Promised, p.15
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       Promised, p.15

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  ‘Yes.’ She continues with tea-making duties, her back to me. ‘I did point out that it might be too much after your long shift yesterday evening.’

  I’m scowling hard at her back, and I know George’s grin has just widened. ‘Give it a rest, Nan,’ I warn, stabbing at the buttons of my phone. She doesn’t turn around and she doesn’t answer. She’s made her point, as have I.

  Putting my phone to my ear, I take the stairs to escape to the sanctuary of my room. Del needs me to waitress this evening and I accept eagerly, before I’m told where to be and when. I’ll do anything to distract myself.

  Pushing my way through the staff entrance of the hotel, I’m immediately greeted by a pacing Sylvie. She’s on me like a wolf, like I knew she would be. ‘Tell me everything!’

  I walk past her, heading for the kitchen. ‘There’s nothing to tell.’ I brush her off, reluctant to confirm that she was right. I take my apron from a smiling Del and start putting it on. ‘Thank you.’

  He hands one to Sylvie, too, who snatches it and doesn’t thank our boss. ‘So you told him where to go?’

  ‘Yes,’ I say very convincingly, probably because it’s part truth. I have, in effect, told him where to go. I start loading my round silver tray with glasses. ‘So you can quit with the nagging because there’s nothing to nag me about.’

  ‘Oh,’ she says placidly, starting to help me. ‘Well, I’m glad. He’s an arrogant bastard.’

  I neither deny nor confirm it, instead opting to change the subject completely. I’m supposed to be busying my wandering mind, not feeding it. ‘Did you go out last night?’

  ‘Yes, and I still feel like crap,’ she admits, pouring the champagne. ‘My body has craved junk food all day, and I necked something close to two litres of fat Coke.’

  ‘That bad?’

  ‘Horrendous. I’m not drinking again . . . until next week.’

  I laugh. ‘What makes you bad . . .’

  ‘Don’t! The smell of this is turning my stomach.’ She gags and holds her nose as she continues to fill the flutes. It’s only now that I take a good look at her, noticing her usually shiny black bob looks a little dull, as do her usually rosy cheeks. ‘I know. I look like shit.’

  I return to the tray. ‘You really do,’ I admit.

  ‘And I feel worse than I look.’

  Del appears, looking his usual happy self. ‘Girls, we have members of parliament in tonight and a few diplomats. I know I don’t have to tell you, but remember your manners.’ He looks at Sylvie when he speaks, frowning. ‘You really do look like crap.’

  ‘Yes, yes, I know. Don’t worry. I won’t breathe on them,’ she quips, breathing onto her palm and smelling. I grimace, watching her face screw up in disgust before she rootles through her pocket and shoves a Polo mint in her mouth.

  ‘Don’t speak unless necessary.’ Del shakes his head, leaving me and Sylvie to finish up with the champagne and transfer the canapés from the Tupperware to the trays.

  ‘All set?’ Sylvie asks, swinging her tray onto her shoulder.

  ‘Lead the way.’

  ‘Great. Let’s feed and water some elitists,’ she grumbles, smiling sweetly at Del when he throws her a cautionary look. ‘Would you prefer snobs?’

  He points his finger at her, fighting a fond smile. ‘No, I’d prefer to have enough staff so I didn’t have to resort to drafting you in. Get your arse in gear.’

  ‘Yes, sir!’ She salutes him seriously and marches on, me following behind, laughing.

  I don’t get very far, though. And my laughing is sucked up in a second.

  His face is impassive as he watches me, while I’m frozen on the spot, body shaking, pulse racing. But he seems completely composed, the only clue of his thoughts being how closely he’s studying me.

  ‘No,’ I whisper to myself, trying to gain control of my shaking tray as I reverse my steps, backing up into the kitchen. He’s with that woman, and she’s adorned in cream silk and dripping with diamonds, her hand glued to his arse, her smiling face beaming at him dreamily. Business? I feel sick – sick with jealousy, sick with pain and sick with delight at how beautiful he looks in a taupe three-piece suit. His flawlessness defies reality on every level.

