The Forbidden eBook: Page2

Jodi Ellen Malpas (2017)


  I give Micky a quick jab in the bicep, and he yelps playfully. I follow the echo of Mum’s call until I find her shimmying past the boxes lining the corridor, being careful not to catch her pleated skirt on any of them.

  “Oh, look at the high ceilings!” she croons. “And the picture rails!”

  I rest my shoulder on the door frame and watch with a smile as she shuffles toward me. Micky joins me, his chest meeting my back.

  “Michael!” she shrieks, picking up her pace to make it to us. “Give me a hug!” She virtually knocks me off my feet to get her hands on him. “Let me see your handsome chops.” She squeezes his jaw fiercely, and I laugh. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in weeks!”

  “Working hard, June.”

  Mum smiles at him, releasing his face. “When are you going to make an honest woman of my Annie?”

  Micky looks across to me, just as I roll my eyes. “As soon as she’ll have me.” He grins wickedly, knowing exactly what he’s doing, as he always does when my mother goes off on a tangent about our friendship.

  Micky doesn’t want to date me. He’s too busy being a slut, and I’m too busy building my career. Our relationship is purely platonic—something we’re both happy with. There’s never been anything more than friendship between us. No sparks. No chemistry. Nothing. I often wonder whether any man will ever stir anything within me, because if Micky Letts hasn’t, then it’s possible no man will. He has women falling at his feet with just a hint of his disarming smile. Me? I feel nothing. I think I’m abnormal.

  Mum tucks her bag neatly in the crook of her arm and produces a carrier bag loaded with cleaning supplies. “I’ve come to help!”

  “Dressed in that?” I ask, taking in her cream blouse, pleated skirt, and heeled shoes.

  “Always look your best, dear.” She sniffs. “Your father will be here soon with his toolbox. Now, where do we start?”

  “I’m out of here,” Micky says, grabbing a box with a yellow sticker on it before dropping a peck on my mother’s cheek and marching out of my door, hands full. He blows me a kiss as he passes.

  I grin and turn to find my mother armored up with some yellow rubber gloves and a bottle of cleaner.

  “Let’s get scrubbing,” she sings excitedly.

  Chapter 2

  My nails are shot to bits—the result of a week’s worth of scrubbing and manual labor in between keeping on top of my clients, my e-mails, and my designs. But my new apartment is now a sparkly new apartment. Everything has a home and every room has been painted. All of my reference books have been loaded onto the shelves in my studio, my computer and printer set up, and my desk placed in the window. I bloody love it. And now I am more than ready for a night out with the girls to let my hair down.

  My iPod is cranked to the max and I’m dancing around my bedroom in my towel, the windows flung open, while I sing at the top of my voice to Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” and sip wine.

  After making my eyes all smoky and smudged, slipping on a little black dress and the highest black heels I own, and pinning my hair into a mess of a low bun, I grab my purse and head for the door, hearing Lizzy knocking as I’m on my way.

  “Nice.” She nods approvingly when I answer, though she looks a little vacant.

  “You okay?” I ask, stepping out.

  “Yeah, fine.” She looks effortlessly gorgeous, her black bobbed hair wavy today, and her brown eyes dramatic with heavy eyeliner. Her bright pink shift dress and leather biker jacket are perfectly edgy and perfectly Lizzy. “You’ve made quite an effort, too,” I observe as I link arms with her and we start down the path together.

  “Just threw something on,” she says, waving off my compliment. “Nat’s meeting us there. And whatever you do, tell her you love her hair.”

  “Why, what did she do?” I look at Lizzy in horror. Nat’s hair is her pride and joy. Thick, blond, glossy, and down to her bum, it’s groomed better than the Queen’s corgis.

  “John’s kid got his bubble gum stuck in it.”

  “Oh shit,” I breathe, seeing Nat’s face clear as day in my mind’s eye. It’s angry. Very, very angry. She’s met the man of her dreams, but the man of her dreams comes with an added extra: a six-year-old boy who is a little bit of a handful. Scrap that. He’s a lot of a handful. Nat’s not exactly maternal. “How much?” I wince, waiting for it, and then I gasp when Lizzy’s cutting gesture saws at her shoulders. “Oh no.”

  “And I’ve split up with Jason.”

  I stagger to a stop. “What?”

  She shakes her head, tears threatening. “I don’t want to talk about it tonight.”

  I snap my mouth shut quickly and, though it pains me, I refrain from pressing. “Okay.” She needs a girls’ night out, and I’m more than happy to provide. “Wait. Does Nat know?”

  She nods and quickly wipes under her eyes. “Let’s just have fun tonight, please.”

  “Done.” I grab her arm and march on, determined to distract her for tonight, my mind racing with what could have happened.

  * * *

  It’s a challenge, but I manage not to choke when I clap eyes on Nat’s dramatic, unplanned transformation. Her long locks are no more, and the scowl on her face tells me that she hasn’t come to terms with it yet.

  “Tell her it looks great,” Lizzy mumbles under her breath as we head toward her.

  “It looks great!” I shriek, resting my bum on one of the tall stools. Everyone falls silent, Lizzy rolls her eyes, and Nat growls at me. “What?” I ask, shrinking.

  “I look about fifty,” Nat mutters.

  “No you don’t,” Lizzy and I sing in unison, so fucking over the top. She really does look older. Perhaps not quite fifty, but definitely older than her thirty years.

  “I love it!” I declare, happy that I sound sincere enough, prompting Nat’s hands to go up to her hair and feel the lack of length.

  “Really?” she asks, looking for reassurance.

  “Yes, makes you look more sophisticated.”

  She smiles, grateful, and Lizzy knocks my arm as she passes me, her way of congratulating me on a job well done. “I’m getting drinks,” she declares. “Who wants what?”

  “Wine!” Nat and I chant.

  Lizzy heads for the bar, and I take the opportunity to interrogate Nat. “What’s happened with Lizzy and Jason?” I ask, leaning forward over the table.

  “I don’t know.” She shrugs nonchalantly, ever the compassionate type. “She refuses to talk about it.”

  “But I thought they were solid.”

  “Yeah, me too. Apparently not, eh?”

  “You sound so concerned.” I give her a disappointed look, and she just shrugs again. Nat’s not exactly the emotional type. She’s a loss adjuster for a huge insurance firm. A real hardball, and she struggles to separate that from her personal life. Most men are intimidated by her. Most women, too, actually. Tall, leggy, blond, and a bit of an emotional retard.

  “My hair was massacred,” she snipes, “so I’m moody.”

  Our conversation is cut short—not that it was going anywhere—when Lizzy slides a tray on the table, loaded with not only wine, but shots, too. I look at Nat, who nods her understanding. Lizzy is on a mission to total drunkenness. We both accept the shots she hands us and throw them back as ordered. Then I ponder who of my friends is in the most turmoil, therefore needing my attention. You’d think this would be an easy decision, but Nat was probably as much in love with her hair as I thought Lizzy was with Jason. I flick my eyes between them; both distracted. Nat is still stroking her new bob, and Lizzy’s now daydreaming into her wineglass.

  It’s no good. I can’t hold back. “What happened?” I ask Lizzy, knocking her knee.

  She snaps out of her trance and looks at me, her usually bright eyes dulling. Then they well up, her bottom lip trembling. “He cheated!” she wails, bursting into tears. “And it’s not the first time, either!”

  “Oh my God!” I cry, jumping down from my stool and taking her
in a hug. She shakes and blubbers all over me, finally losing the ability to hold it together. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

  “When it happened before, I forgave him,” Lizzy sniffs. “Thought it would just be a one-off, and I knew how you’d all react. I didn’t want you to think bad of him, and I didn’t want you to think I’m a walkover.”

