Denied, p.1part #2 of One Night Series by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love
A million thank yous to the usual suspects. You all know who you are! I’m a lucky girl to have you all behind me. A special thank you to Leah, my editor, who makes editing almost pleasurable. I said almost! What is a pleasure, though, is working with you. Thank you for everything and getting my Jodi-isms. To the art department at both my UK and US publishing houses. I’m totally crap at expressing how I want the covers to be, yet you nail it every time. Thank you!
And my ladies. I just want to take you all out and drink mojitos until we fall over!
I hope you enjoy Denied.
William Anderson replaced the phone slowly and thoughtfully, then reclined in his big office chair. His large hands formed a steeple in front of his mouth as he ran over the ten-minute conversation repeatedly until he was on the brink of craziness. He didn’t know what to think, but he knew he needed a drink. A large one. He strode over to his drinks cabinet and lifted the old-fashioned globe-style lid. He didn’t stop to consider which malt he fancied; any alcohol would suffice right now. Pouring a tumbler to the brim with bourbon, he downed half and immediately topped it back up. He felt hot and sweaty. The usually composed man had been knocked for six by today’s revelations, and now all he could see were beautiful sapphire eyes. Everywhere he turned they were there, torturing him, reminding him of his failure. He yanked at his tie and unfastened the top button of his dress shirt, hoping the extra room at his neck would help him breathe. No such luck. His throat was closing up on him. The past had returned to haunt him. He’d tried so hard not to get attached, not to care. And now it was happening again.
In his world, decisions needed to be made with a clear head and objective mind – something he was usually an expert at. Usually. Things in William’s world happened for a reason, and that reason was typically because he said so – because people listened to him, respected him. Now he felt all sense of control slipping away, and he didn’t like it. Especially where she was concerned.
‘I’m too old for this shit,’ he grumbled, collapsing onto his chair. After taking another long, healthy glug of his bourbon, he rested his head back and stared up at the ceiling. She’d sent him into a tailspin before, and he was about to let her do it all over again.
He was a fool. But having Miller Hart added to the complicated equation left him little choice. And neither did his morals . . . or his love for that woman.
My destiny has been steered by someone else. All of my effort, my cautious approach, and the protective shields I worked hard to put in place were obliterated the day I met Miller Hart. It fast became obvious that I’d reached a point in my life where it was paramount I maintained my sensible life strategies, kept my calm façade, and stayed vigilant. Because that man was unquestionably going to test me. And he did. He still is. Trusting a man, confiding in a man, and giving myself to a man was the ultimate. I did it all, and now I wholeheartedly wish I hadn’t. Being frightened that he would leave me because of my history was wasted concern. That should have been the least of my fears.
Miller Hart is a high-class male prostitute. He said ‘escort’, but you can’t pretty it up by selecting a less taboo word.
Miller Hart sells his body.
Miller Hart lives a life of debasement.
Miller Hart is the male equivalent of my mother. I’m in love with a man I can’t have. He made me feel alive when I’d spent too long just existing, but he took away that invigorating feeling, replacing it with desolation. My spirit is more lifeless now than it ever was before my encounters with that man.
The humiliation of being proved wrong is being drowned out by the hurt. I can feel nothing but crippling hurt. It’s been the longest two weeks imaginable, and I have the rest of my life to soldier through. The thought is enough to make me want to close my eyes and never open them again.
That night at the hotel plays over and over in my mind – the feel of the belt Miller put on my wrists, the cold impassiveness of his face as he expertly made me come, the look of raw anguish when he realised the pain he’d caused. Of course I had to flee.
I just didn’t realise I’d be running right into an even bigger problem. William. I know it’s only a matter of time before he finds me again. I saw the surprise on his face when he registered me, and I saw the recognition when he spotted Miller. William Anderson and Miller Hart know each other, and William will want to know how I know Miller and, God forbid, what I was doing at that hotel. Not only have I spent two weeks in hell, but I’ve also spent two weeks looking over my shoulder, waiting for him to appear.
After dragging myself to the shower and pulling on anything I can lay my hands on, I plod down the stairs, finding Nan on her knees loading the washing machine. I slip silently onto a chair at the table, but Nan seems to have a radar on me these days and every movement, breath and tear is detected, no matter if she’s in the room with me or not. She’s caring but confused, sympathetic but encouraging. Trying to make me see the positive side of my encounters with Miller Hart has become her life goal, but I can see nothing but imminent misery and feel nothing but lingering pain. There can never be anyone else. No man will ever spark those feelings, make me feel protected, loved and safe.
It’s ironic, really. All my life I’ve despised that my mother abandoned me for a life of men, pleasure and gifts. And then Miller Hart turns out to be a male escort. He sells his body, takes money to bring women pleasure. For him, every time he took me in his thing, held me so tenderly in his arms, it was to erase the taint of an encounter with another woman. Of all the men in the world who could’ve captured me so completely, why him?
‘Would you like to come to Monday club with me?’ Nan asks casually while I try to choke down some cornflakes.
‘No, I’ll stay at home.’ I plunge my spoon into my bowl and take another mouthful. ‘Did you win at bingo last night?’
Huffing a few times, she slams the door of the washing machine, then proceeds to load the tray with laundry detergent. ‘Did I heck! Waste of bloody time.’
‘Why do you bother, then?’ I ask, stirring my breakfast slowly.
‘Because I rock that bingo hall.’ She winks, smiling a little, and I mentally plead for her not to hit me with another pep talk. My plea goes ignored. ‘I spent years mourning your grandfather’s death, Olivia.’ Her words stun me a little, the mention of my grandfather the last thing I expected. My stirring slows. ‘I lost my lifetime partner and I cried oceans.’ She’s trying to put things into perspective, and it’s in this moment I wonder if she thinks I’m pathetic for being so blue over a man I’ve known so briefly. ‘I didn’t think I would ever feel human again.’
‘I remember,’ I say quietly. And I remember how I came close to multiplying Nan’s grief. She wasn’t even over my mother’s disappearance before she was cruelly faced with the premature death of her beloved Jim.
‘But it did happen.’ She nods reassuringly. ‘It doesn’t feel like it right now, but you’ll see that life can go on.’ She’s up the hallway now, while I’m considering her words, feeling a little guilty for mourning something I barely had and even guiltier that she’s comparing it to the loss of her husband in an attempt to make me feel better.
I slip deep into thought, running over encounter after encounter, kiss after kiss, word after word. My washed-out mind seems hell-bent on torturing me, but it’s my own stupid fault. I asked for it. Hopelessness has taken on a new meaning.
The chime of my mobile makes me jump back in my chair, bringing me out of my daydream, where all of the misery is real again. I don’t particularly want contact with anyone, least of all the man responsible for my heartache, so when I see his name appear, I quickly drop my spoon into my bowl and stare blankly at the screen. My heart is sprinting. I’ve clammed up with panic, and I’m far back in my chair, putting as much distance between me and the phone as possible. I can’t move further away because every useless muscle in my body is on shutdown. Nothing is working, except my damn memory, and it’s torturing me some more, making me speed through every moment that I’ve spent with Miller Hart. My eyes begin to pool with tears of despair. It’s not wise to open this message. Of course it’s not wise to open this message. I’m not being very wise at the moment, though. Haven’t been since I met Miller Hart.
I swipe up my phone and open the text.
How are you? Miller Hart x
I frown at the screen and reread the message, wondering if he thinks that I may have forgotten him already. Miller Hart? How am I? How does he think I am? Dancing on the ceiling because I got myself a few rounds of Miller Hart, London’s most notorious male escort, for free? No, not for free. Far from free. My time and experiences with that man are going to cost me dearly. I’ve not even begun to come to terms with what’s happened. My mind is a knot of questions, all jumbled up, but I need to unravel it all and get it in order before I try to make any sense of this. Just the fact that the only man I’ve ever shared my whole self with is suddenly gone is hard enough to deal with. Trying to fathom why and how is a chore my emotions refuse to bear on top of my loss.
