Promised, p.6
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       Promised, p.6

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  ‘Then I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.’ He shuts the door and strides around the car, leaving Sylvie on the pavement, her mouth agape.

  I should jump out, but I don’t. I should protest and curse at him, but I don’t. Instead, I look to my friend on the pavement and hold up the iPhone that Miller’s just handed me. She’s right; this proves nothing, but it doesn’t deter me from doing something incredibly stupid – I’m not frightened of him, though. He’s no danger to me, except, maybe, to my heart.

  More car horns start screeching around us as he slides into the car before pulling hastily away from the kerb without a word. I don’t feel nervous. I’ve practically been abducted on a busy London street and my stomach isn’t even turning in panic. It is, however, fluttering with something else. I discreetly look across to him, noting his dark suit and stunning profile. I’ve never seen anything like him. It’s silent in the enclosed space surrounding us, but something is speaking and it’s neither Miller nor I. It’s desire. And it’s telling me that I’m about to experience something life-altering. I want to know where he’s taking me, I want to know what he wants to talk about, but my desire for this knowledge doesn’t prompt me to ask, and he doesn’t seem like he’s going to offer the information up right now, so I relax back into the soft leather of my seat and remain quiet. Then the stereo kicks in and I’m suddenly listening in wonder to Green Day’s ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, a track I would never have paired with this mysterious man.

  We’re in the car for a long half-hour, stopping and starting with the rush-hour traffic, until he pulls into an underground car park. He seems to be thinking hard as he shuts off the engine and taps his hand on the wheel a few times before letting himself out and making his way around to me. Opening the door, he finds my eyes, and I can see reassurance in them as he holds his hand out to me. ‘Give me your hand.’

  My response is automatic, my hand lifting to take his as I remove myself from the car while savouring that familiar feeling of internal lightning bolts attacking me. It’s more incredible each time I experience it.

  ‘There it is again,’ he murmurs, repositioning his hand to get a better grip on me. He feels it, too. ‘Give me your bag.’

  I hand him my bag immediately, involuntarily, not even thinking about it. I’m on autopilot.

  ‘Do you have my phone?’ he asks, lightly kicking the door of his car shut and pulling me towards a stairwell.

  ‘Yes.’ I hold it up.

  ‘Ring your friend and tell her you’re at my place.’ He pushes through the door. ‘And call anyone else who might be worried about you.’

  I can do nothing more than follow him as he takes the stairs slowly, still clasping my hand, leaving me to make the calls he’s demanded. ‘I should use my phone,’ I say, fiddling with his iPhone. My clued-up nan will soon clock the strange number on the caller display and start asking questions – questions I don’t want to answer or even know how to.

  ‘Your decision.’ His lean shoulders shrug as he continues pulling me along behind him. When we pass floor three, my calves begin to burn and my lips part to try and get some air into my tiring lungs.

  ‘What floor are you?’ I ask on a little wheeze, ashamed of my fitness level. I walk a lot, but I don’t climb this many stairs on a regular basis.

  ‘Ten,’ he flips over his shoulder casually. The knowledge of six more floors deflates my lungs altogether and makes my legs seize up.

  ‘Are there no lifts?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Then why . . . I only have air capacity for a gasp and I let one out when he quickly scoops me up and pushes onward. I have no option but to cling onto his shoulders, my hold feeling right, my nose and eyes enjoying the closeness.

  When we reach floor ten he pushes his way through the doorway into an empty corridor, then drops me to my feet and puts the key into the lock of a shiny black door. ‘After you.’ He steps to the side and gestures for me to step in, which I do – without thought, protest or asking why he’s brought me here.

  I feel his palm on the base of my neck, warm and comforting, as I slowly make my way down the hallway, circling a huge round table, until the hallway opens up into a massive, marble-infested space with vaulted ceilings and colossal pieces of art at every turn, all paintings of London architecture. It’s not the grandness of the apartment or the sea of cream marble that holds me rapt. It’s those paintings – six of them, all carefully hung in selected spaces where they can be appreciated the most. They’re not typical or traditional; they’re abstract, making it so you need to squint to see exactly what each is. But I know these buildings and landmarks too well, and as I gaze around me I identify them all – no squinting required.

