Beneath This Man

Chapter 17

I wake up with Jesse buried deep inside me, his chest to my back as he holds my waist and pumps forward. My brain is not the only thing woken up. My body jumps to attention and I reach back and curl my fingers into his hair, arching my back and tilting my head back to find his lips.

I let him take my mouth, our tongues delving wildly as he pistons forward. I push myself back onto him with each surge, every one cranking me up further and further.

'Ava, I can't get enough of you.' he gasps against my mouth. 'Promise you'll never leave me?'

As if! 'I won't.' I fist my hands in his hair and yank his lips back down to mine. I love his mouth, even when he's being challenging and I want to sew it shut. He needs constant reassurance that I'm not going anywhere. Will he always make me swear on this? I'll always comply, without a shadow of a doubt, but what I really want is for him to know this without having to ask me repeatedly to swear on it.

I pull away to look at my uncertain man. He shows such confidence in everything except this. 'Please, believe me.' He maintains his firm, powerful drives as he looks at me, but he doesn't give me the reassurance I need. I need to know he believes me. He offers a small smile then bangs our mouths back together, increasing the tempo of his thrusts further.

I try hard, but I can't keep my mouth to his when he's thundering forward with such intensity. I release him and face forward, gripping the edge of the mattress to keep myself in position as I'm yanked back onto him repeatedly.

The coil snaps and I jerk as we both yell at the same time and he charges forward manically, throwing me into a bottomless abyss of utter pleasure. I try and catch my breath, my heart fighting to gain control and my body convulsing of its own accord. Jesse swears and bucks forward one last frenzied time, and then the warm sensation of his release floods me.

'Oh, my fucking God.' he puffs, slipping out of me and falling onto his back.

I roll over and climb onto his body, straddling his hips and laying on his chest, nuzzling my face in his neck. 'That wasn't sleepy sex.' I declare into his neck then press my lips to his throbbing vein.

'No?' he pants.

'No. That was a sleepy fuck.' I wince, immediately realising that I've just swore and we haven't even got out of bed yet.

'For God's sake, Ava. Stop swearing!' he grates with one hundred percent frustration.

I need to sort my mouth out, I never usually swear, it's him! 'Sorry.' I bite his neck and suck a little.

'Are you trying to mark me?' he asks, but he doesn't stop me.

'No, just tasting.'

He turns his face into me and finds my lips, wrapping his big arms around my back. 'Breakfast?'

I'm hungry and I want to feed Jesse, but I'm comfy where I am. I peck his lips and slide myself down his body until I'm nestled under his arm pit. 'I'm comfy.' I trail a path down his chest to his scar, tracing the length of his wound back and forth.

'I love you, lady.' He pulls his knee up into a bent position and lets me have my way. It's a novelty.

'I know you do.'

'Do you?' he asks uncertainly.

His question throws me. Of course I do. He tells me all of the time and if it's as much as I love him, then it's a lot. Immeasurable, in fact. Please don't tell me that he doubts me here too. I look up at him. 'Yes, I do.'

He reaches down and pulls me up his body and then flips me onto my back, pinning me under him with my wrists in his grasp above my head. 'I don't know if you do.' His eyes burn into mine, his face serious.

Where has this come from? 'You tell me enough, of course I know.' I try and free my wrists so I can hold his face, but he refuses to let me go.

'Words will never be enough, Ava.' He's so serious.

'Is that why you test me with your challenging ways?' I ask, in an attempt to lighten him up. I don't like how downhearted he looks. I wish he wouldn't worry about me leaving, me loving him, and wondering if I know how much he loves me. All those ships have long sailed.

'Everything I do is because I am so crazy mad in love with you. I've never felt like this before, not ever.' He's almost scowling at me, like he's mad that he feels this way. 'I lose my head just at the thought of losing you. It makes me a total madman. Believe me, I'm aware of that.' He drops a kiss on my lips. 'I drive you insane, don't I?'

Oh good Lord above! Is he admitting that he's challenging? 'You are very challenging, but you're my challenging man and I love you, so you're worth the frustration.'

'You're pretty challenging yourself, lady.' he says dryly.

My eyes bulge. 'Me?' The man is a bloody nutcase!

'But I love you too, and you are so, so worth the headache.'

