Denied, p.9Part #2 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
Sleep finds me easily, mainly because the agony of thinking makes my brain retreat into protective mode, shutting down and giving me a few hours of peace before I face another black day.
I’m surrounded by warmth – I’m too hot. But I can’t move to free myself from the covers. Then I notice breathing, and it’s not mine. I also notice something hard wedged up against my back, but there’s material between my naked body and the solid muscle pushing into me. And it feels like expensive material. Suit material. Bespoke suit material.
If I could, I’d move, but he has me in a vice grip, like he’s afraid I might escape while he’s snoozing. ‘Miller.’ I nudge him, and he groans a little, squeezing me harder. ‘Miller!’
‘Thing,’ he mumbles sleepily, nuzzling into my neck. ‘Hold that thought.’
He feels amazing, completely surrounding me, but my waking brain is quickly registering this to be a bad thing. ‘Miller, please!’
He releases me fast and retreats, giving me space to sit up and brush my hair from my face. I immediately flinch on a quiet hiss when I brush harshly over my cut, the pain quickly reminding me of my injury.
‘Olivia.’ He’s in front of me quickly, holding my arms to keep me in place, but I shrug him off. ‘Does it hurt?’ he asks softly, giving me the space I’m demanding.
I allow my gaze to lift to his face, knowing it’ll be a bad move, but his magnet eyes are far too powerful. He still looks beautiful, despite his tired face and mess of waves. His eyes are dull, his fully suited body is creased beyond creased, and his lightly tanned skin looks sallow. ‘Not as much as you’ve hurt me,’ I half sob, trying to combat the tears from falling. ‘Get out!’
He drops his eyes, and I get off the bed, escaping to the shower. I can’t look at him. I’ll cave.
The water feels like stabbing blades on my sore head as I tentatively lather up with shampoo, then smooth some conditioner through the ends, all the while reminding myself of everything William has said to me. I take my time, in no hurry to start my day, and by the time I’m done, I expect Miller to be gone, but as I walk into the bedroom wrapped in a towel, he’s sitting on the edge of my bed, still dishevelled. And he has a cup of tea in his hand.
‘Does Nan know you’re here?’
Of course she does, I think. Who else produces tea like it’s going out of fashion? ‘You had no right to invade my bed.’ I slam the door behind me for effect, not that it has an effect. He remains deadpan, completely unruffled.
‘I needed you in my arms. You would never allow it while you were conscious, so I used my initiative.’ He shows no remorse for his sly stunt, taking a slow sip of his tea while I look on, stunned, struggling against my body’s instinct to react to those lips in action.
‘Are you going to break in every night and violate my privacy?’
‘If I have to.’
I’m on dangerous ground. I’ve been on the receiving end of his determination on more than one occasion. I need to stay strong. Memories of the loving, worshipping Miller I remember between the emotional retard are slipping further away. ‘Why are you still here?’ I make my way over to my chair and negotiate the towel so I can slip some underwear and a T-shirt on.
‘Why are you all bashful?’
I swing around and find his roving eyes dragging up and down my legs. He looks conceited and victorious, and that makes me feel . . . defeated. ‘I’d like you to leave.’
‘I’d like you to give me the opportunity to talk. But we don’t all get what we want, do we?’ He stands and makes his way over.
‘I’ll slap you if you come any closer!’ I snap, feeling panic descending as I back away. Damn it, he’s going to have me up against the wall and at his mercy but, to my utter shock, he drops to his knees in front of me and looks up, the arrogance disappearing and genuine regret replacing it.
‘I’m on my knees, Olivia.’ His hands slowly lift and slide cautiously under my T-shirt to my bum, like he’s expecting me to shout at him to stop. I would if I could find my tongue. Blue eyes watch me as he reaches forward with his lips and rests them on the material covering my tummy. ‘Let me put right what I’ve broken.’
‘That’s me,’ I choke. ‘You’ve broken me.’
‘I can fix you, Olivia. And I need you to fix me, too.’
My chin starts to tremble at his earnest words. ‘It’s your entire fault,’ I sob, resisting feeling his wayward hair, knowing it’ll offer me comfort that I shouldn’t be seeking from him.
‘I accept full responsibility.’ He kisses my stomach again and glides his palms over my bottom. ‘We’re more broken if we don’t have each other. Let me put us back together again. I need you, Olivia. Desperately. You’re making my world light.’
The word I want to say nearly slips past my lips, but there’s so much that needs to be spoken about. Too much I fear for any of this to ever be right. I’m pulled down to my knees and smothered by his lush, soft lips. The familiar comfort saturates my senses. ‘Miller.’ I break away and hold him at arm’s length. ‘You think it’s that easy?’
His stunning brow furrows deeply as he scans my face. ‘Overthinking.’
I can’t stop my eyes from rolling at his feeble retort. ‘We should talk.’
‘Okay. Let’s talk now,’ he pushes.
I feel frustration starting to take hold again. ‘I need time to think.’
‘People overthink things, Livy. I’ve told you that before.’
He must realise what he’s saying. He’s a smart man. ‘And make big deals of small deals?’ I ask, a light edge of sarcasm lacing my tone.
‘There’s no need for insolence.’
I sigh. ‘I’ve told you before, Miller Hart. With you there is.’
‘How much time?’ He has no counter for that.
‘I don’t know. I’ve never been in a relationship, and I wanted one with you. Then I found out you fuck women for a living!’
‘Livy!’ he yells. ‘Please, don’t be so crass!’
‘I’m sorry. Did I hurt your feelings?’
I expect a scowl but get an even tone and straight face. ‘What the hell has happened to my sweet girl?’ His eyebrows rise, raising my hackles. ‘Getting drunk, offering yourself to other men.’
‘You happened!’ Yes, I got drunk, but only to dull the pain that he’s caused.
‘I don’t want anyone else to taste you.’
‘I feel the same!’ I yell, making him jump before he snarls. His lack of retort should surprise me but it doesn’t. It worries me. But something springs to mind. ‘I saw the newspaper.’
His hostility is sucked up in a second. Now he looks downright uncomfortable, and he isn’t jumping to his defence, confirming my suspicions. Diana Low didn’t take it upon herself to change that headline. Miller told her to.
The sound of pots and pans clanging downstairs distracts me, making my head drop back on a moan of frustration. ‘What have you told Nan?’ I need to clarify this because she’s going to be on me like a vulture the second Miller leaves.
‘Just that we had words, that you misunderstood a woman I had a meeting with as more than the business associate she was.’ A sharp crack spikes in my neck when my head snaps back up. He shrugs and drops his arse to his heels. ‘What else should I have said?’
No answer to that is coming to me. I should be grateful for his quick thinking, but the audacity of his lie to my dear grandmother halts any gratitude. ‘I’ll call you,’ I breathe.
‘What do you mean, you’ll call me?’ His displeasure is obvious. ‘And you have no phone!’
‘You’ve been in another country with another woman.’ I drag myself to my feet, feeling more exhausted than ever before.
‘Livy, I didn’t sleep with her. I’ve not slept with anyone since I met you, I swear.’
I should be relieved, but I’m not. I’m completely shocked. ‘No one?’
‘No, no one.’
‘Not a soul?’ He’s an escort. I’ve seen hi
His eyes are smiling. ‘No matter how you ask, the answer will still be no. Not a soul.’
‘So what were you doing in Madrid? And that woman at Quaglino’s?’
‘Come and sit.’ He stands and starts pulling me to the bed, but I doggedly shake him off.
‘No.’ I walk over to my bedroom door and pull it open. Nothing he can say will fix this mess, and even if he finds any soothing words, he will still be an escort with some awful tactics. I need to listen to William.
He makes no attempt to leave my bedroom, his beautiful mind obviously racing. ‘I’ll take you for dinner, and you can’t refuse because it’s rude to decline a gentleman an offer to wine and dine you.’ He nods his approval at his own words. ‘Ask your grandmother.’
‘Next week,’ I suggest in an attempt to get him out before I cave, wondering if I’ll ever be ready to take him on. I don’t know where he’s found the idea that I hold the strength I need to help him.
His eyes widen slightly, but he maintains his composure. ‘Next week? No, I’m afraid not. Tonight. I’m taking you to dinner tonight.’
‘Tomorrow,’ I fire back unconsciously, stunning myself.
‘Tomorrow?’ he asks, clearly mentally calculating how many hours that is before sighing heavily. ‘Promise.’ His lips move slowly. ‘Promise me.’
‘I promise,’ I whisper, drawn to his mouth, thinking it can make everything better.
‘Thank you.’ His tall, crumpled form approaches me and stops at the doorway. ‘Can I kiss you?’ His manners shock me. He doesn’t usually care for them in situations like this.
I shake my head, knowing I’ll be blindsided and undoubtedly end up on the bed beneath him.
‘As you wish.’ He’s full to the brim with aggravation. ‘For now I’ll respect your request, but I won’t for much longer,’ he warns, moodily stomping in his expensive shoes down the hallway. ‘Tomorrow,’ he affirms as he disappears down the stairs.
I shut the door, feeling relieved, lost and proud all at once.
But I still want Miller Hart.
With the absence of a certain gentleman at the dinner table, supper has returned to dishes that I’m familiar with and at the kitchen table, rather than at Nan’s fancy dining room table. George’s top button is undone, and no one is being chastised for their manners. There’s no wine, no Sunday best frocks, and there’s no pineapple upside-down cake.
But there are three pairs of inquisitive eyes on me, all watching me closely as I force-feed myself. My silence speaks volumes, and Gregory is beside himself, having received the rundown from Nan before I made it downstairs to the dinner table. I heard the hushed whispers, the shocked gasp, and I also heard Nan pacifying a rankled Gregory with excuses of misunderstandings and business associates not being who I thought. Gregory won’t buy it, so remaining at the table for as long as possible to avoid his pressing questions is paramount. He has a black eye and a swollen hand. It can’t be ignored, and I’m wondering what he’s told Nan.
When Nan starts clearing the dinner table, Gregory cocks his head to the side, signalling me to follow him out of the kitchen. I know my time evading him is up. I thank Nan, rub George on the shoulder affectionately, and follow my best friend into the hallway.
But I get in first. ‘What were you thinking?!’ I hiss, looking back to the door and then yanking him up the stairs. ‘I didn’t need you flexing your muscles and bashing horns with him!’
We reach the top of the stairs and I turn to see his mouth dropped open in shock at my tirade. ‘I was protecting you!’
‘At first, yes, but it soon turned into a battle of the biggest ego! You threw the first punch!’
‘He was manhandling you!’
Both of our heads snap to the side when we hear Nan. ‘What’s going on up there?’
‘Nothing!’ I call, pulling Gregory into my room and slamming the door. ‘You prised me from him and dumped me on the pavement before tackling him to the floor!’ I bend and point at my head. ‘I spent hours in A and E being glued together while you wrestled in the middle of the street!’
‘You just disappeared!’ he shouts, pointing his finger in my face. ‘And you have no fucking phone!’ He throws his hands up in the air in frustration.
I pull up a moment, thinking about something that I really never wanted to think about again. ‘It’s affecting us,’ I say quietly.
His neck retracts on his shoulders. ‘Yes, he is.’
‘I don’t mean Miller.’
‘Then what—’ His mouth snaps shut, his eyes wide. ‘Oh no! Don’t blame this on that little thing we had.’ He waves towards the bed, laughing sarcastically. ‘This shit between us is down to that fucking prick you’ve fallen in love with!’
‘He’s not a prick!’ I shout, searching deep for the strength to calm myself down.
‘I swear to God, Livy, if you see him again, then we’re done!’
‘Don’t talk stupid!’ I’m horrified he would say such a thing. I’ve helped him through endless shitty break-ups, and I’ve never made such a threat.
‘I’m not,’ he says more calmly. ‘I mean it, Olivia. You know as well as me that that cocksucker is trouble. And I know you’re not telling me everything.’
‘I am!’ I defend myself far too hastily.
‘Don’t insult me!’
‘At least he cared enough to search for me!’
Gregory recoils in disgust. ‘He’s ruining you.’ Biting his lip, he watches me closely for a few long seconds. I don’t like the look on his face, and I know I’m not going to like his next words. He’s thinking too hard about them. ‘I can’t see you if he’s in your life.’
I gasp as he turns and leaves, making a point of slamming the door behind him, leaving me struck dumb in the middle of my bedroom. I’m speechless, hurt and mad. He can’t slap conditions on our friendship when it suits him. I never have.
I throw myself into bed on an annoyed curse and hide under the sheets. Once again, my mind is grateful for the let-up in painful thinking, and I’m soon dreaming of hard warmth pushed up against my back and soft humming in my ear. I’m only dreaming, but the sharp edges under the bespoke suit and the familiar feeling of smooth hands stroking my bare tummy are comforting, even if they aren’t real. It’s far more welcome than the usual nightmare.
I don’t welcome Monday with any more enthusiasm than I have every other morning since I fled that hotel. On top of my muddled thoughts about a certain man, I now have Gregory to worry about. The calamity that is my life at the moment is certainly making up for all the boring that’s come before.
Half of me is wondering why I suggested dinner with Miller today when I was desperate to be swallowed up by him yesterday, and half of me is wondering why I suggested any day at all. He hasn’t slept with anyone? I need to make a list of questions. If I’m stupid enough to meet him.
I pull my bedcovers back and immediately frown down at my semi-naked body. I have my knickers on, but everything else is gone. Glancing up, I see all of my clothes folded neatly and placed in a pile on my chair. I’m not totally losing my mind. I fell into bed in my clothes after Gregory stormed out; I know I did. I consider the possibility of Nan stripping me down in my sleep, but that pile of precisely folded and placed clothes tells me otherwise.
Still frowning, I untangle my body from the bedcovers and make my way across the room, opening the door quietly and listening out for Nan. There are the sounds of happy singing and clanking dishes, but no talking. Casting my eyes back to the offending pile of clothes, I think hard, trying to remember if it’s my doing, but I’m blank. Nothing is coming to me. Maybe I’m walking in my sleep, or maybe I’m tidying in my sleep.
A quick look at my clock tells me I haven’t got time to ponder this mystery any more, so I make quick work of showering and dressing for work, throwing on some jeans and my white Converse, like I want my feet to dictate my mood: lifeless . . . blank.
‘How was the dance?’ I ask.
‘We rocked it.’ She brushes me off, even though I’m certain she has many tales to tell from her night as Ginger Rogers. ‘And it was two nights ago.’
I wince. ‘Sorry.’
‘No matter,’ she insists, and I know why. ‘Miller looked mighty sad when he left yesterday.’ She potters around with her tea towel while watching for my reaction. ‘And I didn’t like the sound of you and Gregory arguing.’
Denied by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes