Promised, p.21
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       Promised, p.21

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  my mischievous hand from slipping up to his armpit. He watches me suspiciously, his eyes following my hand until I’m tickling him there.

  He doesn’t even flinch, just raises his eyebrows cockily. ‘Afraid not.’ He’s straight-faced but smug, making me more persistent, so I walk my fingers across his collarbone to his stubbled chin and attack him with wriggling fingers, but still nothing. He shrugs. ‘I’m not ticklish.’

  ‘Everyone’s ticklish somewhere.’

  ‘Not me.’

  My eyes narrow and my fingers creep down to his stomach, giving a little dig in the hard, muscled area of his abdomen. He remains impassive and unaffected by my tactics. I sigh. ‘Feet?’ He shakes his head slowly, making me sigh deeper. ‘I wish you’d express yourself more.’ I crawl back up his body and settle to his side, propping my head up on a bent elbow as he shifts to mirror me.

  ‘I think that I express myself just fine.’ His hand reaches over, taking a lock of my blond, and he starts twirling it between his fingers. ‘I love your hair,’ he muses, watching his slow-playing fingers.

  ‘It’s unruly and unmanageable.’

  ‘It’s perfect. Don’t ever cut it off.’ His hand slides around my nape and tugs me closer so there are just a few inches between our faces. My eyes are torn, not knowing whether to focus on his eyes or his lips.

  They choose his lips. ‘I love your mouth,’ I confess, inching forward and resting mine over his. My bravery is increasing, my ability to express myself with this expressionless man becoming easy.

  ‘My mouth loves your body,’ he mumbles, pulling me in further.

  ‘My body loves your hands,’ I counter, falling into the relaxed movement of his tongue.

  ‘My hands love how you feel under their touch.’

  I hum as he glides those hands to my stomach, onto my hip and down my thigh. The smoothness of his palms defies his masculinity. They’re clean, soft and have no rough calluses, hinting to a life free of manual labour. He’s always in suits, always impeccably turned out, and his manners are faultless – even with his moody arrogance. Everything about Miller is mystifying, but incredibly enticing, and the invisible pull that’s constantly yanking me towards him is confounding and aggravating, but impossible to resist. And in this moment, when he’s worshipping me, feeling me and taking me so tenderly, I conclude that Miller Hart does express himself. He’s expressing himself right now. He does it like this. He may not laugh or smile much, or give me any facial expressions when we’re talking to tell me what he’s thinking, but his whole physical being tells me his emotional state. And I don’t think I’m mistaking it for feelings, not just fascination.

  I’m a little annoyed when he breaks our kiss and pulls away, gazing at me quietly before turning me away from him and pulling me back against his chest. ‘Get some sleep, sweet girl,’ he whispers, burying his nose in my wild blond.

  Falling asleep with a man wrapped around me is not something I’m used to, but with his soft breaths in my ear and him humming that soft melody quietly, I find slumber too easily, smiling to myself when I feel him break away and get out of bed.

  He’s going to tidy up.

  Chapter 13

  He’s standing in the doorway to his bedroom in his suit trousers and shirt, fixing his tie, while my arms are wrapped protectively around my naked body. I would pull the covers over me, but the side of the bed that he slept on has been made and I don’t want to disturb it. His hair is wet and his face unshaved, and though he looks divine, I’m hurt that he’s not still in bed with me.

  ‘Will you join me for breakfast?’ he asks, undoing his tie and starting again.

  ‘Sure,’ I answer quietly, hating the awkwardness closing him off from me. I’m surprised to have woken up to daylight. When I dozed off last night, I was certain that I’d only be given a few hours’ recovery time before Miller woke me up to recommence worshipping me . . . or, more to the point, I was hoping he’d wake me up. I’m disappointed, and I’m trying not to make it obvious.

  I don’t know why I glance around the room for my clothes because I know they won’t be anywhere in sight. ‘Where are my clothes?’

