The band has started and people have filtered into the summer room.
'Motown?' I ask, a little surprised as I'm pulled through the few tables left set up.
'They're a great band. You want to dance?' He glances down at me with a half-smile, and I'm reminded that my man has some serious moves.
'Later.' I'm conscious that Kate is probably wondering what has happened and where I am. He nods and takes me through to the bar.
My stool is free and I'm lifted onto it. Kate, Drew and Sam are all holding position at the bar and all seem to be lit up, the alcohol flowing well.
'Where have you been?' Kate enquires, flicking a cautious glare at Jesse.
'In Jesse's office discussing a certain female who he called to free him after I left him handcuffed to the bed.' I blurt it all out quietly while I keep my eye on Jesse to ensure he's not listening. He's too busy ordering drinks with Mario.
'You left him there?' Kate face is somewhere between shock and amusement.
'Yes.' I didn't mention that before. 'He was really mad.'
'I'm not surprised. He called Sarah to free him?'
'Yes.' I grate. 'And he's slept with her.'
'Oh.' Kate's lips purse. 'Why would he call her?' She comes in closer, wedging herself between me and Jesse so she is stood in front of me.
'He couldn't get hold of anyone else. John was here and Sam was otherwise engaged.'
'What day was this again?'
'Wednesday.' I raise my eyebrows and watch as she mentally casts her mind back to Wednesday morning. The penny obviously drops because a guilty look washes over her face. I'm not even going to ask why Sam was unable to come to Jesse's rescue. 'Sarah took great delight in advising me. That and the pleasurable experience of listening to three women compare notes on Jesse's bedroom skills sent me over the edge.' I grumble.
'Oh dear.' Kate gives me a sympathetic face. 'History, Ava.'
'I know.' I shake my head disgustedly. 'Kate, I've got so much to tell you. Can we go out tomorrow night? I need to let off some steam.'
She nods and then lets out a small yelp as she's lifted from her feet and placed to the side by Jesse, giving him access to me. She slaps him on the shoulder playfully and giggles.
'Drink.' He thrusts a glass of water under my nose, and I take it without complaint. I watch him smile as I down the glass of water, before I hand him the empty glass. He nods in surprised approval, then replaces the empty with a glass of Mario's Most Marvelous stuff. 'See how easier things are when you do as you're told?' he says thoughtfully.
I narrow playful eyes on him and shake my head at his impertinence. Yes, it is, but his demands are not always as simple as drinking a glass of water. He turns away to catch up with Drew and Sam, but keeps a firm hand on my knee.
'Oh look.' Kate whispers.
I follow her gaze and see Sarah with a group of men, laughing, stroking, touching and generally feeling every single one of them up at every opportunity. Her beady eyes land on me, and she stares with a smug, satisfied look on her face - until I feel Jesse's lips on my cheek. I leave her seething in the knowledge that her little plan hasn't worked and turn my attention to Jesse. He winks at me and standing me up, he collects my arms and drapes them over his shoulders before sweeping his hands around my back and pulling me close, his forehead resting on mine. It's a gesture of reassurance. I'm grateful.
'You okay?' he asks.
I smile, pulling back to get an eyeful of his beautiful face. 'Perfect.'
We both jump at a flash of light and turn to see Kate with a camera pointing at us. Jesse grabs me and suspends me in his arms, my head flying back on a laugh as I register the continuous clicks and flashes of the camera.
His mouth rests on my throat. 'Smile for me, baby.'
I pull my head back up and find his green eyes shimmering with contentment...with happiness. I make him happy. I make him determined to live. I make him want to leave this lifestyle behind. I smile, lacing my fingers through his hair and pulling his lips down to mine.
'Okay,' Kate shouts. 'That's enough!'
Jesse has me, taking exactly what he wants, with no regard for our audience or any concern for our location. I'm returned to standing position and placed back on the stool, my drink handed to me before he returns to the male conversation, like he hasn't just silenced the room with his over-the-top, obviously out of character display of love. But I'm not blushing; I'm not concerned or embarrassed - not in the slightest.
I glance across the bar, finding Sarah spitting nails. 'She really doesn't like me, Kate.'
'Oh, fuck her!' Kate spits nastily. 'Do you care?'
'No, I don't. But I'm pissed that I have no choice but to suck up the fact that Jesse will be coming here daily and she'll be here.' Would he sack her if I asked him to?