  I’m gently guided towards the biggest cream-coloured leather couch I’ve ever seen. ‘Sit.’ He pushes me down and places my bag next to me. ‘Call your friend,’ he says, leaving me to find my phone while he strides over to a large walnut cabinet and retrieves a tumbler, topping it up with a dark liquid.

  I dial Sylvie, and it rings only once before her fretful voice is piercing my ears. ‘Livy?’

  ‘It’s me,’ I say quietly, watching as he turns and leans against the cabinet, taking a slow mouthful of his drink.

  ‘Where are you?’ It sounds like she’s jogging. Her voice is slightly breathless.

  ‘At his place. I’m okay.’ I feel awkward explaining myself while he’s watching so intently, but there’s no escaping his steel gaze.

  ‘Who the fuck does he think he is?’ she asks incredulously. ‘And you’re beyond stupid for going, Livy. What were you thinking?’

  ‘I don’t know.’ I answer honestly, because I really don’t. I’ve allowed him to take me, bundle me in his car, and bring me to a strange apartment. I really am beyond stupid, but even now, when I’m listening to my friend rant and rave down the phone and he’s staring expressionless at me, I’m not frightened.

  ‘Jesus,’ she huffs. ‘What are you doing? What’s he saying? What does he want?’

  ‘I don’t know.’ I watch him watching me as he takes another slow sip of his drink.

  ‘You don’t know a fucking lot, do you?’ she fires, her heavy breathing settling down.

  ‘No,’ I admit. ‘I’ll call you when I get home.’

  ‘You’d better.’ Her tone is threatening. ‘If I don’t get a call by midnight, then I’ll be ringing the police. I took his registration.’

  I smile to myself, appreciative of her concern but knowing deep down that it’s not required. He’s not going to hurt me. ‘I’ll call you,’ I assure her.

  ‘Make sure you do.’ She’s still agitated. ‘And be careful,’ she adds more gently.

  ‘Okay.’ I hang up and immediately dial my nan, keen to finish up and find out why he’s brought me here. It doesn’t take much explaining to Nan. She’s delighted when I tell her that I’m joining a few work friends for a coffee, as I knew she would be.

  I finish up and place both my phone and his on the gigantic low glass table in front of me, then I commence twiddling the ring on my finger, wondering what to say. We’re just staring at each other, him taking frequent sips of his drink, me losing myself in that potent gaze.

  ‘Would you like a drink?’ he asks. ‘Wine, brandy?’

  I shake my head.

  ‘Vodka?’

  ‘No.’ Alcohol is a weakness he doesn’t need to know about, although I don’t think that I need alcohol to send me into reckless mode with this man. ‘Why am I here?’ I finally ask the operative question. I think I know, but I want him to say the words.

  His fingers tap the side of his glass thoughtfully, and he pushes his tall body away from the cabinet, slowly walking towards me. He undoes his jacket button and lowers himself until he’s sitting on the table in front of me, placing his drink carefully and breaking our eye contact to see where his glass has landed before tweaking it slightly and repositioning our mobile phones. My heart rate is speeding up, even more so when he faces me an
d clasps me under my knees, encouraging me to shift forward on the couch until there’s only a few inches between our faces. He doesn’t say anything, and neither do I. Our breathy gasps colliding between our close mouths are saying all that needs to be said. We’re both bursting at the seams with desire.

  His face moves forward, that lock of hair falling onto his forehead, but he’s not aiming for my lips. He homes in on my cheek, breathing heavy, controlled breaths into my ear. My face pushing into his is involuntary, as is the heaviness settling between my thighs.

  ‘I can’t stop thinking about you,’ he whispers, his grasp of my knees increasing. ‘I’ve tried my hardest, but you’re a constant vision wherever I look.’

  I inhale deeply and find my hands rising and seeking out his thick waves, my fingers threading through them, my eyes closing. ‘You said you couldn’t be with me,’ I remind him, stupidly or not. I shouldn’t point out his reluctance because if he withdraws now, I think I’ll lose my mind.

