Promised, p.38
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       Promised, p.38

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  I make myself comfortable at the other end of the bath and watch as he works the conditioner through his waves. ‘You use conditioner?’

  He pauses with his massaging hands and studies me carefully for a few moments before he speaks. ‘I have very untamed hair.’

  ‘Me too.’

  ‘Then you must feel my pain.’ He slides back down the bath and rinses his untamed waves, while I grin like an idiot. He’s embarrassed.

  When he surfaces, I’m still grinning, and he rolls his eyes at me as he pushes himself up, my gaze lifting with him forever until he’s towering over me and I’m staring at his soaking, naked perfection.

  ‘I’ll leave you to wash your untamed mane.’ He’s not smiling, but I can tell he wants to.

  ‘Thank you, kind sir.’ I continue to admire his wet nakedness as he takes the steps from the bath, his butt cheeks tensing and swelling delightfully. ‘Nice buns,’ I say quietly to myself, slipping further into the bubbles.

  He turns slowly and cocks his head to the side. ‘I beg you don’t adopt your grandmother’s terminology.’

  I burn bright red, and with nowhere else to escape my embarrassment, I disappear under the water.

  When I’m finished taming my own wild locks with conditioner, I reluctantly leave the warm serenity of Miller’s colossal bath and dry off. Ensuring I’ve emptied the tub, rinsed the bubbles away and tidied up the bathroom after me, I pad into his bedroom and find a pair of black boxer shorts and a grey T-shirt spread neatly on the bed. I smile to myself as I dress, his boxer shorts barely staying up on my waist, his T-shirt completely swamping me, but they smell of Miller so I tolerate the annoying need to hold the shorts up as I go in search of him.

  I find him in the kitchen, looking breathtaking in his own pair of black boxers and a T-shirt to match the one he has picked for me. Seeing Miller without a perfect suit adorning his perfect body is a rarity, but the casual edge that his casual attire puts on him whenever I do is always welcome. I’m beginning to resent his suits, seeing them as a mask that he hides behind.

  ‘We match,’ I say, pulling up my boxers.

  ‘So we do.’ He approaches me and runs his fingers through my wet tendrils before bringing them to his nose and inhaling deeply.

  ‘I should call my grandmother,’ I say, closing my eyes and absorbing his closeness – his scent, his heat . . . his everything. ‘I don’t want her to worry.’

  He releases me and arranges my hair, staring at me thoughtfully.

  ‘Are you okay?’ I ask.

  ‘Yes, I apologise.’ He shakes himself from his daydream. ‘I was just thinking how lovely you look in my clothes.’

  ‘They’re a bit big,’ I point out, glancing down at the material swamping me.

  ‘They’re perfect on you. Call your grandmother.’

  Once I’m done checking in with Nan, my nape is taken lightly and I’m led over to the docking station where his iPhone is kept. He presses a few buttons before leading me from the kitchen without a word. The xx’s ‘Angels’ joins us, soft and hypnotising in the background, seeping quietly through the integrated speakers. We pass Miller’s bedroom and turn left, then he unlocks a door and pushes me gently into a large room.

  ‘Wow!’ I gasp, stumbling to a stop on the threshold. ‘Oh wow!’

  ‘Come in.’ He encourages me in and flicks a switch that floods the room with powerful artificial light. I shield my eyes, annoyed my view has been spoiled for a few seconds while my eyes readjust.

  Once I’ve stopped squinting, I drop one hand, keeping his boxers up with the other, and stare in complete wonder at my surroundings. I’m in awe. I’m in heaven . . . I’m shocked.

  I turn towards him and give him a confused look. ‘This is yours?’

  He looks almost embarrassed when his shoulders jump up a little on a mild shrug. ‘This is my home, so I guess so.’

  I slowly turn back to the source of my shock and start to take it all in. The walls are covered, they’re propped up on the floor, and they’re stacked on wire racking systems. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, and they are all of my beloved London, whether of architecture or landscapes.

  ‘You paint?’

  He’s up against my back and resting his arms over my shoulders. ‘Do you think you could say something without it sounding like a question?’ He nips at my ear, which would usually make my breath falter, but I still haven’t caught it yet. This can’t be right.

  ‘You did all of these?’ I wave my arm in the general direction of the whole studio, casting my eyes around again.

  ‘Another question.’ He bites my cheek this time. ‘This was my habit before I found you.’

  ‘This isn’t a habit, this is a hobby.’ I look at the paintings on the wall again, thinking that such excellence couldn’t really be classed as a hobby. These belong in a gallery.

  ‘Well, now you’re my hobby.’

  I have a moment of comprehension, and I’m suddenly on the move, breaking free from Miller’s hold and making my way out of his painting studio, heading for the lounge area until I’m standing before one of the oil canvases gracing his wall. This one is of the London Eye, blurred but clear. ‘You did this?’ I’m speaking in sodding questions again. ‘I’m sorry.’

  He approaches from my left and stands next to me, observing his own creation. ‘I did.’

  ‘And that one?’ I point to the opposite wall, where London Bridge is holding court, still keeping the damn boxers up.

  ‘Yes,’ he confirms, and I’m on the move again, back to his studio. I walk further into the room this time, surrounding myself with Miller’s art.

  There are five easels, all holding white canvases with partially finished works. The giant wooden table running the length of the side wall is cluttered with pots of brushes, paints in every colour on God’s earth, and photographs scattered everywhere, some pinned on cork boards among the art. An old squidgy sofa is sitting in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, facing the glass so you can sit and admire the view across the city, which nearly matches the magnificence of the paintings around me. It’s a typical artist’s studio . . . and it completely defies everything that Miller Hart stands for.

  It’s expressive, but even more shocking, it’s an awful mess. I feel like I’m in a bit of a trance, an Alice in Wonderland kind of moment, and in a really silly fit of curiosity, I begin assessing everything more closely to try and establish whether there is some sort of method to his arrangement of things in here. It doesn’t look like it; it all looks very random and haphazard, but to be sure, I walk over to the table and pick up a pot of brushes, turning it casually in my hand. Then I put it down aimlessly before turning to see his reaction.

  He isn’t twitching, he isn’t looking at the pot of brushes like it could bite, and he hasn’t come over to move it. He’s just considering me with interest, and after absorbing his gaze for a few moments, I break out in a smile. My shock has transformed into happiness because what I’m seeing in this room is a different man. This almost humanises him. Before me, he expressed himself and de-stressed by painting, and it doesn’t matter that he has to be super-duper precise in every other element of his life, because in here, he’s chaotic.

  ‘I love it,’ I say, taking another slow gaze around the room, not even the beauty of Miller keeping me from it. ‘I just love it.’

  ‘I knew you would.’

  It’s suddenly dark again, except for the glow of London by night pouring in from the window, and he walks slowly over and takes my hand, leading me to the old worn couch in front of the window. He sits and encourages me down beside him.

  ‘I fall asleep here most nights,’ he says wistfully, pulling me a little closer. ‘It’s hypnotic, don’t you think?’

  ‘Incredible,’ I agree, but I’m more in awe of what’s behind me. ‘Have you always painted?’

  ‘On and off.’

  ‘Just landscapes and architecture?’

  ‘Mainly.’

  ‘You’re very gi
fted,’ I say quietly, tucking my feet under my bum. ‘You should exhibit them.’

  He laughs a little, and I’m soon looking up at him, annoyed that he always chooses to do this when I can’t see him. He’s not laughing any more, but he’s smiling at me. It’s good enough. ‘Livy, it’s just a hobby. I have the club and plenty of stress. Turning a hobby into something more makes it stressful.’

  I frown, not seeing his logic at all, at the same time hoping his theory doesn’t apply to me. I’m a hobby. ‘I was paying you a compliment.’ I raise my eyebrows cheekily, making him smile more, eyes sparkling and all.

  ‘So you were. I apologise.’ He kisses me tenderly and tucks me back under his arm. ‘Thank you.’

  ‘You’re welcome,’ I reply, letting my body mould into the sharp edges of his frame and my hand slip up the hem of his T-shirt. This Miller Hart I really adore – laid-back, carefree, and expressive. I’m tucked snugly under his arm, relishing in his tender kisses on my head and soft strokes of my arm. But then he starts to move me, positioning me on my back so I’m spread down the couch with my head on his lap. My hair is stroked away from my face and he gazes down at me for a few moments before he sighs and lets his head drop back. He continues feeling me as he stares up at the ceiling silently while the wistful tones of the track float in the peaceful air around us. Everything is just lovely – the calmness spacing out my serene mind and Miller’s touch lazily skimming my cheek. But then the sound of his phone ringing from the kitchen interrupts our peace.

  ‘Excuse me.’ He shifts me and exits the room, leaving me feeling bitter and now resentful of the view, so I get up and follow him.

  When I enter the kitchen, he’s removing his iPhone from the docking station on the shelf, bringing the lovely song to an abrupt halt. ‘Miller Hart,’ he greets, making his way back out of the kitchen.

  I don’t want to follow him when he’s on the phone, he’d definitely think that rude, so I sit at the empty table and twiddle my ring, wishing us back into his studio.

  When Miller re-enters the room, he’s still on his phone. He walks with purpose to a stack of drawers and pulls the top one open, removing a leather-bound organiser before flicking through the pages. ‘Short notice, yes, but like I said, it’s not a problem.’ He takes a pen from the drawer and starts writing across the page. ‘Look forward to it.’ He hangs up and quickly flips his organiser shut, placing it back in the drawer. He doesn’t sound like he’s looking forward to it at all.

  It’s a few moments before he faces me, but when he does, I see immediately that he’s not happy, even if his face is completely straight. ‘I’ll take you home.’

  My back lengthens as I sit up. ‘Now?’ I ask, slighted and annoyed.

  ‘Yes, I apologise.’ He strides out of the kitchen. ‘Last-minute meeting at the club,’ he mutters, and then he’s gone.

  Upset, irritated and wounded, I return to face the perfectly empty table, but then curiosity makes me stand and before I can stop myself, I’m by the drawers, pulling the top one open. The leather-bound organiser is tucked in the bottom right-hand corner, screaming for me to peek, so I study its exact positioning before lifting it out and glancing over my shoulder. I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m snooping when I have no right to . . . but I can’t help it. Damn curiosity. And damn Miller Hart for spiking it.

