Promised, p.34
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       Promised, p.34

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  my feet, running his eyes down my body. I’m still wearing his shirt, buttons undone, hanging open, and it’s creased beyond creased. ‘Look at the state of that,’ he muses on a subtle shake of his head. And just like that, he’s switched back to perfect, precise Miller Hart, like I haven’t just confessed my love for him.

  ‘Maybe you should invest in non-iron shirts,’ I say thoughtfully, pulling the two sides together.

  ‘Cheap material.’ He pushes my hands away and starts buttoning me up, and even straightens the collar before nodding his half-hearted approval and taking my nape.

  He’s already wearing a pair of shorts, which means only one thing. While I was having terrible nightmares, my finicky, fine Miller was tidying up.

  ‘Please, sit,’ he says when we arrive in the kitchen, releasing me from his grasp. ‘What would you like?’

  I park my bum on the chair, the coolness on my bottom reminding me that I have no knickers on. ‘I’ll have what you’re having.’

  ‘Well, I’m having bruschetta. Will you join me?’ He takes numerous containers from the fridge and turns the grill on.

  He means tomatoes, I think. ‘Sure,’ I reply, placing my hands in my lap in preparation for him to set the eating area. I should offer to help but I know my consideration won’t be appreciated. Nevertheless, I do anyway. I might surprise myself – and Miller – and get it all right. ‘I’ll lay the table.’ I get up, not missing the tensing of his shoulders as he slowly turns towards me.

  ‘No, please, let me tend to you.’ He’s using his whole worshipping business as an excuse to prevent me from screwing up his perfection.

  ‘I’d like to.’ I dismiss his worry and make my way over to the cupboard where I know the dishes to be, while Miller reluctantly starts coating some bread with olive oil. ‘Why didn’t you just tell me about your club?’ I ask, keen to distract him from the potential of his sweet girl screwing up his perfect table. I slide two plates from the cupboard and make my way back to the table, setting them down neatly.

  He’s wary, his eyes flicking from the plates to me as he finishes up with the oil. ‘I told you. I don’t like mixing business with pleasure.’

  ‘So you’ll never talk about work with me?’ I ask, heading for the stack of drawers.

  ‘No. It’s draining.’ He slides the tray full of bread under the grill and sets about tidying up the mess that isn’t there. ‘When I’m with you, I want to concentrate on only you.’

  I falter as I collect two pairs of knives and forks. ‘I can live with that,’ I say on a small smile.

  ‘Who said you have a choice?’

  My smile widens as I face him. ‘I don’t want a choice.’

  ‘Then this is a pointless conversation, wouldn’t you agree?’

  ‘Agreed.’

  ‘I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.’ he says seriously, pulling the lightly toasted bread from under the grill. ‘Would you like wine with your supper?’

  Again, I’m faltering, certain I’ve not heard him right. After everything I’ve told him? ‘I’ll have water.’ I pad back to the island.

  ‘With bruschetta?’ He sounds disgusted. ‘No, you have chianti with bruschetta. There’s a bottle on the drinks cabinet and the glasses are in the left-hand cupboard.’ He nods towards the lounge while neatly spooning the prepared tomato mixture onto the toast and setting it on a white platter.

  After placing the knives and forks as accurately as possible, I make my way to the drinks cabinet, finding dozens of wine bottles, all displayed in tidy rows, labels facing outward. Not daring to touch them, I bend slightly to start reading the labels, getting through every single bottle and finding nothing named chianti. I straighten and frown, running my eyes over all of the bottles gracing the surface of the cabinet, noting them grouped according to the alcoholic drink contained in each one. It’s then I see a basket containing a dumpy bottle and as I close in, I see the label says ‘Chianti’. It’s also open.

