Promised, p.16
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       Promised, p.16

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  I’m trying to keep up with her, and everyone’s moving out of the way of the elderly, determined woman marching through the store pulling a shopping trolley behind her. ‘You’ll be cutting the skin off!’

  ‘It doesn’t matter. Here we are!’ She halts at the entrance of the food hall, and I watch as her shoulders rise and drop slowly on a satisfied sigh. ‘The meat counter!’ She’s off again. ‘Get a basket, Livy.’

  I sag, exasperated, and reach for a shopping basket, then go and join her in front of the glass meat counter. ‘I thought you wanted a pineapple.’

  ‘I do. I’m just browsing.’

  ‘Browsing meat?’

  ‘Oh, my girl. This isn’t just meat.’

  I follow her admiring stare to the perfectly displayed lumps of pork, beef and lamb. ‘What is it then?’

  ‘Well,’ her wrinkled brow furrows, ‘it’s posh meat.’

  ‘What, like well-spoken meat?’ I’m trying hard not to grin as I point to a steak. ‘Or did that cow shit in a toilet instead of a field?’

  Nan gasps and swings infuriated eyes to me. ‘You can’t use that language in Harrods!’ Her eyes shoot around, checking if any attention is on us. It is. The old woman next to Nan is looking at me in disgust. ‘What’s got into you?’ Nan straightens her floppy hat and hits me with warning eyes.

  I’m still fighting a grin. ‘Where are the pineapples?’

  ‘Over there.’ She points, and I follow her finger to another glass cabinet, formed in a square and showcasing the best-looking fruit I’ve ever seen. They’re only your standard fruits – apples, pears and suchlike, but they are the most beautiful apples and pears I’ve ever seen – so beautiful, my face is pushed up to the glass counter to check if they’re real. The colours are vivid and the skins polished. They literally look way too good to eat.

  ‘Oh, look at that pineapple!’ Nan sings, and I do. Her enthusiasm is warranted. It’s a stunning pineapple. ‘Oh, Livy.’

  ‘Nan, it’s too pretty to hack up and shove in a cake.’ I join her by the supermodel of pineapples. ‘And it’s fifteen quid!’ My palm slaps against my mouth, and Nan’s hand slaps my shoulder.

  ‘Will you shut up?’ she hisses. ‘I should’ve left you at home.’

  ‘Sorry, but fifteen pounds, Nan? Surely you’re not.’

  ‘Yes, I am.’ She straightens her shoulders and waves to get the attention of the server, her hand movements rivalling the Queen’s. ‘I would like a pineapple,’ she tells him, all posh and proper.

  ‘Yes, madam.’

  I stare at her in disbelief. ‘Does being in Harrods Food Hall put a plum in your mouth?’

  She flicks me a sideways glance. ‘Whatever are you talking about?’

  I start laughing. ‘That. The voice. Come on, Nan!’

  She leans in discreetly. ‘I do not have a plum in my mouth!’

  I smile. ‘Yes you do. A huge, great big plum, and it’s making you sound like the Queen with respiratory problems.’

  Nan’s beautiful pineapple is handed delicately over the counter and she takes it, gently placing it in the basket I’m holding.

  ‘Ooh, be gentle,’ I whisper, laughing to myself.

  ‘You’re not too old to lie over my knee,’ Nan threatens, increasing my laughter.

  ‘Would you like to do it here?’ I make my face serious. ‘You could polish my arse while you’re at it so I match your pretty pineapple.’ I snort on a suppressed laugh.

  ‘Shut up!’ she snaps. ‘And be careful with my pineapple!’

  I’m at the point of doubling over as I watch Nan straighten her scowling face before turning back to the gentleman who served her. ‘Could you remind me where I might find the double cream?’

  I start falling all over Harrods Food Hall in hysterics as I watch Nan’s hand movements and listen to her fake posh voice. Remind her? She’s never bought double cream from Harrods in her bloody life!

  ‘Certainly, madam.’ He directs us to the back of the hall where the fridges are stocked with posh dairy. Nan’s back straightens and she’s smiling and nodding politely at everyone we pass, while I titter, shake and hold my aching stomach from laughing too hard.

  I’m still chuckling as I watch her read the back of every pot of cream on the shelf, humming to herself. She shouldn’t bother with the ingredients and should maybe pay more attention to the price. Deciding that I need to calm myself down before my nan swings at me, I start taking deep breaths as I wait for her to choose, but my shoulders won’t let up, and I can’t help my eyes from looking down at the perfect, shiny pineapple, reminding me of why I’m in stitches.

  I jump when I feel hot breath in my ear and turn, still laughing until I see whose breath it is. ‘You look incredibly beautiful when you laugh,’ he says quietly.

  I stop immediately and back up, but I should’ve stayed put because I’ve just bumped into Nan, causing her to huff some more and swing around. ‘What?’ she spits before she clocks my company. ‘Oh my . . .’

  ‘Hello.’ Miller closes the distance, getting way too close, and puts his hand out. ‘You must be Livy’s famous nan.’

  I die on the spot. She’s going to lap this up good and proper. ‘Yes.’ She still sounds like she has a plum in her mouth. ‘And you’re Livy’s boss?’ she asks, placing her hand neatly in Miller’s, flicking me a questioning look.

  ‘I think you know that I’m not Olivia’s boss, Mrs . . .’

  ‘Taylor!’ she practically screeches, delighted that he’s confirmed her suspicions.

  ‘I’m Miller Hart. It’s a pleasure, Mrs Taylor.’ He kisses the back of her hand – he actually kisses the back of her bloody hand!

  Nan giggles like a schoolgirl and now that my heart is over the shock, it starts a steady thump in my chest. He’s adorned in a three-piece grey suit, white shirt, and silver tie . . . in Harrods. ‘Shopping?’ I manage to breathe.

  He regards me intently as he releases Nan’s wrinkled hand and holds up two suit bags. ‘I was just collecting some new suits and an enchanting laugh caught my attention.’

  I ignore his compliment. ‘Because you don’t have enough suits?’ I ask, remembering the rows and rows of matching jackets, trousers and waistcoats lining the three walls of his wardrobe. I’ve never seen him in the same one twice.

  ‘You can never have enough suits, Livy.’

  ‘I agree!’ Nan trills. ‘It’s so refreshing to see a young man so well turned out. These youngsters who have jeans sagging around their arses, their underwear out for the world to see. I just don’t understand it.’

  Miller’s slight amusement is clear. ‘I concur.’ He nods thoughtfully, flicking his eyes to mine while I consider how silly it sounds, referring to him as a young man. He is, but his persona hints to a much wiser, more lived-in man. He acts older than his years, even if he looks perfectly gorgeous at twenty-nine. ‘That’s a delicious-looking pineapple.’ He nods at the basket in my hand.

  ‘My thoughts exactly!’ Nan sings delightedly, agreeing with him again. ‘Worth every penny.’

  ‘It is,’ Miller replies. ‘The food here is sublime. You must try the caviar.’ He reaches out to a nearby shelf and takes a jar, showing it to Nan. ‘It’s exceptional.’

  I can do nothing more than watch in shock as Nan has a good look at the jar, nodding her unknown agreement as they chat away in Harrods Food Hall. I want to curl up in a ball and hide.

  ‘So how are you and my lovely granddaughter acquainted?’

  ‘Lovely being the operative word, wouldn’t you agree?’ Miller asks, placing the jar back and tweaking it so the label is positioned just so. He doesn’t stop there. He runs his hand across each jar flanking the one he’s just placed, straightening them all up.

  ‘She’s a doll.’ Nan elbows me discreetly while Miller finishes up with the shelf display.

  ‘That she is.’ He gazes at me, and I feel my face heat under his intense stare. ‘She makes the best coffee in London.’

  ‘Do I?’ I blurt. The lyi
ng bastard. He’s on the charm offensive.

  ‘Yes; I was most disappointed when I dropped in today to find you’re off sick.’

  My redness increases. ‘I’m feeling better.’

