PromisedJodi Ellen Malpas
It’s been a year since I last wrote an acknowledgment. It was for This Man Confessed, the final book of my This Man Trilogy, and I remember feeling a great sense of pressure to bring Jesse and Ava’s story to an explosive but satisfying end. I also had one constant thought running through my mind . . .
What the hell do I write next?
One Night came to me fast and furiously. Livy and M were born, and while writing their story, the mixture of excitement and worry played havoc on me. Jesse ‘The Lord’ Ward had big boots to fill, yet as my new story progressed, I couldn’t help but think I might have equalled all of the qualities I strived to achieve in This Man. Then my agent, Andrea Barzvi, read the first book and mirrored my thoughts, followed by Beth de Guzman of Grand Central Publishing and Genevieve Pegg of Orion Books.
The excitement for my new tale began there.
A massive thank you to my wonderful attorney, Matthew Savare, who is a consistent support in my new world. He insists I shouldn’t like him. All clients hate their lawyer. I love you too much to dislike you!
My fabulous agent, Andrea Barzvi of Empire Literary: you go way beyond the call of duty for an agent/client relationship. I’m so grateful for everything you do, professionally and on so many other levels.
Beth de Guzman, Leah Hultenschmidt, and the amazing team at Grand Central Publishing, I’m so happy I get to do this all over again with you! Thank you for your faith in my work and for supporting my new adventure.
To Genevieve Pegg, Laura Gerrard, and every wonderful person at Orion Books. I love belonging to such an easy-going, attentive British publishing house. Bottoms up!
I could go on and on. I have a wonderful team working with me, here in Britain and across the Atlantic, and each person is invaluable to me. Every single one.
But there’s a bigger thank you, and that goes to my mum and sister. Mum came out of retirement to manage JEM, and my sister gave up her regular job and threw herself into organising my chaotic life. I treasure our Monday morning meetings at ‘JEM HQ’, and I treasure both of you, too. Thank you for embracing and supporting my new career.
And an even bigger thank you than that goes to my dad – a regular bloke who’s sent his three girls off into the big wide world with his support and blessing. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you, he’s one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet. They’re right. Big Pat is one of a kind and there are only two people in this world who are lucky enough to call him ‘Dad’. I’m grateful every day that I am one of those two people.
I’ve created another world of fierce passion, blinding intensity and consuming love. It’s had me crying, laughing and shouting. I love it as much as This Man. I hope you do, too.
One Night: Promised
He had summoned her. She’d known he would find out – he had eyes and ears everywhere but it never stopped her from disobeying him. It was all part of the plan to get what she wanted.
Stumbling down the dark corridor of the underground London club towards his office, she barely registered her stupidity. Determination and too much alcohol were getting in the way. She had a loving family at home, people who treasured and loved her, made her feel wanted and valued. She knew deep down that there was no good reason to be exposing her body and mind to this sordid, seedy underworld. Yet she did it again tonight. And she’d do it again tomorrow night.
Her stomach turned as she approached the door to his office, her alcohol-drenched brain only barely functioning enough to make her hand lift and take the handle of the door. On a little hiccup and another stagger in her ridiculous stilettos, she fell into William’s office.
He was a handsome man in his late thirties, with a head of thick hair that was beginning to grey at his temples, giving him a distinguished salt-and-pepper fleck that matched his distinguished suits. His square jaw was harsh, but his smile friendly when he chose to flash it, which wasn’t very often. His male clients never saw that smile. William chose to maintain the hard front that made all men quiver when in his presence. But for his girls, his eyes always sparkled and his face was always soft and reassuring. She didn’t understand it and she didn’t try to. She just knew that she needed him. And she knew that William had developed a fondness for her, too. She used that weakness against him. The hard businessman’s heart was soft for all his girls, but for her, it was complete mush.
William looked to the door as she stumbled through, raising his hand and halting the serious talk coming from a tall, mean-looking type standing over his desk. One of his rules was to always knock and await instruction to enter, but she never did and William never reprimanded her. ‘We’ll continue this soon,’ he said, dismissing his associate, who left without delay or protest, shutting the door quietly behind him.
William stood, straightening his jacket while stepping out from behind his huge desk. Even through her alcohol-induced fog, she could see the concern on his face with perfect clarity. She could also see a hint of irritation. He approached her carefully, cautiously, as if he was worried she’d bolt, and gently took her arm. He placed her in one of the quilted leather chairs opposite his desk, then poured himself a Scotch and handed her some iced water before taking a seat.
She didn’t feel scared in the presence of this powerful man, even in such a vulnerable state. Bizarrely, she always felt safe. He’d do anything for his girls, including castrate any man who overstepped the mark. He had specific rules, and no man in his right mind dared break those rules. It was more than their life was worth. She’d seen the result and it wasn’t pretty.
‘I told you no more,’ William said, trying to sound cross, but he only achieved a tone drenched with sympathy.
