This Man (This Man #1)(6)


by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘Reject.’ I huff at my phone, stabbing at the red button and stuffing it in my bag as I continue down the corridor. ‘Oh God, I’m Sorry!’ I splutter, slamming straight into a chest.

This chest is a very firm chest, and the intoxicating fresh water scent that’s washing over me is way too familiar. My legs refuse to move, and I know what I’m going to see if I look up. His arm is already wrapped around my waist to steady me, my eyes level with the top of his chest. I can see his heart beating through his shirt.

‘Reject?’ he says softly. ‘I’m wounded.’

I push myself away from his grasp, attempting to regain my composure. He looks stunning, wearing a charcoal suit and crisp white shirt. I laugh at myself and my inability to get my eyes past his upper body for fear of being hypnotised by the potency of this man’s sludgy gaze.

‘Is something funny?’ he asks. I suspect he’s frowning at my random outburst, but because I refuse to look at him, I can’t confirm that.

‘I’m sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going.’ I side step him, but he grabs my elbow, halting my escape.

‘Just tell me one thing before you leave, Ava.’ His voice prickles at my senses, and I find my eyes travelling up the leanness of his body until our stares meet. His face is serious, but still stunning. ‘How loud do you think you’ll scream when I f**k you?’

WHAT? ‘Excuse me?’ I manage to splutter around the lead that is my tongue.

He half smiles at my shock, placing his index finger under my chin and pushing my gaping mouth shut. ‘I’ll leave that one with you.’ He releases my elbow.

I flash him a displeased scowl before I walk back to the table as steadily as my boneless legs will allow. Did I really just hear him right? I slide myself onto the chair, immediately glugging down my wine to try and moisten my parched mouth.

When I look up at Kate, she’s openmouthed, exposing half chewed chips and bread. It’s not attractive. ‘Who the f**k is that?’ she mumbles around her food.

‘Who?’ I look around, simulating unawareness.

‘Him,’ Kate points with her fork. ‘Look!’

‘I saw, and I don’t know.’ I grate. Drop it!

‘He’s coming over. You sure you don’t know him? Fuck, he’s hot!’ She looks at me. I shrug.

Please, go away. Go away, go away! I pick up a stray piece of lettuce from my BLT and start nibbling at the edges. I’m tense all over, and I know he’s getting closer because Kate’s gaze is lifting upwards to accommodate his height. I wish she would shut her bloody gaping mouth!

‘Ladies,’ His low, throaty voice prickles at my skin, doing nothing to relax me.

‘Hi,’ Kate spits, chewing rapidly to rid her mouth of the obstruction to speech.

‘Ava?’ he prompts. I wave my piece of lettuce at him to acknowledge his presence but without having to look at him. He laughs lightly.

Out the corner of my eye, I see his body slowly lowering until he’s squatting at the table next to me, but I still refuse to look at him. He rests one arm on the table, and I hear Kate cough and splutter on the remnants of her food.

‘That’s better,’ he says. I can feel his breath on my cheek.

Reluctantly, I look up through my lashes and find Kate gawking at me – all wide eyed and yes-he’s-still-there-talk-you-idiot! I can think of nothing to say. Once again, this man has rendered me useless.

I hear him sigh. ‘I’m Jesse Ward, pleased to meet you.’ I see his hand reach across the table.

Kate takes it eagerly. ‘Jesse?’ she splutters. ‘Oh! Jesse,’ I can feel her glaring at me accusingly. ‘I’m Kate. Ava mentioned you have a posh hotel.’

I scowl across the table.

‘Oh, she mentioned me?’ he asks softly. I don’t have to look at him to know he’s displaying a smug, satisfied face at this news. ‘I wonder what else she’s mentioned.’

‘Oh, this and that,’ Kate flips casually, but it’s too late to back track on her previous statement. I throw her my filthiest look.

‘This and that.’ he counters softly.

‘Yes, this and that.’ Kate affirms.

Fed up of the pointless little exchange that they both seem to be enjoying, I take the situation into my own hands, turning my eyes onto him. ‘It was nice to see you, goodbye.’

Our eyes latch immediately, and I’m ruined by his sludgy green eyes, all hooded, dark and demanding. I can feel his breath waver and it draws my eyes away from his, but only to his mouth. His lips are moist, slightly parted, and his tongue slowly creeps out of his mouth, running a leisurely path across his bottom lip. I can’t take my eyes off him. Without any encouragement at all, my own tongue responds with a happy little adventure across my bottom lip. It betrays my effort to appear emotionless…unaffected. I’m so affected.

This is crazy. This…whatever this is…it’s just crazy. He’s over confident and arrogant, but probably has the right to be. I desperately do not want to be affected by this man.

‘Nice?’ He leans forward, grasping my thigh, causing hot liquid lava to flood my groin. I shift my legs, squeezing my thighs together to restrict the pulsation that threatens to break out into a full, hard throb. ‘I could think of lots of words, Ava. Nice is not one of them. I’ll leave you to consider my question.’

Oh, good Lord! I gulp as he leans into me at half height, pressing his damp lips against my cheek, holding his kiss forever. I clench my teeth in an effort not to turn into him.

‘Soon.’ he whispers. It’s a promise. He releases my tense thigh and rises. ‘It was nice to meet you, Kate.’

‘Hmmm, you too.’ she responds thoughtfully.

He strides off towards the back of the bar. Good God, he walks with purpose and it’s sexy as hell. I close my eyes to mentally gather my wits, which are currently dispersed all over the bar floor. It’s completely hopeless. I turn back to Kate, finding accusing bright blues gawking at me like I’ve just sprouted fangs.

Her eyebrows hit her hairline. ‘Fuck me, that was intense!’ she spits across the table.

‘Was it?’ I start pushing my sandwich around my plate.

‘You better stop with the blah-fucking-zay shit now, or I’ll shove this fork so far up your arse, you’ll be chewing metal. What question are you considering?’ Her tone is fierce.

‘I don’t know,’ I brush her off. ‘He’s attractive, arrogant and has a girlfriend.’ I try for vague.

Kate lets out a long, over amplified whistle. ‘I’ve never experienced that before. I’ve heard of it but never witnessed it.’

‘What are you on about?’ I snap.

She leans across the table, all serious. ‘Ava, the sexual tension batting between you and that man was so f**king super charged, even I was horny!’ She laughs. ‘He wants you bad. He couldn’t have made it any clearer if he’d have spread you on that pool table.’ She points, and I actually look.

‘You’re imagining things.’ I snort. I know she’s not, but what can I say?

‘I’ve seen the text, and now I’ve seen the man in the flesh. He’s hot…for an older guy.’ She shrugs.

‘I’m not interested.’

‘Ha! You keep telling yourself that.’

I scowl across the table at my best friend. ‘I will.’

‘Let me know how that works out for you.’ she shoots back, rather flippantly.

***

I return to the office and spend the rest of the day achieving absolutely nothing. I twiddle my pen, visit the toilet a dozen times and pretend to listen to Tom harp on about Gay Pride and all things camp. My phone has rung four times – all Jesse Ward – and I’ve rejected each and every call. I’m staggered by this man’s persistence and confidence.

How loud?

I’m stunned!

I’m happy and enjoying my new found freedom, and I have no intention of derailing my plans to be single and carefree. I’m not getting caught up with a handsome stranger, no matter how handsome he is. And oh, is he mind meltingly delicious. Anyway, he’s way too old for me. And more importantly, he’s obviously taken. And that only reinforces the fact that he’s an ultimate player. This is not the sort of man I need to be attracted to, damn me, especially after Matt and his infidelities. I need a man, eventually, who’ll be faithful, protective and look after me – preferably a bit nearer my age too. How old is he?

My phone declares a text, making me jump and snapping me from my wandering thoughts. I already know who it is before I look.

Being rejected isn’t very nice. Why won’t you answer my calls? Jx

I laugh to myself, drawing the attention of Victoria, who’s rummaging through the filing cabinet near my desk. Her perfectly plucked eyebrow arches. I don’t suppose he is use to rejection. ‘Kate.’ I offer, by way of an explanation. It seems to work, as she returns to sifting through the cabinet.

It should be obvious why I’m not answering my bloody phone. I don’t want to talk to him. He unnerves me, triggering too many reactions. And, quite frankly, I don’t trust my body around him. It seems to respond to his presence with no prompt from me or my brain, and that could be very dangerous indeed.

My phone rings again and I quickly reject it. Christ, give me a chance to reply! Am I even going to reply? I’m never going to get rid of him. I need to be brutal.

If you need to discuss your requirements, you should be calling Patrick, not me.

There. No sign off and definitely no kiss. I’ve not said in so many words, but he should get the message. I put my phone down, all set on getting something done, but it chimes again. I pick it straight back up, grabbing my coffee with my spare hand as I do.

My requirement is to make you scream. I don’t think Patrick can help me there. I’m gagging just thinking about it. That’s a thought...will I need to gag you? Jx

I spray coffee all over my desk as I cough. The cheeky sod! How brazen and unashamed can a man be? Does he think I’m easy or something? I switch my phone to silent, chucking it down on my desk in disgust. I’m not even dignifying that with a response. Replying will only encourage him. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and Jesse Ward triple jumps that. I feel sorry for old pouty lips. Is she aware of her man pursuing young women?

I watch as my screen lights up again. I snatch it up, silencing it before it draws attention. I open my top drawer, drop it in and slam it shut on a huff. He’ll get the message.

I make a meager attempt to carry on with some work, but I’m far too distracted. Strange words – all having no place in work related correspondence – are appearing in my emails as I absentmindedly tap away at my keyboard. The office phone rings.

Glancing up, I see Sally away from her desk, so I answer. ‘Good afternoon, Rococo Union.’

‘Don’t hang up!’ he blurts down the phone. I sit up straight in my chair. Even his urgent voice prickles my skin. Get the message, he will not. He’s really quite thick skinned. ‘Ava, I’m really very sorry.’

‘You are?’ I can’t hide the surprise in my voice. Jesse Ward doesn’t look like the kind of man to offer apologies willy-nilly.

‘Yes, really, I am. I’ve made you feel uncomfortable. I’ve overstepped the mark by a long shot.’ He sounds sincere enough. ‘I’ve distressed you. Please accept my apology.’

I wouldn’t say I was distressed by his bold behavior and comments. Shocked would be more apt. Some people might even admire his confidence, I suppose. ‘Oh, okay,’ I say hesitantly. ‘So, you don’t want to make me scream or gag me?’

‘Ava, you sound disappointed.’

‘Not at all,’ I blurt.