Promised, p.26
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       Promised, p.26

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  ‘This way.’ Gregory escorts me up the glass steps, and the practical side of me can’t help considering the damage that could be done if someone was to fall down them. My heels chink sweetly, though, and I look down and admire them, smiling and finding my butt swaying a little more. ‘Are you strutting?’ Gregory giggles and smacks my backside. ‘Work it, baby girl.’

  I turn and scowl around my grin. ‘Sassy,’ I say, sticking my nose in the air, making my friend break out into a proper laugh.

  ‘You most certainly are.’

  We reach the top of the stairs and head left as directed, reaching the champagne bar, which is ironic because all I saw at the other bars was champagne, too, making all of the bars champagne bars. ‘What would you like?’

  ‘Coke,’ I say casually, looking around to avoid meeting my friend’s outraged eyes.

  He scoffs, but doesn’t retaliate, instead leaning over the bar and ordering two glasses of champagne. The club is crammed full already, and there were at least a few hundred people in the line outside. Gregory wasn’t kidding when he said it was dead plush, and the name reflects the ambience. If it wasn’t so full with people generating heat, I think I’d feel cold.

  ‘Thank you.’ I take the glass being handed to me and waft it under my nose, taking a hit of a bitter smell. The strawberry floating on top takes my attention away from the aroma that’s invading my nose and switches my mind to a place where I really don’t want it to go.

  Strawberries – British, for the sweetness.

  Chocolate – at least eighty per cent cocoa, for the bitterness.

  Champagne to round it off.

  I jump, a little startled when Gregory nudges me. ‘You okay?’

  ‘Sure.’ I bat the thoughts of sweet and bitter away, along with the thought of Miller’s hot tongue, slow-moving mouth, and hard, warm body. ‘Swanky place.’ I raise my glass a little and take the plunge, sipping my first ever taste of champagne. ‘Hmmm,’ I hum as the cool, sparkling liquid slides down my throat like silk.

  ‘I cannot believe you’ve never tasted it.’ Gregory shakes his head as he tips the glass to his lips. ‘Heaven in a glass.’

  ‘It is,’ I agree, swirling it in my hand. ‘So he put you on the guest list, then?’

  ‘Of course.’ He doesn’t bite to my teasing. ‘I’m not queuing like cattle.’

  ‘You’re a snob.’ I laugh. ‘Can I eat this strawberry?’

  ‘Yes, but don’t be plunging your fingers into the glass. Be a lady about it.’

  ‘How do I get it out, then?’ I frown down at the narrow glass, wondering if my fingers will even fit in, but not daring to find out.

  ‘Tip it in.’ Gregory demonstrates, tilting the flute to his lips and catching the strawberry in his mouth when it slides down the glass. ‘Best to wait until you’ve finished the champagne,’ he adds as he munches through the fruit.

  ‘You have a big mouth.’ I sip more, not prepared to hurry my way through. Not drinking for so long has undoubtedly made me a lightweight.

  ‘Oh, you have no idea, baby girl.’

  My nose wrinkles in distaste. ‘And I don’t want to, Gregory,’ I retort, earning myself a grin through a glare.

  ‘It’s Greg!’

  ‘Sassy lady!’ I bump his thigh with my bum. ‘Where’s Benjamin, anyway?’ I ask, intrigued by the man who’s captured my Gregory so fully.

  ‘Ben is over there.’ He points discreetly with his glass, and I follow, looking through the crowd and seeing too many men to even begin to work it out. ‘Which one?’

  ‘In the VIP area. Black suit, fair hair.’

  I flick my eyes over a crowd of men, all chatting in the closed-off section near to the bar, laughing and regularly slapping each other’s backs. City boys. Then my eyes land on a well-built man. I can literally see his muscles bulging through his suit. I’m surprised. He’s not my best friend’s usual taste, but again, it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of meeting one of Gregory’s partners.

  ‘He’s . . . I try to figure out the right words to describe him. Colossal. Pumped. ‘Large,’ I finally settle on.

  ‘He’s a fitness freak.’

  I look up and see Gregory with a small smile on his face as he gazes over to Ben. ‘So are you,’ I point out. Gregory’s physique isn’t anything to be ashamed of, not in the least, but Ben’s . . . well, he’s a mammoth of a fine man, but not to the point of being unattractive. I can see the appeal.

  ‘I’m an amateur in the gym compared to Ben. We’re talking every day, sassy lady.’

  ‘Are you going to go over?’ I ask.

  ‘No.’ He almost laughs. ‘I don’t do the chasing, Livy.’

  ‘But you’ve been on dates. He invited you and put you on the guest list.’

  ‘Yes, he’s chasing.’

  ‘Playing hard to get?’

  ‘Treat them mean and all that.’ He places his fingertip on the base of my glass and applies a little pressure. ‘You’ll get that strawberry now.’

  I look down and find I’ve sipped my way through my first glass and I can, indeed, get to the strawberry. I tilt and sigh as I sink my teeth into the sweet fruit. ‘Delicious.’ Just like the ones . . .

  ‘Another?’ He doesn’t wait for my answer. He takes my hand and leads me to the bar, which is a giant plank of clear glass, displaying bottles of champagne on ice beneath. ‘Two more.’ He signals to the waiter, who swiftly presents Gregory with two full glasses, before our empties are taken and I’m being led away.

  ‘Don’t you have to pay?’

  ‘Launch night. It’s all free, but don’t get too carried away.’

  ‘I won’t.’

  ‘Oh, he’s spotted us.’ Gregory starts to mildly fidget, and I look across the bar, finding Ben on his way over, smiling brightly. ‘Remember, sassy lady. It’s Greg.’

  ‘Yes, yes,’ I say, keeping my eyes on Ben’s big frame approaching.

  ‘Greg,’ Ben says formally when he arrives. ‘Glad you could make it.’ He extends his hand and Gregory takes it, shaking firmly.

  ‘Good to see you,’ my friend replies, dropping Ben’s hand and shoving his in his pocket. ‘This is Livy.’

  I can’t help my brow from wrinkling in confusion. ‘Hi.’

  ‘The famous Livy.’ He leans in and kisses my cheek. ‘Thank you for coming.’ He pulls away, and I get my first proper look at him as I focus on his face and not his formal actions or bulked physique. He’s handsome in a rugged kind of way.

  ‘Thank you for inviting me.’

  ‘No problem.’ He slaps Gregory on the shoulder. ‘I wish I could talk a bit more, mate, but there are a million people here to speak to. Maybe later?’

  ‘Later.’ Gregory nods.

  ‘Great.’ Ben smiles warmly at me. ‘Pleasure to meet you, Livy.’

  ‘Sure,’ I say quietly, flicking my eyes from one man to the other before watching Ben’s back disappear into the crowd. ‘He’s not come out!’ I swing my body towards Gregory. ‘No one knows he’s gay!’

  ‘Shhhh,’ Gregory hisses. ‘He’s waiting for the right time.’

  I’m stunned. Gregory has been upfront and honest about his sexuality ever since he came out in high school, and he’s ridiculed those who haven’t been true to themselves. ‘These dates: you didn’t go out at all, did you?’

  Gregory refuses to meet my eyes, his fidgeting becoming less mild. He looks downright uncomfortable. ‘No,’ he replies quietly.

  My heart squeezes a little for my best friend. This is no different from a woman seeing a married man, who constantly assures her that he’ll leave his wife for her. And my role tonight is suddenly too clear. What a shitbag! ‘How old is he?’ I ask.

  ‘Twenty-seven.’

  ‘How long has he known himself?’ I press, not liking what I’m hearing.

  ‘He says he’s always known.’

  Gregory’s answer only cements it for me. If he’s always known and he still hasn’t revealed his true sexual status, then wha
t makes Gregory think that he will now? I don’t say that, though, because judging by the look on my friend’s face, he’s already asked himself that question. Gregory doesn’t act camp or feel the need to display his sexual preference for all to see, but he’s not ashamed of it, either. After spending just a minute with Ben, I can tell it’s not the case for him, and when I look across the bar and see him making an over-the-top display of greeting a woman, my thoughts are only confirmed.

  I glance back to Gregory and see that his line of sight is pointed that way too, and in an attempt to distract him, I ask for another drink by waving my empty glass under his nose.

  ‘More?’

  ‘It’s going down very well.’ I go to hand my glass over, but quickly notice the strawberry. ‘Oh, wait.’ I tilt and catch the fruit, then give up my glass.

  While Gregory fetches more drinks, I wander over to the glass-panelled gallery and lean over, observing the masses of well-groomed men and chicly dressed women below. This place is an exclusive, high-end club and reserved only for London’s elite. This should make me feel even more uncomfortable, but it doesn’t. I’m just glad I came, because with Ben avoiding Gregory in public places, he would’ve been floating around on his own like a plum.

  ‘Here.’ A flute appears over my shoulder. ‘What are you looking at?’

  ‘All of these rich people.’ I turn around and rest my bum against the glass. ‘Is it a private club?’

  Gregory laughs. ‘What do you think?’

  I hum my acknowledgement. ‘And Ben organised the opening?’

  ‘Yes, he’s renowned in his field.’ He leans his elbows on a tall glass table close by. ‘Don’t you notice it?’ he asks.

  I look around. ‘Notice what?’

  ‘The looks.’ He nods to a group of men close by, all staring over at us, not bothering to hide their interest, even though I have male company. Gregory could be my boyfriend for all they know.

  I turn my back on them and find Gregory still looking over at the group, but for a whole different reason. ‘Stop gawking,’ I say, taking another sip of champagne.

  ‘Sorry.’ His eyes land on me. ‘Shall we go and explore?’

  ‘Yes, let’s.’

  ‘Come on, then.’ He straightens and places his palm in the small of my back to lead me.

  On our way up a flight of glass stairs, I look down to the bottom floor and notice Ben has gone, and I wonder whether that’s why we’re on the move.

  ‘There’s a garden bar,’ Gregory tells me.

  ‘Then why are we going up?’

  ‘It’s on the roof.’ He directs me to the left and up some more stairs, where a wall of glass comes into view, and beyond, London by night in all of its glory.

  ‘Oh wow!’ I breathe. ‘Look at that!’

  ‘Impressive, eh?’

  It’s more than impressive. ‘Would you de-friend me if I took pictures?’ I ask, ready to hand him my drink so I can riffle through my bag for my phone.

  ‘Yes, I would. Let’s just do what everyone else is doing – drink and enjoy the view.’

  I feel cheated, wanting to snap away just in case my memory doesn’t store an accurate image of what I’m looking at. I’m used to London, its architecture and its grandeur, but I’ve never seen it looking quite like this. ‘So how did you meet Ben?’ I ask, tearing my eyes away from the stunning view. Gregory gestures around us with a how’d-ya-think look all over his handsome face, and for the first time, I take in the garden where we’ve landed. I gasp a little. ‘You did this?’

  ‘I did.’ His chest swells proudly. ‘Designed it, created it, and finished it. It’s my best project to date.’

  ‘It’s incredible,’ I muse, starting to absorb all of the little but significant details – the small touches that really bring it to life. The side walls are nothing more than compacted box plants, the tiny leaves lush and green, with ice-blue twinkle lights embedded in the shrubbery. And the topiary trees are all trimmed into neat circles with lights woven through the foliage. ‘Is the grass real?’ I ask, padding my feet and noticing my heels aren’t sinking in.

  ‘No, it’s imitation, but so authentic you’d never know.’

  ‘It is,’ I agree. ‘I love the furniture.’

  ‘Hmmm. The theme was ice, as you’ve probably gathered. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to create a lush, functional outside space on that brief, but I’m pretty pleased.’

  ‘You should be.’ I reach up and kiss his cheek. ‘It’s fabulous, just like you.’

