Dark Hunger

Chapter 9

As I walk into the foyer, I find Clive rubbing the cuff of his jacket on the marble desk, buffing it to a shine.

'Morning, Clive.'

'Good morning, Ava.' he says happily.

I return his cheeriness with an over-the-top smile. 'Clive, I don't suppose you could show me the CCTV footage from Sunday, could you?'

'No!' he blurts quickly, suddenly becoming busy and frantically typing on his keyboard.

I eye him suspiciously, but he won't look at me. I don't believe this. Jesse has beaten me to it. He knew I would ask Clive. 'Has Jesse spoken to you?'

'No.' He shakes his head and keeps his eyes down.

'Of course.' I sigh, turning and walking out of the foyer. The Lord is cute, and I'm suspicious.

'Oh, Ava!' I hear Clive coming after me. 'Maintenance rang. The door is on order, but it's coming from Italy so it may be a while.' He walks besides me.

'You should call Jesse and let him know.' I carry on walking, and he carries on flanking me.

'I did, Ava. Mr Ward advised me that I should consult with you on anything regarding the penthouse.'

I skid to a halt. He said what? 'I'm sorry.' I sound confused.

Clive looks nervous. 'Mr Ward, he....urh....he said you live here now and anything concerning the penthouse should be run past you.'

'Oh, he did, did he?' I grind. I shouldn't sound so menacing. It's not Clive's fault. 'Clive, do me a favour. Ring Mr Ward and tell him I don't live here.'

Clive looks like I've just told him that he has two heads. I'm fuming. He moves me in under the persuasion of a sense fuck followed by a reminder fuck, and then expects me to become Molly mop? No amount of sense or reminder fucking will work in his favour this time.

'Of course, Ava. I'll...urhhhh...do it now.'

'Good.' I snap, and carry on outside the building. I stand and rummage through my bag for my sunglasses and car keys, completely riled. How dare he? I huff and puff to myself until I find my glasses, and as I slip them on, Massive Attack's Angel creeps into my ears.

'Oh no!' I screech to myself. I'm even madder now. He knows how I feel about that track. I grab my phone and connect the call. 'Stop messing about with my phone!'

'No! Reminds me of you.' he yells. 'What do you mean, you don't fucking live there?'

'I'm not your fucking maid!' I shout back.

'Watch your fucking mouth!'

'Fuck off!' I yell. Oh, my language is blue!


I stand outside Lusso raging mad. If he thinks I'm going to be playing the dutiful domestic lady, he's another thing coming. The cheek! I look up and spot John leaning against his Range Rover. His signature wrap around glasses are on, but I can see his arched brow above it. He's enjoying this.

'What's John doing here?' I snap.

'Have you calmed down yet?'

'Answer me!' I yell.

'Who the hell do you think you're talking to?'

'You! Are you listening? Why is John here?'

'He's going to take you to work.'

'I don't need a chauffeur, Jesse.' I've calmed my voice slightly. How undignified of me, shouting and swearing like a drunken football hooligan, and in front of the newest, most prestigious residential complex in London. I look up and see John grinning. It's new to me. I've never seen him display any humour.

'He was in the area. I thought it would be easier than you trying to park up.' Jesse has calmed his tone too.

'Well, at least tell me what's happening if it involves me.' I spit down the phone and hang up.

Controlling pig!

I make my way over to John and my phone starts singing again en-route. I'll be changing that ring tone. I flash my screen at John as I pass him, and he grins again. 'Yes, dear?' I quip, rather bravely. I'm digging myself a hole here - I do realise that, but he's out of touching distance so there is no risk of any sort of Jesse style fucking to put me in my place.

'Don't be sarcastic, Ava. It doesn't suit you.'

I climb into the Range Rover and put my seatbelt on. 'You'll be pleased to know I'm on my way to work with John.' I glace over at John, and he nods. 'Would you like confirmation?' I ask. 'John, make yourself known.' I thrust the phone under John's nose.

'S'all good, Jesse.' he rumbles. He actually smiles, and I notice a gold tooth. He's really enjoying this.

I put the phone back to my ear. 'Happy?'

'Very!' he snaps. 'Ever heard of a retribution fuck?'

The very words send shivers down my spine. I glance at John. He is still grinning. 'No, are you going to demonstrate?' I ask quietly.

'If you're lucky, I'll see you at home.' He hangs up.

