I pull up to the gates and press the intercom. John's gruff rumble comes over the speaker and I wave at the camera, but the gates are already opening. I start the long drive up the gravel driveway towards The Manor and as I pull up into the circle courtyard, I look up at the limestone house, looming centrally and seemingly screaming out loud what goes on behind those doors.
I pull in next to Jesse's car and quickly check my face in the rear view mirror. Considering the events of the last few hours, the last few weeks actually, I don't look too bad.
John opens the door before I reach it and offers me a small, reassuring smile. It goes nowhere near making me feel any better.
We walk into the imposing entrance hall together and past the stairs, restaurant and bar. I hear chatter and laughter, but I don't bother looking. I've seen it all before, except now I know why they're all here.
'Has he calmed down?' I ask as we reach the summer room. There are people scattered around the seating areas, drinking and talking, probably discussing what the evening could have in store for each of them. I'm assaulted by a dozen inquisitive stares, and I tense all over. Did they see Jesse raging?
'Damn, girl, you affect that mother fucker.' John laughs to himself, giving me a glimpse of that illusive gold tooth.
I let out a rush of breath in agreement, but he affects me too. Does John realise that? 'My man is challenging.' I muse.
John looks over at me and flashes one of his knock out, rare, all white and gold teeth smiles. 'Challenging? That's a word. I call him a fucking pain in the arse. I've got to admire his determination, though.'
'Determination?' I feel my brow knit. 'Determination to be challenging?' I quip.
John stops as we reach Jesse's office. 'I've never seen him so determined to live.'
I suddenly want to go back to the beginning of our walk to Jesse's office so we can continue with this conversation. 'What do you mean by that?' I can't help the confusion in my tone. That little statement has me really very confused. I can't see any determination to live. All I see is determination to give himself a seizure with stress. He's self-destructible.
My breath hitches in my throat.
He's self-destructible. Jesse has said that before - when he took me on his bike, he said that. What did he mean?
'Trust me, it's a good thing.' John looks at me affectionately. 'Be easy on him.'
'How long have you known him, John?' I want to keep him talking.
'Long enough, girl. I'll leave you to it.' He takes his mountain of a body and strides off down the corridor.
'Thanks, John.' I say to his back.
'S'all good, girl. S'all good.'
I stand outside Jesse's office with my hand hovering over the doorknob. John's unexpected and volunteered information, albeit vague, has pricked my curiosity more. Was he really self-destructible? My mind is racing with thoughts of alcohol, dabbling, lack of leathers and scars. I turn the handle and walk, with caution, into Jesse's office.
I'm immediately insulted by what I see. Jesse is sat in his big office chair facing Sarah, who is perched on the corner of his desk. The woman is a leech. A thud of possessiveness slaps me in the face, but it's the bottle of vodka sat on Jesse's desk that has me more fretful. I can fight off unwanted female attention, as long as it's unwanted. The vodka is another matter entirely.
They look up at me in unison, and she flashes me a fake, insincere smile. Then I notice a bag of ice resting on Jesse's hand. I was right to have a touch of the green eyed monster. They look, in Jesse's words, very cosy.
Now there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that these two have had a sexual relationship. It's written all over her face. I feel sick, jealous and dangerously possessive.
The brazen interloper makes no attempt to shift her toned arse off Jesse's desk. She just sits there, relishing in the obvious tension her presence is causing, but it's the impostor in clear bottle form that I'm more threatened by. I can deal with her. I'm in no mood for silly games with ex-sexual conquests.
I look at Jesse, and he meets my gaze. He's still in his charcoal trousers, but the sleeves of his black shirt are rolled up. His dirty blonde hair is a glorious mess on top of his beautiful head, but despite him in all of his loveliness, he looks fearful and uneasy. I don't blame him. I've just walked in on him looking cosy with another woman and with a bottle of the evil stuff in front of him. It's my worst nightmares wrapped into one.
He slowly turns his chair with his feet, away from the interloper and towards me.
'Have you had a drink?' My voice is even and strong. I feel anything but.
He shakes his head. 'No.' he answers in a quiet voice.
I'm uncertain whether his voice is small because of the woman or because of the vodka. He drops his head slightly, and the silence is awkward, but then Sarah rests a hand on Jesse's arm and I want to dive on the desk and yank her hair out. Jesse flinches and snaps his eyes to mine.
Who the fuck does she think she is? I'm not naive enough to believe that she is trying to be a supportive friend. 'Do you mind?' I look directly at her so there's no mistaking who I'm talking to.
She looks up at me questioningly, but makes no attempt to remove her hand from Jesse. I'm suddenly furious with myself for allowing another woman the opportunity to comfort him, especially this woman. That's my job. Jesse pulls his arm away and her hand falls to the desk.
'Excuse me?' she splutters, which only serves to fuck me off more.
'You heard me.' I flash her a don't-fuck-with-me glare and she smirks an almost undetectable smirk. She knows that I know her game. That should make our relationship a lot easier.
Jesse flicks his eyes nervously between the two women having a stand-off in his office. God bless him, he's keeping his mouth firmly shut, but then the cheeky bitch only leans down and kisses him on the cheek, letting her lips linger there for longer than is really necessary.
'Call me if you need me, sweetie.' she says in the most ridiculous seductive voice I've ever heard.
Jesse stiffens from head to toe and looks at me, all wide eyed and with an alarmed look plastered all over his handsome face. He's right to be anxious, especially after the barrel of shit he's just thrown at me because of a male client and an ex-boyfriend. Matt and Mikael would be a mass of body parts if the boot was on the other foot.
I grab his office door and open it wide before fixing my eyes on the blonde, larger than life tramp. 'Goodbye, Sarah.' I say with optimum finality.
She looks at me with a cocky, self-assured, pouty face and slides off Jesse's desk, sauntering across his office at a leisurely pace while giving me the eyeball. I hold her cocky face with my own take no prisoners' stare, all the way to the door that I'm holding open for her. As soon as her six inch platform heels are over the threshold, I slam it behind her and silently hope it collided with her toned arse.
Now, let's deal with my challenging man. I'm suddenly filled with determination to sort this shit out. Seeing him sat there with Sarah has made something perfectly clear to me.
He's mine...end of.
I turn to face him. He hasn't moved from his chair, the bottle of vodka is still sat in the middle of his desk like the proverbial pink elephant that it is and he's chewing his bloody lip, cogs steaming.
I nod at it. 'Why is that there?' I ask assertively.
'I don't know.' he replies. His face is tortured and it kills me to be on the other side of the room from him.
'Do you want to drink it?'
'Not now you're here.' His quiet words register loud and clear.
'You walked out on me.' I remind him.
'What if I hadn't of come?' That's the operative question here. I'm re-visiting the same thing over and over in my mind. He behaves like this is a piece of pie, constantly reassuring me that he doesn't need a drink as long as he has me, but now I find him keeping company with a bottle of vodka because we've had words. Okay, it was more than words, but that's not the point. I can't worry like this every time we quarrel. It doesn't escape my notice that the vodka wasn't the only thing he was keeping company with.
'I wouldn't have drunk it.' He pushes it away.
I glance at the bottle and notice it's sealed and full, but it's still there and something made him put it there...me. I'm the reason for his screwed up mind, his ridiculously ambitious objectives and his meltdowns. This is my entire fault. I've made him into a neurotic control freak.
We remain looking at each other for a few moments, my mind racing with all of the things we need to sort out, while he bites his bottom lip, clearly not knowing what to say to me. I'm not sure where to start either.
'Why is it there?' I ask.
He shrugs casually. It makes me mad. My fear was warranted, and now he expects me to let him brush it off and play it down with his vague answers and shoulder shrugs?
'I wasn't going to drink it, Ava.' His voice is slightly irritated.
I'm staggered. 'Would you drink it if I leave?'
His eyes fly to mine, panic invading his handsome face. 'Are you going to leave me?'
'You need to give me some answers.' I'm threatening him, but I feel like it's my only option. There are some things he needs to tell me. 'Why is Mikael so interested in our relationship?'
'His wife left him.' he spits the words out quickly.
'Because you slept with her.'
'Months ago, Ava.' He looks at me, sincerity in his eyes. 'She was the woman who turned up at Lusso. I'll tell you before you threaten to leave me again.' His sarcasm is quite endearing.
'She wasn't worried about you, was she?'
'Yes, probably, but she wants me too.'
'Who wouldn't?' I feel incredibly calm.
He nods mildly. 'I've made it clear, Ava. She's gone back to Denmark, and I slept with her months ago. I don't know why she's decided to pursue me now.'
I believe him, and anyway, Mikael has been sorting his divorce out so it has to be some time ago. Divorcing someone takes time. It's all becoming very clear. Mikael is the no one specific who will try to take me away from Jesse.
'He wants to take me away from you, like you did his wife.'
He drops his head to his hands. 'I didn't take her away, Ava. She left of her own accord, but yes, he does want to take you away from me.'
'But you were all friendly, you bought Lusso.' My head is hurting.
'It's just a front, Ava - on his part. He had nothing on me, nothing he could hurt me with because I didn't care about anything. But now I have you.' He looks up at me. 'Now, he knows where to stick the knife in.'
My eyes start to prickle, and I watch as his face falls, his own eyes glazing over. That's as much as I can take being this far away from him. I walk over to his chair and he opens his arms to me. I ignore his swollen hand and crawl onto his lap, letting him swamp me in his arms and invade all of my senses. His touch and his smell settle me immediately, and the inevitable happens, as it always does when we unite with each other like this - all of the issues causing us turmoil seem inconsequential and of no importance. It's just us in our own little sphere of contentment, soothing each other, settling each other. The rest of the world is getting in our way. Or, more to the point, Jesse's history is getting in our way.
'I'll die loving you.' he says with all of the emotion I know he truly feels. 'I can't let you go to Sweden.'
I sigh. 'I know.'
'And you should have let me deal with your things. I didn't want you seeing him.' he adds.
I'm just submitting to him now. 'I know. He knows about you.'
I feel him stiffen under me. 'Knows about me?'
'He told me you're a raving alcoholic.'
He relaxes and laughs. 'I'm a raving alcoholic?'
I look up at him, shocked by his blase reaction to something so detrimental. 'It's not funny. How does he know?'
'Ava, I honestly have no idea.' He sighs. 'Anyway, he's misinformed because I'm not an alcoholic.' He raises his eyebrows at me.
'Yes, I know.' I relent, but I'm pretty sure that Jesse's issue with drink would register somewhere on the alcoholic scale. 'Jesse, what am I going to do? Mikael is an important client.' I suddenly have a horribly unpleasant thought. 'Did he re-hire me for The Life Building just because of you?'
He smiles. 'No, Ava. He didn't even know about us until yesterday. He hired you because you're a talented designer. The fact that you're also stunningly beautiful was an additional benefit. And the fact that I happened to fall in love with you was an even bigger bonus for him.'
'You exposed yourself.' I say quietly. If Jesse hadn't trampled my meeting with Mikael, then he might never have made the connection.
'I acted on impulse.' He shrugs. 'I panicked when I saw his name in your diary. I thought after Lusso you wouldn't see him again. Anyway, he would have pursued you whether he knew you were mine or not. Like I said, he's relentless.'
I remember his eyes bulging, his jaw ticking when he spotted my appointment in my diary. It wasn't because I replaced the damn thing. It was because Mikael's name was plastered all over it. 'How do you know? He's married. Well, was married.'
'That never stopped him before, Ava.'
'It hasn't?' I thought he was a decent bloke, a gentleman. I couldn't have been more wrong. I'm in absolute mental meltdown. I can't possibly work with Mikael now - not after discovering this. For a start, Jesse won't let me within a mile of the man, and secondly, I don't want to be anywhere near him, anyway. He wants to purposely hurt Jesse and is intending to use me as a tool to do this. He wants revenge and I'm Jesse's only weak spot. Oh God, I'm supposed to be meeting him on Monday. This is going to get horribly messy. I want to yell at Jesse for not keeping it in his pants, but then my mind naturally shoots back to the day I discovered The Manor's true happenings. That nasty creature who was being ejected by John, bawling on about husbands and conscience not getting in Jesse's way. How many marriages has he broken? How many husbands out there want revenge?
I'm snapped from my unwelcome thoughts when Jesse cups my face with his hand. 'How did you get here?'
I grin. 'I distracted your appointed guard.'