How am I? ‘A fucking mess!’ I yell at my phone, stabbing at the delete button repeatedly until my thumb gets sore. In an act of pure anger, I throw my phone across the kitchen, not even wincing at the crash as it smashes to smithereens against the tiled wall. I’m heaving violently in my chair, barely hearing the rushed clumping of footsteps down the stairs over my angry gasps.
‘What on earth?’ Nan’s shocked tone creeps over my shoulders, but I don’t turn to see the stunned look that’ll most certainly be plaguing her old face. ‘Olivia?’
I stand abruptly, sending my chair flying back, the screeching of wood on wood echoing around our old kitchen. ‘I’m going out.’ I don’t look at my grandmother as I escape, making my way quickly down the hall and viciously snatching my jacket and satchel from the coat stand.
Her footsteps are pounding after me as I swing the front door open and nearly take George off his feet. ‘Morn— Oh!’ He watches me barrel past, and I just catch a glimpse of his jolly face drifting into shock before I break into a sprint down the pathway.
I know I look out of place as I stand near the gym entrance, clearly hesitant and a little overwhelmed. All the machines look like spaceships, hundreds of buttons or levers on each one, and I haven’t the first idea how to operate them. My one-hour induction last week did a great job of distracting me, but the information and instructions fell straight from my memory the second I left the exclusive fitness centre. I scan the area, fiddling with my ring, seeing masses of men and women pounding the treadmills, going hell for leather on the bikes and pumping weights on huge lifting devices. They all look like they know exactly what they’re doing.
In an attempt to blend in, I make my way over to the water machine and gulp down a cup of icy water. I’m wasting time being hesitant when I could be releasing some stress and anger. I spot a punchbag hanging in the far corner with no one within thirty feet of it, so I decide to give it a try. There are no buttons or levers on that.
Wandering over, I help myself to the boxing gloves hanging on the wall nearby. I shove my hands in, trying to look like a pro, like I come here every morning and start my day with an hour of sweating. After securing the Velcro, I give the bag a little poke. I’m surprised at how heavy it is. My feeble hit has barely moved it. I draw back my arm and poke harder, frowning when all I get is a little sway of the giant bag. Deciding it must be full of rocks, I inject some power into my weak arm and throw some effort into my next hit. I grunt, too, and the bag shifts significantly this time, moving away from me and seeming to pause in mid-air before it’s on its way back towards me. Fast. I panic and quickly pull back my fist, then extend my arm to prevent being knocked to the ground. Shock waves fly up my arm when my glove connects with the bag, but it’s moving away from me again. I smile and spread my legs a little, bracing myself for its return, then smack it hard again, sending it sailing away from me.
My arm is aching already and I suddenly realise I have two gloved hands, so I pummel it with my left this time, smiling wider, the impact of the bag on my fists feeling good. I break out in a sweat, my feet start to shift, and my arms begin to pick up a rhythm. My shouts of satisfaction spur me on, and the bag morphs into more than a bag. I’m beating the shit out of it and loving every moment.
I don’t know how long I’m there, but when I finally let up and take a moment to think, I’m drenched, my knuckles are sore, and my breathing is erratic. I catch the bag and let it settle, then take a cautious glance around the gym, wondering if my lash-out has been noticed. No one is staring. I’ve gone totally unnoticed, everyone focused on their own gruelling workout. I smile to myself and collect a cup of water and a towel from the nearby shelf, wiping my pouring brow as I make my way from the huge room, a certain skip to my step. For the first time in weeks, I feel prepared to take on the day.
I head to the changing rooms, sipping my water, feeling like a lifetime of stress and woes have just been knocked out of me. How ironic. The sense of release is new and the urge to go back in and pound for another hour is hard to resist, but I’m already at risk of being late for work, so I push on, thinking this could get addictive. I’ll be back tomorrow morning, maybe even after work today, and I’ll thrash that bag until there are no more traces of Miller Hart and the pain he’s caused me.
I pass door after door, all with glass panes, and peek into each. Through one I see dozens of tight backsides of people pedalling like their lives depend on it, through another are women bent into all sorts of freakish positions, and in another there are men running back and forth, randomly dropping to the mats to do varied sets of push-ups and sit-ups. These must be the classes the instructor told me about. I might try one or two. Or I could give them all a go.
