Promised, p.22
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       Promised, p.22

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  to lose myself in the grandeur of London this weekend, and I can’t wait. It’s just what I need.

  I pace down the street, my long black jersey dress swishing around my ankles, my face warm under the morning sunshine. As ever, my hair is doing what it damn well pleases, and today it’s wavier than usual as I slept on it wet.

  ‘Livy!’

  Without any instruction, my pace quickens, not that I’m going to get very far. He sounds pissed off.

  ‘Baby girl, you’d better stop right now or there will be trouble!’

  I halt dead in my tracks, knowing that I’m already in trouble, and wait for him to catch up to me. ‘Morning!’ My overenthusiastic greeting isn’t going to wash, and when he lands in front of me, his handsome face distorted with displeasure, I can’t help scowling back. ‘What?’ I snap, making him jump back in shock. I feel irritated with my best friend, yet I have absolutely no right to be. It’s Friday, but he’s in ripped jeans and a tight T-shirt, and he’s wearing a baseball cap. Where are his gardening clothes?

  ‘Don’t what me!’ he snaps right back. ‘What happened to staying away?’

  ‘I tried!’ I screech. ‘I bloody tried, but we bumped into him in Harrods and Nan invited him to bloody dinner!’

  Gregory jumps back some more, stunned by my unusual outburst, but his chiselled, scowling face softens. ‘You didn’t have to leave with him, though,’ he points out softly. ‘And you definitely didn’t have to stay at his place.’

  ‘Well I did, and I bloody wish I hadn’t.’

  ‘Ahh, Livy.’ He steps forward and wraps me in his arms. ‘You should have answered my calls.’

  ‘So you could just tell me off?’ I mumble into his T-shirt. ‘I already know that I’m an idiot. I don’t need it confirmed.’

  ‘It near on killed me to see Nan so excited,’ he says on a sigh. ‘Shit, Livy, she was ready to go and buy a hat.’

  I laugh because if I didn’t, I’d cry. ‘Please don’t. I can’t take it much more, Gregory. He only sat at her dinner table for an hour or two. She was gushing all over him, and now she’s all confused and wondering why I’m not seeing him.’

  ‘Cocksucker.’

  ‘I keep telling you, you’re the only cocksucker I know.’ I feel him laugh a little, but when he pulls me from his chest, his face is serious.

  ‘Why did you leave with him?’ he asks.

  ‘I can’t say no when he’s with me,’ I sigh sullenly. ‘Things just happen.’

  ‘But you’ve not seen him all week?’

  ‘No.’

  His blond brows rise. ‘Why not?’

  Damn it, I want to say that I walked away off my own back, but Gregory will rumble me in a nanosecond. ‘It was wonderful, and then it was awful. He was sweet, and then he was an arsehole.’ I brace myself. ‘I told him about my mum.’

  I can see the surprise on Gregory’s face, and there is definitely a bit of hurt mixed in there, too. He knows that I absolutely never speak of her, not even with him, and I know he wishes I did. He collects himself and forces the hurt plaguing his face to morph into contempt. ‘Cocksucker,’ he spits. ‘Complete knob-head. You need to be stronger, baby girl. A sweet thing like you will be walked all over by a man like that.’

  My nostrils flare and I bite my tongue to prevent my natural reaction to that statement from slipping past my lips. And fail. ‘Oh, bollocks to the lot of you,’ I grumble, making him recoil in shock. I push past him and stomp off down the street.

  ‘See, that’s what I want more of. A little spunk!’

  ‘Fuck off!’ I yell, shocking myself with my vulgar language.

  ‘Ooh, yes, carry on, you filthy-mouthed bitch!’

  I gasp and swing around, finding him grinning from ear to ear. ‘Wanker.’

  ‘Cow.’

  ‘Tosser.’

  He grins some more. ‘Dog.’

  ‘Shirt-lifter,’ I retort.

  ‘Tart.’

  I recoil, horrified. ‘I am not a tart!’

  He pales instantly, realising his mistake. ‘Shit, Livy, I’m so sorry.’

  ‘Don’t bother!’ I storm off, my blood boiling with rage at his insensitive, careless remark. ‘And don’t follow me, Gregory!’

  ‘Ahhhh, I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.’ He scoops me up, preventing me from running away. ‘A stupid word slipped.’ He walks on with me draped across his arms, and I reach up and pull his hair. ‘Twat.’

  Grinning, he leans down and kisses my cheek. ‘I had a date last Sunday.’

  ‘Another?’ I roll my eyes and firm up my grip of his shoulders. ‘Who’s the lucky guy this time?’

  ‘Actually, it was our fourth date. His name’s Ben.’ A thoughtful, dreamy look washes over Gregory’s face, making me pay more attention. It’s been a few years since he’s had this look.

  ‘And . . .’ I push, wondering how he managed to keep four dates with the same man quiet. I can’t challenge him on it, though. Not after my lack of sharing.

  ‘He’s cute. I might like you to meet him.’

  ‘Really?’

  ‘Yes, really. He’s a freelance events planner. I’ve told him all about you, and he’d like to meet you.’

