Part #2 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
‘Olivia,’ he calls, his tone laced with warning.
I stop on the shop step and swing around, plastering a huge smile on my face. ‘Nothing fills you with greater pleasure than seeing me so happy,’ I remind him, leaning up against the door frame and casually crossing one leg over the other. ‘And it would make me really happy if you would accompany me into this shop.’
Blue eyes twinkle but narrow, as if he’s trying to conceal his amusement at my smart-arse comment. His lips are twitching, too, which only broadens my happiness into overwhelming elation. This is just perfect because Miller loves it when I’m happy, and I couldn’t be any happier right now. I’m being playful and he’s reciprocating . . . nearly.
‘You’re very hard to resist, Olivia Taylor.’ He shakes his head wistfully, propelling my happiness further as he takes the few remaining strides towards me. I stay on the shop step, looking down at him, unable to wipe the smile from my face. He keeps his hands to himself and reaches up with his lips, bringing them close to mine. ‘It’s almost impossible,’ he whispers, engulfing my face with his soft breath and my nose with his manly scent. My resolve wanes, but I quickly snatch it back and disappear into the shop before I’m swallowed up and led away from the store.
On entering, I’m immediately given the once-over by a stout man, who appears from the back of the store. He looks like he’s just wandered out of an estate in the English countryside. His tweed suit is crisp and neat and, on closer inspection, I notice the knot of his tie is as perfect as Miller’s. Stupidly, I think that Miller will approve of this, which will only enhance his good mood, so I pivot to face him, but deflate fast when I find he’s disappeared from the door and is now looking through the shop window again, his mask slipped back into place. He’s hovering, looking around cautiously . . . dubiously.
‘Can I help you?’
I leave Miller contemplating whether he’s going to venture into the store and return my attention to the store assistant. Yes, he can help me. ‘You do casual wear?’ I ask.
He laughs a pompous laugh before signalling to the back of the store. ‘Why, of course; however, we are far more renowned for our suits and shirts.’
My eyes follow the direction of his pointed finger and find a section to the rear of the store with just a few rails of casual garments. It’s quite sparse, but I’m not risking leaving to try and get Miller to a shop with a wider range. It’ll give him too long to worm out of it. And on that thought, I swivel again to see if he’s braved venturing into the shop. He hasn’t.
On a sigh loud enough for him to hear, even from outside, I turn to find the assistant again. ‘I’ll have a look.’ I go to pass him, but he shifts on an uncomfortable shuffle of his portly body, blocking my path. I frown and throw him a questioning look as he runs disapproving eyes down my floral dress, all the way to my exposed pink toenails.
‘Miss,’ he begins, returning his beady eyes to mine, ‘you’ll find most shops here on Jermyn Street will be of the . . . how should I say?’ He hums in thought, but I don’t know why. He knows what he wants to say, and I know it, too. ‘The higher end of the clothing spectrum.’
My sass runs and hides. I’m not his typical clientele, and he isn’t afraid to voice it. ‘Right,’ I whisper, too many unwanted thoughts running through my mind. Like posh people eating posh food and drinking posh champagne . . . all of which I serve to them from time to time.
He smiles the most insincere smile and starts fiddling with the sleeve of a nearby shirt on a mannequin. ‘Maybe Oxford Street would be more suitable.’
I feel foolish, and this rotten man’s reaction to my enquiry has only confirmed my constant worries, and he hasn’t even seen Miller. That’ll shock him. Me with a finely dressed specimen such as Miller?
‘I believe the young lady would like to be shown the casual department.’ Miller’s voice creeps over my shoulders and makes them seize up. I’ve heard that tone. Only a few times before, but I’ll never forget or mistake it. He’s angry. I note the shop assistant’s widened eyes and stunned expression before I chance a very wary glance at Miller as he joins me in the store. To the man not trying to help me, I know he’ll look perfectly composed, but I can see the brimming fury. He’s not happy and I expect Mr My-Garments-Are-too-Posh-for-You will know about it very soon.
