Promised, p.4
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       Promised, p.4

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  He’s telling me, not asking. I don’t know what I want. I’ve never stopped and considered my future, either professionally or personally. I’m drifting, that’s all, but I do know one thing. I’m on dangerous ground, not just because this unidentified man seems to be forward, dark, and way too stunning, but because he’s just said that he’ll do nothing more than fuck me. I don’t know him. I’d be inconceivably stupid to dive into bed with him, just for sex. It goes against all of my morals. But I can’t seem to locate the reasons to stop me. I should be uncomfortable with what he’s provoking from me, but I’m not. For the first time in my life, I feel alive. I’m buzzing, unfamiliar feelings attacking my senses, and an even more demanding buzz attacking me between my clenched thighs. I’m pulsing.

  ‘What’s your name?’ I ask.

  ‘I don’t want to tell you, Livy.’

  Before I can ask him how he knows my name, Sylvie’s cry across the party room plays on repeat in my head. I want to touch him, but as I lift my hand to rest it on his chest, he backs up slightly, his eyes nailed to my floating palm between our bodies. I pause for a second to see if he withdraws further. He doesn’t. My hand falls down and comes to lie on his suit jacket, coaxing a sharp pull of his breath, but he doesn’t stop me; he just watches as I gently feel his torso over his clothing, marvelling at the solidness beneath.

  Then his eyes flick up to mine, and his head slowly falls forward, his breath heating my face as he nears until I finally close my eyes and brace myself for those lips. He’s getting closer. His scent is intensifying and my face is scorching from his hot breath.

  But the happy chatter of women breaks the moment, and I’m suddenly being hauled down the row of cubicles and shoved in the very last one. The door slams and I’m whirled around, pinned to the back of the door with his palm over my mouth, his face close to mine. My whole body is heaving as we stare at each other, listening to the women preen in the mirror, reapplying lipsticks and refreshing perfume. I’m mentally yelling at them to hurry the hell up so we can pick up where we left off. I could very nearly feel his lips brushing over mine, and it’s just increased my desire for him tenfold.

  It seems like an age, but the chatter eventually fades. My heavy breathing doesn’t, though, not even when he allows air into my mouth by removing his hand.

  His forehead meets mine and his eyes clench shut. ‘You’re too sweet. I can’t do it.’ He lifts me and removes me from the doorway before hastily exiting, leaving me a stupid bag of pent-up lust. I’m too sweet? I let out a sardonic snap of laughter. I’m angry again – pissed off and ready to track him down to tell him who gets to decide what I want. And it’s not him.

  Letting myself out of the cubicle, I run a quick check over my face and body in the mirror, concluding I look harassed, before exiting the bathroom and making my way to the kitchen.

  I spot Sylvie appearing from the kitchen entrance. ‘There you are! We were just going to send a search party.’ She hurries toward me, her face turning from amused concern to concerned concern. ‘You okay?’

  ‘Fine.’ I brush her off, concluding that I must look as shook up as I feel. I don’t hang around for Sylvie to press further, instead grabbing a bottle of champagne and ignoring her inquisitive stare. It’s empty. ‘Are there any more bottles?’ I ask, dumping it down a little too harshly. I’m shaking.

  ‘Yeah,’ she replies slowly, passing me a freshly opened replacement.

  ‘Thank you.’ I smile. It’s strained, and she knows it, but I can’t shake my grievance or my irritation.

  ‘Are you sure—’

  ‘Sylvie.’ I pause from pouring and take a deep breath, turning and fixing a sincere smile on my harassed face. ‘Honestly, I’m okay.’

  She nods, unconvinced, but she helps me pour rather than digging further. ‘I guess we should get serving, then.’

  ‘We should,’ I agree, sliding my tray from the counter and swinging it up to my shoulder. ‘I’m out of here.’ I leave Sylvie and brave the crowds of people, but I’m not as attentive to the guests as I was before. I don’t smile half as much when offering out the champagne, and I’m constantly scanning the room for him. I’m quick to restock in the kitchen so I can return to the masses, I’m not paying a bit of attention to my surroundings, and I’m at risk of making a complete fool of myself for a second time if my lack of attention causes me to bump into something and drop my tray again.

  But I don’t care.

  I have an unreasonable need to see him again . . . and then something makes me turn, an invisible power pulling my body toward the source.

  He’s there.

  I’m frozen in place, tray hovering between my shoulder and my waist, and he’s studying me, a tumbler of dark liquid hovering at his mouth. It draws my eyes to his lips – the lips I nearly tasted.

  My senses heighten when he slowly raises the glass and tips the contents down his throat before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and placing the empty on Sylvie’s tray as she passes. Sylvie does a double-take, and then swings around, clearly looking for me. Her wide browns land on me briefly before she starts flicking eyes full of intrigue, mixed with a little worry, back and forth between me and this confounding man.

  He’s staring – really staring, and his companion must get curious, because she turns, following his line of vision until she’s looking at me. She smiles slyly, lifting her empty champagne flute. Panic sets in.

  Sylvie’s gone, leaving it down to me to fulfil her request. The woman wiggles the glass in mid-air, a prompt to get my arse in gear, and my curiosity, coupled with my lack of bad manners, prevents me from ignoring her. So I make my way towards them – her still smiling, him still staring – until I’m standing before them, offering the tray to them. Her attempt to make me feel inferior is obvious, but I’m too intrigued to care.

  ‘Take your time, sweetheart,’ she purrs, taking a glass and extending it to him. ‘Miller?’

  ‘Thank you,’ he says quietly, accepting the drink.

  Miller? His name’s Miller? I cock my head at him, and for the first time, his lips tip knowingly. I’m sure that if he really let go, he’d probably knock me out with his smile.

  ‘Run along now,’ the woman says, turning her back on me and pulling a reluctant Miller with her, but her rudeness doesn’t dampen down my inner delight. I turn on my Converse, happy to leave with the knowledge of his name. I don’t turn back, either.

  Sylvie’s on me like a wolf when I enter the kitchen, just as I knew she would be. ‘Holy, shitting hell!’ I wince at her burst of bad language and set my tray down. ‘He’s staring at you, Livy. I mean proper burning eyes.’

  ‘I know.’ You’d have to be blind or utterly stupid not to notice.

  ‘He’s with a woman.’

  ‘Yes.’ I might be pleased to have learned his name, but I’m not so pleased about that part. Not that I have any right to feel jealous. Jealous? Is that what I am? It’s an emotion I’ve never experienced before.

  ‘Oohh, I’m feeling something,’ Sylvie chants, laughing as she sashays out of the kitchen.

  ‘Yes. Me too,’ I muse to myself, turning to look back at the entrance, knowing he watched my every step back here.

  I avoid him for the rest of the evening but definitely feel his eyes on me as I weave through the crowds. I feel a constant pull in his direction and struggle to keep my eyes from drifting over, but I’m proud of myself for resisting. While it’s an unfamiliar pleasure to lose myself in his steely gaze, I could risk ruining it by seeing him with another woman.

  After saying my good-byes to Del and Sylvie, I push my way out of the staff entrance into the midnight air and head for the Tube, looking forward to curling up in bed and having a morning lie-in.

  ‘She’s just a business associate.’ His soft voice from behind halts me, stroking my skin, but I don’t turn around. ‘I know you’re wondering.’

  ‘You don’t need to explain yourself to me.’ I continue walking, knowing exactly what I’m doin
g. He’s taken by me, and I may not be familiar with the chasing game, but I do know that I shouldn’t appear desperate, even if, annoyingly, I am. I’m sensible; I know a bad thing when I see it, and standing behind me is a man who could crush my logic.

  My arm is seized, halting my escape, and I’m swung around to face him. If I were strong enough, I’d close my eyes so I don’t have to soak up his exquisite face. I’m not strong enough, though.

  ‘No, I don’t have to explain myself, yet here I am doing exactly that.’

  ‘Why?’ I don’t pull my arm from his grip because the heat of his touch is working its way through my denim jacket and warming my chilly skin, setting my blood alight. I’ve never felt anything like it.

  ‘You really don’t want to get involved with me.’ He doesn’t sound convinced of that himself, so he must be kidding himself if he expects me to buy it. I want to buy it. I want to walk away and wipe my encounters with him from my mind and return to being stable and sensible.

  ‘Then let me leave,’ I say quietly, meeting the intensity of his stare with my own. The long silence that falls and lingers between us is an indication that he really doesn’t want to, but I decide for him and remove my arm from his grasp. ‘Goodnight, Miller.’ I take a few backward steps before turning and walking away. It’s probably one of the most sensible decisions I’ve ever made, even if the majority of my scrambled mind is willing me to pursue it. Whatever it is.

  Chapter 3

  The lingering strangeness of Friday evening was soon hijacked by Nan on Saturday morning when she said my three favourite words: ‘Let’s go sightseeing.’

  We roamed, we sat, we drank good coffee, we roamed some more, we had lunch, we drank more good coffee and we roamed again, finally falling through the front door late Saturday evening with a fish and chip supper from the local chippy. Then on Sunday, I helped Nan stitch together the patchwork quilt that she’s been making for a soldier based in Afghanistan. She has no idea who he is, but the local oldies group all have pen pals out there, and Nan thought it’d be nice if hers had something to keep him warm . . . in the desert.

  ‘Have you got the sun tucked away in your socks, Livy?’ Nan asks as I walk into the kitchen ready for work on Monday morning.

  I look down at my new canary-yellow Converse and smile. ‘Don’t you love them?’

  ‘Wonderful!’ she laughs, placing my bowl of cornflakes on the breakfast table. ‘How’s your knee?’

  Sitting down, I tap my leg and pick up my spoon. ‘Perfect. What are you doing today, Nan?’

  ‘George and I are going to the market to buy lemons for your cake.’ She places a pot of tea on the table and loads my mug with two sugars.

  ‘Nan, I don’t take sugar!’ I try to swipe the mug from the table, but my grandmother’s old hands work way too fast.

  ‘You need fattening up,’ she insists, pouring the tea and pushing it across the table to me. ‘Don’t argue with me, Livy. I’ll put you over my knee.’

  I smile at her threat. She’s promised it for twenty-four years and never followed through. ‘You can get lemons at the local store,’ I point out casually, plunging my spoon into my mouth to stop me from saying more. I could say so much more.

  ‘You’re right.’ Her old navy eyes flick to me briefly before she slurps her tea. ‘But I want to go to the market and George said he’d take me. We’ll speak no more of it.’

  I’m desperately holding back my grin, but I know when to shut up. Old George is so fond of Nan, but she’s really quite short with him. I don’t know why he sticks around to be bossed about. She plays all hard-hearted and uninterested, but I know George’s fondness for her is quietly returned. Gramps has been gone for seven years and George could never replace him, but a little companionship is good for Nan. Losing her daughter sent her into dark depression, but Granddad took care of her, suffering in silence for years, silently coming to terms with his own loss and hiding his own grief until his body gave in. Then there was just me – a teenager left to hold it together . . . which I didn’t do a very good job of in the early days.

  She starts to top up my bowl with more flakes. ‘I’m going to Monday club at six, so I won’t be home when you get in from work. Can you sort your supper out?’

  ‘Of course,’ I say, holding my hand over my bowl to stop the flow of cornflakes. ‘Is George going, too?’

  ‘Livy,’ she warns sternly.

  ‘Sorry.’ I smile as I’m attacked by annoyed eyes, and she shakes her head, her grey curls swishing around her ears.

  ‘It’s a very sad situation when I socialise more than my granddaughter.’

  Her words kill my smile. I’m not getting into this. ‘I need to go to work.’ I stand and dip to kiss her cheek, ignoring her sigh.

  *

  I jump down from the bus, dodging people as I hurry through the chaos of rush-hour pedestrian traffic. My mood reflects the colour of my Converse – bright and sunny, as does the weather.

  After navigating through the back streets of Mayfair, I push my way into the bistro, finding it jam-packed already, just like it was last Monday when I started working for Del. I don’t have time to chat with Sylvie or apologise to Del again for the fiasco on Friday. My apron is thrown at me, and I swing into action, immediately clearing four tables of empty cups before the vacated seating is snapped up by more arriving customers. I smile, deliver quickly and clear the tables even faster. I really am a natural at this service-with-a-smile business.

  Come five o’clock, my yellow Converse aren’t feeling so bright any more. My feet are aching, my calves are aching, and my head is aching. But I still smile when Sylvie slaps my backside as she passes me. ‘You’ve only been here a week and I already don’t know what I’d do without you.’

  My smile widens as I watch her push through the swing door into the kitchen, but it soon falls away when I turn and come face to face with him again. I’m not particularly big on fate or things happening for a reason. I believe that you’re the master of your own destiny – your own decisions and actions are what influence your life course. But unfortunately, the decisions and actions of others impact this course, too, and sometimes you’re powerless to prevent it. Maybe that’s why I’ve closed myself off from the world – shut myself away and rejected any person, potential situation, or possibility that may take the control away from me. I’m perfectly happy admitting it to myself. Someone else’s poor, selfish choices have already affected my life too much. What I’m not happy about is my sudden inability to continue with my sensible strategy, probably when it’s most important that I do.

  And the reason for this lapse in strength is standing in front of me.

  The familiar feeling of my heartbeat increasing should tell me all I need to know, and it does. I’m attracted to him – really attracted to him. But what’s he doing here? He hated my coffee, and while I’ve been making endless perfect cups of the stuff all day long, I suspect that may change now.

  He’s just staring at me again. I should be annoyed but I’m in no position to ask him what the hell he’s looking at because I’m staring at him, too. He’s displaying his usual impassive expression. Can he smile? Does he have bad teeth? He looks like he has perfect teeth. Everything I can see is perfect, and I know that everything I can’t will be, too. He’s dressed in a three-piece suit again, this one navy, making his blue eyes brighter. He looks as perfect and as expensive as ever.

  I need to speak. This is silly, but it takes Sylvie to swing the kitchen door into my back to knock me out of my trance. ‘Oh!’ she exclaims, steadying me by clenching my arm. She scans my startled face, worried when I don’t respond or make any effort to move. Then her gaze shifts and her mouth gapes a little. ‘Oh . . . she whispers, releasing her grip, her eyes flicking from me to him. ‘I’ll just . . . um . . . empty the bins.’ She deserts me, leaving me to serve him. I want to yell for her to come back, but once again, my tongue is tied and I’m bloody staring.

  He braces his hands on the counter, leani
ng forward, and that lock of hair falls onto his forehead, diverting my eyes just north of his. ‘You’re watching me very closely,’ he murmurs.

  ‘You’re watching me, too,’ I point out, finding my tongue. He’s really watching me. ‘You’re not doing very well at keeping away.’

  He doesn’t entertain my observation. ‘How old are you?’ His gaze drags slowly down my body before returning to my eyes. I don’t answer, but I do frown as his eyebrow arches expectantly. ‘I asked you a question.’

  ‘Twenty-four,’ I answer quickly, when I really wanted to tell him to mind his own damn business.

  ‘Are you involved with anyone?’

  ‘No.’ I stun myself with my willing answer. I always claim to be in a relationship when any man shows his interest. It’s like I’m under a spell.

  He nods thoughtfully. ‘Are you going to ask me what I’d like?’

  By that I’m hoping he means what he’d like to drink. Or am I? Does he want to pick up where we left off? I start twisting the antique sapphire eternity ring that Granddad bought for Nan, an obvious sign of my nerves. It’s been in the exact spot for three years after Nan gave it to me for my twenty-first birthday and has been a source of twiddling ever since. ‘What would you like?’ My confidence of Friday night is nowhere to be found. I’m a wreck.

  His piercing blues seem to darken slightly. ‘An Americano, four shots, two sugars and topped up halfway.’

  I’m stabbed by disappointment, which is ridiculous. What’s also ridiculous is that he’s returned after claiming my coffee was the worst he’d ever tasted. ‘I thought you didn’t like my coffee.’

  ‘I didn’t.’ He pushes himself away from the counter. ‘But I’d like to give you the chance to redeem yourself, Livy.’

  My cheeks heat.

  ‘Would you like to try to redeem yourself?’ He’s completely
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