Spark & Spice: Chapter 20: Adorable Challenges

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When he didn’t even know her, he was doing kind gestures like giving her support, motivating her and making her feel comfortable in his home… when she was still a stranger, he sent phone for her… when she began to like him and feel attracted to him, he just understood what she needed and how… When she hated him, he knew she had not eaten and he sent a pizza for her!!

On the contrary, when she was now beginning to think about him, when she ready to accept that she might forgive him for what he did and finally believed that she could be nice to him…  he had gone a full one-eighty degrees and disrupted her entire training schedule!!!

Manik Malhotra was an enigma to Nandini Murthy!!!

‘Why am I even trying to know him?!’ She finally decided that she could never understand him. The more she tried to know him, the more elusive he appeared.

She was supposed to join his office, the next morning… 09:00 am sharp!! And she was still not able to believe that he had managed to twist the entire training schedule to suit him!

She hated the entire idea… She hated the shift… she hated being pressurized…. She hated being dictated terms to… She had suffered enough of that shit… all her life!! She hated being told what to do…

Ohhh!!! She soooo hated him too for doing this !!!

………….

Nandini reached the swanky office of Zenith International before time and now she understood  what the organizer had meant when he had said ‘bigger company’ !! ZI company was wayyyy bigger than the one she was being trained at, previously!!

The posh upscale office, the ritzy, modern decor, smart and trained staff with their chic attires, the ambience was enough to say that it was a multinational leading designer brand! Just like Malhotra mansion! And just as uncomfortable too!! So intimidating!! So dominating… as if it was going to eat you up…alive!!

“I want to see CEO Sir!!” Nandini demanded at the front office.

“Ma’m, do you have an appointment?” The lady at the reception asked.

Nandini opened her mouth to say something but then closed it! She didn’t know how to put it across. She pressed her lips in uneasiness, her only solution to every awkward moment. Then she nodded, side to side.

The lady smiled, “Sorry dear! It’s the same rule for everyone. Outsiders or company employees, both! You need to have an appointment to see HIM!”

She spoke of HIM as if walked with an air of mystique and inscrutability!!

Nandini didn’t have any appointment, nor she wanted to take it. She smiled back at the receptionist and retreated her way to the Designs Department and informed there, that she was the new intern who was supposed to join from today!

The Head of Designs, Mukti Vardhan was absorbed in the latest issue of a Fashion magazine spread on her desk. She was making circles over things that she wanted her staff to pay attention to. She rotated the marker pen in her hand and examined Nandini from top to bottom, twice and then asked her to take a seat before her.

“Indian?” She asked.

“Yes, mam!”

“Hey… Don’t call me, Ma’m, ya??…I’m Mukti. I head the design team here but that doesn’t mean I’m an oldie or something. We get our dues according to our talent and capabilities in this company.”

Nandini smiled, “Yes, ma’m…err… Mukti!!”

“I like your dressing, by the way… Miss…???”

“Nandini Murthy!!”

Nandini had been wearing white trousers, sky blue top and a short denim jacket. With her silky hair let loose, She looked like a doll in this attire!

 With her silky hair let loose, She looked like a doll in this attire!

“I don’t know what got through Manik! We had stopped taking interns 2 years back!” Mukti commented and picked up her phone to call Manik.

Just 2 minutes of talk… and hardly a word was spoken from her side…Only Manik spoke and Mukti was convinced that appointing Nandini as the new intern was necessary for their prestigious company. They were planning to train new people again, from now onwards, having them work for the company too – a proper internship and training!

The phone was disconnected before Nandini could decipher what was going on!

“Very well!!” Mukti twisted her lips as if trying to understand and spoke to Nandini, “You must be really talented. Manik doesn’t get impressed so easily!”

Nandini didn’t know what to reply to this unnecessary speculation, so she nodded quietly.

“Okay, listen. He wants to see you in his office. Go straight and take the last elevator to 7th floor. That’s his floor! See him and come back to me!”

Nandini noticed that her heart was beating hard when she was informed to reach Manik’s office. She may have wanted to see him since morning, but this was sudden and unexpected.

“You don’t talk much?” Mukti commented.

“Err…” Nandini didn’t know what to say to that.

Mukti replied to that, with a sly smile, “Good for you! Manik doesn’t like to talk too!! Please don’t talk much before Manik !! He fires people if they try to act smart with him. Just last week he has fired two of his secretaries one after the other!! In short, he appreciates work, only work and work related minimal interaction. Not a great conversationist, he hates loose talk. Got it??”

Nandini nodded, tired of listening about THE BOSS!!! Manik, THIS… Manik, THAT!! He seemed to be living through a thick air across which Manik Malhotra interacted with people!!

‘God, they all are behaving as if he has woven a spell around them!! Making people dance to his tunes!!”

Is he really too elusive?? Too mysterious?? His staff is scared of him and his anger… they treat him like God!’ 

The more she thought about it, the more she wanted to know if it was true and the more she was irritated!

‘Aiyappa, why am I even interested?’

……………………………

Manik had been waiting in his room when Nandini knocked at the door and was asked to step inside.

The first thing she noticed inside the room was the beautiful and simple decor in grey and cream. It might have been simple that said that the occupant meant business and nothing else!! Yet, it wasn’t ordinary. It was beyond stylish…Everything from the decorative artefacts in his room, to carpet, the furniture or even the painting hanging on the wall, was exquisite and class!

Manik raised his eyes from the letter that he had been signing and smiled when he saw her approaching his huge teakwood desk. Nandini was not smiling and it was enough a sign to let him know that things were not going to be easy for him!

“Sit.” He capped the pen in his hand and eased himself at the backrest of his chair, rocking the chair once, not leaving her eyes even for a moment!

She didn’t sit. Instead, she kept standing right before his desk, across it and folded her hands in anger. He noticed that she looked gorgeous…and cute!! Her eyes though, spit fire!! But he wasn’t deterred.

“You won’t sit?” He asked, totally enjoying the situation, “Angry, haaannn??”

“Why did you do this?”

He shrugged, “I did…what??”

“As if you don’t know…”

“You left me with no other option !!” He spoke as if it was all her fault. She hated the distinct sparkle in his eyes, as if he had just won a battle!

“I asked for some time…”

“That… I gave you…”

“One week??”

“Seven days… 24 hours multiplied 7 times… It’s a lot of time. Kingdoms fall in that time!”

She was irritated. “Manik Malhotra, this was so lame! By the way, let me tell you, that you messed it up!! I was about to call you and maybe, I would have talked to you… I was even thinking about being nice to you…you know!! But what a loss…”

“Really??” He stood up from her chair with a sudden jerk, walked around the length of the desk, came to stand before her and leaned his rear leisurely at the edge of the desk. He rested over it in a relaxed posture, his long legs comfortably stretching before him.

She had never read anywhere that devil looked so damn hot!! And knew it too… Maybe she could have come prepared, had she known it!!

Aiyappa, why did he had to have it all.. His presence does weird things to my poor heart!!

She tried to gulp her saliva to hold her legs firm at the ground for he was standing close to her! She couldn’t afford to let her feelings come to surface…

Wasn’t she looking forward to meeting him, again? Maybe, just once!

Didn’t she think about calling him? Just to hear that soothing voice that assured her that she was beautiful the way she was, without needing a designer wear!! Didn’t she miss him… though she had known him only for a day!!

Relax Nandu… don’t get carried away!! She tried to coach her poor heart!

She was standing right in front of him now, at a hand’s distance. Secretly elated at her revelation that she was contemplating about calling him, had he not taken this step, he grinned. Teasingly he took a deep breath and nodded, “Tch…Tch…tch… Did I miss the opportunity??!! What to do, now? I never had that patience…my bad!!”

“It doesn’t hurt to be a bit patient!!”

“By the way, where do you get this patience from??? Are there any special courses for that???”

 She twisted her lips, “Very funny!!”

“How I wish I was!!! But you know… no one will believe you, that I can be funny…”

She made a face and dragged her words to irritate him, “Wow!! Mr. Malhotra… you throw bouncers, yeahh??? You think you are so cool??”

He smirked at that, rolled his eyes pretending to think and said, “I would prefer to be called ‘hot’ instead…”

She looked up towards the ceiling to get some silent support from Aiyappa, twitched her lips, and huffed, “Enough of this silly nonsense…  Let’s get back to serious talk!!”

“Like??”

“You can’t do this to me… my training… my life!”

On a very serious note, he peered deep into her eloquent eyes and spoke in a grave tone, one word at a time, making a profound impact, “I really hate to tell you this, but Manik Malhotra can do ‘anything’… anything means anything !!!”

“Listen…” She began to speak before he placed his index finger right before her lips, without touching her.

“Ssshhhh!!””

“Manik…”

“Nandini… You listen to me instead…  I wanted to talk to you, you refused. I wanted to meet you, you shunned every contact with me… you sent my phone back … I apologised… you refused to even listen to me…what else do you expect from me?? I HAD to do this…”

She was quiet for a long moment, observing his calm yet determined face. His eyes had zillions of emotions buried behind them… He was turbulence below his calm features… a volcano below his composed demeanour…a storm hidden behind his deep eyes!! She had seriously underestimated him!!

He was a walking, talking tornado!!

“You can do ‘anything’ to get your way?? Isn’t it dangerous, Manik??” She still couldn’t believe it that he had gone to ‘this’ length just to make her talk to him… just to have her forgive him…!!!

He squeezed his eyes slightly, tilting his neck, “I don’t know!! I don’t try to act in a particular way… I AM like that!!! If I say something, I do it… If I want something, I get it…!!!”

“OMG… That’s so scary! I can now guess why your staff is always on toes… afraid of you…!!”

He laughed loud at that, folded his hands across his chest and leaned forwards to reach the level of her eyes. “If I’m not wrong… Nandini Murthy… You are part of that lot, from now on!!”

“Not for long…” She challenged him, “I will make sure you throw me out of this office, back to my original office!”

“Don’t even try that! You can’t go back to India… you can’t lose this training… you have no other option!!”

“Neither you, nor my previous company can take back my training as it is a Board Certified course!! I was selected on merit…So YOU will have no option left, but to send me back. You can’t force me to work in this company…”

“Trust me, I can!!”

“I challenge you!”

“Aww… it’s an adorable challenge…!!!”

Speechless and irked, she took a long pause, puffed in air and stared straight into his eyes, “I promise you, SIR…  I’m going to make it so difficult for you!!”

“Bring it on, Miss Murthy!! I don’t fancy easy projects…

………………………….

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