Promised, p.35
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       Promised, p.35

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  ‘Of course.’

  ‘Then why are you answering like you don’t know who it is?’

  ‘Habit.’

  I shake my head and glance up to see Nan frowning, too. ‘Are you available Saturday evening?’ I ask, feeling incredibly awkward under my grandmother’s observation. It’s times like now, when he’s reserved and clipped, that he defies the tender man who I’m faced with when he’s out of those suits and has me to himself.

  ‘Are you asking me on a date?’ I can hear a hint of amusement in his tone.

  ‘No, my nan is. She’d like you to come for dinner again.’ I feel like such a juvenile.

  ‘It would be my pleasure,’ he says. ‘I’ll bring my buns.’

  I can’t help the burst of laughter that slips out, making Nan look offended. ‘Nan will be pleased.’

  ‘Who wouldn’t?’ he asks cockily. ‘See you after work, sweet girl.’

  I disconnect the call and leave Nan in the hallway as I practically skip down the path from the house.

  ‘Well?’ she calls, as she follows me out.

  ‘You have a date!’

  ‘What was so funny?’

  ‘Miller’s bringing his buns!’ I shout back.

  ‘But I was going to make my pineapple upside-down cake!’

  I laugh to myself, all the way to work.

  ‘I might need you on Sunday night, Livy,’ Del says towards the end of my shift. ‘Do you think you could help me out? Big event. I need as many hands as I can get.’

  ‘Sure.’

  ‘Sylvie?’ he asks, nodding at her as she works her way out of the bistro with the mop.

  She pivots on her biker books and smiles sickeningly sweetly. ‘No,’ she says simply.

  Our boss leaves grumbling something about ‘help these days,’ while Paul laughs and I try not to.

  ‘So,’ Sylvie begins, after Paul has also said his goodbyes. ‘I’m hoping your good mood is because Friday night with Mr Wide Eyes went exceptionally well.’

  I cringe. ‘He was nice.’

  ‘Is that it?’ she asks incredulously.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Fucking hell, Livy. If you’re going to nab a decent bloke, then you need to be a little more enthusiastic.’ She’s glaring at me, and I’m doing everything to avoid it. ‘So what’s made you so chirpy?’

  ‘I think you already know.’ I’m not looking at her but I know she has just tried to disguise an eye roll and an exhale of worried breath. ‘Miller’s picking me up,’ I tell her, glancing down the road. ‘He’ll be here in a minute.’

  ‘Right,’ she says, short and clipped. ‘I’m not sure—’

  ‘Sylvie.’ I stop and turn, placing a hand gently on her arm. ‘Your concern is appreciated, but please don’t try to stop me from seeing him.’

  ‘It’s just . . .’

  ‘A nice girl like me?’

  She smiles mildly. ‘You’re too nice. That’s my worry.’

  ‘This is right, Sylvie. I can’t walk away. If you had led the life I have, you might see this for what it is.’

  I can see her face drift into thought, trying to surmise what I mean. ‘What is “this”?’

  ‘A chance for me to feel alive,’ I admit. ‘He’s a chance for me to live and feel.’

  She nods slowly and leans in to kiss my cheek, then wraps me in her arms. ‘I’m here,’ she says simply. ‘I hope he’s everything you want and need.’

  ‘I know he is.’ I take a deep breath and break free from Sylvie’s hold. ‘Here he is.’ I leave Sylvie and make my way over to the black Mercedes, sliding in and giving her a quick wave. She returns it as she slowly backs away.

  ‘Good evening, Olivia Taylor.’

  ‘Good evening, Miller Hart,’ I counter, pulling my belt on, smiling when I hear Crystal Waters ‘Gypsy Woman’. ‘Have you had a nice day?’

  He pulls into the traffic swiftly. ‘I’ve had a very busy day. And you?’

  ‘Busy.’

  ‘Are you hungry?’ He looks over to me, face straight, no expression.

  ‘A little,’ I reply, feeling a little chilly in the air-conditioned car. Looking at the digital display on the dashboard, I note masses of switches and dials. There are two temperature displays and a dial next to each, both reading sixteen degrees. ‘Why are there two temperature gauges?’

  ‘One for the passenger side, one for the driver’s side.’ He keeps his eyes on the road.

  ‘So you can set two different temperatures?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘So my side can be twenty degrees, and your side can be sixteen degrees?’

  ‘Yes.’

  I reach forward, thinking it’s such a ridiculously stupid piece of gadgetry, and turn my dial up, making my side of the car twenty degrees.

  ‘What are you doing?’ he asks, starting to twitch in his seat.

  ‘I’m chilly.’

  He reaches for the dial and turns it back until the display reads sixteen degrees again. ‘It’s not chilly.’

  Looking across the car to him, I begin to work out the issue. ‘But isn’t that the point of having dual temperatures? So both passenger and driver can set their own comfort level?’

  ‘In this car, they stay the same.’

  ‘How about if I turn them both up to twenty degrees?’

  ‘Then I’d be too warm,’ he answers quickly, replacing his hand on the wheel. ‘The temperature is suitable as it is.’

  ‘Or the matching digits are suitable,’ I say to myself, sitting back in the seat. I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to live in a world where the desire to have everything a particular way is so compulsory, it pretty much takes over your life. I smile to myself. Actually, I can, because not only has my life been turned upside down by this confounding, fraudulent gentleman sitting next to me, his particular ways are having a funny effect on me, too. I’m becoming very aware of how things should be, even if I’m not quite sure how to get them there. But I’ll learn, and then I can help make Miller’s life as stress-free as possible.

  The club looks entirely different, all lit by natural daylight, the blues that illuminated it by night absent, leaving frosted glass everywhere I look. Now the space is empty; only the staff scattered here and there stocking the bars or buffing a section of the large expanse of glass. And it’s so much quieter, with only Lana Del Rey humming softly in the background about video games. It’s a million miles away from the hard beats of the club on Saturday night.

  A well-built, stocky guy, all suited and booted, is waiting just beyond the dance floor, sitting on a Perspex stool sipping from a bottle of beer. As we approach, he lifts his bald head from the paperwork he’s perusing and signals the barman, who immediately prepares a drink for Miller, placing it on the glass surface of the bar in time for our arrival.

  ‘Miller.’ The guy stands, holding his hand out.

  My neck is released and Miller gives him a firm, manly shake before indicating for me to sit, which I do without delay. ‘Tony, this is Olivia. Livy, Tony.’ He waves his hand between us before wasting no time taking his drink and knocking it back, immediately signalling for another.

  ‘Nice to meet you, Olivia.’ Tony says my name as a question, clearly wondering which version to use.

  ‘Livy.’ I take his hand and let him do all the shaking while he regards me thoughtfully.

  ‘Would you like a drink?’ Miller asks, accepting his second from the barman.

  ‘No, thank you.’

  ‘As you wish.’ He gives Tony his full attention.

  ‘Cassie will be here shortly,’ Tony says, flicking a cautionary look in my direction. It makes me sit up and pay attention.

  ‘She needn’t have bothered,’ Miller replies, ensuring he keeps his eyes on me. ‘I told her not to.’

  Tony laughs. ‘Since when has she listened to anything you say, son?’

  Miller returns his steel stare to Tony but ignores his question, leaving me wondering who the hell Cassie is and why she never listens to
Miller. Now is quite obviously not the time to ask, but by Tony’s look and Miller’s response, I think I already know who Cassie is. Why is she coming here? She never listens to him? What about? Everything? What’s everything? I mentally yell at myself and in an attempt to rein in my wandering thoughts until it’s an appropriate time to press on it, I take in the cutting-edge decor of the club. It feels cold now, with the absence of crowds and darkness, the light and glass at every turn making me feel like I’m stuck in a gigantic piece of . . . well, ice.

  As I watch Miller looking over the papers being held by Tony, I wonder if he would be at all different right now if he was wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. The grey three-piece suit and blue shirt make his eyes look shockingly blue, but hold the usual mask in place whenever he’s suited – which is ninety-nine per cent of the time.

  ‘My office.’ Miller’s voice pulls my eyes from the blue shirt at his neck to the blue of his intense stare.

  ‘Sorry?’

  ‘Make your way down to my office.’ He tugs me gently down from the stool and turns me in the direction that I should be headed. ‘Do you remember where?’

  ‘I think so.’ I remember being taken towards the front of the club and down some stairs, but I was well on my way to a total drunken stupor.

  ‘I’ll catch up with you.’

  I glance back as I leave Miller at the bar with Tony, both men blatantly waiting for me to be out of earshot before they speak. Miller is impassive and Tony is thoughtful. I take all of the awkward vibes from Tony and conclude that they’re either talking business and it’s not for my ears, or they’re talking about me. A funny feeling, plus Tony’s discomfort, makes me conclude it’s the latter, and when I reach the other side of the club and turn to round the corner, I see Tony waving his hands at Miller, which only confirms my thoughts. I stop and watch through the glass of the stairwell, seeing Tony drop to his arse and put his round face in his palms. It’s a sign of despair. Then Miller shows a rare display of aggravation, flashing that temper I’ve been warned about, throwing his hands up and cursing as he storms off in my direction. I hurry down the stairs quickly, weaving my way through the corridors aimlessly, until I spot the metal keypad that I vaguely remember Miller punching some numbers into.

  It’s mere seconds before he rounds the corner, clearly pissed off and running his hand through his waves, pulling back the loose curl that’s fallen onto his forehead. Striding towards me with purpose, the aggravation is still so very obvious, even more so when he punches the code in aggressively and pushes the door open a little too hard, making it hit the plaster behind it.

  I jump at the loud crash, and Miller drops his head. ‘Shit,’ he curses quietly, making no attempt to enter his office.

  ‘Are you okay?’ I ask, keeping my distance. I’m constantly willing emotion from him, but not if it’s going to be like this.

  ‘I apologise,’ he murmurs, keeping his eyes to the ground, defying his own rule of looking at someone when you’re speaking to them. I don’t remind him, though. The words that have just been exchanged between Miller and his bar manager were about me, I have no doubt. And now he’s mad. ‘Livy?’

  I feel my spine stretch out, making me stand up straight. ‘Yes?’

  His shoulders rise and fall on a heavy sigh. ‘Give me my thing,’ he says, turning pleading blue eyes onto me. ‘Please.’

  My shoulders drop, seeing a side of Miller Hart that I never have. He wants comfort. I reach up over his broad shoulders, lifting on my tiptoes to get my face in his neck.

  ‘Thank you,’ he mumbles, wrapping his arms around my waist and lifting me from my feet. The force of his hold compresses my ribcage, making it a little tricky to breathe, but I’m not about to stop him. I wrap my legs around his waist as he shuts the door and walks us to his empty desk. He rests his arse on the edge which allows us to maintain our hold, and he shows no sign of letting up. I’m surprised. His suit will be a crumpled mess and he has an interview.

  ‘I’m creasing you,’ I say quietly.

  ‘I have an iron.’ He squeezes harder.

  ‘Of course you do.’ I pull away from him so we’re staring into each other’s eyes. He doesn’t give me anything. His annoyance seems to have faded, his face as expressionless as ever. ‘What has upset you?’

  ‘Life.’ He doesn’t hesitate. ‘People overthinking things and interfering.’

  ‘Interfering with what?’ I ask, but I suspect I already know.

  ‘Everything,’ he breathes.

  ‘Who’s Cassie?’ I also know the answer to this question.

  He stands, lowers me to my feet, and grabs my cheeks. ‘The woman you thought was my girlfriend.’ He hits me with a long, moist kiss, sending me dizzy.

  ‘Why is she coming here?’ I ask around his lips.

  He doesn’t break our kiss. ‘Because she’s a pain in the arse.’ He pecks up my cheek to my ear. ‘And because she thinks that holding shares in my club gives her a right to dictate what happens here.’

  I gasp and pull away. ‘So she really is a business associate?’

  He almost scowls before yanking me back to his chest. ‘Yes. How many times do I need to tell you? I said trust me.’

  This knowledge doesn’t make me feel any better. I’m not completely stupid and I’ve seen the way she looks at him. And me, for that matter.

  ‘I’ve had a terrible day.’ Miller kisses my cheek softly, distracting me with those soft lips. ‘But you’re going to de-stress me when I get you home.’

  I let him take my hand and lead me around his desk. ‘What are we doing?’

  He sits me in his chair and turns me to face his desk, and then takes a remote control from the top drawer and crouches beside me, resting his elbow on the arm of the chair. ‘I want to show you something.’

  ‘What?’ I ask, noting Miller’s desk is as empty as the last time I saw it, the phone its only adornment.

  ‘This.’ He presses a button and I jump back in my chair on a gasp when his desk starts to shift in front of me.

  ‘What the . . .’ I’m open-mouthed and gawking like an idiot as five flat screens start to rise from the back section. ‘Bloody hell!’

  ‘Impressed?’

  I might be a little stunned, but there is no denying the proud edge to his tone. ‘So you just watch TV in here?’

  ‘No, Livy,’ he sighs, pressing another button which prompts the screens to jump to life, revealing image after image of his club.

  ‘It’s CCTV?’ I ask, letting my eyes travel over the screens, each one sectioned into six images, except the middle screen. That screen is just one large image.

  And I’m on it.

  I lean forward, seeing myself on Ice’s launch night drinking with Gregory, then the image changes to us walking up the stairs, me looking around in awe. Then I’m on the dance floor. And Miller is on the prowl behind me. I see Gregory whisper in my ear, and me going to turn, and then I watch as he homes in, giving me a thorough inspection before he has his hands on me. The footage is clear, but when Miller reaches forward and touches the centre of the screen, it gets bigger, clearer, and the look on his face makes me instantly wet. I’m tingling, too, and it’s right now I wonder why the hell I’m staring at a screen when the real thing is crouched next to me.

  I slowly turn to face him. ‘You sat here and watched me.’ I don’t ask it as a question because it’s obvious. I knew it, but I didn’t consider a club littered with cameras.

  He regards me thoughtfully and cocks his head a little. ‘My gorgeous, sweet girl, are you turned on?’

  I don’t want to, but I squirm in his big office chair, my cheeks flushing terribly. ‘You’re here. Of course I am.’ I need to try and meet his poise – try being the operative word. I could never match Miller in the intensity stakes or the brooding stakes or the hot stakes or the sexy stakes. I might in the sass stakes, though.

 
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