I want to...well, challenge him. No sooner has he given me what I want - an admission - he tramples it with his own accusations.

Me? Challenging?

I start to make my case, but he hushes me with his lush lips, and I'm distracted instantly. He knows what he's doing. I relax my aching, overworked tongue and fall into his slow, lapping rhythm, my hands still pinned above my head. His mouth is the most marvelous thing in the world.

He pecks my lips. 'I knew you were the one the second I laid eyes on you.'

'The one?' I'm intrigued. His persistence and insistence that I belonged with him at the beginning of our relationship has always been confusing to me.

He nuzzles my ear. 'The one to bring me back to life.' he says in that matter-of-fact tone - the one that basically means he is saying something only he understands. Was he dead?

'How did you know?' He's talking. I need to extract as much from him as possible.

He looks me straight in the eyes. They are bursting with meaning. 'Because my heart started beating again.' he whispers.

A lump jumps into my throat as I look up, completely stunned by his admission. That is some serious deep, and I'm totally overwhelmed by it. I don't know what to say. He's looking down at me, this devastating man, like I'm the only thing that exists.

I pull at his grip on my wrists until he lets go and throw my arms around his body, my legs around his waist, holding onto him like he is the only thing that exists.

He is, for me.

I don't know the whys and wherefores of that statement, but the power of those words really does say it all. He can't live without me. Well, I couldn't live without him either. This man is my world.

He lays still over me and lets me squeeze him until my muscles ache. 'Can I feed you?' I ask when my thigh muscles start to scream in protest. He lifts me from the bed, still coiled around his body, and carries me from the bedroom, down the stairs. 'I'm going to forget how to use my legs.' I say as he reaches the bottom and heads for the kitchen.

'Then I'll carry you everywhere.'

'You would like that, wouldn't you?' It would be a perfect excuse for him to have me nailed to him.

'I would love it.' He smirks at me and parks me on the cold marble, the coldness radiating through my backside reminding me that we're both stark, bollock naked. I admire his perfect arse as he walks over to the fridge and collects an assortment of breakfast things and a jar of peanut butter.

I slide off the island. 'I'm supposed to be making you breakfast.' I shove him out of the way. 'Sit.' I command in my most demanding tone. He grins and grabs the jar of peanut butter, before tweaking my nipple and doing a runner to the stool. 'What do you want?' I ask as I shove some bread in the toaster. I turn and see him diving into his fresh jar.

'Fried eggs.' he says around a finger, blatantly trying to suppress a grin.

I look down at my naked form. I might have to get dressed if he wants fried anything. Looking back up to him, I find he has lost the battle and is grinning, his face delighted. 'I'll cook yours, if you cook mine.' I run my eyes down his naked chest and raise my eyebrows.

He pulls his finger out. 'Savage.'

Both of our heads snap towards the kitchen archway when we hear the front door opening. I flick my wide eyes back to Jesse who has a finger suspended in mid-air on its way to his mouth. He is looking as equally who-the-fuck?

Jumping up, he knocks his jar of peanut butter flying off the island, sending it crashing to the floor. It smashes, scattering glass everywhere. I'm panicking now.

'Fucking hell!' He looks at me, all wide eyed. 'It's Cathy!'

Oh good God help me!

I ripped her head off last night and now I'm going to flash her! And to top it off, her burnt lasagna is sat on the side, bold as brass. She's going to hate me. There is no way out of this kitchen without going towards the source of our distress. I stare at Jesse. He's frozen on the spot, looking as torn as I am. Cathy probably won't mind copping a load of him. I smile, but then snap back to the here and now. I finish ogling my finely tuned man and peg it across the kitchen.

'Shit!' A stab of pain shoots through my foot. 'Ouch ouch ouch!' I carry on my way, ignoring the pain.

Jesse is not far behind me, laughing uncontrollably as we run up the stairs. 'Mouth!' he splutters and smacks my arse.

'Goodness gracious!'

I hear the distressed voice as we reach the top. Oh, what must we look like? I run full pelt to the bedroom and throw myself under the covers. I'm mortified. I'll never be able to look her in the eye again.

I feel Jesse land on the bed. 'Where are you?' He works his way through the covers until he locates me with my head buried in the pillow. 'There you are.' He flips me over and submerges his face in my breasts. 'You've upset the concierge, and now you've really upset my housekeeper.'

