Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 26

Asfand didn’t want to be part of this simulacrum. But he was forced to, because of the position he holds. But it won’t be long. He was going to wipe it clean.

Soon.

“You married without consulting us. And to the same girl. You were engaged to Saba, then why? And now you withdrew-”

“Ask him first about Globaviations?” Asfand glanced at Behroze lazily. “There is no point Afroz. Asfandyar Sherzai doesn’t answer anyone. Army is on my back for what happened. If they found out about those incendiaries that were being manufactured and smuggled, I will be done. You all were in on this and you backed out on me when crisis hit.”

“You don’t understand Behroze. It was necessary at moment.” Behroze snorted loudly at Azfar. “It was for the best, for all of us.”

“Us or just you?” Contempt was evident in his voice. “I know what you are trying to do. I am no fool.” Asfand watched his uncle and his remaining companions wrangle among each other. What was the point really? They were going to meet same fate.

“Silence!” His head shot towards the device lying amidst the table. And just like that, silence befell them within seconds. The control. Asfand continued twisting the paperweight under his fingers. And it is going to be mine soon.

“Saeen” Behroze stood up abruptly. “What more proof do we need? First, Nawab and then Ismael. And now look what happened to my plants. She is doing it.”

“You are over-reacting Behroze-”

“You stay out of this Yusuf.” Behroze snapped. “You don’t get to pass any remark. You have already sold yourself to that bitch.” Asfand’s balled the heavy object in his palm and eyed Behroze calmly.

“Do you even hear yourself?” Yusuf sneered. “You have lost your shit because you are not ready to admit this explosion was your mistake. If there was something, Mikhailov would have told us. He knew D. Almas Sahi before us. He has been keeping eye on her every activity. What is so hard for you to understand?” Others looked around silently. “Keep behaving like this and you will call doom on everyone, just like Nawab and Ismael.”

“She is here for revenge.” Behroze ignored what Yusuf said. “She ruined my daughter’s life and I won’t sit by it.” His eyes went to a stoic Asfand. “I’m not going to leave her-”

“No need to be rash.” Saeen interrupted calmly. “You tell us Asfandyar. No one can shed light on this mystery better than you.” Asfand didn’t react. “Does your wife-”

“No” Everyone was shocked at his bold interruption towards Saeen. “As for why I married her, it’s the same reason as Khan. Money and power.” He looked towards his uncle. On surface, there was calmness but inside, a volcano was ready to explode when he remembered his doings. “She is Dua Feroze Rahija alright but she doesn’t remember anything. But if you insist on making her remember what great deeds you have done, you might as well be ready to face what this revelation will bring.”

“We are not the only one who will suffer the aftermath Asfandyar.” Afroz smirked at his nephew wickedly. “You are no less culprit either.” Of course. “Bring her to Chagai.”

“She hasn’t settled properly.” Asfand replied curtly. Damn this man. “I forced her into this marriage and she is not going to do as I say happily. Like an obedient pet. She is not the same little girl you tortured and scared uncle dear. This woman is strong. She is giving me a hard time, then what are you.” Asfand knew what his uncle was trying to play at.

“Then tame her. We don’t entertain bold women. Have you forgotten already?” Asfand clenched his teeth angrily. “I don’t trust that girl.” Afroz turned away from his nephew. “Everything began when she came in picture. Even if we consider Shahs, they are not after all this. Jahangir is not a coward. He will attack head on and so will Haider Shah. That leaves only little Ms. Sahi.”

“I have a plan” Azfar spoke at last. “A drop will reveal every truth about that little girl.” His eyes focused on Asfand. “What do you say Asfandyar? Do you want to know the dirty little secrets of your little wife?”

“What is the need to ask?” Jalal added restlessly. “She poses danger to us, including Asfandyar. Why won’t he want to get rid of her as well? Her death will give him everything he needs. Just get on with what you have to say. If she remembers everything, we will silence her. She is married to Asfandyar. It gives us an advantage over everything.”