‘I’m sorry, sir. Is the young lady with you?’ I can see the surprise and it eats away all of the reassurance that Miller constantly fills me with. It’s gone. I’ll face this daily if I continue to try and immerse myself in Miller’s world. I know I’ll never leave him – not ever, not a chance – so it should be something that I must either learn to accept or learn to deal with better. I have copious amounts of sass for my uptight, part-time gentleman, but I seem to struggle on some occasions beyond that. Like now.
Miller’s arm slips around my waist and pulls me closer. I can feel the tightness of his strung-out muscles, and panic makes me want to remove him from the store before they release and knock this old guy on his plump arse. ‘Would it matter if she wasn’t?’ Miller asks tightly.
The man shifts and shuffles in his tweed, laughing nervously. ‘I thought I was being helpful,’ he insists.
‘You weren’t,’ Miller retorts. ‘She was shopping for me, not that it should matter.’
‘Of course!’ Stout Man gives Miller a quick appraisal, nodding his approval before carefully pulling down a white shirt. ‘I believe we have much that you would find appealing, sir.’
‘Probably.’ Miller shifts his hand to my neck and starts rubbing that reassurance back into me. He never fails. I’m warm and feeling less exposed to the demeaning words that have been directed at me, despite him being perfectly polite in his insult. Miller steps forward and runs a fingertip over the luxury material of the shirt, humming his approval. I watch him cautiously, still sensing those coiled muscles and knowing for damn sure that that hum of approval was entirely fake.
‘Wonderful piece,’ the assistant says proudly.
‘I beg to differ.’ Miller returns to my side. ‘And it could be made of the finest material money could buy, but I wouldn’t buy it from you.’ I’m turned by a gentle flex of his hold. ‘Good day, sir.’ We exit the store, leaving a dumbfounded man with a lovely white shirt hanging from his limp hands. ‘Fucking prick,’ Miller spits, pushing me onward.
I keep my mouth shut. I can’t even locate the need to be annoyed that I haven’t managed to get Miller interested in some casual clothes, and after that scene, my determination should be stronger. But I never want to face another confrontation such as that, not just because it was humiliating, but also because of my lingering worry about Miller’s temper. He looked feral, bordering on becoming that frightening creature who takes leave of his senses and doesn’t seem able to control himself.
I’m marched down the street, my heart sinking with each step we take when it becomes apparent that we’re heading for his car. That’s it? Our quality time together consisted of a reality check in a posh clothes store? Disappointed doesn’t cover it.
We arrive at Miller’s Mercedes, where he places me neatly in the passenger seat. I watch silently with careful eyes, not daring to voice my discontent as he steams around the front of the car and throws himself into the driver’s side.
He’s pissed off.
He’s breathing erratically.
The anger seems to be intensifying rather than dulling. I’m struck stupid, not knowing what to say or do. He slams the key into the ignition on a hiss, turns it, and revs the engine so hard I think the car might blow up. Sinking further into my seat, I start toying with my ring.
‘Fuck!’ he roars, smashing his fist into the centre of the steering wheel. The punch alone startles me, making me fly back in my seat, but the horn sounding off drags out my alarm. That nasty fear bolts through my speeding heart, but I keep my eyes on my lap. I can’t look at him. I know what I’ll see and Miller’s rage isn’t a pretty sight.<
It seems like for ever before the echo of the horn fades to nothing, leaving a ringing in my ears, and it’s even longer before I find the courage to glimpse at him. His forehead is resting on the steering wheel, his palms gripping the circle of leather, and his back is rising and falling erratically.
‘Miller?’ I say quietly as I lean forward a fraction, cautious, but I soon retreat when his palms lift and smash back down on another shout. He flings his body back into the seat, falls silent for a few, long moments, and then he yanks at the handle of the door, getting out and slamming it behind him. ‘Miller!’ I shout as he paces away from the car. ‘Shit!’ He’s going back to the shop! I blindly feel for the door handle, watching his long legs eat up the pavement, but then I halt my frenzied grappling when he comes to a sudden standstill and his hands fly into his hair. I’m frozen, weighing up the merits of trying to calm him down. I don’t relish the thought. Not at all. My heart continues to clatter in my chest, threatening to break free as I wait for his next move, praying he doesn’t push onward because there isn’t a chance on earth that I can stop him from doing whatever he intends to do.
My whole being relaxes a tad when I see his arms drop, and a little more when I see his head fall back on his shoulders, looking up to the heavens. He’s calming down, letting rationality push through the fuzz of rage. I swallow and follow his steps to a nearby wall, then relax even more on an inward sob when his palms meet the bricks and he braces himself, head dropped and his back rising and falling in a controlled, steady manner. He’s taking deep breaths. My hands relax in my lap and my back against the leather seat as I watch quietly, leaving him undisturbed while he gathers himself. It doesn’t take as long as I anticipated, and the relief that floods my seated form when he begins to straighten out his suit and hair is beyond comprehension. Enough air to fill a thousand balloons leaves my lungs on a thankful exhale. He’s pulled it back, although why he lost it so badly in such a silly situation is beyond me.
After spending a few minutes ensuring he’s presentable, Miller makes his way back to the car, opening the door calmly, sliding into the seat like liquid, calmly, and relaxing back in his seat, very calmly.
I wait cautiously.
He thinks deeply.
Then he turns to me with tortured blues and takes both of my hands, bringing them to his lips and closing his eyes. ‘I’m so sorry. Forgive me, please.’
A hint of a smile traces the edges of my lips at his plea and at his ability to revert from gentleman to madman to gentleman, all in the space of a few minutes. His temper is a worry that our relationship doesn’t need. ‘Why?’ I ask simply, pulling his eyes open and up. ‘That man wasn’t trying to interfere. He wasn’t driving a wedge between us or threatening our relationship.’
‘I beg to differ,’ Miller counters quietly. My brow wrinkles at his claim, more so when he insists on me joining him on his side of the car by tugging me over. He’s crumpled enough after his little flip-out, even though he’s spent plenty of time ironing himself out again. I’m positioned on his lap, my knees straddling his thighs, and my hands placed on his shoulders before he circles my waist with his palms. Drawing a deep breath, he firms up his grip of my waist and locks eyes with mine. They have lost their wildness and are now serious. ‘He most certainly was driving a wedge between us, Livy.’
I try to hold back my confusion but my face muscles let me down and I’m awash with perplexity before I can retract it. ‘How?’
‘What were you thinking?’
He sighs deeply, frustration starting to brim. ‘When that pri—’ He snaps his mouth shut and rethinks his words before continuing. ‘When that undesirable gentleman was speaking to you, what were you thinking?’
I catch his drift immediately. He really doesn’t want to know what I was thinking. It’ll make him mad again, so I shrug, dropping my eyes and keeping my mouth firmly sealed. I’m not risking it.
Miller lightly digs into my flesh with a flex of his fingertips. ‘Don’t deprive me of that face, Olivia.’
‘You know what I was thinking.’ I refuse to look at him.
‘Please look at me when we’re talking.’
I take my eyes straight to his. ‘I fucking hate your manners sometimes.’ I’m cranky because he’s nailed me and my thought process, and I’m thrilled because his soft lips are batting off the threat of a smile at my sass.
‘What were you thinking?’
‘Why do you want me to say it?’ I ask. ‘What point are you trying to prove?’
‘Okay, I’ll say it. I’ll explain why I very nearly returned to teach that man some manners.’
‘Go on, then,’ I goad.
‘Every time someone makes you unhappy or speaks to you in such a way, it makes you overthink. You know how I feel about overthinking.’ He nudges me again, reinforcing his point.
‘Yes, I know.’
‘And my gorgeous, sweet girl already overthinks too much all on her own.’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘So when these people get your lovely little mind racing further, I get mad because you start doubting us.’
I narrow my eyes on him, but I can’t deny it. He’s one hundred per cent right. ‘Yes, I know.’ My teeth are clenched.
His voice drops. ‘And that heightens the risk of you leaving me. You’ll conclude these people are right and leave me. So, yes, they are driving a wedge between us. They are interfering, and when it comes to people poking their noses into our relationship, then I have something to say about it.’
‘You have more than something to say!’
‘Well, that’s a relief.’
He frowns. ‘What is?’
‘Your agreement.’ I remove my hands from his shoulders and lean back against the steering wheel, keen to put as much distance between us as possible. It’s hardly worth it, in all honesty. ‘I think you need anger management or therapy or something.’ I blurt it all before I can chicken out. Then I brace myself for his scoff.
But it doesn’t come. In fact, he laughs a little. ‘Olivia, enough people have intruded on my life. I’m not going to invite a stranger in to interfere some more.’
‘They won’t interfere. They’ll help.’
‘I beg to differ.’ He gazes at me fondly, like I’m naive. ‘I’ve been there. I think it was concluded that I’m beyond help.’
My heart dies a little. He’s already tried therapy? ‘You’re not beyond help.’
‘You’re right,’ he answers, surprising me and filling me with hope. ‘All the help I need is sitting on my lap.’
My optimism is sucked up in a second. ‘So you behaved like a loon before you met me?’ I ask doubtfully, already knowing that he’s never touched rage like he has since I’ve been in his perfect life. That little line of thought is laughable. Perfect life? No, Miller tries to make it perfect by keeping everything surrounding him perfect – namely his appearance and his possessions, and given that it has been established that I am also one of Miller’s possessions, then that means me, too. And that’s the problem. I’m not perfect. I’m not impeccably dressed or impeccably mannered, and it’s sending my finicky Miller and his perfectness spiralling into chaos. I’m all the help he needs? He’s putting an obscene amount of pressure on my shoulders.
‘I’m a loon now?’
‘Your temper really isn’t something to toy with,’ I say quietly, remembering Miller delivering those words and now appreciating his warning fully.
His palm slips around my neck and pulls me gently forward until we’re forehead to forehead. He’s already distracted me from my undesirable thoughts with his touch on my skin and his eyes stuck to mine, but I can tell that I’m about to be distracted further. ‘I’m madly fascinated by you, Olivia Taylor.’ He ensures our eyes hold. ‘You fill my dark world with light and my hollow heart with feelings. I’ve persistently informed you that I’ll never go down easily.’ Soft lips meld to mine and we share the
On an agreeable sigh and a happy skip of my heart, I encase Miller in my hold and spend a few blissful moments expressing my understanding. And he accepts. The fluidity of our joined mouths yanks me from the harsh reality we’re faced with and puts me firmly back into Miller’s realm, where comfort, anxiety, safety and danger all conflict with one another. In Miller’s eyes, everyone is trying to interfere, and sadly he is probably right. I’ve taken the day off work under Miller’s instruction so we can spend some quality time together after yesterday’s diabolical events and this morning’s fright. He’s trying to repair the mess of the past couple of days, and I need no one to interfere – not just today, but ever.
‘I’m glad we’ve cleared that up,’ Miller mumbles, nibbling at my lips. He pulls his head back and leaves me a worked-up pile of hormones on his lap. Hot. Wanton. Blinded by perfection. ‘Let’s be on our way.’ My lithe body is transferred to the passenger seat with care before he starts the engine and pulls into the traffic.
‘Where are we going?’ I ask, the disappointment of our day being cut too short still rife.
He doesn’t answer, instead twiddling a few buttons on his steering wheel, prompting the Stone Roses to join us in the car. I smile, rest back in my chair while humming to ‘Waterfall’, and let him take me wherever he likes.
I look up at the posh windows of Harrods, remembering my last visit here with Nan. I remember Cassie. And I remember a pink silk tie cascading down Miller’s chest. All are things I’d like to forget, and I groan my annoyance at the reminders. But I’m ignored, and Miller slips from the car and rounds it to collect me. He opens the door and offers his hand, and I let my eyes slowly climb up his body until my exasperated gaze settles on his contented one. He flashes me an expectant look as his hand thrusts forward in prompt. ‘Chop-chop.’
‘I’ve changed my mind,’ I say coolly, ignoring his demand for
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