Promised, p.14
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       Promised, p.14

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  to Nan, and I’ll be telling her of your transgressions! He could be a rapist, an axe murderer! Holy shit, you stupid woman! I’m not a happy bunny!’

  He sounds totally exasperated, the drama queen. And I know he won’t spill to Nan because he knows, just as well as I do, that she’ll be rejoicing, not despairing. Empty threats, that’s all his message is. Part true, but over the top and completely knocked out of perspective.

  Kind of.

  A little.

  Not in the least bit.

  He’s one hundred per cent right, and he doesn’t know the half of it. I am an idiot. I call him before he goes into seizure, and he answers immediately, sounding like he may already be suffering meltdown. ‘Livy?’

  ‘I’m alive.’ I fall back to my pillow. ‘Take a few deep breaths, Gregory.’

  ‘Don’t take the piss! I’ve been working through the night trying to find out where he lives.’

  ‘You’re overreacting.’

  ‘I don’t think I am!’

  ‘You didn’t find him, then?’ I ask, pulling my quilt up further and snuggling down.

  ‘Well, I didn’t have much to go on, did I? I googled “Miller” but I don’t think he grinds crops for a living.’

  I laugh to myself. ‘I don’t know what he does for a living.’

  ‘Well it doesn’t matter because you won’t be seeing him again. What went down? Did you shag him? Where are you? Have you lost your fucking mind?!’

  I’m not laughing any more. ‘None of your business, none of your business, I’m at home and yes, I have lost my bloody mind.’

  ‘None of my business?’ he screeches, all high-pitched. ‘Livy, I’ve busted my balls for years, trying to pry you from that stupid shell you hide away in. I’ve introduced you to endless decent men, all of which were mad for you, but you flat-out refused to even entertain the idea of a friendly drink or, at a stretch, dinner. Letting a man wine and dine you doesn’t make you your mother.’

  ‘Shut up!’ I hiss, the mention of my mother spiking too much venom that’s evident in my tone.

  ‘I’m sorry, but what is it about this cocksucker that’s turned you into an irresponsible, reckless twat?’

  ‘You’re the only cocksucker I know,’ I accuse quietly, because I’m at a loss at what else to say. I have been pretty reckless, just like my moth— ‘And he’s not a criminal or a murderer. He’s a gentleman.’ Sometimes, I add to myself.

  ‘What happened? Tell me.’

  ‘He worshipped me,’ I confess. He’ll nag me stupid, so I may as well come clean. It’s done now. No going back.

  ‘“Worshipped”?’ Gregory’s voice is barely a whisper, and I see him in my mind’s eye halting whatever he may be doing on the other end of the phone.

  ‘Yes, he’s ruined it for all those who will come after.’ He really has. Nothing will compare. No man will match his skill, attentiveness and passion. I’m totally buggered.

  ‘Oh Lord.’ He’s still whispering. ‘That good?’

  ‘Blissful, Gregory. I feel cheated. While he promised twenty-four hours, I only got eight. I annoyingly want the re—’

  ‘Whoa! Rewind! Re-fucking-wind!’ he yells, making me jump in my bed. ‘Back the fuck up! What’s this about twenty-four hours? Twenty-four hours for what?’

  ‘To worship me.’ I turn onto my side, transferring my phone to the other ear. ‘He offered me that time because it’s all he could.’ I cannot believe that I’m divulging all of this information to Gregory. This has to get the gold, especially given that it’s me who we’re juicing it up about.

  ‘I don’t even know what to say.’ I can see the shock on his face when I close my eyes. ‘I need to see you. I’m on my way.’

  ‘No, no!’ I sit up urgently. ‘Nan doesn’t know I’m here. I snuck back in.’

  Gregory laughs. ‘Baby girl, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your nan knows exactly where you are.’

  ‘How?’

  ‘Because she’s the one who called me to say you were home.’ There’s a degree of smugness in his tone.

  I look to the heavens for strength. I should’ve bloody known. ‘Then why did you pick my brain about where I am?’

  ‘Because I wanted to see if my soulmate had developed a habit of lying, as well as being a dumb-arse. I’m glad to have it confirmed that you’re only the latter. I’m on my way.’ He hangs up, and as soon as I drop my phone to the bed, I hear the familiar sound of creaking floorboards, so I hastily crawl under the covers and hold my breath.

  The door opens, but I remain like a statue, out of view, eyes clenched shut and holding my breath – not that I expect it to deter her. I bet she’s dying to get the scoop, the nosy old bat.

  There’s total silence, but I know she’s there, and then I feel a light brushing tickle on the sole of my foot and my leg lashes out on an uncontrolled burst of laughter. ‘Nan!’ I shout, throwing the quilt back and finding her plump body at the bottom of my bed, arms crossed, and with a dirty smirk on her old face. ‘Don’t look at me like that,’ I warn.

  ‘Your boss, my arse!’

  ‘He was.’

  She scoffs and comes to sit on the edge of the bed, putting me on high alert. ‘Why are you telling me porky pies?’ she asks.