“Asfandyar!” he looked towards the device. “What do you want to do?”

What does it matter to me? She is just a pawn for me.

“Asfandyar?” Afroz called him impatiently. “What are you wait-”

“Do as you please”

***********

Soft melody filled the air and she hummed along the tune. Dua changed one of the rooms in west wing to her meditation studio. It faced the uninterrupted view of high green hills around the estate. This room was spacious and in direct connection to the back garden through full sliding glass and she added a swing bed near those doors.

Dua liked to spend most of her leisure time in here, watching the scenery it paint with different species of flowers and plants. It was isolated from main mansion and it gave her peace and fresh air to breath.

Dua carefully added the granulated wax in the jar. She took the day off and busied herself in making her favorite object. Candles. She deserved to give herself some pampering. And making candles relaxed her mind like nothing else. A smile grazed her beautiful lips when she looked at multiple shaded candles around her. Their number were countless and they were made of different types of wax.

Each one unique in look.

Just like their maker.

A month passed after the explosion of Behroze’s oil plants. In this month, Dua watched his empire crumble to nothing. The blow didn’t come from Dua alone. Asfand shook and broke him in his own ways. Behroze didn’t only lose his business but his son-in-law as well.

The only player who could have turned the ball in his court.

Since Asfand stepped out, his other partners withdrew from future projects as well. Investors were demanding their money back. But how was Behroze going to return it? The blast was not small. It annihilated him completely.

But in her eyes, it was far from over.

She watched the outcome of this small gift unfold. Surprisingly, the response was much better than her imagination.

His so-called confidante left him alone as well.

He was the witness to an unjust act and today, he was the victim of its outcome. The same hands he helped, stranded him in peril.

Dua looked up when Asfand entered her private studio. He scanned the whole place before focusing his attention on his wife and her craft. Asfand was amused by everything. He knelt beside Dua and looked at every available size of candle she made.

“You did this?” Asfand gazed at her face with newfound curiosity. “All by yourself?” Dua just raised a palm-wax candle towards him. Its green color was identical to his eyes. But nowhere in comparison to their alluring beauty. “What?” He watched Dua surprised when she smiled. Towards him. A beautiful smile that twisted his insides with an unknown feeling.

“I’m giving it to you” Asfand was caught off guard. “I added Bergamot and Lavender in it. They are great reliever of stress and anxiety.” Asfand took the candle from her and watched it candidly.

“You are giving me a gift?” He gazed in her beautiful eyes. “Is everything alright with you?”

“If you don’t want it, just leave it here” Dua focused her attention back on the work at hand. She was very much aware of his hot gaze but she showed no reaction. Inside, she was burning at the intensity they bore.

“How can I leave it when you gave it to me with so much-” Dua looked at Asfand when he leaned close to her. “What should we call it janaan?”

“Nothing” Asfand inhaled sharply when her breath teased his lips. A month it was since he touched her in any way. Or any other woman. Not that he couldn’t, he just won’t. After witnessing her reaction towards him that night, he maintained his distance.

But one glimpse and a distance of mere brush melted his steely resolve.

Asfand wanted to pull her in his arms and kiss her senseless. He wanted to touch her everywhere, mark her skin as his and do things that could make even the air shy away.

But he refrained from doing so.

Not until he got Dua out of that fucking trauma. He was not going to initiate anything until she took a voluntary step towards him first. It didn’t mean Asfand was going to wait on her. He was not this generous and benevolent. He was going to pull the strings of every move. And a very interesting game was about to initiate soon.

He was going to lure his darling wife towards a trap.

How can Asfand forget the damage he sustained because of what she did to Behroze? It was his investment as well. The future he was building and she jeopardized it. He was not going to forgive her for what she did.

“What?” Dua frowned at the look that took over his green eyes. They looked darker and sinister. “What are you looking at?”

