Beneath This Man (This Man #2)(4)

by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘Ava?’ John’s deep rumble pulls my head back up. ‘He’s a good man.’

‘What made him drink? How bad is it?’ I ask. I know he’s a good man deep down, but if I know more I might understand better.

‘Who knows?’ John muses, and then looks at me. ‘Don’t be thinking he was smashed all day every day. He wasn’t. How he is right now, that’s just because of misery, not because he’s an alcoholic.’

‘And he didn’t drink when I turned up?’ I can’t believe that.

John laughs. ‘He didn’t, although you have brought out some other rather nasty qualities in him, girl.’

I frown, but I know exactly what John’s talking about, and so does Sam by the look on his cheeky face. I’ve been told Jesse is usually quite a laidback type, but I have only ever seen snippets of a laidback Jesse Ward, and that was mostly when he was getting his own way. Most of the time, all I’ve seen is an unreasonable control freak. He even admitted himself that he’s only like it with me…lucky me.

What would they be faced with if I was to walk away again? ‘I’ll stay, but if he comes round and he doesn’t want me here, I will be calling one of you two.’ I warn.

Sam visibly sags. ‘That won’t happen, Ava.’

John nods. ‘I need to get myself back to The Manor and run that mother f**ker’s business.’ He gets himself up from the barstool. ‘Ava, you need my number. Where’s your phone?’

I look around for my bag and realise that I’ve left it on the terrace, so I jump up and leave Sam and John in the kitchen while I go to fetch it.

On my way back to the kitchen, I see Jesse is still out for the count. How long will he be like this and at what point should I really worry? I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.

I stand silently watching him, his lashes flickering mildly, his chest rising and falling steadily. Even unconscious he looks troubled. I approach quietly and pull the blanket up to his chin. I can’t help it. I’ve never looked after him before, but it’s instinctive. I kneel and rest my lips on his cold cheek, soaking up the little bit of comfort I get from the contact before standing and making my way back to the kitchen. John has gone.

‘Here,’ Sam passes me a piece of paper. ‘John’s number.’

‘Was he in a rush?’ I ask. He could have waited for me.

‘He never hangs around for longer than necessary. Listen, I’ve spoken to Kate. She’s bringing some clothes over for you.’

‘Oh, okay.’ My poor clothes are going to wonder where they live. They have been transported back and forth to this place on numerous occasions.

‘Thank you, Ava.’ Sam says sincerely.

‘Don’t thank me.’ I protest, feeling uncomfortable, especially since this is partly my fault.

Sam shuffles nervously. ‘I know. It’s just…well, after last Sunday, the whole Manor shock.’

‘Don’t, Sam.’

‘When he drinks, he really drinks.’ Sam laughs lightly. ‘He’s a proud man, Ava. He’ll be mortified that we’ve seen him like this.’

I imagine he will be. The Jesse I know is strong, confident, domineering and a whole heap of other things. Weak and helpless are not included in the long list of Jesse’s attributes. I want to tell Sam that The Manor and its activities have been diluted by this drink issue, but it hasn’t. Not really. Now I’m here and I’ve lay my eyes on Jesse again, it’s all screaming very loudly in my head. Jesse owns a sex club. He also uses the facilities of his own club. Sam confirmed it, even though it was glaringly obvious when I was faced with the husband of one of Jesse’s conquests. I knew deep down that he must have put himself about, that he was a pleasure-seeking playboy, but I certainly didn’t ever imagine how.

We spend the next hour collecting empties from around the penthouse and dumping them in a couple of black bin liners. I empty the fridge of more vodka, tipping it all down the sink. I’m staggered by how much he has loaded up in there; he must have bought a whole crate of the stuff. It’s obvious he planned on being here alone with his vodka for quite a while. I do know one thing, though; I won’t be drinking it ever again.

Clive rings up to tell me that a young lady is in the foyer by the name of Kate, and after I’ve advised Clive of what we’ve found, we go down to meet her, each dragging a black bin bag full of rubbish and empty bottles. I make a mental note to sort the mangled door out.

When we arrive in the foyer, Kate is waiting under the close observation of Clive. ‘Hey,’ she says cautiously as we approach, dragging the clanging bin bags with us. ‘How is he?’

I release the bag, causing more clanging, and give Clive the eyeball, just to let him know that I’m really pissed off with him. If he had let Sam, Drew or John up to Jesse’s penthouse before now, we may have only found him drunk instead of completely comatose. He has the decency to look apologetic.

‘He’s asleep.’ Sam answers her when it becomes obvious that I’m too busy making Clive feel guilty.

When I turn my attention back to Kate, I see Sam slip his free arm around her and give her a hug. She bats him away playfully. ‘Here,’ Kate passes me my overnight bag. This thing is like a yoyo between Kate’s house and Lusso. ‘I just chucked anything and everything in it.’

‘Thanks.’ I take the bag.

‘So, you’re staying here then?’ she asks.

‘Yeah,’ I answer on a shrug. Sam gives me that appreciative stare, and I immediately feel uncomfortable again.

‘How long are you staying for?’ Kate asks.

That’s a point. How long for? How long do these things take? He could wake tonight, or it could be tomorrow or the next day. I have a job to do and an apartment to find. I look at Sam for some clue, but he shrugs so is no help at all. I look back at Kate and shrug too.