  ‘I’m not.’ My response is feeble and my eyes, diverted from hers, are a sign of my guilt.

  ‘Livy, give your grandmother a break.’ She slaps my thigh over the quilt. ‘I might be an old lady, but my eyes and ears work just fine.’

  I chance a reluctant glance at her, seeing a grin being held back. I’ll make her day if I confirm what she already knows. ‘Yes, and so does your nosy mind.’

  ‘I’m not nosy!’ she argues. ‘I’m just being . . . a concerned grandmother.’

  I scoff and tug the quilt from under her bum, wrapping it around myself and escaping to the bathroom. ‘You’ve nothing to be concerned about.’

  ‘I think I have when my sweet granddaughter lives like a recluse, and then suddenly stays out until dawn.’

  I cringe, quickening my pace as she follows me across the landing. My work excuse won’t wash now, so I hold my tongue and make quick work of shutting the bathroom door behind me, just catching a glimpse of her grey eyebrows arched and her thin lips curved.

  ‘Is he your boyfriend?’ she calls through the door.

  I turn the shower on and drop my quilt. ‘No.’

  ‘Was he your boyfriend?’

  ‘No!’

  ‘Are you courting him?’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Dating. It means dating, dear.’

  ‘No!’

  ‘Just having sex, then.’

  ‘Nan!’ I yell, flashing the door an incredulous look.

  ‘Just asking.’

  ‘Well, don’t!’ I step into the bath and under the hot spray, thankful for the hot water, but not for the flashbacks of my last shower. He’s invading every corner of my brain, except the little part which is currently being reserved to answer Nan’s unreasonable questions. I squeeze some shampoo into my palms and set about lathering up my hair, hoping I’ll physically scrub the memories away as I do.

  ‘Are you in love with him?’

  I freeze under the water, my hands sitting idly in the mass of bubbles on my head. ‘Don’t be stupid.’ I try to sound shocked, but all I achieve is a quiet, thoughtful rush of breath. I’m not sure what my feelings are because they’re all over the place at the moment. And they shouldn’t be, especially with the knowledge of another woman. I’m not in love with him, though. I’m intrigued by him, that’s all. He’s fascinating to me.

  I wait for Nan’s comeback as my body remains still and my mind contemplates what she might say next. It’s a long time, but I eventually hear the distant creaking of floorboards. She’s gone, and she didn’t challenge my unconvincing reply to her final question, which is extremely unusual.

  Gregory is making up for Nan’s mild interrogation. He’s humoured me for a few hours, riding the open-top, hop
-on-hop-off tour bus and listening to me remind him of why I love London so much, but when I’m guided to the outside seating area of a cafe off Oxford Street, I know my time evading him has passed. ‘Coffee or water?’ he asks as the waiter approaches, giving me his roving eye.

  ‘Water.’ I ignore the waiter and commence a nervous fiddle of the napkin, folding it neatly too many times, until it’s no longer foldable.

  My friend is looking at the waiter the same way the waiter is looking at me, all bug-eyed and smiley. ‘Water and an espresso, please, kind sir.’

  I grin at Gregory, making it a continuous triangle of smiles as the waiter writes down our order and backs away, missing the lady on the next table who’s waving for his attention. It’s overcast but muggy, and my tight jeans are sticking to my thighs.

  ‘So,’ Gregory begins, taking the napkin from my hand, leaving me fiddling with my ring instead. ‘He promised twenty-four hours and you only got eight.’ He dives right in, no holding back.

  I pout, and I hate myself for it. ‘That’s what I said, isn’t it?’ I sigh. A few hours being distracted by the grandness of my beloved London did a wonderful job of temporarily washing him from my mind. That’s the problem, though; it’s just temporary.

  ‘What cut it short?’

  ‘He had to nip out.’

  ‘Where?’

  ‘I don’t know.’ I refuse to look at Gregory, like a lack of eye contact might make telling him the truth easier. It must be working because I go on, keen to get his thoughts. ‘I woke up at three this morning and he was gone. He left a pillow note telling me he’d be back, then he called but wouldn’t say where he was, only that it was business. I got a little annoyed and so did he.’

  ‘What was he annoyed about?’

  ‘Because I said I was leaving and it’s ill-mannered to break a deal.’ I chance a look at Gregory, finding his brown eyes wide. ‘We didn’t actually shake on it,’ I finish, not adding the fact that according to Miller we fucked on it.

  ‘He sounds like a knob,’ he declares spitefully. ‘An arrogant knob!’

  ‘He’s not,’ I argue quickly. ‘Well, he can come across a little like that, but not when he had me in his arms. He really did worship me. He said he was going to fuck me, but he . . .

  ‘What?’ Gregory screeches, leaning forward. ‘He actually said that to you?’

  I sink back in my chair, thinking I should’ve kept that part to myself. I don’t want my friend to hate Miller, even if I do a little myself. ‘Yes, but he didn’t follow through on it. He showed me nothing but respect and . . .’ I pause, stopping myself from saying such a stupid word in these circumstances.