  ‘Livy?’ Del’s concerned voice seeps into my ears and his hands rest gently on my shoulders from behind. ‘You okay, sweetheart?’

  ‘Pardon?’ I rip my eyes away from the painful sight across the room, and turn blankly towards my boss, registering a face to match the concern in his voice.

  ‘Christ, Livy, you’re as white as a ghost.’ He takes the tray from me and feels my forehead. ‘And you’re cold.’

  I need to leave. I can’t work all night in the close proximity of Miller, especially with her draped all over him, and definitely not after last night. I’m shifting on the spot, my eyes darting all over the place, my heart showing no sign of letting up. ‘I think I might have to leave,’ I whisper pitifully.

  ‘Yes, go home.’ Del ushers me through the kitchen and shoves my satchel in my arms. ‘Get in bed and sweat it out.’

  I nod lamely, just as Sylvie comes steaming into the kitchen with a tray full of empties, her wide eyes looking frantic and worried, even more so when she clocks my pathetic, sweating form. Her mouth opens to speak but I shake my head, not wanting her to give me away. What will Del think if he finds out that I’m in this pickle because of a man?

  ‘You’ll have to work that little bit harder, Sylvie. I’m sending Livy home. She’s feeling ill.’ Del turns me and pushes my shaking body towards the exit.

  I glance over my shoulder, giving Sylvie an apologetic smile, grateful when she brushes off my guilt with a dismissive wave of her hand. ‘Hope you feel better,’ she calls.

  I’m sent to the mews at the back of the hotel, where deliveries are taken and the staff pop out to smoke. It’s dusk and the air is heavy, just like my heart. Finding a step away from the chaos of the loading bays, I lower my backside and slump my head onto my knees, attempting to calm myself down before I drag my feet home. Forgetting my encounters with Miller Hart and the feelings I had during those encounters might be easier if I never have to see him again, but it’s going to be impossible if he’s around every corner that I turn.

  Returning to solitary confinement seems like my best option, but I’ve been teased, fed something new and appealing, and I want more. The important question, though – the question I should ask and consider seriously – is whether I’m hungry for more with just Miller, or if I can find these tingling, stimulating, alive feelings with someone else, a man who wants me for longer than one night, a man who can maintain these feelings, not spike them, then quickly and cruelly replace them with inadequacy and misery.

  I won’t hold my breath.

  I force my reluctant body to stand, looking up and coming face to face with Miller Hart. He’s standing just a few feet away, legs spread and hands in his pockets. His expression is still blank, telling me nothing, but this takes nothing away from his impossible beauty. There are many things I want to say, but saying them will only prompt conversation, which will almost certainly cast me further under his spell. The only sensible move I should make right now is escaping his presence. And set on doing just that, I start walking away from him.

  ‘Livy!’ he shouts, his footsteps trailing me. ‘Livy, it’s simply business.’

  ‘You don’t have to explain yourself to me,’ I declare softly. That was no body language of a business associate. ‘Please don’t follow me.’

  ‘I’m talking to you, Livy,’ he warns.

  ‘And I’m choosing not to listen.’ My nerves are keeping my tone timid and weak when I really want to inject some spunk into it, but the strength required to do so is being used to walk away.

  ‘Livy, you owe me sixteen hours.’

  His cheek makes me falter mid-stride, but doesn’t stop me completely. ‘I owe you nothing.’

  ‘I beg to differ.’ His body lands in front of me, blocking my path, so I quickly sides
tep him, not allowing my eyes to divert from their focus point: the main road ahead. ‘Livy.’ He’s grabbing at me now but I shake him off, silent but firm. ‘Where are your fucking manners?’

  ‘I don’t care for them with you.’

  ‘Well you should.’ He takes hold of me, more forcefully this time, and secures me in place. ‘You agreed to twenty-four hours.’

