Promised, p.17
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       Promised, p.17

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  twenty-four hours.’

  ‘You want longer?’

  I recoil. ‘No!’ How much longer?

  ‘Oh . . .’ He looks unsure of himself and it’s the first time I’ve seen this in him. It straightens my back and makes my eyes narrow questioningly.

  ‘Do you?’ I whisper the question on a skip of my heartbeat, my mind going into overdrive.

  His uncertainty flashes to frustration in a nanosecond, making me wonder if it’s directed at me or whether he’s frustrated with himself. I’m hoping it’s the latter. ‘We agreed no personal.’

  ‘No, you declared that part of the deal.’

  His eyes fly up, shocked. ‘I know.’

  ‘And does it still stand?’ I ask, trying so hard to appear confident and strong, when I’m crumbling on the inside, bracing myself for his answer.

  ‘It still stands.’ His voice is resolute, but his expression isn’t. That’s not enough for me to build my hopes on, though.

  ‘Then we’re done here.’ I turn on my Converse and push my defeated body through the door, meeting Nan as I do. ‘It’s a salesman,’ I say, not letting her pass me. My plan is never going to work, I know that. She invited him, and she knew the second the doorbell chimed who it was.

  I put up little resistance when I’m barged from her path, letting her open the front door, where Miller is striding slowly away from the house. ‘Miller!’ she calls. ‘Wherever are you going?’

  He turns and looks at me, and as much as I’m willing a threatening look to materialise on my face, it’s just not happening. We just stare at each other for the longest time before he gives Nan a small nod. ‘It was really very kind of you, Mrs Taylor, but—’

  ‘Oh no!’ Nan doesn’t give him the opportunity to make his excuses. She marches down the path, not in the least bit intimidated by his tall, powerful frame, and takes his elbow, leading him into the house. ‘I’ve prepared a blinding supper, and you’ll stay to eat it.’ Miller is pushed into the narrow hallway where, with three people, it’s all very cosy. ‘Livy will take your jacket.’ Nan leaves us and marches back to the kitchen, barking a short instruction at George as she enters.

  ‘I’ll leave if you want me to. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.’ He makes no move to drop the things from his hands and remove his jacket. ‘Your grandmother is quite a woman.’

  ‘She is,’ I answer quietly. ‘And you always make me feel uncomfortable.’

  ‘Come home with me and I’ll put some shorts on.’

  My eyes widen at the thought of Miller bare-chested and barefoot. ‘That didn’t make me comfortable,’ I point out. He knows that.

  ‘What I did to you following the removal of my clothes did, though.’ That lock of hair slips down on cue, as if backing up his words, making them more suggestive.

  I shift on the spot. ‘That won’t happen again.’

  ‘Don’t say things you don’t mean, Livy,’ he counters softly.

  My eyes fly to his, and he moves in, the flowers that he’s holding touching the front of my tea dress. ‘You’re using my own grandmother against me,’ I breathe.

  ‘You leave me no choice.’ He dips and rests his lips over mine, sending a delicious warmth to my core to match the heat of his mouth on mine.

  ‘You’re not playing fair.’

  ‘I’ve never claimed to play by the rules, Livy. And anyway, all of my rules were obliterated the second I laid my hands on you.’

  ‘What rules?’

  ‘I’ve forgotten.’ He takes my mouth gently, pushing the flowers further into my chest, the cellophane encasing them crinkling loudly, but I’m too consumed to care whether the noise attracts the attention of my nosy nan. My senses are saturated, my blood is heated, and I’m reminded of the incredible feelings that Miller Hart draws from me. ‘Feel me,’ he moans against my mouth.

  Without thought, my hand slowly moves down between our bodies, bypassing the flowers and Harrods bag, until I’m brushing my knuckles over the long, hard length of him. His deep groan emboldens me, my hand turning to feel, stroke and squeeze over the top of his trousers.

  ‘You do that,’ he growls. ‘And for as long as you do this to me, you’re obliged to remedy it.’

  ‘It wouldn’t happen if you didn’t see me,’ I gasp, biting at his lip, not bothered by his arrogant declaration.

  ‘Livy, I only have to think of you and I’m solid. Seeing you makes me ache. You’re coming home with me tonight, and I’m not taking no for an answer.’ His lips press harder to mine.