'Don't!' I throw my arms over my face in complete despair.

He laughs. 'Let me see your foot.' He shifts himself onto his heels and clasps my foot in his hand.

'It hurts.' I complain when I feel his fingertip run lightly over my heel.

'Baby, you've got a piece of glass stuck.' He kisses the heel of my foot and jumps up from the bed. 'Tweezers?'

I throw one arm off my face and point to the bathroom. 'Make-up bag.' I grumble. I can't believe I've just flashed Jesse's housekeeper. This is horrible - mortifying. I need a dressing gown.

I feel the bed sink under his weight again and he clasps my foot. 'Hold still.' he instructs softly.

I hold my breath and reposition my arms so my palms are flat on my burning red face, but all embarrassment is momentarily eliminated when I feel the warm wetness of his tongue dragging up my instep, licking the trail of blood away. I shiver under his tongue's stroke and remove my hands to look down at him, shifting a little, my thighs tightening. He smiles knowingly, his eyes sparkling, before he wraps his lips around the offending shard.

'What are you doing?'

'I'm getting it out.' he says against my heel. He sucks on my heel and pulls away before taking the tweezers and getting up close and personal with the heel of my foot.

I grin as I watch his concentration frown appear across his brow.

'There.' He kisses my foot and releases it. It was pretty pain free, actually. 'What are you grinning at?' He looks at me in amusement.

'Your frown line.'

'I don't have a frown line.' He's offended.

'You do.'

He crawls up the bed and lays himself over me. 'Miss O'Shea, are you saying I have wrinkles?'

My grin widens. 'No. It only pops up when you're concentrating, or if you're concerned.'

'It does?'

'It does.'

'Oh.' He frowns. 'Is it there now?'

I laugh and he bites my boob, sending me on a little buck under him.

'Get ready.' He lands me with a hard kiss. 'I'll go and see if Cathy's run out screaming.'

My laughing abates at the reminder of Jesse's poor housekeeper, who has just copped a load of my bare arse. 'Okay.'

'I'll see you downstairs.' He leans back down and plants a molten lasting kiss on my mouth. 'Don't be long.'

'I won't.' I grumble, like the sulky little girl that I am.

He jumps up and pulls on a pair of checkered lounge pants, and then leaves me so he can go and placate his housekeeper.

I distract myself from my despair by having a shower and getting myself ready, slipping on a floral tea dress - probably too short - and my flat sandals. I pull my hair up into a ponytail. I'll do.

As I walk into the kitchen like a timid waif, all fidgety and nervous, Jesse looks up from his salmon and scrambled egg bagel and gives me one of my smiles. His bare chest distracts me fleetingly from my embarrassment, and I don't miss his slight scowl when he registers the length of my dress. I ignore him.

'Here she is. Cathy this is Ava, love of my life.' He pats the stool next him as Cathy turns around from the fridge to look at me.

My cheeks burn and I offer her a small, apologetic smile. I feel much better when I detect a red flush in her cheeks. I've been so worried about my own mortification, I hadn't considered how embarrassed she might be. I take a seat next to Jesse and he pours me some orange juice.

'I like your dress.' he smirks. 'Too short but excellent access. It can stay.'

I look at him in horror and give him a kick under the island. He laughs and sinks his teeth into his bagel. I'm shocked by his behaviour but pleasantly surprised by his acceptance - he's not marched me back upstairs in disgrace.

'Ava, it's a pleasure to meet you. Would you like some breakfast?' Cathy's voice is friendly and warm. I deserve neither.

'You too, Cathy, I would love some breakfast, thank you.'

'What would you like?' She smiles at me. She has the kindest face.

'I'll have the same as Jesse, please.' I wouldn't be surprised if she turned around and told me to stuff it up my arse, but she doesn't. She nods her acceptance and carries on about her business.

I pick up my glass of juice and glance at Jesse. He's looking unapologetically smug. I'm glad he finds my discomfort amusing, but I can't imagine he'd be so tickled about the situation if Cathy was a man. Reaching over to his lap, I slip my hand into his lounge pants and grab his cock loosely. He jumps, smacking his knee on the marble and starts coughing around his mouthful of food. Cathy turns around, startled at Jesse choking and fetches him a glass of water, passing it over the counter to him. He holds his hand up in a thank you gesture.