  ‘I’m glad. Your colleague isn’t as friendly as you.’ His words carry a double meaning. He’s playing games and it’s irritating the hell out of me. Friendly or easy? If Nan wasn’t here, I’d be asking that very question, but she is here and I need to remove her and myself from this painfully difficult situation.

  I take her elbow. ‘We should get going, Nan.’

  ‘Should we?’

  ‘Yes.’ I try to tug her onward, but she makes herself a dead weight. ‘It was nice to see you.’ I smile tightly at Miller, tugging harder. ‘Come on, Nan.’

  ‘Would you like to join me for dinner tonight?’ Miller asks with a sense of urgency to his tone that probably only I can detect.

  I stop trying to remove my static nan and flash him a questioning look. He’s trying to get his remaining time allowance, and he’s using my grandmother to his advantage, the conniving twat. ‘No, thank you.’ I can feel Nan’s shocked stare drilling into me.

  ‘Livy, you must take the gentleman up on his invitation to dinner,’ Nan claims incredulously. ‘It’s very kind of him to offer.’

  ‘I don’t often,’ Miller interjects quietly, like I should be grateful. It only increases my irritation as I fight to recall why I vowed not to see him again. It’s hard when my wayward mind is presenting me with a stream of images of our naked bodies entwined and a replay of the comforting words exchanged.

  ‘See!’ Nan screeches in my ear, making me wince. The plum has gone and desperation has set in. She plasters a stupid smile on her face as she returns to Miller. ‘She’d love to.’

  ‘No, I wouldn’t, but thank you.’ I try to pull my annoying grandmother away from my heart’s annoying nemesis, but the stubborn old bat refuses to budge. ‘Come on,’ I plead.

  ‘I would be delighted if you would reconsider.’ Miller’s soft rasp halts my battle with Nan’s motionless form, and I hear her sigh dreamily, gazing at the annoyingly handsome man who’s cornered me. But then her dreamy gaze turns into slight confusion and I follow her stare to see what’s caused her sudden change in expression. There’s a well-manicured hand resting on Miller’s shoulder with a dusky-pink silk tie suspended from it, cascading down Miller’s chest.

  ‘This one will go perfectly.’ The silky-smooth voice is familiar. I don’t need to see the stunning face to confirm who that hand belongs to, so I lift my gaze from the silk tie to Miller’s eyes instead. His jaw is tight, his tall body still. ‘What do you think?’ she asks.

  ‘It’s fine,’ Miller replies quietly, keeping his eyes on me.

  Nan is silent, I’m silent, and Miller is saying very little, but then the woman steps out from behind him, stroking the tie and the silence is broken. ‘What do you think?’ she asks Nan, who nods, not giving the tie a glance, instead keeping her eyes on this beautiful woman who has appeared from nowhere. ‘And you?’ She directs her question at me, toying with the diamond-encrusted cross that’s always suspended from her delicate neck. I can see a threatening look through the layers of expensive make-up. She’s marking her territory. She’s no business associate.

  ‘It’s lovely,’ I whisper, dropping the basket and deciding to abandon my nan in favour of retreat. I’m not being held to ransom in front of my old grandmother and I’m not being subjected to looks of inferiority by that perfect woman. Every corner I turn, he’s there. This is hopeless.

  I weave my numb body through the various departments until I break free of the confinements of the colossal store and drag in some fresh air, resting my back against the wall outside. I’m angry, sad and irritated. I’m a jumbled bag of mixed emotions and confusing thoughts. My heart and my head have never disagreed or battled so furiously.

  Until now.

  Hyde Park sorts me out. I sit on the grass with a sandwich and a can of Coke and watch the world go by for a few hours. I think about how lucky the people wandering past me are to have such a beautiful place to roam. Then I count at least twenty different breeds of dog in less than twenty minutes and think how lucky they are to have such a wonderful stomping ground. Children are squealing, mothers are chatting and laughing, and runners are prancing by. I feel better, like something familiar and desired has successfully eliminated something unfamiliar and undesired.

  Undesired, undesired . . . completely desired.

  I sigh and unfold my seated body from the ground, swinging my satchel onto my shoulder and throwing my rubbish in the litter bin.

  Then I take the familiar journey home.

  Nan’s frantic by the time I fall through the front door. Really frantic. I feel guilty, even if I should actually be feeling rather mad with her. ‘Oh my goodness!’ She dives on me, not giving me the chance to dump my bag by the coat stand in the hall. ‘Livy, I’ve been so worried. It’s seven o’clock!’

  I embrace her hold, the guilt taking a firmer grip. ‘I’m twenty-four years old,’ I sigh.

  ‘Don’t disappear on me, Olivia. My heart can’t take it.’

  Now guilt is crippling me. ‘I had a picnic in the park.’

  ‘But you just left!’ She separates us and holds me at a distance. ‘It was incredibly rude, Livy.’ I can see from her sudden annoyance that her earlier panic has completely diminished.

  ‘I didn’t want to have dinner with him.’

  ‘Why not? He seemed like such a gentleman.’

  I resist snorting my disgust. She wouldn’t think that if she knew the ins and outs. ‘He was with another woman.’

  ‘She’s a business associate!’ she gushes, almost excited to clear up the misunderstanding. ‘Nice woman.’

  I cannot believe she bought that. She’s too cute. Business associates don’t shop for silk ties together. ‘Can we leave it there?’ I drop my bag and skulk past her, making my way to the kitchen, getting a waft of something delicious as I enter. ‘What are you cooking?’ I ask, finding George at the table. ‘Hi, George.’ I sit next to him.

  ‘Don’t turn your mobile telephone off, Livy,’ he scolds quietly. ‘I’ve endured hours of Josephine repeatedly dialling and cursing in between cooking supper.’

  ‘What is it?’ I ask again.

  ‘Beef Wellington,’ Nan chirps up as she follows behind me. ‘With dauphinoise potatoes and steamed baby carrots.’

  I throw a confused look at George, but he just shrugs and picks up his paper. ‘Beef Wellington?’ I ask.

  ‘That’s right.’ She doesn’t give my questioning tone the attention it deserves. What happened to stew and dumplings or a chicken roast? ‘Thought I’d try something new. I hope you’re hungry.’

  ‘A little,’ I admit. ‘Is that wine?’ I ask, clocking two bottles of red and two bottles of white on the worktop.

  ‘Oh!’ She flies across the kitchen and grabs the white bottles, shoving them quickly in the fridge before opening the red. ‘These need to breathe.’

  Shifting in my chair, I chance a glance at George, hoping to get something from him, but he’s undoubtedly doing what he’s been told by sitting still and shutting up. He knows that I’m looking at him. I can tell because his eyes are running too quickly across the text of the paper for him to truly be reading it. I knock his knee with mine, but I’m flat-out ignored, Nan’s male companion choosing to shift his legs to avoid another purposeful nudge.

  ‘Nan—’ The doorbell interrupts me, my head swinging towards the hallway.

  ‘Oh, that’ll be Gregory.’ She opens the oven and sticks a long metal stick in the middle of a huge chunk of pastry. ‘Will you answer it, please, Livy?’

  ‘You invited Gregory?’ I ask, pushing my chair away from the table.

  ‘Yes! Look at all of this food.’ She removes the rod from the meat and purses her lips as she checks the temperature on the dial. ‘Nearly done,’ she declares.

  I leave Nan and George and jog down the h
allway to let Gregory in, hoping Nan hasn’t been gossiping with him again. ‘Am I missing a special occasion?’ I ask as I throw the front door open.

  My smile falls away immediately.

  Chapter 11

  ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ That damn irritation flares dangerously.

  ‘Your grandmother invited me.’ Miller’s arms are filled with flowers and a Harrods bag. ‘Are you going to invite me in?’

  ‘No, I’m not.’ I step outside and pull the door shut so Nan can’t hear our conversation. ‘What are you doing?’

  He’s completely unruffled by my ruffled state. ‘Being polite and accepting a dinner invitation.’ There’s no humour in his tone. ‘I have manners.’

  ‘No.’ I step closer, my shock and exasperation crossing the line into anger. My damn conniving grandmother. ‘You have a nerve, that’s what you have. This has to stop. I don’t want you for
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