  ‘I still can’t.’ His face slides across mine until his perfect forehead is resting against my confused one. He can’t have brought me here just to reinforce his previous declaration. He can’t hold me like this, speak to me like this, and then do nothing.

  ‘I don’t understand,’ I murmur, praying to every god that he doesn’t halt this.

  His forehead rolls across mine slowly, carefully. ‘I have a proposition.’ He must sense my confusion because he pulls away and scans my face. Taking a deep breath, I brace myself. ‘All I can offer you is one night.’

  I don’t need to ask what he’s talking about. The dull ache in my stomach tells me exactly what he means. ‘Why?’

  ‘I’m emotionally unavailable, Livy.’ He reaches up to cup my cheek, his thumb stroking smooth circles on my temple. ‘But I have to have you.’

  ‘You want me for one night and nothing else?’ I ask, the ache transforming into a dull pain now. Just one night? It’s obscene for me to be thinking further than that, though. The best fuck of my life. That’s what he said. Nothing more.

  ‘One night,’ he affirms. ‘And I’m praying that you’ll give it to me.’

  I’m lost in his blues, desperately hoping he’ll say something else – something that’ll make me feel better, because right now I’m feeling cheated, which is ridiculous. I hardly know him, but the thought of only being permitted one night with this man is soul-destroying.

  ‘I don’t think I can.’ My eyes fall, as does my heart. ‘It’s not fair for you to ask that of me.’

  ‘I’ve never claimed to be fair, Livy.’ He clasps my chin and brings my face up to his. ‘I’ve seen something and I want it. I usually take what I want, but I’m giving you a choice.’

  ‘What’s in it for me?’ I ask. ‘What will I get out of this?’

  ‘You get to be worshipped by me for twenty-four hours.’ His lips part and his tongue sweeps across his full bottom lip, like he’s attempting to make me see what those twenty-four hours may be like. He’s wasting energy. I have a very good idea what those twenty-four hours will be like.

  ‘You said you could only offer me one night.’

  ‘Twenty-four hours, Livy.’

  I want to say yes, but my head starts shaking, my integrity taking over. If I’m going to get involved with a man, it can’t be like this. Every method I’ve adopted to protect myself from following in my mother’s footsteps will be quashed if I do this, and I can’t let myself down like that. ‘I’m sorry. I can’t.’ I shouldn’t be apologising for my decline of his unreasonable request, but I am sorry. I want to be worshipped by him, yet not enough to set myself up for certain devastation because that’s exactly what this will result in. I already feel like I’m in way above my head and he hasn’t even kissed me.

  He visibly sags and shifts back, breaking all contact between us. I feel a little lost, which should strengthen my decision to decline his offer. One night will never be enough. ‘I’m disappointed,’ he sighs. ‘But I respect your decision.’

  I’m disappointed that he respects my decision. I want him to fight harder, convince me to say yes. I’m not thinking straight. ‘I know nothing about you.’

  He picks up his drink and takes a sip, drawing my eyes to his lips. ‘If you knew more, would you reconsider?’

  ‘I don’t know.’ I feel frustrated and annoyed – annoyed that he’s put me in this position. It should be an easy decision, declining a stranger on such a proposition, but the longer I spend with him, even if it’s bizarre and far-fetched, the more I want to retract my answer and take the twenty-four hours he’s offering.

  ‘Well, you know my name now.’ His lips are tipping a little, but it’s nowhere near a smile.

  ‘That’s all I know,’ I fire back. ‘I don’t know your surname, your age, your job.’

  ‘And you need to know all of that to spend the night with me?’ His dark eyebrows raise, his lips tipping further. If he would only smile properly, I’d feel like I know him more. But should I be increasing my fascination with him if it means I’ll only get more attached?

  I don’t know, so I shrug non-committally and drop my head, my hair falling into my lap.

  ‘My name is Miller Hart,’ he starts, pulling my eyes back to his. ‘I’m twenty-nine—’

  ‘Stop!’ I hold my hand up, halting his flow. ‘Don’t tell me. I don’t need to know.’

  He cocks his head, slightly amused, even if he’s still not demonstrating it with his mouth. ‘Don’t need to or don’t want to?’