Kate disappears from in front of me when Sam makes a grab for her and hauls her out of the bar. I sit up straight and wait with baited breath to see if she is yanked to the left towards the stairs, or to the right towards the summer room. They go to the right. I exhale, immensely relieved. I can't even think about that.
'Ava, dance!' she shouts, as she disappears from view. I'll find her in a minute.
I'm distracted by a man approaching Jesse with his hand outstretched. I recognise him. Jesse takes it, shaking it mildly as he shifts and flicks his eyes to me. I've noticed that as more drink flows, more people are approaching Jesse to converse - women mainly. They chat briefly and the guy tips his drink in my direction. Jesse glances towards me and then steps forward with him. He's probably mid-forties and his jacket is removed. He looks a little tipsy.
'Ava, this is Chris,' Jesse's tone suggests he would rather not be introducing me to Chris. 'He was the acting estate agent of Lusso.'
Of course. I knew I recognised him. He smiles a slimy smile, and I immediately dislike him. My aversion to estate agents is not lessened, even by this exclusive property agent. They are all the same, whether selling dumps or penthouses.
'Hi.' I put my hand out reluctantly, and he takes it. His palm is sweaty. I want to escape to the toilets to wash my hands immediately. 'It's nice to meet you.' I fake a sincere smile and notice Jesse smiling mildly, looking at my fingers in my hair.
'It's an absolute pleasure.' he drawls. He won't release my hand, and I flick nervous eyes to Jesse when Chris moves in closer, keeping a firm hold of my hand. 'I love this dress.' He runs his eyes down my front, prompting me to lean back slightly.
This is one brave man - either that or extremely stupid. Jesse is stood at his side in a nanosecond, jaw muscles going into overdrive. He's physically twitching. Honestly, it's always estate agents. Chris is soon removed from my personal space by a short, sharp yank of his shoulder. He stands back, where Jesse has put him, and watches as Jesse moves in, picking me up and taking my seat before resting me back down on his thighs.
'Chris, you'll do well to keep your hands and your eyes to yourself. Do that and I might not break your fucking legs, understand?' Jesse says it so calmly, but there is no denying the cutting edge to his tone.
I watch as Chris backs off with a justified worried look on his face. 'Jesse, I apologise. I assumed she was fair game.' he splutters.
'Excuse me?' I cough. Is he joking?
I feel Jesse tense beneath me. I panic. If I don't hold him down on this stool, Chris here will be slayed in two seconds flat. I place my hand on his leg and squeeze slightly. The heat is pouring from him and his heart is stabbing my back. I would love to set him on this cheeky swine, but I also want to see the night through without having to put an ice pack on Jesse's abused fist.
He lifts from the stool slightly and pulls me to his chest. 'I suggest you fuck off now.' he snarls maliciously.
I push back against him and throw Chris a fuck-off-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you look. He backs away vigilantly, and I doubt very much that he'll be back any time soon.
I crane my head around and give Jesse an inquiring look. 'Murderous?' I ask.
I get my very own scowl followed by a smothered face. 'Deadly.'
'Are all the women fair game?' This is news.
He shrugs. 'You don't join The Manor if you aren't sexually adventurous.'
Oh, lovely. I look around the bar, which has thinned out since the band started and the upstairs opened. The people I'm sharing company with look like any other people, but they are all here for one reason and that has nothing to do with the posh sports facilities that The Manor boasts. One thing is certain, judging by all of the prestigious cars that are often parked outside - they are all very rich people.
'How much is the membership?' I ask. My curiosity is getting the better of me.
He works his face right into my neck. 'Why, do you want to join?'
'I might.' I say flippantly.
He bites my neck. 'Sarcasm doesn't suit you, lady.' He pulls me up further onto his lap. 'Forty five.'
'A month?' That's not bad.
He laughs. 'No, grand a year.'
He clamps his teeth on my ear and then rolls his hips into my bum. 'Mouth.'
I moan a little at his evident hard state. Forty five thousand a year is ridiculous money. These people must all be stupid or desperate, but as I look around, there are no particularly ugly men and women. They all look like they could get some if they wanted to.
'Hey, does Kate pay that?' I know she's not short of a few quid, but she is very shrewd with her cash.
'What do you think?' he asks on a little laugh. I don't know? Did Jesse waiver the membership fee because she's my friend? Would he do that?