  ‘Stop it,’ he laughs. ‘You’re making me blush.’

  I giggle with him, and then cast my eyes over to take another hit of the outlook, but my eyes don’t make it to the open air and view beyond because they find Ben first. And they find him stuck to a woman’s mouth. I wince and quickly try to work out my best move, but I can think of nothing except downing my fresh drink and shoving it in Gregory’s face.

  ‘Another?’ he asks incredulously. ‘Calm down, Livy.’

  ‘I’m fine,’ I assure him, taking his elbow, but he doesn’t shift, and as I glance up, I see that he’s found what I’m trying to get him away from. ‘Greg?’ His eyes slowly fall to mine, and I see too much misery to take the softly-softly approach, so I tug at him until he’s forced to move. ‘Let’s get a drink.’

  ‘Yes, let’s.’ He grinds the words out, shifting his arms from my grip and taking my hand.

  I’m led with purpose back down the two flights of stairs and to the bar where Gregory orders two champagnes. In the short time that we’ve been away, the atmosphere has cranked up a few notches and people are starting to move to the round dance floor, drinks in hand. The music seems louder, too, and there’s definitely a shift in the reserved environment as the champagne flows freely – and for free – and Daft Punk, featuring Pharrell Williams, pumps through the speakers.

  ‘Drink up.’ Gregory doesn’t pass me just a flute this time. It’s a shot, and my eyes dart to his. ‘Come on,’ he pleads.

  My reluctance is clear. I’ve had a few glasses of champagne and I feel okay, but that shouldn’t be a green light to start throwing shots down my neck. ‘Greg . . .’

  ‘Come on. I won’t let anything happen, Livy,’ he assures me, and stupidly or not, I take the glass and knock it with his before tipping the contents down my throat. The burn is instant and so is the reminder of all the times I’ve drunk before.

  I gasp and slam my shot glass down before taking the flute and downing the more pleasant champagne. ‘That was nasty.’

  ‘That was tequila, but you forgot the salt and lemon.’ He holds up a salt shaker and a wedge of fresh lemon before carrying out the practice the right way, licking the back of his hand, sprinkling the salt, licking again, downing the liquid, and sinking his teeth into the wedge. ‘It’s much better this way.’

  ‘You should’ve stopped me,’ I complain, struggling to rid my mouth of the rancid taste.

  ‘You didn’t give me a chance,’ he laughs. ‘Let’s do another.’ He orders another and this time I see through the sequence correctly, following Greg’s lead.

  I shudder at the lingering flavour, but then I’m shuddering for a whole other reason when a familiar beat takes over the current track. I instantly look to see Gregory’s wide, delighted eyes.

  ‘Carte Blanche,’ I whisper, my mind bombarded with memories of Gregory creating a disco in my bedroom all of the times I refused to go to an actual club.

  ‘How apt,’ Gregory confirms, a grin spreading across his face. ‘“Veracocha”! Our tune, baby girl!’ We both down another champagne before my hand is grasped and I’m being dragged to the floor. I don’t object. I wouldn’t. Gregory’s smiling, and after what has just transpired, this is a good thing.

  He pushes us through the crowd until we’re joining the flurry of other dancers who all appreciate the classic anthem as much as we do. Strobe lighting darts around us, flitting across the faces of people and intensifying my feel-good mood. We both slip into the groove, hands
in the air, bodies swaying, twisting and twirling each other around the floor, laughing as we do. It’s a novelty and a good one. I’m having fun.

  Gregory pulls me into his chest and puts his mouth to my ear so I can hear him over the music and cheering. ‘I’m giving it three minutes for a bloke to move in on you.’

  ‘I’m dancing with a man,’ I laugh. ‘He’d have to be pretty cocksure.’

  ‘Give me a break,’ he scoffs. ‘We’re clearly not dating.’

  I’m about to disagree, but I see Ben approaching behind Gregory, smiling and greeting people as he passes through the dance-floor crowd. I want to drag my friend away, but I’m also curious how this will play out. Ben doesn’t know that we saw him,
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