Denied, p.2
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       Denied, p.2

         Part #2 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  and thoughtful . . . when he wasn’t being a supercilious moron . . . or London’s most notorious male escort. I drop my head on a sigh. Landing myself with one hooker is bad luck. Two? Well, that’s just unreasonable of the gods.

  She reaches over and squeezes my knee. ‘I hope you didn’t entertain him with a reply.’

  ‘I couldn’t even if I wanted. Which I don’t,’ I say, pulling myself up.

  ‘Why?’

  ‘My phone’s broken.’ I leave Sylvie on the couch with a wrinkled brow and no further explanation.

  All I’ve told her about my break-up with Miller is that there was another woman. It’s just easier that way. The truth is unspeakable.

  When I enter the kitchen, Del and Paul are laughing like hyenas, each with a vicious knife in one hand and a cucumber in the other. ‘What’s so funny?’ I ask, making them both halt their happy tittering, their faces morphing into a wash of pity as they each assess my weak body and mental state. I stand quietly and allow them to reach the only conclusion there is. I still look washed out.

  Del’s the one to snap back into action, pointing his knife at me, clearly making himself smile. ‘Livy can judge. She’ll be fair.’

  ‘Judge what?’ I ask, taking a step away from the blade.

  Paul pushes Del’s hand down on a tsk and smiles at me. ‘We’re having a cucumber-chopping competition. Your silly boss here thinks he can beat me.’

  I don’t mean to, but I laugh. It makes both Paul and Del jump back a little, shocked. I’ve seen Paul slice a cucumber, or I tried to see. His hand is a blur of motion for a few seconds until the vegetable is splayed out neatly, each slice perfect. ‘Good luck!’

  Del smiles brightly at me. ‘I don’t need luck, Livy, sweetheart.’ He spreads his legs and lays his cucumber down on the chopping board. ‘Say when.’

  Paul rolls his eyes at me and stands back, a wise move judging by the hold Del has on the knife. ‘Are you ready to time it?’ he asks, handing me a stopwatch.

  ‘Is this a regular thing?’ I take it and reset the display.

  ‘Yep,’ Del answers, focusing on the cucumber. ‘He’s beat me on a pepper, onion and lettuce, but the cucumber’s mine.’

  ‘When!’ Paul shouts, and I immediately press down to start the timer as Del flies into action, bringing the knife down repeatedly and savagely on the poor cucumber.

  ‘Done!’ he yells, out of breath, looking over at me. He’s broken out in a sweat. ‘What did I get?’

  I look down. ‘Ten seconds.’

  ‘Pow!’ He jumps into the air, and Paul immediately confiscates the knife from him. ‘Beat that, Mr Master Chef!’

  ‘Piece of cake,’ Paul claims, taking up position by the chopping board and scraping away the dismembered cucumber before setting his own down. ‘Say when.’

  I quickly reset the timer, just in time for Del’s, ‘When!’

  Paul, as I knew he would, sails through the cucumber with finesse and control, as opposed to Del’s heavy-handed massacre. ‘Done,’ he declares calmly, no sweat and no heavy breathing, which belies his overweight frame.

  Looking down at the stopwatch, I mentally smile. ‘Six seconds.’

  ‘Get out of town!’ Del shouts, marching over to me and snatching the watch from my hand. ‘You must’ve cocked up.’

  ‘I did not!’ I actually laugh. ‘And, anyway, Paul sliced, you hacked.’

  He gasps and Paul laughs with me, giving me an endearing wink. ‘So now I have the pepper, the onion, the lettuce and the cucumber.’ He takes a marker pen and puts a big tick through a basic picture of a cucumber on the wall.

  ‘Bullshit,’ Del grumbles. ‘If it wasn’t for the Tuna Crunch, you’d be history, buster.’ Del’s moodiness only increases our laughter, both of us chuckling as our boss stomps off. ‘Clean up!’ he shouts back to us.

  ‘Boys,’ I muse.