  I refuse to look at him, and I’m also refusing to speak. There’s plenty I want to say, but showing my emotions – physically and audibly – would be a grave mistake, so I remain still and silent while he stares down at my non-responsive form. I’m frustrating him. His overpowering hold on the tops of my arms is confirming it, and so is the rise and fall of his suit-covered chest. I’ve crawled into a shell, and I don’t plan on coming out. I’m safer here – safe from him.

  He drops his face into my line of sight, so I drop my gaze further to the ground to avoid him. Looking into his crystal-clear blues will derail me in a split second. ‘Livy, when I’m talking to you, I’d like you to look at me.’

  I don’t. I ignore his request and concentrate on remaining unreceptive, hoping he’ll get bored, decide I’m not worth the effort, and leave me alone. I need him to leave me alone. There’s a beautiful woman inside, clearly willing, so why is he wasting time out here on me?

  ‘Livy,’ he whispers.

  My eyes close, picturing those lips speaking my name quietly . . . slowly.

  ‘Please look at me,’ he orders gently.

  My head starts shaking in my own private darkness as I battle to keep my protective shield in place – the Miller shield.

  ‘Let me see you, Olivia Taylor.’ He stoops further, pushing his face into my neck. ‘Let me have my time with you.’

  I want to stop him. I don’t want to stop him. I want to feel alive again but I don’t want to feel lifeless again. I want him more than I know I should.

  ‘I haven’t had nearly enough. I need more.’ His lips find my cheek and his palm feels out the back of my head, his fingers combing through my hair and holding me in place. ‘I want to drown in you, Livy.’ His lips reach mine and the feel of them catapults me instantly to the night before. The shield shatters and a suppressed sob slips past my lips, my eyes squeezing shut to prevent the tears from trickling down my cheeks. ‘Open your mouth,’ he whispers.

  My jaw relaxes at his gentle demand, giving him free rein on my senses, and his tongue slips slowly and softly past my lips, sweeping a sweet circle of my mouth, his body moving in closer to mine. There’s not a part of my front that’s not touching him. I go slack, my head tilting to give him better access, and my hands lift of their own accord, feeling up his sides until they’re on his shoulders. He’s set a painfully slow, tender pace, and I’m following, massaging his tongue with mine and failing to do what I know I should.

  ‘See how easy it is?’ he asks, slowly pulling away and pecking my lips.

  I nod, agreeing, because it really is, but now his lips are off mine, sensibility seems to kick in. ‘Who’s that woman?’ I ask, stepping back. ‘Was this the prior engagement that you were talking about? A date?’

  ‘It’s business, Livy. Just business.’

  I step back again. ‘And business involves having her hand glued to your backside?’ I have no right to sound so accusing. He’s played his cards.

  His head cocks, a tiny hint of a frown surfacing. ‘Sometimes I have to accept a bit of familiarity in the name of business.’

  ‘What business?’

  ‘We’ve spoken of this before. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get personal.’

  ‘We’ve had sex. You don’t get more personal than that,’ I argue.

  ‘I mean emotionally, not physically, Livy.’

  His words confirm my thoughts. Damn women and their deepness, and damn men for their hollowness. Just sex; I must remember that. These feelings are spiked by lust and nothing more. ‘I’m not this kind of person, Miller. I don’t do things like this.’ I’m not sure who I’m trying to convince here.

  He steps forward and runs his hand behind my neck, taking his signature hold. ‘Maybe that’s what I find so fascinating.’

  ‘Or perhaps you’re just finding it an entertaining challenge.’

  ‘If that’s the case,’ he drops a soft kiss on my cheek, ‘then I think we can safely say that I’ve conquered you.’

  He’s absolutely right. He’s conquered me, and he’s the only man who has. ‘I need to go.’ I start backing away, just as his phone starts ringing from his pocket. He reaches in and glances at the screen, then to me. I can see that he’s torn as he watches me leave. ‘You should take that call.’ I nod at his phone, hoping he’ll decline and fulfil his promise to put me back in his bed. If I escape now, then that’s it. I’m turning my back for good, and I’ll find the strength to resist him. But if he stops me, comes with me, then I’m going to be spending the next sixteen hours being worshipped again. I want to do both, but his decision is going to decide for me. Someone else’s choice is going to determine my destiny. And I can tell by the look on his face that he knows this, too.

