Promised, p.18
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       Promised, p.18

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  of chatter. I’ve been dragged back to the present, where Miller is still here, and Nan is now scowling at her friend for his clumsiness. ‘Sorry,’ George says timidly.

  ‘If you’ll excuse me.’ Miller’s cutlery gets placed accurately on his empty plate, before he dabs at his mouth with his embroidered napkin. ‘Would you mind if I use your bathroom?’

  ‘Of course!’ Nan sings at him. ‘It’s the door at the top of the stairs.’

  ‘Thank you.’ He stands, folding the napkin and placing it to the side of his plate before tucking his chair under the table and leaving the room.

  Nan’s eyes follow Miller as he leaves. ‘Would you look at the buns on that,’ she muses, just as his back disappears.

  ‘Nan!’ I splutter, mortified.

  ‘Tight, perfectly formed. Livy, you are letting that man take you to dinner.’

  ‘Will you behave!’ I look down at my plate, noting my barely touched beef. I can’t possibly eat. I feel like I’m in a trance. ‘I’ll clear the table,’ I say, reaching over for Miller’s plate.

  ‘I’ll help.’ George makes to stand but I place my hand on his shoulder and apply a little pressure, encouraging him to remain seated.

  ‘It’s fine, George. I’ll take care of it.’

  He doesn’t argue, instead topping up the wine glasses.

  ‘Get the pineapple upside-down cake!’ Nan calls to my back.

  With a handful of stacked plates, I make my way to the kitchen, eager to escape the lingering presence of Miller, even though he’s no longer in the room. I didn’t refuse when he told me that I’ll be going home with him tonight, and I should’ve. What will I say to Nan? There’s no getting away from the fact that he’s the cause for my recent mood swings. My mind has never been so jumbled. I’m not in control, nothing is making sense, and I’m not accustomed to any of these feelings. But what is most mystifying to me is the man who’s the cause of my derailment. An unfathomable, beautiful man who screams heartache on every level.

  Physical.

  No feelings.

  No emotion.

  Just one night.

  Twenty-four hours, of which I still owe him sixteen. That’s twice as long as what I’ve already experienced – double the sensations and desires . . . double the pain when we’re done.

  ‘I can hear you think.’

  I jump and swing around, still with the stack of plates in my hand. ‘You startled me,’ I breathe, placing the crockery on the work surface.

  ‘I apologise,’ he says sincerely, strolling over to me. I don’t mean to, but I back up. ‘Are you overthinking things again?’

  ‘I call it being prudent.’

  ‘Prudent?’ he asks, standing in front of me now. ‘I wouldn’t call it that.’

  I’m looking up at his face but desperately trying to avoid those eyes. ‘No?’

  ‘No.’ He takes a gentle hold of my chin, encouraging me to look at him. ‘I call it being foolish.’

  Our eyes connect and so do our lips, but he only rests them over mine. There would be nothing foolish about avoiding Miller Hart. ‘I can’t read you,’ I say quietly, but my words don’t make him pull away with concern.

  ‘I don’t want to be read, Livy. I want to be flooded in the pleasure you give me.’

  I liquefy against him, despite the fact that his words have only reinforced what I already know. I want to be flooded in the pleasure that he gives me, too, but I don’t want the feelings that come afterwards. I can’t cope with them. ‘You’re making this really difficult.’

  His arm creeps around to my lower back and strokes up until he’s on my neck. ‘No. I’m making it all very simple. Overthinking makes it difficult, and you’re overthinking.’ He kisses my cheek and nuzzles into my neck. ‘Let me take you to bed.’

  ‘By doing that, I’ll be something I swore I’d never be.’

  ‘What’s that?’ He spreads delicate kisses across my neck, and he’s doing it because he knows I’m torn. He’s a smart man. He’s scrambling my senses, but worst of all, my mind.

  ‘At a man’s mercy.’

  There’s definitely a slight falter in the trailing of his lips. I’m not imagining it. He removes himself from the sanctuary of my neck and studies me thoughtfully. So much time passes – enough for my mind to linger on many of the touches he’s blessed me with, the kisses we’ve shared and the passion we’ve created together. It’s like I’m watching it all in his eyes, making me wonder if he’s reliving those moments, too. He eventually reaches up and runs his knuckles softly down my cheek. ‘If there is anyone at the mercy of someone here, Livy, then it is me at yours.’ His eyes divert to my lips and lazily start moving in. And I do nothing to stop him.

  I don’t see a man at my mercy. I see a man who wants something and seems prepared to do anything to get it.

  ‘We should get back to the table.’ I try to break away from him, turning my face away from his.

  ‘Not until you say you’re leaving with me.’ He surprises me by lifting me from my feet and sitting me on the counter. Laying his hands on the tops of my thighs, he leans in and looks at me, waiting for my agreement. ‘Say it.’

  ‘I don’t want to.’

  ‘Yes you do.’ He gets nose to nose with me. ‘You’ve never wanted anything so much in your life.’

  He’s right, but that doesn’t make it wise. ‘You’re very confident.’

  He shakes his head on a mild curve of his mouth and reaches up to drag his thumb across my bottom lip. ‘You may be trying to convince both of us with words, but everything else is telling me different.’ He slips his finger into his mouth and sucks it, then runs a moist trail down my throat, over my breast and onto my stomach before his hand disappears up my dress and between my legs. My jaw tightens, my back straightens and my core starts pulsing, willing him to touch me there. My body is betraying me on every level, and he knows it. ‘I think I’ll find warmth.’ He inches closer to the apex of my thighs, and my head falls forward, meeting his forehead. ‘I think I’ll find wetness,’ he whispers, his finger slipping into the side of my knickers and spreading that wetness around. ‘I think if I enter you now, your greedy muscles will grab on and never let go.’

  ‘Do it.’ The words leave my mouth without thought, my hands lifting and grabbing the tops of his arms. ‘Please do it.’

  ‘I’ll do anything you want me to, but I’ll be doing it in my bed.’ He kisses me hard on the lips and removes his hand, pulling the hem of my dress down. ‘I have manners. I’m not about to disrespect your grandmother by taking you here. Can you control yourself while we eat pineapple cake?’

  ‘Can I control myself?’ I ask on a breathy whisper, looking down to his groin. I don’t need to see it to know it’s there. He’s solid and rubbing against my leg.

  ‘I’m struggling, believe me.’ He readjusts himself and lifts me down from the counter, then sets about arranging my hair neatly over my shoulders. ‘Let’s see how fast I can eat pineapple cake. Do you want to get an overnight bag?’

  No, actually, I don’t. I want him to lose his manners. I attempt in vain to compose my pent-up state, but all of the heat from down below is rising to my face at the thought of facing Nan and George. ‘I’ll grab some things after dessert.’

  ‘As you wish.’ He takes my nape and directs me from the kitchen, the warmth of his hold intensifying my want. I want him so badly. I want this enigmatic man, who conducts himself so well but contradicts every gentlemanly act in the next breath. He’s a fraud, that’s what he is.

  An actor.

  A conceited man, cleverly disguised as a gentleman.

  Which makes him the worst kind of enemy that my heart could find.

  ‘Here they are!’ Nan claps, jumping up. ‘Where’s the pineapple upside-down cake?’

  ‘Oh!’ I go to turn but quickly realise that with Miller still holding my neck firmly in his grasp, I’m going nowhere.

  ‘No matter.’ Nan waves her hand at my empty chair. ‘Sit down, I’ll
get it.’

  Miller practically places me on the chair before tucking me in, almost like he has a compulsion to have me just so, as well as everything else that he touches. ‘Comfortable?’

  ‘Yes, thank you.’

  ‘My pleasure.’ He takes his seat beside me and rearranges everything at his place setting before taking his recently shifted glass of wine and taking a slow sip.

  ‘Oohhh, pineapple upside-down cake!’ George rubs his hands together and licks his lips. ‘My favourite! Miller, you might die of pleasure.’

  ‘You know, George, we bought the pineapple from Harrods.’ I shouldn’t be telling him this. Nan will kill me, but she’s not the only one who can play matchmaker. ‘She paid fifteen pounds for it, and that was before she invited Miller for dinner.’

  He gasps, but then a thoughtful smile spreads across his face. It warms me to the core. ‘She knows how to spoil a man. Wonderful woman, your grandmother, Livy. Wonderful woman.’

  ‘She is,’ I agree quietly. She’s as annoying as hell, but a wonderful woman.

  ‘Pineapple upside-down cake!’ Nan calls, walking in proudly with a silver platter in her hands. She places it in the middle of the table and everyone cranes their necks over, admiring the masterpiece. ‘This is my best to date. Would you like to try some of my pineapple upside-down cake, Miller?’ she asks.

  ‘I would love to, Mrs Taylor.’

  ‘It’s so good you’ll inhale it in a second,’ I say casually, picking up my spoon and flicking my eyes to Miller. He takes the bowl from Nan when she hands it over the table and places it down before turning it a few millimetres clockwise.

  ‘I’ve no doubt I will.’ He doesn’t look at me and he doesn’t begin eating. He waits politely for Nan to serve everyone else before she takes a seat and picks up her spoon. His manners won’t allow him to fulfil his suggestion to eat quickly either. He just can’t help himself.

  His spoon is lifted and sunk into the cake, breaking a piece away. Then he scoops it up with ultimate precision and pops it in his mouth. My eyes make the journey, following his spoon from his bowl to his lips, my own spoon hovering in front of me. His whole being is a ridiculously strong magnet to my eyes and I’m beginning to give up trying to resist him. It seems my eyes are craving him as much as my body.

  ‘Are you okay?’ he asks, studying me staring at him as he takes another bite. Not even his awareness to my shameless gawking deters me.

  ‘Yes, I’m fine. I was just thinking that I’ve never seen anyone eat one of my grandmother’s cakes so slowly.’ I’m shocked by my suggestive observation and Miller coughing, his hand flying to his mouth, is an indication that he is, too. I’m glad. I have a feeling that I’ll need to match his poise if I’m devoting another sixteen hours to him, so I may as well start now.

  ‘Are you okay?’ Nan’s concerned voice hits my ears. I’m sure her old face will display concern, too, but I won’t look to confirm it because seeing Miller flustered is too much of a novelty to miss any of it.

  He finishes chewing, sets his spoon down and wipes his mouth. ‘I apologise.’ He picks up his glass and gazes over to me, lifting it to his lips. ‘Beautiful things should be savoured, Livy, not rushed.’ He sips his wine, and I feel his foot brush up my leg under the table. I shock myself further by flashing him a secret smile and remaining composed.

  ‘It really is beautiful, Nan.’ I mimic Miller and take a mouthful, chewing slowly, swallowing slowly, then licking my lips slowly. And I know my unabashed string of actions have had the desired effect because my skin is being singed by his blue glare. ‘Did you enjoy it, George?’

  ‘Did I ever!’ He leans back in his chair and rubs his belly on a satisfied huff of air. ‘I may need to undo my top button.’

  ‘George!’ Nan hisses, reaching over and slapping his arm. ‘We’re at the dinner table.’

  ‘Never usually bothers you,’ he grumbles.

  ‘Yes, well, we have a guest.’

  ‘This is your home, Mrs Taylor,’ Miller interjects. ‘And I’m privileged to be welcomed into it. That was the best beef Wellington I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting.’

  ‘Oh.’ Nan waves a dismissive hand over the table. ‘You’re too kind, Miller.’

  He’s a brown-noser, that’s what he is. ‘Better than my coffee?’ I’m throwing innuendos all over the place, but I simply cannot help it.

  ‘Your coffee was like nothing I’ve tasted before,’ he retorts softly, raising his eyebrows at me. ‘I hope you’ll have one ready for me tomorrow around noon when I’m passing.’

  I shake my head on an amused smile, enjoying our private exchange. ‘Americano, four shots, two sugars and topped up halfway.’

  ‘I look forward to it.’ He gives me a hint of the smile I long to see again, the one I’ve seen only a few times since I’ve known him. ‘Mrs Taylor, would you object if I were to ask Olivia to join me for drinks at my home?’

  I’m staggered by his confidence, and why didn’t he ask me? My grandmother wouldn’t say no, anyway. No, she’ll probably try desperately to find a silk negligee in my underwear drawer to stuff into my bag on my way out. She’ll be looking in vain.

  ‘I’d love to,’ I answer, halting the potential of the decision being made for me. I’m a grown woman. I make my own decisions. I’m the master of my own destiny.

  ‘How very chivalrous of you to ask.’ Nan’s excitement is clear but a bit of a gut wrench. She’s building hopes on the basis of what very little she knows of the man sitting at her table. The whole story would put her in an early grave. ‘We’ll clear up and you two go and have fun!’

  My chair is being pulled out from behind me before I can drop my spoon, and I’m on my feet, being directed towards Nan and George’s end of the table without delay. ‘Mrs Taylor, thank you.’

  ‘Not at all!’ She stands and lets Miller peck each of her cheeks while she widens her eyes at me. ‘It’s been a wonderful evening.’

  ‘I concur,’ he says, holding his spare hand out to George. ‘It’s been a pleasure to meet you, George.’

  ‘Yes.’ George is on his feet, taking position beside Nan and the opportunity, while she’s in such a good mood, to slip his arm around her waist. ‘Lovely evening.’ He takes Miller’s hand.

  I’m silently begging them to hurry with the polite exchanges. Dinner has been a painfully long process of secret, suggestive remarks and sneaky touches. The pent-up lust in me is both unfamiliar and quite unsettling, but the overwhelming need to release it all is blocking any intelligence that I have, and I have lots of intelligence to block. I’m a smart woman . . . except when Miller is around.

  I feel the soothing kneading of his fingers into my nape, completely obliterating that intelligence. I’m not going to try and find it because it’s long gone, leaving me vulnerable and desperate.

  I kiss Nan and George and allow Miller to guide me from the dining room. He doesn’t let his hold of me drop as he takes his jacket from the stand, and then unhooks my denim jacket, too. ‘Do you want to get some things?’

  ‘No,’ I answer quickly, not wanting to delay things further.

  He doesn’t argue, swiftly opening the front door and pushing me onward. He opens the door of his car and places me in the seat, shutting it quickly and pacing around the front to get in. Starting the engine, he pulls smoothly away from the kerb, and I look up to my house, seeing the curtains twitching. I can only imagine the conversation going on between George and Nan right now, but that thought trails off when Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy the Silence’ creeps from the speakers, making my brow knit as I remember him telling me to do exactly that.

  ‘You were extremely naughty during dinner, Livy.’

  My head swings to face him. Naughty? ‘You’re the one who cornered me in the kitchen,’ I remind him.

  ‘I was securing my evening’s prospects.’

  ‘I’m a prospect?’

  ‘No, you’re a foregone conclusion.’ He keeps his eyes on the road, his face straight. D
oes he realise what he’s saying?

  ‘You make me sound like a tart.’ My jaw is clenched and so are my fists, my lust dissipating in a split second at those words. I may have stamped all over my rules in recent weeks, but I am not, and never will be, a tart. ‘I’d like you to take me home.’

  He takes a hard left, prompting me to grab the door, and we’re suddenly driving down an alleyway, flanked by loading bays for shops on either side. It’s dusk, it’s eerie and it’s deserted. ‘You’re my foregone conclusion, Livy. No one else’s.’ Skidding to a halt, he unbuckles his seatbelt, then mine, and I’m quickly being yanked across the car onto his lap.

  ‘What are you doing?’ I ask, shocked, the track making me shudder as it continues to invade my hearing as Miller invades all my other senses.

  Eyes.

  Nose.

  Touch.

  And soon taste.

  His seat is shifted back, giving him more room to pull my dress
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