'You okay?' I ask, all concerned as I start to stroke his hardened length slowly.

'Fine,' His voice is all high pitched and stressed.

Cathy returns to preparing my breakfast and I continue wickedly playing havoc with Jesse's sanities. He drops his bagel and takes a silent, controlled inhale, looking at me with wide eyes.

Ignoring his shock, I roll my thumb slowly over his moist tip before drawing down again to his base. I feel the incessant throb under my grasp and the wetness of cum escaping the tip. Gathering the moisture, I glide smoothly up and down his iron stiff erection.

I turn my eyes on him. 'Good?' I mouth, and he shakes his head in desperation.

I'm in my element. This has never happened. He must have a lot of respect for Cathy because I know for sure that with anyone else, I would have been hauled out of the kitchen by now.

'There you are, Ava.' Cathy slides a plate over the island to me.

I drop Jesse like a hot potato and slip my thumb into my mouth, before pulling my plate towards me. I hear a sharp intake of breath and feel his eyes burning into me.

'Thanks Cathy.' I say cheerfully. I pick my bagel up and take a big bite. 'Cathy, this is delicious.' I inform her as she starts loading the dishwasher. She looks at me and smiles.

I'm aware of scorching eyes still burning into my face as I enjoy my bagel, so I slowly turn to look at him, finding a face full of shock and horror.

He raises his eyebrows at me and then flicks his head to the kitchen exit. 'Upstairs, now.' he says quietly as he gets up. 'Thanks for breakfast, Cathy. I'm going for a shower.' He eyes me. I nod.

'You're welcome, boy. Can we go through what you would like me to do today? I'm all out of sync and I can see that you have done absolutely zero, except break doors and make holes in walls.' She dries her hands on a tea towel and gives Jesse's back a disapproving look.

He doesn't turn around to face her because he's concealing the huge arousal tenting the front of his lounge pants. I mentally chalk a tally for me on a smirk.

'Ava can sort that out with you as soon as she's helped me with something upstairs.' he shouts over his shoulder as he disappears.

Can I? I don't know what Cathy does, or what he wants her to do today, and I have absolutely no intention of following him upstairs to finish what I've started.

I sit exactly where I am, taking a deep breath of confidence. 'Cathy, I just wanted to apologise for yesterday and this morning.'

She rolls her eyes. 'Don't worry, darling, honestly.'

'I was so rude to you, and then this morning...well, I wasn't expecting company.' I feel my cheeks burning up again as I pick at the last bits of my bagel.

'Ava, really, it's fine. Jesse told me you had a bad day and he failed to notify you of my return. I understand.' She smiles at me as she dusts down her apron. It's a sincere smile. I like Cathy. With her grey bob, friendly face and floral skirts, she is typically wholesome.

'It won't happen again.' I take my plate to the dishwasher and go to open it, but the plate is whipped from my hand before I have a chance to see through my chore.

'I'll take that. You better go and help my boy with whatever it is he needs you for.'

Oh, I know exactly what he needs me for and I'm not going anywhere. He can sort himself out. It's killing me to deny him, but his face was just brilliant. 'Oh, he'll manage.'

'Okay, shall we go through what I should get on with? I have a roster, but being away for so long, it's all gone to cock!' She takes a pad and pen from the front of her apron and gets ready to take notes. 'I should probably start with the washing and ironing.'

'Urm, I'm not sure,' I shrug. 'I don't even really live here.' I whisper. I want to add that I've been abducted and moved in against my will.

'You don't?' Her face is puzzled 'My boy said you did.'

'Well, it's a conversation yet to be had,' I explain. 'He doesn't like the word no. Well, not from me, anyway.'

Her shiny forehead furrows. 'What, my easygoing boy?'

I scoff. 'Yes, so I'm told.' If anyone else says he's easygoing, I might just trample them.

'Well, it's nice to have a lady in the house.' she says, collecting some cleaner from under the sink. 'My boy needs a girl.' she muses to herself.

I smile at Cathy's affectionate referral to Jesse. I wonder how long she has worked for him? Jesse had said that she was the only woman he couldn't live without, although I suspect that has changed now.