  ‘Bingo.’ I smile, taking the bottle from the wicker container and opening the left cupboard to pick two glasses. They all sparkle when the artificial light from the room hits the cut glass, and I admire the shards of light ricocheting between them for a few moments, before collecting two and making my way back. ‘Chianti and two glasses,’ I declare, holding up my finds, but quickly halting when I see my effort to lay a perfect table has been a complete waste of time. He’s just tweaking the freshly laundered napkins into accurate triangles to the left side of each place setting as he looks up.

  I’m frowning at him, but he’s frowning at me, too. I have no idea why. He studies the bottle, then the glasses, and in total exasperation, strides over and takes it all from my hands. I’m completely dismayed as I watch him take it all back to the cabinet, putting the bottle back in the basket and the glasses back in the cupboard. I saw the label. It said ‘Chianti’, and I may not be a connoisseur of wine, but they were definitely wine glasses.

  My frown only deepens when he takes two other glasses from the very same cupboard, and then takes the basket containing the wine and starts back across the room. ‘Are you going to sit?’ he asks, ushering me to the table when he reaches me.

  I answer him by lowering my bum to the chair and watching as he sets the glasses down to the right side above the knives. Then he puts the basket containing the wine between us. Not happy with the items’ final resting places, he shifts them all before taking the wine and pouring a few inches into my glass.

  ‘What did I do?’ I ask, still frowning.

  ‘Chianti is traditionally kept in a fiasco.’ He pours himself a few inches, too. ‘And the glasses you picked are for white wine.’

  Looking at the glasses, now a fraction full of red wine, I frown even more. ‘Does it matter?’

  He looks at me all shocked, and on a little gape of his luscious mouth. ‘Yes, of course it matters. Red wine glasses are wider because the increased exposure to air helps the deeper and more multifaceted flavours of red wine to develop fully.’ He takes a sip and rolls it around his mouth for a few seconds. I half expect him to spit it out, but he doesn’t. He swallows and continues. ‘The greater surface area allows higher air exposure and the wider bowl of a red wine glass allows more wine to be exposed at any one time.’

  I’m speechless and feeling rather uncultured and intimidated. ‘I knew that,’ I grumble, picking up my own glass. ‘You’re such a smart arse.’

  He’s fighting a smile, I know it. I wish he’d just loosen up with the sophistication and uptight manners that being at a dinner table especially brings, and flash me that heart-stopping smile. ‘I’m a smart arse because I appreciate beautiful things?’ He raises his perfect eyebrows as he raises his perfect glass containing the perfect wine, taking a perfectly slow and suggestive sip with those perfect lips.

  ‘Appreciate or obsess about?’ I put the word out there because if there’s one thing about Miller Hart that I’m absolutely certain of, it’s that he’s obsessive, and he’s obsessive about most things in his life. And I hope that one of those things is me.

  ‘I’m more inclined to appreciate.’

  ‘I’m more inclined to obsess.’

  He cocks his head, amused. ‘Are you talking in code, sweet girl?’

  ‘Are you good at cracking codes?’

  ‘The master,’ he utters low, licking his lips, making me squirm on my chair. ‘I’ve cracked you.’ He tips his glass toward me. ‘I’ve also conquered you.’

  I can’t argue with him; he has, so I reach over and take some bruschetta. ‘This looks delicious.’

  ‘I concur,’ he says, taking a piece for himself. I sink my teeth in on a satisfied hum, quickly noting that I’m being looked at in disapproval again. My chewing slows, wondering what I’ve done now. I soon find out. He picks up his knife and fork and makes a stupidly slow display of slicing his way through the bread before slowly taking the piece from the fork and setting his cutlery down neatly. He starts to chew as he watches me heating with embarrassmen
t. I need to take some lessons in refinement.

  ‘Do I annoy you?’ I ask, setting down my bruschetta and following his lead.

  ‘Annoy me?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Far from it, Livy. Except when you’re being a little reckless.’ He hits me with a disapproving look, which I choose to sidestep. ‘You fascinate me.’

  ‘With my common ways?’ I ask quietly.

  ‘You’re not common.’