I put my phone in my bag, feeling coils of anticipation springing into my groin. He's taken me on a ten mile run, served me my favourite coffee, fucked me into oblivion and made filthy promises on the phone, and I haven't even got to work yet. On top of that, though, he's distracting me from a whole heap of troubling thoughts. He's holding back on me again, and I can't believe he has advised the concierge that I am now the lady of the house. I need to avoid all sense fucking in future, and I need to think about how I'm going to approach this little issue. It's way too soon to move in with him.

I look at the mean beast of a man sat next to me. 'Were you really in the area?'

John stops with his signature hum. 'What do you think?'

That's what I thought. 'How old is Jesse?' I ask casually. Why I've picked a casual tone is beyond me. It's ridiculous that I don't know how old he is.

'Thirty two.' John replies, completely dead pan.

Thirty two? That's how old Jesse said he was last night. I look at John, who has started humming again. I don't believe it! Jesse's given him the heads up. 'He's not thirty two, is he?'

John smiles again, flashing his gold tooth. 'He said you would ask.'

I shake my head. I'm at a total loss on that subject, so I decide, as John seems like he's in a talkative mood, to take another angle. 'Is he always so challenging?'

'Only with you, girl. He's actually quite laidback.'

Laidback? What a laugh! I remember Sam saying that too, and I also remember John mentioning that I had brought out some nasty qualities in him. I laugh to myself. Jesse has brought out some pretty nasty qualities in me too. I'm swearing like a sailor. 'I obviously bring out the worst in him.' I grumble.

'Ah, girl. Go easy on him.' John soothes lightly.

'Do you want to live with him and his challenging ways?' I ask exasperated.

'So, you've moved in then?' His eyebrows appear over his shades as he turns his face to me. I hadn't realised what I just said. I hope John isn't jumping to the same conclusion as Sarah did; that I'm after his money.

I suddenly have the urgent need to defend myself. 'He asked me and pretty much bullied a yes out of me,' I won't tell John how, 'but I'm not so sure. It's a bit soon. That's what that little spat was about. He doesn't like being told no.' I wave my phone at John.

I don't give a fudge about his money!

The corners of John's lips turn down and he starts nodding his head thoughtfully. 'He certainly has a way with you.'

I scoff and do my own little thoughtful head shake. He certainly does have a way with me. It's frightening. 'How long have you known him?' I ask. I may as well get my fill while I can. He might shut up and not start talking again.

'Too long.' He laughs, and it's a deep, rumbling belly sound that has him developing a few more chins as his neck retracts. I wonder how old he is. It's like the bloody mystery of ages. He's got to be late forties.

'I bet you see some sights at The Manor.' I muse. John's role is all the more clearer, now I know the place isn't a hotel or the mafia's HQ. I wouldn't want to be messing with the mountain of a man sat next to me, drumming his hands on the steering wheel. He even makes that look menacing.

'It's all in my job description.' he says casually.

Ah, which reminds me. 'Why were the police there?' I ask.

John turns an almost threatening face onto me, and I wither slightly. 'Just some idiot playing games. No need for you to worry, girl.' He turns his attention back to the road.

I wasn't particularly worried, but I am now. John has just spun off the exact same minimal explanation that Jesse did, and the fact that he has told me not to worry is even more worrying. What's going on?

Information. I need some damn information.

I'm dropped off at my office, and John nods his farewell.

'Morning, Ava!' Sally says cheerfully.

Oh yes. I forgot our Sal has transformed. She has on the same top as yesterday but in a different colour. Today's top is red. I like sparkling Sally. I hope she doesn't get crapped all over. 'Hi Sal, Are you okay?'

'Yes, thank you for asking, I'm very good. Can I get you a coffee?'


'Coming up!' She flashes me a lovely smile and skips to the kitchen. I notice she has nail colour on. This is new too, and it's not beige or clear. It's fire cracker red! This must be in preparation for her date.

I load my computer up, crack on with some estimates and prepare a heap of invoice requests for Sally. I open my email and see my inbox flooded with new emails, mostly junk, so I start to plough through them.

At ten thirty, I hear the office door open. When I look up, I'm not at all surprised to see a fan of calla lilies spread across the arm of Lusso girl. I knew he wouldn't take any notice of my request. She rolls her eyes, and I give her an apologetic shrug. After exchanging flowers and signatures, I retrieve the card.

