Denied, p.4
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       Denied, p.4

         Part #2 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  piece with this. She must have been delighted by the news that Miller Hart is, in fact, a bachelor. The hurt is too much and reading the article will only inflame it, so I force myself to throw it back on the pile, forgetting to collect the water I’d originally stopped for.

  He’s still around every corner. I stare blankly down at the pavement, trying to figure out where to head next. In my fog, I step into the road, only to be honked at by an approaching car, but I don’t even jump. If that car were to mow me down, I wouldn’t feel a thing.

  It slows and stops a few feet before me. The Lexus is unfamiliar, but the registration plate isn’t. Two letters. Just two.

  W A

  The driver’s door opens and an unfamiliar man gets out, tipping his hat to me before briskly walking around the car and opening the rear door, holding it and gesturing for me to get in. Refusing would be stupid. He’ll find me, no matter where I hide, so I tentatively step forward and lower myself into the car, keeping my eyes down, working hard to make my tears recede. I don’t need to look to check if I’m alone. I know I’m not. I could feel the power that he wields from outside of the car. Now that I’m within touching distance of him, it’s potent.

  ‘Hello, Olivia.’ William’s voice is just how I remember. Soft. Comforting.

  I hang my head. I’m not ready for this.

  ‘You could at the very least be courteous enough to look at me and say hello this time. That night at the hotel, you were in an awful hurry.’

  I slowly turn my eyes and absorb every refined piece of William Anderson, refreshing the distant memories that I’ve stored at the back of my mind for years and years. ‘What is it about you types and manners?’ I ask shortly, keeping my stare on his shimmering greys. They seem even more sparkly, his full head of grey hair making his eyes seem more like liquid metal.

  He smiles and reaches over, clasping my little hand in his big one. ‘I would have been disappointed had you not fired a little spunk in my direction.’

  His touch is just as comforting as his handsome face. I don’t want it to be, but it is. ‘And I would hate to disappoint you, William,’ I sigh. The door next to me shuts and the driver is up front in no time, pulling away from the kerb. ‘Where are you taking me?’

  ‘For dinner, Olivia. It seems we have a lot to talk about.’ He pulls my hand to his mouth and kisses my knuckles before placing it back in my lap. ‘The similarities are incredible,’ he says quietly.

  ‘Don’t,’ I grate, turning to look out the window. ‘If that’s all you want to talk about, then I’ll graciously decline your invitation to dinner.’

  ‘I wish it really was all there is to talk about,’ he replies sternly. ‘But a certain wealthy young gentleman is higher on my list of concerns, Olivia.’

  My eyes slowly close and, if it were possible, I’d close my ears, too. I don’t want to hear what William has to say. ‘Your concern isn’t necessary.’

  ‘I’ll be the one who decides that. I’m not going to sit back and watch you be dragged into a world where you don’t belong. I fought long and hard to keep you from it, Olivia.’ He reaches over and runs his knuckles down my cheek, watching me closely. ‘I won’t allow it.’

  ‘It has nothing to do with you.’ I’m sick of people thinking they know what’s best for me. I’m the master of my own destiny, I think like an idiot. I take the handle of the door when the car stops at a red light, ready to jump out and run. But I don’t get very far. The door won’t budge and William has a firm grip around the top of my arm.

  ‘You’re staying in this car, Olivia,’ he asserts firmly as the car pulls away from the lights. ‘I’m in no mood for your defiance this evening. You really are your mother through and through.’

  I shrug him off and rest back in the plush leather. ‘Please don’t speak of her.’

  ‘Your hatred hasn’t lessened, then?’

  I turn cold eyes onto my mother’s ex-pimp. ‘Why would it? She chose your dark world over her daughter.’

  ‘You’re about to choose a darker world,’ he says matter-of-factly.

  My mouth snaps shut and my heart rate doubles. ‘I’m choosing nothing,’ I whisper. ‘I’m never going to see him again.’

  He smiles fondly at me on a little shake of his head. ‘Who are you trying to convince?’ he asks, and probably wisely, too. I heard my words. There was no conviction in them. ‘I’m here to help you, Olivia.’

  ‘I don’t need your help.’

  ‘I assure you, you do. More than you did seven years ago,’ he says harshly, almost coldly, leaving me feeling cold. I remember William’s dark world. I can’t possibly need his help more now than I did then.

  He turns away from me and takes his phone from his inside pocket, punching in a few numbers before holding it to his ear. ‘Cancel my appointments for the rest of the evening,’ he orders, and then hangs up, slipping his phone back into his jacket. He keeps his gaze forward for the rest of the journey, leaving me wondering what’s about to transpire over dinner. I know I’m about to hear things that I don’t want to, and I know there is nothing I can do to stop it.

  The driver pulls the Lexus up to a small restaurant and opens the door for me. William nods, a wordless gesture to step out, which I do without a fuss, knowing it will get me nowhere to protest. Smiling at the driver, I wait for William to join me on the pavement and then watch as he buttons his jacket before placing his hand on the small of my back to guide me onward. The doors to the restaurant are opened for us and William greets almost everyone as we pass through. The awareness of his presence by other diners and the staff is powerful. He nods and smiles all the way until we’re being seated at a private table at the back, away from prying eyes and ears. A wine menu is handed to me by a smart waiter, and I smile my thanks as I take my seat.

  ‘She’ll have water,’ he orders. ‘And the usual for me.’ There’s no please or thank you. ‘I recommend the risotto.’ William smiles across the table at me.

  ‘I’m not hungry.’ My stomach’s in knots, a mixture of nerves and anger. I couldn’t possibly eat.

  ‘You’re bordering on emaciated, Olivia. Please let me have the satisfaction of watching you eat a decent meal.’

  ‘I have my nan to nag me about my weight. I don’t need you nagging, too.’ I place the menu on the table and take the glass of water that’s just been poured.

  ‘How is the formidable Josephine?’ he asks, accepting a tumbler of dark liquid from the waiter.

  She wasn’t so formidable when William sent me back to her. I recall him referring to my grandmother on a few occasions during my reckless spell, but I was too blinkered by my determination back then to delve into the details of their acquaintance. ‘You knew her?’ Now I’m curious again, and I damn well hate being curious.

  He laughs, and it’s a pleasant sound, all smooth and light. ‘I’ll never forget her. I was her first call each time Gracie performed one of her disappearing acts.’

  The mention of my mother’s name stirs the bile in my stomach, but hearing about my grandmother makes me smile on the inside. She’s fearless, not intimidated in the least bit by anyone, and I know William wouldn’t have been an exception. His amused tone while talking of Nan is proof. ‘She’s well,’ I answer.

  ‘Still spunky?’ he asks with a slight smile on his lips.

  ‘More than ever,’ I answer, ‘but she wasn’t too good when you took me home that night seven years ago.’

  ‘I know.’ He nods in understanding. ‘She needed you.’

  Regret cripples me, and I crumble within, wishing I could change how I reacted to the discovery of my mother’s journal and to my grandmother’s grief. ‘We got through it. She’s still spunky.’

  He smiles. It’s a fond smile. ‘No one ever made me quake in my boots, Olivia. Only your grandmother.’ The idea of William quaking in his boots is ludicrous. ‘But she knew deep down that I could no less control Gracie than she or your grandfather could.’

  William relaxes back in his ch
air and orders two risottos when the waiter presents himself.

  ‘Why?’ I ask once the waiter has scurried away again. This is a question I should have asked all those years ago. There are so many things I should have asked back then.

  ‘Why what?’

  ‘Why was my mother like that? Why couldn’t she be controlled?’

  William visibly shifts in his seat, clearly made uncomfortable by my question, and his grey eyes are avoiding mine. ‘I tried, Olivia.’

  I frown across the table at him, finding it strange seeing such a prolific male looking so awkward. ‘What?’