  ‘No, you’re right. You’re a snob . . .’ I pause briefly as he coughs his surprise. ‘Sometimes,’ I add. My beautiful man in disguise is generally a gentleman, except when he’s being an arrogant twat.

  ‘I don’t think well-mannered classifies as snobbery.’

  ‘You’re more than well-mannered, Miller.’ I sigh, resisting the urge to put my elbows on the table. ‘I quite like it, though.’

  ‘Like I’ve said before, Livy. Take me as I am.’

  ‘I have.’

  ‘As I have you.’

  I recoil on the inside, a little injured by his remark. He means that he’s accepted my shameful history and lack of manners, that’s what he means – I’ve accepted him for being a part-time gentleman with a fascinating compulsion to have everything in his life perfect, while he’s accepted me for being a careless tart who doesn’t know her white wine glass from her red. He’s right, though, and I’m glad he’s accepted me, but he doesn’t need to remind me of my shortcomings.

  ‘Overthinking, Livy,’ he says quietly, snapping me from my mental deliberation.

  ‘I’m sorry. I just don’t understand . . .

  ‘You’re being silly.’

  ‘I don’t think—’

  ‘Stop it!’ he shouts, shifting his recently placed wine glass at the same time. ‘Just accept that it’s happening, like I said it would.’ I retreat in my chair cautiously, keeping quiet. ‘I’ve already told you that I don’t necessarily understand, but it’s happening and there is nothing neither I nor you can, or should, do about it.’ He swipes his glass up, making his action of a second ago completely pointless, and takes a violent swig – not a sip, he doesn’t savour the taste; he swigs it.

  He’s really mad.

  ‘Shit,’ he spits, slamming his glass down and grabbing his head. ‘Livy, I . . .’ He sighs and pushes himself out of his chair, holding his hands out to me. ‘Please, come here.’

  I sigh too, getting up from the table on a frustrated shake of my head and making my way around to him, quickly climbing onto his lap and letting him apologise with his thing.

  ‘I apologise,’ he whispers, kissing my hair. ‘It upsets me when you talk like that, like you’re not worthy. I’m the unworthy one.’

  ‘Not true,’ I say, pulling back so I can get his lovely face in my sight. And it really is lovely, his signature shadow holding fort and his light-blue eyes glistening. Reaching up, I take a wave of his hair and twist it gently between my fingers.

  ‘We’ll agree to disagree.’ He drops his mouth to mine and reinforces his apology with a lazy dance of his tongue with mine. The world is right again, but the flashes of that temper he’s warned me of are becoming a concern. He always looks momentarily feral, and I can see with clarity his battle to rein it in.

  After apologising thoroughly, he turns me around on his lap and feeds me some bruschetta, and then takes some for himself. We eat in a comfortable silence, but I’m a bit bemused that Miller’s table manners accept me on his lap, but it won’t accept the bottle of wine slightly off position.

  It’s all calm and lovely until the sound of his iPhone breaks our peaceful supper, ringing persistently from somewhere behind me. ‘Excuse me,’ he says, lifting me from his lap and pacing over to a set of shelves by the fridge. I definitely see a look of irritation when he glances at the screen before answering. ‘Miller Hart.’ He walks from the kitchen, leaving me to settle back on my chair. ‘It’s no problem,’ he assures whoever’s on the other end of the line, his bare back disappearing from view.

  I take the opportunity while he’s away from the table to study the set-up, again trying to work out if there’s a theory to his madness. I reach over and pick up the platter in a silly test to see if there is an outline which marks its place. Of course there isn’t, but it doesn’t stop me from picking up my plate to check under there too. Nothing. Smiling, I reach the swift conclusion that there are outlines for everything, but only Miller can see them. Then I take my red wine glass and stick my nose in the top before sipping cautiously.

  My attention is pulled to Miller when he re-enters the kitchen and pops his phone back where it belongs in the docking station. ‘That was the manager of Ice.’

  ‘The manager?’

  ‘Yes, Tony. He takes care of things in my absence.’

  ‘Oh.’

  ‘I have an interview tomorrow. He was just confirming times.’

  ‘An interview for a newspaper?’

  ‘Yes, about the opening of London’s new elite club.’ He starts loading the dishwasher. ‘Six tomorrow evening. Would you like to come with me?’

  My spirits lift to stupid heights. ‘I thought you didn’t mix business with pleasure.’ I arch an eyebrow at him, and he arches one right back, making me grin.

  ‘Would you like to come?’ he repeats.

  I’m smiling properly now. ‘Where is it?’

  ‘At Ice. I’ll take you for dinner after.’ He casts me a sideways glance. ‘It’s rude not to accept a gentleman’s offer to wine and dine you,’ he says seriously. ‘Ask your grandmother.’

  I laugh and start to collect the dishes from the table. ‘Offer accepted.’

  ‘Jolly good, Miss Taylor.’ There’s humour in his tone, and it widens my smile. ‘May I suggest you call your grandmother?’

  ‘You may.’ I slide the last of the dishes on the counter, leaving Miller to reshuffle and load. ‘Which drawer will I find my things in?’

  ‘Second from bottom. And be quick. I have a habit that I want to lose myself with under the sheets.’ He’s serious and stern . . . and I couldn’t care less.

  Chapter 21

  I drifted off to the calming tone of Miller humming sweetly in my ear, kissing my hair repeatedly and surrounding me in his thing. I know he got out of bed to pick up his boxers and shirt that I left strewn on the floor, but he was soon back, cuddling up behind me.

  When I woke, he was already up, showered and suited with his side of the bed made. I lay there for a few moments, thinking how me entering his life has played havoc with his perfectly assembled and organised world before I was ordered to get up and get dressed. With a lack of other clothes, I was delivered home in my freshly laundered dress, much to Nan’s delight.

  After showering, texting Gregory to advise him that I’m alive, and readying myself for work, I dart down the stairs with only twenty minutes to get my happy arse to the bistro. Nan’s waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, her cheerful face a pleasure to see, but the diary in her hand, not so much.

  ‘Ask Miller about dinner,’ she orders as I slip my denim jacket on. She flicks the pages of her diary and runs her wrinkled finger down the dates. ‘I can do tonight, but I can’t do tomorrow or Wednesday. Tonight’s cutting it a little fine, but I have time to pop to Harrods. Or we could do Saturday . . . oh, no we can’t. I have a tea and cakes meeting.’

  ‘Miller has an interview this evening.’

  Her old navy blues fly up in surprise. ‘An interview?’

  ‘Yes, for the new bar he’s opened.’

  ‘Miller owns a bar? Goodness me!’ She snaps her diary shut. ‘You mean to say he’ll be in the paper?’

  ‘Yes.’ I swing my satchel across my body. ‘He’s picking me up from work so I won’t be here for tea.’

  ‘How exciting! How about Saturday for dinner? I can rearrange my diary.’

  It staggers me how my grandmother’s social life is more active than mine . . . or it was until recently. ‘I’ll ask him,’ I pacify her, opening the front door.

 
Call him now.’

  I turn on a frown. ‘I’ll be seeing him later.’

  ‘No, no.’ She points to my satchel. ‘I need to know now. I’ll have to go shopping and call the community centre to rearrange the tea and cakes meeting. I can’t just fall into line with you and Miller.’

  I inwardly laugh. ‘Let’s have dinner next week, then,’ I suggest, solving the problem immediately.

  Her old, thin lips purse. ‘Make the call!’ she insists, prompting me to immediately dive into my bag for my phone. I can’t deny her the excitement, not now Miller and I seem to be on the same page.

  ‘Okay,’ I soothe, dialling Miller under her watchful eyes.

  He answers in an instant. ‘Miller Hart,’ he says, all formal and businesslike.

  I frown down the line. ‘Do you have my number stored?’

 
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