friend was proving itself to be the biggest nuisance in Dua’s routine. And the name of this nuisance?

Sarim Raza Chaudhary.

Dua couldn’t decide whether the guy was plain stupid or simply arrogant. He was everywhere and it was giving Dua an unnecessary headache. If Haider came to meet her in office, Sarim felt it an obligation to tag along. If Dua was outside, he managed to pop out of nowhere. If she refused to meet or accompany him, a family dinner was arranged suddenly and her presence was considered mandatory.

He was too over-friendly and intrusive for her liking but the guy didn’t seem to get it.

“Ma’am!” Sharlene entered, interrupting her meeting with Xian. “Mr. Chaudhary came to meet you.” Xian watched Dua fist the documents in anger. He knew how much she was bearing and there was nothing he could do about it because he was Dar-jee’s guest.

“Tell him I left for a meeting earlier and won’t be returning. And call Haider once you are done dealing with him.” Dua leaned in her seat when Sharlene left. “What’s the progress report?” She pinched her nose with closed eyes. “Did Aya-” her phone started buzzing the moment she straightened up. “For God’s sake!” Xian watched her flung it across her office.

“Do you want me to tell him off in person?” Dua was tempted to take Xian’s offer. She knew how efficient his warning will be but she had her hands tied.

“We have more important matters to deal with.” She opened her laptop and connected the pen-drive. “Did you contact Aya?”

“She did what you asked. The Russian mafia is going crazy because Ismael couldn’t deliver the shipment in time. They already had their doubts and the explosion only grounded it stronger. Mikhailov said he was double crossing Russian with Chinese cartel from last two years. He has been hogging money from two sides and his companions had no idea of it. He even faked an ambush on Khan and stole his containers on the way to delivery, later selling them to Khan’s client on double price. A conflict broke between them earlier and Ismael was threatened by his own kin against his actions.”

“So, the ties are already hanging by thread?” Dua mused darkly. “It won’t need that strong of a stroke to sever them completely.” She looked towards Xian. “Call Mikhailov. He will do the rest. Ismael is completely shook right now. He is like a blind enraged bull. Show him the direction and he will do the rest. Tell Aya to stand-by and keep a close eye on everything.” Xian got up silently and left.

Dua stood up as well and went to the chessboard on her table. Picking the black knight, she moved it between two pawns and rook of white.

It was ready.

*********

Another freaking dinner.

Dua completely lost count of the amount they had over last two weeks. Haider watched her twist the fork restlessly. He knew she was not liking it and he was very much aware of Sarim’s advances towards her.

It was as much infuriating as it was amusing.

Sarim was nice but Haider didn’t want Dua to suffer. He tried to wave him off politely but it’s like Sarim couldn’t see past anything. It was fine to show interest but not at the cost of her discomfort. He couldn’t understand why Sarim couldn’t tell his approaches were not appreciated.

“I’m sorry. I hope I’m not late.” Sarim smiled at Dua which she completely disregarded. She didn’t even bother looking up from her phone when he greeted her. Haider knew Dua was on the verge of snapping. He just prayed it didn’t turn nasty.

“Bacha!” Dua noticed the disapproval for her rudeness in Dar-jee’s eyes. “Where are you busy?”

“I’m sorry Dar-jee but I have some matters that need immediate attention.”

“She is a workaholic, isn’t she?” Dilawar Chaudhary chuckled mirthfully. Dua just smiled weakly and focused her attention on Rayan in Amber’s arm. She just couldn’t pretend and it was more than enough on her part. “Her spirit reminds me of Feroze at times. That boy was so loyal and committed to his work. I remember how he used to forget everything around him when he was working on something important.”

It was bad idea indeed. Haider looked towards Dar-jee in silence who just shook his head.

“Yes, she works too much. I went to meet her earlier and she was gone for whole day.” Sarim chuckled while looking at Dua. “No wonder, she isn’t interested in anything else besides work. She is already committed.”

“We should get done with this dinner. Dar-jee! I have to leave for Detroit as well. Something came up.” This was getting too out of hand. To Haider’s relief, Dar-jee nodded and the dinner proceeded smoothly.

But only for a while.

Something was bound to happen tonight.

“I want to ask something.” Haider wanted to bang his head at Sarim’s persistence. “Why don’t you use your real name? I mean-”

“Can you do me a favor?” Dee slapped her fork down harshly. “Mind your own business.”

“Dua!” She stood up abruptly when Dar-jee called her name. “What kind of behavior is this? Apologize.”

“Can’t you see how much I am bothered by his attitude? What part does this man is not getting that I am not interested in associating with him over anything.”

“Dee!”

“No Haider. I have enough.” She picked her phone and got out of her chair to leave.

“Sarim wants to marry you.”

“Dar-jee!” Haider and Amber stood up as well. Amber couldn’t believe what she was hearing. No one ever dared to mention marriage for Dee. She even got scolded by Haider once when she casually asked about this. And when that dupatta landed on Dee, she saw a hell in her eyes. That cleared one thing that something bad happened in their life which scarred Dua. “What are you-”

“It’s high time we thought about her future. Business is not everything she needs to pay attention to.” Dua fisted her hands. She couldn’t believe Dar-jee was saying all this. He, of all people.

“Jahangir! Don’t be rash. Let’s all sit and talk this through. Don’t impose your decision on her.”

“Dua-”

“Dee” She interrupted harshly. “It’s D. Sahi for you as well Mir Jahangir Shah.” She left abruptly because she just couldn’t bear with this anymore.

“Dee, stop” Haider grabbed her arm before she could get in her car. “You did bad-” She raised her hand and got in her car against his protests.

“Drive” Dua leaned against the door and looked out through her blurry vision. She gripped her dress tightly to hide the tremors that shook her very core. She just couldn’t block the pain that surfaced with the mere word.

Marriage.

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