Beneath This Man (This Man #2)(16)


by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘No. Hey what went down at The Manor on Saturday night and why didn’t you answer any of my calls?’ I fire the questions accusingly.

She shoots her bright blues to mine. ‘Nothing!’ she barks defensively. ‘I forgot to call you back.’

I’m immediately suspicious. ‘I was referring to the police turning up.’ I say with a raised brow. She was a bit quick to shoot that answer at me. What has she been up to?

‘Oh!’ She gets all flustered and flappy as she returns to mixing her cake mixture a little too frantically. ‘I don’t know. Jesse turned up and the police left shortly after.’

‘Hey, chick!’

Sam’s cheerful voice comes from the doorway and we both look up in unison.

I cough, looking anywhere and everywhere, except at Sam. ‘Hi.’ I wave a flappy hand in his direction. He’s a nightmare. I feel my face burning up as I glance at Kate in desperation, silently begging her to do something about the cheeky sod.

‘Samuel, put some clothes on.’ Kate scorns him on a small smile.

‘I’ve come to help.’ he whines.

I continue to direct my eyes all over Kate’s workshop to avoid him. Jesse was right, he is an exhibitionist. He’s completely naked, except for one of Kate’s miniscule Cath Kidston aprons, and as he walks past me, my eyes drift and I get a right eyeful of his tight, n**ed butt.

‘You’ve already put me way behind.’ Kate moans, slapping his n**ed rump with a spatula full of cake mixture.

‘I hope you’re going to dispose of that now!’ I laugh. She shrugs and starts licking the spatula on a smile. She’s enjoying my discomfort.

Sam turns to face me with the biggest grin on his cheeky face, clearly enjoying my embarrassment too. And then he bends slightly, shoving his arse in Kate's face. ‘Now you’re going to have to lick it all off.’

I jump out of the tub chair in a complete fluster. ‘I’d better be going.’ I blurt, my voice high and squeaky. I don’t want to witness the impending clean-up operation of Sam’s caked buttocks.

‘See ya!’ Kate laughs as I make my escape.

‘Hey, how’s my buddy?’ Sam calls.

I don’t look back for fear of what I might see. ‘Fine!’ I shout, slamming the door behind me. Kate’s short, curt response to my enquiries about The Manor is making my head spin. I don’t want to even think what I’m thinking.

I drive myself to work. I would’ve just grabbed my files and jumped on the tube, but I plan on collecting my remaining belongings from Matt after work. That chore, I am not looking forward to. I’ve been putting it off all week in light of his telephone call to my parents. I’ve not spoke to him about it, and I don’t plan to either. What would be the point? I don’t want to get into a spitting match with him and in fact, I don’t ever want to see him again. Not after today, anyway.

I arrive at the office on time to a huge bunch of calla lilies lay across my desk. I sigh. How does he arrange flowers so quickly?

I find the card.

You’re a savage and a tease.

You drive me crazy,

I love you.

Jx

I drive him crazy? The man is delusional. I fire a quick text to him;

I know u do. Flowers r beautiful. Thank u for the ride…2 work. Ax

I settle at my desk and bring up my email and list of things to do, but I’m quickly distracted from my work when I remember that I’ve not taken my pill. I grab my bag from the floor and rummage through.

After a good few minutes of searching, I have my bag turned upside down on the desk and everything sprawled all over the place.

‘Shit shit shit!’ I curse. Please, not again.

‘Morning, flower.’ Patrick strolls into the office.

‘Morning,’ I don’t look up from my futile searching. I deserve a medal for being so bloody careless. ‘Did you have a good weekend?’ I ask, scrunching up a handful of loose receipts and chucking them in my wastepaper bin.

Patrick grunts a few times. ‘No, I bloody didn’t. Look!’

I drag my attention from the pile of handbag crap all over my desk to see what I’m supposed to be looking at. ‘What?’ I ask. He points to his head, so I get out of my chair and lean up on my tiptoes, but I can’t see anything. ‘Patrick, what?’

‘That, there, look!’ He bends slightly.

‘Patrick, what am I looking at?’

‘There, that ruddy great bald patch!’ he says, his voice annoyed.

I scan his mop of thick silver hair looking for a bald patch, but I’m damned if I can see one. ‘Patrick, there is no bald patch.’ I appease him.

‘Damn well would be if I didn’t take my vitamins.’ he grumbles. ‘Nice flowers.’

‘Oh yes. My brother.’ I blurt out quickly. I need to have a word with Jesse about this.

‘How lovely.’ He smiles, making his way to his office.

My phone starts dancing across my desk, alerting me of a text.

YOU are beautiful and I know you know. Cheeky! I miss you. Jx

He misses me. I melt all over my handbag contents. I miss him too, but I’m now dreading having to go back to Doctor Monroe for the third time. This is ridiculous.

With my phone in my hand, I decide I may as well get the one call I really don’t want to make out of the way. I dial Matt, and it rings twice before he answers.

‘Ava?’ He sounds pleased to hear from me. I want to smash his face in immediately.

‘Hi, I could do with picking those bits up.’ I get straight to the point. If I didn’t need my things, I wouldn’t call him at all. Just thinking of him makes my skin crawl; talking to him has me physically itching. I was with him for four years. How did this happen?

‘Of course.’ He’s too eager and it doesn’t sit well.

