Denied, p.41
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       Denied, p.41

         Part #2 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  ‘Just a friend,’ Sophia answers for me, alleviating the pressure of dreaming up a convincing answer before Gregory probes further. Except I’m not sure her explanation of who she is will wash.

  ‘Livy?’ Gregory nudges me in the shoulder, forcing me to confront him. His brow furrows in question.

  ‘A friend,’ I mumble feebly, my mind racing in search of my next move. I’m coming up with nothing. She referred to me as sweet girl. Miller’s been speaking with her, and he’s been speaking with her about me?

  ‘I haven’t got all day.’ Sophia breaks into my thoughts with her impatience.

  ‘I’ve got nothing to say to you.’

  ‘But I have plenty to tell you – at least, if you care anything for Miller at all . . .’ She trails off provocatively, and my legs shock me by automatically carrying me towards the car, the enticement of her words and potential information pulling me in.

  ‘Livy!’ Gregory calls, but I don’t turn back. I don’t need to see his face and I don’t need him deterring me from doing something that could be incredibly stupid. ‘Olivia, what are you doing?’

  I look behind me and see Sophia’s driver intercept Gregory, stopping him from coming after me.

  Gregory frowns at him. ‘Who the hell are you? Get out of my way.’

  The driver’s hand lifts and settles on Gregory’s shoulder. ‘Be wise, boy.’ His tone is oozing threat, and Gregory peers past him, still frowning, confusion rife on his handsome face.

  ‘Olivia!’ He starts to struggle with the driver, but he’s a big man. A threatening man. I get in the car.

  The door shuts and a few moments later, the other rear door opens and Sophia sinks into the leather. I must be stark-raving mad. I don’t like this woman, and I know for sure I’m not going to like what she says. But there’s an obscenely unreasonable desire for knowledge rippling through me. If she knows something that can help, I have to find out what it is. More knowledge. Knowledge that’ll likely break my fallen heart, or possibly just break me.

  The car pulls away from the kerb, just as Gregory starts hammering on the window next to me. I hate myself for it, but I ignore him.

  ‘Boyfriend?’ Sophia asks, smoothing down her coat.

  I’m about to snap a retort, something along the lines of Miller being my boyfriend, but something stops me. Instinct? ‘He’s my best friend. He’s also gay.’

  ‘Ah!’ she laughs. ‘How very idyllic. The gay best friend.’

  ‘Where are we going?’ I ask to change the subject. I don’t want her to know anything more about my life.

  ‘Just a pleasant drive.’

  I scoff. Nothing about being with Sophia is pleasant. ‘You said you had information. What is it?’ Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t want to be in this car and now I’m determined to remove myself from it fast. Just as soon as this woman divulges exactly why I’m in it.

  ‘First and foremost, I’d like you to walk away from Miller Hart.’

  It’s a request, but delivered in such a way that there could be no mistaking the threat. My heart, my soul, my hope, it all sinks. But Miller’s words – everything about damage control and diversion is suddenly all I can hear. No one can know about us, and although it kills me, I know what I must do. ‘There’s nothing to walk away from. I saw him a few times.’ I feel like I could shut down, give in, and she’s only just getting into her swing. She has lots more to say; I can feel it.

  ‘He’s not available.’

  I frown, focusing on blue eyes that scream victory. This is a woman who always gets her way. ‘That’s of no interest to me.’

  ‘Oh.’ She smiles. It makes my skin crawl. ‘You’re rather close by to his apartment.’

  I nearly falter, but just catch my composure before it rumbles me. ‘My friend lives nearby.’

  ‘Hmmm.’ She opens up a structured Mulberry handbag and reaches in, pulling out an engraved silver cigarette case. Her condescending hum riles me. I can feel irritation overriding the uneasiness, and I conclude that to be a good thing. Sass, damn it, don’t fail me now! Her long fingers select a cigarette from the neat row held tidily under a silver brace, and she taps it on the lid before slipping it between pouting lips. ‘Miller Hart hasn’t got time to be wasting on a curious little girl.’

  My neck retracts on my shoulders as she lights up. ‘Excuse me?’