‘If you don’t set them up for me, I’ll find them myself,’ she slurred, her drunkenness injecting some spunk into her small frame. She threw her bag onto his desk in front of him, but William ignored her lack of respect and pushed it back toward her.
‘Do you need money? I’ll give you money. I don’t want you in this world any more.’
‘That’s not your decision,’ she countered fearlessly, knowing damn well what she was doing. His straight lips and the darkening of his grey eyes told her she was succeeding. She was forcing his hand.
‘You’re seventeen years old. You have your whole life ahead of you.’ He stood and made his way around his desk, sitting on the edge in front of her. ‘You lied to me about your age, you’ve broken endless rules, and now you refuse to let me put your life back together.’ He took her chin and lifted her defiant face to his. ‘You’ve disrespected me and, worst of all, yourself.’
She had no answer to that. She’d misled him, tricked him, just to get close to him. ‘I’m sorry,’ she mumbled quietly, breaking free of his hold to take a long swig of her water. She didn’t know what else to say and even if she could find the words, it would never be good enough. She knew William’s compassion for her could tarnish the respect he’d earned in this underworld business, and her refusal to let him fix her situation – a situation he felt responsible for – was only risking that reputation further.
He knelt in front of her, his big palms resting on her bare legs. ‘Which one of my clients broke my rules this time?’
She shrugged, not willing to share the name of the man she’d tempted into bed. She knew William had warned them all to stay away from her. She had misled him as much as William. ‘It doesn’t matter.’ She wanted William to be angry at her continued disrespect, but he remained calm.
‘You won’t find what you’re looking for.’ William felt like a bastard delivering such harsh words. He knew what she wanted. ‘I can’t look after you,’ he said quietly, pulling down the hem of her short dress.
‘I know,’ she whispered.
William took a long, tired breath. He knew she didn’t belong in his world. He didn’t even know if he belonged any more. He’d never let compassion interfere with business, never put himself in situations that could ruin his well-respected standing, yet this young female had stamped all over that claim. It was those sapphire eyes. He never let sentiment get in the way of business either – he couldn’t afford to – but this time he’d failed.
His big hand lifted to stroke her soft, porcelain cheek and the desperation in her eyes pierced his hard heart. ‘Help me do what’s right. You don’t belong here with me,’ he said.
She nodded, and William exhaled a breath of relief. This girl was too beautiful and too reckless – a dangerous combination. This girl was going to find herself in trouble. He was furious with himself for letting this happen, despite her deception.
He looked after his girls, respected them, made sure his clients respected them, and he always kept his eagle eyes open for anything that might put them at risk, mentally and physically. He knew what they would do before they did it. Yet this one he’d let slip. This one had fooled him. He couldn’t blame her, though. He blamed himself. He was too distracted by this young woman’s beauty – a beauty that would for ever be etched on his mind’s eye. He would send her away again and this time he’d make sure she stayed away. He cared about this one too much to keep her. And it seared painfully on his dark soul.
There’s something to be said about making the perfect cup of coffee. There’s even more to be said about making the perfect cup of coffee from one of the spaceship-like machines I’m staring at. I’ve spent days watching my fellow waitress, Sylvie, complete the task with ease, while chatting, grabbing down another mug, and tapping the order through the till. But all I seem to be achieving is a royal mess, of both the coffee and the area surrounding the machine.
I force the jammed filter contraption on with a quiet curse and it slips, scattering the coffee grains everywhere. ‘No, no, no,’ I mutter under my breath, grabbing my cloth from the front pocket of my apron. The damp rag is brown, a dead giveaway to the millions of other times I’ve wiped up my mess today.
‘You want me to take over?’ Sylvie’s amused voice creeps over my shoulders and makes them sag. It’s no use. No matter how many times I try, I always end up in the same pickle. This spaceship and I are not friends.
I sigh dramatically and turn, handing Sylvie the big metal handle thingy. ‘I’m sorry. The machine hates me.’
Her bright-pink lips break out in a fond smile, and her black shiny bob swishes as she shakes her head. Her patience is commendable. ‘It’ll come. Why don’t you go and clear table seven?’
I move fast, grabbing a tray and making my way over to the recently vacated area in the hope of redeeming myself. ‘He’ll sack me,’ I muse, loading the tray. I’ve only been working here for four days, but on hiring me, Del said it would only take me a few hours of training on my first day to get the hang of the machine that dominates the back counter of the bistro. That day was hideous, and I think Del shares my thoughts.
‘No he won’t.’ Sylvie fires the machine up, and the sound of steam rushing from the froth pipe fills the bistro. ‘He likes you!’ she calls louder, grabbing a mug, then a tray, then a spoon, a napkin and the chocolate sprinkles, all while rotating the metal jug of milk with ease.
I smile down at the table as I wipe it before collecting the tray and making my way back to the kitchen. Del’s only known me for a week, and he’s already said that I haven’t a bad bone in my body. My grandmother has said the very same thing but added that I’d better grow some soon because the world and the people in it are not always nice or gentle.