  I look across Lizzy’s head at Nat, giving her a guilty look. She returns it, knowing that’s exactly what we would have done. Bastard, I mouth, and she nods, her lip curling.

  Lizzy howls some more, making our tangle of limbs vibrate. “It’s been going on for months,” she sobs. “Some tart in the office. He’s been working late more and more, and I found text messages on his phone.”

  Me and Nat scowl at each other, but neither of us say anything, probably because we have no idea what to say, leaving Lizzy to go on and dish the sordid details.

  “She’s twenty-one!” she howls into my chest. “Twenty-fucking-one!”

  Ouch!

  Nat’s face is a picture of horror, and I expect mine is, too. “Let’s drink,” I suggest, now willing to get plastered on Lizzy’s behalf.

  * * *

  One hour later…or it could be two—I’m not sure—we are all pretty tipsy, but no one is crying so our inebriated states can only be a good thing. Micky has arrived, and doesn’t Lizzy know it. He looks gorgeous, his man-bun perfect. She’s all over him like a rash, and it’s not a problem for Micky. Though he does keep flicking wary eyes at me, waiting for the warning. It won’t come. Not tonight. Besides, Lizzy needs distracting and I’m too tipsy to care. A bit of harmless flirting won’t hurt.

  Polishing off yet another wine, I look around for Nat. I find her on the dance floor, all by herself, swaying to a bit of Moby. A few drinks inside her and she belongs to any dance floor, no matter where.

  I shimmy over to the bar to get more shots, since we’re clearly not drunk enough. Ordering four Slippery Nipples with a grin, I bob to the music while I wait for the barman to get our drinks. I slip him a twenty. “Do you have a tray?” I ask.

  “All out,” he calls as he walks away with my money.

  I look down at the four shot glasses, pondering what to do. There’s a simple solution, but I’m on my way to total drunkenness and it’s not coming to me, so I start to negotiate the tiny glasses between my fingers, confident I can manage them all in one go and save me an extra trip to our table…which is twenty feet away. “Damn,” I mutter, knocking one and spilling the stickiness all over my hand. I start to lick at my fingers, lapping up the creamy concoction, set on minimal waste. Then I take the remainder of the shot and knock it back, reducing my carry to three glasses. Far more manageable.

  If you’re totally sober. Which I’m not. I accept my change when the barman slides it across the counter to me. “Thanks,” I call, starting to collect the three remaining glasses in my hands. Another one goes over, and once again I lick the mess from my hand.

  “You’re not doing very well there, are you?”

  The amused voice pulls me around, my lapping tongue around my fingers slowing to a standstill, my eyes widening at the sight of the man standing next to me at the bar.

  Holy…shit.

  I’m not often rendered speechless. Never, in fact. Now I’m making up for it, and I can’t figure out if it’s too much alcohol or the awe I’m in. So fucking hot! I take in every teeny tiny piece of him, from his shoes—which, it should be noted, are very stylish tan Jeffery West brogues—to the very top of his beautiful head. I say beautiful. I’m not sure it’s complimentary enough. Classically handsome, maybe? Jaw-dropping? Stunning? Nothing seems adequate. He has scruff. Yummy scruff that I guess is a result of not shaving for at least five days, and his gray eyes are ridiculously twinkly. Like little stars are popping in their depths. His hair is cut close to his head at the sides, but longer on top and manipulated to the side. Just long enough to hold on to…

  I gulp down my wonder. The man can dress. Casual. Easy. A lovely fitted shirt, collar open, sleeves rolled up, loose and hanging out of his fitted Armani jeans. Did I mention he had good shoes?

  “Need a hand?” he asks, eyeing me with…what is that?

  A hand? Where would I put that hand? I tilt my head in silent contemplation, now staring at his hands. Big, capable hands, one wrapped around a bottle of beer. Then my eyes are lifting, following that bottle until it reaches his lips. His mouth opens. I catch sight of a sliver of his tongue, and his lips wrap around the bottle, his head tipping back. The throat. Holy shit, the throat. The swallow. The quiet gasp.

  The colossal blast that’s just happened in my knickers.

  I flinch and cross my legs on the spot. I have no fucking clue what’s going on inside me, but it’s snapped me out of my ridiculous inertness. “Shots!” I blurt, making a grab for the glasses. “Hey, I ordered four,” I call to the waiter, scowling across the bar.

  The man next to me starts laughing, a deep, sexy low rumble.

  More blasts. Oh…God. Be quiet!

  “Just how drunk are you?” he asks, and I look at him to see him watching me closely.

  “Perfectly sober, thanks,” I say, snatching my eyes away from him quickly before I give them the opportunity to embarrass me again. “I ordered four.”

  “And you’ve spilt two,” he points out. I look down and see the two empties…and it comes back to me. How long was I daydreaming? Or admiring? Or drooling?

  “Oh.”

  “Not drunk?”

  I keep my eyes on the bar. They can’t be trusted. “Like I said, perfectly sober.” I gather up the remaining glasses and make to turn, being sure to maintain my stability. Not that I’m stubborn or anything. I’m not drunk.

  “Care to prove it?” he asks, pulling me to a stop. A challenge?

  I risk a peek at him out of the corner of my eye and find the most gorgeous smile on his already gorgeous face. Where the hell did he come from?

  Prove it? “How?” I ask, my curiosity getting the better of me.

  “Take the shots to your friends.” He nods past me, and I look over to see my friends all now gathered around the tall table, Micky’s arms flying in the air dramatically, the girls laughing. I manage to note that Dishy Man here knows who I’m with. How long has he been here? There’s no way he would have slipped under any of the girls’ Hot-Man Radar. “Then come back to see me, if you want,” he adds quietly.

  If I want? Do I want? I have another quick peek up at him. He’s still smiling. It’s a dangerous smile. Very dangerous. He’s too handsome to be harmless.

  I slink off, shamelessly adopting a mild sway of my arse as I go, resisting the urge to see if he’s watching me. He is watching me. I just know it, and it’s got me all hot and bothered.

  Lizzy is on me like a pouncing tiger when I arrive back at the table. “Who in God’s name is that?” she asks, eyes wide with excitement as she takes a shot.

  “I don’t know,” I reply, downing the last shot myself instead of giving it up to any one of my friends, all the while feeling the magnetic pull of the man behind me, my body tightening with the strain it’s taking not to turn and seek him out again.

  “Annie, I know you’re pretty much immune to men, but this is taking the piss. He’s watching you.”

  Immune? I’m not sure I’d say immune. I’ve just never felt anything close to special. So why the hell am I tingling all over and trembling like a fool? I don’t feel very immune now. “He can watch.”

  She gapes at me. “Well, if you won’t talk to him, then I will, since I’m single now.” Pushing past me, she slaps a smile on her face and heads toward the bar, and my man.

  I have no idea what comes over me, but the next moment my hand has shot out and I’ve seized Lizzy’s wrist, yanking her to a stop. I squeeze my eyes shut, annoyed with myself. “Just hold up one minute.” I breathe in deeply and turn to her. “A rebound fuck with a stranger isn’t the way forward.”

  She’s holding back a grin that will probably split
her face if it escapes. She has me. For the first time—probably ever—a man has caught my attention. I shouldn’t read too much into it. I expect this particular man has caught every woman’s attention, the unholy, good-looking son of a bitch.

  Leaning into me, Lizzy pushes her mouth to my ear, just as my eyes fall onto him again. He’s still watching me. Intently, almost challengingly. “He looks like a hard fucker,” Lizzy whispers, giggling as she breaks away, giving me a coy look. “Do womankind a favor and get laid.” She nods past me. “By him.”

  “I’m just going to talk to him,” I protest, leaving my friend behind and giving in to the pull luring me back to him. I drink in