Beneath This Man (This Man #2)(17)

by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘Do you want to elaborate?’ I prompt.

She shrugs. ‘Not really.’

I try not to look bored, but it’s bloody hard. This is a typical case of someone wanting desperately to elaborate, but also wanting the dramatic buildup of someone pleading with them for information. I’ve had the longest day in my twenty six year history. I haven’t the energy to tease information out of her. I get up and head for the kitchen to get some biscuits. I need a sugar hit.

I find Sally washing up.

‘Hi, Ava.’ she says happily.

Now, I really am prepared to push Sally for information. I’m dying to know what’s put a huge smile on her face and provoked the introduction of scoop neck tops. ‘What did you get up to at the weekend, Sal?’ I ask casually as I dunk the biscuit tin. I catch her blushing again. I’m definitely onto something here. If she says she’s done a cross-stitch and cleaned the windows, I’ll hang myself.

‘Oh, you know. I went for a drink.’ She’s trying to sound casual and failing miserably.

I knew it! ‘Nice. Who with?’ I feign disinterest. It’s hard. I’m desperate to discover that our Sal – dull as dishwater, plaid skirt wearing, high necked bloused, office dogsbody – is a dominatrix or something.

‘I had a date.’ she says, maintaining her failing casual tone.

‘Really!’ I blurt. That came out so wrong. I didn’t mean to sound shocked, but I am.

‘Yes, Ava. I met him on the internet.’

Internet dating? I’ve heard nothing but bad things about it. They look like an underwear model on their profile picture, but when they turn up they are more akin to a serial killer. Sal seems quite happy, though. ‘Did it go well?’ I ask, biting into a chocolate digestive.

‘Yes!’ she screams. I nearly choke on my biscuit. I’ve never seen her so animated. ‘He’s perfect, Ava. He’s taking me out again tomorrow.’

‘Ah, Sal, I’m really happy for you.’

‘So am I!’ she sings. ‘I’m off now. Do you need anything before I go?’

‘No, you get going. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ She dances out of the kitchen and I remain lent against the counter as I work my way through another three chocolate digestives. I should replace them with wine. I’ve had a mad day, and I’m not looking forward to stopping by Matt’s to collect the last of my stuff, but it will be a good job done and Jesse will never have to know. I’ve not forgotten his demand to not see Matt again.

I pull up outside and the first thing I do is look for Matt’s car. It’s not there. He can’t have forgotten; I only called this morning, and I can’t wait around for him because Jesse will be on the phone soon wondering where I am. I pull my phone out of my bag and dial his number.

‘Ava?’ he answers swiftly.

‘Matt, I’m at yours.’ I say flatly and with clear annoyance.

‘Ava, I’m so sorry. I would have called, but I was in a meeting I couldn’t get out of. I’m going to be at least an hour.’

I throw my head against my seat. I can’t wait for an hour. ‘Fine, tomorrow?’

‘I’m in Birmingham tomorrow and Wednesday. Can we do Thursday?’

I inwardly groan. I wanted to get this out of the way. ‘Sure, same time on Thursday.’ I hang up and toss my phone on the passenger seat in disgust. Irritating prick.

When I pull up outside Lusso, the gates open immediately. Jesse’s car isn’t here, which would explain why he’s not called to see why I’m not here yet.

I enter the foyer, weighed down with flowers and bags, and see Clive clicking various buttons on his high-tech surveillance system. I might just sit in one of the comfortable leather sofas and wait. What else can I do?

‘Hi, Clive.’

He looks up and smiles. ‘Ava, how are you?’

Rubbish! I’ve had a ridiculously busy day, I want to shower, get into my sweats and have a glass of wine. I can do none of those things, and I’m pissed off that Jesse’s made a big fuss about me being here and he’s not even here himself. ‘Tired.’ I mumble, heading for a big sumptuous sofa. I might fall asleep.

‘Here, Mr Ward left this for you.’

I look up and see Clive holding up a pink key. He left me a key? So he knew he wouldn’t be here and he didn’t even ring to tell me.

I walk over to Clive and take the key. ‘When did he go?’ I ask.

Clive continues clicking and switching while studying the monitors. ‘He dropped by at around five to leave you a key.’

‘Did he say when he would be back?’ I ask. Am I just expected to hang around and wait?

‘Not a word, Ava.’ Clive doesn’t bother looking up at me.

‘Did he ask you about the woman who stopped by?’

‘No, Ava.’ He almost sounds bored. No he didn’t, I know he didn’t because he bloody knows. And he’s going to tell me.

I leave Clive playing with his equipment and make my way up to the penthouse, letting myself in with my pink key and heading straight to the kitchen. I go to the fridge and yank the door open, being immediately confronted with rows and rows of bottled water. Oh, what I would do for a glass of wine. I shut the fridge door with more force than it deserves – it’s not the fridge’s fault there’s no wine in it. Will I ever have a drink again?

I sit myself on a barstool and gaze around the immense kitchen that I designed. I love it and never in a million years did I imagine I would have the opportunity to live here. Now I have, though, I’m really not sure about it. I love him, but I fear living with him will just encourage his controlling behaviour and challenging ways. Or would he be better? More reasonable?

My stomach does a little flip and a growl, reminding me that I should really get something to eat. I’ve only picked on a few biscuits today. It’s no wonder I feel exhausted.

I’m just about to convince myself to lift my tired arse from the stool when I hear the front door open, and a few moments later, Jesse walks into the kitchen looking as wiped out as I feel. He doesn’t say anything for the longest time. He just stands there and looks at me. I notice his hands shaking slightly and his brow looks damp. What should I do? My craving for a glass of wine diminishes instantly.

‘Are you okay?’ I ask.

He slowly walks over to me and stands me up. Reaching down, he clasps the hem of my dress and pulls it up to my waist and then grabs me under my bum and lifts me up to straddle his waist. He buries his face in my hair and walks us out of the kitchen. I can feel his heartbeat clattering against my chest as I hold onto him while he takes the stairs silently with me in his arms. I want to ask him what’s wrong. I’ve got lots of things to ask him, but he seems so despondent.

He walks us to the bed and crawls on with me beneath him, settling on top of me with his weight spread all over my body. It’s soothing. Locking my arms around him, I breathe into his neck and soak up his fresh water smell. I sigh contentedly. He might be a significant contributing factor to my stress and tiredness, but he makes it disappear just as quickly as he triggers it.

‘Tell me how old you are.’ I break the comfortable silence after I’ve held him until his hammering heart has returned to its usual, steady speed.

‘Thirty two.’ he says into my neck.

‘Tell me.’

‘Does it matter?’ he asks tiredly.

It doesn’t matter, but I want to know. He might like this game, but I don’t and it’s not going to make any difference to how I feel. I just think I should know. It is mandatory information, like his favourite colour, food or track – all of which I don’t know. I know so little about him.

‘No, but I would like it if you told me. I know none of your basic information.’

He nuzzles in my neck. ‘You know I love you.’

I sigh. That’s not basic information. I start to think about my introduction of a truth f**k into our relationship. Something has got to wheedle this small, insignificant piece of information out of him. I know my persistently asking him is having no satisfactory results.

‘How was your day?’ he asks, his voice muffled in my hair.

‘Stupidly busy but very constructive.’ I’m quite pleased with what I managed to get done, considering I thought my day would be a bombardment of calls and texts. ‘And you need to stop sending flowers to my office.’

His head lifts and I’m greeted with a disgusted look. ‘No. Have a bath with me.’

I roll my eyes at his stubbornness, but I could think of nothing better than having a bath with him at the moment. ‘I’d love to.’

He pulls himself up so I have to release his neck, and he drops his lips to mine. ‘You stay here, I’ll sort the bath.’ He jumps up and takes his jacket off as he goes to the bathroom.

I hear the water start running and I turn onto my side, feeling content and tranquil. He makes me feel like this and it’s these times when I know why I’m here. It’s how attentive, loving and tender he is. Perhaps living with him wouldn’t be so bad after all. But then I give myself a quick reminder that I’m currently on Central Jesse Cloud Nine. I won’t be thinking like this once I’ve not conformed to one of his demands. It will come, and it might even be about all of this moving in business.

He strolls back into the bedroom, and I lay back and admire his incredible gait. This man has a serious walk. Reaching up, he pulls his tie loose and throws it on the nearby chaise lounge, and then starts working his shirt buttons. He lets it hang loose and leans down to take his shoes and socks off. He’s bare foot with his trousers resting on those glorious, narrow hips, his shirt open, revealing the sharp lines of his chest. I could sink my teeth into him. He would probably enjoy that.

‘Enjoying the view?’

I look up and find green pools studying me. That look alone renders me a soaking wet mess. ‘Always.’ I answer. My voice is throaty. I didn’t mean it to be, it’s just what he does to me.

‘Always,’ he confirms. ‘Come here.’

I slide myself off the bed and slip my heels off.

‘Leave the dress.’ he demands softly.

I pad over to him, keeping hold of his hypnotising eyes, his arms hanging loosely at his side as he follows my progression. My heart is ricocheting off my rib cage, and I part my lips to let subtle streams of air escape, watching him as he slowly runs his tongue over his bottom lip.

‘Turn around.’

I obey and slowly pivot away from him. I feel his palms rest on my shoulders and the contact, even through my dress, zaps my nerve endings to life.

He leans down and rests his mouth near my ear. ‘I really like this dress.’ he whispers, and I clench my eyes closed to ride out the quiver that travels through my entire body. Both of his hands travel inwards until they arrive at my nape. He gathers my hair and places it over my shoulder, and then slowly draws the zip of my dress all the way down.

I flex my neck muscles in an attempt to control my overwhelming need to shake off the shudders that he’s instigating, but I give up when I feel his lips rest against my upper back, his tongue gliding up to the nape of my neck. Every fine hair stands on end, and I arch my back in response to his long, hot stroke.

There is a certain degree of torture to this. I want it to stop so I can gather my scattered senses before I say something I don’t mean like, Yes, I’ll move in with you.

‘I love your back.’ His lips vibrate against my skin, generating even more shudders. He moves his mouth back to my ear. ‘You have the softest skin.’

My head rolls back onto his shoulder and my face turns into his neck. He adjusts his head so his lips find mine as he hooks his hands into the front of my dress and pushes it down my body.

‘Lace?’ he asks.

I nod my answer, and his eyes sparkle with lust as he kisses me gently, like I’m glass. Our tongues slip and slide over each other with little effort from either of us, and I lean back onto him for support. I’m relishing in his gentleness and soft touch.