Oh! 'Sam,' I say in realisation. 'Sam paid.'
'At mates rates, of course.'
He applies mates' rates for membership to his sex haven? I'm on another planet at the moment. This sort of thing is way past my comprehension and here I am, dining and drinking with these people and dating the owner. Who would have thought?
'I wish you had refused.' I grumble. Kate might be laidback, but I can't help thinking that she is coasting towards complete disaster.
'Ava, what Sam and Kate do is their business.'
I scowl to myself. 'How many members are there?' I really am very interested in the workings of The Manor and the lifestyle these people choose to lead.
He brings his palm up to my forehead and pushes back until the back of my head rests on his shoulder. 'Someone is very nosey, considering they hate the place.' He kisses my cheek.
I shrug casually in a gesture that suggests I couldn't care less whether he told me or not, but I'm surprisingly interested. It's made him a very rich man, even if it is thanks to Uncle Carmichael. 'I'm not nosey.'
He laughs lightly. 'At the last count, I think Sarah said fifteen hundred-ish, but they're not all active at the moment. Some we don't see from one month to the next, some of them meet people and start a relationship and others take a break from the whole scene.'
I do a quick mental calculation in my head and come up with a whole lot of millions. 'Is the restaurant and bar included?'
'No!' he says shocked. I don't know why. For forty five thousand pounds a year I would want more than an open invitation to have sex with anyone and everyone. 'The bar and restaurant are a separate entity. Some members eat breakfast, lunch and dinner here four or five times a week. I wouldn't be making much money if I included all meals and drinks in with their memberships. They have accounts they settle on a monthly basis. Turn around, I need to see you.' He nudges me to get up and positions me between his thighs. He brushes my hair over my shoulder and straightens my diamond before taking my hands in his. 'Would you like to see upstairs?' he asks, and then commences chomping his lip.
I withdraw slightly. I know he doesn't mean the suites, I've seen them, or I've seen one of them. He means the communal room and I've seen that too, but it was empty and being cleaned when I stumbled across it. Do I want to see it?
I bloody do as well. I don't know if it's Mario's Most Marvelous giving me a bit of spunk, or if it is just pure curiosity, but I really want to be in the know. 'Okay.' I utter the word quietly before I talk my way out of it, and he nods ever so slightly, almost thoughtfully.
He stands and I let him lead me into the entrance hall and to the bottom of the stairs. I gaze up to the massive gallery landing, hearing the comings and goings of people in and out of rooms. I let Jesse slowly tug me up the stairs. I know he's taking it leisurely to give me time to retract my decision, and I want to tell him to hurry up before I do. We reach the top and start circling the landing until we arrive at the stain glass window. There are people milling around everywhere, all fully dressed, some outside rooms, some just chatting. It's bizarre.
'We need to get cracking on those next week.' Jesse says, pointing through the archway to the extension. I can see now why he needs to. 'Ready?' he asks.
He turns into me and I know he's watching me as I stare up at the double doors that lead into the communal room. My eyes are pulled to his like the magnets they absolutely are and his deep green pierces me. He knows everything about this place makes me immensely uncomfortable. Why wouldn't he? I've given him no reason to suggest otherwise, but he doesn't seem pissed off that I clearly find his establishment sleazy and dark. He's not offended. It's like he almost approves of my reaction and aversion.
He moves closer, preserving the eye connection until we are stood chest to chest. 'You're curious.' he murmurs.
'Yes.' I confess without hesitation. I am.
'You don't have to be so apprehensive. I'll be with you, guiding you through. If you want to leave, say the word and you're out of there.' His attempt at reassuring me is weirdly working. He squeezes my hand and I'm calmer, more comfortable and at ease, as he gives me a gentle tug towards the stairs. I kick my feet into gear and let him lead me up the stairs, my heart jumping a little harder as we get closer.
'There will be various acts in progression. Some will be mild, some not so much. It's important for you to remember that everything transpiring is because all parties have agreed. Just by being in this room doesn't necessary show your desire to participate in any of the acts.' He looks down and grins. 'Not that you ever will. I'm making it my mission objective to ensure that every man knows what the consequences will be if they approach you.' He returns his eyes forward. 'I might send a memo out.' he muses.
A small laugh escapes my mouth. He probably would as well. He flicks me mischievous eyes and a soft smile and my love for him intensifies further.
I let him lead me through the open, dark wood double doors and into the communal room.