I’m suddenly aware that I’ve left Jesse upstairs and I start to panic. He might wake up and no one will be there. ‘I should get back up there.’ I say, looking back towards the elevators.

‘Sure, you go.’ Kate shoos me with her hand and takes the bin bag from the floor. ‘We’ll get rid of these.’

We say our goodbyes and I promise to call her in the morning before I head back to the elevator, instructing Clive to sort out Jesse’s car window and the door to his penthouse on my way. He, of course, gets straight onto it.

When I arrive back on the top floor, I shut the door, but it doesn’t secure fully. It will do until the repair man turns up, though. I wander into the living room and see Jesse still asleep.

So, what do I do now? I look down my body and note I’m still in my taupe dress and heels, so I take myself upstairs, allocating myself the natural room at the far end of the landing. I’m staggered to find all of the pillows on the floor and the bed sheets crumpled from my brief lay down before Jesse transported me back to his bed after the dress massacre. I set about fixing the bed and then change into my ripped jeans and a black t-shirt. I could do with a shower, but I don’t want to leave Jesse alone for too long. It’ll have to wait.

Making my way back downstairs, I make a black coffee and as I stand sipping it in the kitchen, I figure it would be a good idea to read up on alcoholism. Jesse must have a computer somewhere.

I go in search, finding a laptop in his study. I fire it up, and I’m immensely relieved when it doesn’t prompt me for a password. This man has personal security issues. I take it downstairs and settle myself in the big chair opposite Jesse so I can keep an eye on him. Pulling up Google, I type in “Alcoholics”, and I’m presented with seventeen million results. At the top of the page, though, is “Alcoholics Anonymous”. That would be a good place to start, I suppose. John might have said that Jesse isn’t an alcoholic, but I’m doubtful myself.

After a few hours of browsing the internet, I feel like my brain cells have been zapped. There is so much to take in – long term effects, psychiatric problems, withdrawal symptoms. I read a piece about severe childhood trauma leading to alcoholism, which leaves me wondering if Jesse had something happen to him when he was a boy, the vicious scar on his abdomen springing to mind immediately. There are also genetic connections, so then I wonder if one of his parents was an alcoholic? I’m bombarded with information, and I don’t know what to do with any of it. These are not the sort of questions you just come right out and ask.

My mind flicks back to last Sunday and the things he said to me. “You’re a f**king prick tease, Ava”, “I needed you and you left me”. Then I had left him…again. He’d said he didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to have another excuse to leave him, but then he said he wasn’t an alcoholic. John said the same thing. If it’s a problem and it involves alcohol, then doesn’t that make him an alcoholic?

I shut the laptop in exasperation and put it on the coffee table. It’s only ten o’clock, but I’m totally spent. I don’t want to go upstairs to bed in case he wakes up and I don’t want to make myself comfortable, so I gather a few cushions up, lay them on the floor next to him and settle myself, resting my head on the sofa and stroking the hairs on his toned arms. It relaxes me to have the contact and it’s not long before my eyes are heavy and I’m drifting off.

Chapter 3

‘I love you.’

I’m vaguely aware of his palm holding the back of my head, his fingers running through my hair, and it feels so comforting…so right. I open my eyes and I’m met by a duller version of the green I know so well.

I jump to my feet and smack my ankle on the coffee table. ‘Shit!’ I curse.

‘Watch your mouth!’ he scolds me, his voice gritty and broken.

I grasp my ankle, but then I wake up fully and remember where I am. I drop my foot and swing my gaze to the sofa, finding Jesse sat up slightly, looking terrible, but at least he’s awake. ‘You’re awake!’ I cry.

He winces, clasping his head with his good hand.

Oh shit!

He must have the hangover from hell and here I am screeching like a banshee. I walk back the few steps needed to find the chair behind me, and then lower myself onto the seat. I have no idea what to say to him. I’m not about to ask how he’s feeling, that is pretty obvious, and I’m not going to hit him with a lecture about personal safety or for disregarding his health. I really want to ask him if he remembers our fight. What should I do?

I don’t know, so I resolve to sit with my hands in my lap and shut up.

I look at him, looking at me and my mind is racing with things I want to say, none of which I can. I want to tell him that I love him, for a start. And I want to ask him why he didn’t tell me he owns a sex club or that he has an issue with drink. Is he wondering what I’m doing here? Does he want me to leave? Oh, God, does he need a drink? The silence is killing me.

‘How are you feeling?’ I blurt, instantly wishing I had kept my mouth shut.

He sighs and inspects his damaged hand. ‘Shit.’ he states sharply.

Oh, okay. Now what do I say? He doesn’t seem pleased to see me at all, so perhaps I should go before I push him to crack another bottle open. He’ll have to go buy some more, though. That will probably be even more of a reason to be mad at me.

I decide he must need some fluids, so I get up and head towards the kitchen. I’ll get him some water and then I’ll leave.

‘Where are you going?’ he asks, slightly panicky and bolting upright on the couch.

‘I thought you might need some water.’ I assure him, my heart lifting a little. He doesn’t want me to leave. I’ve seen that face plenty of times. The domineering control freak usually follows, after he’s pinned me down somewhere, but I won’t get my hopes up too high. He hasn’t got the strength to be chasing, pinning or dominating me at the moment. I’m disappointed.