Promised, p.7
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       Promised, p.7

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  I too late for a takeaway?’ he asks.

  ‘Not at all.’ I grab my tray and dump it on the counter before loading up the filter. ‘Cappuccino?’

  ‘Please,’ he says politely, his footsteps getting closer.

  I busy myself, ignoring Sylvie when she passes with the bins and pauses, clearly after clocking my customer. ‘Cute,’ she says simply, before continuing on her way. She’s right; he is cute, but it’s too much like hard work trying to fight another man from my mind to appreciate it. Mr Wide Eyes is the type of man I should pay more attention to – if I’m going to give my attention to any men – not moody, dark, enigmatic ones, who only want twenty-four hours and nothing else.

  Firing up the steam pipe, I start heating the milk, swirling the jug and making a rushing hissing of noise in time with my racing mind. I pour, sprinkle, and secure the lid, then turn to deliver my perfect coffee. ‘Two-eighty, please.’ I hold my hand out.

  Three pound coins are placed carefully in my palm as I stab the order through the till with my free hand. ‘I’m Luke,’ he says slowly. ‘Can I ask your name?’

  ‘Livy,’ I flip, tossing the coins into the drawer carelessly.

  ‘And you’re involved with someone?’ he asks cautiously, drawing a frown from me.

  ‘I’ve already told you that.’ For the first time, I allow his charming looks to push past my mental protective wall and the images of Miller. His mousy hair is floppy, but lies just right, and his brown eyes are warm and friendly. ‘So why are you aski—’ I halt mid-sentence and cast my eyes over to Sylvie, who’s just pushed her way back through the bistro door, minus two rubbish bags. I hit her with a reproachful look, knowing damn well she’s told Mr Wide Eyes here that I’m perfectly available.

  She doesn’t hang around to soak up my animosity, instead skulking off to the kitchen where she’s safe. Mr Wide Eyes, or Luke as I now know him, is shifting nervously, blatantly ignoring my guilty friend as she disappears from sight.

  ‘My friend has a big mouth.’ I hand him his change. ‘Enjoy your coffee.’

  ‘Why did you fob me off?’

  ‘Because I’m not available.’ I repeat myself because it’s still true, even if it’s for a totally different reason now. I might have refused Miller’s offer, but it hasn’t made forgetting him any easier. My fingers reach up and rest on my lips, feeling his soft, full ones still there, lingering, tickling, biting. I sigh. ‘It’s closing time.’

  Luke slides a card across the counter, and taps it lightly before releasing it. ‘I’d love to take you out sometime, so if you decide you’re available it would be great to hear from you.’ I look up and he winks, a cheeky smile spreading across his face.

  I return his small smile and watch him leave the bistro, whistling happily as he goes.

  ‘Is it safe?’ Sylvie’s apprehensive voice drifts in from the kitchen, and I turn to see her black-haired head popping up over the swing door.

  ‘You told him, you traitor!’ I start yanking at my apron string.

  ‘It might have slipped.’ She still doesn’t venture into the bistro, choosing to remain protected behind the swing door. ‘Come on, Livy. Cut him a break.’ Her attention is firmly set on Luke now, after I followed through on her request to call before midnight the night Miller snatched me from the roadside. I didn’t tell her the details, but my despondent state down the line told her all she needed to know – no enlightenment of shocking propositions required.

  ‘Sylvie, I’m not interested,’ I argue idly, shaking my apron out and hanging it on the coat pegs.

  ‘You didn’t say that about the rude fucker in the posh AMG.’ She knows she shouldn’t be mentioning him, but she has a point and every right to make it. ‘I’m just saying, that’s all.’

  I shake my head in complete exasperation and push past her, heading into the kitchen to grab my jacket and satchel. All of these emotions – the annoyance, the irritation, the heavy heart and the uncertainty, are all a result of one thing . . .

  A man.

  ‘I’ll see you in the morning,’ I call, letting Sylvie lock up on her own.

  My peaceful stroll toward the bus stop is short-lived when I hear Gregory calling me. Most uncharitably I sigh, pivoting slowly and not even bothering to plaster an insincere smile on my tired face.

  He’s in his gardening clothes, looking all grubby with blades of grass in his messed-up hair. As soon as he reaches me, his arm drapes over my shoulder and he pulls me into his side. ‘Going home?’

  ‘Yeah. What are you doing?’

  ‘I’ve come to give you a lift.’ He sounds genuine, but I know different.

  ‘Come to take me home or come to squeeze me for information?’ I retort drily, earning myself a flick of his hip into my waist.

  ‘How are you feeling?’

  I think carefully about what word to use in an attempt to prevent further interrogation. He knows enough and has filled Nan in, too. I won’t be enlightening him on the twenty-four-hour proposition, either, which I’m now in two minds over. I said no and I feel like crap, so perhaps I should just dive right in and feel like crap, anyway. But at least I’ll have an experience to remember while I’m feeling like crap – something to relive.

  ‘Good,’ I answer eventually, letting Gregory lead the way to his van.

  ‘If he’s said he’s emotionally unavailable, Livy, it can’t be a good sign. You’ve made the right decision not to see him again.’

  ‘I know,’ I agree. ‘So why can’t I stop thinking about him?’

  ‘Because we always fall for the wrong men.’ He leans in and kisses my forehead. ‘The ones who will mess us around and stamp all over our heart. I’ve been there, done that, and I’m glad you’ve held back before falling too far. I’m proud of you. You deserve better.’

  I smile, remembering many times when I’ve held Gregory’s hand after he’s fallen victim to a man’s charm, except Miller isn’t charming – not in the least bit. It’s difficult to nail exactly what it is about him, except for his spectacular looks, but that feeling . . . oh God that feeling. And what Gregory has just said is perfectly accurate. There’s a lack of a mother in my life because of her poor decisions when it came to men. That alone should have me running in the other direction from him, but instead I’m being drawn in. His lips are still soft on mine, my flesh is still warm from his touch and I’ve lain in bed every night replaying that kiss. Nothing will ever measure up to those feelings.

  I let us in the house and head with Gregory to the back kitchen. I can hear Nan and George chatting and the sounds of a wooden spoon colliding with the side of a huge metal pot – a stewpot. It’s stew and dumplings tonight. I screw my face up and contemplate escaping to the local chippy. I can’t stand my grandmother’s stew, but it’s George’s favourite and George is here for supper, so it looks like I’m having stew.

  ‘Gregory!’ Nan dives on my gay friend and smothers his face with her marshmallow lips. ‘You must stay for supper.’ She points to a chair before moving on to me, assaulting me with her squidgy lips too, and then placing me on a chair next to George. ‘I do love it when we’re all here,’ she declares happily. ‘Stew?’

  Everyone raises their hands, including me even though I don’t want stew.

  ‘Sit down, Gregory,’ Nan orders.

  Gregory wisely sits, looking at me and George with pursed lips when he sees us both smirking at his wary move. ‘You say no to her,’ he whispers.

  ‘Pardon?’ Nan swings round, and we all straighten our faces and backs, like good little children.

  ‘Nothing,’ we chant in unison, earning each one of us a few seconds of narrowed eyes from my dear grandmother.

  ‘Hmm.’ She places the stewpot on the table. ‘Tuck in.’

  George virtually dives into the pot, while I just pick at some bread, breaking off tiny bits and chewing quietly while everyone chats happily.

  Miller flashes into my mind, making me blink my eyes shut. I smell him, making me hold my breath. I fe
el his heated touch, making me shift in my chair. I’m having a mental row with myself as I try to bat away images of him, memories of him and the sound of his smooth voice.

  I’m failing on every level. Falling for this man could be a disaster. Everything suggests it will be, and that should be good enough, but it’s not. I feel weak and vulnerable, and I hate it. Nor do I like the thought of not seeing him again.

  ‘Livy, you’ve hardly touched your supper.’ Nan snaps me from my daydream, tapping her spoon on the side of my bowl.