  ‘Both,’ I spit shortly, feeling the rarity of anger simmering inside me again. He made me feel irritated before he suggested something so ridiculous, but now I’m really feeling it. I stand, prompting him to shift back on the table and gaze up at me. ‘Thank you for the offer, but the answer is no.’ I pick up my bag and phone and make for the door, getting no further than the end of the couch before I’m taken gently and pushed front forward to the wall, my bag dropping to the marble, my eyes clenching shut.

  His chin is on my shoulder, his mouth at my ear. ‘You don’t sound convinced,’ he whispers, raising his knee between my thighs to spread them.

  ‘I’m not,’ I confess, cursing myself for my weakness. His body moulded to my back feels too right, when I desperately want it to feel all wrong. Everything suggests that this is wrong, but the crazy rightness is making it hard to ignore the warning signs.

  ‘And that’s exactly why I’m not letting you leave until you agree. You want me.’ He turns me around and pushes his palms into the wall on either side of my head. ‘And I want you.’

  ‘But just for twenty-four hours.’ My voice is a panting wheeze as I fight to rein in my erratic breathing.

  He nods and lazily lowers his mouth to mine. He’s unsure, hesitant; I can see it in his eyes. But then he braves nibbling at my bottom lip, pecking cautiously and whispering what seems like encouraging words to himself before pushing into my mouth with his tongue until I relax and accept his soft invasion. Nothing would prevent me from moaning, relaxing into his kiss and clasping his shoulders. It’s heavenly, just like I knew it would be, but this isn’t assisting with my sensibility. Nevertheless, I push my doubts to the back of my mind and lose myself in him. He’s worshipping me, and the thought of twenty-four hours of this nearly makes me break our kiss, just so I can scream ‘yes!’ But I don’t. Despite my enjoyment and mounting desire, I concentrate on enjoying the only kiss I’m ever going to receive from Miller Hart. And it’s one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

  He groans, pushing his groin into my tummy. His hardness throbs against me. ‘Jesus, you taste divine. Say yes,’ he mumbles into my mouth, biting at my lip. ‘Please say yes.’

  I want to hold back my answer, just to drag out this exquisite kiss, but I’m rapidly falling deeper with each second he spends seducing my mouth. ‘I can’t,’ I gasp, turning my face to the side to break our mouth contact. ‘I’d want more.’ I know I’ll want more, as crazy as it might seem. I’ve never looked for that connection
, but if I had, then this would be it – something painfully good, all-consuming . . . something special and out of my control – something that will put my previous conclusions about intimacy to shame. I’ve stumbled across it by accident, when I least expected it, but it’s happened and I can’t fall further knowing there is no hope and nothing but heartbreak waiting for me at the end of that twenty-four hours.

  He releases a frustrated growl and pushes himself away from the wall. ‘Shit,’ he curses, striding away, looking up at the ceiling. ‘I shouldn’t have brought you here.’

  I gather my muddled mind and straighten myself out, all the time leaning against the wall to hold myself steady. ‘No, you shouldn’t have,’ I agree, proud for sounding certain of that. ‘I should go.’ I gather my bag from the floor and head quickly to the door, not looking back.

  When I’m in the safety of the stairwell, I collapse against the wall, my breathing laboured, my body shaking. I’m being sensible. I need to keep reminding myself of that. Nothing good could come of this, except memories of an incredible day and night that I’ll never get to relive. It would be torture, and I refuse to tease myself, give myself a taste of something amazing – because I know it will be – just to have it robbed from me. Never. I refuse to become my mother. Resolute and satisfied with my decision, I take the stairs and find my way to a Tube station. For the first time in many years, I need an alcoholic drink.

  Chapter 5

  I’ve not been myself all week. It’s been noticed and mentioned, but my despondent state has halted further interrogation, except from Gregory, who I’m sure is reporting back to Nan, because she went from curious and pushy to concerned and sympathetic. She’s also made me lemon cake every single day.

  I’m clearing the last table, absent-mindedly swishing my cloth from side to side when the door to the bistro swings open and I’m confronted with Mr Wide Eyes.

  He smiles awkwardly, shutting the door quietly behind him. ‘Am
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