  Taking a long pull on her cigarette, she regards me thoughtfully and blows out a stream of smoke in my direction. I ignore the cloud of putrid air that engulfs me, keeping my eyes on her. I’m not backing down. My sass appears from nowhere and stands strong by my side.

  ‘Most women have fun with Miller Hart, sweet girl.’ She emphasises Miller’s term of endearment for me. ‘And some, like you, stupidly think they’ll get more. You won’t. In fact, I believe he called you “just a little girl who’s too curious for her own good. I’ve taken her money, had fun with her, nothing more.”’

  Her claim makes my stomach turn, adding to all of the other unwanted reactions she’s spiking with her cruel words. ‘I knew what to expect from Miller. I’m not stupid. It was fun while it lasted.’

  ‘Hmmm,’ she hums, regarding me closely, nearly making me look away. But I don’t. I stand firm. ‘No one knows him like I do. I know him well,’ she claims.

  I want to slap her. ‘How well?’ I don’t know where that question came from. I don’t want to know.

  ‘I know his rules. I know his habits. I know his demons. I know everything.’

  ‘You think he’s yours?’

  ‘I know he’s mine.’

  ‘You’re in love with him.’

  Her hesitation tells me all I need to know, but I know she’ll confirm it. ‘I love Miller Hart deeply.’

  The pressure around my neck increases, yet I manage to register the fact that she hasn’t claimed that Miller loves her. That knowledge strengthens my resolve. I’m not just some fling, some ‘curious girl’. Maybe in the beginning, but our equal fascination changed that very quickly. He can’t stand Sophia. He scrubbed, and I was there to care for him when he was in such a state. I have no fear that he loves this woman. She’s a client. She wants to be more, obviously, but to Miller she’s just another interferer who he’ll likely hurt should he see her again. She wants what she can’t have. To Sophia, Miller Hart is unobtainable, just as he is to every other woman. Except me. I already have him.

  As the car pulls up to the kerb, she turns in her seat, facing me full-on, lifting her chin to exhale some smoke towards the roof of the car, this time sparing me the disgusting cloud. She shows a small amount of thoughtfulness through her layers of expensive make-up as she runs disapproving eyes up and down my body.

  ‘We’re done.’ She smiles as she signals to the door, a silent order to get out, which I do, eager to escape the chilly presence of this awful woman. I slam the door shut and turn as the window slides down. She’s sitting back in her seat, all casual and pretentious. ‘Nice talking.’

  ‘No, it wasn’t.’

  ‘I’m glad we’ve established where we stand. Miller can’t be getting caught up with silly little girls. It’ll be his demise.’ The window slides shut and the car pulls swiftly away, leaving me a trembling bunch of nerves on the roadside. I’m struggling to breathe past my fear, and however hard I try to calm myself, tell myself that she’s just trying to put the fear of God in me, I can’t help the tiniest fragment of worry from settling deep. No, it’s not a tiny fragment. It’s a meteor. Huge and damaging. And I’m scared it’s going to destroy us. Demise?

  Reaching up to my neck through my fuzz of uncertainties, I begin a soothing rub over my flesh, but pause the moment it registers that there’s a reason I’m performing this action. I lift my hand and the hairs jump back up, making me swing around in search of my shadow. There are pedestrians everywhere, most moving fast, but no one looking particularly suspicious. My fear snakes up my spine, straightening my back. I’m being watched. I know I’m being watched. I’m frantic as I swing one way, my hair w
hipping my face, then the other in the hopes of something catching my eye – anything that will stop me from believing that I’m going stark-raving crazy.

  There’s nothing.

  But I know there’s something.

  Sophia. But she’s gone. Or is this just the lingering after-effects of her recent presence? It’s possible; the woman has an unwanted lasting air about her.

  I spin, my eyes darting as I try to gauge my surroundings and soon realise that I’ve been dumped a good mile away from Miller’s. Panic runs riot through my veins as I turn, running at full speed towards his apartment block. I don’t look back. I sprint through the streets, dodging people, crossing roads without looking until I see his building in the distance. It doesn’t give me any sense of relief.