  ‘Take a shower. I’ll prepare breakfast.’ He strolls over to his wardrobe and appears moments later, buttoning up his waistcoat. ‘I need to leave in thirty minutes. Your clothes are in the bottom drawer.’

  I shift uncomfortably, wondering what’s changed. He’s more closed off than ever before. Has he spent all night thinking, validating exactly what I’ve told him? ‘Okay,’ I confirm, not able to think of anything else to say. He’s barely even looking at me. I feel cheap and worthless, something that I’ve fought to avoid for years.

  Not saying another word, he gets his suit jacket from the wardrobe and leaves me in his bedroom, feeling slighted and confused. I desperately want to escape the uneasiness, but I really don’t want to, too. I want to stay and loosen him up again, make him see me, not the illegitimate child of a hooker, but it doesn’t sound like I have much choice. He needs to leave in thirty minutes, and I need to shower before I join him for breakfast, which is limiting my time further.

  Jumping up naked from the bed, I rush into the bathroom to shower. I use his body wash, working it in firmly, like some way to keep him with me. Reluctantly rinsing off, I step out of the shower and pull one of the crisp, perfectly folded towels from the shelf and dry myself in record time before throwing my clothes on.

  I traipse through his apartment, finding him in front of the mirror in the hallway, messing with his tie again. ‘Your tie is fine.’

  ‘No, it’s skew-whiff,’ he grumbles, yanking it free from his neck. ‘Fuck it!’

  I watch as he stalks past me into the kitchen. I follow, a little bemused, and I shouldn’t be shocked when I find him standing in front of an ironing board, but I am. He lays the tie neatly, then with the utmost concentration he glides the iron across the blue silk before flicking the switch on the socket and draping the tie around his neck. He sets about putting away the board and iron, then returns to the mirror and starts the meticulous task of fastening his tie again, all as if I’m not even here.

  ‘Better,’ he affirms, pulling his collar down and looking over to me.

  ‘Your tie is wonky.’

  He frowns and turns back to the mirror, giving it a little jiggle. ‘It’s perfect.’

  ‘Yes, it’s perfect, Miller,’ I mutter, making my way into the kitchen.

  I admire the selection of breads, preserves and fruit. But I’m not hungry. My stomach is a knot of anxiety, and his formality isn’t easing my trepidation.

  ‘What would you like?’ he asks, taking up his seat.

  ‘I’ll just have some melon, please.’

  He nods and takes a bowl, spooning some of the fruit in and handing me a fork. ‘Coffee?’

  ‘No, thank you.’ I take the fork, and then the bowl, setting it down as neatly as I can.

  ‘Orange juice? It’s freshly squeezed.’

  ‘Yes, thank you.’

  He pours me some juice and tops his coffee up from the glass pot. ‘I forgot to thank you for smashing my lamp,’ he muses, lifting his cup slowly and watching me as he takes a sip.

  I feel my face burn up under his accusing stare, my stomach knotting further. ‘I’m sorry.’ I shift on my chair, my eyes dropping to my bowl. ‘It was dark. I couldn’t see.’

  ‘You’re forgiven.’

  My eyes fly up on a small laugh. ‘Why, thank you. You’re forgiven for leaving me in the dark.’

  ‘You should’ve stayed in bed,’ he retorts, sitting comfortably back on his chair. ‘You made an incredible mess.’

  ‘I’m sorry. The next time you abandon me in the middle of the night, I’ll have my night-vision goggles at hand.’

  His eyebrows jump up in surprise, but I know it’s not because of my sarcasm. ‘“Abandon”?’

  I cringe, diverting my eyes away from him. I should think before I speak, especially in the presence of Miller Hart. ‘That came
out wrong.’

  ‘I hope so. I left you sleeping. I didn’t abandon you.’ He continues with his French toast, leaving those words lingering unwanted in the awkward air surrounding us – unwanted by me, anyway. ‘Eat up and I’ll take you home.’

  ‘Why do you hope so?’ I ask, feeling anger flare. ‘So I don’t tarnish you with the same brush as I do my pathetic mother?’

  ‘Pathetic?’

  ‘Yes, spineless. Selfish.’

  He blinks his shock, twitching in his chair. ‘We have a deal for twenty-four hours,’ he fires across the table.

  My teeth grit as I lean forward. I can see with one hundred per cent clarity that I’m drawing anger from this normally impassive man with my accusation. Yet what’s not clear is whether he’s angry with me or himself. ‘What was yesterday? In the car and last night? An act? You’re pathetic!’

  Miller’s eyes darken and a flash of anger crosses his face. ‘Don’t push me, sweet girl. My temper isn’t something you should toy with. We had an arrangement and I was ensuring it was fulfilled.’

  My falling heart splinters painfully, remembering a very different man from last night. An accepting man. A loving man. The man sitting opposite me now is confounding. I’ve never seen Miller Hart lose his temper. I’ve seen him get agitated and I’ve heard him curse – mostly when something isn’t Miller-perfect – but the look in his eyes right now tells me I’ve seen nothing. That coupled with his serious warning also tells me I really don’t want to.

  I stand abruptly, my body seeming to engage before my brain does, and walk away, letting myself out of his apartment and taking the stairs to the lobby. The doorman nods as I pass through, and when I emerge into the fresh morning air, I let out a heavy sigh. The smell and sound of London doesn’t make me feel any better.

  ‘I was talking to you.’ Miller’s annoyed tone hits me from behind, but it doesn’t prompt me to find my manners and turn to acknowledge him. ‘Livy, I said that I was talking to you.’

  ‘And what did you say?’ I ask.

  He appears in my line of sight and stands in front of me, regarding me closely. ‘I don’t like repeating myself.’

  ‘I don’t like your mood swings.’

  ‘I don’t have mood swings.’

  ‘Yes, you do. I don’t know where I am with you. One minute you’re sweet and attentive, the next you’re cold and short.’

  He’s thinking hard about my words, and it’s a good few moments of staring at each other before he finally utters some himself. ‘We were getting too close to personal.’

  I pull in a long breath and hold it, desperately trying to stop myself from shouting at him. I knew this was coming from the second I opened my eyes this morning. But it still hurts like hell. ‘Is this anything to do with your business associate, or is it just me and my sordid history?’

  He doesn’t answer, choosing to watch me silently instead.

  ‘I should never have given you more of me,’ I whisper quietly.

  ‘Probably not,’ he agrees without hesitation. It cuts too deep, and I force myself to walk away before I lose control of the building emotion. I will not cry on him. I plug my ear buds in, select random on my iPod and have a quiet laugh to myself when Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ fills my ears, keeping me company all the way home.

  ‘You don’t look any better, Livy,’ Del says, giving me the once-over with concerned eyes. ‘Perhaps you should go home.’

  ‘No.’ I force a reassuring smile, but struggle terribly. Nan is at home, and I need to be distracted, not interrogated.

  She was all smiles when I walked through the front door this morning, until she registered my face. Then the questions started, but I quickly escaped to my bedroom, leaving her pacing the landing outside my room, tossing the odd question through the door, all of which I brushed off. I shouldn’t feel annoyed with Nan; I should reserve it all for Miller, but if she hadn’t poked her old nose in and invited him to dinner, then last night wouldn’t have happened and I wouldn’t currently be in turmoil.

  ‘I feel much better, honestly.’ I escape the kitchen and dodge Sylvie at the till, who’s been trying to nail me down all morning. Luckily for me, we’re busy, so I can evade all interrogation for the meantime and busy myself clearing tables and serving coffee.

  On my break, I accept the tuna mayo sandwich that’s handed to me by Paul, but choose to eat it on the go, knowing that taking a timeout will lure Sylvie over to press me for answers. It’s cunning, but my head aches with constant thoughts of him and talking will certainly spur tears. I refuse to cry over a man, especially a man who can be so cold.