She sprays the worktop down with anti-bacterial spray and starts wiping. 'I'll wait for Jesse then, if you would prefer.'

'Yes, thank you. I'm just going to make a few calls.' I notice my phone charging on the side but no bag. 'Have you seen my bag?'

'I popped it in the cloakroom, darling. Oh, and I've had Clive sort out the elevator door.'

I cringe. 'Oh, thank you.' I grab my phone and make my way out of the kitchen to retrieve my bag. She probably thinks I'm a slob as well as a rude cow, a vandal and a flasher.

I find my bag and glance down at my phone, noting two missed calls from my Mum and a text from Matt. My shoulders sag. I should delete it, but curiosity gets the better of me.

I don't know what got into me. I'm sorry x.

I bristle from head to toe and delete the message. The last thing I need is Jesse finding it. He was sorry before and it's still bothering me how he knows about Jesse. I should ring my Mum first, but I have a friend with some explaining to do. She takes a while, but she eventually answers. I know she'll be looking down at her screen, wondering what to say.

'You're a member!' I blurt accusingly when she finally picks up.

'And?' She's aiming for nonchalance, but I'm detecting irritation.

'Why didn't you tell me?'

'It's none of your business.' she retorts.

'Thanks!' I'm completely offended. We tell each other everything.

'It's just a bit of fun, Ava.' she huffs impatiently.

I've heard this before, but I know there's more to it. I know she likes Sam and I can't see how joining him in all things kinky and going along with his lifestyle is going to get her what she wants. This is a disaster waiting to happen. 'You keep saying that.' I grate down the phone. 'Why won't you admit there is more to it?'

'Like what?' she asks, her tone indicating surprise - surprise that I've come out and asked the million dollar question.

'Like you really like him.' I say, completely exasperated.

She scoffs. 'I do not!'

'Oh, you're hopeless.' I snap. Why can't she just swallow her pride and admit it? What harm would it do, especially to me?

'Talking of hopeless; how's Jesse? Fuck me, Ava. That man can screw!'

I laugh. 'Yes, he can. Matt tried to jump my bones before Jesse ambushed the flat. He proceeded to tell Jesse that we had a little snog. I think Matt might be nursing a black eye this morning.'

'Ha, good!' She laughs, and I can't help the small smile of satisfaction developing on my face. He deserved it.

'He knows about Jesse's little drink issue.' I add. I'm not laughing now.

'How?' Her shock matches mine.

'I have no idea. Anyway, I've got to ring my mother. I guess I'll see you later.'

'Oh yes!' she chirps excitedly. I can't match her excitement for the anniversary dinner tonight. 'See you there!'

'Bye.' I hang up and dial my mother before she sends out the search party.

'Ava?' Her shrill voice assaults my eardrums.

'Mum, not so loud!'

'Sorry. Matt's called again.'


I take myself across to the main open area and sit myself down. Any hopes of being cheered up by my mother have been well and truly dashed with that little statement.

'Ava, he said you've moved in with a raving alcoholic who has a terrible temper. He beat Matt up!'

I fall back in a chair and look up to the ceiling in total mental exasperation. Why can't the prick just crawl into the dark hole he came from and die? 'Mum, please don't speak to him anymore.' I plead. What a lowlife he really is, dumping this shit on my parents. It just reinforces my conclusions about the deceitful, nasty snake.

'Is it true?' she asks tentatively. I can see her in my mind's eye flicking a worried glare at my Dad.

'Not exactly,' I can't completely lie to her. She'll have to find out where I am eventually. 'It's nothing like Matt says, Mum.'

'Well, what is it then?'

Oh, I can't do this over the phone. There is far too much to explain and I don't want her passing judgment on Jesse. I could kill Matt. 'Mum, listen. I've got to get to work.' A little white lie won't hurt.

'Ava, I'm so worried about you.'

I can sense her despair. I hate Matt for doing this, but he said he was sorry. Was that before or after he called my parents to give them an update on my love life? I should send Jesse around to trample all over him. 'Please, don't be. Matt wanted me back. He pounced on me when I went to collect the last of my things and turned nasty when I rebuffed him. Jesse was just protecting me.' I try to cut a long story short and purposely leave out any parts that could tarnish Jesse. There are a few.