  My heart constricts when he answers the call, even though I know that it’s undeniably the best outcome for my destiny. ‘I’m on my way,’ he says quietly before cutting the call and watching me spreading the distance between us. I smile a little before turning my back on Miller Hart and mentally forming a plan to eradicate him from my mind altogether.

  Chapter 10

  Monday morning greets me, and I feel no better. I wallowed in self-pity all day yesterday, choosing to stay in bed, with Nan poking her head around my door to check on me every now and then. I’ve never feigned illness but I’m making up for that now. My grandmother is super suspicious but keeping her thoughts to herself for once. It’s a novelty, and a welcome one. My phone has rung twice, my only two friends in the world calling to check up on me, but I cut off any lengthy conversation. I could tell they’re suspicious, too – Sylvie most, having witnessed my meltdown. I’m not much of an actress. In fact, I’m rubbish at it, even cringing myself when I heard my unconvincing voice telling them that I felt rotten with a queasy stomach and cold shivers. Deciding that I need one more day to pull myself together, I call Del to tell him I feel no better.

  ‘Livy?’ Nan’s wary voice drifts through my door. ‘I’ve made breakfast. You’ll be late for work.’

  ‘I’m not going,’ I call, trying to croak and failing.

  The door opens and she gingerly creeps in, giving my quilt-covered body the once-over. ‘Are you still feeling ill?’ she asks.

  ‘Terrible,’ I mutter.

  She hums thoughtfully, picking up my discarded jeans and folding them neatly. ‘I’m going shopping. Would you like to come?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Oh, Livy, come on,’ she sighs. ‘You can help me pick a pineapple for George’s upside-down cake.’

  ‘You need help picking a pineapple?’

  She huffs her frustration and pulls the quilt back, exposing my semi-naked body to her inquisitive eyes and the cool morning air of my bedroom. ‘Olivia Taylor, you are getting out of that bed and you’re coming to help me pick a pineapple for George’s upside-down cake. Get up!’

  ‘I’m ill.’ I try to retrieve my covers and fail. She looks determined, which means this is a sure losing situation for me.

  ‘I’m not stupid.’ She waves a wrinkled finger at me. ‘You need to snap out of this, right now! There’s nothing less attractive than a woman wallowing in self-pity, especially over a man. Screw him! Pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and bloody get on with it, my girl!’ She grabs my stunned body and physically hoofs me up from the bed. ‘Get that skinny arse showered. You’re coming shopping.’ She stomps out, slamming the door behind her, leaving me speechless and wide-eyed.

  ‘That was a little harsh,’ I say to absolutely no one, hearing her stomping feet taking the stairs. She’s never spoken to me like that in her life. But I’ve never given her reason to. It’s always
me faffing around her, although I’m certainly not as brutal in my pep talks as she was just then. This is hilariously ironic. She’s the one who’s constantly nagged me about living a little. I did, and look where it’s got me. Still stunned and not daring to retreat to the safety of my bed, I walk cautiously across the landing to take a shower.

  ‘We’re going to Harrods to buy a pineapple?’ I ask, holding Nan’s elbow as we cross the road towards the grand, green-canopied building.

  Nan raises her hand to a truck driving at us, halting it dead in its tracks, despite it having the right of way. I wave a thank you, while Nan continues across the road, tugging her shopping trolley behind her. ‘I might buy some double cream, too.’

  I catch up with her and pull the door open. ‘Going to town, aren’t you?’ My eyebrows waggle suggestively, which she completely ignores, instead marching on in the direction of the food hall.

  ‘It’s a pineapple.’

  ‘That we could’ve bought from the local Tesco Express,’ I retort, goading her.

  ‘It wouldn’t be the same. Besides, the ones from here are perfectly formed and the skins are shiny.’

 
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