  ‘Oh?’ I tilt my head, and he gives me a shy smile. ‘Ohhhh . . .’ I breathe.

  ‘Yes, ohhhhh.’

  ‘Benjamin?’

  ‘Nooo.’ He narrows playful eyes, continuing with his even strides down the street with me still bobbing up and down in his arms. ‘Just Ben will do.’

  ‘Benjamin and Gregory,’ I muse thoughtfully. ‘It has a nice ring to it.’

  ‘Ben and Greg sounds much better. Why do you insist on calling me Gregory? Even Nan does it. It makes me sound like a poofter,’ he grumbles.

  ‘You are a poofter!’ I laugh, getting a set of teeth sunk into my neck for my trouble. ‘Stop it!’

  ‘Come on.’ He sets me on my feet and links arms with me. ‘Let’s get your sweet arse to work.’

  ‘Aren’t you working today?’

  ‘Nope. I finished my recent project early, and I have a haircut.’

  ‘Oh yeah?’ I grin up at him. ‘A whole day off work for a haircut?’

  ‘Shut up. I told you. I finished my project early.’

  I smile, wondering why I’ve alienated myself from my treasured Gregory all week. I feel a million times better already.

  Chapter 14

  No one at work actually asks me if I’m all right because it’s obvious that I am. Or are they just stunned into silence by my chirpiness? Am I being over the top? I don’t even care. Gregory has lifted my spirits. I should’ve seen him earlier in the week.

  ‘Service!’ Paul yells, prompting me to skip over with my tray, ready to be loaded up. ‘What are you all smiley about?’ he laughs, sliding a Tuna Crunch onto my tray.

  Sylvie dumps a load of empties nearby and joins us by the hotplates. ‘Don’t question it, Paul. Just embrace it.’

  ‘It’s Friday.’ I shrug, twirling and sashaying out of the kitchen with a smile on my face. As I approach the table, I’m confronted with a huge beam, courtesy of Mr Wide-Eyed Luke. My good mood prevents me from being anything but polite, and I find myself smiling back at him. ‘Tuna Crunch?’

  ‘That’s me,’ he pipes up as I slide it onto the table. ‘You look especially lovely today.’

  I roll my eyes, but I’m still smiling. ‘Thank you. Can I get you another drink?’

  ‘No, I’m good.’ He sits back in his chair, his warm brown eyes friendly as they regard me. ‘I’m still after a date.’

  ‘You are?’ I feel myself blush a little and in an attempt to hide it, I start clearing the next table.

  ‘Can I take you out?’

  I’m wiping the table furiously, my hand rotating just as fast as my mind. ‘Yes.’ The word falls from my mouth without me realising, until I hear it with my own ears.

  ‘Really?’ He sounds as shocked as I feel.

  The table is spotless, but it doesn’t stop me from rubbing
the cloth over the wood some more. Did I really just accept a date? ‘Sure,’ I confirm, shocking myself further.

  ‘Great!’

  I try to cool down my burning cheeks before I turn to face my . . . date. He’s really smiling now, and he’s scribbling down his number on a napkin. It draws an unwanted memory, which I quickly toss to the back of my mind. I can go on a date with Luke. Actually, I need to go on a date with Luke. ‘When were you thinking?’

  ‘Tonight?’ He looks up at me hopefully, handing me the napkin.

  I take it, pushing my doubts away. I can’t go on like I have, even more so after my encounters with Miller Hart. I need to start living, forget about him, my mother, and start living . . . sensibly. ‘Tonight,’ I confirm. ‘Time, place?’

  ‘Eight outside Selfridges? There’s a little bar down the side street. You’ll love it.’

  ‘Great. I look forward to it.’ I collect my tray and leave Luke smiling around the first bite of his Tuna Crunch.

  ‘Hey, you’re not going to stand me up, are you?’ he calls, his words muffled by his full mouth. That stupid little thing alone reminds me of manners and . . .

  ‘I’ll be there,’ I assure him on a smile, his mouthful of sandwich while he talks only spurring me on. He might not be in the same league as Miller Hart, but he’s still cute, and his carefree attitude and lack of manners is even more reason to accept his offer.

  When I push my way through the swing door, Sylvie’s pink lips are smirking at me. ‘I’m so proud of you!’ she sings in my face.

  ‘Oh, stop it!’

  ‘No, really, I am. He’s cute and normal.’ She starts to help me unload the tray, the big smile on her face pulling one from me. ‘Think of it as new beginnings.’

  I frown, wondering if I should do exactly that. I’ve not known Sylvie for very long, although it seems like years. ‘I’m just going on a date, Sylvie.’

  ‘Oh, I know. But I also know that Olivia Taylor doesn’t do dating. It’s just what you need.’

  ‘What I need is for you to stop making such a fuss about it.’ I laugh. By need, she means that I need to get over someone, but I’m slowly concluding that I am, in fact, already over someone. Someone doesn’t have a name. Someone doesn’t even exist. Someone is long forgotten.