“I am just appreciating what I have.” His husky voice bothered Dua. “You are very talented Mrs. Asfandyar Sherzai. But I would like to explore more of your hidden talents.” She totally understood the double meaning behind his words.

“How is your ex-fiancee doing? I’m sure they are in dire need of your support.”

“Your sense of humor is way sadistic janaan." Asfand bit back acidly. “I don’t appreciate this attribute of yours.”

“What can we do husband?” Dua huffed lowly while gazing in his green pools. “We are already married. You will have to live with my every flaw.”

“Is that so?” Asfand ran his finger along the stray lock of hair that fell in her face. “What about you? Are you fine with my flaws?” Dua just watched him in silence. His touch was so careful. He was making sure he didn’t touch her skin. “And how long are we talking about?”

“How long do you want?” Asfand leaned towards her with an inaudible groan.

Fuck the wait.

“Saeen?” Their moment was interrupted and Asfand got up immediately after giving Shafiq the permission to enter. “This came for you and Dua bibi.” He handed two shiny invites to Asfand and left. A dark look marred Asfand’s handsome features as he read through the contents. Dua wiped her hands clean and stood by his side. Asfand extended her card and she took it silently. The angry dent was permanent between his brows and his jaw was locked firmly.

“What is this?” Dua opened the invitation under her name. Her brow shot up skeptically and she looked at Asfand. “It’s-”

“Be ready by seven” He left and Dua looked to the engagement invitation once again.

Wasiq Azfar Baig with Ushna Afroz Sherzai.

***********

Afroz walked inside the room after a brief knock and bowed by the feet of the occupant on the bed. Raising her hands to his lips, he kissed them in respect before sitting by her side. “Aslam-o-alaikum Amma begum” The woman smiled and palmed his head in affection. Her other hand held a black colored rosary and she kept reciting holy verses with each bead. “Baba-Saeen didn’t come.” It was not a question but a statement.

“He is not happy with your decision.” The woman sighed tiredly. “I am not happy with your decision.”

“It is for the best.” Afroz looked away from her prying eyes.

“For whom?” She raised the rosary towards her eyes. Kissing it once, she placed it on the table and got up. “It’s time for my prayer.”

“Bring her” Afroz raised her hands to his eyes and kissed them again before leaving. The old woman watched the way he left, even when the door closed on her. And every plea that was resonating the silence. His tyranny left her speechless. It scared her. The wrath of Allah scared her.

Because they have forgotten the true fear over interim pleasures.

***********

Dua picked the black saree from the dresser and her head shot towards bathroom. Asfand was home. And he brought her outfit for the night. It was quite expensive designer wear. With extremely small and exposing blouse. The saree itself was see-through with red embroidery and border.

“Saying one thing and doing other.” Dua scoffed bitterly and sat before the mirror to get ready. A very poisonous feeling coursed through her veins when she saw the salacious outfit again. He wants to show me off. Without bothering about my dignity and our relationship. “Some man you are Asfandyar Sherzai.” Dua picked the saree and wore it.

Another wave of strong hatred consumed her whole when she saw her reflection. She was barely looking like someone’s wife and more like an escort for the night. That’s what I am to him. Dua grabbed a matching pair of ear-rings and wore them along with her rings and wrist watch. Dua never removed the pendant Asfand gave her after that night.

She was not going to.

After wearing her heels and setting her hair over one shoulder, she left for the main room. Right when she heard the bathroom door open.

Have it your way Mr. Sherzai.

A malicious grin stretched over his lips when Asfand found the saree missing. He was surprised by her obedience and he was dying to see her. Asfand wore his charcoal black three piece suit and sprinkled his signature cologne after wearing his shoes. He knew Dua liked his perfume and now, it became his most favorite. He adjusted his cuff-links after wearing his Tag-hueur and gelled his hair. Once done and satisfied with his appearance, he walked out of their closet. But his heavy and calculated steps came to an abrupt halt when he saw her.

Saw his wife.

His mouth turned dry, heartbeat rose and breathing turned uneven. The room felt extra hot and Asfand tugged at his tie multiple times to ease the unease his suddenly parched throat was feeling.

Dua didn’t look at him and kept gazing out of window.

His fists balled in anger when his eyes lingered over her body. What the fuck was I thinking? She looked too hot and sexy. The saree was see-through and the blouse too short and tight around her plump breasts. Just the thought of any other male gazing her way enraged him. No way in fucking hell. Asfand felt certain anger towards his wife. Why the fuck she wore it? And this thought raged his already burning hatred more. Of course.

Dua finally looked at him when he toward over her. A dark look crossed his handsome face and anger blinded him completely when she gazed calmly in his eyes. “We should leave.” Dua tried to walk past him casually but Asfand held her back. She didn’t flinch when his arm encircled her exposed abdomen. His fingers grazed her soft skin lazily. In one jerk, he pulled her body in his and glared at her hard.

“Change” Dua raised one brow at his order. “Right now.”

“You brought it” her hands lay flat on his chest when Asfand pushed her further into him. If possible, he would have meshed her frame with his so no one could dare raise their eyes towards her. He was not actually angry at her or this outfit. He was infuriated on all the eyes that were bound to turn her way.

To his dangerously alluring and sinfully beautiful wife.

“Dua!” His voice held every dark promise his eyes were conveying to her. “Don’t make me do things. Just get out of this fucking saree.”

Dua looked towards the door he banged hard on his way out and silently went towards the walk-in closet. She almost ripped the abhorrent clothing off her body and wore the one she chose. Her heart was still thundering and her eyes were red because of hatred.

This night was going to pay a lot.

***********

“You are looking good” Iram tugged at the corner of her saree when Dua complimented her. Dua could tell how uncomfortable she was. She kept gazing around the grand hall warily. “Is everything alright with you?”

“Yes” Her answer was rather abrupt. “No” Iram peeved. “I’m scared ma’am. I am not sure if this is right. I mean-”

“Nothing is ever right or wrong.” Dua handed Iram a glass of juice and picked one for herself. “As long as you entertain fear, it will keep chasing you.”

Dua didn’t come here as Mrs. Asfandyar Sherzai. She came as D. Almas Sahi. Xian was already waiting for her with Iram by the entrance when she arrived. She parted ways with Asfand who made no remark about her decision, much to her surprise.

“Ma’am? Xian sir will be here, right?”

“Y-”

“Hello” Afroz interrupted Dua with a smile. “We finally meet Ms. Sahi or should I say, Mrs. Asfandyar Sherzai.” Iram looked towards her boss. “Do you know who I am?”

“Am I supposed to?” A smile grazed her red lips. “Everyone in this room expect me to know them. But what can I do? I can just act to be polite.” Afroz seethed silently at her condescending tone.

She didn’t react the way he wished. She didn’t look at him like he expected. She didn’t cower in fear at his approach like she used to.

D. Sahi bore faded resemblance to Dua Feroze but her soul bore no essence of that little girl.

It was fierce and intimidating.

“I am Afroz Sherzai.” Dua signaled to waiter and placed her glass back on the tray. “I’m-”

“I’m so sorry” His anger soared when her measly secretary interrupted their conversation by spilling juice on her dress. “I am sorry ma’am. It just slipped.”

“Go and fix yourself.” Iram nodded and left. “I apologize for the interruption. What were you saying?”

“Nothing much” An arm draped around her shoulders delicately. “He was just going to introduce himself.” Dua looked at Asfand in question. “I forgot to mention dear wife but I do possess a few relatives. And he is one of them.”

“Is this the way to talk to your uncle?” Dua looked towards Afroz. His face was red with anger. She was rather amused by Asfand’s behavior. The resentment was very clear. “Your disrespectfulness know no bounds.”

“That thing runs in our blood uncle dear” Asfand scoffed bitterly. “At least, I am a notch down compared to your son.” Afroz gnashed his teeth at his instigation. “You didn’t bring aunt dear along?” Asfand sneered. “I highly believe you ever do or will, not after how you treat women from other families.”

