“No one messes with Manik Malhotra. Coz people call me fire. You have no idea how dirty it is going to turn.”
“Bring it on, Malhotra. The fire is pitched against fire, this time.”
This sentence made him lift a naughty brow with a lopsided grin. He smirked slightly. He was standing right behind her with her wrist in his strong grip and her back tucked to his chest. “Fire?? Ahhaannnn??” He whispered near her neck, “Or ice??”
“You are mistaken if you think that I am ice…” She challenged him.
He found it exquisitely cute and tempting. Gripping her wrist firmly between them, making her wince, he raised the index finger of his free hand and moved it along the trail over her skin from her other hand, up her forearm and arm… slowly…seductively…
She had always been ticklish. Now, his index finger gave her goosebumps too. “Manik, stop it!”
With a soft, husky, compelling whisper, he teased her, “I’m just trying to check if the fire burns me or the ice melts under my touch…”
She straightened her stiffening spine, crackled her neck and ran her tongue over her dried lip, blushing deeply and lowering her eyes. Thank God, that she was facing away from him. The darkness had protected her mortified face last night and this time, he was behind her, thankfully. Or else, he would have known how fiery his touch was, over her arm.
“Manik…” She whispered.
“Melting?” He asked.
“Shut up! Let me go…”
“Tell me that I am a bigger fire than you and you won’t mess with me, ever again.”
“Ahhh?? Keep dreaming!” She sniggered, trying to pull away her wrist and remove the other hand from under his command.
Fighting this tussle, he ended up pulling her closer. She turned around to push him away, but slipped in the process. He delicately held her at her back to protect her from falling. Impulsively, he whispered, “Be careful!”
She pulled away her hands taking advantage of the situation and giggled to tease him, “Aww… I can see the supposedly ‘bigger fire’ melting like ice…”
Before she could move away, he held her wrist again. She tried to avoid it by pulling it away and he raised the pressure on the grasp by curling his fingers around her wrist. They were still in this tease and struggle when his phone rang.
“Your phone!” She raised her brows to ask him to leave the game between them.
“Ah! Forget it!” He found her more interesting than any other silly pursuit in the world.
“Manik…please leave me… did you forget that we need to get ready, attend rituals, breakfast and then catch the flight to Lucknow?!”
“Let everything else wait!” He declared, “I’m not leaving you until you apologise for the scene your created before masi and Gayu. My God you made it so embarrassing for me!! I am still not over that horror!!! Now, YOU have to promise me that you will never mess with me, again!”
“Haha!!” She teased him more, “It was a reply to you troubling me…and I will do it at every chance I get…”
“Nandini!” He spoke in a threatening tone and twisted her wrist.
“Manik!” She spoke in an irritating tone.
His phone had stopped ringing. But it started ringing again. “Urghhh!!” He was irritated and he slightly shifted towards the side table to look at the phone screen to know who was calling him early in the morning. In the process, he pulled her along and now they were standing near the side table, with both of them looking at the phone. Nandini standing before him, giggling endlessly and Manik holding her wrist, not leaving her until and unless she apologised and promised to behave properly.
The phone screen showed ‘Cabir’ … Nandini saw the name and raised her brows to ask Manik if he was taking the call and leaving her or avoiding the call… He didn’t leave her. Instead, he put the phone on speaker mode.
Cabir was a bundle of energy, “Congratulations bro…”
“Cabir??!!! Where are you man? Why didn’t you come last night, for the wedding?”
“I missed the flight… I had loose motions…”
“Shut up!” Manik reprimanded him, “You and your stupid problems. I knew that you were going to avoid it as you hate attending weddings…”
Cabir smirked. “You hated them too… Now, I guess the only wedding that I will attend will be mine… just like you…”
Manik huffed, “I’m not amused. Anyway, did you really call to congratulate me?”
Cabir smirked, “Nahhh!! You know me well… I called to give you a breaking news… I have no idea if it is a good news or bad news for you…but it sure is a weird news…”
“Ab batayega?? Why are you creating so much suspense ?” Manik had a low patience level and Nandini rolled her eyes, listening to friends in conversation.
“Actually… ‘she’ asked me about your personal number as the office number was not responding.”
