Beneath This Man

Chapter 23

As the full room comes into view, I concentrate on maintaining my steady breathing. It's hard. The background music that is overwhelming my hearing is the absolute essence of sex and only increases my heartbeat further.

The vast room is as beautiful as I remember it, with all of the exposed beams prominent and the gold chandeliers dimly lit. The Austrian blinds are all drawn at the Georgian sash windows and that, mixed with the dusky light from the chandeliers, gives it the key element; sensual and erotic, but not in a sleazy way. I can't put my finger on exactly why this is. How ironic that I'm surrounded by semi and fully naked people, and I'm admiring the decor.

Fucking hell. Naked people everywhere!

Jesse acknowledges numerous naked people as we make our way through the room. The women swoon and straighten their backs when they spot his presence, even though he has a firm hold of my hand. I feel so out of place, mainly because I'm fully dressed. I look up at him and see how unperturbed he is by the surroundings. Why would he be? This is normal for him. Unfolding before my eyes are various scenes, all of which muddle my mind, but at the same time totally captivate me. It's difficult not to look.

He glances down at me and smiles, giving my hand a little squeeze. 'Okay?' he asks, as he comes to a stop and turns to face me.

I nod and offer him a small smile. I look down at our joined hands when I feel him run his thumb over the top of mine. He has literally drawn all of the anxiety out of me with his touch. As I gaze back up at him, I find his eyes are watching our hands too. He continues to smooth his thumb over my skin as he turns to face a young woman, who is probably late twenties and trussed up on a heavy, wooden cross-like frame, just like the one in the extension. She's blindfolded with black satin and her mouth is slightly agape.

A man, naked from the waist up with legs slightly spread, stands before her, holding a crop in his hand. The look in his eyes is one of pure lust and appreciation as he slowly, deliberately traces the curves of her breasts with the tip. She's rippling under its touch.

Jesse's hand shifts slightly in mine, and I look up at him, but his gaze is set firmly on the scene before us. I return my eyes to the bound woman as the man slowly draws the crop down her front, between her breasts and towards her abdomen, circling the tip around her bellybutton in meticulous, measured movements. She's whimpering.

I shift on my heels and Jesse flicks me a curious glance. I ignore him and watch as the man continues his decent until the crop meets the juncture of her thighs and as she lets out a loud moan, he crashes his mouth against hers to swallow her sounds. He discards the crop and replaces it with his fingers, separating her and beginning a slow friction, up and down, building up her pleasure and her moans. Her body arches, pulling the restraints that are holding her hands secure to the frame, a signal that she's close.

I'm sweating, feeling slightly claustrophobic, and my heart rate has accelerated further. Her partner responds to her sounds by speeding up his strokes and hardening his kiss, the sound of tongues knotting and dueling becomes desperate, and in one stifled cry, she reaches climax and her body holds the bonds rigid as he slows his strokes down to work every last bit of pleasure from her. She slumps, dropping her chin to her chest. I involuntarily gasp, and I feel Jesse's hand squeeze mine in agreement. This is real intense stuff and I'm so surprised by it all. We're not the only ones watching the erotic scene in front of us. It has captured the interest of quite a few people, who have gathered around the couple. I look around and recognise various people from the bar and dinner, except now they are all semi clothed or naked. You have to be bloody confident to frequent the communal room.

Jesse tugs my hand to get my attention and I look up at him, but he just nods towards the scene. I look and find the man kissing her in gratitude. He recovers the crop from the floor and saunters slowly around to the back of her, dragging it on the floor as he goes. She is blind to his movements, but her sudden awareness is apparent as her body solidifies and she raises her head, panting. He starts to stroke her back, running his fingertips up and down the centre of her spine and then down to the cheeks of her backside. She hums in satisfaction, and I think I might have as well. I feel Jesse's eyes on me. He heard me too.

Oh God!

He caresses her perfect, firm cheeks, rubbing and kneading with the palm of his hand, and he groans as she arches her back and loosens again. After a few minutes of manipulating and stroking her pert bum, he withdraws his hand and I see the woman tense.

She knows what's coming. I know what's coming. Jesse's increased pressure around my hand confirms it too, but I can't drag my eyes away. He raises the crop and in one hard, fast stroke, he brings it down to meet one of her cheeks. She cries out, and I flinch at the sharp snap, turning my head away from the scene and into the hard vastness of Jesse's chest. Before I am aware, his free hand is cradling my head, pushing my face into his shoulder and pulling me closer to his body. The pressure of his hand around mine increases further and I hear another crack. My hand is released and he wraps it around my back to join his other, my arms bunched up in between our torsos. I'm completely cocooned by his body and despite my surroundings and what is taking place in it, this is the most comforting place I have ever been.

'This is not your thing, let's move on.' he whispers in my ear.

Move on to what? Will that be my thing? I resent the exposure I feel when he releases his big body from mine, but I let him take my hand and lead me away. I hear the crack of the crop again and again as we leave the area, and I snap my eyes shut each time, holding my breath. I just can't grasp what I've just witnessed. Pleasure and pain? Just the pleasure please! That part looked good, but then I remember being handcuffed myself and Jesse's hard slaps across my backside as he slammed into me. I'm not even going to pretend I didn't enjoy my retribution fuck.

'What is this music?' I ask as we round a corner and approach a group of people.

He looks down at me with a smile. 'Enigma. Is it making you horny?'

'No.' I scoff. It is! All of this is, but I'm not going to admit it, although my finger twiddling wildly in my hair is a dead giveaway. He laughs and bats my hand down as he stops me in front of one woman and three men.

Jesse bends his body so our eyes are level. 'Just for the record, none of this will ever happen with us.'

I look at him and he winks. It's bitterly endearing and I'm grateful for the clarification because I wouldn't share him either. 'What about the other stuff?' I try to sound casual and not hopeful. I think I pull it off.

His eyes snap to mine. 'I don't share you with anyone, Ava. Not even their eyes.' He sounds affronted and I smile, but I didn't mean in here specifically. There are private suites. Bloody hell, what's got into me? I turn my attention back to the scene before us.

A woman is laid out on a cushioned fur throw, her hands bound loosely with a strip of soft leather. Her eyes flick to Jesse's and she licks her lips. I actually let out a little laugh at her shamelessness. Not another one? She is completely naked and her eyes are full of want as she drags her stare from Jesse and diverts it to the three naked men looming over her. She wants Jesse too and I'm certain that what I'm about to see is going to be for his benefit.

The three men all take position, kneeling at various places around her strewn body and placing their hands on her in different positions. None of them go for the same area. They all know their place on her body. One slowly lowers his head to her breast and begins swirling his tongue around one of her nipples, bringing it to a stiff peak before sealing his mouth around her areola and sucking while massaging the mound under his mouth.

Another man is performing the same sensual routine on her other breast, working in unison with his fellow member, like they know how best to pleasure her. The woman's answering sighs and exhalations suggest they are succeeding in their endeavors. I can't help my own nipples tingling and puckering as I shift on the spot, feeling Jesse's eyes on me. I look up at him, and he quickly looks away, but he has a smirk tipping the corners of his lips. He knows I'm affected. I cringe and look back to the scene, willing my body to behave. Now the third man has joined in and is stroking and rubbing between her thighs.

Oh hell!

The slickness of her is making his fingers slide with ease over the outer edges of her entrance. He withdraws his hand to reach up and run his wet fingers across her bottom lip, and her tongue darts out, lapping up the wetness. His fingers fall to her chin and then begin a slow trail down the centre of her body before reaching her sex. She bucks in response to his touch, letting out a cry of frustration as he removes his hand. He lays his free arm across her stomach to prevent her movements and then plunges two fingers into her, smiling at her attempts to struggle free.

I'm watching, completely rapt, as she laps up the attention with intermittent moans, telling them they are making her a very happy woman, and I'm shocked to feel hugely turned on. She is being showered with attention from these men and their only pleasure is her pleasure.

I know Jesse's eyes are on me again, I can't look at him.

Just then, the guy at her thighs nods to the two men on her breasts - a silent signal - and they all release her from their touch. She yells at the loss of contact, but then cries out as her legs are pushed up, her knees apart and a mouth is slammed on her swelling folds. I cross my legs as I stand, then feel Jesse's hand relax around mine before squeezing hard.

Another of the men takes her mouth in a greedy claim while the last man goes back to her breasts. His hands cup both mounds, teasing and petting, while his tongue runs a trail between them, before he finally divides the attention of his tongue between each one at steady interludes. Each of the men frequently gaze up to her face and each time they are rewarded with a look of pure satisfaction, which seems to embolden them. She is being worshipped by three magnificent males and you would have to be a nun for it not to turn you on.

Swiftly, her body noticeably tenses - a visual display that she is about to orgasm. I tense on the spot too. The attention increases as they get the signal she is close and everything suddenly becomes urgent. The man at her mouth catches her moans with his hard kiss and her knees spread further to give the man between her thighs better access. They're working as a team, building her up for explosion.

And then she falls apart on a loud cry that is only slightly stifled by one male's mouth. They work her through her orgasm, slowing the friction and speed of their strokes and licks. She relaxes and goes quiet as the men return to gently caressing her body with their mouths and hands. The man at her mouth releases her lips and reaches up to unbind her hands from the leather bond. He smiles as she rubs her wrists lightly and after a few minutes, she stretches out on the fur throw, her actions symbolic of satisfaction personified, and her gaze falls on Jesse again.

I shake my head in disbelief. Does she want to stand up and take a bow? Despite her brashness, though, it was pretty incredible and I was enthralled, but now I've got the inevitable niggling feeling of inadequacy. Jesse has been up here, he has done these things and he has done it with plenty of woman, some of which are in this room. How many and to what extent? I suddenly feel the flex of Jesse's hand between mine and realise that I have a vice hold on him. I gaze up at him and loosen my grip.

He's watching me carefully, trying to work out my thoughts and then he turns his full body to face me and takes my other hand. 'You're not an exhibitionist, Ava, and I love you all the more for it. You are mine and mine only and I am only yours. Do you understand me?' His voice is laced with concern. He knew what I was thinking.

My bones turn to mush, my heart misses too many beats and I stagger forward slightly. He pulls me into him, my forehead meeting his shoulder. He is solid and warm and all mine.

'Fucking hell.' he whispers as his chest concaves on a deep breath. 'I can't tell you how much I love you.' He kisses the top of my head. 'Come on, I want to dance with you.' He breaks away and tucks me under his arm to head for the door. After watching all of that, he wants to dance with me? He leans down. 'I bet if I checked, you'd be wet.' he says softly. My breath catches and I hear him laugh quietly. 'Only for me.' he reminds me. Not that I need reminding.

I glance over my shoulder and come to an abrupt, shocked halt. I watch as the woman is flipped over onto her hands and knees and one man slams into the back of her as another one of the men kneels in front of her. He trusts himself straight into her mouth, silencing her shocked yelps. My eyes widen at the sudden change in approach. They both pump into her, one at each end of her body, and the third man starts circling the kneeling mass of bodies. What the hell is he going to do?

Oh no!

I watch in horror as the third man collects something from the nearby cabinet and then lowers himself to the floor on his knees at the back of her. The other man pulls out and spreads her cheeks, giving him access to her arse. I need to walk away. I need to leave now, but I'm transfixed as I watch him insert something. I have no idea what, but it's big and it's only half submerged when he's finished. I can't rip my eyes away. He then leaves to allow the other man to re-enter her on a yell before he positions himself on his back under the woman. He grabs a breast with one hand, lifts his head and takes the other in his mouth, and then wraps his spare hand around his cock.

Oh good Lord. I feel Jesse tug my hand, and I look up at him, finding a cautious face. There must be no denying the look on mine. Please don't tell me he has done this sort of stuff.

'Come on, you've seen enough.' He pulls me towards the doors that will take me away from all of this. Jesus, the reality of this place has just slammed right into my poor, innocent brain.


'Don't, Ava.' He shakes his head without looking at me. He knows what I'm thinking. The inadequacy has returned, harder, more forcefully than before. 'I just need you.' he says, still refusing to meet my eyes.

'Have - '

'I said, don't.' He carries on leading me, and I choose not to push for anymore, not that I'd get an answer. I can't think of him like that.

As we reach the door, Natasha intercepts our escape. She's naked, except for a microscopic pair of satin knickers, her boobs jiggling all over the place as she comes to a stop in front of us. I don't know where to look.

'You're a bit overdressed, Jesse.' she purrs.

What? After what I've just endured, this is a sure fire way to tip me over the edge. I could slap her. My hand balls into a fist and my jaw tenses, but Jesse diverts us, taking us around to the side. 'Have some fucking respect, Natasha.' he snaps.

My simmering anger transforms into smugness at Jesse's short, curt retort to Natasha's impertinent performance, as we leave the communal room and an undoubtedly sour faced Natasha behind.

'I would like to send a memo too.' I say sardonically as he guides me down the stairs. These women need to be put in their place. They are a load of desperate, malevolent losers.

He laughs. 'Whatever you want, Ava.'

Really? It would save the hassle of accosting each and every one and dishing out the warnings. I might take him up on that offer, and I might also compile a staff memo reflecting the same subject matter. I would only need one copy of that one, though. How many copies would I need for the female members?

'Do you want a drink?' Jesse asks, as we approach the bar.

'Please.' I'm trying not to sound hurt, but I know I'm failing miserably.

He looks at me and by his thoughtful expression and his lip nibbling, I can tell he's regretting taking me up there. I'm regretting it too. This has not helped me in attempting to deal with Jesse's history.

'Why did you take me up there?' I ask. He knew what I was going to see. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't that.

'You want me to be more open with you.'

He's right. I do. I'm regretting that too. I'll never be able to wipe those sights from my mind, but I don't see strange men up there, kneeling or pleasuring. All I see is Jesse. I feel sick, but I asked for it.

'I never want to go up there again.'

'Then you won't.' he answers immediately.

'And I never want you to go up there either.' I'm being unreasonable by asking him to avoid the epicenter of his business.

He studies me carefully. 'I've no need to go up there. Everything I need is standing within touching distance and I plan on keeping her that close.'

I nod my head, my eyes darting across his body. 'Thank you.' I say quietly, feeling guilty for making such a demand and even guiltier that he's submitted with no questions, arguments or challenging.

He pushes my hair from my face gently. 'You find Kate and I'll get the drinks.'


'Go.' He turns me around, sending me on my way.

I make my way through to the summer room, avoiding the toilets, even though I could do with a wee. The dance floor is busy and I spy Kate immediately, her red hair a beacon in the crowd. I step onto the dance floor as Otis Reading's Love Man kicks in and Kate screams, thrilled at my arrival and the track.

'Where have you been?' she yells over the music.

'A tour of the communal room.' I shrug, but then the hideous thought of Kate up there stamps all over my mind. Oh God no!

Her big blues widen in astonishment, and then her pale face breaks out in a big grin. This does not assist in ridding my head of such unbearably awful thoughts. She grabs my hand and I grasp my dress so I can join her. Sam and Drew are very well oiled and performing some pretty criminal moves as they attract the attention of many women on the dance floor. Kate doesn't seem to mind. She keeps her hand in mine and rolls her eyes at her wayward fellow and his cheeky grin. She is as laidback and unthreatened as ever, but Sam, it would seem, is not so. He soon yanks her away from a man dancing a bit too close for his liking.

I jump and have a mild panic attack when a back presses up against mine, but his smell soon invades me and I turn my face into the chin that is resting on my shoulder.

'Hey, my beautiful girl.'

'You made me jump.'

'How did you know it was me?' he asks.

'Natural instinct.' I can't help but smile at him.

He smiles straight back. 'I'm going to dirty you up.'

He is? He reaches down and shifts my dress up ever so slightly, and then hunkers down behind me, taking me with him. He starts slowly circling his hips, placing his palm on my lower stomach and guiding me around with him. My rotating hips soon catch on to his tempo and we're in sync and in time to the band, who are doing an amazing rendition of the famous track. I throw my head back on a laugh when his arm appears suspended at the side, drifting up and down as he grinds his hips into mine, our circling speeding up and slowing in unison to the beat as I'm swayed from side to side and back and forth. Kate and Sam are in a tight clinch and Drew makes a grab for a woman who's blatantly asking for it.

I place my hand over his on my stomach and let him do his thing, with no reservations and no concern for the dozens of women around us, who are all suddenly well aware of Jesse's presence on the floor and have all upped their game in the dancing department. Their attempts to catch his eye will be in total vein. His chin is resting firmly on my shoulder as he dirties me up with his glorious, gyrating hips and with no regard for who is watching. It's all about me.

'Oh God, I love you.' he says in my ear, kissing my temple, then clasping my hand and sending me out on a little spin before returning me to his waiting chest. The dancers applaud, and the band kicks into Stevie Wonder's Superstitious. I hear Kate squeal from behind me. 'More dancing?' His eyebrow arches on a confident grin as he slowly sways me from side to side.

'Drink.' I plead.

'You can't keep up with your God, sweet temptress.' His voice is husky.

We're the only ones in an embrace as everyone around us gets down to the current offering from the band. Jesse's right; they are really very good.

He runs his nose up the side of my face and then circles it slowly. 'Are you happy?'

'Deliriously.' I don't hesitate. That is the easiest question I've ever had to answer. I pull him closer to me. There is too much space between us.

'Then my work here is done.' He pushes his face into my neck and breathes in deeply, and I smile in pure and utter bliss as he holds me tight, cocooning me in his arms. I've never been so happy, and I know I never will be. I can deal with his past.

'Your temptress is dying of thirst.' I say quietly.

I feel him grin against my neck. 'God forbid.' he says, releasing me under duress. 'Come on, I don't want to be accused of neglecting you.' He turns me in his arms and starts guiding me from the dance floor.

As I reach the edge, I'm aware of the sudden absence of Jesse's warm palm at the base of my back and I turn to search him out. My eyes are immediately assaulted at the sight of Jesse's alarmed face as four women - two of which are voice number one and three from the toilet - grab and stroke him as they manhandle him back onto the dance floor. These women really don't have any self-respect. I see Kate, Sam and Drew all with incredulous looks on their drunken faces as the women work together to restrain their prey. The poor man is trapped, and short of slapping them down, he's going nowhere. His distressed face is a result of anxiety because of me watching him fighting off the pack of wolves trying to nail him. And after our recent encounter in his office, he knows he's not the only one who wants to trample. God only knows what he would do if this situation was in reverse. The dance floor would be a bloodbath.

I walk calmly over to them and Jesse stops struggling against them, watching as I approach. His sudden submission has the women halting in their feeding frenzy. I put my hand out to him and he takes it immediately, all of the women dropping their hands from my man's body and watching me calmly claiming what is mine. I pull him towards me and spread my contemptuous glare on all four silent women. I say nothing, even though I'm boiling inside at their audacity. I turn, pulling Jesse from the dance floor. I hear a few gasps and definitely a whoop from Kate, but I don't look back. I'm relishing in the fact that for once, I'm leading Jesse. This has absolutely never happened and it doesn't for long. I'm scooped up and carried the rest of the way to the bar.

'I love it when you're all possessive.' he says contentedly. 'Kiss me, now.'

I want to point out that I only trample when necessary, but that would be a pointless exercise if ever there was one. I link my arms at the base of his neck and drown in his mouth while feeling a whole lot of eyes on us. Maybe the memos won't be required after all.

'There.' He places me on my customary stool and waves Mario over, who produces my drink immediately from behind the bar, along with two bottles of water.

I pick a bottle up and start swinging the water willingly before Jesse has the opportunity to demand it.

He perches on the stool opposite and gives me an approving smile. 'Mario, how's the stock?' he asks, as he stands back up and leans over the bar, running his eyes up the long row of endless glass doors. I glance over and see dwindling shelves.

'Ah, Mr Ward, you have thirsty members this evening,' He laughs as he removes some empty bottles from the optics. 'I'll do a stock take tomorrow. We have a delivery arriving on Sunday.'

'Good man.' Jesse says, sitting back down on the stool and placing his foot on my stools footrest. 'Are you okay?' He reaches over and straightens my diamond.

I stifle a yawn as I nod. 'Fine.'

He smiles. 'I'm taking you home. It's been a long day.' I welcome his suggestion. It has been a very long day. Trampling takes a lot out of you.

John walks into the bar, claps Jesse on the shoulder and nods at me. 'You good, girl?' he rumbles, and I nod at him too. I've suddenly lost the power of speech. I'm absolutely exhausted.

'I'm taking her home. Everything okay upstairs?'

'S'all good,' John confirms. He nods at me, and I'm yawning again. 'I'll call for your car. Take her home.' He gets his phone out and gives a few short, precise instructions before giving Jesse the nod.

'I need to see Kate.' I manage to mumble through my tired state. I go to lower myself from the stool but Jesse places his hand on my knee to stop me.

John performs that deep baritone laugh that reverberates through your entire being. 'I think I may have just seen her disappear upstairs with Sam.'


Jesse joins John in his amused state. 'Do you want to go and say goodbye?'

'No!' I know my face is screwed up in disgust and they laugh harder. Copping a load of Kate and Sam in the act? No, thank you. Oh God, will anyone else be joining them? Where's Drew? I frantically shake my stray, uninvited thoughts away. 'Take me home.' I shudder and drop onto my tired feet. All things considered, these shoes are incredibly comfortable, considering I've been in them for over seven hours.

Jesse and John exchange a few words, but my brain won't allow my ears to listen. I do, however, home in on him telling John not to expect him in tomorrow which means I'm getting my lie in with him, and I'll be performing an Oscar worthy hissy fit if he wakes me up with the dawn chorus and presents me with my running kit.

I say goodbye to Mario and John and let my head fall onto Jesse's shoulder as he leads me out of The Manor and puts me in his car before sliding in behind the wheel.

'I've had the best day.' I murmur dreamily, as my body moulds into the cool, soft leather. I really have, brazen hussies aside.

I feel his palm fall lightly onto my thigh and circle lazily. 'Baby, I've had the best day, thank you.'

'Why are you thanking me for?' I yawn again, my eyes getting heavy. It's me who's been spoiled and lavished with attention.

'For letting me remind you.' he says quietly.

I turn sleepy eyes onto him and smile, watching as he starts the car and pulls out hastily. I close my eyes and give in to my exhaustion. He's reminded me all right, and I'm so glad I let him.

'Evening, Clive.' I feel the vibrations of Jesse's voice drift into my body, which is secured firmly to his chest. I can't believe how tired I am.

'Mr Ward, should I get the elevator for you?'

'No, I've got it. Thanks.'

In my comatose state, I wonder if Clive lives here. He's supposed to be one of two concierges, but I've never seen the other one. I hear the penthouse door being kicked shut and in no time at all, I'm lying on the bed. I think I might leave the dress exactly where it is. I curl up on my side.

'Come on you. Let's get you out of that dress.' He rolls me onto my back.

'Leave it.' I grumble sleepily. I have zero energy.

I hear him laugh. 'I am not sleeping with you fully dressed, lady. Not ever. Come here.' He pulls me up by my hands and moves my legs to dangle off the bed, before removing my shoes. 'Up you come.' I'm tugged lightly to standing position and turned around. 'How do you get this thing off?' he asks, as his hands drift across the back and then down the sides of the dress.

I reach over my shoulder and point at the concealed zip. He grasps it, drawing it slowly down my back, and then pushes it off my shoulders. I step out and then fall back against his chest.

'I think I might just leave you in this,' His appreciative voice wakes me slightly as his palms smooth down my sides over the delicate lace of my corset and onto my hips. 'Teeth?'

'Please.' I start walking towards the bathroom with his palms resting on my waist.

He lifts me onto the vanity unit and loads my brush up with toothpaste before running it under a tap. 'Open.' he orders, and I let my mouth drop open, giving him access to my teeth.

He sets about brushing them with care, circling slowly and patiently while he holds my jaw. His concentration frown is set firmly in place and his eyes are shimmering with contentment, and I know it's because he's undertaking a task of his self-appointed job; looking after me.

He pulls the brush out. 'Spit.'

I empty my mouth and let him wipe away the stray paste from my lips, watching me as he slips his thumb into his mouth and sucks it off. I'm exhausted, but I'm not that exhausted. I spread my thighs and grab the front of his shirt, pulling him as close as I can get him.

He grins at me. 'Has someone woken up?' He cups my face with both hands and drops a tender kiss on my lips.

I've not completely woken up, but one of his hands in the right place and I will. 'It's you. It's instinctive.' I still sound half asleep.

'I never in a million years thought I would ever say this, but I'm not going to take you tonight.' He circles his nose with mine, and I shift my hips forward in invitation. Now I'm the brazen hussy. He pulls back and gives me a stern look on an arched brow. 'No.' he mouths and drops his hands from my face. 'Do you want to wash your make-up off?'

I'm shocked. 'Are you denying me?' I ask in disbelief. So it's one rule for him and another for me? My jilted state has woken me up good and proper now.

He starts chewing that lip, watching me curiously. 'I guess I am. Who would have thought?' He shrugs and runs a wash cloth under the warm tap. 'Show me that beautiful face.' I look up at him and he gently wipes the damp cloth over my scowling expression.

'But I thought we were going to make friends properly?' I'm very slighted and it's obvious in my tone.

He pauses and the edge of his mouth lifts. 'Are we not friends?'

'No, we're not.'

'Oh?' His brow furrows. 'Would you snuggle with someone you're not friends with?'

I purse my lips and place my palms on his firm arse, pressing him up against me. 'I might if my non-friend promises to make friends with me in the morning.'

He laughs lightly. 'Deal, let's go snuggle.' He lifts me from the vanity unit. 'I love you in lace, but I love you more naked and all over me. Let's take it off.' He strides into the bedroom, puts me on my feet and reaches around to unclasp all of the hook and eyes that are running down the centre of my back, letting the bodice fall to the floor before drawing my knickers down my legs.

He steps back and starts undressing himself as he nods towards the bed. I clamber in and settle down, my earlier tiredness returning as soon as my head hits the pillow. Jesse climbs in and lets me crawl onto his chest where I'm at my happiest. I feel his arms settle around my body and I'm drifting off, just like that.

'Tomorrow, we get all of your things from Kate's,' He shifts, pulling me further onto his body. 'On Monday, we tell Patrick, and I think you should be letting your parents know that I'm more than just a friend.'

I mumble an inaudible acknowledgment of his words. Moving in officially doesn't seem like such a concern now, but I'm mindful that Patrick and my parents might be a completely different scenario. Actually, Patrick I'm not so concerned about either, even with the Mikael situation, which I still haven't worked out how to deal with. My parent's opinion, though, has eclipsed everything. To the outside world, Jesse might seem like a controlling tyrant and he is to a certain extent, but he is also a whole heap of other things. I'm not sure my Mum and Dad will see past his obvious need to smother me and control me. They will see it as unhealthy, but is it unhealthy if you accept it? Not because you're frightened or vulnerable, but because you love them immeasurably and the times when you want to scream with frustration, and maybe even strangle them, are trumped by the times like this. He's challenging all right, and I fight him to a certain extent, but I'm not deluded enough to think that I'm the one wearing the trousers in this relationship. I know exactly why he is like this with me. I know he lives in fear of me being taken away from him, but I live with the same fear. And I'm not sure that Jesse's fear is an unreasonable one - not with my developing knowledge of his history.

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