Promised, p.39Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
should be fairly pleased. If he’s with that woman, then I hope he takes one look at me and chokes.
I wince as I take the stairs down to the maître d’, my new nude stilettos pinching my toes. She smiles brightly. ‘Good evening, madam.’
‘Hello.’ I pull a confident tone from nowhere, appearing to be a regular in these types of swanky places.
‘Reservation for?’ She looks down at her list.
‘I’m going to settle at the bar for a cocktail and wait for my date.’ The words roll off my tongue with ease, surprising me.
‘Of course, madam. Please, this way.’ She gestures towards the bar and leads on, taking me around a corner where I have to refrain from letting out an audible gasp.
A marble staircase comes into view, with polished gold handrails and black Qs linking together to form a balustrade on either side, leading down to the huge restaurant, all light and airy, with a stunning glass vaulted ceiling running down the centre. It’s bustling, busy for a Monday night, with groups of people making happy chatter at every table. I’m relieved when I see the cocktail bar is on this level, the glass panels making it easy for me to see below into the restaurant. My eyes are darting around, scanning every corner, but I can’t see him. Have I made a colossal error?
‘May I recommend the cherry and orange Bellini?’ the maître d’ says, indicating a stool at the bar.
I decline her offer of a stool near the back of the bar and take one closer to the end so I can see down below. ‘Thank you. Maybe I’ll try.’ I smile, wondering if I could get away with drinking a glass of water when I’m in such a fancy place wearing a fancy dress.
She nods and leaves me with the barman, who hands me a cocktail menu on a smile. ‘The lavender and lychee martini is so much better.’
‘Thank you.’ I return his smile, feeling more comfortable and at ease now that my body is being supported by the stool.
I cross my legs, keeping my back straight as I peruse the menu, noting the barman’s suggestion has London Dry Gin in the mix, putting it right out of the contest. I smile as I remember my granddad constantly battling with my nan over her gin-drinking habits. He always said that if you wanted a woman to break down on you, feed her gin. Then my smile fades as I recall the last time I drank gin myself.
The cherry and orange Bellini has champagne in it, a clear winner by a mile. I point and glance up at the waiting barman. ‘Thank you, but I’ll have the Bellini.’
‘A man can try.’ He winks and sets about making my drink, while I swivel on my stool and start searching the space below again. A quick scan produces no results, so I begin working my way over each and every table, studying the faces and the backs of heads. It’s silly. I’d spot Miller’s head in a flash mob of a thousand people in Trafalgar Square. He’s not here.
‘Madam?’ The barman pulls my attention back to the bar and hands me a flute, garnished with mint and a maraschino cherry.
‘Thank you.’ I take the glass delicately and take an equally delicate sip under the watchful eye of the barman. ‘Lovely.’ I smile my approval, and he winks again before going to tend to a couple at the other end of the bar.
Turning my back on the bar, I sip the delicious cocktail while considering what on earth I’m going to do. It’s nine-thirty. His meeting was at nine. He’d still be here, surely? And like my phone’s heard my thoughts, it starts ringing from my bag. I panic, quickly setting my drink down and rummaging through my little bag, cringing when I see his name flashing up on my screen. My shoulders meet my ears and every possible muscle in my body tenses as I answer. ‘Hello.’
‘I’m wrapping up shortly. I’ll be with you in an hour.’
I puddle at the bar in relief. I can get my overactive imagination and my overdressed body home within an hour. I’m safe and feeling rather silly. ‘Okay,’ I breathe, taking my drink and having a much-needed slurp. Was I looking at the wrong day in his organiser? In my frantic, rushed state, it’s possible.
‘It’s noisy. Where are you?’
‘Television,’ I blurt. ‘Nan’s going deaf.’
‘Evidently,’ he says drily. ‘Are you ready to de-stress me, my sweet girl?’
I smile. ‘So ready.’
‘I’m glad we’ve cleared that up. Be ready in an hour.’ He hangs up, and I sigh all dreamy and loved up at the bar, quickly necking the rest of my Bellini.
I wave the barman over. ‘Can I settle the bill, please?’
‘Only the one?’ he says, nodding at my empty.
‘I’m meeting someone.’
‘Shame,’ he muses, passing over a tiny black plate with my bill. I hand over a twenty on a smile. ‘Have a lovely evening, madam.’
‘Thank you.’ I drop elegantly to my feet and pivot, making my way to the exit, hoping I can flag a cab quickly.
But I barely make it two paces before I’m skidding to a halt. My stomach twists and my skin turns stone cold, sending every fine hair on my body standing upright. He is here. And he’s with her. She’s just settling back in her seat at the table, her back to me, but I can see Miller’s face just fine, and it’s straight, as usual, yet I can see the boredom plain and clear. Cassie is animated, chucking hand gestures everywhere, throwing her head back on continuous laughs and also throwing champagne down her throat. Her hair’s coiled into a tight bun on her nape and she’s wearing black satin, not your average business meeting attire. There are oysters on the table. And she keeps reaching over and touching him.
‘Decided to stay for another?’ the barman asks, but I don’t answer. I keep my eyes on Miller and back up until my bum meets the stool. Then I lift myself slowly.
‘Yes, please,’ I murmur, placing my bag back on the bar. I’m not sure how I missed him. His table is directly below, in perfect sight. Maybe I was looking too hard. I think carefully, trying to figure out my next move. Good God, I’m beginning to feel the rage burning in my gut.
I accept the Bellini that’s handed to me, then I find my phone, calling him and holding it calmly to my ear. It starts to ring. I watch as he shifts in his seat and holds his finger up to Cassie in a gesture to be excused, but when he glances down at his screen, he shows no emotion or shock at seeing my name. He slips it back in his pocket and shakes his head. It’s a motion to suggest that the caller is of no importance. His actions inflame the hurt, but worst of all, it inflames the anger.
I drop my phone back in my bag and turn to the barman. ‘I’m just going to use the bathroom.’
‘Down the stairs. I’ll watch your drink.’
‘Thank you.’ I take in a long, confidence-boosting lungful of air and start towards the stairs, taking a firm hold of the gold handrail when I reach it while praying to the stair gods that I don’t make a complete fool of myself and stumble to my arse. I’m shaking like a leaf, but I need to remain composed and poised. How the heck did I find myself amidst this hideousness?
Because I put myself here, that’s how.
My steps are precise and accurate, my body swaying seductively. I find it too easy. I’m being watched by numerous men. Coming down these stairs is like the parting of the waves. I’m alone, and I’m purposely drawing attention to myself. I’m not looking anywhere, though, except right at my heart’s nemesis, willing him to glance up and see me. He’s listening to Cassie, nodding and saying the odd word, but he’s taking slow sips of his Scotch more often than anything else. The resentment cripples me – resentment that another woman is getting a close-up of his perfect lips latching onto the glass.
I quickly divert my stare downward when he casts his eyes to the stairs. He’s seen me, I’m certain of it. I can feel glacial blues freezing my skin, but I refuse to stop, and as I reach the toilets, I glance over my shoulder. He’s coming after me. I said I’d make him choke, and I think I have. His face is cut with too many emotions – anger, shock . . . worry.
I escape into the ladies’ and study myself in the mirror. There’s no getting away from it; I look ruffled and a little distressed, an
Deciding that I really want to know, I quickly wash my clammy hands, straighten my dress and brace myself to face him. I’m a nervous wreck when I open the door to exit, but seeing him standing with his back leaning against the wall, looking all pissed off, soon sucks up all of those nerves. Now I’m just mad.
I meet his clear eyes with equal contempt. ‘How were the oysters?’ I ask evenly.
‘Salty,’ he replies, the hollows of his cheeks pulsing from his ticking jaw.
‘That’s a shame, but I wouldn’t be concerned. Your date’s probably too drunk to notice.’
His eyes narrow as he steps forward. ‘She’s not my date.’
‘What is she, then?’
I laugh. It’s condescending and rude, but I couldn’t give a toss. Business meetings don’t happen on Monday night in Quaglino’s. And you don’t wear satin dresses. ‘You lied to me.’
‘You’ve been snooping.’
I can’t deny, so I don’t. I’m feeling emotion take hold. It’s racing through me now, making up for Miller’s lack of it.
‘Just business.’ He takes another step towards me, closing the distance. I want to move back, distance myself, but my heels are cemented in place, my muscles refusing to work.
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘You’ve given me no reason to, Miller.’ I fight against my useless limbs and pass him. ‘Enjoy your evening.’
‘I will once I can de-stress,’ he counters softly, taking hold of my neck to stop me escaping. The heat of his touch immediately rids my body of the goose pimples and heats me . . . everywhere. ‘Go home, Livy. I’ll pick you up soon. We’ll have a chat before we start with the de-stressing.’
Disgusted and fighting my way from his hold, I swing around and stab at his impassive face with furious eyes. ‘You’ll get nothing more from me.’
‘I beg to differ.’
I flinch at his arrogance and confidence. I’ve never slapped a man in my life. I’ve never slapped anyone.
The power of my small palm across his face creates the most piercing sound, the smack echoing in the noisy air around us. My hand is on fire and judging by the instant red mark on Miller’s tanned skin, so is his cheek. I’m shocked by my actions, and my frozen body and stunned face are proof of it.
He clasps his chin, seeming to click his jaw back into place. Miller Hart doesn’t give much away, but there’s no denying his surprise. ‘You have a vicious swipe, sweet girl.’
‘I’m not your sweet girl,’ I retort nastily, leaving Miller rubbing some life back into his cheek. Taking the stairs fast I don’t veer left for the exit, the enticement of my Bellini too much to resist. I land at the bar and knock it back quickly, gasping and slamming the empty down, drawing the attention of the barman.
‘Another?’ he asks, swinging straight into action when I nod.
‘Livy.’ Miller’s whisper in my ear makes me jump. ‘Please go home and wait for me there.’
‘Livy, I’m asking you nicely.’ There’s an edge of desperation in his tone which makes me swivel on my stool to face him. His face is straight, but his eyes are pleading. ‘Let me fix this.’
He is begging, but he’s just confirmed that there is, indeed, something to be fixed. ‘What needs fixing?’ I ask.
‘Us.’ His one-word answer is spoken quietly. ‘Because there’s no me or you any more, Livy. It’s us.’
‘Then why lie? If you’ve nothing to hide, why lie to me?’
He closes his eyes, obviously trying to keep his cool, and then reopens them slowly. ‘Believe me. It’s simply business.’ His eyes and tone are full of sincerity as he leans down and kisses me gently on the lips. ‘Don’t make me go without you tonight. I need you in my arms.’
‘I’ll wait here for you.’
‘Business and pleasure, Olivia. You know my rules.’ He pulls me gently down from the stool.
‘So you’ve never mixed business and pleasure with Cassie?’
He frowns. ‘No.’
I’m frowning now, too. ‘Why the meal in a posh restaurant, then? And the oysters and touching across the table?’
Our furrowed brows are matching, but before Miller has a chance to clear up the obvious confusion, we’re confronted with Cassie.
At least who I thought was Cassie. This woman, while stunning and in possession of an amazing figure from behind, is older – by fifteen years, at least. She’s obviously wealthy and very exuberant. ‘Miller, darling!’ she sings at him. She’s drunk, waving a champagne flute in my face.
‘Crystal.’ He starts twitching, pushing into my back. ‘Please excuse me for a moment.’
‘Of course!’ She dumps her backside on my recently vacated stool. ‘Shall I order more drinks?’
‘No,’ Miller replies, pushing me onward. C? Crystal? I’m confused, but my poor, overloaded mind won’t allow me to voice it or ask questions.
‘There’s no need for your friend to leave,’ she purrs, and I look back, seeing her smiling at me. No, she’s not smiling; she’s smirking. ‘The more the merrier.’
I frown and look up at Miller, who looks like he’s gone into shock. He speaks up, but his jaw is tight, making his words seem threatening. ‘I told you this was just dinner.’
‘Yes, yes.’ She rolls her eyes dramatically and pours the rest of the champagne down her throat. ‘And would this sweet little thing be the reason for our change in etiquette?’
‘That’s none of your business.’ He tries to remove me from the bar, but I’m as stiff as him now, hindering his attempts.
‘What’s she talking about, Miller?’ I ask more calmly than I’m feeling.
‘Nothing. Let’s go.’
‘No!’ I twist out of his hold and face the woman.
She seems oblivious of the tension bouncing between Miller and myself as she demands more champagne from the barman before handing me a card. ‘Here. Doesn’t look like I’ll need this any more. Keep it safe.’
I take it without thought and glance down at the ivory embossed words, seeing only Miller’s name, telephone number, and e-mail. ‘What’s this?’
Miller goes to snatch it, but my nimble hands move faster, pulling it from his reach. ‘It’s nothing, Livy. Please, give it to me.’
The woman laughs. ‘Put it on speed dial, sweetheart.’
‘Crystal!’ Miller shouts, shutting her up in an instant. ‘It’s time for you to leave.’
Her eyes widen and turn slowly to me. ‘Oh my,’ she breathes, dragging her smug stare down my frozen body. ‘Has London’s most notorious male escort gone and fallen in love?’
Her words knock all of the air from my lungs and my knees give out a little, causing me to reach out and grab Miller’s jacket. Escort? I slowly turn the card over, seeing ‘Hart Services’ in an elegant scrolled font.
‘Shut up, Crystal,’ he snarls, clenching my hand.
‘She doesn’t know?’ She laughs some more, looking at me in pity. ‘And there’s me thinking she was paying like the rest of us.’ She downs her fresh champagne, while I’m fighting down the bile that’s rising in my throat. ‘Think yourself lucky, sweetheart. A night with Miller Hart will set you back thousands.’
‘Stop,’ I whisper, shaking my head. ‘Please stop.’ I want to run away, but my thumping heart won’t allow the instructions from my brain to pass through to my legs. It’s bouncing them straight back up to my head, making me dizzy and confused.
‘Livy.’ He appears in my downcast view, his face not the usual expressionless beauty that I’ve fast become used to. ‘She’s drunk. Please don’t listen to her.’
‘No.’ He shakes his head adamantly.
‘Yes,’ I counter, my motionless body coming back to life and beginning to shake. ‘You sell yourself.’
In my peripheral vision, I see Crystal lower from the stool. ‘I love drama, but I have a fat, balding bastard of a husband who’ll have to suffice for this evening.’
Miller swings violently towards her. ‘You’ll keep this to yourself.’
She smiles and rubs his arm. ‘I’m not a gossip, Miller.’
He scoffs and she laughs as she sashays out of the bar, taking the fur coat that’s held out by the cloakroom attendant on her way.
Miller yanks a wallet from his pocket and throws a pile of notes onto the bar, and then takes my neck. ‘We’re leaving.’
Promised by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on43 votes