  ‘What?’

  I shake my head. ‘He was a gentleman.’

  Our drinks arrive and I immediately pour my water into my glass and take a long swig while I’m ogled by the smiling waiter and Gregory ogles him. ‘Thank you.’ My friend beams at the waiter, making his interest known, despite the waiter’s obvious sexual preference.

  ‘You’re welcome. Enjoy,’ the waiter says, keeping his eyes on me before he finally takes care of the woman who is again waving for his attention.

  Gregory’s smiling face soon alters to a scowl when his eyes land back on me. ‘Livy, you’ve already said that you saw him with a woman. I know just as well as you do that she’s probably no business associate. He sounds nothing like a gentleman.’

  ‘I know,’ I mumble sullenly, the reminder stabbing at my falling heart. That woman is beautiful, elegant and undoubtedly as cultured and wealthy as Miller. That’s his world – posh women, posh hotels, posh events, posh clothes, posh food and drink. Mine is serving that posh food and drink to those posh people. I need to forget about him. I need to remind myself how aggravated he makes me. I need to remind myself that it was meaningless sex. ‘I won’t be seeing him again.’ I sigh. It wasn’t meaningless sex to me.

  ‘I’m glad.’ Gregory smiles and takes a sip of his espresso. ‘You deserve the whole package, not just the scraps a man’s prepared to throw when he feels like it.’ He reaches over and gives my hand a comforting squeeze. ‘I think you know he’s no good for you.’

  I smile, knowing my best friend is talking complete sense. ‘I do.’

  Gregory nods and winks, sitting back in his chair, just as my phone starts ringing from my bag. I grab my satchel from the chair next to me and start rummaging through.

  ‘That’ll be Nan,’ I moan. ‘She’s driving me loopy.’

  Gregory laughs, prompting a snigger from me, too, but I soon halt my happy tittering when I note the caller’s not Nan. My wide eyes fly to Gregory’s.

  He soon stops laughing, too. ‘Is it him?’

  I nod, glancing back down to the screen, my thumb hovering over the button that’ll connect me to Miller. ‘I’ve not returned his call.’

  ‘Be wise, baby girl.’

  Be wise. Be wise. Be wise. I take a deep breath and answer. ‘Hello.’

  ‘Olivia?’

  ‘Miller,’ I counter coldly and calmly, despite my speeding heart rate. The slow, rounded pronunciation of my name spikes a vivid image of his slow-moving lips.

  ‘We need to pick up where we left off. I have an engagement to keep this evening, but I’ll keep tomorrow free.’ He sounds formal and short, making my heart race that little bit more, but more out of irritation than desire. What am I, a business transaction?

  ‘No, thank you.’

  ‘It wasn’t a question, Livy. I’m telling you that you’ll be spending the day with me tomorrow.’

  ‘That’s very kind of you, but I’m afraid I have plans.’ I sound hesitant when I was aiming for sureness. I’m aware that Gregory is watching and listening intently, and I’m glad because I’m certain that if he wasn’t here to monitor the conversation, then I’d be agreeing. Hearing his smooth voice, even though there’s no element of friendliness to it, is bringing back all of the feelings that came before the anger of being abandoned.

  ‘Cancel them.’

  ‘I can’t.’

  ‘For me, you can.’

  ‘No, I can’t.’ I hang up before I cave and quickly turn my phone off. ‘Done,’ I declare, shoving it in my bag.

  ‘Good girl. You know it makes sense.’ Gregory smiles across the table at me. ‘Drink up and I’ll walk you home.’

  *

  We say goodbye on the corner, Gregory heading off to get ready for a night out, me to go and hide in my bedroom from my prying grandmother. As I’m inserting my key quietly into the lock, the door swings open and two pairs of old eyes look at me with interest – Nan trying to read me, George peering over her shoulder with a mild grin on his face. I can only imagine what’s gone down in this house since I left this morning and George arrived. He’ll do anything for Nan, including listening to her harp on about her boring, withdrawn granddaughter. Except this time I’m not boring. And George’s delight at this news is written all over his round face.

  ‘Your phone’s off,’ Nan fires accusingly. ‘Why?’

  My arms drop to my sides on an over-the-top sigh before I push my way past them, heading toward the kitchen. ‘The battery died.’

  Her scoff indicates her thoughts on that lie as she tracks me. ‘Your boss stopped by.’

  I swing around, horrified, finding straight lips and George still grinning over her shoulder. ‘My boss?’ I ask tentatively, my damn heart pounding against my chest.

  ‘Yes, your real boss.’ She watches for my reaction and she won’t be disappointed. I’m trying my hardest not to, but I’m blushing furiously and my body has completely sagged. ‘Nice cockney man.’

  ‘What did he want?’ I breathe, gathering myself together.

  ‘He’s been trying to call you.’ She fills the kettle and signals for George to sit, which he does without delay, still grinning at me. ‘Something about a charity gala this evening.’

  ‘He wants me to work?’ I ask hopefully, retrieving my phone and quickly turning it on.

 
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