'Jesse? Was that the man you were with when I called last weekend?'

'Yes.' I sigh.

'So, he's not just a friend?' Her tone is scornful. She's rumbled my small white lie and she won't be happy about it.

'I'm just seeing him. It's nothing serious.' I try and play it down and laugh in my head. I can't believe I just said that.

'And he's an alcoholic?' she prompts.

I let out a tired breath that I know she won't appreciate. 'He's not an alcoholic, Mum. Matt's being spiteful, ignore him. And don't answer anymore of his calls.'

'I'm not happy about this. There is no smoke without fire, Ava.' She really doesn't sound happy and I can't blame her. I've never been so glad that they live so far away. I don't think I could face her. 'Your brother will be back in London soon.' she adds threateningly. I know for sure she'll be hanging up on me and ringing Dan immediately to give him the lowdown.

'I know. I've got to go.' I push.

'Fine, I'll speak to you over the weekend,' she says on a huff. 'Take care of yourself.' She adds the last bit a little more softly. She never ends a conversation on a bad note.

'I will, I love you.'

'You too, Ava.'

I drop my phone in my lap and keep staring up at the high ceiling. Will he continue to shit all over me? The temptation to ring Matt's mother is overwhelming. I've never been her favourite person and she's never been mine. Her little golden boy can do no wrong, so calling her and filling her in on Matt's transgressions would be fruitless. Oh God, my parents will be frantic.

I close my eyes and try to dispel all thoughts of hideous ex-boyfriends and worrying parents. It doesn't work. When I open them again, Jesse's face is floating above mine, a hand braced on each arm of the chair as he leans over me.

His big smile disappears when he registers my expression. 'What's up?' he asks, all concerned. I don't want to tell him. The last thing I need is to rile him after yesterday's events. 'Hey, tell me. No more secrets.'

'Okay,' I say as he crouches in front of me so our eyes are level.

He takes my hands in his. 'Come on then.' he prompts when I don't elaborate on my okay. I don't want to start the day off with a Jesse rage.

'Matt phoned my parents and told them I'm shacked up with a raving alcoholic who beat him up.' I blurt it out fast and brace myself for the storm. I can see the colour rising in his face already as he chews his bottom lip. I've changed my mind; I don't think I want to send Jesse around to sort Matt out. By the look of his face, he would probably kill him.

I sit and wait pensively for Jesse to ponder whatever it is he is pondering.

'I'm not an alcoholic.' He eventually grates.

'I know.' I give him my most re-assuring voice, but I fear I just sound patronising. He really doesn't like being called an alcoholic, and now I'm wondering if he's right or if he's in denial. He looks so angry, I wish I had kept my mouth shut.

'Jesse, how does he know?'

He stands up straight. 'I don't know, Ava. We need to have a chat with Cathy.'

Is that it? Is he not going to try and find out? 'Why do we need a chat with Cathy?' I ask shortly.

'She's been away. She needs to know stuff.' He puts his hand out to me and I let him pull me up.

'Like what?'

'I don't know,' he answers on a huff. 'That's why we need to talk to her.' He tries to tug me towards the kitchen.

I pull my hand away. 'No. You, Jesse. This is your place, she is your housekeeper.' I shake my head. That little comment has just earned me an almighty growl and a glare.

'Ours!' He reaches around me, grabs my bum and yanks me to his body. 'You really know how to rub me up the wrong way. Which reminds me,' He rolls his groin into me. 'That was cruel and unreasonable.' He arches his brow. 'I waited upstairs and you didn't show.'

A small chuckle escapes my mouth. 'What did you do?'

'What do you think I did?'

I burst into fits of laughter at the thought of my poor man resorting to a quick wank because I'm a child and a tease. I'm soon shut up, though, when I feel him grind into me again. I catch his eyes. They are dancing in delight. I know his game and with Cathy in the kitchen, I also know he has no intention of seeing me through to the end. I wriggle out of his arms and straighten myself out.

'I'm sorry.' I say on a grin. I'm not.

He narrows his dazzling greens on me. All of the anger has gone, thank God. 'You will be.' He makes a grab for me and positions me back in front of him. 'Don't do it again.' He kisses me hard, grinds his hips, and then removes himself from me, leaving me dazed and disorientated.