“Asfandyar!” His raised voice made few heads turn in question. “You-”

“Afroz!” Azfar interrupted before anything could ensue. It was his party and he was a politician. “It’s a pleasant gathering” He looked at Dua. “Thank you for making time and gracing us with your presence Ms. Sahi.”

“My pleasure Mr. Baig. Though the invitation came as a surprise. You barely know me.”

“It is high time we knew each other.” Dua just smiled in return.

“Hello!” Dua looked at Wasiq in question. His approach was not appreciated by his parents and father-on-law. “So, you are the most talked D. Almas Sahi. I must say you are quite beautiful.” Asfand gripped her shoulder a little roughly. “Can I say its a pleasure to meet you in person?” Dua made no attempt to shake his hand. “Asfandyar is rather lucky” Wasiq fisted and lowered his hand after a minute long of humiliation. “Damn lucky.” Her elbow raised to his chest when she felt Asfand move.

“Where is Ushna? And where is bhabhi? Are we supposed to do the ceremony without mother?” Azfar inquired.

“Ushna will be here. And as for her mother, you know how stubborn she can get. Let her sulk for now. She will come around by the time of wedding.”

“Alvi and Jalal are not here either.”

“They are not the only one missing. Khan didn’t come as well.” Azfar pursed his lips at this.

“Yes?” Dua inquired when Iram came back. She nodded and was trying her best to avoid looking at Wasiq. “Good.”

“We need to talk Asfandyar.” Asfand let his arm fall off his wife’s shoulder and walked away with two men. Wasiq was aiming to linger around them but his mother forced him away as well.

“You know what to do Iram.” Dua looked directly in her eyes. “And remember what I said.” Her hesitation vanished when she saw the resolve in her burning ambers. It was enough. Iram nodded and left.

And not a second would have passed when Wasiq walked out after her.

***********

A lot of people tried to approach her for their own benefits and Dua entertained them to her choice. Acting as D. Almas Sahi at one moment and Mrs. Dua Asfandyar Sherzai in the other.

But what was the point?

In the end, it was a lie.

Dua was sitting on a high stool of the bar in the corner. She gazed around the grand hall and her wandering eyes came to rest on Asfand. Her husband was busy talking business to people she didn’t know or bothered to know. Dua couldn’t recognize him for whole night. He seemed like a whole different person while dealing with the crowd according to his needs.

“He know how to smile harmlessly” She cupped her cheek delicately and watched him, amused. “It’s fake though.”

“Dua?” Her posture didn’t change when Sarim obscured her vision of Asfand. He tried all night to get her attention but failed at every attempt. “How are you?” She kept stirring her drink without bothering his presence. It was going to do no good.

Not her, not him and not what was lying in wait.

“What do you want?” Sarim chuckled lifelessly which forced her to look at him. “Looking for trouble?”

“Not at all.” His smile didn’t seem harmless and friendly to Dua anymore. She knew what he was trying to do. “We are business partners as well.” Of course. The bartender looked at them once and started making drinks again. “I see you are left to fend for yourself while your husband indulge in his own world without care.” His statement couldn’t evoke one reaction out of her. “I wouldn’t have done that.” Dua checked her watch casually. “Why do you-”

“Excuse me” She got off the stool and walked away from him.

Unaware of her husband’s watchful eyes.

Asfand observed their fleeting interaction from afar and was now seething in silent anger when he saw Sarim exit the same way her wife. Not before passing him a mocking sneer.

His fists balled in his pocket. There were eyes everywhere, watchful eyes that were monitoring their every action and reaction. And Dua humiliated him so openly. Instead of standing by his side throughout the night, she chose to walk away and now, she had the nerve to leave with that fucker so openly.