  ‘I’m not hungry.’ I push the bowl away and stand. ‘Excuse me. I’m going to bed.’ I feel three sets of concerned eyes on me as I leave the kitchen, but I’m past caring. Yes, Livy I-don’t-ever-need-a-man Taylor has fallen, and she’s fallen stupidly hard. And worst of all, she’s fallen for someone she can’t, and probably shouldn’t, have.

  I drag my heavy body up the stairs and flop into bed, not bothering to undress and not bothering to remove my make-up. It’s not even dark, but burying myself under my thick quilt soon remedies that. I want silence and darkness so I can torture myself some more.

  Friday drags painfully. I avoided Nan, choosing to skip breakfast and face the worried call that I knew I’d get on my way to work. She wasn’t happy but she can’t shove cornflakes down my throat from a mile away. Del, Paul and Sylvie have all tried and failed to coax a genuine smile from me, and Luke dropped in for a coffee again, just to see if I’ve changed my mind on my relationship status. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that, and he is cute and quite funny, too, but I’m still not interested.

  I’ve been thinking of something all day long, and I keep going to ask, but then I bottle it, knowing what reaction I’ll get. And I can hardly blame her. But Sylvie has his number, and I want it. We’re closing up the bistro and I’m running out of time. ‘Sylvie?’ I say slowly, twirling my cloth innocently. It’s a silly attempt to look sweet, given what I’m about to ask.

  ‘Livy,’ she mimics my careful tone, full of suspicion.

  ‘Do you still have Miller’s number?’

  ‘No!’ She shakes her head furiously, rushing into the kitchen. ‘I threw it away.’

  I make chase, not willing to give up. ‘But you dialled him from your phone,’ I remind her, smacking into her back when she halts.

  ‘I deleted it,’ she spits unconvincingly. She’s going to make me beg or pin her down and steal her phone.

  ‘Please, Sylvie. I’m going out of my mind.’ My hands meet in front of my pleading face, forming praying hands.

  ‘No.’ She breaks my hands apart and pushes them to my sides. ‘I heard your voice when you’d left his apartment, and I also saw your face the next day. Livy, a sweet thing like you doesn’t need to be getting involved with a man like that.’

  ‘I can’t stop thinking about him.’ My teeth are clenched, like I’m mad for admitting it. I am mad. I’m mad for appearing so desperate, and I’m even madder for actually being desperate.

  Sylvie sidesteps me and pushes her way back into the bistro, her black bob swishing from side to side. ‘No no no, Livy. Things happen for a reason, and if you were meant to be with . . .

  I collide with her back again when she trails off and stops dead in her tracks. ‘Stop stopping!’ I yell, feeling the building frustration getting the better of me. ‘What’s the . . . It’s me who trails off now, as I look past Sylvie and see Miller standing by the bistro entrance, looking smooth in a grey three-piece suit, his hair a mess of dark waves, his blue eyes crystal clear and sinking into me.

  He steps forward, completely ignoring my work friend, and keeps his eyes on me. ‘Have you finished work?’

  ‘No!’ Sylvie blurts, stepping back, pushing me with her. ‘No, she hasn’t.’

  ‘Sylvie!’ I muscle my way past her with some determined effort until it’s me pushing her back into the kitchen. ‘I know what I’m doing,’ I say on a hushed whisper. That’s not true at all. I have no idea what I’m doing.

  She grabs my arm and leans in. ‘How can someone go from being so sensible to so damned insane in such a short space of time?’ she asks, glancing over my shoulder. ‘You’re going to get yourself in trouble, Livy.’

  ‘Just leave me.’

  I can see she’s torn, but she eventually relents, though not before tossing a warning look in Miller’s direction. ‘You’re mad,’ she huffs, turning on her biker boots and stomping off, leaving us alone.

  Taking a deep breath, I turn and face the man who’s invaded every second of thinking space since Monday. ‘Would you like a coffee?’ I ask, indicating the giant machine behind me.

  ‘No,’ he answers quietly, walking forward until he’s standing mere feet away from me. ‘Take a walk with me.’

  A walk? ‘Why?’

