Denied, p.40
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       Denied, p.40
 

         Part #2 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas

  ‘I’ll be fine.’ What does he think will happen to me?

  ‘He better make certain of it,’ he scoffs.

  What? ‘You sound like a conceited idiot!’

  ‘Olivia.’ He dips and gets nose to nose with me, his eyes burning bright with fervour, while mine are burning bright with frustration. ‘You know how I feel about people interfering, and you know how I feel about them upsetting you. Not only will I break his spine if you return to me physically harmed, but I’ll hold that promise if he upsets you.’

  My whole body slumps dramatically. It’s intentional, just so he can physically see how much he frustrates me.

  ‘Overthinking,’ he whispers, sliding his palm onto my nape and pulling me forward, closing the minuscule gap that remained between our mouths and sealing our lips.

  ‘I won’t overthink,’ I promise, letting him suck my annoyance out of me. I’m past that now. ‘And after everything you’ve put me through in the last twenty-four hours, Miller? I’m having coffee with a friend.’

  I feel his lips purse against mine. ‘As you wish.’ He can’t argue with that. He wraps me in his arms, disconnecting from my mouth so he can sink his face into my wild blond hair. It’s like he knows that a Miller thing can magic some strength into me. It never fails. ‘I count on your strength, my gorgeous girl.’

  I embrace him and let him squeeze me strong. Or stronger. I might have been hugely annoyed with what’s happened since Gregory rocked up, but my strength didn’t waver. I’ll never run away from us. ‘I should take a shower.’

  He releases me. My hair is pushed over my shoulders and arranged just so as he scans my face. ‘Don’t leave me without you for too long.’

  I smile and gently break away from him, taking myself to the shower while mentally preparing for another onslaught of interference from my best friend.

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Gregory is leaning up against the wall in the hallway when I leave Miller’s apartment, scrolling through his phone. ‘Hey,’ I say, pulling the door closed behind me.

  He looks up and pushes away from the wall on a strained smile. ‘Hey, baby girl.’

  Those words alone make me want to sob. ‘What’s happened to us?’ I ask.

  Gregory looks to Miller’s shiny black door and back to me. ‘The coffee-hater happened.’

  ‘He’s more than a coffee-hater,’ I argue quietly. ‘And it was only my first coffee that he hated, so we can’t technically call him that any more.’

  ‘Cocksucker.’

  ‘That one’s reserved for Ben. Seen him lately?’

  His broad shoulders go rigid. It’s guilt. ‘We’re not here because of my fucked-up love life.’

  I nearly fall over as a result of his cheek. ‘My love life isn’t fucked up!’

  ‘Get a grip!’ He’s up in my face with two easy strides. ‘That in there’ – he points to Miller’s front door – ‘is fucked up and he’s rubbing off on you!’

  My hackles rise, my face twisting with infuriation. ‘I’m not listening to this.’ I pivot on my Converse, set to abandon our ‘talk’ in favour of some solace from my fucked-up, OCD-suffering, demon-holding, possessive, damaged, drug-using, ex-notorious-male-escort/part-time gentleman. Okay, so he is kind of fucked up, but he’s my fucked-up, finicky Miller. And I love him.

  ‘Olivia, wait!’ He grabs the top of my arm a little harshly, but quickly drops it when I yelp. ‘Shit!’ he curses.

  I swing around, rubbing at my arm on a scowl. ‘Take it easy!’

  He looks truly nervous. ‘I’m sorry, I just didn’t want you to go.’

  ‘Then tell me so.’

  He casts his brown eyes to my arm. ‘I hope I haven’t marked you; I quite like my spine where it is and in one piece.’

  I press my lips together to prevent my grin at his sardonic joke. ‘I’m fine.’

  ‘Thank fucking God.’ He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks down sheepishly. ‘Can we start again?’

  Relief floors me. ‘Please.’

  ‘Great.’ He looks up to me, remorse rife in his brown eyes. ‘Can we walk and talk? I’m not all that comfortable bad-mouthing your coffee-hater when he’s in such close proximity.’

  On a roll of my eyes, I link arms with him and lead him to the stairwell. ‘C’mon.’

  ‘Is the lift broken?’

  I skid to a halt, frowning to myself. I haven’t even realised that I’m picking up on Miller’s obsessive habits. ‘No.’

  Gregory’s frown matches mine as we stroll over to the lift and board as soon as it arrives. His face looks dreadful, but I’m not sure it would be wise to acknowledge it or ask how he is, given that we’re both smiling now, so I plump for something entirely different. ‘How’s work?’

  ‘Same old,’ he mutters unenthusiastically, killing that line of conversation dead in its tracks.

  I think hard again. ‘Mum and Dad okay?’

  ‘All right.’

  ‘How are things with Ben?’

  ‘Fragile.’

  ‘Has he come out?’

  ‘No.’

  I roll my eyes. ‘What the hell did we talk about before I met Miller?’

  He shrugs as the doors open, and I lead on, desperately searching my empty mind for anything to talk about, other than Miller and the inevitable interference that’s on the horizon. I come up with zilch.

  Nodding politely at the doorman and ignoring the reflection of Gregory’s reluctant figure behind me, I push through the doors and emerge into the bright, fresh London air. I would have thought the vast open space engulfing me would instil a sense of freedom, but it doesn’t. Nowhere near. I feel suffocated under the impending interrogation from Gregory, desperate to run back to Miller and take my freedom from being smothered in his apartment. In his thing. In him.

  I turn on a sigh, finding Gregory shifting awkwardly behind me, obviously stumped for what to say or do. He insisted on a talk. He must have things to say, and even though I don’t particularly want to hear them, I wish he’d just get it over and done with so I can tell him that he’s wasting his energy . . . again.

  ‘Are we going for coffee or not?’ I ask, indicating down the street.

  ‘Sure,’ he mumbles grumpily, like he’s aware that he’s about to waste his breath. He joins me and we begin to stroll down the street. There’s at least three feet separating us and unrest is filling that gap. It’s never been like this between us, and as there’s no conversation happening, it gives me too much silent reflecting time to wonder how it came to this. Our silly little fumble in my bedroom that time was a cause for concern, but with the animosity and battling between Miller and Gregory, that’s fallen by the wayside, which is undoubtedly a good thing.

  We cross a road, quite easily, given the early hour, and continue at a leisurely pace, Gregory drawing continuous breaths of air to speak but never actually saying anything, and me looking eagerly for the sign that’ll tell me we’re nearing the coffee house. The discomfiture squeezing us is becoming unbearable.

  ‘Just tell me what it is about him.’ Gregory pulls me to a stop, and I open and close my mouth, trying to figure out how to word it. It’s all clear as daylight in my mind, but trying to voice it to an outsider stumps me. I don’t need to justify myself to anyone, yet the profound need to make Gregory understand why I’m still here is suddenly very important to me.

  ‘Everything.’ I shake my head, wishing I could come up with something better.

  ‘The fact that he’s an escort?’

  ‘No!’

  ‘Money?’

  ‘Don’t be stupid. You know I have a bank account full of cash.’

  ‘He’s intense.’

  ‘Very, but it has nothing to do with that. He wouldn’t be Miller if he didn’t have issues. Every part of that man is a result of his life so far. He was orphaned, Gregory. His grandparents dumped him in a questionable children’s home and forced his young mother back to Ireland, leaving him behind because of the shame he’d bring on t
he family.’

  ‘Doesn’t mean he can behave like a total twat,’ he mutters, scuffing his boots on the concrete beneath his feet. ‘Everyone has problems.’

  ‘Problems?’ I fume indignantly. ‘Being orphaned, becoming homeless, having OCD, and resorting to prostitution to survive isn’t a problem, Greg. It’s a fucking tragedy!’

  My friend’s eyes widen, making me frown. ‘Homeless?’

  ‘Yes, he was homeless.’

  ‘He has OCD?’

  ‘Not confirmed, but it’s pretty obvious.’

  ‘Prostitution?’ he shouts in delayed reaction.

  I realise my error immediately. Escort. Gregory didn’t need to know that Miller had been a regular prostitute. ‘Yes.’ I raise my chin, daring him to pass comment, thinking what he’d say should I add drug addict to the list.

  My ploy fails on every level. ‘It gets better!’ he laughs, but it’s a nervous laugh. ‘And I’m pretty sure he’s psychotic, too, so you really do have your very own head case.’

  ‘He. Is. Not. A. Head. Case.’ I punctuate each word on a hiss, my blood beginning to boil. ‘You don’t see him when we’re alone. No one does, except me. Yes, he can be uptight, and so fucking what if he likes things a certain way? He isn’t killing anyone!’

  ‘He probably has.’

  I recoil in disgust, words collecting and sticking to my tongue, my brain not quite sure which expletives to hurl at Gregory first. ‘Fuck off!’ It settles on a good all-rounder, and once I’ve lobbed it in his face, I turn back towards Miller’s apartment block, my angry feet pounding the pavement harshly.

  ‘Ah, Livy, come on!’

  ‘Piss off.’ I don’t look back. There’s likely to be explosions if I do. But then I think of something and swing around. ‘Where did you get Miller’s card?’

  He shrugs. ‘That black-haired bird who was at Ice’s opening night. Hot as fuck!’

  Cassie.

  I feel my hackles rise and the pressure in my head mount. The bitch! I steam off, worrying about my mounting fury. I want to hit something. Hard.

  ‘Oh!’ My yelp is high-pitched as I’m captured and tossed up so I’m lying across his arms. He changes direction and strides off down the road, back in the direction of the coffee house, ignoring my incredulous look.

  ‘Sass,’ he says simply. ‘I’m kind of glad you’ve hung on to it.’

  My body lets up on the tension stored and I relax in his arms. ‘I love him, Gregory.’

  ‘I can see that,’ he admits begrudgingly. ‘And does he love you?’

  ‘Yes,’ I answer, because I know for certain that he does. He just doesn’t say it so straightforwardly. But that’s his way.

  ‘Does he make you happy?’

  ‘More than you’ll ever know, but I’d be so much happier if people just left us alone.’ I feel him deflate beneath my suspended body on a sigh.

  He stops and places me on my feet, then takes a solid grip of my petite shoulders. ‘Baby girl, I get a bad vibe. He’s so . . .’ He pauses, his hand reaching to his forehead and rubbing in a clear sign of worry.

  ‘So what?’

  His lips purse and he drops both hands to his side where they hang lifelessly. ‘Dark.’

  I nod, taking a deep breath. ‘I know every dark thing there is to know about him. I’m making it all light again. I’m helping him and whether you agree and accept it or not, he has helped me, too. He’s my someone, Gregory. I’ll never give him up.’

  ‘Wow.’ My friend exhales, his cheeks puffing. ‘Those are some strong words, Olivia.’

  I shrug. ‘That’s how it is. Don’t you see? He isn’t holding me captive or forcing me into anything. I’m there willingly and because I’m supposed to be. I hope you find your someone someday, and I hope you feel as consumed by them as I do Miller. He’s special.’ I mentally wince at my own words, tossing that thought far, far away.

  Peace seems to settle over me under the evident realisation in Gregory’s expression. I’m not sure if he understands, and maybe he never will, but acceptance would be a good starting point. I don’t expect them to be bosom buddies. I don’t think Miller could be bosom buddies with anyone; he’s not a people person. He doesn’t mix well with anyone, least of all interferers. But the least they can do is be civil. For me, they should find the strength to do that.

  ‘I’ll try,’ Gregory whispers, almost reluctantly, but it still makes my heart dance with happiness. ‘If he’s willing to try, then I’m game.’

  I smile, probably the brightest I ever have, and launch myself into his arms, making him stagger back on a small chuckle. ‘Thank you. He cares about me, too, Gregory. Just as much as you.’ I neglect to mention that he probably cares more, knowing that won’t help my cause.

  There are no more words, just us hugging each other with the energy of too many weeks’ worth of lost time until I finally pull out of his hold, victory and elation spiralling through my whole body. His willingness, of course, is riding on Miller agreeing, but I have no doubt that he will. As long as there’s a promise of zero interference and my happiness, then we should be good. I kiss his handsome cheek and link his arm, turning to continue our journey to the coffee house.

  And freeze.

  The blood drains from my head and Gregory grabs me with his spare arm to steady me. ‘Livy? What’s up?’

  The white BMW parked at the kerb is unfamiliar, but it’s not the swanky car that has my interest. It’s the woman leaning up against the side who holds my attention, watching us as she draws on a cigarette. I’ve seen her once before and I’ll never forget her face.

  Sophia.

  She has a beautiful raincoat on that’s as polar white as her vehicle, her lips are blood-red, and her blond, sharp bob is as perfect as it was the last time I had the pleasure. I feel sick.

  ‘Livy?’ Gregory’s concerned voice shakes me back to life, pulling my eyes away from the smug look splattered all over her flawless face. ‘Shit, you’re all white.’ His hand rests on my forehead. ‘You gonna throw up?’

  ‘No,’ I insist weakly, considering the high possibility that I really will. This woman, above all the others in Miller’s life I’ve encountered, I’m wary of most of all. For one thing, she’s been in Miller’s apartment in the middle of the night. She was also sipping wine, all at home, and that thought hasn’t crossed my mind until now. There’s something different about this one, and I don’t like it. Not one little bit. After clearing the air with Gregory, the last thing I need is her making a scene, warning me off or belittling me.

  Trying desperately to gather myself, I force a smile and tug on Gregory’s arm. ‘Are we ever going to make it to Costa?’

  ‘I was just wondering that myself.’ He smiles and follows my lead, not appearing to have noticed anything untoward, other than me having a strange moment. Sophia could screw that up, and when I hear the clicking of designer heels on the pavement behind me, I know immediately that she’s about to.

  ‘Olivia, I believe,’ she purrs, making every muscle in my body tense. My footsteps falter, my eyes clenching shut in silent hope that if I ignore her, she might go away. I doubt it, but I’m willing to give it a go. I continue walking. Gregory’s speaking, yet I can’t hear a word, just the distant hum of his tone rattling on in the distance. I can hear her, though. ‘Or do you answer to sweet girl these days?’

  My heart stops in my chest and my feet stop beating the pavement. There’s no escape, and when Gregory glances over his shoulder in curiosity, I know I’m about to be forced into a confrontation. I slowly turn, finding her just a few steps behind me. She takes a slow draw on her cigarette, watching me closely.

  ‘Can I help you?’ I ask, as evenly and casually as I can muster, not bothering to look and gauge Gregory’s expression. I know it’ll be inquisitive, and I can’t rip my wary gaze from a knowing, haughty one, anyway.

  ‘Oh, I think you can,’ she replies, flicking the butt of her cigarette into the gutter. ‘Let’s take a drive, shall we?’ Her ar
m extends towards the BMW and I look to find a driver holding the back door open.

  ‘Who’s this?’ Gregory finally speaks up, moving in closer to me.

 
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