Looking forward to your retribution fuck?

Your God.


I smile and send him a text. I promised myself no contact after he distracted me this morning, but that plan has already been tossed out the window, what with Molly mops and Big John. And anyway, I really am looking forward to my retribution fuck.

Yes I am and yes u are. Your Ax

I knuckle down. With the office empty except for Sal, I have the perfect opportunity to get lots done. I run across the road at lunchtime to grab a bagel and eat it at my desk. My phone declares a text when I land back in my chair.

I particularly like your sign off. Don't forget it. You always will be. See you at home about 7...ish Jx

I'm well and truly on Central Jesse Cloud Nine. I decide to give Kate a call while I'm taking a few minutes out for lunch.

'Well, hello!' she sings down the phone in greeting.

What is she so happy about? Oh God. She's not been to The Manor again, has she? I won't ask. I really don't want to know. 'Hey, you okay?'

'It's all good in the hood! How's my favourite boyfriend to a friend?' She laughs.

'He's fine.' I answer dryly. She only loves him so much because he bought her Margo Junior.

'Listen, I'm on my way to Brighton to drop a cake off in Margo Junior. Do you want to do lunch on Thursday? I'm a bit hectic tomorrow. I've got stacks to catch up on.'

'Being distracted, are we?'

'Fun!' she snaps. 'Do you want to do lunch or not?'

'All right!' I blurt. Her oversensitivity on this matter is making me super suspicious. 'Thursday, one o'clock at Baroque.' I confirm.

'Perfect!' She hangs up.

Blimey, I think I just hit a nerve. Fun my arse! She's skirting around this and brushing it off far too hastily. I want to know what's going on, but I'm making it a point not to ask in future. What's she up to?

I hear the door of the office open and look up to see Tom arriving. 'Tom, we need to have a word about your attire!'

He looks down at his emerald green dress shirt with bright pink tie. Colour clash in Tom's world is highly offensive. 'Fabulous, isn't it?' He strokes his tie.

No, it's not. It's highly unpleasant, in fact. I know that if I was looking for an interior designer and Tom turned up on my doorstep, I would shut the door in his face. 'Where's Victoria?' I ask.

'Appointment in Kensington.' He throws his man-bag on his desk and takes his glasses off to clean them on the tail of his shirt.

'Did you find out what happened?' I press.

'No!' He slumps into his chair. 'She moped and sulked all day.' He leans forward and scans the office. 'Hey, what do you make of our Sal?'

Oh, he's noticed. It's hard not to. 'She had a date.' I whisper loudly.

He puts his glasses back on in a dramatic gesture that suggests he needs to see my face given the news. It's ridiculous. They're a fashion statement and Tom's attempt to appear professional. Professional? He should lose the shirt and tie combo. It's making me squint.

'No!' he gasps.

'Yes! And a second date tonight.' I nod.

His eyes bulge again. 'Can you imagine how boring he is?'

I recoil, suddenly feeling extremely guilty for engaging him in such a conversation. 'Don't be a bitch, Tom.' I scorn.

Sally walks through the office, stopping our gossip dead in its tracks. Tom raises his eyebrows and grins as he follows her path to the photocopier. If I was close enough, I would kick him.

He turns back to me, catching my disapproving expression and holds his hands up. 'What?' he mouths.

I shake my head and return to my computer, but my peace is short lived.

'So,' Tom calls from his desk. 'Victoria tells me you've moved in with Mr Ward.'

I look up from my screen in shock and see him casually flicking through a catalogue. How does she know? Of course...Drew. He and Victoria were together on Friday night, but what has happened since then to put her in such a foul mood? I don't want to engage in this conversation. Tom thrives on drama, and my life is really quite a drama at the moment.

'I've not moved in with him, and I need you to be quiet, Tom.' I carry on deleting junk emails. He doesn't take the hint.

'Fancy that, living in the ten million quid penthouse that you designed.' he muses thoughtfully, still flicking pages.

'Shut up, Tom.' I glare at him when he lifts his eyes from the catalogue he's not even reading. He takes the hint this time, carrying on about his business.

I don't know how I'm going to get around this with Patrick. It doesn't look very good, me dating a client, and all I need is Tom blabbering off in the office for all to hear.

I return my focus to my computer and finish emptying my inbox of junk emails before preparing a payment schedule for Miss Quinn along with some brief ideas.

As five o'clock hits, I sit tapping my pen on my desk, deep in thought, and I have a bloody fantastic thought.

Oh my God I'm amazing! I jump up from my desk and quickly clear it of drawings and files. I grab my bag and flowers and head for the office door. 'I'm done, see you tomorrow, guys.' I call, as I all but sprint out of the office. I have half an hour. I can make it.

I head for the tube and to my intended destination.

I run from the tube to Lusso. I need to be showered and ready before Jesse gets home. I bypass any conversation with Clive and jump in the elevator, puffing and panting from my exertion. My poor body has really taken a hammering today.

I fly into the bedroom and throw my flowers and bag on the chest before unpacking all of my purchases, shoving them in the wooden trunk and quickly jumping in the shower, eager to ready myself for the evening ahead. I'm careful not to wet my hair as I frantically wash the day away and not so frantically shave, before removing myself from the enclosure and reaching up to grab a towel.

I turn, slamming straight into a familiar, solid and very naked chest.

Oh shit!

'Surprised to see me?' His voice is low and threatening.

I slowly lift my gaze to his and find hooded, dark green eyes and a deadly serious expression. Dominant Jesse has arrived, and he has completely screwed my plans up.

'A little.' I admit.

'Thought so. We have a small issue to resolve and we're going to do it now.'

I stand frozen in place, dripping wet and clutching the towel. I'm completely and utterly gutted that he has caught me like this, but my disappointment doesn't prevent the stab of pleasure that's just shot from deep in my stomach, straight into my groin. His menacing, lean frame towering all over me, accompanied by his heavy breathing, tells me I'm in no position to protest. But I just can't help myself.

'What if I say no?' I whisper. There is not a chance in Hell I could ever say no to him. I'm totally calling his bluff, and he probably knows it.

'You won't.' His self-assured tone pumps the blood faster through my veins.

'I might.' I so won't and my small voice confirms this.

He pushes himself into me, the warm, slippery head of his erection probing at my lower stomach, prompting a small gasp of air to escape my mouth. His eyes burn with dark promise as I wait for him to make his move, anticipation having the muscles at my core convulsing.

'Let's not play games, Ava. We both know you'll never say no to me.' His fingertip trails the length of my wet arm, across my shoulder and up my neck until it reaches the hollow void under my ear.

I close my eyes. He's got me again.

'Do you believe in fate, Ava?' His voice is silky smooth, but sure and serious.

I open my eyes on a frown. What is he on about? I've never thought about things happening for a reason. What's his point? 'No.' I answer honestly.

'I do.' He reaches down and cups me, his hot touch making me tense further. 'I believe that you're supposed to be here with me, so you advising the concierge that you don't live here just fucks...me...off.' He accentuates the last three words clearly and sharply.

Oh, he really had me thinking we were friends by sending me the flowers. He's still pissed about this morning?

He reaches up with his other hand and grasps my nipple between his thumb and forefinger. He starts rolling, elongating my already stiff peak, and I close my eyes as I'm sliced in two by waves of pleasure. He slowly inserts two fingers inside me.

'Oh, God.' I moan, my head falling back, the towel dropped in favour of Jesse's shoulders.

He takes advantage of the access to my neck and bends, pressing his lips to the centre of my throat, licking a firm, wet stroke all of the way up to my chin, his fingers sweeping big punishing circles inside me, stretching me. He's preparing me for him.

'I'm going to fuck you until you scream, Ava.' His husky voice is playing havoc with my desperation for him. I have every faith he will. He seems so angry, and I'm not sure whether I should be afraid. Wouldn't a reminder fuck remedy this little situation?

He yanks my face down to meet his eyes. He's in control, but so frenzied too. I don't know what to make of it. The only thing I seem to be able to concentrate on is the wildfire spreading throughout my body and slamming straight between my thighs on a powerful, determined thud.

'Go and kneel on the end of the bed. Face the headboard.' He throws his order at me, and I follow through immediately, taking myself to the bed, kneeling and resting my backside on my heels.

What has he got planned?

I feel his chest press up against my back and he reaches in front of me, clasping my hands and flattening my palms. Then he guides them to my breasts and circles my palms over my nipples so they lightly skim the tips, the burning friction having me pushing my breasts forward to get better contact, but he just tusks me and pulls my hands further away. I protest with a disjointed cry.

