Part #2 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
‘Don’t say that!’ I yell, making William recoil. He doesn’t retaliate, though. He simply takes a sip of his drink and waits for me to calm down. ‘I’m nothing like my mother. She gave up her daughter for a man who didn’t want her.’
He leans forward, his grey eyes blazing. ‘A relationship between me and Gracie Taylor would have been impossible. Don’t you dare think for a minute that I wasn’t trying to do what was best for her. Or for you.’
I’m slightly taken aback by William’s unusual show of anger. I’ve never seen him anything less than perfectly composed.
He takes another sip of his drink before continuing. ‘And a relationship between you and Miller Hart would be equally impossible.’
‘I know,’ I whisper, feeling those damn tears pinching the backs of my eyes. ‘I already know that.’
‘I’m glad, but knowing something is bad for you doesn’t stop you from wanting it. Pursuing it. I was bad for Gracie, yet she wouldn’t give up.’
‘Will you stop comparing me to my mother, William?’ I shake my head, not prepared to listen to the cold, hard truth any longer. ‘I really should get home. Nan will be worrying.’
‘Then call her.’ He nods to my bag. ‘I’m enjoying the company and we have dessert and coffee to order yet.’
‘My phone’s broken.’ It’s the perfect excuse to escape. I make to stand, collecting my satchel from the floor beside me. ‘Thank you for dinner.’
‘I sense no appreciation in your tone, Olivia. How am I supposed to get hold of you?’
His question worries me. ‘Why would you want to?’
‘To ensure your safety.’
I roll my eyes, forgetting, again, who I’m dealing with. ‘I’ve survived just fine without your supervision, William. I think I’m good.’ I turn and walk away from him, praying it’s the last I see of him. This dinner, although enlightening, has only brought back too much hurt which, on top of my already searing pain, might be the final nail in the coffin.
‘You won’t survive with Miller Hart in your life, Olivia.’
I skid to a stop on my Converse, his declaration freezing my veins. I dare not look at him for fear of what facial expression I might find. He’s not in my life, I say to myself, hearing the movement of a chair and slow footsteps, but I keep my eyes forward until William has rounded me and is looking down at my pathetic form.
‘I know a woman captured by a man when I see one, Olivia. I saw it in your mother and I can see it in you.’ He takes my dropped chin and lifts it. There’s an element of knowing in his grey gaze. ‘I can see you’re hurt and angry, and those two emotions can make you do silly things. His business conduct is questionable at best. And you should know that he’s in Madrid for a few days.’ William flashes me a telling look, daring me to enquire further. I don’t need to. He’s with a client.
‘I’m a sensible girl,’ I murmur meagrely. I can hear the uncertainty in my tone. I don’t believe in my strength any more than William does, despite knowing everything he says is the cold, hard truth. He’s right to be concerned. ‘I can take care of myself.’
He drops his lips to my forehead and sighs through his delicate kiss. ‘You need more than words, Olivia.’ William takes my satchel from my shoulder and starts to guide me from the restaurant. ‘I’ll take you home.’
‘I want to walk,’ I argue, breaking free of his hold.
‘Be sensible, Olivia. It’s late and dark.’ He reclaims me, tighter than before. ‘Anyway, we’ll stop by a store and replace your phone.’
‘I can buy my own phone,’ I protest.
‘Maybe so, but I’d like to buy you one as a gift.’ He raises cautionary eyebrows and his grey eyes darken when I open my mouth to object. ‘A gift that you will accept.’
I don’t argue further. I just want to go home and try to process what William has and hasn’t told me, so I let him lead me from the restaurant and put me in his car, not saying a word.
After stopping by a store and loading me up with the latest iPhone, William’s driver drops me home, accepting my request to stop around the corner so Nan doesn’t spot the strange car and me getting out of it.
‘Make sure you charge this up,’ he orders, putting the lid back on the box. ‘I have the number and I’ve stored mine.’
‘For what purpose?’ I ask, pissed off at his intrusion in my life.
‘Simple peace of mind.’ He hands me the box and nods to the door for me to get out. ‘I would tell you to send Josephine my kindest regards, but I doubt it would be appreciated.’
‘Without doubt.’ I slide from the car and turn to shut the door. The window lowers and I bend to get William back into my field of vision. His grey eyes are shining, his big body reclined, putting emphasis on his torso. He’s incredibly fit for a man in his mid-forties. ‘She would probably take a baseball bat to your posh car.’
He throws his head back on a laugh, making me smile a little. ‘I can just picture it. I’m sincerely glad she’s back to her old ways.’ He maintains his smile for a few moments before it slowly falls away, prompting mine to fall with it. ‘Just remember one thing, Olivia.’
I almost don’t want to ask what, and I don’t need to because he draws breath to go on, obviously seeing my hesitance. He’s going to tell me, whether I want to hear or not.
‘Your body instinctively knows danger. If you feel the hair on the back of your neck rise, a prickly sensation between your shoulder blades, or just overall bad vibes – you run.’ The window starts closing and William’s serious face disappears from sight, leaving me still bent on the pavement with the lingering effect of those cold words.
Nan slides the plate towards me and hands me a fork. The giant lump of cake makes my stomach turn, but I resist pushing it away and break a corner off while she watches. Nan’s eyes are not the only set studying me so closely. Gregory has joined us for supper, along with George, and they are all quiet and watching me as I bring a small piece of cake to my lips. It tastes like rat poison, and it has nothing to do with my grandmother’s baking skills. Everything tastes rancid, my taste buds probably punishing me for neglecting them.
‘Beautiful.’ Gregory breaks the uncomfortable silence, performing a little finger-licking session. ‘You should open a cake shop.’
‘Pah!’ Nan scoffs. ‘Perhaps twenty years ago.’ She laughs, turning to the sink and running the tap. I’m thankful for the let-up of scrutiny.
George’s chubby finger delves straight onto the side of the cake plate, scooping off some stray lemon drizzle, and as if Nan has sensed something untoward is going down, she swings around from the sink.
‘George!’ She whips at him with her dishcloth. ‘Where are your manners?’
‘Sorry, Josephine.’ He sits up like a naughty schoolboy and places his hands in his lap, his face straight.
Gregory kicks me under the table, nodding at Nan, and I look to see her shaking her head at the old boy. We’re both suppressing our laughs, and then George winks cheekily at us and we both lose the battle to restrain ourselves. We titter together, earning a reproachful look from Nan before she turns back to the sink, and another wink from George.
‘Are you ready to help Nan rock the ballroom, George?’ I ask, reining in my chuckles before I get a thorough telling off. Old George is looking most dapper in a brown suit, although his mustard tie is questionable.
‘Josephine needs no help to rock anything,’ he replies, looking over to my nan’s back. ‘She does a damn fine job of rocking, as you call it, all by herself.’ Nan doesn’t respond or turn around, but she’s smiling down into the sink, I know she is.
‘She’s going to show you how to bump and grind,’ I snigger, kicking Gregory under the table but quickly hauling my leg back when Nan swings around from the washing up, making her lovely dress swoosh like it most certainly will be on the dance floor later. She glares at me as she dries her hands on her ap
‘You look beautiful, Nan,’ I say.
Her scornful face drops in an instant and she glances down on a smile. ‘Thank you, sweetheart.’
‘Whatever is bumping and grinding?’ George asks, totally perplexed, looking to Nan. I’m delighting in the faint blush that rises in her cheeks.
‘It’s dancing, George.’ She flicks me a warning look, but it softens the moment she registers my mild grin. ‘I’ll teach you.’
I nearly fall off my chair when mental images of George and Nan getting down and dirty spring into my mind.
‘What’s so funny?’ George asks, throwing frowns around the kitchen. ‘I knew that.’ He huffs, plunging his finger back into the lemon cake in a strop. Nan doesn’t scorn him this time. She’s too busy howling across the kitchen.