  Flying into the foyer, I run straight into a waiting lift. I’m frantic as I smash the button for the tenth floor repeatedly. ‘Come on!’ I yell, holding back from abandoning it in favour of the stairs. Adrenalin is overwhelming me, and it’d probably carry me up the stairs faster than this lift can, but the doors begin to close and I slump against the back wall, my impatience growing. ‘Come on, come on, come on!’ I start pacing the small space, like my movement might hurry it up. ‘Come on!’ My face is pressed up against the doors when they open, and I squeeze through as soon as the gap is large enough for my lithe body.

  My feet barely touch the ground. I rocket through the hallway, my legs moving so fast I can’t feel them, my hair sailing behind me, my heart set to explode out of my chest in fright, fear, anxiety, desperation . . .

  His door’s wide open, and I hear yelling. Loud yelling. It’s Miller. He’s taken leave of his senses. My need to get to him spirals, my legs now numb from being overworked, and I crash through the doorway, my eyes darting until I find his naked back. He has Gregory up against the wall by his throat.

  ‘Miller!’ I scream, my knees giving out when I come to an abrupt halt, making grabbing the nearby table essential if I’m to remain on my feet. Tears burst from my eyes, every emotion piercing me collecting together and putting too much pressure on my ability to cope.

  He swings around violently, his eyes wild, his hair wild, his movements wild. He looks like a feral animal – a dangerous feral animal. He is dangerous. Unforgiving. Notorious.

  The Special One.

  Gregory is released without delay, and his gasping body slides down the wall lifelessly, his palms clenching his throat on a wince. My desperation won’t allow room for guilt or worry for my friend.

  Miller’s long legs eat up the distance between us in a nano-second, his eyes remaining dark but relief clear in the swimming blues I love so much. ‘Livy,’ he breathes, his naked chest heaving relentlessly. I throw myself forward when I’m sure he’s close enough to catch me and land in his waiting arms, my stress reducing by a million levels at simply being in his hold.

  ‘I was followed,’ I sob.

  ‘Oh, fucking hell,’ he curses. He sounds in physical pain. ‘Fuck!’ He lifts me from my feet and holds me tightly. ‘Sophia?’ The anxiety in his hoarse voice raises those stress levels again. He’s too frantic.

  ‘I don’t know.’ And I don’t need to ask how he knows it was Sophia. I expect he’s strangled a description out of Gregory. ‘She dropped me off streets away.’ I shake my head, keeping my face stuck to his neck. It’s silly, but I concentrate on breathing him into me, hoping that surrounding myself with all of my comforts will chase away all of my distress. I’m shaking like a leaf, no matter how secure he holds me, and through my uncontrollable body movement, I can feel his heart punching into my chest. He’s delirious with concern and that only heightens my ever-growing fear.

  ‘Come here,’ he rasps, like he doesn’t have full control of my motionless form. He carries me further into his apartment, my nails digging into his shoulders. There’s a brief attempt to detach me from his body, but when I silently refuse, increasing my grip, he relents and sits on the couch with me still stuck to him. He fights to manoeuvre me, shifting my legs to one side until I’m cuddled on his lap, my head buried under his chin. ‘Why did you get in that car, Olivia?’ he asks, no scorn or anger in his tone. ‘Tell me.’

  ‘I don’t know,’ I admit. Stupidity. Curiosity. They must be the same thing.

  He sighs, mumbling under his breath. ‘Don’t go near that woman, do you hear me?’

  I nod my acceptance, wholeheartedly wishing that I never had. Nothing good came of it, except some undesired knowledge and aching questions. ‘She said you told her I was a bit of fun.’ The words, although free from my mouth, leave a rancid taste behind.

  ‘You mustn’t see her,’ he grates, wrestling me from his chest. I give in this time, needing to see his face. There are a million emotions etched on every perfect piece of it. ‘She’s bad news, Olivia. The worst. There’s a reason I told her what I did.’

  ‘Who is she?’ I whisper, fearing the answer.

  ‘An interferer.’ His answer is simple and tells me everything I need to know.

  ‘She loves you deeply,’ I tell him, although I suspect he already knows. He nods, shifting his wayward wave. It draws my eyes to it very briefly, screaming for me to push it back, which I do. Slowly.

