Promised, p.3
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       Promised, p.3

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  Her serious face grins. ‘It’s closing time. Would you like to let him know that it’s time to go?’

  Stupidly, I’m battling off the shakes again at the thought of looking at him, and I chastise myself for it. ‘Yes, I’ll tell him,’ I declare with all the confidence I’m not feeling. Rolling my shoulders back, I walk with sureness past Sylvie and into the bistro, coming to an abrupt halt when I see he’s gone. The strangest sensation comes over me as I scan the area, feeling a bizarre sense of desertion mixed with disappointment.

  ‘Oh. Where’s he gone?’ Sylvie whines, pushing past me.

  ‘I don’t know,’ I whisper, slowly walking to the abandoned sofa and picking up a half-drunk coffee and three pound coins. I separate the napkin that’s stuck to the bottom of the saucer and start to screw it up, but some black lines catch my attention and I’m quickly unravelling it with one hand and flattening it on the table.

  I gasp. Then I get a little mad.

  Probably the worst Americano that I’ve ever insulted my mouth with.

  M.

  My face screws up in disgust, along with the napkin as I ball it and stuff it in the cup. The arrogant arsehole. Nothing makes me mad, and I know it exasperates my grandmother and Gregory, but I’m really heated with annoyance now. And it really is over something quite silly. But then I’m not sure if it’s because I failed to make good coffee when I’ve been doing so well, or simply because the perfect man didn’t approve of it. And what does M stand for, anyway?

  After disposing of the cup, the saucer, and the offending napkin, then locking up with Sylvie, I finally reach the conclusion that M stands for Moron.

  Chapter 2

  Del leads us through the staff entrance of the hotel, dishing out instructions, pointing to the serving area and ensuring that we’re aware of the type of clientele.

  Bottom line: posh.

  I can deal with that. Once I’d checked on Nan, she virtually pushed me out the front door and chucked my black Converse out after me before she went to get ready for bingo with George at the local oldies group.

  ‘Never leave anyone with an empty glass,’ Del calls over his shoulder, leading on, ‘and ensure all empties are delivered back to the kitchen so they can be washed and refilled.’

  I follow Sylvie, who’s following Del, listening intently as I pile my heavy hair up and secure it with a hair tie. It sounds easy enough, and I absolutely love people-watching so tonight could be fun.

  ‘Here.’ Del stops and thrusts a round silver tray at both of us, looking down at my feet. ‘You didn’t have any black flats?’

  Following his line of sight, I look down and pull my black trousers up a little. ‘These are black.’ I wriggle my toes within my Converse, thinking how much more my feet would hurt if I were wearing anything else.

  He doesn’t say any more; just rolls his eyes and leads on until we’re in a chaotic kitchen space where dozens of hotel staff are flying around, shouting and barking orders at each other. I move closer to Sylvie as we continue walking. ‘Is it just us?’ I ask, suddenly a little alarmed. All of the frantic activity suggests a lot of guests.

  ‘No, there will be the agency staff he uses, too. We’re back-ups.’

  ‘Does he do this a lot, then?’

  ‘It’s his main income. I don’t know why he keeps the bistro.’

  I nod thoughtfully to myself. ‘Doesn’t the hotel provide a catering service?’

  ‘Oh yes, but the type of people you’re about to feed and water call the shots, and if they want Del, they’ll have Del. He’s notorious in this game. You have to try his canapés.’ She kisses her fingertips, making me laugh.

  My boss shows us around the room where the function is being held and introduces us to the many other waiters and waitresses, all looking bored and inconvenienced. This is obviously a regular thing for them, but not me. I’m looking forward to it.

  ‘Ready?’ Sylvie places a final glass of champagne onto my tray. ‘Now, the trick is to hold it on your palm.’ She picks up her own tray, her palm underneath in the centre. ‘Then swing it up onto your shoulder, like this.’ In one fluid movement, the tray glides through the air and lands on her shoulder, without even a chink from glasses touching. I’m fascinated. ‘See?’ The tray glides back down from her shoulder until it’s at waist level again. ‘When offering, hold it here, and when you’re moving around, keep it up here.’ The tray swishes through the air, landing on her shoulder perfectly again. ‘Remember to relax when you’re on the move. Don’t be stiff. You try.’

  I slide my full tray from the counter and position my palm in the centre. ‘It’s not heavy,’ I muse, surprised.

  ‘Yes, but remember when empty glasses start replacing full glasses it’ll get even lighter, so bear that in mind when you’re transferring it up and down.’

  ‘Okay.’ I swivel my wrist, taking the tray up to my shoulder with ease. I smile brightly, taking it back down again.

  ‘You’re a natural.’ Sylvie laughs. ‘Let’s go.’

  Transferring the tray back to my shoulder, I swivel on my Converse and head towards the increasing sound of chatting and laughing that’s coming from the function room.

  On entering, my navy eyes widen, taking in the wealth, the gowns and the dinner jackets. But I don’t feel nervous. I feel stupidly excited. This is people-watching at its best.

  Without waiting for any prompt from Sylvie, I lose myself in the growing crowds, presenting my tray to groups of people and smiling, whether they thank me or not. Most don’t, but it doesn’t dampen my mood. I’m in my element, and I’m surprised by it. The tray glides up and down with ease, my body shifts effortlessly through the masses of wealth, and I dance back and forth to the kitchen time and time again to restock and redeliver.

  ‘You’re doing good, Livy,’ Del tells me, just as I’m leaving with another trayload of champagne flutes.

  ‘Thank you!’ I sing, keen to get myself back to my thirsty crowd. I catch Sylvie across the room, and she smiles, encouraging a further beam from me. ‘Champagne?’ I ask, presenting my tray to a group of six middle-aged men, all kitted out in dinner jackets and bow ties.

  ‘Ah! Bloody marvellous!’ a stout man gushes, taking a glass and handing it to one of his companions. He does this a further four times before taking one for himself. ‘You’re doing a fine job, young lady.’ His free hand moves toward me and slips into my pocket as he winks. ‘Treat yourself.’

  ‘Oh no!’ I shake my head. I won’t take money from a man. ‘Sir, I get paid by my boss. You really mustn’t.’ I try to retrieve the note from my pocket while holding the tray steady on my palm. ‘We don’t expect tips.’

  ‘I won’t hear of it,’ he insists, pulling my hand from my pocket. ‘And it’s not a tip. It’s for the pleasure of seeing such beautiful eyes.’

  I immediately blush bright red, stumped for anything to say. He must be sixty, if a day! ‘Sir, really, I can’t accept it.’

  ‘Nonsense!’ He dismisses me with a snort and a wave of his chubby hand, before returning to the chatter of his group, leaving me wondering what the hell to do.

  I scan the room but I can’t see Sylvie to ask and Del is nowhere in sight, so I quickly offload the remaining glasses before heading back to the kitchens, finding Del tweaking canapés.

  ‘Del, someone gave me this.’ I slap the note on the counter, feeling better already for confessing, but my eyes bug when I see it’s a fifty. A fifty? What’s he thinking?

  I’m even more stunned when Del starts laughing. ‘Livy, you star. Keep it.’

  ‘I can’t!’

  ‘Yes you can. These people have more money than sense. Take it as a compliment.’ He pushes the fifty towards me and continues arranging the tiny flatbreads.

  I don’t feel any better. ‘I’ve only served him a glass of champagne,’ I say quietly. ‘It hardly justifies a fifty-pound tip.’

  ‘No, it doesn’t, but like I said, take it as a compliment. Put it back in your pocket and get serving.
He nods at my empty tray, reminding me that it is, in fact, empty.

  ‘Oh! Yes, sure.’ I fly into action, stuffing the obscene tip in my pocket, ready to dispose of it later, and reload my tray before quickly making my way back into the crowd. I avoid the gent who’s just thrown away fifty pounds and circle in the other direction, halting at the back of a red satin gown. ‘Champagne, madam?’ I ask, flicking a gaze across to Sylvie. She nods her reassurance once more, smiling, but I don’t need it. I’m nailing this.

  I turn my attention back to the satin-adorned woman, who has glossy black poker-straight hair falling to her pert bum. I smile as she turns towards me, revealing her companion.

  A man.

  Him.

  M.

  I don’t know how I prevent the tray of freshly filled champagne glasses from falling to the floor, but I do. I don’t, however, prevent my smile from falling. His lips are parted again, his eyes stabbing at my flesh, but there’s no emotion on his exquisite face. His dark stubble is absent, leaving nothing but perfect tanned skin beneath, and his dark hair is a little less tousled, instead falling in perfect waves to the tops of his ears.

  ‘Thank you,’ the woman says slowly, taking a glass and pulling my eyes away from the strange man. A huge, sparkling, diamond-encrusted cross is suspended from her delicate neck, the brilliant stones nestling just north of her breasts. I’ve no doubt it’s real. ‘Would you like?’ She turns to him, holding up the glass.

  He doesn’t say anything. He just takes the glass from her perfectly manicured hand, all the time keeping his shocking blue eyes on me.

  He’s not at all receptive, and far from warm, but there’s something strange burning inside me as I gaze at his face. It’s something I’ve never experienced before – something that makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable . . . but not frightened.

  The woman helps herself to another glass, and I know it’s time for me to leave, but I can’t move. I feel like I should smile, anything to break the staring deadlock, but what usually comes so naturally to me is completely failing me now. Nothing is working, except my eyes and they’re refusing to break from his.

  ‘That will be all,’ the woman prompts harshly, making me jump. Her delicate features are screwed up in annoyance and her dark eyes have darkened further. She has a stunning face, even if it’s scowling at me right now. ‘I said, that is all.’ She steps between me and M.

  M? I decide right here and now that M is for mystery, because he really is. I say nothing as I finally swing my tray back onto my shoulder and slowly turn, walking away, feeling compelled to glance over my shoulder because I know he’s still staring at me and I’m wondering how that might be going down with his girlfriend. So I look, and it’s as I suspected – steely blues burning holes into my back.

  ‘Hey!’

  I jump out of my skin, the tray tumbling from my hands, and I can do nothing to stop it. The glasses seem to float down to the marble, champagne trickling slowly from the flutes, the tray spinning in mid-air until it all comes together in a collective crash on the hard floor, silencing the room. I’m frozen on the spot as broken glass dances around my feet, seeming to take forever to settle, the piercing, drawn-out noise ringing through the quiet space around me. My eyes are cast downward, my body tense, and I know all attention is pointed at me.

  Just me.

  Everyone is looking at me.

  And I don’t know what to do.

  ‘Livy!’ Sylvie’s panicked voice snaps my despairing head up, and I see her hurrying towards me, her brown eyes concerned. ‘Are you okay?’

  I nod and kneel to start collecting the broken glass, wincing as a red-hot pain shoots through my knee, and the material of my trousers is sliced through. ‘Shit!’ I pull in a sharp breath, tears immediately pinching the backs of my eyes. They’re a combination of pain and pure embarrassment. I don’t like any attention on me, and I do a good job to avoid and repel it, but I can’t escape this. I’ve brought a room full of hundreds of people to an eerie quiet. I want to run away.

  ‘Don’t touch it, Livy!’ Sylvie pulls me up, giving me an all-over assessment. She must conclude that I look ready to break down because I’m quickly dragged to the kitchen, removing me from my audience. ‘Jump up.’ She pats the counter and I lift myself, still fighting back tears. She takes the hem of my trousers and lifts up until my wound is exposed. ‘Youch!’ She flinches at the clean slice and steps back, looking up at me. ‘I’m shit with blood, Livy. Was that the guy from the bistro?’

  ‘Yes,’ I whisper, shrinking when I see Del approaching, but he doesn’t look annoyed.

  ‘Livy, are you okay?’ He hunkers down and performs his own little grimace at my leaking kneecap.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ I whisper. ‘I don’t know what happened.’ He’ll probably sack me on the spot for causing such a spectacle.

  ‘Hey, hey.’ He straightens his body, his narrow face softening completely. ‘Accidents happen, honey.’

  ‘I’ve caused such a drama.’

  ‘That’s enough,’ he says sternly, turning to the wall and unhooking the first-aid case. ‘It’s not the end of the world.’ He opens up the box and fishes around until he lays his hands on an antiseptic wipe and tears it open. My teeth grit as he gently swipes it across my knee, the stinging making me hiss and stiffen. ‘Sorry, but it needs cleaning.’

  I hold my breath as he undertakes my clean-up operation, finishing by taping square gauze to my knee and lifting me down from the worktop. ‘Can you walk okay?’

  ‘Sure.’ I flex my knee and smile my thanks before collecting a new tray.

  ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he asks, frowning.

  ‘I . . .’

  ‘Oh no,’ he laughs. ‘God bless you, Livy. Go to the loo and sort yourself out.’ He points to the exit across the kitchen.

  ‘But I’m fine,’ I insist, even though I don’t feel it, not because my knee’s sore but because I’m not looking forward to facing my spectators or M. I’ll just have to keep my head down, avoid a certain steel stare and see my shift through with no further mishaps.

  ‘Toilet!’ Del orders, taking the tray and placing it on the counter. ‘Now.’ He rests his hands on my shoulders and guides me to the door, not giving me the opportunity to protest further. ‘Go.’

  I force a smile through my lingering embarrassment and leave behind the chaos of the kitchen, stepping into the huge room and striving to hurry through unnoticed. I know I’ve failed – the feeling of sharp blue eyes prickling my skin everywhere confirming it. I feel like a let-down. I feel incompetent, foolish and fragile. But most of all, I feel exposed.

  I navigate the plush carpeted corridor until I push my way through two doors and land in the ridiculously extravagant washroom, kitted out in cream marble and shiny gold at every turn. I almost don’t want to use the facilities. The first thing I do is take the fifty from my pocket and gaze at it for a few moments. Then I screw it up and throw it in the bin. I’m not taking money from a man. I wash my hands before presenting myself to the gigantic gold-framed mirror to retie my hair, sighing when I’m confronted by haunted sapphire eyes. Curious eyes.

  I don’t pay much attention when the door opens, and continue to tuck some wayward strands of hair behind my ears. But then there’s someone behind me, casting a shadow over my face as I lean into the mirror. M. I gasp and jump back, straight into the body that’s just as hard and lean as I’d imagined.

  ‘You’re in the ladies’,’ I breathe, swinging around to face him. I try to put some distance between us but I don’t get very far with the sink behind me. Through my shock, I allow myself to drink in his closeness – his three-piece suit, his clean-shaven face. He smells out of this world, all manly with a touch of earthy wood. It’s an intoxicating cocktail. Everything about him sends my sensible being into a tailspin.

  He steps forward, closing the already narrow space between us, and then shocks me by kneeling and gently lifting the leg of my trouser. I’m pushing myself back ag
ainst the sink unit, holding my breath, just watching him run his thumb softly over the gauze hiding my cut.

  ‘Does it hurt?’ he asks quietly, lifting those incredible blue eyes to mine. I can’t talk, so I shake my head a little and watch as he slowly stands back up to his full height. He’s thoughtful for a few moments before he speaks again. ‘I need to force myself to stay away from you.’

  I don’t point out that he’s doing a terrible job of that. I can’t take my eyes off those lips. ‘Why do you need to force yourself?’

  His hand meets my forearm, and it takes every ounce of my strength not to flinch at the heat radiating through me from his touch. ‘Because you seem like a sweet girl who should get more from a man than the best fuck of your life.’

  My lack of astonishment shocks me. Instead, I feel relieved, even if he’s just promised to fuck me and nothing more. He’s taken by me, too, and that confirmation pulls my eyes up to meet his. ‘Maybe I want that.’ I’m goading him, encouraging him, when I should be running in the other direction.

  He seems to drift into thought as he concentrates on the soft trail of his fingertip travelling up my arm. ‘You want more than that.’

 
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