‘I might wear my hot pants,’ she giggles, sending Gregory and me delirious with laughter.
‘Oh, those little short thingies?’ George’s eyes sparkle. ‘Yes, please!’
‘George!’ Nan shrieks.
‘Oh, please stop!’ Gregory grabs me for support, falling all over the place, taking me with him. We’re crying, shaking with hysterics. ‘Will they be sparkly?’
‘No, leather.’ She grins. ‘And crotchless.’
I choke on nothing, coughing all over the dinner table, and George looks like he’s about to have a seizure. He gathers himself and picks up his newspaper, using it to fan his face. ‘You have a wicked mind, Josephine Taylor.’
‘She does,’ Gregory chuckles, giving me a little wink.
Everyone pulls themselves together and I sigh, starting to poke at my cake again. Then I worry because I hear Nan draw breath – the long kind, the kind that means I’m not going to like what she says. ‘Why don’t you let Gregory take you out?’
I sink into my chair, feeling three sets of eyes all on me again. The misery returns, too.
‘Yeah, come on, Livy,’ my friend interjects, giving me a light knock on my arm with his fist. ‘We’ll go to a straight bar.’
‘See!’ Nan chirps. ‘How kind. He’s even willing to sacrifice a night of passion for your benefit.’
I gasp. Gregory laughs and George snorts. He loves Gregory, but he refuses to acknowledge his sexual preference. I think it’s an age thing, not that it bothers Gregory. In fact, he plays on it too much, and when he takes a deep inhale of air, I know immediately that he’s about to do just that.
‘Yes’ – he leans back in his chair – ‘I’ll pass up the opportunity to roll around with a naked, sweaty man if it means you’ll come out.’
I bite my lip, stopping myself from laughing out loud at the awkward fidgeting coming from George’s direction. Nan doesn’t, though. No, she’s in pieces, her body jiggling with laughter as George continues to shift and mutter under his breath.
‘You’re all wicked,’ he grumbles. ‘Wicked minds.’
‘How very good of you, Gregory.’ Nan titters. ‘Now that’s a good friend.’
George’s old face frowns at Gregory across the table. ‘I thought you were bisexual.’
‘Oh’ – Gregory grins – ‘I’ll be whatever they want me to be, George.’
Nan’s companion fails to prevent his disgusted snort and Nan fails to prevent her continued amusement.
This is good. The diversion in conversation to Gregory’s sexual antics has saved me from further pressure to go out and my struggle to appear fine. I study him for a few moments, watching his shoulders jump up and down as he continues to wind up poor George, and Nan eggs him on with hoots of glee. Their happy banter suddenly only seems to remind me that I’m not happy and no amount of pretending or distraction will remedy it. Things can divert me momentarily, but it soon returns, seeming more painful when it does, like it’s making up for its brief absence every time I break a smile.
My chews slow and so do my swallows. My turning stomach is fast, though, executing a spin that sends me dashing from the kitchen to the bathroom, where I retch over the toilet for no purpose at all. There’s nothing to bring up except acidy bile, making the taste in my mouth even worse.
The soft knock at the door forces me to lift my head and look blankly at the wood. ‘Baby girl?’ Gregory pushes the door open and slips in, not bothering to warn me first in case I’m on the toilet. His handsome face tries to smile some ease into me but fails miserably. I know he feels as hopeless as I do. He pops a Polo mint past my lips and pulls me to my feet before brushing my hair from my face and scanning me worriedly.
‘Livy, you’re wasting away.’ His eyes drop to my skinnier-than-usual body. ‘Come on.’
Pulling me across the landing to my bedroom, he shuts the door softly behind us and guides me to the bed, tugging me down next to him and slipping his arm around me. I snuggle into his side but get no comfort from his embrace. This isn’t the thing I had with Miller. This isn’t warming me to the core or sending my mind into a blissful peace. There’s no humming or gentle lips pushing into the top of my head now and then.
