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Pleasing Mr. Parker: Chapter 17

Maria

write-off. A total and utter—What word can I even use to describe what an absolute fuck up it’s been? First Griffin and then…

“Oh God,” I moan as I shake my clutch upside down and its contents clatter over the kitchen side. I don’t know what I’d expected to find. It wasn’t in here the first fifty times I looked. It won’t have magically appeared now.

Will is going to kill me.

What if he gets fired? Or his friend from the jewelers gets fired?

I lean back against the counter and drop my head into my hands.

This is a disaster.

How can I have lost a diamond necklace that I only wore for a few hours? A necklace so expensive that the idea of telling Will makes me want to run to the bathroom and hurl. I had it on when I was in the meeting room with Griffin. I know I did because he touched it.

Right before his hands grazed my breasts. Right before I offered myself up on a platter for him—again.

“What the hell am I doing?” I whisper angrily, screwing my eyes closed. I can’t think about him right now. I need to find this necklace.

Think. Think.

I definitely had it going into that room. And it was gone by the time I got back to the table and sat with Todd, Harley, and Suze. That only leaves the women’s restroom, which I checked, and the meeting room, which I rushed back to after Griffin asked to talk to me. It wasn’t in there either.

Maybe I can pay Will for it? I’ve got savings. How much can a thing like that cost? Maybe I can—

“Maria?”

There’s a knock at the door as a voice calls from the other side. I walk over and open it.

“Todd? I thought you were getting a cab?”

“I was.” He smiles at me and pushes off from the doorframe where he’s casually leaning. “But trying to get a cab when half the gala guests are also leaving isn’t going to happen. I thought I’d come see if you’d had any luck while it quietens down.”

“Oh.” I hesitate, shifting my weight onto my other foot.

“But hey, I can wait downstairs if—”

“No. Don’t be silly. Come in.”

I stand back and he saunters in, the scent of hard liquor accompanying him.

“Nice place.” He walks into the middle of the open-plan kitchen and living area, his eyes casting around. He wanders about, then picks a book up from the bookshelf, raising an eyebrow as he reads the cover. “You like these, huh?” He turns, his eyes glinting.

The hairs on my arms prick up one by one, and I wrap my arms around myself.

“That’s a gift from my Nan. She sent it to me.”

“Hmm.” Todd smiles to himself as he looks at the half-naked man on the cover of the romance book and puts it back on the shelf. “Some girls in the office read these books. They love them. Apparently, they’re full of sex.”

He looks at the other books on the bookshelf, running his finger over the spines.

“Like I said. It was a gift. I haven’t read it yet.” I tighten my arms around myself, a feeling I can’t place creeping over me.

He purses his lips. “Shame.”

I stand fixed on the spot as he picks my bottle of perfume up off the coffee table. He lifts it to his nose and sniffs.

“So? Any thoughts where the necklace could have gone to?” He turns to me, and something about the way he’s looking at me, paired with the slur in his voice, makes my throat suddenly dry.

“No. But it’ll turn up.” I pull my shoulders back, hoping I sound convincing. Hoping I sound confident.

Todd casts his eyes slowly from my head, over my cleavage and to the side split in my dress.

“Maybe it slipped off inside your dress. Although there aren’t many places it could be hiding.” His glassy eyes come to rest on my breasts. “Not in a dress like that.”

“I think you’ll be able to hail a cab now, Todd.” I turn toward the door to show him out, but he stays where he is. His eyes are still on me when I turn back around. “Todd. You need to leave now.”

He looks at me and blinks, then presses the fingers of one hand into his eyes.

“Yes. Of course, sorry. I’m sorry, Maria.” He walks over to me looking embarrassed, and my shoulders drop as I exhale.

“Good night, Todd.” I reach for the handle.

His palm connects with the top of the door, slamming it back into the frame before I can open it an inch.

“Maybe we can do this again another night? Just you and me next time?”

He’s so close that the sour alcoholic fumes emanating from him fill my nose and claw at my throat.

I swallow and turn away. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

He sucks his teeth, dropping his head. “No. You’re right. You’re right. Sorry, I… one too many drinks. I just thought we had… a connection, you know?”

He looks at me from under his brows and it takes all my energy to swallow the burning lump down in my throat so I can speak.

“I’m sorry, Todd. I don’t date people I work with.”

He nods. “Of course, of course. Can’t blame a guy for trying, though.”

His eyes return to my breasts.

“Good night, Todd,” I say firmly.

He takes his hand off the door and I waste no time reaching back for the handle.

“I’ve got it,” he says as he wrenches the door open and straight into my face.

“Shit!” My hand flies up and I clutch my cheekbone, one eye on fire like it’s about to bulge out of the socket.

“Maria! I’m so sorry! I’m an idiot… the door… I…” Todd reaches for me, and I take a step back, holding my other hand up.

“It’s fine. It was an accident. Just go. I’m fine.” I wince as each word digs the throbbing pain further into my skull.

“No. You need ice, you need…” Todd stumbles over to the refrigerator, opening it and grabbing an ice tray from the freezer drawer.

How much did he drink?

“Todd, really, I’m okay.”

“You’re not. Here.” He grabs a towel and goes to empty the ice cubes into it, but his hands fumble and he sways, sending them flying all over the floor, along with the tray, which bangs loudly, making me jump.

“Just go! Please!” I cry as I hold my cheek.

He walks toward me, and I hold my breath as he pauses in the doorway. For one second, my heart stalls in my chest, and its beat is replaced with shards of ice-cold fear.

He isn’t going to leave.

Then he steps over the threshold.

“Good night, Mar—”

I slam the door shut and lock it, pressing myself back against it as I suck in deep breaths, my heart hammering in my chest, my hands trembling.

I stay there for a few minutes, or maybe it’s ten. I don’t know. All I know is I can’t make my feet move until my blood stops rushing in my ears like I’m caught in a riptide. Submerged beneath an unforgiving wave in a treacherous sea.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

The ice melting, forming small puddles across the floor. The refrigerator door is still open, so I go to close it.

A knock at the door has my heart leaping into my chest.

Shit!

I clutch my chest.

“Go home, Todd!” I shout, my voice betraying me and cracking.

“It’s Griffin,” a deep voice calls back.

Griffin?

I walk over to the door, pausing my hand mid-air over the handle. There is smeared blood on the back of it.

“What do you want?”

“I have your necklace. It was handed to Earl.”

I fumble with the lock as my fingers continue in their shaking, cracking it open a fraction. Griffin’s clear blue eyes pierce mine as I peer through the small gap.

“A guest must have found it.” He opens his palm, and the glittery strand tumbles out, dangling from one long finger.

“Thank you.” My voice comes out as a croak. I thought I’d be pleased to see that necklace again, ecstatic even. But I’m numb, like this is all a dream and not real.

I open the door wider and reach out for the necklace. Griffin’s eyes widen and his brows shoot up his forehead.

“What happened?”

I stare at him like I’ve had a spotlight shone on me. “What?”

“Your face, Maria. What happened?” His dark brows draw together as he takes a step toward me.

I press my fingertips to my cheek. The tender skin is hot, and my cheeks are wet.

“It was an accident,” I whisper.

Griffin looks past me into the kitchen, where the ice tray now lies in one large puddle of water and my clutch contents are strewn across the worktop.

“Did he touch you?”

“What?”

“Did he touch you?” Griffin repeats, his voice a low rumble. His gaze sharpens and intensifies with each word as he watches me.

I stare back, unable to form words, the throbbing kicking up a notch in my face.

“Todd,” Griffin growls. “You thought it was him at the door when I knocked. Did he do this?”

His eyes roam over my face and then down my body as though he is checking for any other signs of injury. They come back up to my cheek again.

“I will fucking kill him.” Griffin’s eyes blaze, their incredible blue deepening, shining and dangerous. A fire crafted of shadows. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“No. It wasn’t… he didn’t… it was just an accident.” My voice comes in pants.

Why can’t I think straight? Why does my voice sound weird?

Griffin’s eyes immediately soften, and he steps toward me.

“It’s okay.” He reaches up and cups my cheek, his large hand gentle against my skin as concern etches itself over his features. “It’s okay.”

My legs lose some of their strength and I crumple against his chest, relief flooding my body, easing the tension in each and every one of my muscles as I allow him to hold me to him.

As I allow his warmth and scent to soothe me.

His arms are strong around me, giving me what I so desperately need right now.

Someone I trust.

“I’ve got you, Sweetheart. You’re okay.” His lips are in my hair, whispering, calming, reassuring. “I’ve got you,” he repeats. “I’ve got you.”

“I’m sorry.” I sniff into his chest, welcoming more of the warmth his broad body is providing. When did it get so cold in here? “I don’t know where all this is coming from. He didn’t touch me. He didn’t do anything really… it’s me… I just felt… I thought…”

Griffin tightens his arms around me, and I sink further into him, my palms held against my face as I suck in shaky breaths.

“He’d had a lot to drink, and he was saying things, looking at me… it didn’t feel right. He sniffed my perfume, and I just wanted him to leave… I just wanted him to leave.” My voice is so small, muffled by Griffin’s chest. His heartbeat is strong against my temple as I turn my head to the side and rest it against his chest.

“And your face?” he coaxes gently.

“Todd opened the door into it. He didn’t mean to. He was leaving, and I was standing in the wrong place, that’s all.”

Griffin pulls back and cradles my face in both hands, looking deep into my eyes.

“It’s not your fault. None of it is your fault.”

I stare back at him, my lips parted as he strokes my cheeks with his thumbs, wiping away the tears I didn’t know had fallen. He brushes a loose strand of hair away from my cheek and dusts the back of his knuckles against my cheek.

“Let’s get you cleaned up.”

He closes and locks the front door, then takes my hand in his and leads me toward the kitchen, pulling a stool out at the small island and waiting as I sit up onto it. A frown mars his handsome features as he steps around the puddle on the floor and goes to the refrigerator, pulling out a bag of frozen peas and wrapping them in a towel.

“Keep this on. It will help the swelling.” He places the bundle carefully against my cheek and the corners of his eyes pinch when I wince.

“It stings.”

“It will. You’ve got a cut.”

I nod, looking down at my other hand. I’m still clutching the diamond necklace, its intricate detail indented into my palm where I’ve been squeezing it.

“I can’t believe I almost lost it. I don’t deserve something so beautiful,” I whisper sadly.

“It’s only beautiful because of the person wearing it,” Griffin says, taking his hand away from the pea pack as I take over and hold it up. His brow creases again as he studies my face.

I stare up at him, shivering as goosebumps pop up, spreading up my arms and over my shoulders.

“Thank you. For the pack.”

He nods, extracting the necklace from my fingers and laying it down on the counter and looking at my arms.

“Do you feel cold?”

“I’m fine.”

“It’s the adrenaline. Keep that on your cheek and I’ll turn the shower on hot for you. Just keep the water off your face.” He strides off in the direction of the bathroom before I have a chance to object.

He returns a minute later. “It’s warmed up, and I got you a towel out. I’ll wait here. Call me if you get dizzy.”

“Griffin, I’m fine—”

“Call me,” he repeats, pulling the stool out so I can slide down to the floor.

His expression is serious as I turn and walk away.

“Wait.” I stop and incline my face over my shoulder. “Can you get the zipper for me? It’s hard for me to reach. Please?” I add as he frowns, making no effort to move closer to me.

His frown deepens as he steps forward. His warm hands skim the dip of my lower back as he unzips my dress all the way to the lace waistband of my panties underneath.

“Thanks,” I mumble, looking back. He’s already turned away, a grim expression on his beautiful face.

I shuffle off to the bathroom and close the door.

He looks mad. Maybe he thinks this is my fault. That I led Todd in when I shouldn’t have. That I should have read the signs better. I drop the pack into the sink and take in my reflection in the mirror above. An angry red mark, which is rapidly turning a shade of purple, has settled itself across my cheek, and a thin red line covered in dry blood extends over my cheekbone toward the corner of my eye. Thank God it was only my apartment door and not something larger or heavier. I could have been knocked out cold.

I step under the hot jet and wash, layering the suds up over my body as I try to warm up and stop the shakes which have taken over my body. It feels like an eternity until I’m finally warm enough to turn the water off. I step out and dry quickly, pulling on a toweling robe before tackling my face at the vanity. I use my cleanser and remove every trace of make-up, then gently dab at the cut, cleaning off the dried blood. It’s swollen and puffy, making my eye look darker underneath, but it’s nothing some concealer won’t cover once the swelling goes down.

No one will know.

I pull out all the pins holding my hair up, and it tumbles down around my shoulders. I look like I’ve had a dreadful night. There’s no denying that. But the shower and freshening up has made the world of difference. My breathing and heart rate are back to normal, and the shakes have all but disappeared. All that remains on the inside is the lingering unease in my chest. I have a meeting with Todd scheduled on Monday. The thought of it makes my stomach roll with nausea and I gag before I can stop it. I grip the edge of the porcelain sink, taking in some slow breaths. Then I brush my teeth twice, trying desperately to scrub away the taste in my mouth and the tightness in my chest.

When I’m done, I leave and go back down the hallway. The kitchen floor is dry, no sign of the ice tray, and the contents of my clutch have been placed back inside, the necklace laid on the counter next to it.

Griffin looks up from his place on the sofa. He’s sat, leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees, still in full tuxedo. Mascara and tear stains smear across his once perfect white shirt.

“I’m sorry about your shirt.”

He looks down as though just noticing. “It’s only a shirt. Sit. I made you a drink.”

He blows out a breath and runs his hands through his hair as I perch next to him. I reach forward and pick up the steaming mug on the table in front of me.

“You made me hot chocolate?”

He tilts his head to the side and gives me a slow, rueful smile. It lights up his eyes, and my stomach flips, forgetting the nausea that was lurking there ten minutes ago.

“I can’t promise it’ll be as good as one from The Songbird kitchen, but I figured it might help. Earl used to make it for me and my brothers whenever we got hurt… or into a fight with each other.” He smirks, but it quickly falls from his face as he grows serious again.

I take a sip of the creamy chocolate, welcoming the warmth it sends through my body.

‘You would tell me if he had touched you, wouldn’t you?’ He turns to me, and his eyes are full of something I can’t place. Regret? Anger? Guilt?

“He didn’t. I promise.”

His jaw ticks. “But he made you feel threatened. Made you feel unsafe in your own home.”

I struggle to keep my voice even as the image of the Todd’s glassy eyes pushes to the front of my mind. The way he sniffed my perfume. “He had too many drinks, that’s all. He’s never made me feel like that before when I’ve been with him.”

Griffin hisses out a breath, running a hand over his jaw. “You will never be alone with him again. He could have—”

“Please. I don’t want to talk about it anymore tonight.” The tightness in my chest returns as my voice cracks.

Griffin’s eyes snap to mine, full of the same earlier fire once again. His gaze falls over my cheek and then back to my eyes, his own softening as I plead silently with mine.

“Okay.”

“Thank you for bringing the necklace back. I thought I’d lost it in the meeting room…” I trail off, not wanting to go down the road to where that conversation might lead, either. I don’t have the energy tonight.

“Someone handed it to Earl. I don’t know where they found it.” Griffin drops his head into his hands and rubs his temples as he exhales.

“Well, whoever it was, I’m glad they did.” I smile.

He looks at me again, then stands, taking his phone from the coffee table and slipping it into his pocket.

