Ibrahim Khan was, by all accounts, a horrible person. He’d killed many and ruined the lives of more. But for all his faults, he still adored his granddaughter. And though she loathed his lifestyle and the world he’d chosen for himself, Iman still adored him with the pure, enduring love of the little girl she’d once been.
He’d tried to keep her away from him, tried to distance himself when it became clear that his unsavoury lifestyle was starting to affect her. He’d failed royally. The little girl had held his heart in her chubby fist and the young woman she’d become still had possession of it. Even sending her away to her mother hadn’t worked, not least because Aasia was a harpy who’d been more of a reluctant carrier than anything else to Iman.
Ibrahim could still remember the day they’d found out Aasia was pregnant and the tantrums that had been thrown as a result of the discovery. She’d consented to keep the baby only after days of arguments, bribery and even outright threats. But Aasia had never forgiven Iman for the crime of existing, nor for the indignities her body had put her through during her pregnancy.
The little girl had been raised first by staff and then by Ibrahim himself once he’d realized just how starved for attention his beautiful grandchild was. She’d been a lovely child, quiet at first but adorably mischievous once she’d gotten comfortable. He’d let her get closer to him than any other living human being, even his own son.
And then he’d had to push her away. Ibrahim sighed heavily, remembering the day Iman had left. The tears had been atrocious. No matter how hard he’d tried to make her understand that she was being sent away for her own good, all Iman could see that yet another person was abandoning her.
He’d broken something that day. Even now, he could see that she was far from whole. She smiled and laughed and hid her pain, believing him fragile and unable to handle it. But Ibrahim knew his little girl. He saw the emotions she tried to hide, heard the false note in the lies she tried to live.
But what could he do? He had power in spades, more money that he could ever spend. But he couldn’t buy safety. He couldn’t command his granddaughter’s happiness. The work of over half a century was worthless here.
Ibrahim buried his head in his hands, feeling every one of his seventy six years. He was in the same position when Iman burst in fifteen minutes later.
Her entrance made the door to his study bang hard against the wall and caused Ibrahim’s head to snap up.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded, jumping to his feet. Her face was ashen and she held herself as though braced for a hit. Protective fury welled within him. Who had hurt her? He would make them pay for every moment of sadness they’d caused his little girl.
Even as Ibrahim watched, Iman tried to regain control of herself. “It’s nothing,” she hiccuped, reaching up to wipe at her eyes. “Just more of the usual.”
The usual? Aasia. Her mother had done this.
“You’re not going back there,” Ibrahim found himself saying without conscious thought.
Iman’s face lit up and common sense came rushing back, making him hurriedly qualify his statement. “Not tonight, at least.”
“She wants me gone for the weekend,” Iman mumbled. “Is that okay?”
Ibrahim’s heart ached. “Of course it is. You’re always welcome here.”
Iman’s mouth twitched. “Just not as anything more than a guest.” Her voice wobbled and Ibrahim cursed silently, recognizing the ‘about to cry’ expression that hadn’t changed since she was a toddler.
“I’m sorry,” he said helplessly.
Iman sniffled. “I’m going to go unpack.”
Ibrahim let her go, knowing that he couldn’t comfort her. He was the one forcing her to stay away, after all. Or so she thought.
The truth was that Aasia Rahmaan had gotten used to the large sums of money she received whenever she demanded them in exchange for sheltering her daughter. Once, in a moment of weakness, Ibrahim had attempted to take Iman back. But he’d been met with an unyielding brick wall.
It appeared that not only had the harpy become accustomed to her regularly provided pound of flesh, she’d also discovered that while she begrudged Iman the girl’s place in her home, she relished the ability to cause Ibrahim pain. And with a politician second husband ready to do her bidding, Aasia had all the cards.
Even if he wanted to, Ibrahim couldn’t take Iman back without first waging war. And he didn’t have it in him. Not any more. He was old, heartsick and decrepit. In no shape for even a little skirmish.
He had no way to help his little girl. Not any more.
Home. Finally. The tension drained from Iman’s shoulders as she walked into her bedroom. Everything had been left exactly as she liked it, untouched besides what was necessary to keep the room clean and devoid of dust.
There was the jewellery box she hadn’t dared to let come within breathing distance of her mother’s greed. The fairy lights she’d adored as a little girl were still coiled neatly in a drawer, too old to work but too precious to be parted with. How many times had she fallen asleep with the end of those lights wrapped around her fist?
Iman smiled nostalgically, running a finger over them before turning her attention to the last treasure she’d kept safe and away from herself. An ornately carved box sat in pride of place next to her bed.
She lifted the lid carefully and reached inside with gentle fingers, pulling out the first of a stack of letters.
She’d long since memorized them, quite without meaning to. These letters had been her bedtime stories for months after she’d received them before eventually being put away and pulled back out only when she felt truly awful.
Iman unfolded the first letter and began to read the familiar words.
‘My Dearest Daughter…’