Promised, p.5
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       Promised, p.5

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  poker-faced, totally serious.

  I should search deep to find that bad bone that Nan keeps telling me about and tell him where to go, but I don’t search very hard. ‘Okay,’ I say instead, turning towards the wretched coffee machine that I know is going to let me down. I would undoubtedly do a better job if I wasn’t under such close scrutiny.

  Sending a little mental prayer to the coffee gods, I start with the first of four shots, working hard to regulate my broken breathing. I undertake my task slowly and accurately, not caring if it takes me all night. Stupidly, I want him to enjoy this one.

  In my peripheral vision, I see Sylvie’s curious head pop through the swing door, and I know she’s desperate to know what’s going on. I can feel her grinning, even if I can’t see it. I’d like her to come out and break the awkward silence, give me someone comfortable to speak to, but I also don’t want her to. I want to be alone with him. I’m drawn to him, and I absolutely cannot help it.

  When I’m done, I top up his takeaway cup and secure a lid before turning to deliver it to him. He’s sitting down again, and I immediately realise my error. He’s not even tasted it and I’ve already cocked up.

  He focuses his blues on the cardboard cup, but I speak before he does. ‘Would you like a proper cup?’

  ‘I’ll take the takeaway.’ His eyes lift to mine. ‘It might taste better.’ He’s not smiling, but I get the feeling he wants to.

  Walking carefully, even though the risk of spilling is minimal with a lid, I approach him and hold out the cup. ‘I hope you enjoy.’

  ‘So do I,’ he says, taking it and nodding at the sofa opposite. ‘Join me.’ He removes the lid and slowly blows the steam from his coffee, his already kissable lips seeming to invite me in. Everything he does with that mouth is slow – from talking to blowing steam from hot coffee. It’s all so very deliberate, and it makes me wonder what else would be. He’s beyond beautiful, if a little stand-offish. He must turn heads everywhere he goes.

  He cocks a brow and indicates the sofa opposite again. My legs move forward of their own volition to take a seat. ‘How is the coffee?’ I ask.

  He takes a slow sip of his Americano, and I find myself tensing, bracing for him to spit it out. He doesn’t. He nods in approval, taking another sip, and I relax, stupidly relieved that he doesn’t seem disgusted. His eyes lift. ‘You may have noticed that I’m quite fascinated by you as well.’

  ‘As well?’ I ask, confused.

  ‘It’s rather obvious you’re fascinated by me.’

  What an arrogant prick. ‘I suppose lots of women must be fascinated by you,’ I retort. ‘Do you invite them all for coffee?’

  ‘No, just you.’ He leans closer and the look in his eyes practically takes my breath away. I’ve never been the subject of such intense focus. It’s too much.

  I break the eye contact and find myself looking away, but then I remember something and force myself to confront his intensity. ‘Who was that woman at the party?’ I ask, not the least bit embarrassed to enquire. He came right out and asked me what my relationship status is, so I have every right to know his. She looked far too familiar to be a business associate. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m still hoping he is single. The idea that this man is available is ridiculous, and so is the fact that I want him be – I want him to be available . . . for me.

  ‘Business,’ he replies, watching me carefully, his smooth tone stroking my heated skin.

  ‘You’re single?’ I ask, wanting complete clarification, but for what purpose I don’t know. I’m actually wondering what my subconscious is planning, because I haven’t a clue . . . nor am I concerned, and that should really concern me.

  ‘I am.’

  ‘Okay,’ is all I say, still watching him, feeling quietly delighted. Now I want to know how old he is. He seems mature and his clothes have been of the highest quality every time I’ve seen him, screaming money.

  ‘Okay,’ he counters, slowly sipping more coffee as I look on. He’s like a giant mass of intensity, enticing me into . . . something. ‘I enjoyed my coffee,’ he says, placing his cup down and swivelling it, before slowly rising from the couch. My gaze follows him up until I feel small under his potent, piercing blues, looking down at me.

  ‘You’re leaving?’ I blurt, shocked. What was all this about? What was his point?

  He shifts uncomfortably and puts his hand out to me. ‘It was a pleasure to meet you.’

  ‘We already met,’ I point out. ‘You nearly kissed me but walked away.’

  His hand drops a little at my sharp words before he gathers himself and raises it again. ‘And then you walked away from me.’

  So it’s a game? He’s unhappy because I was the one who walked away, so now he’s returning the favour, having the final say? His hand comes closer and I recoil, too scared to touch him.

  ‘Do you think there will be sparks?’ he asks quietly.

  My eyes widen. I know there will be sparks because I’ve felt them already. His mocking injects some bravery into me and my petite hand lifts to meet his. And there they are again. Sparks. Not electricity firing off all over the bistro, causing us both to gasp or jump back in shock, but there’s something there, and instead of firing outward, it’s shooting inward, ricocheting all over my body, making my heart beat faster and my lips part. I don’t want to let go, but he flexes his palm, prompting me to release him.