I dump the tray on the side and start loading up the dishwasher.
‘You okay, Livy?’
I turn toward the gruff voice of Paul, the cook. ‘Great. You?’
‘Top of the world.’ He continues cleaning out the pots, whistling as he does.
Resuming stacking plates in the dishwasher, I think to myself that I should be just fine as long as I’m not let loose on that machine. ‘Is there anything else you’d like me to do before I get off?’ I ask Sylvie as she pushes her way through the swing door of the kitchen. I envy the way she carries out all tasks with such ease and speed, from dealing with that damn machine to stacking mugs on top of each other without looking.
‘No.’ She turns and wipes her hands on the front of her apron. ‘You get off. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘Thank you.’ I remove my apron and hang it up. ‘Bye, Paul.’
‘Have a good evening, Livy,’ he calls, waving a ladle above his head.
After weaving my way through the tables of the bistro, I push my way out the door and onto the narrow back street, getting immediately pelted by rain. ‘Wonderful,’ I smile, shielding my head with my denim jacket and making a run for it.
I hop between the puddles, my Converse doing nothing to keep my feet dry, squelching with each hurried stride as I make my way to the bus stop.
Taking the steps up to our house, I barge through the door and rest my back against it, catching my breath.
‘Livy?’ Nan’s husky voice instantly lightens my wet mood. ‘Livy, is that you?’
‘It’s me!’ I hang my soaked jacket on the coat hook and kick off my sodden Converse before making my way down the long hallway to the back kitchen. I find Nan stooped over the cooker, stirring a huge pot of something – soup, undoubtedly.
‘There you are!’ She drops the wooden spoon and wobbles towards me. At eighty-one, she is really quite remarkable and still so on the ball. ‘You’re drenched!’
‘I’m not so bad,’ I assure her, ruffling my hair as she assesses me from top to bottom, settling on my flat stomach as my T-shirt rides up.
‘You need fattening up.’
I roll my eyes but humour her. ‘I’m starving.’
The smile that graces her wrinkled face makes me smile, too, as she embraces me and rubs my back.
‘What have you done today, Nan?’ I ask.
She releases me and points to the dinner table. ‘Sit.’
I do as I’m told immediately, picking up the spoon she’s set down for me. ‘So?’
She turns a frown on me. ‘So what?’
‘Today. What did you do?’ I prompt.
‘Oh!’ She flaps a tea towel at me. ‘Nothing exciting. A bit of shopping, and I baked your favourite carrot cake.’ She points across to the other worktop, where a cake is sitting on a cooling rack. But it isn’t carrot cake.
‘You made me carrot cake?’ I ask, watching as she returns to serving up two bowls of soup.
‘Yes. Like I said, Livy. I made your favourite.’
‘But my favourite’s lemon cake, Nan. You know that.’
She doesn’t falter in her serving, bringing the two bowls to the table and setting them down. ‘Yes, I do. That is why I made you lemon cake.’
I flick a glance across the kitchen again, just to check I’m not mistaken. ‘Nan, that looks like pineapple upside-down cake.’
Her rump hits the chair, and she looks at me like I’m the one losing my mind. ‘That’s because it is pineapple upside-down cake.’ She plunges her spoon into the bowl and slurps off some coriander soup before reaching for some freshly baked bread. ‘I made your favourite.’
She’s confused, and so am I. After that last few seconds’ exchange, I have no clue what sort of cake she’s made, and I don’t care. I look across at my dear grandmother, studying her feeding herself. She seems okay and doesn’t look confused. Is this the beginning? I lean forward. ‘Nan, are you feeling okay?’ I’m worried.
She starts laughing. ‘I’m pulling your leg, Livy!’
‘Nan!’ I scorn her, feeling immediately better. ‘You shouldn’t do that.’
‘I’m not losing my marbles yet.’ She waves her spoon at my bowl. ‘Eat your supper and tell me how you got on today.’
My shoulders sag dramatically on a sigh as I stir my soup. ‘I can’t get on with that coffee machine, which is a problem when ninety per cent of customers order some kind of coffee.’
‘You’ll get to grips with it,’ she says confidently, like she’s an expert on the damn thing.
‘I’m not so sure. Del won’t keep me just for clearing tables.’
‘Well, apart from the coffee machine, are you enjoying it?’
I smile. ‘Yes, I really am.’
‘Good. You can’t look after me for ever. A young thing like you should be out enjoying herself, not tending to her grandmother.’ She eyes me cautiously. ‘And I don’t need tending to, anyway.’
‘I like looking after you,’ I argue quietly, bracing myself for the usual lecture. We could argue about this until we’re blue in the face and still be in disagreement. She’s fragile, not physically but mentally, no matter how much she insists she’s okay. She draws breath. I fear the worst. ‘Livy, I will not be leaving God’s green pastures until I see you pull things together, and that’s not going to happen if you spend all your time henpecking