‘Can I swing by after work? Say, six-ish?’ I ask.

‘Sure, I look forward to it.’ he replies cheerfully.

I want to hiss down the phone at him, tell him exactly what I think of him, but I know he is probably expecting some sort of backlash from me. I’m not going to indulge him. What I do and who I do it with has nothing to do with him.

Why did you ring my parents, you worm?

‘Great, see you then.’ Why did I say that for? It’s not great at all. He may be looking forward to it, but I’m certainly not. Once I have the rest of my things, I won’t ever be seeing him again.

‘Yeah, see you later.’ he sings. He sounds almost smug.

I shudder and hang up. If I could, I would send Kate around to get my things, but I know that will just end in tears and possible police intervention. I’ll be in and out in ten minutes. I can resist the urge to pound on him for the short amount of time it’s going to take me to gather my stuff and retreat.

‘You want a coffee, Ava?’

I look up and see Sally fiddling with her ponytail. There’s something different about her. ‘Please. Did you have a good weekend, Sal?’ I ask. Why does she look different? She shuffles on the spot and blushes ten shades of crimson, and then I notice that her high necked blouses have been replaced with a scoop neck top. Wow! Sal has great tits! Who would have thought?

‘I did. Thank you for asking, Ava.’ She scuttles off to the kitchen.

I grin to myself. Our dull, dreary Sal may have had some male action at the weekend. I put my phone down and start working through my files, ready for my appointment with Mr Van Der Haus on Wednesday.

As ten thirty approaches, I gather my things to go on a few site visits. ‘Sal, tell Patrick I’ve gone to check on a few sites. I’ll be back about four thirty.’

‘Will do.’ she sings enthusiastically, while filing some invoices. Yep, she’s definitely had some male interest. Do men really have that impact on us women?

I pass Victoria and Tom at the door.

‘Darling, how was your weekend?’ Tom croons.

‘Great,’ I say, accepting his air kiss. ‘I’ve got to dash. I’ll be back about four thirty.’

‘Excuse me.’ Victoria barges past me.

‘What’s up with her?’ I ask Tom.

Tom rolls his eyes. ‘Oh, bugger me if I know. She rang on Saturday declaring she was in love, then I meet her this morning and she has a face like a slapped arse!’

‘Drew?’ I ask. What’s gone wrong?

Tom shrugs. ‘She doesn’t want to talk about it. Not a good sign. I’ll see if I can pump any info out of her. Speak to you later.’

I make my way to the tube and stop off at the chemist to replace my depleted gloss. I’m drawn to the vitamins, remembering reading about deficiency when I was doing my research on the internet about alcoholics. Standing and reading the backs of a million pots, I decide to speak to the pharmacist.

After a vague chat, he recommends a few things, but strongly advised seeking medical help if I’m worried. Am I worried? Jesse insists he’s not an alcoholic and he certainly doesn’t scramble for the hard stuff when he sees it. I buy the vitamins, anyway. They can’t hurt.

When I’m walking up Kensington High Street, I hear Bill Withers singing Ain’t no Sunshine from my bag. Oh, I bet he thinks he’s clever. I don’t think twice about answering it. I don’t need him flying into panic over a few missed calls and bombarding me during my client visits. I need to keep him stable and if that means a quick telephone conversation, then so be it.

‘Hey.’ I greet.

He sighs. ‘God, I miss you.’ He sounds so forlorn. It’s only been four hours since he had me spread on the kitchen worktop.

‘Why did you send John to pick me up?’ I ask.

‘You didn’t have your car.’ he says it like I’m stupid for even asking.

‘Why didn’t you take me?’ My tone is accusing. I didn’t mean it to be.

‘Would you have preferred that?’

‘Of course, but it’s not necessary.’ I’m approaching my destination. I need to wrap this conversation up. ‘Where are you?’ I ask.

‘At The Manor. Everything is under control. I’m not needed here. Do you need me?’

I can’t see him, but I know he’s pouting. ‘Always.’ I know that’s what he wants to hear.

‘Now?’ he asks hopefully.

‘Jesse, I’m at work.’ I try not to sound tired, but I have a ridiculously busy day ahead of me and I could do without providing him with the reassurance he needs to get through his. I wonder if he’s taken his running kit to work with him.

‘I know.’ he grumbles dejectedly. ‘What are you doing at this precise moment?’

Why this precise moment? ‘I’m on my way to a client and I’ve just got here, so I’ll have to sign off.’ I prompt. He might not be needed, but I have a diary to keep.

‘Oh, okay.’ He sounds so miserable, and I feel guilty for brushing him off.

I stop outside my destination and look up to the heavens. ‘I’ll stay at yours tonight.’ I say, hoping this will placate him.

He scoffs down the phone. ‘I would hope so, you live there!’

I roll my eyes. Of course I do. ‘I’ll see you later.’

‘You will. What time?’ he presses.

‘Six-ish.’

‘Ish.’ he counters. ‘I love you, lady.’

‘I know you do.’ I hang up and make my way up the steps to the front door of Mr & Mrs Kent’s new home. I’m way too busy today to be sidetracked with my challenging man and his challenging ways.

***

‘Nice flowers.’

I look up and see Victoria standing at my desk. She is less orange, but no less miserable than she was this morning. ‘Are you okay?’ I ask, wondering if Tom managed to extract any information.

‘Not really.’