First Page: You Stole My Heart
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“You have done what?”
Normally seeing this shocked expression on her chubby boss, Sarita Gupta’s face would have sent Ayesha Solanki into peals of laughter, but not today. Today she was feeling grateful – grateful to be back into the safe haven of her workplace. Silence engulfed them as they both tried to overcome their concerns. While Sarita looked surprised at the sudden appearance of Ayesha in the office, she on the other hand knew that Sarita had to be prepared for the scandal that may give their competitors and the media a cause to attack them. She knew she could be arrested by tomorrow and she was even prepared for it. The resignation letter was already typed but before facing the mayhem of tomorrow she needed to prepare Sarita. She could still tolerate the shame of being arrested but under no circumstances could she hurt this woman, who had been like a mother to her from the time her parents had died in a car crash six years ago. Today if she was working as a passionate art dealer, it was all due to this lady in front of her. Damn Armaan Ranaut for putting her in this position!
“Aunty ji, Aap baito!” hastening towards Sarita, she guided her towards the plush white love seats, kept near the wide window from which one could see the hustle and bustle of Juhu Tara Road. By now, Sarita understood that the situation was grave. Ayesha had never called her Aunty in the office.
“Please Auntyji, sit down.” Where did one begin explaining how things had gone so wrong that she was on the verge of being arrested? All because of a stupid, priceless, antique necklace. Only a few days back, she had been so excited to learn that it was part of the collection that she would be cataloging. To touch something so rich in history was like a dream coming true for the historian in her and she did know the history of the necklace by heart. How it belonged to the ancient 10th century Cholas and then after passing through the hands of the Mughal queens had landed up with the royal family of Ranaut. But as of now, it was lost.
Gathering her wandering troubled thoughts, Ayesha focused on Sarita. Sarita’s well-manicured hands were shaking as she picked up the glass kept in front of her. Her movements – deliberate as she took steady breaths to calm herself, before turning her full attention to Ayesha, “Tell me what happened in Ranaut.”
“Didn’t you get a call from Prince Armaan?” asked Ayesha, taken aback to see Sarita’s lack of knowledge regarding the whole situation. She was so sure that by now someone from the Ranaut Estate would have called. But apparently, The Prince was going to use his political power to watch her humiliation publicly.
“I thought you were getting along fabulously with the family.” Sarita looked her usual composed self. She seemed to have reconciled to the fact that they were about to incur a huge loss with this deal not working out.
“I was, till the media decided to mention in Page3 that we had a thing going on.”
Why didn’t Sarita read the tabloids? At least she could be spared an explanation of the gory details. Taking a deep breath, she plunged ahead.
“The media had made innuendos that Armaan and I was having an affair?”
“Were you?” Clearly the usage of the first name had planted a seed of suspicion in her mind. In their line of business, formality was given utmost importance.
“Of course not!” The denial was too quick, enough to merit a sharp glance from her mentor. Mentally she crossed her finger as the memory of the stolen kiss under the bougainvillea laden gazebo, under the clear night sky, treacherously crept up in her thoughts. Shaking her head to bury the image, she continued, “An antique necklace was stolen from the Ranaut estate. It was not only atrociously expensive but was given to the present Rani Pragyan Devi by her late husband.”
“Ouch! But I still don’t understand. Why are you here? You have never left a project half way. That’s why I had specifically given it to you. Pragyan Devi had personally called me up to send her the best I have, to catalogue their antiques.”
How does one throw a punch line without sounding like a fool? They give it straight. “They think I have stolen the necklace!”