  Paul smiles fondly. ‘It’s good to see some spirit, darling.’ He gives me an affectionate rub of the arm, not making too big a deal of it, before strolling off and shaking a pan of something on the stove. Watching him whistle happily to himself, I realise my earlier bubbling anger has completely subsided. Distraction. I need distraction.

  It’s the longest afternoon ever, which isn’t a good sign of things to come. I’m left to lock up the bistro with Paul, Sylvie having got off early to get to her local boozer to nab a front-row seat in time for her favourite band that’s playing tonight. She nagged me for a solid half-hour, trying to entice me to go, but by the sounds of things, the band is in the heavy metal genre, and my head is banging enough already.

  Paul gives my shoulder another friendly rub, the big man clearly uncomfortable with emotional women, before he heads off towards the Tube, leaving me to go in the other direction.

  ‘Baby girl!’ Gregory’s worried call hits me from behind, and I turn to see him jogging towards me in his combats and T-shirt, looking all muddy and grubby.

  ‘Hey.’ I fight against my body’s desire to fold in on itself at the prospect of another pep talk.

  He catches me up and we start strolling to the bus stop together. ‘I’ve tried calling you a million times, Livy,’ he says, worried but annoyed.

  ‘My phone’s kaput.’

  ‘How?’

  ‘It doesn’t matter. You okay?’

  ‘No, I’m not.’ He scowls down at me. ‘I’m worried about you.’

  ‘Don’t be,’ I mutter, not giving anything else away. Just like Sylvie, he knows nothing of male escorts and hotel rooms, and he doesn’t need to. My best friend already hates Miller enough. There’s really no need to give him more ammunition. ‘I’m fine.’

  ‘Cocksucker!’ he spits.

  I don’t humour him and instead change the subject. ‘Have you spoken to Benjamin yet?’

  Gregory takes a long, weary breath. ‘Briefly. He took one of my calls to tell me to stay away. Your cocksucking coffee-hater has put the fear of God in him.’

  ‘Well, whose fault is that? You said you wouldn’t let anything happen to me that night, but when I needed you, you’d skulked off with Benjamin.’

  ‘I know,’ he mutters. ‘I wasn’t thinking, was I?’

  ‘No, you weren’t,’ I confirm, mentally scolding myself for my cheek.

  ‘And now Ben’s closed off from me completely,’ he says.

  I look up to Gregory and see a hurt I don’t like. He’s falling for a man who’s pretending to be someone he’s not . . . a bit like Miller. Or was he pretending the whole time he was with me? ‘Completely?’ I ask. ‘No contact?’

  Gregory sighs deeply. ‘He took a woman home that Saturday night and took great delight in telling me so.’

  ‘Oh,’ I breathe. ‘You never mentioned it before.’

  He shrugs, playing it easy. ‘Kinda bruised my ego,’ he says, his forced indifferent expression turning to mine. ‘You look a little red-faced.’

  Still? ‘I went to the gym this morning.’ I reach up and feel my brow. I’ve been hot all day.

  ‘You did?’ he asks, surprised. ‘That’s great. What did you do?’ He starts dancing around on the pavement. ‘A bit of circuit training? Some yoga?’ He bends into the most obscene pose and looks up at me with a grin. ‘Downward dog?’

  I can’t help but return his smile, pulling him back upright. ‘I punched the crap out of a bag of rocks.’

  ‘Rocks?’ he laughs. ‘I think you’ll find those leather bags are full of sand.’

  ‘Felt like rocks,’ I grumble, looking down at my knuckles and seeing a row of red blisters on each.

  ‘Shit!’ Gregory grabs my hands. ‘You did go to town. Feel better for it?’

  ‘Yes,’ I admit. ‘Anyway, don’t let Ben mess you around.’

  He chokes on a laugh. ‘Olivia, you’ll forgive me if I don’t take any notice of your advice. What about you? Have you heard from the coffee-hating prick?’

  I resist the urge to defend Miller again or to tell Gregory about the text message and gym scene. It’ll get me
nowhere, except lectured. ‘No,’ I lie. ‘My phone’s knackered, so no one can contact me.’ That thought suddenly thrills me, and it’s undoubtedly a good thing should Miller decide to text me again. ‘This is me.’ I point at the bus stop.