  Then he turns and strides out, without another word or look to suggest that he felt something too. Did he? What was that? Who is he? My palms rise to my cheeks and I rub furiously, trying to scrub some sensibility into me. I’m way too intrigued by him, and no amount of sightseeing or quilting with my grandmother is going to distract me from where my thoughts are wandering to, not after that brief but enlightening conversation. I’m getting into unknown territory – dangerous territory. After my years of avoiding all men, even the decent ones, I’m finding myself encouraging one who looks like he should definitely be left alone.

  There’s a pull, though – a very powerful pull.

  *

  I’ve been away with the fairies all week. Every time the bistro door swings open, I look for him. But he’s never there. A dozen men over the last four days have asked me my name, my number, or they’ve told me what stunning eyes I have. And each one I’ve wished could be Miller.

  I’ve been busy churning out perfect coffee after perfect coffee, and I even waitressed at another posh function for Del on Tuesday, hoping he’d be there. He wasn’t.

  I’ve always tried to keep my life simple, but now I’m craving a complication – a tall, dark-haired, mysterious complication.

  It’s Saturday, and Gregory has humoured me, tagging along for a walk through the Royal Parks. He knows there is something on my mind. He kicks a pile of leaves as we traipse down the middle of Green Park, towards Buckingham Palace. He wants to ask, and I know he won’t hold out for much longer. He’s made all of the conversation, while I’ve returned one-word answers. I’m not going to get away with it for much longer. I’m clearly absent in mind, and I could probably muster up the energy to feign my normal self, but I don’t think I want to. I think I want Gregory to press me so I can share Miller with him.

  ‘I’ve met someone.’ The words fall from my mouth, breaking the comfortable silence between us. He looks shocked, which is okay because I’m quite shocked, too.

  ‘Who?’ he asks, pulling me to a stop.

  ‘I don’t know.’ I shrug, lowering my bum to the grass and picking at some of the blades. ‘He turned up at the bistro a few times and also at a gala ball where I waitressed.’

  Gregory joins me, his handsome face morphing into a big grin. ‘Olivia Taylor has been affected by a man?’

  ‘Yes, Olivia Taylor has most definitely been affected by a man.’ It feels like such a relief to share my burden. ‘I can’t stop thinking about him,’ I admit.

  ‘Ah!’ Gregory throws his arms in the air. ‘Is he hot?’

  ‘Stupidly.’ I smile.
He has the most amazing eyes. As blue as the sky.’

  ‘I want to know everything,’ Gregory declares.

  ‘There’s nothing more to tell.’

  ‘Well, what did he say?’

  ‘He asked if I was involved with anyone.’ I try to sound casual, but I know what’s coming.

  His eyes widen as he leans forward. ‘And you said?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘It’s happened!’ he sings. ‘Thank the fucking Lord, it’s finally happened!’

  ‘Gregory!’ I scold him, but I can’t help laughing too. He’s right; it has happened, and it’s happened hard.

  ‘Oh, Livy.’ He sits up straight, looking all serious. ‘You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for this. I need to see him.’

  I scoff, pushing my hair over my shoulder. ‘Well, that’s unlikely. He appears quickly and disappears faster.’

  ‘How old?’ The excitement on Gregory’s face is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’ve made his day – probably his month, or even his year. He’s tried relentlessly to drag me out to bars, even willing to make them straight bars if it means I’ll tag along. Gregory has been in my life for eight years, just eight, although it could be forever. The ‘it’ boy at school, all of the girls swooned over him and he dated them all, but he had a little secret – a secret that saw him ostracised once it was discovered. The cool kid was gay. Or eighty per cent gay, as Gregory has always claimed. Finding him behind the bike sheds, beaten to a pulp by some of the college kids, was the beginning of our friendship.

  ‘I’m guessing late-twenties, but he seems older. You know, very mature. He always wears very expensive-looking suits.’

  ‘Perfect.’ He rubs his hands together. ‘Name?’

  ‘M,’ I say quietly.

  ‘“M”?’ Gregory’s face screws up into a disapproving frown. ‘Who is he? James Bond’s boss?’

  A burst of laughter flies from my mouth, and I giggle to myself while my friend looks on, waiting for confirmation that my muse has a name beyond one letter of the alphabet. ‘He signed with an M.’

  ‘Signed?’ His confusion deepens, as does his scowl. I’m not sure if I should divulge this part.

  ‘He didn’t like my coffee and chose to let me know by writing it on a napkin. He signed it M, but I’ve since found out that his name is Miller.’

  ‘Oooohhh, sexy! But the cheek!’ He’s shocked, displaying a similar reaction to what I did, but then his face straightens and he narrows his eyes on me. ‘And how did that make you feel?’

  ‘Inadequate.’ I say the word without thought, and I don’t stop there. ‘Stupid, angry, irritated.’

  Gregory’s smiling now. ‘He drew a reaction?’ he asks. ‘You got a little mad?’

  ‘Yes!’ I breathe, completely exasperated. ‘I was really pissed off.’

  ‘Oh my God! I already love him.’ He stands and puts his hand out to pull me up. ‘I bet he’s completely taken by you, like most men on God’s green earth.’

  Accepting his offer, I let him pull me to my feet. ‘They’re not.’ I sigh, reflecting on the brief words that we exchanged; on one line in particular: I’m quite fascinated by you, as well.

  Does fascinated equal attracted?

  ‘Trust me, they are.’

  I’m suddenly eager to spit it all out and see what Gregory makes of it. ‘I was a millimetre away from his lips.’

  Gregory inhales sharply. ‘What do you mean?’ His back straightens, and he narrows his eyes on me. ‘Did you bottle it?’

  ‘No, I was the one pushing it.’ I’m not even ashamed. ‘He said he couldn’t and left me in the ladies’ feeling like a desperate idiot.’

  ‘Were you mad?’

  ‘Furious.’

  ‘Yes!’ His hands slap together, and I’m yanked into his embrace. ‘This is good. Tell me more.’

  I spill the whole thing – the dropped champagne, Miller’s ‘business associate’, the way he approached me afterwards just to warn me off.

  When I’m done, Gregory hums thoughtfully. It’s not the reaction I was expecting or that I wanted. ‘He’s a player. Not the right man for you, Livy. Forget about him.’

  I’m shocked, and the quick removal of my body from his, coupled with the reproachful look on my face, tells him so. ‘Forget? Are you mad? The way he looks at me, Gregory – it makes me want to be looked at like that forever.’ I pause briefly. ‘By him.’

  ‘Oh dear, baby girl.’

  I sigh. ‘I know.’

  ‘Distraction,’ he declares, looking down at my orange Converse. ‘What colour shall we buy today?’

  My eyes light up. ‘I’ve seen some in sky-blue down on Carnaby Street.’

  ‘Sky-blue, eh?’ His arm slips around my shoulder and we start towards the Tube station. ‘Fancy that.’

  Chapter 4

  Sylvie and I are the last to leave the bistro. While Sylvie locks up, I cart the rubbish into the alley and dump it in the wheelie bin.

  ‘I’m going to have a long soak in the bath,’ Sylvie says, linking arms with me as we start wandering down the road. ‘With candles.’

  ‘You’re not going out tonight?’ I ask.

  ‘Nope. Mondays are shite, but Wednesday nights are bombing. You should come.’ Her brown eyes twinkle suggestively, but dull straight down when she clocks me shaking my head. ‘Why not?’

  ‘I don’t drink.’ We cross the road, dodging the evening rush-hour traffic, getting honked at for not using the pedestrian crossing.

  ‘Oh, fuck you!’ Sylvie shouts, drawing a million looks in our direction.

  ‘Sylvie!’ I yank her from the road, mortified.

  She laughs and flips the driver a finger. ‘Why don’t you drink?’

  ‘I don’t trust myself.’ The words just fall from my lips, shocking me and clearly shocking Sylvie, because startled brown eyes swing to me . . . then she grins.

  ‘I think I might like drunken Livy.’

  I scoff in disagreement. ‘That’s me.’ I point to the bus stop as I step into the road, ready to cross again.

  ‘See you tomorrow.’ She leans in to kiss my cheek, and we both jump when we’re honked at again. I ignore the impatient idiot, but Sylvie doesn’t.

  ‘For fuck’s sake! What is wrong with these people?’ she shouts. ‘We’re not even in the way of your fancy AMG, you Mercedes-driving ponce!’ She steps towards the car just as the passenger window starts to slip down. I feel road rage brewing. She leans in. ‘Learn to fucking dr—’ She halts her rant, her back straightening as she pulls away from the black Mercedes.

  Curious, I lean down to find out what’s shut her up, my heart skipping too many beats when I register the driver.

  ‘Livy.’ Sylvie’s voice is barely heard over the rush of traffic and blurting of horns. She steps away from the roadside. ‘I think he may have been honking at you.’

  I’m still partially bent as my eyes trail from Sylvie back to the car, where he’s sitting back, relaxed, with one hand draped casually on the steering wheel. ‘Get in,’ he orders shortly.

  I know I’m getting in this car, so I don’t know why I look to Sylvie for guidance. She shakes her head. ‘Livy, I wouldn’t. You don’t know him.’

  I return to vertical and my mouth opens to speak, but no words form. She’s right and I’m torn, my eyes swinging from the car to my new friend. I’m not careless or stupid – haven’t been for a long time – although every thought running through my mind right now is flooring that claim. I don’t know how long I stand there deliberating, but I’m distracted when the driver’s door of the Mercedes swings open and he strides around the car, clasping my elbow and opening the passenger door.

  ‘Hey!’ Sylvie tries to reclaim me. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’

  I’m pushed into the seat before he turns towards a stunned Sylvie. ‘I’m just going to talk to her.’ He takes a pen and paper from his inside pocket and scribbles something down before handing it to Sylvie. ‘That’s me. Ring the numbe
r.’

  ‘What?’ Sylvie snatches the paper from his hand and runs her eyes over it.

  ‘Ring the number.’

  Landing him with a reproachful glare, she drags her phone from her bag and dials. A mobile starts screeching, and he pulls an iPhone from his inside pocket before handing it to me.

  ‘She has my phone. Ring it and she’ll answer.’

  ‘I could ring hers,’ Sylvie points out, ending the call. ‘What the hell does that prove? You could take it off her the second you drive away.’

 
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