The challenge accepted by Manik proved to be a challenge in the truest sense. He had never had such a tough experience with any challenge in his life.
He applied every trick in the trade to make Nandini accept what she felt for him but she proved to be a tough nut to crack. She dodged every effort made by him with smart answers, witty remarks, and outdid his style at every step, making him even more restless.
He finished her projects and assignments, tried to make her feel indebted and guilty about it, sweet-talked about their mutual attraction, reminded her about their friendship, recalled their crazy mischiefs during their schooling, all the adventures they had went on, with their group and with the school. He coaxed her in every way possible to once accept and say the ‘L’ word.
She pretended to be naive, tried not to understand that he was dropping hints, and even ignored his attempts to behave cute with her.
“Unbelievable! I always thought that you are a softie at heart. I never knew you were so tough to deal with.” He spoke in an irritated tone, throwing cushions at the couch in her room and sprawled at them as if too tired after all the efforts.
She laughed hysterically, “So, if Manik Malhotra has tried everything he could, can we say that he is defeated?”
“No way! I still have one last move in my kitty.” He swayed his jaw and smiled mysteriously.
“And that is?” She asked, raising his brows to tease him.
He stretched his hand towards her. Wondering what he was up to, she slipped her hand in his hand, not realizing that he was going to tug on it and pull her over him. Unprepared, she staggered and the next moment, she fell over him, on the couch.
He wrapped his hands around her to trap her on all sides. Before she could speak anything, he flipped them over so that now she was below him and he was hovering over her. With their faces so close to each other that they could hear each other breathe and smell each other, she sighed to ward off every magnetic effect he had over her. But she failed.
He smiled mysteriously and kissed her forehead in a feather-light peck. “Okay…I’ve decided that I’m saying ‘something’ for 10 times… exactly what you wanted…”
Her eyes widened and sparkled, evidently surprised, as she nodded in disbelief, “Really? So are you accepting that I won.”
He chuckled, “No sweetheart, none of us has said anything. So the game is still on!”
“Ha! You will never win.” She teased.
He winked once and flashed a lopsided grin, something that she could die for. Trapping her below him, over the couch, he removed the loose kiss-curls from her face and tucked them behind her ear. She felt a deep shudder whenever he did it so lovingly. Each part of her body wanted him to touch her at every sensitive spot.
Softly, he whispered as his fingers moved over her face, “I love your eyes that talk to me and tell me the truth even when you choose to speak the opposite and trouble me.”
She sniggered with that. He ran his hand along her arm and her palms before clutching her palm in his own, with their fingers intertwined, and said, “I love your hands which make me feel home whenever I hold them. Life suddenly seems like such a beautiful thing when your hand is in mine.”
She had stopped laughing by now. The look in his eyes and the depth in his voice stirred her. His words made her blush until she lowered her eyes. He loved it when she became coy before him. It was a stark difference from her bossy persona at other times. In a seductive move, he restrained her petite legs with his own sturdy ones, moving his leg over hers and tucking her right below him. His foot ran along her foot to tickle her. “I love your tiny frame, as if it was designed to fit perfectly into mine.”
This time, she could feel a riot of goosebumps over her. Simply with his words, he could create havoc in her quiet world. Lovingly, she ran her fingers at his face, travelling them down his nose, cheek and lips as he spoke, “I love the fact that you know so much about me. I don’t have to think twice before talking to you. I know that you will not judge me even if I make a silly mistake. In fact, I’ve done so many blunders but you ignore them.”
Her thumb grazed his chin. His hand left her other hand and secured her close to him. He kept speaking, while she stared at him as if she was spell-bound. He bent lower to kiss her nose and said, “I love the fact that you are such hard work to do. Such a tease! It wouldn’t have been this fun if you were easy. You take all games to a whole new level and I love it.”
She chuckled at that, feeling giddy at being revered like that. Nobody in this world had ever made her feel like this. He buried her face in her neck and grazed his lips along her throat, and said, “I love your style, your dressing sense, the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you carry yourself. You are graceful and so beautiful. I’m so proud of you. But you know, I also love it when you ignore all the styling and are completely cool with me even on your bad hair days. You couldn’t care at all, about impressing others. The world can go to hell. You are you… original. You.”
Her heart was already beating hard. It threatened to betray her if he spoke anymore. She would have felt weak in her knees and had crumbled to the floor, by now, if they were standing. Thankfully they were on the couch. He opened his mouth to say something after softly kissing her cheek, when she placed her fingers on his mouth and said, “That’s enough for today. Please don’t say anything more.”
“I have spoken only six till now. Four more to go.”
“But isn’t that cheating?” She asked confused.
“Cheating? How?” He asked, rolling his eyes.
“Is that what we were supposed to speak?”
“We never specified actually, what exactly we had to speak.” He smirked.
“How smart!” She whacked him with a tease. He laughed loudly at that and when she tried to get up, he adjusted them well, so that she stayed trapped below him, yet again.
He held her wrist and took her hands away from her. Looking into her eyes with an intense gaze, he lowered further over her. Her eyes were locked into his, lovingly, hopelessly, and she stayed quiet, trying to fight an impulse to kiss him.
He whispered, “I love the way you spread positivity around you. I have never seen you fretting over silly issues. I have always seen you happy and smiling. I want you to stay like that. Always.”
She was touched. More than she would accept.
He was everything that she had ever wished for, in a man. Why they had never realized it before, she had no clue. He was everything that he just said about her. He had an impeccable taste in styling and dressing, he knew how to carry himself, he was a stunner when it came to good looks. Yet, he was amazingly grounded and wore the basics of attire and even chappals, caring two hoots to impress others. He was so humble, so down to earth, so simple. He respected her, he took care of her and was an amazing friend. He had been her best friend, since forever, for as long as she could remember. She had always known that she was lucky to have her as a friend. But recently, she had started realizing how lucky she was to have him as a … what was he… oh yes, she hadn’t named him as yet… what a pity…
She knew that he was the most special person in her life and yet, she had delayed giving him the status he deserved… of a boyfriend! She had to admit that he was an amazing boyfriend, whether she named him so or not.
What he had spoken today, about seven things he loved about her and there were three more to go, made her senses go weak, made her heart melt like a jelly puddle, made her brain go numb… She could feel crazy ripples on her skin. She was almost a rug-doll under his command.
He opened his mouth to say something, when she stopped him, “Don’t say anything more…”
He smiled, “Three more to go… so here it is… I love the way you order me to do things, exerting that full authority on me. It feels so warm, so mushy. As if you know that you have every right to order me to do things and you know that I will … and I have to follow them. As if you own me.”
She was blushing hard. She pressed her lips and turned to look away.
“Ninth – I loved it that you asked me to kiss you that day in the pub. I could have never known so clearly what I felt for you. It was all such a confusing emotion until then. yes, you were special. Yes, I liked you a lot. But never thought about anything more than that. But when I kissed you, I knew that I wanted you. I didn’t want to leave you. I love it that you could go reckless with me, crossing every boundary between us. That shows how much you trust me. It’s the biggest compliment for any man.”
He became intense when he said that. Her heart skipped a beat at the way he looked at her. She ran her hands into his hair and pulled him closer. He stiffened when he saw those looks of admittance and acceptance on her face. It was so hard to stay away even for a second more.
“Manik,” She whispered in a soft tone, looking deep into his eyes, “I love you!”
“I love you, too!”