  ‘Okay, okay.’ Sylvie holds her hands up, still grinning, still delighted. ‘What are you going to wear?’

  I feel my face pale as I consider Sylvie’s question. ‘Oh God, what am I going to wear?’ My wardrobe is full of Converse in every colour, piles and piles of jeans and endless tea dresses, but they are floaty and girly, not tight and sexy.

  ‘Don’t panic.’ She holds my shoulders and gives me serious eyes. ‘We’ll go shopping after work. We’ll only have an hour, but I think I’ll come up with something.’

  I look down at Sylvie’s skin-tight black jeans and chunky, studded boots and wonder if I should go shopping with her. But then I have a thought. ‘No, don’t worry!’ I break free of Sylvie’s hold and hunt down my satchel, finding my phone. ‘Gregory is off work today. He’ll come.’ I don’t even consider that I may have offended Sylvie until she heaves an exasperated sigh of relief.

  ‘Thank fuck for that!’ She flops against the worktop. ‘I would’ve endured Topshop for you, Livy, but it would have been pure hell.’ Her brow puckers. ‘Gregory? As in a bloke?’

  ‘Yes, my best friend. He’s got terrific fashion sense.’

  She looks suspicious. ‘He’s gay, isn’t he?’

  ‘Only eighty per cent.’ I run out the exit door from the kitchen to the back alley and dial Gregory as I pace up and down.

  ‘Baby girl!’

  ‘I have a date tonight!’ I blurt. ‘And I have nothing to wear. You have to help me!’

  ‘With him?’ Gregory spits. ‘I’m doing nothing except pinning you down. You’re not going out with that prick!’

  ‘No, no, no! It’s Mr Wide Eyes!’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘Luke. A guy who’s been asking for a few weeks. I figured why not.’ I shrug to myself, and I can practically hear the excitement bubbling down the line before Gregory’s even spoken. Then he does speak, confirming my suspicions.

  ‘Oh my God!’ he shrieks. ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! What time do you finish work?’

  ‘Five. And I’m meeting Luke at eight.’

  ‘Buy an outfit and get you ready in three hours?’ he gasps. ‘Bloody hell, it’ll be a challenge, but it’s doable. I’ll meet you at work at five.’

  ‘Okay.’ I hang up and rush back into the kitchen before my absence is noticed by Del. It’ll be a rush, but I have every faith in Gregory. He has impeccable taste.

  As soon as Del’s gone for the day, I run to grab my satchel and denim jacket, giving Sylvie a kiss on the cheek and throwing a wave at Paul, leaving them laughing in the kitchen.

  ‘Good luck!’ Sylvie calls.

  ‘Thank you!’ I burst into the fresh air and find Gregory waiting across the road.

  He waves his arms frantically, signalling for me to hurry. ‘We have three hours to dress you, preen you, and deliver you to your date. That’s my mission, and I choose to accept it.’ He grins and throws his arm around me, leading me quickly towards Oxford Street.

  ‘You look cheerful.’

  ‘I am,’ I admit. Surprisingly to me, I’m looking forward to going on a date. ‘Nice hair.’

  ‘Thanks.’ His hand glides over his scalp on a smile, prompting one from me.

  ‘Isn’t it sad that I’ve never actually been on a date?’

  ‘Yes, it’s tragic.’

  I nudge him in the side. ‘You’ve been on enough for both of us.’

  ‘Yes, that’s tragic, too. But I might be a one-man guy soon.’

  ‘Aren’t you already?’ I ask, hoping Gregory isn’t about to be crapped all over. He’s stupidly good-looking, and should probably hold all of the cards when it comes to a relationship, but he’s too nice and he’s paid for it in the past. He’s a player when single but devoted when captured.

  ‘You have to remain open to offers, Livy.’ He sounds resolute, but that look is there again, and it’s screaming fallen.

  I’m utterly exhausted by the time we get home. I’ve spent practically every penny I’ve earned since working at Del’s, and I have three outfits – all short and not really me – and two pairs of shoes, neither of which are Converse. It’s a waste. I’ll probably only wear one pair of the shoes this evening, and as for the dresses . . . well, I don’t know what I was thinking.

  I’m standing in my towel in front of my wardrobe, running my eyes over each of my new outfits.

  ‘It has to be the black one.’ Gregory skates his hand down the short tight dress on a sigh. ‘Yes, this one and the black pointed stilettos.’

  I feel a little overwhelmed as I look at the dress, then down to the shoes. It’s been a long, long while since I’ve worn heels. ‘I’m scared,’ I murmur quietly.

  ‘Rubbish!’ He dismisses my worry on a snort and heads for the bed, picking up some of the fancy underwear he forced me to buy. We both wasted at least twenty minutes in La Senza arguing over the lacy matching sets, one of which he’s currently having a thorough inspection of. He’s right, though. I can’t wear white cotton under these sorts of dresses. ‘You know, I might be eighty per cent gay, but there’s something about a woman in sexy underwear.’ He chucks the set at me. ‘Put them on, then.’

  I keep my mouth shut for fear of objecting and shimmy into the
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