  ‘That woman was with you again.’

  ‘How many times do we have to go over this?’

  ‘Do you often go clothes shopping with female business associates?’ I ask around his unrelenting lips.

  He pulls away, panting, his hair in disarray. Those blue eyes will be the death of me. ‘Why can’t you trust me on this?’

  ‘You’re too secretive,’ I whisper. ‘I don’t want you to have this hold over me.’

  He leans in and kisses my forehead tenderly, lovingly. His words don’t match his actions. It’s so confusing to me. ‘It’s not a hold if you accept it, sweet girl.’

  I’d be inconceivably stupid to trust this man. It’s not so much the woman; my conscience seems quite happy to overlook her. It’s my destiny. My heart. I’m falling too hard and too fast.

  He steps away, glancing down at his groin area before adjusting himself. ‘I have to face a sweet old lady with this, and it’s entirely your fault.’ He lifts almost mischievous eyes to mine, throwing me off course again. It’s another expression from Miller Hart that’s alien to me. ‘Ready?’ he asks, sliding his palm around my neck and turning me towards the kitchen.

  No, I don’t think I am ready, but I say yes anyway, knowing what I’m going to find in the kitchen. And I’m right on the money. Nan is smiling smugly and George’s eyes have just popped out of his head at the sight of Miller guiding me. I gesture to my nan’s long-suffering male companion. ‘Miller, this is George, my nan’s friend.’

  ‘Pleasure.’ Miller offloads the flowers and bag, rather than letting go of me, and accepts George’s hand, giving it a firm, manly shake. ‘That’s a rather dashing shirt you have on there, George.’ Miller nods at George’s striped chest genuinely.

  ‘You know, I think so, too,’ George agrees, stroking down his front.

  I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before. George is in his Sunday best, usually reserved for bingo or church. Nan really is a conniving old bat. I cast my eyes over to her, noticing her floating, floral, button-up dress, also usually reserved for Sunday best. Looking down at myself, I note that I am far from practically dressed in my creased tea dress and hot-pink Converse, and suddenly uncomfortable with that, I pipe up.

  ‘I’m just going to use the bathroom.’ I’m not going anywhere until Miller releases me from his grasp, but he doesn’t seem in much of a hurry to do so.

  Instead, he picks up the bouquet, a mass of yellow roses, and hands them to Nan, followed by the Harrods bag. ‘Just a few things to say thank you for your hospitality.’

  ‘Oohh!’ Nan shoves her nose into the bouquet, then her face into the bag. ‘Oh my, caviar! Oh, George, look!’ She drops the roses on the table and presents George with the tiniest jar. ‘Seventy pounds for that little thing,’ she whispers, but I don’t know why because we’re standing mere feet away and can hear her perfectly. I’m horrified. The plum is a distant memory and so is her decorum.

  ‘Seventy quid?’ George chokes. ‘For fish eggs? Well, slap me sideways!’

  I sag under Miller’s hold, and then feel him start to massage my nape over my hair. ‘I’m going to use the bathroom,’ I repeat, twisting myself out from his grip.

  ‘Miller, you shouldn’t have.’ Nan removes a bottle of Dom Pérignon and flashes it at George with a gaping mouth.

  ‘It’s my pleasure,’ Miller replies.

  ‘Livy.’ Nan pulls my attention back to the table. ‘Have you offered to take Miller
s jacket?’

  Turning tired eyes onto him, I smile, sickeningly sweetly. ‘Can I take your jacket, sir?’ I resist curtsying, and detect an amused glint in his eyes.

  ‘You may.’ He shrugs out of his jacket and hands it to me, while I marvel at his shirt and waistcoat-covered chest. He knows that I’m staring at him, picturing his naked chest. He leans in, dropping his mouth to my ear. ‘Don’t look at me like that, Livy,’ he warns. ‘I can barely contain myself as it is.’

  ‘I can’t help it.’ I’m honest in my quiet reply as I leave the kitchen, fanning my face before neatly draping his jacket over mine on the coat stand. I smooth it down and take the stairs, falling into my bedroom and darting around like a woman possessed, stripping, spraying, re-dressing and freshening my make-up. Glancing in the mirror, I think about how far removed I am from Miller’s business associate. But this is me. If it goes with my Converse, then it’s a contender, and my white shirt dress, scattered with red rosebuds, matches my cherry-red Converse perfectly. There’s another woman and what’s worrying is my ability to ignore the obviousness of the situation. I want him. Not only has he fractured my sensibility, he’s also chased away my conscience.