“Who?” Manik took a moment to understand. The current scenario had absorbed him so much that he took a moment to go back to the office scene.
“Arrey wahi… the CEO of Artemis Intl… who was trying to feel you up after the board meeting… she would have literally molested you if you had allowed her to… remember that potential rapist whom you dodged so coolly??”
Manik was almost red in his cheeks, leaving Nandini giggling all over again, but this time without making any noise. In fact, she pressed her lips tightly to avoid making any sound, so that Cabir didn’t hear her.
Manik cleared his throat in embarrassment and snapped at Cabir, “Okay…enough…”
But Cabir was on a roll. He teased Manik, “Thank God, we have hot hunks like you in office. These predators on prawl don’t even look at us like that!” With that he smirked.
Nandini placed her free hand on her chest to avoid laughing more, just by the way Cabir was describing the lady and the situation they were in.
Manik found his head reeling at that. Already he was dealing with Nandini, here. Why did he have to answer Cabir’s call, when he knew that he was a soul brother to Nandini, seeking fun in useless shit.
“You were giving some important news??!!” Manik reminded him.
“Oh yes! So, she asked me your personal number. I didn’t give it to her. Instead I told her that you are getting married and that is why you are out of Bangalore. it seems she got frustrated losing out on an opportunity to get cosy with you. She gave the project to the rival group!”
“Shit!” Manik pressed his lips together.
“Yeah! We lost one big project because of you!” Cabir smirked again.
“Shut up!” Manik knew what was coming next, but Cabir never knew how to shut up. He went on to laugh and tease him, “I think we need to make a protocol after you come back… we can’t keep losing opportunities like that!”
“Boyyy, you really need to shut up!!” Manik was irked to no end and he disconnected the call.
Once the phone was cut, Nandini finally released her bars and giggled endlessly. She had found another point to tease him, “Aww… Malhotra, the fire… I guess your office people are about to change your job profile!”
Manik smirked at the way she said that. While the same tease from Cabir had irritated him, and angered him but when Nandini said that same thing, he blushed. He left her wrist with a jerk while she kept laughing.
He went back to sit by the edge of the bed, and spoke in a sad, submissive tone. “Yeah… yeah… whatever! You got another great chance, right?? Go ahead… tell this to the world… It will be a great opportunity to see me mortified and have people make fun of me!”
Her laughter reduced to a subtle smile with this. She leaned by the wall near the bed, observing his child like adorable expressions. With a deep sigh, she said, “I don’t make fun of someone’s vulnerabilities. Teasing you was one thing… but I can’t let ‘others’ draw cheap inferences from your loss.”
Clearly she had separated, in one sentence all ‘others’ from them.
His eyes were fixed on the ground and he was sitting with elbows on his knees and hands clasped together. Her serious words made him raise his eyes and look at her. She appeared sincere. He could see how the bubbly, perky, chatterbox of the girl who had teased him mercilessly had a beautiful heart and a sensible soul. She had a brain at it’s right place.
Such a deadly combo for any human…
She shrugged slightly, “You lost a project because you didn’t compromise on your dignity. I think, I’m rather proud of you!”
He couldn’t speak anything for a moment. Then he smiled and whispered a soft – ‘thank you!”
“Anytime, Malhotra. And…such instances will remain a secret between us. We are partners in crime, after all!”
“Yeah!” He felt so proud of her. He tried to dissolve that expression quickly in a roll of eyes as he got up and walked away. Avoiding her appreciative gaze, he moved towards his luggage, “Lets get ready fast, or else masi and Gayu will come back…”
She was standing by the wall even now. She could speak more, before that, there was a knock on the door. Both of them looked in the direction of the door and shrugged. He swayed his jaw, “Told ya…”
She nodded side to side and quickly walked towards the door, “Okay.. I will open the door…”
He leapt towards her and held her hand in a swift movement, before she could open the door. “Oh hello… Miss PT Usha… wait! None of us is ready, yet…what will you tell them?” He raised his brow, thinking of a response that was a justified excuse.
She shrugged, casually and carelessly, and pressing her lips, she smirked, “I’ll tell them that – “
“We were busy!”