Promised, p.24Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
‘Livy?’ Luke appears by my side.
‘Hi.’ I lean in and kiss his cheek. ‘Are you ready?’
He flicks his eyes to Miller, who I notice is rigid and silent as he watches me greet Luke. ‘Hi.’ Luke holds his hand out to Miller, and I’m surprised when he takes it, giving Luke a firm shake, his manners never failing him.
‘Hello. Miller Hart.’ He nods, jaw tense, and I see my date wince before Miller quickly releases Luke’s hand, then rearranges his perfectly neat jacket. I’m definitely not imagining the subtle rise and fall of his broad chest or his eyes darkening with anger. I can almost hear something ticking inside him, like an unexploded bomb. He’s mad and his murderous eyes nailed on Luke begin to worry me.
‘Luke Mason,’ Luke replies, shaking his hand. ‘Nice to meet you. Are you a friend of Livy’s?’
‘No, just an acquaintance.’ I jump in quickly, eager to remove Luke from such palpable fury. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Great.’ Luke holds his arm out for me to link, and I do, letting him lead me away from the horridly awkward situation. ‘I thought we’d try the Lion around the corner. It’s had a makeover, apparently,’ Luke tells me, looking over his shoulder.
‘Great,’ I reply, not helping myself from glancing over my shoulder too, and instantly wishing that I hadn’t. He’s standing, just watching me walk away with another man, his face cold, his body rigid.
We soon turn a corner, and when I feel Luke look down at me I feel guilt start to take hold. I don’t know why. A date, that’s all. And is my guilt because of an oblivious Luke or a clearly affected Miller?
‘He was a bit of a strange one,’ Luke muses. I hum my agreement, pulling his gaze down to me. ‘You look lovely,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry I’m a few minutes late. I should’ve skipped the cab and jumped on the Tube.’
‘Don’t worry. You’re here now.’
He smiles, and it’s a cute smile, one that warms his already friendly face. ‘It’s just up here, look.’ He indicates up the street. ‘I’m hearing great things.’
‘It’s new?’ I ask.
‘No, just refurbished. It’s now a wine bar, not a typical London pub.’ He checks for traffic and quickly guides me across the road. ‘I do love a good old-fashioned pub, though.’
I smile, thinking that I could definitely imagine Luke in a spit and sawdust pub, drinking a pint and laughing with his mates. He’s normal, just a regular guy – the type of guy who I should be investing in, now it’s become apparent that I am, in fact, investing my time in men.
Luke opens the door, ushering me in, and then leads me to a table at the rear of the bar on a raised mezzanine floor. ‘What would you like to drink?’ he asks, indicating for me to sit.
It’s that question, and while I felt perfectly fine about asking for a water when I was with Gregory, I now feel young and stupid. ‘Wine,’ I say quickly before I can convince myself that it’s a bad idea. Besides, I feel like I need a drink. Damn Miller Hart.
‘Red, white, pink?’
‘White, thank you.’ I try to appear unaffected and completely comfortable in my surroundings, but seeing Miller again has nudged me back to unbalanced and unsure. I’m wobbly, thinking of his face when he saw Luke.
‘White it is.’ Luke smiles and heads for the bar, leaving me alone at the table, feeling like a fish out of water. The bar is busy, mostly with men in suits who look like they’ve come straight from the office. Their loud chatter and laughing is evidence of their length of time here, with ties loosened and jackets disappearing.
I appreciate the stylish decor of the place, but not the noise. Shouldn’t a first date be something to eat somewhere quiet where you can talk and get to know each other?
‘Here.’ A glass of wine slides towards me, and I instinctively slide back on my chair instead of picking it up and thanking him for it. Luke sits opposite me, pint in hand, and takes his first swig, gasping appreciatively before placing it down. ‘I’m really glad you agreed to have a drink with me,’ he says. ‘I was about to give up.’
‘I’m glad I came.’
He smiles. ‘So tell me about yourself.’
I force my hands to join and rest on the table where I fiddle with my ring and give myself a quick mental kick up the arse. Of course he’s going to ask questions. That’s what normal people do on dates, not offer unreasonable propositions. So taking a deep breath, I bite the bullet and divulge a piece of me to someone new, something that I’ve never done, or ever thought I would do.
‘I’ve only recently started working at the bistro. I was looking after my grandmother before that.’ It’s not much, but it’s a start.
‘Oh, did she die?’ he asks, looking uncomfortable.
‘No,’ I laugh. ‘She’s far from dead, trust me.’
Luke laughs, too. ‘That’s a relief. For a moment there I thought I’d put my foot in it. Why were you looking after her?’