  Giving myself a mental stinger of a slap, I ruffle my mass of blond and hurry downstairs, suddenly worried by what Nan and George might be saying to Miller.

  They’re not in the kitchen. I backtrack, heading for the lounge, but that’s empty too. I hear chatter coming from the dining room – the dining room that’s only used on very special occasions. The last time we ate in the dining room was on my twenty-first birthday, over three years ago. That’s how special we’re talking. I make my way to the oak-stained door and peer in, seeing the huge mahogany table that dominates the room is beautifully laid, using all of Nan’s Royal Doulton crockery, cut crystal wine glasses and silver cutlery.

  And she’s put my heart’s nemesis at the head of the table, where nobody has had the pleasure ever before. That was my granddad’s place at the table, and not even George has been allowed the honour.

  ‘Here she is.’ Miller stands and pulls out the empty chair to his left. ‘Come, sit.’

  I walk slowly and thoughtfully over, ignoring Nan’s beaming face, and take my seat. ‘Thank you,’ I say as he tucks me under the table before resuming position next to me.

  ‘You’ve changed,’ he observes, turning the plate at his setting a few millimetres clockwise.

  ‘I was a little creased.’

  ‘You look beautiful.’ He smiles, nearly making me pass out at the sight of it, that lovely dimple making a rare appearance.

  ‘Thank you,’ I breathe.

  ‘My pleasure.’ He doesn’t take his eyes off me, and even though mine are firmly set on his, I know Nan and George are watching us.

  ‘Wine?’ Nan asks, interrupting our moment and distracting Miller’s eyes from mine. I’m instantly resentful.

  ‘Please, allow me.’ Miller rises and my gaze rises with him, my eyes seeming to lift for ever until his body has straightened. He doesn’t lean across the table to reach for the wine. No, he steps out and circles, collecting the wine from the ice bucket and standing on my grandmother’s right side to pour.

  ‘Thank you very much.’ Nan flashes George a wide-eyed, excited stare, and then turns her navy blues onto me. She’s getting way too excited, just like I knew she would, and it’s playing heavily on my mind for the brief moments that I’m distracted from Miller. Like right now when Nan is beaming at me, so elated by our guest’s presence and impeccable manners.

  Miller makes his way around the table, filling George’s glass too, before he reaches me. He doesn’t ask me if I’d like some, he just goes right ahead and pours, despite knowing damn well that I’ve politely declined all alcohol when it’s been offered to me previously. I’m not going to pretend that he’s ignorant to it. He’s too smart – way, way too smart.

  ‘Right.’ George stands as Miller takes his seat. ‘I’ll do the honours.’ He takes the carving knife and starts to neatly slice through Nan’s masterpiece. ‘Josephine, this looks spectacular.’

  ‘It really does,’ Miller agrees, taking a sip of his wine and replacing it, his fingers scissoring and resting on the base of the glass, the crystal stem towering from between his middle and index finger. I study his resting hand closely, concentrating hard, waiting for it.

  And there it is. It’s minuscule, but he shifts the glass a very tiny bit to the right. It’s probably barely noticeable to anyone except my scrutinising stare, and I smile as I raise my eyes, finding him watching me studying him.

  He cocks his head, his eyes narrowing but twinkling wildly. ‘What?’ he mouths, drawing my attention to his lips. The bastard licks them, prompting me to make a grab for my glass and take a sip – anything to distract me. It’s not until I swallow that I realise what I’ve done, the unaccustomed taste making me shudder as it slides down my throat. My glass hits the table a bit too harshly, and I know Miller has just glanced at me curiously.

  A piece of beef Wellington lands on my plate. ‘Help yourself to potatoes and carrots, Livy,’ Nan says, holding her plate up for George to transfer some crumbly pastry to. ‘Let’s fatten you up.’

  I spoon some carrots and potatoes onto my plate before putting some on Miller’s. ‘I don’t need fattening up.’