“Asfandyar?” He looked towards the man before him. “Where are you lost tonight?” Asfand passed him a small smile. Shujah Abid was his most important and valued business associate. Asfand respected him greatly, not only for his wisdom and age but as a person. “I know that look. I have been through those days and still indulge in their charms.” Shujah chuckled heartily and patted him on the back. “Your eyes says it all Asfand. You are looking for your wife.”

“She is...a little high-spirited.” Asfand mused to his own thoughts. “Hard to control. I have to keep watch for things. She is new to this world and doesn’t know her small action could land her in unnecessary trouble.” She has landed herself in unnecessary trouble. “I am trying to be a dedicated husband as you say.”

“It’s good that you care for your bride but you are being too conceited.” His brow shot up in question. “You are trying to control her, aren’t you?” Shujah chuckled at his stoic expressions. “Men and their rotten ego, thinking controlling a fragile life symbolizes true power.” Shujah sighed and looked around the hall. “You need to let them fly Asfand. They are not made to be in your cage but reside in your heart. Give them your utmost trust and you will never have to worry for their free-spirit, to fly them away from you.”

“That’s one perception” Asfand replied curtly. “And trust is a fragile belief.”

“It is” Shujah nodded. “But it’s your eye to see, your mind to play and your heart to feel.” Asfand didn’t reply. “Every tale is different young man. The beginning has been written.” His eyes caught his Dua once again when she resumed her position on the same stool. She didn’t take longer than fifteen seconds but it was still not enough to dissipate his bubbling anger. “The end is up to you.” Shujah looked the way Asfand was looking and a hearty chuckled left his lips once again.

“She is a beauty and seems like a fine soul. I can sense a beautiful yet eventful tale to be unfold. But remember, not everything needs to be felt and seen from here.” Shujah tapped his head. “Bring her home someday. I’m sure my wife is going to love that adorable child.”

“I will.” Shujah patted his shoulder affectionately and excused himself. Asfand looked back to his wife. Only to find her looking his way curiously.

Their silent eye-lock spoke volumes in this hubbub.

Their heart beat together against their consent. Their breaths quickened the longer they gazed at each other. The distance felt terribly long and wrong yet none make the effort or attempt to cover it.

Dua saw the tenderness hidden in his green depths. It was visible to her even from afar. But her heart was not ready to accept.

You are a liar Asfandyar Sherzai. A monster who only hurt.

The second she blinked, it was gone. That look he bore for her. The coldness of their truth and bitterness of their relation came back.

It was a lie after all.

Dua looked away when her watch beeped. She raised her glass in amusement and twirled it slowly. It kept coming back to her through different means all night but she made no move to drink from it.

“Only fools can dare to fool around so patently.” She placed it on the counter-top with a hum and looked at the lush atmosphere around her. The wait was over.

For the curtain to fall on this night.

***********

Behroze didn’t want to become part of this circus but he was left with no other choice. Not after the dirty play his own companions played on him.

“It’s ominous” He muttered while looking at the distant lightening. The night was veiled under dark clouds. It was going to rain with merciless thunder tonight. “It is a sign of awaiting condemnation Jalal. This alliance is not going to bring any good.”

“You should have said yes to Azfar when he asked for Saba’s hand. But your pride got the best of you. Now look what it cost you.”

“That fucker is no less than Anser Sherzai in any way. I would rather sit my daughter home all her life than marry her with Wasiq. Do you even know how many rape cases are filed against him?” Jalal just shook his head. In this moment, he was glad he didn’t marry or bore any child. “Afroz is too cruel. He didn’t even spare his own daughter in this vicious pursuit. That man has forsaken the fear of Allah.”

“We called this upon ourselves Behroze.” Both men looked at each other in silence that was interrupted when another bolt of lightning struck the ground with booming sound.

They couldn’t grasp what occurred in that fleeting moment until their rolling vehicle came to an abrupt halt against the precipice to death below. Before they could even look at their bloody selves, there was an explosion.

Its fulmination rising high in the sky to paint it with a new color.

A color of blood.

A color for revenge.

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