This Man (This Man #1)(10)


by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘Are you okay?’ he asks softly, reaching for me again.

I brush him off. ‘Funnily enough, no, I’m not. Why did you do that?’

‘Isn’t it obvious?’

‘You want me,’

‘More than anything,’ he states flatly.

‘What? I’ve never met anyone so full of themselves. Did you plan this? When you rang me yesterday, was this your intention all along?’

‘Yes,’ he admits. There’s absolutely no apology in his tone. ‘I want you.’

I have no idea how to deal with this. He wants me, so he took me. ‘Can you open the gates, please?’ I start walking towards them, but they’re still unmoving by the time I reach them. I swing around in the most threatening manner I can muster. ‘Open the damn gates!’

‘You honestly think I’m going to let you go wandering aimlessly out there when you’re miles from home?’

‘I’ll call a cab. It’s not your concern. Open the gates.’

‘Absolutely not, I’ll take you.’

I look at his car. It’s an Aston Martin – all black, shiny and beautiful – it figures. ‘Just open the f**king gates!’ I scream at him.

‘Watch your f**king mouth!’

Watch my mouth? Watch my bloody mouth? I want to thump him, fall to my knees and cry in frustration, proper howl at the moon wails. I feel such a fool – humiliated and ashamed.

‘I’m not prepared to be a notch on your busy bedpost.’ I spit. I have a little more self-respect than that…kind of.

‘You actually believe that?’ He’s really very puzzled.

Give me strength. This man is the ultimate player, seeing and taking what he wants, when he wants it. Who does he think he is? Our confrontation is interrupted when his mobile starts ringing.

It’s swiftly removed from his pocket. ‘John?’ He turns and starts pacing. ‘Yeah…okay.’ The call is ended quickly. ‘I’ll take you home.’ He holds his hand out.

‘No, please. Just open the gates.’ I’m pleading, and it wasn’t the tone I was aiming for.

‘No, I’m not letting you out there on you own, Ava. End of. You’re coming with me.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Yes, you are.’

I snap my head up when a car pulls off the main road.

‘Fuck!’ Jesse roars, yanking his phone back out of his pocket, at the same time trying to make a grab for me.

The gates start to open and I run to grab my bag from my car.

‘John, don’t open the f**king gates.’ he yells into his phone. ‘Well, tell Sarah not to!’

As soon as the opening is big enough to allow, I squeeze through, just as they start closing again. I see Jesse run to his car, bashing something on the dash board. The gates start opening again. Won’t the man just give it a rest? I get my phone out and dial a cab number as I start walking down the lane. The call connects and I go to speak, but the wind is knocked clean out of me when I’m grabbed around my waist.

‘What!’ I scream as I’m hoisted from my feet, spun around and tossed over his shoulder.

‘You’re not wandering around on your f**king own, lady.’ he grates, his tone full of authority, making me feel younger, or him older – I’m not sure

‘What’s it got to do with you?’ I spit. I’m boiling mad and bobbing up and down as he strides back to his car.

‘Apparently, nothing, but I do have a conscious. You’re not leaving here unless it’s in my car. Do you understand me?’ He places me on my feet, grasps my elbow and guides me into his car before slamming the door and getting into my Mini to move it to the side of the driveway.

I smirk as I watch him yank the lever to slide the seat back as far as it will go, but even at its furthest away from the wheel, he still struggles to cram his tall, lean body in. He looks pretty stupid. I want to yell at him some more when he wheel spins and skids to a stop. My poor Mini has never been so ill-treated.

He huffs his way back and throws himself in his car, giving me a ferocious scowl before he starts the car and roars off.

The journey home is painfully silent and frighteningly fast. The man is a menace on the roads, and I wish he would at least put the radio on to rid the car of the awkward silence.

I begrudgingly admire the interior of his DBS. I’m cradled in the seat, with acres of black, quilted leather surrounding me, as I stare out of the window the whole way home. I feel his eyes fixed on me every so often, but I ignore it. Instead, I concentrate on the guttural roar of the engine as it eats up the road ahead. What has just happened?

He pulls up outside Kate’s, after I direct him in with short, sharp instructions, and I let myself out.

‘Ava?’ I hear him call me, but I shut the car door and race up the path to the house, cursing out loud when I realise he’s got my bloody car keys. I turn to make my way back down the path, but I hear the roar of his engine burning off down the road.

I screw my face up in my own private disgust. He’s done that on purpose so I have to call him. Well, he’ll be waiting a long time. I would rather go without my car. I traipse back up the path and bash on the door.

‘Where are your keys?’ Kate asks when she answers the door.

I think quickly. ‘My car’s having some new brakes. I forgot to remove my house keys.’

She accepts my excuse with no further questions. ‘There’s a spare door key in the pot by the kitchen window.’ She runs back up the stairs and I follow, immediately opening a bottle of wine before rummaging through the fridge for something to eat. Nothing takes my fancy. Wine will do.

‘Yes, please.’ Kate comes breezing back into the kitchen. She’s already jimmy-jammed up, and I can’t wait to join her. I pour her a glass, while trying to morph my face into anything other than the shocked expression that I know is still visible.

‘Good day?’ I ask.

She collapses into one of the mismatching chairs around the chunky, pine table. ‘I spent most of the day collecting cake stands. You would think people would be kind enough to return them.’ She takes a sip of her wine, gasping in appreciation.

I join her at the table. ‘You need to start asking for a deposit.’

‘I know. Hey, I have a date tomorrow night.’

‘With who?’ I ask, wondering if this one will make it past the first.

‘A very yummy client. He stopped by to collect a cake for his niece’s first birthday – a Jungle Junction cake. How sweet is that?’

‘Very sweet,’ I agree. ‘How did that come about?’

‘I asked him.’ She shrugs.

I laugh. Her confidence is charming. She must hold the world record for first dates. The only long term relationship she’s ever had was with my brother, but we don’t talk about that. Since they split and Dan moved to Australia, Kate has been on endless dates, none of them progressing past the first.

‘I’m going to get changed and give my Mum a call,’ I get up, taking my wine with me. ‘I’ll meet you on the sofa soon.’

‘Cool,’

I really need to speak to my Mum. Kate’s my best friend, but you can’t beat your Mother when you just want comfort. Not that I can tell her why I need comforting. She would be horrified.

Once I’m changed into my baggy pants and a vest top, I flop onto my bed and dial my Mum. It rings once before she answers.

‘Ava?’ Her voice is shrill, but still soothing.

‘Hi, Mum.’

‘Ava? Ava? Joseph, I can’t hear her. Am I doing it right? Ava?’

‘I’m here, Mum. Can you hear me?’

‘Ava? Joseph, it’s broken. I can’t hear anything. Ava!’

I hear my Dad’s mumbled moans in the background before he comes on the line. ‘Hello?’

‘Hi, Dad,’ I yell.

‘You don’t have to bloody shout!’

‘She couldn’t hear me.’

‘That’s because she had the bloody thing upside down, stupid woman.’

I hear my Mum laugh in the background, followed by a slapping sound that is, without doubt, her walloping my Dad’s shoulder. ‘Is she there? Can you hear her? Give me it here.’ There’s a little scuffle before she’s back on the line. ‘Ava? Are you there?’

‘Yes!’ Why didn’t I just ring the landline? She insisted I ring her new mobile so she can get the hang of it, but good God, she’s hard work. She’s only forty seven, but a complete techno-phobic.

‘Ah. That’s better, I can hear you now. How are you?’

‘Good. I’m good, Mum. You?’

‘Yes, everything’s fine. Guess what? We have exciting news,’ She doesn’t give me a chance to guess. ‘Your brother’s coming home to visit!’

I sit up in excitement. Dan’s coming home? I’ve not seen my brother for six months. He’s living the dream on the Gold Coast as a surf instructor and only comes home once or twice a year. We were so close. Kate’s going to freak out over this news, and not in a good way.

‘When?’ I demand.

‘Next Sunday. Isn’t it exciting? I was only saying to your Dad last week that we should fly out to see him, but he won’t get on a plane. You know what he’s like.’

My Dad’s fear of flying is highly frustrating to my poor Mum, who has to endure a two day drive to Spain every year. ‘Do you know what his plans are?’ I press.

‘He’s flying into Heathrow, coming straight down to Cornwall for the week to see me and Dad, and then he’s making his way back up to London. Will you come with him? You’ve not visited in weeks.’

I suddenly feel rotten. I’ve not seen my parents for nearly eight weeks. ‘I’ve been so busy at work, Mum. I’ve got the Lusso launch, it’s hectic. I’ll try my best, okay?’

‘I know, darling. How’s Kate?’ she asks. Mum still loves Kate. She was as devastated as I was when she and Dan called it quits.

‘She’s great.’

‘Good. Have you heard from Matt?’ she asks tentatively. I know she’s hoping it’s a big resounding NO. She wasn’t as devastated when Matt and I split up. He wasn’t Mum’s favourite person. Come to think of it, Matt wasn’t many peoples favourite person. We’ve talked since we split, but Mum doesn’t need to know that.

‘No, I’m just getting on with things.’ I inform her, hearing her sigh in relief. I won’t volunteer exactly what I have been getting on with. I’m too ashamed of myself.

‘Okay. Joseph, get the door, will you? Ava, I’ve got to go. Sue’s here to pick me up for yoga.’

‘Okay, Mum. I’ll ring next week.’

‘Okay. Good luck for your launch and have some fun!’ she orders. I know she thinks I’ve wasted seven years on two worthwhile relationships. She’s right. I have.

‘Bye, Mum.’

I hang up. Dan’s coming home. Well, that’s cheered me up a little. And I always feel better when I’ve spoken to my Mum. They’re miles away and I miss them like crazy, but I’m comforted by the fact that they’ve escaped the rat race of London, taking early retirement in Newquay after Dad’s heart attack scare.

My phone starts ringing and I look at the screen, expecting to see my Mothers number – she’s probably forgot to lock the keypad and sat on it – but it’s not. It’s Jesse Ward.

Ughhhhhhhhh! ‘Reject.’ I huff as I red button him and throw my phone on my bed. I leave my bedroom to go and join Kate on the sofa, hearing it ring again as I walk down the hall. I ignore it. The man is relentless. At least I don’t have to see him again. He’s given me the perfect reason to flatly refuse designing anything for him.