His eyes sparkle, his lips twitch. 'I shall have to sack him. How did you manage that?'
I lose my grin when I consider the repair bill Jesse will be getting. 'Jesse, he's sixty, if a day. I disconnected his telephone system so he couldn't advise you of my escape from your tower in the sky.'
'Our tower. Disconnected?' His frown line is light across his forehead.
I bury my face back in his chest. 'I ripped the wires out.'
'Oh.' he says flatly, but I know he's suppressing a laugh.
'What are you playing at getting a pensioner to try and keep me indoors?' I ask accusingly. I could have outrun Clive, even in my heels.
He strokes my hair softy. 'I didn't want you to leave.'
'Well, you should've stayed yourself then.' I pull his shirt out of his trousers and slide my hands up to get my fix of his warm chest. He tightens his hold of me, and I feel his beating heart under my palms. It's so comforting.
'I was crazy mad.' He sighs. 'You make me crazy mad.' He kisses my temple and burrows deeply into my hair. I shake my head in dismay. 'Don't shake your head at me, lady.' he says in a stern, muffled voice, which I completely ignore.
'How's your hand?'
'It would be fine if I didn't keep smashing it into things.' he answers dryly.
I wriggle free of his embrace. 'Let me see.' I sit up on his lap and he pulls his hand from behind me to rest between our bodies. I gingerly take it. He doesn't wince, but I flick him a quick glace to check his face isn't pained.
'I'm fine.' he assures me.
'You smashed the elevator door.' I say, stroking his recovering fist. It's in a million pieces and I expected his hand to be too, but it's not as bad as I thought it would be.
'I was really mad.'
'You already told me that. What about the hijacking of my office this afternoon? Where you crazy mad then?' Perhaps I should disregard his little hissy fit, especially since I've just thrown a woman out of his office.
'Yes, I was,' He narrows his eyes on me, but then he grins. 'A bit like you were just now.'
'I wasn't mad, Jesse.' I look at his damaged hand with the pity I feel for the pathetic woman I've just evicted from his office. 'I was marking what's mine. She wants you. She couldn't have been more obvious if she'd straddled you and thrust her tits in your face.' I screw my face up in disgust at her desperation, looking up to find his grin has broken out into a full on, Hollywood worthy beam. This smile is a step up from his one reserved only for women. This smile is reserved only for me. I can't help the little smile tickling the corners of my mouth. 'You look very happy with yourself.'
He brushes me away from fussing over his hand. 'Oh, I am. I like it when you're all possessive and protective. It tells me you're crazy in love with me.'
'I am, even though you are stupidly challenging. And don't be calling Sarah, sweetie.' I mock.
He circles our noses and pushes his lips onto mine. 'I won't.'
'You've slept with her.' It's a statement, not a question. He recoils, his green pools all wide and wary. I roll my eyes. 'A dabble?' I ask.
His eyes drop down slightly. 'Yeah,' His expression and body language scream uncomfortable. He's not happy with this line of conversation.
I bloody knew it. Okay, that's fine. I can cope with this as long as he keeps the hussy at arm's length - or further. That might be bloody hard when the woman works for him and follows him around like a lost puppy.
'I just want to say one thing.' I press. I need to make this clear if I'm ever going to keep company, both socially and professionally, with any men in future, although I'm fully aware that Jesse's possessive streak is never going to go away completely. 'It's all about you.' I drop a kiss onto his lips to reinforce my declaration.
'It's all about me.' he mumbles against me.
I grin. 'Good boy.'
He pulls back and runs his fingers down my neck, his eyes full of satisfaction. 'Why is your hair wet?'
'I had a shower but didn't have time to dry my hair. I needed you.'
He smiles mildly. 'I love you, Ava.'
I rest my cheek on shoulder. 'I know.'
I'm not kidding myself that this is the air completely cleared. I have a woman scorned to contend with and Jesse's possessiveness to work on. The latter, I think, will be a lifelong bone of contention, but if Jesse, especially like this, is my compensation, then it's all worth it. But on top of all that, there's the huge issue of Mikael and his need for revenge. I can't even begin to think of how we're going to deal with that. I know one thing, though. I won't be working with him anymore. What will Patrick's reaction be to that?
