Beneath This Man

Chapter 12

Oh, he's gone too far this time. He's going to trample my business meeting. Oh God, he is going to trample Mikael, and he doesn't even know that he's previously asked me to dinner.

I'm at a loss. I stand and watch them chat, all business like, while I try to figure out how to handle this. As per my usual reaction to Jesse's wayward ways, I want to scream at him, but with Mikael here, that is out of the question.

As if he has sensed my presence - he always does - Jesse slowly turns to face me. I flash him a you're-pushing-it look and slowly approach them.

'Mikael,' I say, muscling my way between them at the table. I feel Jesse tense from head to toe at my informal acknowledgment to my client. He can go and take a leap off the nearest cliff! The man deserves everything he gets. And he wants me to move in? He can forget it, and there will be no sense fucking to change my mind either.

Mikael smiles at me. I don't miss the arched eyebrow. 'Ava, let me introduce you. This is Jesse Ward. He bought the penthouse at Lusso. I was showing Mr Ward your designs. He's as impressed as I am.'

'That's nice,' I say without even acknowledging Jesse, turning my back on him to face my client instead. 'Should we diarise our next meeting now?' I feel ice cold air emanate from Jesse.

'Yes, that would be good,' Mikael says. 'Does Friday afternoon suit? We can meet at Life and get a rough idea on quantities. Maybe I could buy you lunch?' His eyebrows rise suggestively and while I know I shouldn't be encouraging this sort of behaviour, I just can't help myself.

'Friday afternoon suits me fine and lunch would be lovely.' I smile, but then feel Jesse's warm, minty breath on the back of my neck. He's standing pretty damn close for someone who supposedly doesn't know me.

'I'm sorry to interrupt,' Jesse pipes up.

I freeze. Oh God, please don't trample.

He grasps my shoulders, and I watch as Mikael frowns in confusion. He slowly turns me around until my stunned face is looking up at him. 'Baby, have you forgotten that I'm taking you shopping?'

Oh fucking hell!

He really doesn't have any regard or shame. He's going to get me sacked. Mikael is going to be calling Patrick to complain, then Patrick is going find out about Jesse and I'm going to get sacked! I can't even muster up the strength to fire him a disgusted look.

He is looking down at my dumbstruck face, his eyes twinkling. I have no idea what to do here.

'I didn't realise you knew each other.' Mikael says in utter confusion.

He's just introduced us and neither one of us informed him that we were already acquainted. Well, much more than acquainted. We are so much more than acquainted. He just called me baby, and he's holding my shoulders firmly, and not in a professional capacity, whatsoever.

Jesse knocks Mikael out with a killer smile. 'I was in the area and I knew the love of my life was here,' he shrugs. 'I thought I would slip in and get my fix. I'm not going to see her for another four hours.' He bends down and brushes his lips over my ear. I'm totally speechless. 'I missed you.' he whispers.

Missed me? He left me a couple of hours ago. He's trampling better than ever before. I want to thrust my leg forward and prompt him to piss all over it. The man is impossible, and I have just landed right on my arse after being shoved off Central Jesse Cloud Nine.

He turns me around so I'm facing Mikael and pulls my back to his chest, wrapping his arm around the tops of my shoulders and kissing my temple. This is so unprofessional. I want to die on the spot. I look up at Mikael and find him observing Jesse's little trampling session thoughtfully.

'I'm sorry, when you mentioned you were here to meet your girlfriend, I didn't realise you were referring to Ava.' Mikael says coolly.

'Yes, isn't she beautiful?' He presses his lips to my temple again and inhales in my hair. 'And all mine.' he adds quietly, but loud enough for Mikael to hear.

I feel my face getting hotter by the second, my eyes darting everywhere except in Mikael's direction. Is he trying to eliminate Mikael? He's a client, not a threat. Not that Jesse knows of, anyway. God help me if he finds out about my dinner invitation.

My eyes land briefly on Mikael. He's watching me carefully. I feel so uncomfortable.

'Mr Ward, if I had an Ava, I've no doubt I would do exactly the same.' He flashes me a smile, and I feel my face burning up further. 'Perhaps Monday would be more suitable?'

I find my voice. 'Of course, Monday will be fine.' I try to subtly wriggle free of Jesse, but he has a firm hold of me, and I know that even the whole British army would struggle to prize me from his arms.

Mikael puts his hand out to me. 'I'll call you to arrange a time once I've checked my diary.'

I take his offering. I'm ending an important business meeting with a very important client and I'm completely coated in my neurotic, possessive control freak. I'm mortified. 'I look forward to it.' I say enthusiastically, earning myself a sharp little nudge in my back.