This question isn’t so easy to answer and the truth too complicated. ‘She was unwell for a while, that’s all.’ I’m ashamed of myself, but at least I’ve shared a little piece of me.
‘Don’t be. She’s fine now,’ I say, thinking Nan would love to hear me admit that.
‘So what do you do for fun?’
My hesitance is obvious. I do nothing, in truth. I don’t have an army of girlfriends, I don’t socialise, I don’t have any hobbies, and because I’ve never put myself in a situation where someone might want to know, I’ve never considered how utterly cut off and isolated I actually am. I always knew it – God, I aimed for it, but now, when I want to come across as an interesting person, I’m stumped. I have nothing to offer this conversation. I have nothing to offer a friendship or a relationship.
I panic. ‘I go to the gym, go out with my friends.’
‘Oh, I do the gym at least three times a week. Which one do you go to?’
It’s getting worse. My lies are leading to further questioning, which means further lies. This is not the best way to start a friendship. I take my wine and raise it to my lips, a desperate tactic to buy me more time while I frantically search my mind for a local gym. I can think of none. ‘The one in Mayfair.’
The relief of Luke answering my question for me is obvious. ‘Yes, Virgin.’
‘I go there! I’ve never seen you.’
I’m in physical pain. ‘I tend to go pretty early.’ I need to divert this conversation quickly before I tell any more lies. ‘What about you? What do you do?’
He accepts my request for information and dives right in with a detailed report of him and his life. Over the next half-hour, I learn so much about Luke. He has a lot to tell, and I don’t doubt that all he’s saying is the truth and is as interesting as it seems, unlike my poor attempt to express me and my life. He’s a stockbroker and lives with his mate, Charlie, after splitting with his girlfriend of four years, but he’s in the process of buying his own place. He’s twenty-five, far closer to me in age, and genuinely a nice, stable, sensible bloke. I like him.
‘So no ex-boyfriend I should be wary of?’ he asks, finishing his pint.
I’m enjoying listening to him. I’m engrossed, contributing the odd opinion or thought, but it’s mainly Luke talking, and I’m happy with that.
‘No.’ I shake my head and take a tiny sip of my wine.
‘There must be someone,’ he laughs. ‘A girl who looks like you.’
‘I was looking after my grandmother. I didn’t have time for dating.’
He slumps back in his chair. ‘Wow! I’m stunned.’
My relaxed state has been shifted back to uncomfortable now the conversation has reverted to me. ‘Don’t be,’ I say quietly, fiddling with my glass.
The look on his face tells me he’s curious, but he doesn’t press further. ‘Okay.’ He smiles. ‘I’ll get another drink. Same again?’
He nods thoughtfully, probably
I jump a mile when I feel hot breath in my ear and a firm grip of my nape. ‘Come with me.’
I stiffen under his hold, my eyes darting to the bar to see where Luke is. I can’t see him, but that’s not to say he can’t see me.
‘Get up, Livy.’
‘What are you doing?’ I ask, ignoring the heat that’s being injected into the flesh of my neck from his touch.
He takes a grip of my upper arm with his free hand and pulls me to my feet, then starts pushing me to the back of the bar. ‘I haven’t a fucking clue what I’m doing, but I can’t seem to stop myself from doing it.’
‘Please stop doing this.’ I’m begging quietly when I should be fighting him off and slapping his face. ‘I’m on a date.’
‘Don’t say that.’ He grinds the words out and I’m sure if I could see his face, it would look pissed off. But I can’t see his face because he’s behind me and his grip on my nape is preventing me from turning. He pushes on, leaving me no choice but to scuttle to keep up with his long, determined strides.
The fire exit door is pushed open and kicked closed, and I’m spun around and pressed gently up against the wall, his hard body pushing into me. ‘Are you going to sleep with him?’ His lips are straight, his eyes piercing. He’s still mad.
Of course I’m not, but that has nothing to do with him. ‘That’s none of your business.’ I raise my chin in a little act of defiance, fully aware that I’m provoking him. I could’ve said no, but I’m too curious about what he’s going to do. I’m not falling to my knees to please him, to tell him what he wants to hear.
I want to, though.
I want to swear that I’ll never look at another man again, as long as he worships me for ever. His tall body flush against mine, his clear eyes burning into me, and his parted lips releasing subtle steams of air are all coaxing those inconceivable feelings to the surface. I’m starting to quiver under him.
I want him.
He brings his lips closer to mine. ‘I asked you a question.’
‘And I’m choosing not to answer,’ I breathe, pushing myself further back. ‘I’ve had to endure seeing you on a date more than once.’
‘I’ve explained that a hundred times. You know how much I hate repeating myself.’