I scowl at him. 'Go and talk to your housekeeper.' I make a rubbish job of pretending he doesn't have an effect on me.

'Ours! For fuck sake woman!' He clenches his jaw in frustration at me. 'You're impossible!'

Me? 'You go and talk to the housekeeper. I need to make peace with Clive.' I leave him with a face like thunder. 'Bye, Cathy.' I call as I leave the penthouse.

I exit the elevator timidly. I've won Cathy back over, now it's time to work on Clive. I have the urgent need to cleanse my soul. I laugh inwardly. A few apologies to the staff of Lusso isn't going to cut it, and now Clive knows about the elevator door, I expect he's even more cross with me.

I spot him collecting the post from the mailboxes. 'Morning, Clive.' I say cheerfully.

He looks up as he locks the mailbox. There is no escaping his grievance with me. 'Ava.' he replies with no friendliness. It's beyond formal. I've really upset him.

'Clive, I'm so sorry.'

'You caused me untold inconvenience.' He shakes his head as he makes his way back to his desk. 'And I have no idea what happened to the elevator door. You're like a whirlwind, Ava.'

Me? I roll my eyes. I'm not defending myself. 'I know. Tell me how I can make it up to you.' I rest my elbows on the high desk and plaster on my most angelic face.

'Don't look at me like that, young lady.' he admonishes me.

I flutter my eye lashes, and he tries his best not to smile, but the corners of his mouth are twitching. I've nearly got him. 'What's your favourite tipple?' I ask. Old boys' are a sucker for a good whiskey. He glances up from the post he is sorting out.


'I don't mind a Glenmorangie Port wood finish.' His eyes light up.

'Done,' I say, and he smiles. 'I really am very sorry. I don't know what got into me.' I do know what got into me; Jesse Ward got into me.

'Consider it forgotten. Here's your post.' He hands me a couple of envelopes.

'Thanks, Clive.'

I turn and walk out into the sunshine, putting my sunglasses on and shoving the envelopes in my bag. It's a lovely day, and I'm looking forward to spending all of it with Mr Challenging.

'You'll have to talk to her,' Jesse strides out of the foyer of Lusso. 'She's asking about favourite foods, toiletries and all sorts.' He's clearly exasperated.

Watching him approach, I take him in, all six foot three inches of lean loveliness. I smile to myself. I will never tire of admiring him. His stonewashed jeans hang low on his hips and the white t-shirt is gripping his biceps slightly. He has his Wayfarers on and he's not shaved. I could eat him.

'What are you grinning at?' he asks, completely amused as he approaches me.

'Do you not find it strange that you don't know those things?' My voice is critical and intended to be. It's ridiculous that we don't know these basic facts about each other.

He grabs my hand and leads on. 'Your point being?'

'My point is that we don't know much about each other.' I say. He can't argue with that. It's a perfectly accurate statement.

He pulls me to a stop. 'What's your favourite food?'

I frown. 'Smoked salmon.'

'I knew that,' he smiles. 'What deodorant do you use?'

I roll my eyes. 'Vaseline.'

He looks up to the heavens and blows out a fake, relieved breath before returning his eyes to mine. 'I feel like I know you so much better now,' he mocks. 'Happy?'

He thinks he's clever. He just won't admit that it's unusual not to know these things. 'We're driving?' I ask as he opens the passenger door for me to get in.

'Well, I'm not walking and I don't do public transport, so yes, we're driving. Anyway, we need to shoot over to The Manor to check everything is in place for tonight.'

I think I just about disguise my inward groan. Great, I get a day off work to spend with Jesse, and I'm being dragged to The Manor day and night. I get in and wait for Jesse to slide in beside me.

We take off towards the city, the morning rush hour traffic not bothering Jesse in the slightest. Oasis sing Morning Glory, and I watch Jesse as he hums along, tapping his steering wheel and performing his usual swerving, cutting in and general poor road manners. He looks so trouble free and happy with himself. This is the easygoing Jesse who everyone keeps telling me about. After the more recent revelations, I feel like a weight has been lifted. I know he has a history and a pretty sordid one at that, but it's in his past. He loves me. I don't doubt it for a minute.

'What?' He glances across, catching me studying him.

'I was just thinking about how much I love you.' I say casually as I let the window down a bit. It's hot in here.

