Beneath This Man (This Man #2)(10)


by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘I love you.’ I reinforce my words, almost grinding them out, like I’m telling all of those women who claim to love him too. I feel his whole body relax over me before he continues slowly circling deep inside me.

Pulling him down onto me, I wrap my entire body around him. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, but then it occurs to me; I’m in love with a man and I have no clue how old he is.

‘How old are you, Jesse?’

He pulls his face up and I can see the cogs of his mind start revolving. I know he’s thinking whether or not he should just tell me his real age and stop with his silly diversion. ‘I can’t remember.’ He frowns.

Oh, I might be able to play this to my advantage. I think we may have got to thirty-ish. ‘We were at thirty three.’ I prompt.

He smirks at me. ‘We should start again.’

‘No!’ I pull his face down and rub my nose across his rough cheek. ‘We got to thirty three.’

‘You’re a rubbish liar, baby.’ he laughs, nuzzling into my face. ‘I like this game. I think we should start again. I’m eighteen.’

‘Eighteen!’ I exclaim.

‘Don’t play games with me, Ava.’

‘Why won’t you just tell me how old you are?’ I ask exasperated. It really doesn’t matter to me. He’s forty, maximum.

‘I’m thirty one.’

I sag beneath him dramatically. He does remember. ‘How old are you?’

‘I just told you, I’m thirty one.’

I narrow displeased eyes on him and one side of his mouth lifts into a semblance of a smirk. ‘It’s just a number.’ I moan. ‘If you ask me anything in the future, I won’t answer – not truthfully, anyway.’ I threaten.

His semblance of a smirk falls away immediately. ‘I already know everything I need to know about you. I know how I feel and nothing you could tell me will make me feel any different. I wish you felt the same.’

Oh, that’s below the belt! It wouldn’t make a jot of difference to the way I feel about him. I’m just curious, that’s all. I wish he would just give up the ghost. I’m already distracted by him and his challenging ways and we still haven’t really talked, but I do feel so much better, not empty and hollow anymore.

‘You said before that I might run a mile if I know.’ I remind him. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’

He laughs. ‘No, you’re not.’ He sounds very confident. ‘Ava, you’ve found out the worst about me and not run a mile. Well, you did, but you came back.’ He kisses my forehead. ‘Do you honestly think I’m bothered about my age?’

‘Then why won’t you tell me?’ I ask exasperated.

‘Because I like this game.’ He resumes nuzzling into my neck.

I heave a sigh and increase my squeeze around his warm, sweat dampened shoulders and my thighs around his tight hips. ‘I don’t.’ I grumble, burrowing my face into his neck and breathing him into me. I exhale in contentment and trace my fingers across his firm back.

We lay silent and completely immersed in each other for the longest time, but when I feel his body shaking, it diverts my thoughts to what lies ahead for us. His shaking body is a reminder of the hardest challenge of all.

‘Are you okay?’ I ask nervously. What should I do?

He squeezes me tight. ‘Yeah, what time is it?’

That’s a point. What time is it? I hope I’ve not missed Dan’s call. I wriggle under Jesse and he moans into my neck. ‘I’ll go check the time.’

‘No, I’m comfy,’ he complains. ‘It isn’t that late.’

‘I’ll be two seconds.’

He grumbles and lifts himself slightly to slip out of me and then heaves his body off of mine, rolling onto his back. I jump up to go and find my phone, discovering it’s nine o’clock and Dan hasn’t called. That’s a relief, but I do have twelve missed calls from Jesse.

Huh? I walk back into the bedroom and find him sat up against the headboard, brazenly n**ed and unashamed. I look down at myself. Oh, so am I.

‘I’ve got twelve missed calls from you.’ I say in confusion, holding my phone up to him.

A disapproving look jumps up on his face. ‘I couldn’t find you. I thought you had left. I had a hundred heart attacks in ten minutes, Ava. Why were you in the other bedroom?’ He fires the words accusingly at me.

‘I didn’t know how things stood.’ I may as well be honest.

‘What does that mean?’ he asks skeptically.

He sounds offended. Has he forgotten about our little exchange of words last Sunday? ‘Jesse, the last time I saw you, you were a stranger who told me that I was a prick tease and had caused you untold damage. Forgive me for being a bit apprehensive.’

His affronted look falls away instantly and is replaced with one of regret. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any of it.’

‘Right,’ I sigh.

‘Come here.’ He pats the mattress and I walk over to slide in beside him. We lay on our sides facing each other, our heads resting on our bent forearms. ‘You’ll never see that man again.’

I hope I don’t, but I’m doubtful of his confidence. One drink and I could be faced with the menacing brute, who I really don’t like very much. ‘Will you never drink again?’ I ask nervously. Now is as good a time as any to get the information I need.

‘No.’ He places his fingertip on my hipbone and circles lightly.

I shiver. ‘Never?’

He pauses mid-circle. ‘Never, Ava. All I need is you and for you to need me. Nothing else.’

I frown. ‘You already made me need you, and then you destroyed me.’ I say quietly. I don’t mean to make him feel guilty, but it’s the truth. I can feel myself falling into the needing realms again, after just one love making session, and I really didn’t want to go there.

He inches closer to me so our noses are nearly touching and his hot, minty breath is spreading all over my face. ‘I will never hurt you.’

‘You said that before.’ I remind him. Yes, he said he wouldn’t hurt me intentionally last time, which was a justified cause for concern, but he still said it.

‘Ava, the thought of you in pain, emotionally or physically, is appalling to me. Completely unspeakable. I feel crazy just thinking about it. What I’ve done to you makes me want to plunge a knife straight through my own heart.’

‘That’s a bit over-the-top, isn’t it?’ I blurt, completely shocked.

He scowls at me. ‘It’s the truth, just like I feel violent when I imagine another man lusting after you.’ He shakes his head, as if shaking away images that are cropping up in his mind. ‘I can’t tell you how serious I am.’

Oh my God. He is completely serious. His face is straight, his jaw clenched. That’s absolutely unreasonable. ‘You can’t control everything.’ I say on a furrowed brow.

‘Where you’re concerned, I’ll try my best, Ava. I already told you, I’ve waited too long for you. You’re my little piece of heaven. Nothing will rob you from me. Nothing.’ He presses his lips to mine to seal his declaration. ‘As long as I have you, I have purpose and reason. That is why I won’t be drinking and that is why I will do everything in my power to keep you safe. Understand?’

Actually, I don’t think I do, but I nod anyway. His determination and grit is commendable but ridiculously ambitious. What does he think will happen to me? I can’t be stitched to his hip permanently. Crazy man.

I reach forward to brush my thumb over the jagged line of his scar. ‘How did you get this?’ I try my luck. I know he won’t answer me, and I know it’s a sore subject, but I’m compelled to extract as much information as I can. I now know the worst of him so what harm can it do?

He looks down at my hand on his scar and sighs. ‘Inquisitive this morning, aren’t you?’

‘Yes,’ I confirm. I am.

‘I already told you, I don’t like talking about it.’

‘You’re holding back on me.’ I accuse, and he rolls onto his back on a heavy sigh and rests his forearm across his face. Oh no, he’s not evading this. I straddle his h*ps and pull his arm away. ‘Why won’t you tell me about your scar?’

‘Because, Ava, it’s in my past where I want it to stay. I don’t want anything affecting my future.’

‘It won’t. It’s doesn’t matter what you tell me. I’ll still love you.’ Does he not understand that?

I frown when he smirks. ‘I know.’ he says too confidently. He’s pretty c**k sure of himself this morning. ‘You already told me that when you were legless.’ he adds.

I did? I don’t remember that either. I told him a lot when I was drunk. ‘So why won’t you tell me?’

He places his hands on the juncture of my thighs. ‘If it won’t change how you feel about me, then there is little point in tarnishing your pretty little head with it,’ He raises his eyebrows, ‘Is there?’

‘I’m not going to tell you anything if you ask me.’ I sulk.

‘You already said that.’ He sits up and seals our lips, my arms mechanically wrapping around him, but then I think of something else.

‘Did you ever find out how the gates came to be open and the front door too?’ I try my hardest to sound casual.

‘What?’ he pulls away from me, looking perplexed.

‘When I came to The Manor on Sunday, the gates opened without me pressing the intercom and the front door was ajar.’ I know it was her.

‘Oh. The gates malfunctioned, apparently. Sarah had it sorted out.’ He pushes his lips to mine again.

‘That’s very convenient. Did the manual front door malfunction too?’ I ask, my sarcasm potent. I bet she had it sorted, and I can’t believe he bought that feeble explanation. I know what happened. The tramp intercepted my message, relishing the thought of me turning up unannounced and discovering The Manor’s offerings.

‘Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, lady.’ He gives me a very scornful look, but I don’t care. That woman is a deceitful tramp. Oh, I feel full of determination all of a sudden, but slightly sympathetic for Jesse. He actually thinks she’s a friend? Should I share my verdict? ‘What would you like to do today?’ he asks.

Oh shit! I’ve got to see Dan today and I can’t take Jesse with me. What would that look like? I can hardly introduce Jesse to Dan. That’s a disaster waiting to happen, what with Dan’s older brother protectiveness and Jesse’s trampling tendencies. How am I going to play this?

‘Well, there’s just one thing I have...’ Jesse’s phone starts ringing, halting my announcement.

‘For f**k sake,’ he curses, lifting me from his lap and placing me on the bed. He gets up and answers his phone before walking out of the bedroom. ‘John?’ He sounds a little impatient.

I lay on the bed, running through all of the ways I can break it to him that I really must go and meet Dan. He’ll understand.

‘I’ve got to go to The Manor.’ he says sharply, stalking back into the room and heading for the bathroom.

Again? I haven’t even asked him what dragged him there last night, and I notice Kate hasn’t called me back. ‘Is everything okay?’ I ask. He looks pissed.

‘It will be, get ready.’

What?

Oh no! I am not going to that place! I’ve still got to wrap my head around it all. He can’t make me go.

I hear the shower turn on and I jump up to go and explain my reluctance, walking into the bathroom and finding him in the shower already. He smiles knowingly and gestures for me to join him. I walk in and grab the sponge and shower gel, but he takes them from me and loads up the sponge himself before turning me around and beginning to wash me down. I stand quietly, searching my brain for a way to approach this, as he works the sponge slowly across my body. Surely he won’t have a hissy fit over my unwillingness.