‘Then perhaps you should explain yourself better,’ I retort.
‘Why is there a glass of wine on your table?’
‘None of your business.’
‘I’m making it my business.’ He presses in further, pushing a breathy gasp from my lips. ‘You’re planning on sleeping with him, and I’m not going to let that happen.’
I turn my head away from him, losing the desire and gaining some irritation. ‘You can’t stop me.’ I don’t know what I’m saying.
‘You still owe me four hours, Livy.’
My head swings back towards him in shock. ‘You expect me to commit another four hours to you, just so you can turn cold and hard-hearted on me again? I shared something with you. You made me feel safe.’
His lips purse and his breathing becomes heavier, more forced, like he’s trying to control himself. ‘You are safe with me,’ he growls. ‘And yes, I do expect you give me more. I want the rest of the time that you owe me.’
‘You’re not going to get it,’ I proclaim confidently, disgusted with his absurd demand. ‘Do you really think I owe you anything?’
‘You’re coming home with me.’
‘No, I’m not.’ I fight the urge to scream yes. ‘And you didn’t answer my question.’
‘I’m choosing not to.’ He hunkers down and levels his lips with mine. ‘Let me taste you again.’
The desire is fighting its way forward. ‘No.’
‘Let me take you to my bed.’
I shake my head desperately and clench my eyes shut, wanting to let him, but knowing it would be a gargantuan mistake. ‘No, not so you can toss me out again.’ I feel the warmth of his mouth closing in, but I don’t turn my head.
I let it happen.
And when the moist softness of his lips connects with mine, I go lax and open up to him on a low moan, my hands finding his shoulders, my head tilting to give him full access. I blank out. My intelligence has been blocked again.
‘There are sparks,’ he mumbles, ‘full-on, electric sparks, and we’re creating them.’ He pecks my lips. ‘Don’t deprive us of this.’ He kisses his way into my neck and nibbles up to my ear. ‘Please.’
‘Just four hours?’ I whisper.
‘I’m not overthinking. I can barely think at all when you’re near me.’
‘I like that.’ He encases my neck with his palms and tilts my face up. His stunning features cripple me. ‘Let it happen.’
‘I already did, more than once, and you turned distant on me every time. Will it be like that again?’
‘No one knows what’s going to happen in the future, Livy.’ His lips move slowly, holding my attention at his mouth.
‘That’s a poor answer,’ I murmur. ‘And you can tell me what will happen because you’re in control of it.’ Annoyingly, I’ve laid my cards – I’ve made it perfectly clear that I want more than he’s willing to give.
‘I really can’t.’ He moves in to kiss me, but I force my face to the side, leaving him hovering over my cheek. ‘Let me taste you, Livy.’
I have to resist him, and his vague answer to my question gives me the strength I need to do it. ‘You’ve already had too much.’ If I fall now, there will be no getting up. By accepting this, I’m giving him the power to turn his back after he’s taken what he wants, and I would never have a valid reason to hold it against him, because I allowed it . . . again.
‘Have you?’ he asks. ‘Have you had enough of me, Livy?’
‘Too much.’ I push him away. ‘Way too much, Miller.’
He curses and runs his hand through his hair. ‘I’m not letting you go home with that man.’
‘And how will you stop me?’ I ask quietly. He doesn’t want me, but he doesn’t want anyone else to have me either. I don’t understand him, and I’m not going to let him swallow me up again, just so he can spit me back out.
‘He won’t make you feel like I can.’
‘You mean used?’ I retort. ‘You make me feel used. I’ve never exposed myself emotionally to a man before, and I did you. I’ve built up a pile of regrets in my life, Miller. And you’re at the top of it.’
‘Don’t say things you don’t mean.’ He reaches forward and runs his knuckles across my cheek. ‘How can you regret something that was so beautiful?’
‘Easily.’ I take his hand from my cheek and drop it gently to his side. ‘I can regret it easily when I know I’ll never have it again.’ I shuffle past him, ensuring there’s no contact, and start my journey home.
‘You can have it again,’ he calls. ‘We can have that again, Olivia.’
‘Not just for four hours,’ I reply, clenching my eyes shut. ‘I’d rather not have it at all.’ My feet are moving, but I can’t feel them, and I’m vaguely aware that I have a date inside the bar, who’s certainly wondering where I’ve got to. But I can’t go back inside and feign a good mood, not when I’m feeling so utterly broken. So I text Luke a feeble excuse about Nan falling ill. Then I drag myself home.
‘How did it go?’ Gregory asks when I call him the next morning. No ‘hello’ or ‘how are ya doing?’
‘He’s nice,’ I admit, ‘but I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again.’
Promised by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on43 votes