Is he winding me up?

Mikael exits the snug, and I notice him glancing over his shoulder as he leaves. I just about capture the thoughtful look on his pale face, and I can't help but think that Jesse has just set a challenge for him. I could collapse with exasperation. I'm glad Jesse is behind me because he is the only thing holding me up.

I relax against him on a long sigh. 'I can't believe you just did that,' I say quietly as I stare at nothing in particular. 'You've just trampled my most important client.'

I'm swung around in his arms to find his face level with mine as he bends to accommodate the height difference between us. 'Who is your most important client?' he asks on a heavy furrowed brow.

I roll my eyes. 'You're my lover, who happens to be a client.'

'I am more than your lover!'

Yes, okay. That was a little bit of an understatement. He is most certainly more than my lover. I look at the panicked face close to mine and curse myself for wanting to head straight to the hotel bar and down a large glass of wine. No, actually, make that a bottle.

I exhale in complete despair. 'I need to get back to work.' I turn away, but feel his hand clamp around my wrist, the usual heat his touch instigates ever present.

He walks around me so he is in front of me. He keeps hold of my wrist. 'You did that on purpose.' he says accusingly.

Yes, I did! Just like he rocked up to The Royal Park on purpose to hijack my meeting and for what purpose? I look up at him through the fog of tears glazing my eyes. 'Why?' I ask. It's a simple question.

He looks down at the floor. 'Because I love you.' he says quietly.

'That's not a reason.' My tone suggests I'm completely defeated. I am.

His head snaps up in shock, and he pins me in place with his appalled glare. 'Yes, it is. And anyway, he's a known womaniser.'

Okay, now he's just making up excuses to justify his unreasonable behaviour. If he loves me, then he should support me in my work, not try to sabotage it. I know I'm being a bit dramatic, but this whole situation could have a massive impact on my flourishing career and all because he thinks Mikael is a womaniser? What grounds does he base this opinion on, anyway?

'You can't hijack every meeting I have with a male client.' I say tiredly. I have absolutely no faith in my attempt to reason with him.

'I won't, just him. And any other man who may be a threat.' he says candidly.

I want to throw my head back and scream at the heavens. Does that mean I should expect him at The Life Building on Monday? Jesse sees every man as a threat. 'I have to go.' I try and regain possession of my body, but he refuses to release me.

'I'll take you,' he informs me, releasing my wrist. 'Collect your things.' He walks over to the table and starts scooping up my mood boards. 'These are really very good.' he says zealously.

I can't join him in his enthusiasm. I feel despondent and flat. I can see my dream career flushing down the pan before my very eyes and worst of all, there is the little niggling fear that I will push him to get steaming drunk if I don't comply with his unreasonableness. I feel helpless and hopeless. How can I go from being so immensely elated to so incredibly defeated, all in such a short space of time?

Jesse drops me at the corner of Berkeley Square under my request so I'm not spotted by Patrick getting out of Mr Ward's car nearly four hours after I went for a breakfast meeting with him. I have no doubt that my days are numbered with regards to Patrick's enlightenment on mine and Jesse's involvement. I would like to delay it for as long as possible, though. I need to think about how I'm going to break this to Patrick, and I pray on all things holy that Mikael doesn't bombard him first. This needs to be handled with care.

I give Jesse a chaste kiss on the cheek and leave him watching me, his bottom lip getting a grueling chew as I drag myself from his car. I say nothing, and neither does he.

'You've been a while, flower.' Patrick says, as I settle at my desk.

'Mikael and I had a lot to go through. It's looking good. ' I offer by way of an explanation.

It seems to do the trick. He smiles instantly. 'Ah! He is still happy?'

'Very.' I confirm, and that broadens Patrick's smile by a few more inches.

'Wonderful!' he exclaims, retreating to his office looking delighted.

I open my email and hear the office door open. Looking up, I see a massive bunch of calla lilies floating towards me. Really? I left him five minutes ago.

They land on my desk, and the young girl sighs. 'I don't know why he doesn't just buy you the shop. Sign here, please.' She thrusts the clipboard under my nose, and I scribble my name.

'Thanks.' I hand her back the clipboard and find the card.

I'm sorry-ish


I fall back in my chair. What he means is...he's sorry because he knows that he has upset me, but he is not at all sorry for trampling Mikael or my day. Maybe I should stay at Kate's tonight. I could do with some time, a big bottle of wine, my own thoughts and no distractions.

The office door swings open and I look up to see Ruth Quinn beaming at me. Why is she here? I only spoke to her this morning. Her blonde hair is shining and bouncing as she struts to my desk, waving excitedly.

'Ava!' she sings.