He pushes his mouth to my ear. 'Do you trust me?' he asks.

The question throws me. Of course I do. More than anyone. 'With my life.' I confirm.

I hear him growl in approval. 'Have you ever been handcuffed, Ava?'


Before I have a chance to register what is happening, my arms are yanked behind my back and a pair of handcuffs are snapped over my wrists. Where the fuck did they come from? I jiggle my wrists, hearing the metal clank.

'Keep your arms still, Ava.' he chastises me, letting my hands rest at the top of my bum.

Oh, Jesus fucking Christ!

I've never mentally swore so much. This is so unexpected and has just blown my truth fuck right out of the fucking water! He's never used play things before. I do and I don't want to stop this, but I can't seem to utter the words.

I still myself and try my hardest to relax my arms, while I consider whether he's done this before. I inwardly laugh. Of course he has, you stupid woman. Why didn't I see this coming?

He leans into me. 'Good girl.' He pulls my pins out of my hair and runs his hands through my long waves, spreading them across my bare back.

I shiver and try to steady my erratic breathing. It's no good. My heart is sprinting in my chest and nothing is going to slow it down. This is unknown territory to me. I have never, not for a minute, allowed myself to consider the prospect of being trussed up, defenseless and at a man's mercy. This is ironic really. I'm at Jesse's mercy with or without handcuffs.

He drags his fingertip slowly down the column of my spine to my arse, and then down the centre crease of my bum. Oh heck. Is that where we're heading? I enjoyed it last time, but I wasn't handcuffed then.

I feel his arm wrap around my lower stomach and then his other hand press into my back. 'Down you go.' he says softy as he eases me down to the mattress. I'm face planted on the mattress at the end on the bed with Jesse stood behind me. I'm completely exposed and vulnerable.

'Do you realise how fucking amazing you look like this?' His tone is full of approval, but I'll take his word for it. This really is not me. But still, I can't stop it. 'I'm not going to take your arse.' He drops a kiss at the small of my back and then I feel his solid cock skim my raw, damp flesh. A surge of relief flies through me. I don't think I could have handled that on top of the handcuffs.

And then he is pushing at my opening.

He grips my hips harshly, making me jerk. 'Don't move.' he grits through a clenched jaw, and I force myself to still. I feel him enter me, and I instinctively tense around his lush invasion. I start panting. 'You want it all the way?' His voice is low and dark. I don't recognise it, but I'm desperate for full penetration.

'Yes.' I splutter. Oh God, help me.

He withdraws his half submerged arousal, and I moan at the loss of fullness. I need all of him. I push myself back impulsively and then feel the sharp thrash of his hand across my backside.

'Fuck!' I scream. The sting radiates across my cheek and my shoulders tense against the bed. What the hell?

He pushes into me but only halfway again. 'Mouth,' he spits. 'Don't move!'

I start gasping as the sting mingles with the delicious semi-invasion. 'Jesse!' I plead.

'I know.' He skates his palm across my cheek as he withdraws again, and I clench my eyes shut, willing my body to relent to my brains instructions to relax.

'I can't do this.' I whimper into the mattress as I pull at the handcuffs. It's too much and it's come out of the blue. Or has it? Oh, I don't know. I know his business, I know he can be animalistic during sex and I love that, but he can also be romantic, gentle and loving. Is this the next level?

'You can do it, Ava. Remember who you're with.' He powers forward, slamming into me and knocking every ounce of breath from my lungs.

I scream, my throat instantly hoarse.

He pulls out slowly and controlled. 'What did I say you would do, Ava?' he asks on a grunt, slamming back into me again.

I can't possibly talk. There is no air in my lungs and he is striking so deeply, my brain is being blown apart. No cognitive thought is possible, let alone speech.

He repeats the mind-blowing move. 'Answer me!' he roars and slaps my arse again.

'Scream! You said I would scream!' I choke on the words as he smashes forward again.

'Are you screaming?'


He groans and then bangs forward again and again and again, driving me into orbit. 'Is that good, baby?'

Oh God, it is! The sting of his slaps and the pounding of his cock have taken me to a whole new level of pleasure.

'Where do you live, Ava?' he shouts on another ferocious blow.

I want to cry. Cry with shock; cry with pain; cry with delight...cry with absolute mind-numbing pleasure. My brain is in meltdown and my body is wondering what the hell is going on. I can't think or see straight. This is wild, intense and fucking amazing, but other more unwelcome thoughts are fighting to the front, worming their way into my scrambled brain. How many women has he done this to? How many women have had the pleasure of a retribution fuck? I feel sick.

'Ava! Where the fuck do you live?' He punches out each word. I'm numb. Numb with complete, intense, mind-blowing bliss. 'Don't make me ask again!'

'Here!' I shout. 'I live here!'

'Damn fucking right you do.' His palm collides with my cheek again, reinforcing his words, before he's clenching my hips again and pulling me back on each and every hard, punishing blow against my body.

Sparks start launching, the pressure at my core set to detonate loudly. I scream in delighted despair. This is way past severe. I really won't be able to walk tomorrow. Is this part of his plan to keep me at home because if so, it's going to work.

I feel his palm collide with my arse again and that last stinging slap rockets me into the most powerful, splintering climax I've ever experienced. I scream...very loudly - an echo around the room, sore throat, despairing, thrilling, satisfied scream.

'Fuck!' Jesse roars. I feel him tense, and then the grinding circles of his hips against my backside.

He moans.

I moan.

I'm shaking all over. Proper uncontrollable, tingling, rippling shakes.

One of my wrists is released from the cuffs and I pull my arm above my head as he collapses on top of me, flattening me beneath him. He holds himself inside me, jerking and kicking as he grinds around and around, extracting every modicum of pleasure from me.

I'm surprised at myself and my revelation. I'm a filthy, kinky minx! The heady combination of pleasure and soreness has totally knocked me out and despite my reservations, I'm glad I saw it through. That has just proved, beyond a doubt, I could never deny him.

He lays his arms over mine and dots light kisses at the nape of my neck while moaning and lazily gyrating his hips into me. 'Friends?' he whispers softly in my ear, nibbling my lobe. His soft velvet voice is a million miles away from the brutal sex Lord I've just encountered.

'Where did that come from?' I ask. I'm still in shock. I've met many levels of his sexual capabilities, but this one has dazed me completely. I can't believe I didn't see it coming. If that had been a sense fuck, I would have foregone everything, but I'll keep that to myself.

He drags my lobe between his teeth. 'Tell me we're friends.'

'We're friends.' I sigh. 'Tell me where that came from.'

He reaches up and releases my other wrist from the cuffs, the absence of the heavy burden a relief. He slips out of me and flips me over, holding my wrists at either side of my head. I look up at him, waiting for an answer, but it doesn't seem forthcoming. Should I keep my mouth shut?

He eventually speaks. 'I like hearing you scream.' He grins. 'And I like knowing that I'm the one making you scream.'

Ha! Mission accomplished. 'I have a sore throat.' I pout.

He drops a kiss on my lips. 'Are you hungry?'

'No.' I'm really not, and I'm not getting out of this bed either. It's not even eight o'clock.

'I'll go and get you some water and then we can snuggle, deal?' he asks, circling his nose with mine.

'Deal.' I agree. Snuggle? Is he kidding me? After that? This man is like the sex version of Jekyll and Hyde.

He gives me a light kiss before peeling himself away from me, and I crawl up the bed, settling on my front and reveling in his scent all over the sheets. I'm absolutely bushed and my arse stings a little. If I wasn't so satisfied and sated, I would be enormously pissed off that he has just gotten the upper hand. He doesn't know it, but he has just derailed my evening plans. I'm way too tired to pursue my truth fuck now.

I roll over onto my back, staring up at the ceiling and battle away the unwanted thoughts that are raiding my exhausted mind. How many women? I've maintained I don't want to know the answer to that question - the one that keeps popping up, uninvited and pointlessly into my brain. But unreasonable curiosity is making its unwanted presence hard to ignore. If I wasn't so shattered, I might give that direction of thought more attention, but I am, so I close my eyes and quietly thank Jesse for draining me of any energy to pursue my unreasonable fit of curiosity.

'Baby, have I fucked you unconscious?' The bed dips and I feel his warm, hard body flank me. I drag myself onto my side. 'Strawberry?' He brushes the cool, plump fruit across my bottom lip, and I open to take a bite. 'Good?'

'Very.' I say around my mouthful of delicious, ripe strawberry. I'm definitely hungry for these.

He starts grazing on his lip. Oh no. What's he thinking? My chews slow down as I watch his eyes dart around a bit.

He finally speaks. 'You didn't mean it, did you? When you said you didn't live here?'

I pause mid-chew and look at the worried face in front of me. His frown line is slowly creeping across his brow. 'You want me to live with you, but you won't even tell me how old you are.' I raise my eyebrows. He has got to see the weirdness in this. There's a whole lot of other stuff as well, stuff that I'm trying my hardest to ignore - and failing - but I'll stick to this minor detail for now.

'What difference does my age make?' he asks as he pops a strawberry into his own mouth.

I shake my head, watching him chew. 'Okay,' I swallow. 'What do I tell my parents when they ask? In fact, what do I tell my family when they enquire about your profession?'

Profession? Is there a professional name for Jesse?

The cogs commence and he shrugs, slipping another strawberry past my lips. 'Tell them I own a hotel.'

I accept his offering, but keep talking. I'm not going down easily here. 'What if they would like to see this hotel?' I mumble around my munching.

'Then they can see it.' He smiles. 'You thought it was a hotel.'

I scowl at him. 'You had me escorted around the premises by staff and locked me up in your office so no one could talk to me. Are you going to do the same with my Mum and Dad?'

'I'll show them around on a quiet day.' he answers swiftly.

Has he thought about this already? I can't believe I'm talking about the possibility of him meeting my parents. I can't even begin to think about how my Mum and Dad will take to Jesse. Yes, he can turn the charm on, but I'm supposed to be young, free and single after seven years and two shitty relationships, and I doubt very much that he'll be able to control his trampling behaviour, even with my parents.

'What if they want to stay at this hotel?' I fire back. 'They live in Newquay, so they'll be staying in a hotel if they come to visit.'

He starts laughing. 'Should I put them in the communal room?'

I jab him in the stomach, which only serves to increase his amusement. I'm irritated that he's finding my predicament so funny, but I'm also beginning to see snippets of this easygoing Jesse who everyone keeps telling me about. I don't like him very much at the moment, though. 'I'm glad you find my turmoil so funny, and you still haven't answered the age issue.' I grab a strawberry and shove it in my mouth.

He recovers from his laughing fit and turns serious eyes onto mine. 'Ava, it would seem you're looking for any excuse to get out of this.' He reaches over and drags his finger across my bottom lip. 'If your parents ask how old I am, then make an age up, however old you want me to be, I'll be that. If they come to visit, then they will stay here. There are four spare bedrooms, all with bathrooms. Stop fighting it. Now, is that all?' He arches an expectant brow at me.

Damn you Jesse Ward. 'Are you going to trample my parents?'

'If they get in my way.' he says seriously.

I have a mental meltdown on the spot. My Mum is not slow in expressing her opinion, and my Dad, while a gentle giant, can be fierce when it comes to his children. This is not good news. I need to avoid the meeting my parent's scenario for as long as possible - maybe even never.

'Why were the police at The Manor?' I shoot at him. This is another thing that's playing on my mind.

He rolls his eyes. 'I told you, some idiot is playing silly games.'

'What sort of silly games?'

'Ava, it's nothing for you to worry about. End of.' He presents me with another strawberry, and I reluctantly take it. He's trying to stop me from asking irritating questions by keeping my mouth full.

It doesn't stop me, though. 'What about this mystery woman?'

'She's still a mystery.' he answers swiftly and shortly.

'So you asked Clive?' I'm aggravating him now.

'No, Ava, I haven't had time.' He's very annoyed. He bloody has asked Clive, and he's also asked him to keep his mouth shut. I need to be cute here, too. I'll speak to security. I scowl at him, but he continues. 'When can I take you shopping?'


He must catch my alarmed face because his irritated expression softens immediately. 'I owe you a dress and with the anniversary party coming up, I thought we could kill two birds with one stone.'

'I have plenty of dresses.' I grumble. A shopping trip with Jesse is at the top of my avoid to do list. I'll walk out of the store looking like an Eskimo.

'Are you going to defy me at every turn today, lady?' He narrows his greens on me, and I give him my own little scowl in return, but I'm too exhausted to quarrel. Instead, I move myself into his chest and snuggle up to him. He might be an arrogant, challenging arse, but I'm completely in love with him and there is nothing I can do about it.

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