  Gregory dips and kisses my forehead, giving me a sympathetic face. ‘I’m going to the parents’ for dinner tonight. Wanna come?’

  ‘No, thanks.’ Gregory’s parents are lovely people, but keeping up with conversation requires brainpower, and I have none to spare at the moment.

  ‘Tomorrow, then?’ he pleads. ‘Please, let’s do something tomorrow.’

  ‘Yes, tomorrow.’ I’ll find the enthusiasm for a full-on discussion within the next day, as long as the discussion remains on Gregory’s diabolical love life and not mine.

  His happy smile makes me smile in return. ‘Catch ya later, baby girl.’ He roughs up my hair and jogs off, leaving me to wait for my bus, and as if the gods detect my gloomy mood, they open the heavens and let it pour down on me.

  ‘What?’ I exclaim, wriggling out of my jacket and covering my head, thinking it’s just typical that my bus stop is one with no damn shelter. And to rub it in, all of my fellow bus waiters have umbrellas and are looking at me like I’m stupid. I am stupid – for more reasons than not just carrying an umbrella. ‘Shit!’ I curse, looking around for a doorway, anywhere to escape the pounding rain.

  I circle, hunched under my jacket, but I find no place that’ll protect me. A heavy, defeated sigh falls from my mouth while I stand hopelessly in the pouring rain, thinking that the day couldn’t possibly get any longer or worse.

  I’m proven wrong. I suddenly can’t feel the rain pelting my body, and the loud pounding of it beating the pavement dulls out, leaving my hearing saturated with words. His words.

  The black Mercedes slows and pulls up at the bus stop – Miller’s Mercedes. In an action based on pure impulse, because I know he won’t want to get his perfection wet, I turn and start jogging up the road, the chaos of London rush hour attacking my frenzied mind.

  ‘Livy!’ I barely hear him in the distance over the pounding rain. ‘Livy, wait!’

  When I reach a road, I’m forced to stop, the traffic zooming through the green light, leaving me among many other pedestrians waiting to cross, all with umbrellas. I frown when the people on both sides of me jump back, but by the time I’ve realised why, it’s too late. A great big truck zooms past, straight through a lake of a puddle by the roadside, kicking oceans of water up my body.

  ‘No!’ I drop my jacket on a shocked gasp as the freezing cold water drenches me. ‘Shit!’ The lights change and everyone else starts to cross, leaving me looking like a drowned rat on the kerbside, shivering and brimming with tears.

  ‘Livy.’ Miller’s voice is quieter, but I’m not sure if it’s because he’s far away or the rain is drowning him out. His warm touch on my wet arm soon tells me it’s the latter, leaving me surprised that he’s ventured out of his car, given the dreadful weather and the effect it’ll have on his expensive suit.

  I shrug him off. ‘Leave me alone.’ I bend to collect my saturated jacket from the ground, fighting the growing lump in my throat and the familiar internal sparks that his touch on my cold, wet skin has instigated.

  ‘Olivia.’

  ‘How do you know William Anderson?’ I blurt, swinging my eyes to him, finding he’s standing beneath the safety and dryness of a giant golf umbrella. I should’ve known. I’ve surprised myself with my question, and obviously Miller, too, judging by his slight recoil. There are many questions I should be asking, yet my mind has centred on this one alone.

  ‘It’s of no importance.’ He’s being dismissive, making me more persistent.

  ‘I beg to differ,’ I spit. He knew. All that time he knew. I may have only mentioned William’s first name when I spilled my heart, released everything from my conscience about my mother to Miller, but he knew exactly who I was referring to, and now I’m certain that that was the cause for the majority of his violent reaction and shock.

  He must see the unyielding determination on my face because his impassive expression wavers slightly into a scowl. ‘You know Anderson, and you know me.’ His jaw tenses. He means I know what they both do. ‘Our paths have crossed over the years.’

  From the bitterness rolling off him in waves, I determine something quite quickly. ‘He doesn’t like you.’

  ‘And I don’t like him.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Because he pokes his nose in where it isn’t wanted.’

  I inwardly laugh, thinking how much I agree, and my eyes drop to the ground, seeing raindrops splashing the pavement. Miller’s confirmation only reinforces my previous fear. I’m delusional if I believe for a moment that William will disappear to where he came from without digging for information on my connection with Miller. I learned many things about William Anderson, and one of those things was his desire to be in the know about everything. I don’t want to explain to anyone, least of all my mother’s ex-pimp. And anyway, I don’t owe him any explanation.

  I’m snapped from my worries when I see Miller’s tan brogues appear in my line of sight. ‘How are you, Olivia?’

  I refuse to look at him now, his question restoking my anger. ‘How do you think I am, Miller?’

  ‘I don’t know. That’s why I’ve been trying to contact you.’

  ‘You really have no idea?’ I look up at him, surprised. His perfect features hurt my eyes, making me instantly drop my gaze, like if I look at him for too long, I might never forget him.

  Too late.

  ‘I have an inkling,’ he murmurs. ‘I did tell you to take me for who I am, Livy.’

  ‘But I didn’t know who you were.’ I grind the words out, keeping my eyes on the bouncing raindrops at my feet, incensed that he would use such a feeble excuse to wriggle out of this. ‘The only thing that I’ve accepted is that you’re different, with your obsession to have everything painfully perfect and your uptight manners. It can be annoying as hell, but I’ve accepted it and even started to find it lovable.’ I should have used any other word – appealing, charming, endearing – but not lovable.

  ‘I’m not that bad,’ he argues weakly.

  ‘Yes!’ I look at him now. His face is straight. It’s nothing new. ‘Look!’ I run my finger up and down his dry, suited body. ‘You’re standing here with an umbrella that could keep half of London dry, just so you don’t get your perfect hair and expensive suit wet.’

  He looks a little sulky as he casts his eyes down his suit and slowly back up to me. Then he chucks the umbrella to the pavement, and the rain instantly soaks him, waves of hair falling all over his face, water running down his cheeks, and his expensive suit starting to stick to him. ‘Happy?’

  ‘You think getting yourself a little wet might fix this? You fuck women for a living, Miller! And you fucked me! You made me one of them!’ I stagger back, dizzy from both my fury and the flashbacks of our time in the hotel room.

  The water pouring down his face is shimmering. ‘You don’t need to be so crass, Olivia.’

  I recoil, trying desperately to gather myself. ‘Fuck you and your bent moral compass!’ I shout, making Miller’s jaw seize with stiffness. ‘Are you forgetting what I told you?’

  ‘How could I possibly forget?’ Anyone else would think his face utterly impassive, but I see the tic in his cheek, the anger in his eyes – eyes I know how to read. I would say that he’s right, that he really is emotionally unavailable, but I’ve experienced feeling with him – incredible feeling – and now I just feel conned.

  I wipe my sopping hair from my face. ‘Your shock when I confided in you, told you about my history, wasn’t because I put myself out there or because of my mother. It was because I’d described your life, with the drink and rich people, taking gifts and money. And. That. You. Knew. William. Anderson.’ I’m doing a grand job of retaining my emotions. I just want to scream at him, and if he doesn’t give me something soon, I might just do that. The
se are the things that I should have said before. I shouldn’t have goaded him into fucking me or put myself in those women’s shoes to prove a point – a point I still can’t fathom. Anger makes you do stupid things, and I was angry. ‘Why did you invite me to dinner?’

  ‘I didn’t know what else to do.’

  ‘There’s nothing you can do.’

  ‘Then why did you come?’ he asks.

  His straight question catches me off guard. ‘Because I was angry with you! Flash cars, clubs and luxury possessions don’t make it right!’ I yell. ‘Because you made me fall in love with a man you’re not!’ I’m freezing cold, but my quivering body is not a result of that. I’m angry – blood-boiling angry.

  ‘You’re my habit, Olivia Taylor.’ His statement is delivered with no emotion. ‘You belong to me.’

  ‘Belong to you?’ I ask.

 
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