'Ruth,' I frown, but she doesn't seem to notice my confusion.

'I was just in the area and I thought I'd drop by.' She places her neat, slender body on a chair in front of my desk.

'Oh?' I say, looking at her to continue.

'Yes,' she smiles, but doesn't elaborate.

I glance at the clock. It's not even three o'clock. I've got another three hours to get her designs over by email. 'Was there something that you wanted to add to the specification?' I ask.

'No. Not at all. I'm sure I'll love the designs.'

I'm not sure what to say. She's dropped by for nothing? No reason?

'Are you okay, Ava?' Her smile fades a little.

I shake myself up. 'Yes, I'm fine.' I force a happy face. I'm not fine, but I want to mood over it in peace, not make pointless conversation with a client. 'I've prepped everything, Ruth. I'll get it across to you before that day's out.' I know I've already told her this on the telephone, but what else can I say. Should I offer her a coffee?

'Lovely.' She strokes her hair, and then flicks it over her shoulder. 'Are you doing anything nice this weekend?'

Now I really am frowning. She's not a clinger on, is she? 'I'm not sure.' I'm really not. I don't know what I'm doing, where I'm going, not in any element of my life at the moment.

'We should have drinks!'

I inwardly groan. She wants to be friends. Never mix business with pleasure - my new rule applies to female clients too. What should I say? 'Sure.' The word slips past my lips and stuns me. I don't want to have drinks with Ruth. I want to crawl into my bed and sulk.

'Are you sure you're okay?' she presses.

'Yes, fine.' I try to smile. I'm struggling.

'Man trouble?' Her fair, precisely plucked eyebrow rises.

'No.' I shake my head. Oh God, she's getting personal.

'Ava, I know a woman in turmoil when I see one.' She laughs. 'Been there, done that.'

'Honestly, Ruth. There is no man.' I can't believe I just said that. No man? There most certainly is a man, and he most certainly is causing me turmoil. But I need Kate for this line of conversation, not a client. Wine and Kate.

She gives me a knowing smile and stands. 'They're not worth the trouble.'

I return her smile, but only because I'm pleased that she appears to be leaving. 'I'll get your designs over soon, Ruth.' I'm repeating again.

'Can't wait! We'll talk soon...about drinks.' She breezes out of the office, leaving me sat in the turmoil she knows I'm in.

I immediately email her. I don't want her returning and offering more drinks. My head's going to explode. I need Kate, and I need wine.

I don't go to Kate's, though. I leave the office and I'm pulled towards St Katherine Docks by the magnet that is The Lord of the Sex Manor. I said I wouldn't leave him, and I need these mounting questions answered, like this mystery woman.

'Evening, Ava.'

'Hello, Clive. Can I speak to security, please?'

'They are all off site at the moment.' He diverts his attention to his computer, his way of halting this conversation from going any further - his way of dodging me.

'Right.' I sigh, leaving Clive and carrying on my way to the elevator. I board and lean back against the mirrored wall after I've punched in the code that Jesse still hasn't got changed.

I let myself in with my pink key and head straight for the kitchen, kicking my shoes off and looking for wine that I know won't be there before finding a vase to put my flowers in. I remember the bunch upstairs that I hastily dumped on the chest in favour of prepping myself to deliver one truth fuck, so I take the stairs tiredly and enter the master-suite to retrieve them.


My new diamante embellished vibrator is in a million pieces all over the far end of the bedroom floor and there's a hole in the wall opposite the bed. The bedroom is vast, so he must have lobbed it with some force. I'm suddenly thinking that leaving before he got free was a decision well made.

I look across the room to the bed and see the handcuffs still dangling from the headboard, mental images of Jesse flying into a rage instantly starting to assault my brain. This man has issues - big, unreasonable, bloody issues...with control...with me.

I kneel and collect up all of the pieces, taking them to the bathroom and depositing them in the bin before I start running a bath. Picking up the calla lilies that are in desperate need of some water, I make my way back downstairs.

I get halfway down and hear the front door shut quietly, and I'm halted in my tracks as I watch Jesse come into view. He stops at the bottom of the stairs and looks up at me, his handsome face expressionless and his usually bright eyes a little glazed. He removes his suit jacket and reaches up, undoing his shirt buttons slowly as he watches me. His shirt gets removed and dropped to the floor to join his jacket, as does his shoes, socks, trousers and boxers. My eyes are pulled to the red marks around his wrists when he removes his Rolex. He throws it on top of his pile of clothes. I'm never handcuffing him again.

'You're not laying a finger on me until you tell me who that woman was.' This might take all of strength, especially if he starts the countdown or hits me with a Jesse style fuck, but I'm not backing down here.

'I don't know.' His face is completely expressionless.

'So you've not asked Clive to stop me from looking at the CCTV?'

He almost smiles, but he must know because Clive would most certainly have mentioned me prying. 'My beautiful girl is ruthless.'

'My God is evasive.' I retort quietly.

'Ava, if I didn't need you all over me right now, I'd be challenging you.'

'But you do so you'll tell me.'

'I slept with her.'

I'm not looking surprised because I had already figured that much out. 'So why was she here?'

'Because she heard I was missing.' He doesn't hesitate.

'That's it. She was worried?'

He shrugs. 'Yes. That's it. Now I get you all over me.'

Oh. Okay. What do I say? I asked, he told. 'Why didn't you just tell me this before?'

He shrugs. 'Because it was no big deal until you made it one.'

He starts up the stairs slowly, completely naked and stunningly spectacular, and scoops me up without stopping, prompting me to drop the flowers and wrap myself around his body. 'You made it a big deal by evading my questions.'

He doesn't reply. I also want to rip strips off him for trampling my day. I want to stamp and scream in a temper, but I can't seem to find the strength or the inclination to do it. He talked, and now I just want him all over me. My mind is fuzzy, but my body is fizzing...for him.

He places me on my feet and starts slowly undressing me, watching his hands work over my clothes as I stand quietly and let him do his thing. Why is he so forlorn? It's me who has endured his challenging ways all day. He's like a lucky bag of emotions and moods. I would have put my money on a retribution fuck after my performance this morning, but instead, I'm confronted with gentle, soft Jesse. I don't mind. I need soft and loving right now.

My bra is removed and my ankles tapped in the usual fashion so he can remove my knickers. Once we're both naked, he takes me down to the thick, cream carpet and swaths me in his body, burying his face deep in my neck and breathing me into him. I mirror him and take my own hit of minty fresh water loveliness, wrapping my arms firmly around his back to pull him closer, eradicating any space that may have been between us.

We lie on the floor in the middle of the bedroom and hold each other for the longest time. I stare up at the ceiling and stroke his hair, taking all of my comfort from his strong heartbeat thudding against my chest.

'I've missed you.' he mumbles into my neck.

I shudder when I feel his hot tongue running circles around the delicate flesh under my ear. We've been apart for less than five hours. I would say he was unreasonable, but I have missed him too. Even though I was mad at him, I still found myself back here instead of Kate's.

'I missed you too. Thank you for the flowers.'

'You're welcome.' He kisses up to my lips and scatters light pecks all over me before brushing my hair from my face. He gazes down at me. 'I want to drag you to a desert island and have you all to myself forever.'

'Okay. With the absence of other people, there will be no need for any trampling like behaviour.'

His lips twitch at the corners and his eyes regain a bit of twinkle. He drops a kiss on my lips and rolls us over so I'm straddling his hips. I can feel the evidence of his mood wedged between our bodies and it triggers all of the usual desperate needs for him. My nipples pucker under his watchful eye and his grin widens into his signature, melt worthy smile, reserved only for women. I want it to be reserved only for me. An unreasonable pang of possessiveness assaults me.

'I fucking love you.' he sighs.

'I know you do.' I circle my palms over his chest and pinch his nipple. 'I love you, too.'

'Even after today?'

Oh good. Is he acknowledging that he was a challenge today? This is progress. 'You mean after you stalked me all day?'

He pouts playfully and shifts his arms under his head to elevate it slightly. I dribble as his muscles bunch and flex. 'I was worried about you.' he protests, and I raise a mocking eyebrow at him. 'I was.' he argues.

He wasn't worried about me at all. He had an unreasonable and unwarranted attack of possessiveness. 'You were over-the-top and stupidly possessive. My challenging man needs to relax.'

He scoffs. 'I'm not challenging.'

'You're challenging and in denial.'

His brow furrows. 'What am I in denial about?'

'Being challenging and unreasonable. Your performance today was way off the scales of unreasonableness.' I need to know he won't hijack every business meeting I have with a male client. He said it would be only Mikael, but then followed it up with and all other male threats. His idea of a threat is a million miles away from my idea of a threat. He's going to trample all of my male clients, I know it. My work diary is going to be padlocked and so is my mouth. I'm not telling him anything.

He looks at me with a little scowl. 'He would have made a move on you and then I'd really have to trample him.'

I laugh lightly. Like he didn't make a good enough job of that already? He doesn't need to know that Mikael has already made his move. I will be keeping that snippet of information to myself. 'Well, I think you made your point pretty clear. It was embarrassing.' I grumble.

'It was necessary.' he mutters, and I roll my eyes, making a dramatic display of my exasperation.

'You should run more.' I say. 'Oh, the bath!' I jump up and run into the bathroom.

'No, I need you more.' he calls to my back.

'Don't you have me enough?' I flip the tap off. He's had me here all week. He calls me, texts me, sends me flowers and gets John to drive me to work. It's all some form of contact or control. I bet he couldn't go a whole day without some form of trample or intrusion on my working day. Would I want him to not interfere? I like the flowers and the messages; it's the tramples I have an issue with. Would he be tempted to have a drink to try and get through the day? Could I risk it? My relaxed brain begins to ache...again.

I make my way back into the bedroom, finding him still sprawled on the floor. He is just too delicious. I walk over and settle myself back on his hips.

'Have you enough?' he asks. 'No, I don't. I need you every second of the day, just like you need me.' He reaches up and pinches my nipple, and I jerk on top of him, catching a full on rub from his erection. He gives me his roguish grin.

'What if you couldn't have me all day?' I ask. There will be times in the future when he might actually be on a real business trip. Or, perhaps, I will.

His grin disappears instantly and is replaced with a glare pointed straight at me. 'Are you going to try and stop me?'

'No, but there may be situations when you can't have instant access to me. I might be unobtainable.'

A fleeting look of panic flies across his face and his bottom lip disappears between his teeth. He's considering what I've suggested, and it's now I realise that he absolutely meant it when he said he'll have me wherever and whenever he wants. Now that really is unreasonable. I've seen the result of a few missed calls on my part - he was frantic.

'Would you make a grab for the vodka?' There, I've said it.

He laughs, and I frown. What's so funny?

'I promised you I will never have another drink. I meant it,' he says surely. He sits up and rests his hands on my hips. I jerk, and he smiles. 'Bath, I want your wet slippery skin all over mine.'

'Your confidence is commendable.' I mumble sarcastically as I ease myself up and put my hand out to him.

He looks at me with narrowed eyes and reaches up to take my hand, yanking me forward and spinning me onto my back. He rests his big body all over me and drops his lips to mine in a long, lingering kiss. 'It is all very easy because I have you. Unravel your knickers, lady.'

Ha! Easy for him to say. I'm dealing with a neurotic madcap. 'So, tomorrow I'll be undisturbed all day?' I ask. He will never be able to leave me alone all day, I know it.

He pulls his head back to look at me, the cogs starting to spin wildly as he chews his lip again. 'Lunch?'

I knew it. He can't do it. 'I'm meeting Kate for lunch.' I dismiss his request.

He pouts. 'Can't I come?'

No, he can't come because I need time with Kate to talk about him and his challenging ways. 'No.' I state firmly.

'I think you're being unreasonable.' he complains.

I throw my head back on a laugh. He really is thick skinned, but then I jerk and buck as his grabs my hipbone and squeezes. 'Stop!' I screech.


'Please!' Tears jump into my eyes as I try to fight him off. I can't bear it.

'Lunch?' he says calmly, as he continues tickling me.

'Absolutely not!' I cry through my uncontrollable laughter. This isn't fair. I'm not submitting. No way!

'Maybe a sense fuck will do it.' He releases my hip and I relax, trying to get my erratic breathing under control.

'Jesse, I can't be with you every second of the day.' I try to reason.

'If you give up work you could be.' He's deadly serious.

My eyes widen in disgust. Never! I love my job. 'Now who is being unreason... Ohhhhh!' I lose my trail as he plunges deep into me. Oh God, here comes the sense fuck, but what is he trying to get me to submit to? Lunch or retiring? At twenty six? How ridiculous!

He wastes no time breaking me in. He powers into me like a madman. My legs fall open and he pins my wrists on either side of my head. 'Lunch?' he asks as he thrusts hard.

My brain has just turned to mush, but it still registers that this is a lunch sense fuck. I'm relieved. Lunch will be easier to relent to, rather than retiring, but I still don't plan on going down easily. Mr Challenging has a challenge on his hands.

'No!' I shout defiantly.

He growls and surges forward, his firmness stroking me hard and fast as he drives in and out like a wild animal. 'You are so receptive to me.'

I am! He lays one finger on me and I'm all over the place. 'Jesse, please.'

He hits me hard with his hips and grinds firmly. 'Baby, let me have lunch with you.'

I shake my head, holding my breath.

'Do I feel good?'

'Yes!' I shout on a rushed exhale. The crest of a booming orgasm descends on me and his grip tightens around my wrists.

'Say yes.' he insists harshly, and I know he's on his way to explosion too.

What if I don't say yes? What if I hold out on him? 'No!' I'm not giving in. He can't fuck sense into me every time I don't agree to something.

He hammers on, my thighs tensing, my mind knotted. 'Ava, give me what I want.'


'You're going to come.'

'Yes!' I cry. All of the pent up stress of the day is going to come rushing out at any moment.

'Oh, fuck, baby, you do serious things to me.' He hits me with another powerful, thundering of his hips.

My mind goes blank, and I'm about to detonate when he stops dead in his tracks, subsequently stopping my imminent orgasm dead in its tracks. 'What are you doing?' I scream, completely stunned. I tilt my hips to try and get the friction I need to tip me over the edge, but he pulls his own hips back until he is only just inside me. 'You bastard!' I spit.

'Watch your fucking mouth! Say yes, Ava.' he pants, but his words are controlled. How is he doing this? I know he's ready to come.

'No.' I affirm.

He shakes his head and then locks eyes with me as he plunges, oh so slowly, and swivels his hips.

'Ohhh.' I groan. 'Faster.'

'Say the word, Ava.' He repeats the teasing move. 'Say it, and you'll get what you want.'

'You don't play fair.' I complain.

'You want me to stop?'

'No!' I shout in frustration. This is torture at its worst.

He flexes his hold on my wrists. 'I'll ask you one more time, baby. Lunch?' He flicks his hips forward as he asks, and I lose any determination I had to defy him.

'Fuck me.' I cry as he looks down at me, amusement plaguing his expression.

'Watch your mouth.' He's grinning. 'Was that a yes?'

'YES!' I scream.

'Good girl.' he praises, and then powers forward, hammering into me and tossing me straight back into a fast build-up to release. I stiffen from head to toe as sizzling hotness travels through my blood stream and my skin heats from the friction of being pushed across the carpet by his manic momentum.

'Jesse!' I'm gripped from every direction by stabbing shots of pleasure flying through my nervous system, exploding at my core.

I scream.

His drives become more urgent and his breathing loud and erratic as he smashes against me on carnal shouts and releases everything he has, my core muscles clenching greedily onto him, my limp, exhausted body completely helpless to his unforgiving blows.

He collapses on top of me in a sweaty heap and rocks gently against me. 'My work here is done.' he pants in my ear.

I lie under his hard, warm body, trying to gather my senses and breath, and wonder if it will always be like this. He gets the results he wants, so yes, it probably will be. I've got to learn to deal with this. I've got to train myself to repel him. I laugh at such a pointless exercise. I don't want to repel him.

He pushes himself up on his hands and it's only now I notice he doesn't wince. 'Your hand!' I cry.

He lifts it up and I can still see slight bruising, but the swelling has subsided massively. 'It's fine. Sarah had me keep ice on it for most of the afternoon.'


'Sarah?' I blurt without thinking about what tone I should use. It comes out accusingly.

He frowns at me, and I hate myself for sounding so shocked. 'She was just being a friend.' he says coolly, but this only heightens my concern. She would have seen his marked wrists. It wouldn't take much intelligence to figure out where they had come from. Another woman looking after him doesn't sit well, and the fact that it's pouty lips really has my jealous streak racing to the surface. She has made it obvious that she doesn't like me, at the same time making it perfectly obvious that she really likes Jesse. And the women of The Manor will probably treat me with the same brusqueness and head hurts.

I suddenly feel extremely uncomfortable with my possessiveness. Good God, I ridicule Jesse for this. I'm a bloody hypocrite and the way he is staring down at me, gaging my mood, isn't helping. He's a very desirable man, who assaults women with that fucking smile and has them in puddles at his feet.

I wriggle underneath him to get free and he obliges, letting me up on a frown. I head straight for the bathroom and immerse myself in the hot bath. I'm really not comfortable with these feelings. I've never been jealous in my life. I'm going to be fighting women off on a daily basis. That's a full time job in itself. Maybe I will need to retire.

'Has someone got a touch of the green eyed monster?'

I look up and see him stood in all of his naked glory by the bathroom doorway. 'No.' I scoff. I couldn't be more obviously jealous if I tried.

He walks over to the bath and steps in behind me, lowering his body until I'm cradled between his legs. He drapes his arms over my shoulders and pulls me back to rest on his chest. 'Ava, you are the only woman for me,' he says softly in my ear. 'And I am all yours.' He picks up the natural sponge from the edge of the bath, dips it to soak up some water, and then starts running it across my breasts.

'You need to tell me more about yourself.'

I feel his chest lift on a sigh. 'What do you want to know?'

'Is The Manor strictly business or have you mixed it with pleasure?' I'm pleased with my forward tone. I know he has mixed it with pleasure because Mr Creep who got roughed up by Jesse the day I found out about The Manor's happenings said as much. And so did Sam, for that matter. Then why am I asking? I feel my blood begin to boil with bitterness.

The sponge pauses between my breasts for a few seconds, but then he continues smoothing it over my body. 'Dive straight in, why don't you.' he says dryly.

'Tell me.' I press.

He sighs, so heavily I almost turn around to glare at him, just so he knows I don't appreciate his bored reaction to my question. 'I've dabbled.' he says irritably.


I'm not sure I like the sound of dabbling, especially in this area of enquiry. 'Are you still dabbling?'

'No!' He's truly defensive.

'When was the last time you dabbled?' I don't think I want to know this. Why am I asking these questions? His sponge strokes pause again. Please don't tell me he has to think about this.

'Way before I met you.' He continues caressing me with the sponge.

'How long before you met me?' I need to shut up. I really don't want to know this stuff, but damn, I can't stop the stupid questions flying out.

'Ava, does it matter?' he's annoyed.

'Yes.' I retort quickly. No, actually, it doesn't, but his short, huffy answer is prickling my curiosity.

'It wasn't regular.' He's doing his best to avoid this.

'That didn't answer my question.'

'Is anything I tell you going to change the way you feel about me?'

That question has me prickling further. What has he done? 'No.' I say, but I'm not so sure now. He clearly thinks it will.

'So, can we drop it? It's in my past with a whole heap of other stuff, and I would rather leave it there.' His tone is final. I feel slighted. 'There is only you. End of.' He kisses the back of my head. 'When are we moving you in?'

I groan inwardly. He fucked that sense into me as well. I notice all of this so called sense he's fucking into me, only makes sense to him. 'I'm here.' I remind him.

'I mean your stuff,' he pinches my nipple. 'Don't be clever.'

I roll my eyes. I need to retrieve the rest of my stuff from Matt, and I have a ridiculous amount of clothes at Kate's, even after my brutal clear out, but I'm still not sure that this is a good idea. 'I've got to pick up the rest of my stuff from Matt.' Did I really just say that out loud?

'No, you fucking won't!' he shouts in my ear, and I recoil at his booming voice. Obviously, I did. 'I'll send John. I told you, you won't see him again.'

Right, I'm dropping this right now. I'm not going to get anywhere with it; I'm not stupid. John's not going, and I've already arranged it, anyway. He will never know. Well, he will, when I've got my stuff, but it will be too late for him to stop me by then.

I think of something else. 'Tell me where you went when you disappeared on me.'

He tenses beneath me. 'No.' He spits the word out fast.

Okay, now I'm getting mad. I turn myself over to lay on his front so he is forced to look me in the eyes. 'The last time you held back on me, I left you.'

His eyes widen slightly, but then narrow. He knows I've got him. 'I locked myself in my office.'

'For four days?' I ask doubtfully.

'Yes, for four days, Ava.' He looks past me, refusing to meet my eyes.

'Look at me.' I demand harshly.

His eyes fly to mine in obvious shock at my order. 'Excuse me?' he almost laughs. It's patronising, and I don't appreciate it.

'What were you doing in your office?' I ask. Oh heck, why don't I just shut the hell up?

'Drinking. There. That's what I was doing. I was trying to drown out thoughts and images of you with vodka. Are you happy now?' He tries to shift me from his body, but I tense from top to toe in an attempt to make myself a dead weight.

He was drinking? Was he unconscious for four days like he was when I found him on Friday? Oh, now I just feel incredibly guilty.

I fight with him, pushing his slippery body back down into the bath. He gives in and lets me. I know he could overpower me if he wanted to, so he doesn't really want to escape. I slide my body up his so our noses meet.

He lifts his eyes. 'I'm sorry.' he whispers, and I fall apart all over him, taking his mouth urgently, a silent message that I don't care. 'I'm so sorry, baby.'

'Please, don't.' I push myself into him, tackling his mouth, desperate for him to know that I couldn't care less. I feel responsible...guilty.

'When I saw those bruises on your arms, I realised I was in deep, Ava. Way too deep.'

'Shhhh.' I hush him, covering his whole face with my mouth, kissing every square inch of him. 'Enough, now.'

He cups my bum and pulls me up, burying his face between my breasts. 'It won't happen again, I'll kill myself before hurting you again.'

He doesn't have to use such strong words. I understand. He's regretful. I am too. I should never have walked away from him. I should have stayed, thrown him in a cold shower and sobered him up. 'I said enough, Jesse.'

'I love you.'

'I know you do. I'm sorry too.'

He releases his hold and I slide back down his body until we're eye to eye. 'What have you got to be sorry for?'

I shrug. 'I wish I hadn't left you.'

'Ava, I don't blame you for walking out on me. I deserved that, and if anything, it will only make me more determined not to drink. Knowing I could lose you is enough of a motivation, trust me.'

'I'll never walk away from you again. Never.' I affirm.

He smiles lightly. 'I hope you don't because I'd be finished.'

'I would be finished too.' I say quietly, running my hands through his hair. I need him to know the feeling is completely mutual.

'Okay, neither of us is walking away. That's clear.' He pushes his lips to mine softly.

'Are you hungry?' I ask against his lips. We need to change the direction of this conversation. We've said enough.

'Yes, are you going to cook me a well-balanced meal?'

I smile around his lips. 'I'm tired. Can we get a well-balanced take away?'

'Absolutely. You soak, I'll order dinner.' He props me up and gets out of the bath.

Tub talk today has been insightful and strangely satisfying. He's opening up.

After a not so well-balanced Chinese takeaway, I curl up on the sofa under Jesse's arm. He strokes my hair as he watches some MotoGP programme. It's obviously a passion, judging by the intensity of his concentration on the television. I snuggle and wonder what tomorrow will bring. He's already negotiated lunch with one of his mind boggling sense fucks. I could refuse, but then I would only be setting myself up for a reminder fuck. Would that be so bad?

I start to doze off and my semi-conscious mind homes in on his unknown activities at The Manor. Is it really compulsory for me to know every little detail? I believe him when he says I'm the only woman for him, I really do, so picking his brains on ex-lovers is not going to get me anywhere, apart from unreasonably jealous. The thought of him with another woman makes me feel physically sick. He's a full grown man of a certain age - of which I now know - and a mouthwatering one at that. His sexual conflicts are probably plentiful, but they are in the past, just like he said. Here and now is all that matters, and I am here, and I'm now.

'Come on, lady.' I'm gathered up into his arms and carried upstairs to bed. I hardly stir as he strips me down and deposits me in his bed, climbing in next to me and pulling me into his hard chest. 'I love you.' he whispers, and because speech has evaded me, I just snuggle closer to him.

I open my eyes and it's still dark. I'm vaguely aware of the bed vibrating under me, and I'm wet.

What the hell?

It takes me a few moments, but when awareness finally hits me, it really hits me hard. I scramble over to flick the lamp on and the light slams into my eyes like gravel. I squint to gain focus and find Jesse sat up in bed rocking back and forth with his knees clenched to his chest. Holy shit, he's drenched and his pupils are huge black saucers. He looks petrified. I throw myself over to him. Should I cuddle him?

'Jesse?' I speak quietly, not wanting to startle him. He doesn't respond. He just continues with the rocking, but then he starts mumbling.

'I need you.' he says quietly.

'Jesse?' I place my hand on his arm and shake him gently. He looks so scared. 'Jesse?'

'I need you, I need you, I need you.' He repeats the mantra over and over. I want to cry.

'Jesse, please,' I plead. 'Stop, I'm here.' I can't bear to see him like this. He's shaking uncontrollably and sweat is pouring from his brow, his frown line by far the deepest I have ever seen it. I try to position myself in his line of sight, but he doesn't acknowledge me. He just carries on with the rocking and mumbling, staring straight through me. He's asleep. I pull his legs down away from his body and climb onto his lap, wrapping my arms around his sodden back, holding him as tight as I can. I don't know if he is aware, but his arms come up and grip me, and his face buries deep into my neck.

We sit like this forever. I whisper in his ear, hoping he will recognise me and snap out of his night terror. Is that what this is? I have no idea. He is definitely not awake, I know that much.

'Ava?' he mumbles in my neck after an age. His voice is cracked and throaty.

He's awake. 'Hey, I'm here.' I pull back and cup his face with both of my hands. His eyes search mine, looking for something. I'm not sure what.

'I'm so sorry.'

'What are you sorry for?' He's worrying me even more now.

'For everything.' He falls back, taking me with him so I'm lying across his wet chest. My body is soaking, but I don't care.

My head rests on his chest and I listen as his heart rate slows. 'Jesse?' I say nervously. He doesn't answer. I lift my head to look at him and see he's fast asleep, looking peaceful. What was that all about?

I lay on him for hours, my mind racing with reasons for him to be sorry. Bloody Hell, maybe I am reading too much into this. There's plenty for him to be sorry for. Lying to me, deceiving me, drink, his unreasonableness, his possessive streak, his neurotic behaviour, trampling my meeting today, his...

I doze off, running through all of the reasons why Jesse could be sorry.

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