As I’m passing the final door before the women’s changing rooms, I pull up when something catches my eye, and backtrack until I’m looking through the glass pane at a punchbag similar to the one that I’ve just attacked. It’s swinging from the ceiling hook, but with no one in sight to have made it move. I frown and step closer to the door, my eyes travelling with the bag from left to right. Then I gasp and jump back as someone comes into view, bare-chested and barefoot. My already racing heart virtually explodes under the added strain of shock it’s just been subjected to. The cup of water and my towel tumble to the ground. I feel dizzy.
He has those shorts on, the ones he wore when he was trying to make me comfortable. I’m shaking, but my shocked state doesn’t stop me from peering back through the glass, just to check I wasn’t hallucinating. I wasn’t. He’s here, his ripped physique mesmerising. He looks violent as he attacks the hanging bag like it’s a threat to his life, punishing it with powerful punches and even more powerful kicks. His athletic legs are extending in between extensions of his muscled arms, his body moving stealthily as he weaves and dodges the bag when it comes back at him. He looks like a pro. He looks like a fighter.
I’m frozen on the spot as I watch Miller move around the hanging bag with ease, his fists wrapped in bandages, his limbs delivering controlled, punishing blows time and time again. The sounds of gruff bawls and his hits send an unfamiliar chill down my spine. Who does he see before him?
My mind spins, questions mounting, as I quietly observe the refined, well-mannered, part-time gentleman become a man possessed, that temper he has warned me about clear and present. But then I retreat a pace when he suddenly grabs the bag with both hands and rests his forehead on the leather, his body falling into the now subtle sway of the punchbag. His back is dripping and heaving, and I see his solid shoulders rise suddenly. Then he begins to turn towards the door. It happens in slow motion. I’m rooted in place as his chest, slicked with a sheen of sweat, comes into view and my eyes slowly crawl up his torso until I see his side profile. He knows he’s being watched. My held breath gushes from my lungs and I move fast, sprinting down the corridor and flying through the door of the changing room, my exhausted heart begging me to give it a break.
I look across to the shower and see a woman wrapped in a towel with a turban on her wet head, watching me with slightly wide eyes. ‘Sure,’ I breathe, realising I’m splattered against the back of the door. I can’t blush because my face is already bright red and steaming hot.
She smiles through a frown and carries on her way, leaving me to find my locker and retrieve my shower bag. The water is far too hot. I need ice. But after five minutes of fiddling with the controls, I fail to cool it down. So I make do and set about washing my tangled, sweaty mane and soaping down my clammy body. My earlier relaxed frame of mind and body have been obliterated by the sight of him, and now the visions are replaying in my mind, too. There are hundreds of fitness centres in London. Why did I choose this one?
I haven’t time to waste thinking too much or time to begin appreciating the pleasant effect of the hot water, which is now massaging my post-workout muscles, not burning my already heated flesh. I need to get to work. It takes me ten minutes to dry my body and hair and get dressed. Then I’m skulking out of the gym with my head down and my shoulders high, bracing myself for that voice to call me or that touch to ignite the internal flame. But I escape safely and hurry to the Tube. While my eyes are thankful for the reminder of Miller Hart’s perfection, my mind is not.
As soon as the lunchtime rush dies down at the bistro where I work, Sylvie is on me like a wolf. ‘Tell me,’ she says, dropping to the sofa next to me.
‘Nothing to tell.’
‘Livy, give me a break! You’ve looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp all morning.’
I cast a sideways frown to find my co-worker’s bright pink lips pressed into an impatient straight line. ‘A what?’
‘Your face is all screwed up in disgust.’
‘He texted me,’ I grumble. I’m not telling her the rest. ‘He texted me to ask how I am.’
She scoffs and takes my can of Coke, slurping loudly. ‘Supercilious moron.’
I jump forward without thought. ‘He’s not a moron!’ I shout defensively, immediately snapping my mouth shut and retreating back on the sofa when I clock Sylvie’s knowing look. ‘He’s not a moron and he’s not supercilious,’ I say calmly. He was loving, attentive,
Denied by Jodi Ellen Malpas / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes