Promised, p.13
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       Promised, p.13

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  relieved my unease; I just feel even more awkward. I’m compelled to know more about him, but he’s right. The knowledge will serve no purpose and will only make this cosier than it’s supposed to be.

  He continues to sweep those splendid hands all over my skin, not saying a word or even looking at me. After the intimacy of our night so far, this is difficult and unwelcome. It’s like we’re strangers. Well, we are, yet the man kneeling before me is the only person on God’s earth whom I’ve shared myself with. Not my past or any troubles, but my sober body and my vulnerability. He’s made me question my approach to life and men. He’s lured me in with a false sense of security, and now he’s carrying on like this is business, not pleasure.

  I’m perplexed, but I shouldn’t be. I knew the deal, yet his tenderness and the fact that he absolutely has not fucked me, perhaps gave me false hope of this being more, which is obscene. He’s really a stranger and an unpredictable, moody, intimidating one at that.

  My speeding thoughts are interrupted when his hands make it to my shoulders, the firmness of his thumbs working into my flesh deliciously. And he’s now looking at me, his face still straight and his hair sopping wet, looking longer with the water weighing down his waves. Lowering his face, he kisses me gently but sweetly before resuming the task of ridding my body of chocolate.

  What was that?

  A tender display of affection? A caring gesture? Natural instinct? Or was it just a friendly kiss? The heat of our mouths together suggested otherwise, but his face doesn’t. I should leave. I’m not sure how I thought this evening would pan out, but I should have thought harder, and then I’m sure that I would’ve passed his offer up. This shouldn’t be me, and I’ve swiftly been dragged from awe to resentment.

  I’m just about to declare my intention to halt our arrangement when he speaks. ‘Tell me how it’s possible that you’ve not been taken by a man in seven years,’ he asks, pushing some wet hair from my face.

  I sigh, dropping my face until it’s quickly forced back to his. ‘I . . .’ Whatever can I say? ‘It’s just that . . .’

  ‘Go on,’ he pushes soothingly.

  I find avoiding his question easy when I suddenly recall his previous statement. ‘Given our “arrangement”, I thought we weren’t going to do chit-chat.’

  His frown matches mine. He looks embarrassed. ‘So I did.’ My neck is gripped by his hand over my wet hair and I’m directed from the shower. ‘Forgive me.’

  I’m still frowning as he dries me off with a towel, and then takes my neck again, leading me from the bathroom towards his giant leather bed. It’s dressed beautifully, all plush with deep-red crushed velvet and gold scatter cushions placed delicately. I didn’t notice it before, but I know it couldn’t have been this neat when I got up earlier, so it’s been remade. I don’t want to ruin the preciseness of it again, but Miller releases me and starts taking the cushions and placing them neatly in a chest at the end of the bed before he draws back the quilt and nods for me to climb in.

  I step forward cautiously and slowly clamber onto the huge bed, feeling like the princess and the pea. Nestling down, I watch as he slips in beside me and plumps his pillow before resting his head and snaking his arm around my waist, gently tugging me towards his body. I move instinctively into the warmth of his chest, knowing this is wrong. I know it’s wrong, even more so when he takes my hand, kisses my knuckles, and then places my palm on his chest and lays his over it, beginning a guided caress of his skin.

  It’s quiet. I can hear my mind ticking over with endless hopeful thoughts. And I think I might hear his, too, but there’s an invisible strain now, and this invisible strain between us is far outweighing the great things that have come before. His heart is beating steadily under my ear, and the odd squeeze of his hand around mine is a gesture of comfort, but I’m never going to be able to sleep, even though my body is exhausted and my brain drained.

  Miller suddenly shifts, and I’m removed from his chest and positioned neatly to the side. ‘Stay here,’ he whispers, kissing my forehead before removing his naked body from the bed and slipping his shorts on. He leaves the room, and I prop myself up on my elbows and watch as the door closes quietly behind him. It has to be the early hours of the morning. What is he doing? The absence of the awkward silence should be making me feel better. But it doesn’t. I’m nude, sore between the thighs, and I’m tucked up neatly in a stranger’s bed, but I can do no more than lie back and stare up at the ceiling with only my unwelcome thoughts to keep me company. He makes me feel wonderful and alive, and in the next breath, awkward and an inconvenience.

  I’m not sure how long I’m there, but when I hear a few bangs and definitely a polite curse, I can stay no more. I shuffle to the edge of the bed, taking the sheet with me, and pad across the bedroom, gingerly letting myself into the corridor and wandering quietly towards the source of the commotion. The noises and muttered curses get clearer and clearer until I’m standing in the doorway of the kitchen looking at Miller wiping down the fridge’s mirrored doors.

  What should be making me stagger in disbelief is Miller’s frantic hand swirling a cloth over the surface, but it’s the muscles of his back, all rippling and sharp, that have my breath catching and my hand darting out to the door frame to steady myself. He can’t be real. He’s a hallucination – a dream or a mirage. I would be sure of this, if I wasn’t so . . . broken in.

  ‘Fucking mess!’ he hisses to himself, plunging his hand into a bucket of soapy water and wringing the cloth out. ‘What the fuck was I thinking? Fuck!’ He slaps the cloth on the mirrored doors again, continuing to curse and rub frantically.

  ‘Everything okay?’ I ask quietly, smiling like crazy on the inside. Miller likes everything just like him; perfect.

  He swings round, surprised but scowling. ‘Why aren’t you in bed?’ The cloth gets thrown viciously into the bucket. ‘You should be resting.’

  My sheet gets pulled in closer, like I’m using it as a protective shield. He’s mad, but is he mad with me or with the smeared mirror of the fridge? I start backing away, a little wary.

  ‘Fuck.’ He hangs his head in shame, shaking it a little and ruffling his dark mop with a frustrated swipe of his hand. ‘Please, forgive me.’ His eyes lift and gush with genuine regret. ‘I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. It was wrong of me.’

  ‘Yes, it was,’ I agree. ‘I’m not here to be snapped at.’

  ‘It’s just . . .’ He looks at the fridge and clenches his eyes shut, like it hurts him to see the smears. Then he sighs and walks forward, holding his hands out, silently asking my permission to touch me. Stupidly or not, I nod, and he visibly relaxes. He wastes no time and crowds me, pulling me close and sinking his nose into my damp hair. The comfort it gives me can’t be ignored. When he said that he wouldn’t sleep, he really meant it. He didn’t look at the mess when I hinted at it, but clearly it was playing on his mind, tormenting him.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ he repeats, kissing my hair.

  ‘You don’t like mess.’ I don’t ask it as a question because it’s painfully clear, and I’m not giving him the opportunity to insult me by denying it.

  ‘I’m house proud,’ he counters, turning me and pushing me back towards the bedroom.

  Every step we take, I’m reminded of my palatial surroundings. ‘Don’t you have a cleaner?’ I ask, thinking a businessman who lives in a place like this, dresses like Miller and drives a prestigious car, would at least have a housekeeper.

  ‘No.’ I’m unwrapped from the sheet and lifted into bed. ‘I like doing it myself.’

  ‘You like cleaning?’ I blurt, shocked. He really can’t be real.

  His lips tip at the corners, making me feel a whole lot better about the events, words and feelings that have come after our intimacies. ‘I wouldn’t say I like it.’ He slips in beside me and pulls me in, tangling our naked legs. ‘I suppose you could call me a domestic god.’

  I’m smiling now, too, and my hand is having a field day
with free access to his bare chest. ‘I never would’ve thought it,’ I muse.

  ‘You should try to stop thinking too much. People overthink things, making them bigger deals than they actually are.’ He speaks softly, almost nonchalantly, but there’s more meaning to those words, I know there is.

  ‘Like what?’

  ‘Nothing specific.’ He pecks the top of my head. ‘I was just being general.’

  He wasn’t being general at all, but I say no more. His reversed mood has calmed my earlier unease, and I’m letting the security of his body encasing me ease me into a peaceful slumber. It’s not long before my eyes slowly close and the last sound I hear is Miller humming something hypnotising and soft in my ear.

  In a panic, my eyes snap open and I bolt upright in bed. It’s completely dark. Brushing my wild hair from my face, I take a few moments to backtrack and it all comes back to me . . . or was I dreaming?

  I pat around on the bed, feeling nothing but soft bedding and a pillow with no head on it. This bed is enormous, but I wouldn’t lose a whole man in it. ‘Miller?’ I whisper timidly, then feel down my body, noting no clothing. I always sleep in my knickers. I’m not dreaming, and I don’t know whether to be relieved or frightened by that. I stumble out of the bed and feel my way around the wall. ‘Shit!’ I curse, smacking my shin on something hard. I rub away the stab of pain and shift further, meeting something with my head. The crash pierces the silence, and I fumble with something attacking me. ‘Bollocks!’ I lose the battle to hold whatever has hit me and let it fall, wincing when it smashes, before rubbing my forehead. ‘Bloody hell.’

  I expect Miller to appear from wherever he’s hiding to investigate the commotion, but after standing in silence for ever, hoping he’ll flick a switch that’ll bless me with light, I’m still blind. I resume my tentative groping of the wall in the darkness until I feel something resembling a switch. I flick it on, blinking back the harsh invasion of artificial light. Of course I’m alone, and I’m also naked. I note the cabinet that I smacked my shin on and the floor-standing lamp that I bumped my head on, which is now resting against the cabinet, smashed into a million pieces. I hurry back to the bed and grab the bedding, wrapping it around me as I walk back towards the door. He’s probably cleaning the fridge again, but once I’ve found my way into the kitchen, I find no Miller cleaning. In fact, I find no Miller at all. Nowhere. I circle his apartment twice, opening and closing doors, or all that will open. There’s one that won’t. I jiggle the handle but it doesn’t shift so I gently tap and wait. Nothing. I head back to his bedroom with a completely furrowed brow. Where’s he gone?

  Sitting on the side of his bed, I wonder what to do, and for the first time the full force of my stupidity smacks me hard in the face. I’m in a strange apartment, naked in the middle of the night, after having crazy, no-emotions, reckless sex with a stranger. Sensible, wise Livy has just pulled a stunt worthy of an award. I’ve let myself down.

  I look around for my clothes, but they’re nowhere in sight.

  ‘Fucking hell!’ I curse to myself. What the hell has he done with them? Logic descends too quickly and I find myself in front of the cabinet, removing the lamp and pulling a drawer open, finding neat piles of men’s clothes. It doesn’t deter me. I pull the next open, then the next and the next, until I’m on my knees at the bottom drawer, staring at my clothes, all neatly folded, with my Converse positioned deftly next to them, laces tucked in. I laugh to myself, pull my belongings free from the drawer, and quickly dress myself.

  As I turn to exit, I notice a piece of paper on the bed. I don’t want to believe that he’s left me a pillow note, and I should probably leave without reading it, but I’m just too damn curious. Miller makes me curious, and that’s a bad thing because everyone knows that curiosity killed the bloody cat. I hate myself for it but I hurry over and snatch it up, angry before I’ve even read it.

  Livy,

  I’ve had to nip out. I won’t be long so please do not leave.

  If you need me, call me. I’ve stored my number in your phone.

  Miller

  x

  Stupidly, I sigh at the sight of a kiss after his name. Then I get mighty irritated. He’s had to nip out? Who nips out in the middle of the night? I go in search of my phone to establish exactly what time it is. I find my bag and phone on the glass coffee table, and after turning it on and ignoring dozens of missed calls from Gregory and three text messages advising me that I’m in trouble, the screen tells me it’s three o’clock in the morning. Three?

  My phone is spun repeatedly in my grasp as I contemplate what could’ve called him away at this time. An emergency, perhaps? Something could’ve happened to a member of his family. He could be at a hospital or picking up a drunken sister from a nightclub. Does he have a sister? All sorts of reasons are dancing in my head, but when my phone starts ringing in my hand and I look down and see his name flashing on my screen, I stop wondering because I’m about to find out.

  I connect the call. ‘Hello?’

  ‘You’re awake.’

  ‘Well, yes, and you’re not here.’ I sit down on the sofa. ‘Is everything okay?’

  ‘Yes, it’s fine.’ He’s speaking quietly. Maybe he is in a hospital. ‘I’ll be back soon so just relax in bed, okay?’

  Relax in bed? ‘I was just leaving.’

  ‘What?’ He’s not whispering any more.

  ‘You’re not here, so there’s little point in me staying.’ This isn’t being worshipped; this is being abandoned.

  ‘There’s a big point!’ he argues, and I hear a door slam in the background. ‘Just stay where you are.’ He sounds fretful.

  ‘Miller, are you okay?’ I ask. ‘Has something happened?’

  ‘No, nothing.’

  ‘Then what’s called you out in the middle of the night?’

  ‘Just business, Livy. Go back to bed.’

  The word ‘business’ spikes unwarranted resentment in me. ‘Are you with that woman?’

  ‘What makes you say that?’

  His question has transformed that resentment into suspicion. ‘Because you said “business”.’ With all of the mind-blanking worshipping, I’d forgotten about the black-haired beauty.

  ‘No, please. Just get back in bed.’

  I flop back against the sofa. ‘I won’t sleep. This wasn’t part of the deal, Miller. I don’t want to be alone in a strange apartment.’ The absurdity of my words makes me physically kick myself. Yes, because I’m happier in a strange apartment with a strange man, who makes me lose all sensibility.

  ‘The deal was for one night, Olivia. Twenty-four hours, and I’m annoyed enough at having to lose a few of those. If you’re not in that bed when I get home, then I’ll . . .

  I sit up. ‘You’ll what?’ I ask, hearing his panicked, fitful breaths down the line.

  ‘I’ll . . .’

  ‘Yes?’

  ‘I’ll . . .’

  ‘You’ll what?’ I hiss impatiently, standing and picking up my bag. Is he threatening me?

  ‘Then I’ll find you and put you back in it!’ he snaps.

  I actually laugh. ‘Are you listening to yourself?’

  ‘Yes.’ His tone has calmed. ‘It’s not courteous to break a deal.’

  ‘We didn’t shake on it.’

  ‘No, we fucked on it.’

  I gasp, scowl, and choke all at once. ‘I thought you were a gentleman.’

  ‘Whatever gave you that idea?’

  My mouth snaps shut as I consider his question. Our first meeting never suggested that he’s a gentleman, and neither did our following encounters, but his attentiveness and manners since I’ve been here have. There has been no fucking, not in any sense of the word.

  A horrid realisation dawns. I really have been very stupid. He’s seduced me, and he’s done it brilliantly. ‘I have no idea, but I’m clearly mistaken. Thank you for the countless orgasms.’ I hear him shouting my name as I pull the phone away from my ear and hang up. I’m stunned by m
y own brazenness, but Miller Hart spikes my inner spunk. And that’s dangerous territory to be falling into, but essential to maintain when dealing with this confounding man. Throwing my satchel over my shoulder, I head for his front door, rejecting the incoming call before turning off my phone.

  Chapter 9

  I didn’t sleep a wink, despite being in the comfort of my own bed. After sneaking into the house like a professional cat burglar, I tiptoed up the stairs, avoided all of the creaking floorboards, and crossed the landing stealthily until I was in the safety of my own room. Then I lay there in the darkness for the remaining few hours of night, looking blankly and blindly up at the ceiling.

  Now the birds are tweeting, I can hear Nan downstairs pottering around in the kitchen, and I have no desire to face the day. My mind is awash with images, thoughts and conclusions, none of which I want to waste brain space on. But no matter how hard I’m trying, I just can’t boot him out of my jumbled head.

  Leaning over to my bedside table, I unplug my phone from the charger and brave turning it on. There’s another five missed calls from Gregory, one from Miller and a voicemail. I don’t want to hear what either man has to say, but that doesn’t stop me from tormenting myself further and listening to the damn message. It’s my worried friend¸ not Miller.

  ‘Olivia Taylor, you and I are going to be having some very strong words when I get hold of you. What are you thinking, baby girl? For crying out loud! I thought you were the sensible one out of the two of us. You’d better call me, or I’ll be paying a visit
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