“Will you call me if you don’t feel well in the night, or if you need anything?” he asks, heading toward the front door.

“You’re going?” I fail to hide the panic creeping into my voice at the thought of being alone.

He pauses and turns back to me. “You need to get some rest.”

“Sure, but—” I try to stand, but my head spins and I fall back down again.

Griffin is on his knees in front of me in a shot, his warm palms cradling my face as his eyes search mine.

“I’m calling my doctor. You’re dizzy.”

“No, no, I’m fine.”

I look back at him, relishing the sensation of his hands against my skin. I don’t want to tell him I am one hundred percent sure that the head spin was merely a result of the night’s champagne and the hot shower. I only hit my cheekbone. I don’t need his concern. Even if I’m welcoming it, cupped around my cheeks.

“You’re not fine. I’m not leaving you alone unless you agree to get checked out.”

“No doctor,” I whisper.

His brows knit together. “Then I don’t leave.”

“Fine.” I stare back into his clear blue eyes.

He looks at the ceiling, taking his hands away from my face.

“Fine,” he huffs like a petulant child who hasn’t gotten their own way.

I stand again, and he jumps to his feet so he can hold me around the waist. I let him help me to the bedroom, one arm wrapped around me protectively as he tells me to take my time. Something inside me makes my feet slow, and I lean into him as we reach my bedroom.

“Thank you.” I pull the covers back as we reach the bed. “Now, turn around.”

“What?” He frowns at me.

“I sleep naked. Turn. Around.”

“Maria, I’ll get you some clothes. Tell me where they are.”

“Turn,” I repeat.

He stares at me, so I spin my fingers in the air. His jaw stiffens, and he glances at me one more time before he turns.

I don’t sleep naked. That’s a lie. But I don’t fancy digging out some clean pajamas right now. And there’s no way I want him going through my drawers.

I just want to get into bed and leave this night in the past.

I take the robe off and throw it past Griffin onto a chair. His shoulders straighten and he clears his throat as the robe sails past.

Then I slip under the covers and pull them up to my chin.

“You can turn back around now.”

He doesn’t move.

Did he even hear me?

Then slowly, he turns and undresses, holding my eyes with his as he shrugs his jacket off, laying it carefully over the chair with my robe. Next, he undoes his bowtie, his hand flicking out to the side as he pulls it free of his collar and it makes a whipping sound. Lastly, he removes his makeup-stained shirt and bends down to pull off each shoe.

He walks around the bed in just his pants and lowers himself down next to me, lying flat on his back on top of the covers, his eyes cast up to the ceiling.

I turn on my side to face him, trying my best to ignore the broad muscles of his bare chest and shoulders mere inches away from me. The heat from his body crosses the gap between us and the scent of his skin washes over me, bringing with it a calmness—a reassurance that I don’t need to worry about anything else tonight.

Todd wasn’t going to hurt me, I’m sure of that. But I’m still shaking. However, Griffin being here, his breathing filling the silence—it somehow makes it all seem better. His darkened gaze and knotted, thoughtful brow next to me gives me a sense of… peace. Maybe it’s because he’s always in control.

Whatever it is, I’m grateful he’s here.

“Griffin?” I murmur. “Thank you.”

He turns to me, his brilliant blue eyes holding mine. “Anytime, Sweetheart.”

Sweetheart.

I smile at him as he turns his attention back to the ceiling.

“I’m telling you, though. It better not be baboon feeding time at the zoo.” He reaches up and taps the wall above his head, which adjoins Reed’s apartment. “No way can my ears un-hear that shit.”

I look at his serious face again and laugh quietly. “You’re funny.”

“If you think that, you’re definitely concussed. Now get some rest.”

I bite my lip, sure that a ghost of a smile plays on his lips. I shuffle, about to get comfortable, the weight of Griffin’s body on the duvet next to me making me feel something I haven’t felt in the company of a man like this in a long time.

Safe.


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