  I flick the pages, seeing various notes, but conscious that Miller could rumble me prying at any moment I hastily skip them all until I reach today’s date. And there, in that perfect handwriting, is a note.

  Quaglino’s 9:00.

  C.

  Black suit. Black tie.

  I frown and jump all at once, hearing the shutting of a door. Panicked and with a thundering heart, I make a terrible attempt of putting Miller’s organiser back just right. I don’t have time. I dart to the table and sit back down, using every modicum of strength to stop shaking and look normal. C? Cassie?

  ‘Your clothes are on the bed.’

  I turn and find Miller standing in just his boxer shorts, but my mind is too busy racing to appreciate the view. ‘Thank you.’

  ‘You’re welcome,’ he says as he leaves me again. ‘Chop-chop.’

  Something isn’t right. He’s turned back into the masked gentleman, being all formal and clipped, which is an insult after our time together, especially the past few days. He’s shared something very private and special, and now he’s treating me like a business deal again. Or a hooker. I wince at my own thoughts, knocking the flat of my balled fist on my forehead. What’s Quaglino’s, and why has he lied about it? Uncertainty and mistrust plague me as I fail to prevent my mind from wandering.

  I find my phone and pray it hasn’t died. I have two bars, and I also have two missed calls . . . from Luke. He’s called me? Whatever for? He didn’t reply to my text, and that was days ago. I don’t have time to think about it. I clear them and load Google, typing in ‘Quaglino’s’ as I make my way back to the kitchen. When my Internet connection finally decides to give me the information I want, I don’t like what I see: a fancy restaurant in Mayfair, with a cocktail bar to boot. I’m even more wary when Miller strides into the room wearing a black suit and a black tie.

  ‘Livy, I need to go,’ he says shortly, standing in the mirror and messing with his pesky tie. It was perfect already.

  I leave him behind, perfecting on perfect, and hurry to his room, throwing on my jeans and Converse. I’m suspicious, and I’ve never been suspicious because I’ve never had anything to be suspicious about. I don’t like it.

  ‘Ready?’

  I look up and bitterly register how spectacular he looks. He always does, but a three-piece black suit for a meeting at the club? ‘Great,’ I mutter.

  ‘Are you okay?’ He takes his customary hold of my nape and directs me from the room.

  ‘I’ll come with you,’ I say, confidence oozing in my tone.

  ‘Olivia, you’ll be bored to tears.’ He’s not in the least bit fazed by my demand.

  ‘I won’t be bored.’

  ‘Trust me, you will.’ He leans down and kisses my forehead. ‘I’ll be drained by the time I’m done. I’ll need you to cuddle, so I’ll come and get you and you can stay with me tonight.’

  ‘I may as well wait here.’

  ‘No, you can pack some clothes and I’ll take you straight to work in the morning.’

  I scowl to myself. ‘What time will you be done?’

  ‘I’m not sure. I’ll call you.’

  I give up and let him push me onward, down the masses of stairs until we arrive at his car in the underground car park. The silence is deathly the whole way home, and when he pulls up outside Nan’s, he undoes his belt and shifts in his seat so he’s facing me.

  ‘You’re upset,’ he says, reaching over and giving my cheek a gentle brush with his thumb. ‘I have to work, Livy.’

  ‘I’m not upset,’ I argue, but it’s plainly obvious that I am, although for different reasons than Miller thinks.

  ‘I beg to differ.’

  ‘I’ll speak to you later.’

  ‘You will.’ He leans over and spends a few moments refreshing my memory on what I’ll be missing for the next few hours. It doesn’t improve my mood.

  I get out and walk up the path to my house, mind racing, quickly letting myself in and shutting the door behind me. As I knew she would be, Nan’s standing at the bottom of the stairs with the biggest smile on her face.

  ‘Have you had a nice time?’ she asks. ‘With Miller, I mean.’

  ‘Great.’ I try to match her smile, but suspicion and uneasiness are crippling me. If it’s work, then why is he meeting her at a fancy restaurant?

  ‘I thought you were staying the night.’

  ‘I’m going back out.’ The words fall from my mouth, my subconscious seeming to make the decision for me

  ‘With Miller?’ she calls hopefully.

  ‘Yes,’ I reply. Her happiness at the potential news tugs painfully at my fallen heart.

  Chapt
er 23

  I slide from the taxi as elegantly as I can, exactly how Gregory showed me. I was torn by how to dress, but having checked Google, it would seem you don’t wear Converse at Quaglino’s, nor do you turn up without making a reservation, but I’m not planning on eating. The cocktail bar, that’s where I’m heading.

  The doorman nods and pulls open the glass door by the giant Q-shaped door handle. ‘Good evening.’

  ‘Hello.’ I straighten my back and pass him, and then go about brushing down the short pale-blue silk dress that Gregory made me buy. Miller may have disdained my hair and make-up, but I specifically remember him saying he liked the dress. And now my hair is back to golden waves and my make-up is natural again, he
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