  ‘You could gain a few pounds,’ Miller declares, pulling my incredulous face back to him as George finishes his plate off with the Wellington. ‘Just an observation.’

  ‘Thank you, Miller,’ Nan huffs smugly, raising a glass to toast their agreement. ‘She’s always been skinny.’

  ‘I’m slender, not skinny,’ I argue, lobbing Miller a warning look and getting a hint of a smile. In a very juvenile fit of revenge, I discreetly reach over and casually start twisting his wine glass by the stem, pulling it a fraction towards me. ‘Is that nice?’ I ask, nodding at his forkful of beef.

  ‘It’s delicious,’ he confirms, placing his knife perfectly perpendicular with the edge of the table, and then resting his hand over mine, slowly removing it and repositioning his glass. He picks his knife back up and resumes with his dinner. ‘The best Wellington I’ve tasted, Mrs Taylor.’

  ‘Nonsense!’ Nan blushes, a rarity, but my heart’s nemesis is making my nan’s heart flutter, too. ‘It was very easy.’

  ‘It didn’t look it,’ George grumbles. ‘You were flapping all afternoon, Josephine.’

  ‘I was not flapping!’

  I start picking at my carrots, chewing slowly as I listen to Nan and George quarrel, leaving one hand free to move Miller’s wine glass again. He looks at me out of the corner of his eye, and then places his knife down again before reclaiming his glass and putting it where it needs to be. I’m restraining my grin. He even eats precisely, cutting his food into perfectly sized pieces and ensuring all of the prongs of the fork are pushed into each piece at a right angle before taking the fork to his mouth. He chews slowly, too. Everything he does is with such thought, and it’s spellbinding. My hand creeps across the table again. I’m intrigued by this anal need to have things just so, but this time I don’t make it to the glass. My hand is seized midway across the table and held between us, looking nothing more than a loving hold of my hand. His grasp is firm, though, not that anyone would notice unless they were on the receiving end of the grip. And I am. And it’s a very harsh grip – a warning grip. I’m being told off.

  ‘What do you do for a living, Miller?’ Nan asks, delighting me. Yes, what does Miller Hart do for a living? I doubt he’ll tell my sweet grandmother that he doesn’t want to get into personal talk when he’s sitting at the head of her dinner table.

  ‘I won’t bore you with that, Mrs Taylor. It’s mind-numbing.’

  I was wrong. He hasn’t directly brushed her off, but he’s succeeded in a roundabout way. ‘I’d like to know,’ I push, feeling brave, even when his grip on my hand tightens by another notch.

  He blinks slowly, then raises his eyes slowly. ‘I like to keep busines
s and pleasure separate, Livy. You know that.’

  ‘Very sensible,’ George mumbles around his food, pointing his fork at Miller. ‘I’ve lived by that saying my whole life.’

  My pluck is being beaten down by Miller’s look and worst of all, by those words. I’m pretty much a business transaction – a deal, an agreement or an arrangement. Call it what you like, it doesn’t change the meaning. So, technically, Miller’s words are a pile of shit.

  I flex my hand in his grip and he eases up, raising his eyebrows as he does. ‘You should eat,’ he prompts. ‘It really is delicious.’

  Taking my hand out of his, I follow through on his order and resume my meal, but I’m not at all comfortable. Miller shouldn’t have accepted my grandmother’s dinner invitation. This is personal. He’s invading my privacy, my security. He is the one who made his intention to keep things physical clear, yet here he is, immersing himself in my world, albeit a small world, but it’s my world, nevertheless. And this is not being physical.

  Just as I think that, I feel his leg brush against my knee, snapping me from my wandering mind and bringing me back to the table. I gaze up at him as I try to eat, seeing him looking at Nan, listening intently to her rambling on. I don’t know what about because all I can hear are replays of Miller’s words.

  ‘For as long as you do this to me, you’re obliged to remedy it.’

  ‘All of my rules were obliterated the second I laid my hands on you.’

  What rules, and how long will I do that to him? I want to affect him. I want to make his body respond to me like mine does to him. Once I’m past the moral pull that’s trying to yank me away from his potency, it’s all very easy – too easy . . . frighteningly easy.

  ‘That was bloody scrumptious, Josephine,’ George declares, the clatter of his cutlery against his plate breaking the distant hum
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