'I know you do,' He reaches over and grasps my bare knee. 'Where am I heading then?'

Well that's easy. 'Oxford Street,' I reply. 'All of the stores I like are on Oxford Street.'

His face screws up disapprovingly. 'All of the stores?'

'Yes.' What's the matter with him?

'Isn't there just one shop you go to?'

Just one shop? He thinks I'm going to find a dress in the first shop I walk in? 'I want some new shoes as well. And maybe a bag. You won't find it all in one store.'

'I would!' he says, stunned at my intention to drag him around more than one shop. I can't imagine Jesse shopping for clothes. Men's shopping is a lot simpler than women's. If he's expecting a similar experience to when he goes shopping, then he's in for a shock.

'Where do you go?' I ask.

'Harrods. Zoe sorts me out every time. It's quick and pain free.'

'Yes, that's because you pay for the service you get.' I reply dryly.

'The service is second to none and worth every penny. They're the best at what they do.' he says firmly. 'Anyway, you're not buying the dresses, so I get to choose the shopping style.'

My head snaps up. 'One dress, Jesse, you owe me one dress.' I remind him. He shrugs, completely ignoring me. 'One dress.' I affirm.

'Lots of dresses.' he says to himself.

Oh no! He is not buying my clothes. I've had one shopping experience with him, and he nearly had an epileptic fit over the length of my dress. Yes, I only bought the stupidly expensive thing in a childish revenge fit, but the point is; he thought he could dictate what I wear. He wants to buy my clothes so he can choose them.

'You are not buying my clothes!' I say with all the disgust I truly feel.

He looks at me like I've just grown another head. 'I fucking am!'

'No, you're not.'

'Ava, this is not up for discussion. End of.' He removes his hand from my knee to change gear.

'No, you're right, it's not. I buy my own clothes.' I turn Oasis up to drown out any counter attack. I'm not budging on this. I will buy my own clothes. End of!

We travel the rest of the way with only Oasis filling the silence. I catch him chewing his bottom lip and the cogs are turning so fast I can almost hear them. I smile because if we were not in public, I would be having a sense fuck right about now. Instead, though, he's thinking about how else he can go about getting his way.

He parks up then turns to face me. 'I have a proposition for you.' he tells me confidently.

Ah, the cogs at work. I've no doubt the end result of this proposition will be Jesse getting his own way. 'I'm not bargaining with you and there is no scope for a sense fuck here, is there?' I say smugly, getting out of the car.

Jesse jumps out and walks around the car to join me on the pavement. He narrows his eyes on me. 'Mouth! You already owe me a retribution fuck.'

'Do I?'

'Yes, another for your little performance at breakfast.' he reminds me.

I knew I wouldn't get away with it. 'I don't care what you propose. You're not buying my clothes.' I say haughtily. Jesse's comment about only wearing dresses springs to mind. He was serious, no doubt.

'You've not even heard me out,' he complains. 'You'll like what I'm going to propose.' He grins. His confident persona is back, and I'm intrigued. I study him for a second and his grin widens. He knows he's got my attention.

'What?' I ask. What's he going to entice me with?

His eyes twinkle in satisfaction. 'You let me spoil you,' He tips his finger under my chin to shut my mouth when I try to object. 'And I will tell you how old I am.' He lowers his mouth to mine and seals his deal with a deep kiss.


I allow him to kiss all of my obstinacy right out of me on the busy London pavement. Once again, I'm completely and utterly taken by this man, who lays one finger on me and renders me easy. He moans into my mouth as he tips me back, holding me suspended in his arms.

'I know how old you are.' I say against his lips.

He pulls back and gazes down at me. 'Do you?'

I gape at him. 'You lied?' He's not thirty seven? How old is he then? Bloody hell, is he older? 'Tell me.' I demand on a scowl.

'Oh no. Spoil first, age confession later. You might turn me over. I know my beautiful girl can play dirty.' He grins and returns me to a standing position.

'I won't,' I scoff. I will! 'I can't believe you lied to me.'

He gives me an inquiring eye. 'I can't believe you handcuffed me to the bed.'

No, I can't believe I did that either, but it seems the whole episode was fruitless, after all. He takes my hand and leads me across the road and into the store.

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