  He flicks his eyes to the kitchen entrance, clearly uncomfortable. ‘Get your bag and jacket.’

  I do as he tells me, without much thought. I ignore Sylvie’s stunned face as I enter the kitchen and grab my bag and jacket. ‘I’m off now,’ I say, hastily leaving her ranting at Del and Paul. I hear her call me stupid and I hear Del call me a grown-up. They are both right.

  Throwing my satchel across my body, I approach him and my eyes close when he clasps his palm around the base of my neck to guide me out of the bistro. I’m directed across the road into the small square where he sits me on a bench and takes a seat next to me, turning his body to face mine. ‘Have you thought about me?’ he asks.

  ‘Constantly,’ I admit. I’m not beating around the bush. I have, and I want him to know it.

  ‘So will you spend the night with me?’

  ‘Still just twenty-four hours?’ I clarify, and he nods. My heart falls, not that it’ll stop me from agreeing. I can’t possibly feel any worse than I already do.

  His hand rests on my knee, squeezing gently. ‘Twenty-four hours, no strings, no commitment and no feelings, except pleasure.’ Releasing my knee, he shifts his hand to my chin and pulls my face close to his. ‘And it will be pleasurable, Livy. I promise.’

  I don’t doubt him for a second. ‘Why do you want this?’ I ask. I know women are notoriously deeper than men, but he’s asking me to disregard something that I simply can’t. This isn’t just lust I’m feeling – at least I don’t think it is. I’m confused. I don’t even know what I’m feeling.

  For the first time since I’ve met him, he smiles. It’s a proper smile – a beautiful smile . . . and I fall a little bit more. ‘Because I simply have to kiss you again.’ Leaning in, he gently rests his lips on mine. ‘It’s new to me. I need to taste you some more.’

  New? It’s new to him? What, like different from his usual polished, diamond-adorned women?

  ‘And because what we can create together shouldn’t be passed up, Livy.’

  ‘The best fuck of my life?’ I ask against his lips, feeling him smile again.

  ‘And a whole lot more.’ He pulls away, leaving me feeling bereft. It might be a feeling that I should get used to. ‘Where do you live?’

  ‘I live with my elderly grandmother.’ I don’t know why I say elderly, maybe to justify my living arrangement. ‘Camden.’

  A look of surprise flits across his perfect brow. ‘Tell your grandmother you’ll be back tomorrow night. What’s the address?’

  ‘What will I say?’ I ask, suddenly panicked. I’ve never stayed out for a whole night, and no plausible reason to do so now is coming to me.

  ‘I’m sure you’ll think of something.’ He stands, putting his hand out to me, and I take it, letting him pull me to my feet.

  ‘No, you don’t understand.’ This will be impossible to pull off. ‘I don’t stay out at night. She’ll never believe me if I try to fob her off with anything other than the truth, and I can’t tell her about you.’ I’ll kill her off with shock. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe she’ll dance around the kitchen, clapping her hands and thanking the Lord. Knowing Nan, it’ll be the latter.

  ‘You never go out?’ he frowns.

  ‘No.’ I fake no
nchalance to within an inch of my life.

  ‘And you’ve never stayed out overnight? Not even at a girlfriend’s?’

  I’ve never been embarrassed by my lifestyle . . . until now. I suddenly feel young, naive and inexperienced, which is ridiculous. I need to locate my long-lost sass. While he’s promised me mind-blowing sex, what does he get out of it, because I’m certainly no sex kitten who’ll rock his bed. A man like this must have women forming a queue at his front door, all kitted out in satin or lace, all in stilettos and all ready to send him wild with desire.

  I shake my head, looking down to the ground. ‘Remind me why you want to do this again.’

  ‘If you’re speaking to me, isn’t it polite to look at me?’ He tips my chin up. ‘You don’t seem like a self-doubter.’

  ‘I’m not usually.’

  ‘What’s changed?’

  ‘You.’

  That one word makes him shift uncomfortably, and I immediately regret saying it. ‘Me?’

  My head drops again. ‘I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.’

  ‘I’m not uncomfortable,’ he argues quietly, ‘but now I’m
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