  My chin is grasped and pulled to his face until our mouths are a hair’s breadth apart. ‘You must understand my hatred for her.’

  I nod and his eyes close slowly, he breathes in slowly, and he releases the air slowly. ‘Thank you,’ he whispers, nuzzling his nose into my cheek. I immerse myself in his evident appreciation, seeing things exactly how they are. Scorned women. Women who have come to depend on the attention that this damaged man gave them. No one said my relationship with Miller would be easy, but no one said it would be near on impossible either.

  I immediately correct myself. One person did.

  ‘What did you tell her?’ Miller asks.

  ‘Nothing.’

  He pulls back. ‘Nothing?’

  ‘You said the less people know, the better.’

  His face twists in pain and he yanks me to him. ‘You beautiful, smart girl.’

  Silence falls, and so does the heavy burden of a million worrying issues. They need to be resolved, dealt with, whatever, but right in this moment in time, I can’t bear it. I’m happy hiding from the cruel world we’re trapped in by remaining submerged in the comfort Miller provides – the comfort I’ve come to depend on.

  ‘I won’t lose, Olivia,’ he vows. ‘I promise.’

  I don’t move from his clutch, instead nodding my acknowledgment while he cuddles me fiercely.

  ‘Well, well, well.’

  The cocky greeting freezes the blood in my veins, and both Miller and I snap our heads up. I don’t like what I see, and I definitely don’t like the angry lines cutting into his handsome face.

  ‘There is little point in me furnishing you with a phone, Olivia, if you don’t answer it.’

  ‘William,’ I breathe, feeling Miller’s body turn to lead beneath me. Oh God, Gregory, William, a ton of shit from Sophia. This situation couldn’t get any worse. I feel anarchy on the brink of explosion, and the instant hostility pouring from Miller at William’s arrival doesn’t lessen my trepidation. This could turn very ugly, very quickly.

  William strides into the room, his phone in hand, flicking a quick unfriendly look to Gregory as he passes. Poor Gregory is still slumped against the wall, his hand still rubbing at his neck. But the appearance of my mum’s ex-pimp has his immediate interest.

  I’m suddenly standing, and Miller straightens to full height, his torso puffing out like a gorilla set to charge. ‘Anderson,’ he virtually growls, reclaiming me and pulling my back into his bare chest.

  William helps himself to a Scotch, musing for a few moments before selecting a dumpy bottle from the back. ‘You said you’d call me, Olivia.’

  I ignore his observation and wait with bated breath for Miller to launch into obsessive orbit at the sight of an interferer, someone who is not only interfering with his relationshi
p, but also with his precisely placed liquor bottles. He’s going to flip his lid. ‘What are you doing here?’ I ask.

  William turns slowly and swirls the dark liquid in the glass before sniffing it and giving a sharp nod of approval. I feel Miller’s hackles rise and I know William feels it, too, even from across the room. But he ignores it. He’s goading him. He knows about Miller’s OCD. ‘Miller called me,’ William states matter-of-factly.

  ‘He did?’ I blurt, escaping Miller’s hold and swinging around to face him. He invited William to interfere?

  Miller’s nostrils flare and he nails me in place with annoyance. ‘I thought you’d been abducted.’

  ‘You thought I’d been kidnapped?’ I press. ‘By Sophia?’ Why the hell would she do that? And why did he call William? Miller hates him, and I know the feeling is totally mutual.

  His face is poker straight, but those eyes are still exuding pure, raw fear. ‘Yes.’

  I’m robbed of words.

  And breath.

  Then something hits me like a bullet to my temple. ‘You told William about my shadow?’ I brace myself for Miller’s answer, even though I know for sure what it’ll be.

  He nods. The urge to reach up and free my neck of the invisible noose is too much, and I find myself feeling around my throat, prompting Miller to move in and take my frantic hands.

  ‘Olivia?’ William’s silky voice, which is still laced with antagonism, pulls my attention across the room. ‘When I say I’ll pick you up at a certain time from a certain place, I expect you to be there. When I call, I expect you to answer.’

  It takes every ounce of my remaining patience and strength not
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