We lie for an age in silence until I feel Gregory’s chest rise, drawing air, prepared to speak. ‘Are you ready to give me the full story yet? You’re not fine, and don’t bother trying to fob me off with the “other woman” story because you kinda had your suspicions before. It didn’t stop you then.’
I shake my head no into his chest, but I’m not sure whether I’m declining his offer to explain or if I’m telling him that no, it’s not the supposed other woman. The former I don’t need to confirm. It’s glaringly obvious, but the latter isn’t. I could never share the real reason why my life is over. And William? No, no, I couldn’t.
‘Okay,’ he sighs above me, squeezing me tighter, but then his phone starts ringing and he eases up a little to dig through his pocket. I definitely don’t imagine the increased speed of his heart rate under my ear. Pulling from his chest, I find him staring down at the screen, looking completely defeated. His expression reminds me that while I’ve been wallowing in self-pity, my best friend has been suffering, too. I feel incredibly guilty, which, even more selfishly, feels so much better than my constant aching heart.
‘Are you going to answer it?’ I ask quietly, while he continues to stare down at the screen. I’m not sure why he looks so upset. Surely he should be happy that Ben is calling. Or am I missing something? Probably. I don’t recall much from the past two weeks at all, but I distinctly remember he’d spoken to Ben briefly and it wasn’t good. Or did I imagine that?
He lifts his eyes and smiles, but it’s a sad smile. ‘I guess I should. I’ve been expecting it.’
I frown a little as he connects the call, but he doesn’t speak. He just holds the phone to his ear and it’s mere seconds before I hear Ben’s angry shouts, plain and clear. Gregory winces as his ex-lover hurls abuse down the line, ranting about calling and harassing him. I’m stunned, even more so when Gregory apologises quietly. He’s got nothing to be sorry about. He’s not the one pretending to be someone he isn’t. He’s not hiding from the truth. Familiar anger bubbles but for a whole other reason, and in a moment centred on pure protective instinct, I snatch the phone from my friend’s limp hand and let out two weeks’ worth of fury. I’m raging.
‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ I shout, jumping up from the bed when Gregory tries to regain possession of his mobile. I pace doggedly around my bedroom, quaking with rage.
‘Who’s this?’ Ben’s voice has quieted. He sounds shocked.
‘It doesn’t matter who it is. You’re nothing more than a fraud! You’re a spineless coward!’
Ben is now silent but breathing heavily as I continue to attack him. ‘You deserve to be miserable! I hope you wallow in misery for the rest of your life, you pathetic, gutless arse!’ I’m hyperventilating, physically shaking. ‘You don’t deserve the affection or time Gregory has given you, and you’ll soon realise that. And by then it’ll be too late! He’ll be over you!’ I smash the disconnect button and throw Gregory’s ph
Trying to cool my boiling blood and rein in my quaking body, I watch in silence as Gregory attempts to spit some words out. He’s stuttering, totally stunned, a bit like me. It wasn’t my place to do that. I had no right to interfere, especially as I’ve chastised my friend when he’s tried to step in on my diabolical relationship with a certain man disguised as a gentleman.
‘I’m sorry,’ I pant, failing to stabilise my erratic breathing. ‘I didn’t—’
‘Sassy,’ he says simply, and once again I fall apart, my anger making way for my depression to return full force. My chin drops to my chest, my arms hang limply by my sides, and I sob uncontrollably, my pathetic form now shaking for different reasons. I feel no better after my tirade.
Hearing a heavy sigh of frustration emanate from the bed, I’m pulled down to Gregory’s chest and wrapped in his arms. ‘Shhhh,’ he soothes, rocking me back and forth, stroking my hair. ‘I get the feeling those words weren’t meant for Ben.’
I nod and he tightens his squeeze. They were appropriate for Ben, but I wish I were delivering them to another man. And I also wish I could reap what I sow.
‘What a pair we are.’ He sighs. ‘How did we get ourselves in this mess?’
I don’t know, so I shake my head, sobbing and snivelling uncontrollably.
Denied by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes