Beneath This Man (This Man #2)(11)


by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘Jesse?’

He kisses my shoulder blade. ‘Ava?’

‘I really don’t want to come.’ I blurt, and then scold myself for not being a little more tactful.

He pauses with his swirling circles for a few moments before he continues. ‘Can I ask why?’

He can’t be so thick-skinned he has to ask that question. It should be perfectly obvious why I don’t want to go. And anyway, I never really wanted to go before I knew what went on there, but that was because of a certain acid tongued, pouty lipped beast. Now, she doesn’t bother me so much, although we still haven’t discussed her little involvement in Jesse’s life. It’s yet another subject up for discussion.

‘Can you just give me some time to get used to it?’ I ask apprehensively, while mentally begging for him to understand and be reasonable.

He sighs and wraps his forearm around the tops of my shoulders, pulling me back to him. ‘I understand,’

He does?

He kisses my temple. ‘You’re not going to avoid it forever, are you? I still want my new bedroom designs.’

I’m in shock at his reasonableness. No questions, no trampling or sense f**k – just an okay? Have we turned a corner? This is good, and as for the new extension? I hadn’t given it a thought, but he’s right. I can’t avoid the place forever. ‘No. Anyway, I’ll have to come to oversee the works once we finalise the designs.’

‘Good,’

‘What’s going on at The Manor?’

He releases my shoulders and starts washing my hair with his men’s shampoo. ‘The police turned up last night.’ he says, totally detached.

I tense all over. ‘Why?’

‘It’s just some idiot playing games. The police rang John this morning to arrange a few interviews. I can’t get out of it.’ He turns me around and places me under the spray to rinse my hair. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s fine,’ I assure him. I won’t tell him why it’s fine. I can meet Dan without worrying about a Jesse style trample. ‘Kate was at The Manor last night.’ The concern in my voice is obvious.

‘I know,’ His eyebrows rise. ‘It was quite a surprise.’

‘Was she okay?’

‘Yes, she was fine,’ He kisses my nose and slaps my bum. ‘Out you get.’

I jump out of the shower, set about drying myself and use Jesse’s toothbrush after he’s finished with it, being too lazy to cross the landing and retrieve my own. I walk into the bedroom to find him ready, looking delicious in some worn jeans and a simple white t-shirt. He’s still quite overgrown, though.

‘I’m going,’ He smothers my face with kisses. ‘Have lace on when I get home.’ He winks and leaves.

I waste no time. I grab my phone immediately to call Dan, and we arrange to meet at Almundo’s, a little coffee house in Covent Garden. I run across the landing and dress in record time, calling down to Clive to order me a cab between drying my hair and pinning it up. I’m super excited.

Chapter 6

When I walk into Almundo’s, I scan my eyes across the masses of people having their Sunday morning brunch and spot him sat in the corner with his face in the Sunday paper. He looks so well, all tanned and dazzling. I fly across the café and all but dive on him.

‘Whoa!’ he laughs. ‘Pleased to see me, kid?’ He wraps his arms around me, and I fall apart all over him. I’m so happy to see him and all of the built up stress and emotion of the last few weeks just spills out of me…again. ‘Hey, stop that.’ he scolds me.

‘I’m sorry.’ I peel myself away from his body and sit beside him.

He takes my hand in his. ‘Get rid of those tears, right now.’ He smiles. ‘This will be the best thing that ever happened to you. You’re well shot.’

Oh, he thinks I’m in a state over Matt? Should I let him carry on thinking that? The alternative is explaining a whole lot of other shit, and I can’t do that. I would be here for months. I wipe my eyes. ‘I know. It’s been a shitty few weeks. I’m fine, really.’

‘Forget about him and get on with your life. You’ve got a lot to catch up with.’ He rubs my arm affectionately. ‘What about this other bloke who Matt’s been whining on about?’

Damn, I was hoping to avoid all questions relating to Jesse’s involvement – wishful thinking, obviously. ‘His name is Jesse. It’s nothing. He’s just a friend.’

‘Just a friend?’ He eyes me suspiciously as my hand reaches up to find a stray tendril from my up-do.

‘Just a friend.’ I shake my head. ‘Kate had a spat with Matt and thought she would shut him up with a few stretched truths.’

‘So, there is an element of truth in it then?’ He raises his eyebrows.

‘No,’ I need to change the subject. ‘How are Mum and Dad?’

He gives me a warning look. ‘Threatening to pay a visit to London and sort you out. Mum mentioned a strange man answering your phone last week. I suspect he might be the stretched truth?’

Okay, my attempts at diversion have failed miserably. ‘Yeah, okay. Can we change the subject please?’ I sound ratty.

Dan holds his hands up in defense. ‘Okay, okay. I’m just saying, be careful, Ava.’

I sag and consider exactly what my parents will make of Jesse. Without even The Manor and his small drink issue, they still won’t be happy. He is obviously older than me, he might be stinking rich, but that won’t cut any cloth with Mum and Dad, and the fact that he likes a trample every now and again will not help matters. It’s near on impossible to hide my frustration when he’s being challenging. Mind you, his quick acceptance of my reluctance to go with him this morning might be the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for.

We order coffee, water and pastries and chat about Dan’s job, Australia and his future prospects. He’s doing well. His friend is expanding the surf school business and wants Dan to partner him. I’m pleased for him, but quietly disappointed for my own selfish reasons. He won’t be coming home anytime soon.

‘How’s Kate?’ he asks, while picking at the corners of his pastry. He’s blatantly feigning disinterest.

I should refrain from mentioning Sam. I can’t imagine Dan would appreciate such information. I abruptly remember I’ve not taken my pill and start rummaging through my bag. ‘She’s still Kate.’ I say casually, feeling incredibly uncomfortable talking about her with Dan. It doesn’t feel right anymore. I locate my pill packet and pop one out before taking it with some water, watching over my glass as Dan drops into deep thought. I need to snap him out of that immediately. ‘What about you? Are there any female interests?’ I ask on an arched brow, swapping my water for coffee.

‘No,’ He smirks, ‘Nothing permanent, anyway.’

Oh, I can imagine. I’m about to lecture him on being a player when my mobile starts dancing around the table and Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition blares from the ringer. I smile. Is he trying to be funny? And while I’m grateful he has changed the track assigned to his number, I really do need to have a word about his telephone manners.

It’s just gone one o’clock. I thought he would be longer than this, but maybe he’s still at The Manor and just checking in on me.

‘Hey, I love that track!’ Dan exclaims. ‘Let it ring.’ He starts singing along to it.

I laugh. ‘I just need to take this.’ I leave the table with my phone and Dan with a furrowed brow. I know he’s going to be suspicious that I’m removing myself from his presence to take this call. I’ll say it was Kate.

I walk out into the sunshine. ‘Hey.’ I say cheerfully.

‘Where the f**k are you?’ he bellows down the phone.

I pull it away to save my eardrums. Oh, overreaction. ‘I’m with my brother, calm down.’

‘Calm down?’ he yells. ‘I get home and you’ve ran out!’

‘Stop f**king shouting!’ Is this really necessary? The man is impossible. I never said I was going to be waiting around for him. Jesus Christ, I’m hurling towards the ground after being abruptly tossed off of Central Jesse Cloud Nine.

‘Watch your f**king mouth.’ he yells.

I look up to the sky in despair. ‘I’ve not ran out. I’ve come to meet my brother. He’s back from Australia.’ I state calmly. ‘I was supposed to see him yesterday, but I got a little caught up elsewhere.’ I didn’t aim for sarcasm, but it comes naturally.

‘I apologise for inconveniencing you.’ he hisses.

‘Excuse me?’ I’m stunned by his hostility.

‘How long will you be?’ His tone hasn’t changed; he still sounds like a pig. I might just go to Kate’s now. I’m not prepared to have strips ripped off me for seeing my brother.

‘I said I would spend the day with him.’

‘Day!’ he shouts. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

Why? Because I knew he would trample it! ‘Your phone interrupted me and you were sidetracked with problems at The Manor.’ I spit.

It goes quiet down the phone, but I can still hear his laboured breathing. I can imagine he’s been running around his penthouse in a frenzy searching every room. Oh hell, this is going to be hard work. That corner I thought we had turned has just been trampled.

‘Where are you?’ His voice has softened slightly, but he’s clearly still unhappy about my undisclosed outing.

‘I’m at a café.’

‘Where?’

There is not a chance in hell I’m telling him that. He’ll turn up, I know it, and then I will be left explaining to Dan who he is and where he came from. ‘It doesn’t matter where. I’ll be back at yours later.’

‘Come back to me, Ava.’ It’s definitely a demand.

I drop my shoulders. ‘I will.’

A silence spreads between us and I’m very abruptly reminded of the small part of Jesse that sends me crazy. Did I really wish this back?

‘Ava?’

‘I’m here.’

‘I love you.’ he says softly, but it’s strained. I know he wants to rant and probably haul me back to Lusso, but he can’t do that if he can’t locate me.

‘I know you do, Jesse.’ I hang up and exhale an exhausted breath. I’m beginning to wish I didn’t know about Jesse’s alcohol issue – the issue that everyone else seems to be brushing off as no consequence, whatsoever. I, on the other hand, am now worrying myself stupid that I will push him to have another gorging session. I’ve always been an advocate of knowledge is power, but at the moment I’m favouring ignorance is bliss. Then, I could just hang up and think he’s an unreasonable control freak and be content to let him stew. But now I know, I’ve hung up and I’m worried that I’ve just dangled the proverbial bottle of vodka under his nose.

‘Is everything okay?’

I turn and see Dan approaching with my bag over his shoulder. I give a small smile. ‘Fine.’

‘I settled the bill. Here.’ He hands me my bag.

‘Thanks.’

‘Are you all right?’ He frowns.

No, I‘m bloody not. The stretched truth is stretching my patience. ‘Yeah, fine.’ I plaster on a cheery face. ‘So, what do you want to do?’

‘Tussauds?’ he asks with a big smile.

I return his smile. ‘Absolutely, let’s go.’

He holds his arm up for me to link and off we go. I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve roamed the halls of Madam Tussaud’s. It’s tradition. There is not one waxwork that we haven’t got a photo with. We’ve snuck around the place, entered restricted zones and done whatever it took to get the photographs we needed to keep our scrapbook up-to-date. Childish, but it’s our thing.