'Take the day off work tomorrow.' His voice is beseeching.
I've not even advised Patrick of my afternoon appointment with Mr Ward, but I need a break and a long weekend with Jesse is hard to turn down. I've no appointments and I'm ridiculously up to date with everything else. Patrick owes me a few days in lieu. He won't mind.
I pull myself away from his chest. 'Okay.' I agree.
He frowns, like I'm going to retract my answer or add a but to it. I'm not. I want to take the day off work and spend it with him. Maybe I can pump him full of the re-assurance he needs. I'm not going anywhere with anyone, except him. I'll text Patrick and clear it. I know he'll be fine.
'Really?' His eyes twinkle as his lips tip at the edges. 'You're being very reasonable. That's not like you.'
My eyes bulge at his comment. I know he knows that he's the unreasonable one. He's playing on it. I don't bite. 'I'm ignoring you.' I grumble.
'Not for long. I'm taking you home to our tower in the sky. I've not been inside you for way too long.' He stands and props me on my feet. 'Shall we?' He cocks his arm out and I link it with mine, my stomach clenching at the prospects awaiting me when we get home.
'I fancy a bit of rowing.' I flip casually.
He raises a sardonic eyebrow at me. 'We'll row another day, baby. I want to make love.' he says softly, looking down at me. I smile.
He leads me through the summer room and to the entrance hall. I ignore the disappointed faces of all of the women we pass, all obviously hoping we would be leaving separately. John meets us at the door and gives me his distinguished smile.
'I'll see you tomorrow.' Jesse informs him as he opens the door for me.
'S'all good.' He slaps Jesse on the shoulder and walks off in the direction of the bar.
Jesse places his hand in the small of my back to guide me out and as I turn, I catch a glimpse of Sarah standing in the doorway of the bar. She greets John, but her eyes are fixed firmly on me and Jesse leaving The Manor. She is watching intently and there is no mistaking the look of bitterness on her pouty face. I predict handbags at dawn. She looks like a woman who gets what she wants. My bitchy side races to the surface, and I silently dare her to try, tossing her a warning look. I ignore the little part of my brain advising me that I'm preparing myself for a trampling mission. My neurotic Lord is rubbing off on me.
'Leave your car, we'll get it tomorrow.' he says as he opens the passenger door to his Aston Martin.
'I may as well drive it back now.' I'm here, it would be silly not to.
He narrows his eyes on me and thrusts his hand towards the passenger seat of his car. I shake my head, but get in. We've had enough words for today. I don't need my car, anyway. He slips in besides me and starts the car.
As we make our way down the long driveway, we pass Sam's Porsche on its way towards The Manor. I bolt upright in my seat. 'Hey, there's Kate!' I blurt. Sam honks his horn and puts his thumb up to Jesse, and I crane my neck as we pass them. Kate puts a reluctant hand up to me. 'What's she doing here?' I look at Jesse, who keeps his eyes on the road. Oh, good God! 'She's a member, isn't she?' I ask accusingly.
'I don't discuss members. Confidentiality.' He's dead pan.
'So she is a member!' I shriek. I don't believe this.
He shrugs and presses a button to open the gates. The little minx! Why hasn't she told me? Is she here for all things kinky in general, or is she here for Sam specifically? Christ, just when I thought my fiery, red headed friend couldn't surprise me more. Oh, she has some explaining to do.
Jesse roars off down the road and plays with a few buttons on the steering wheel. The stereo kicks in and I'm surrounded by a distinctive male voice. I recognise it.
'Who's this?' I ask.
He starts tapping the steering wheel. 'John Legend. You like?'
Oh, I do. I reach over to the steering wheel and Jesse slides his hands down to give me access to the controls. I locate the right one and turn it up more.
'I'll take that as a yes.' He smirks and reaches over to place his hand on my knee. I cover it with mine.
'Yes, I do.' I answer. 'Is your hand okay?'
'Fine, unravel your knickers, lady.'
'I need to text Patrick.'
'Yes, do. I'm looking forward to having you all to myself tomorrow and all weekend.' He removes his hand from my knee and replaces it on the steering wheel.
I fire a quick text over to Patrick and, as expected, he replies speedily, telling me to have a well-deserved day off.