  ‘Are you enjoying that?’ Paul asks on a smile, tossing some wet lettuce leaves in a colander.

  ‘Hmmm.’ I chew and swallow, then wipe my mouth of any stray mayonnaise. ‘It’s delicious,’ I say truthfully, looking over the other half that I’m yet to eat. ‘There’s something different about it.’

  ‘Yes, but don’t ask me what because I’ll never tell.’

  ‘Secret family recipe?’

  ‘You’ve got it. Del will never let me leave as long as the Tuna Crunch is his bestseller and I’m the only sucker who knows how to make it.’ He winks and scatters the lettuce between the prepared mixed seeded bread slices that have been coated with Paul’s secret recipe. ‘Here. These are for table four.’

  ‘Sure.’ I push my back through the swing doors of the kitchen, skulk past Sylvie and head for table four. ‘Two Tuna Crunch sandwiches on seeded,’ I say, sliding the plates onto the table. ‘Enjoy.’

  Both businessmen express their gratitude with a thank you and I leave them to eat, meeting Sylvie in the kitchen when I push my way back through the swing door. She has her hands on her hips. It’s not a good sign.

  ‘You don’t look better, but you’re not ill,’ she snipes, moving slightly to let me pass. ‘What gives?’

  ‘Nothing.’ I sound way too defensive, and I immediately chastise myself for it. ‘I’m okay.’

  ‘He followed you out.’

  ‘What?’ My shoulders tense. I know full well what Sylvie is talking about, but it’s not an area of conversation that I want to indulge in. I feel raw, tender, and speaking of him will only enhance that.

  ‘After you nearly passed out and Del sent you home, he followed you out. I would’ve come to find you, but I was kind of rushed off my feet. What happened?’

  I still don’t face her, choosing to take my time loading the dishwasher. I could leave, but that would mean facing her and I won’t hold my breath that she’ll let me pass. ‘Nothing happened. I walked away.’

  ‘Well, I figured as much when he returned with a face like thunder and turned up at the bistro yesterday.’

  He was angry? Strangely, that delights me. ‘There you have it, then,’ I flip casually, grabbing a tray but delaying my return to the bistro front. She’s not finished yet and she’s still in my way.

  ‘He was with that woman again.’

  ‘I know.’

  ‘She was all over him.’

  I feel a lump forming in my throat. ‘I know.’

  ‘But he was clearly distracted.’

  Swinging around, I finally face her, discovering the expression that I knew I would; narrowed eyes and bright-pink pursed lips. ‘Why are you telling me this?’ I ask.

  She shrugs, her short black bob skimming her shoulders. ‘He’s bad news.’

  ‘I know that,’ I mutter. ‘Why do you think I walked away? I’m not stupid.’ I should slap myself for my obscenely inaccurate comment. I’m very stupid.

  ‘You’re moping.’ Her questioning eyes are burning holes through me, and quite rightly, too.

  ‘I’m not moping, Sylvie,’ I argue feebly. ‘Do you mind if I get back to work?’

  She sighs, moving out of my way. ‘You’re too sweet, Livy. A man like that will eat you alive.’

  I close my eyes and take a deep breath as I move past her. She doesn’t need to know about last night’s cosy family dinner,
and I wholeheartedly wish that there was nothing to tell.

  My week doesn’t improve. Nan has been back to Harrods twice with the excuse that George thought her special pineapple upside-down cake was so delicious, she simply had to make it again . . . twice. Her secret hopes of bumping into Miller on the off-chance that he may be there buying more suits had nothing to do with her compulsion to spend thirty quid on two pineapples. I’ve avoided Gregory at all costs after receiving a terse voicemail from him advising me that Nan has been blabbering and he thinks I’m stupid. I know all of this.

  I skip breakfast and slip out of the front door, eager to avoid Nan and even keener to get my Friday done and dusted. I have plans
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