  He sighs and rests his elbows on the table. ‘I should have sent her away sooner. Like I did you when I discovered who you were.’

  ‘Why would you send her away?’

  ‘Because she was in love with me.’ He watches for my reaction across the table, but he won’t find much because I’ve been stunned into blankness. My mum was in love with her pimp? Then why the hell did she put it about town? Why . . . Realisation descends quickly and halts my silent questions.

  ‘You didn’t love her,’ I whisper.

  ‘I loved your mother madly, Olivia.’

  ‘Then why—’ I sit back in my chair. ‘She was punishing you.’

  ‘Daily,’ he sighs. ‘Every fucking day.’

  This isn’t what I expected. I’m totally confused. ‘If you loved each other, then why weren’t you together?’

  ‘She wanted me to do things that I simply couldn’t.’

  ‘Or wouldn’t.’

  ‘No, couldn’t. I had a responsibility. I couldn’t walk away from my girls and let them fall into the hands of some immoral bastard.’

  ‘So you walked away from my mum.’

  ‘And let her fall into the hands of an immoral bastard.’

  I gasp, my eyes darting around the dimly lit restaurant, trying to comprehend what I’m being told. ‘You knew. I was looking for answers and you knew all along?’

  His lips straighten and his nostrils flare. ‘You didn’t need to know the sordid details. You were a young girl.’

  ‘How could you let her go like that?’

  ‘I kept her close for years, Olivia. Letting her loose in my world was disastrous. I stood back and watched her drown men in her beauty and spirit, watched them fall for her. It tore my heart out every fucking day, and she knew it. I couldn’t take it any more.’

  ‘So you banished her.’

  ‘And I wish to every god that I hadn’t.’

  I gulp back the lump forming in my throat. Everything William has told me might fill a massive hole in my history, but it doesn’t fill the hole in my heart. Despite his tale of tortured love though, she still abandoned her daughter. There’s nothing he could tell me to make that right. I glimpse across the table at the mature, handsome man whom my mother was in love with and, crazily, I can appreciate it. And even crazier was that I went to find my mother, tried to fathom her mentality. I took her journal and tracked down those men she wrote about, desperate to figure out what she found so appealing. But instead I found comfort in her pimp. My short time with William when I was seventeen showed me a compassionate, caring man, a man who I fast became fond of, a man who cared for me. There was no desire, nor was there any physical attraction, despite his good looks, but I can’t deny that I felt a certain sense of love for him.

  ‘How did you not know who I was?’ I ask. I survived a whole week before William worked it out. I remember his face, the realisation . . . the anger. I know that I look scarily like my mother. How had he not seen it?

  He takes a deep, almost frustrated breath. ‘When you turned up, it had been fifteen years since I’d seen Gracie. The resemblance was uncanny, but I was so blindsided by that alone I didn’t stop to consider the possibility. Then I did, but the maths didn’t add up.’ His eyebrows jump up accusingly. ‘Wrong name, wrong age.’

  I look away, ashamed. I’m humiliated and shattered. Some things are best left dead, and my mother is one of those things. ‘Thank you,’ I whisper quietly as our risotto is placed before us.

  William lets the waiter fuss for a few moments before flicking his hand, silently ordering him to leave. ‘For what?’

  ‘For sending me back to Nan.’ I look up at him and he reaches over and takes my hand. ‘For helping me and not telling my grandmother.’ That was what did it. William’s threat to pay a visit to Nan terrified me more than anything else because it would have killed her. She was in a terribly dark place. As far as Nan is concerned, I ran away to escape the harsh reality that my mother’s journal represented. I couldn’t add to her grief. Not after everything she went through with her daughter and then Granddad. ‘But I read her journal.’ I let the words tumble from my lips in a moment of confusion. ‘That’s how I found you back then.’

  ‘A little black leather book?’ he asks with an edge of resentment to his tone.

  ‘Yes.’ I’m almost excited that he knows what I’m talking about. ‘You know of it?’

  ‘Of course I do.’ William’s jaw has noticeably tightened, making me sit further back in my chair. ‘She was kind enough to leave it on my desk for a bit of bedtime reading once.’

  ‘Oh . . .’ I pick up my fork and start poking at the rice dish that I’m not hungry for – anything to escape the potent bitterness pouring from William.

  ‘Your mother could be a cruel woman, Olivia.’

  I nod, the purpose of the little black book suddenly very clear. She really did get a thrill from writing all of those passages, describing endless encounters with endless men, all in vivid detail. But it wasn’t because she relished doing it. Or maybe she did. Who knows? The primary reason was to torture William. Her thrill was knowing the hurt and anger she’d cause the man she was in love with.

  ‘Anyway,’ he sighs, ‘that’s all history . . .’

  I scoff at his insult. ‘For you, perhaps! For me it’s a daily mystery as to why she’d give me up.’

  ‘Don’t beat yourself up, Olivia.’

  ‘Well I do!’ I’m outraged that he can pass off my abandonment with such flippancy. Trying to convince myself it was of no consequence that she cleared off was easier than facing the harsh reality. A story of tortured love doesn’t make this all better, nor does it make me understand.

  ‘Calm down.’ William leans across the table and gives my hand a soothing rub, but I snatch it away. I’m furious with so many aspects of my life, and I feel like all of it is out of my control.

  ‘I am calm!’ I yell, making William sit back in his chair with a look of exasperation on his handsome face. ‘I’m calm.’ I start playing with my risotto again. ‘Do you think she’s alive?’

  The harsh pull of breath that stems from the man across the table is full of pain. ‘I . . .’ He’s shifting in his chair again, avoiding my eyes. ‘I’m . . .’

  ‘Just tell me,’ I say evenly, wondering why I care. She’s dead to me anyway.

  ‘I don’t know.’ William collects his own fork and pokes at the dish. ‘Gracie and her ability to make men insane with frustration and lust could have quite possibly driven someone to strangulation, too. Trust me, I know.’ He drops his fork, the conversation clearly sucking up his appetite. I follow his lead and do exactly the same.

  ‘She sounds like a handful,’ I say, because I don’t know what else there is to say.

  ‘You have no idea,’ he sighs, almost on a smile, like he’s reflecting. ‘Anyway, back to the matter at hand.’ He brushes off the reminiscing quickly and turns all businesslike, and I imagine that’s exactly how it was all those years ago with my mother. Even just talking about her exposes vulnerability in this hard-faced, powerful man. ‘Miller Hart.’

  ‘What about him?’ I raise my chin cockily, like he’s of no importance.

  ‘How do you know him?’

  ‘How do you know him?’ I’m being conniving, but I’m also even more curious after Miller’s vague explanation. All of these warnings and concern. Why?

  ‘He’s a rui
ned man.’

  ‘That doesn’t answer my question.’

  William leans forward, and I move back, wary. ‘That man lives in a dark place, Olivia. Darker than mine. He plays with the devil.’

  I swallow hard, pain slicing through my heart. No words are coming to me and, even if they did, I wouldn’t get them past my thick tongue.

  ‘I know what he does and how he does it,’ William continues. ‘He’s known as London’s most notorious male escort for a reason, Olivia. I worked too hard to keep you from my own business dealings to see you blindly jump into Miller Hart’s dark place. I’ve been in this world for a long, long time. There’s not much I don’t know, if anything. And I know this . . .’ He pauses, leaving a lingering, unwanted silence hovering between us. ‘He will break you.’

  I flinch at his cold claim. I’m desperate to tell him that Miller showed me nothing but tenderness . . . until that night at the hotel. The night William found me racing away from where Miller had restrained me to a bedpost and treated me like any of his other clients. I still wasn’t sure what was worse – his cold impassiveness that night or the way his clever fingers and tongue still made me come in exquisite torture.

  ‘Thanks for the news flash,’ are the only words I can get out through my pain.

  ‘You’re your mother’s daughter, Olivia.’

 
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