Beneath This Man (This Man #2)(8)


by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘Did you miss any?’ he asks, his lips pressing into a straight line.

He’s worried I could be pregnant? ‘My period came last Sunday evening.’ I say. Like an omen or something, I want to add, but I don’t. I switch off the ignition.

He remains silent as I get out of the car and wait for him to eject himself.

‘Could you have parked any further away?’ he grumbles, joining me on my side of the car.

‘At least I’m parked legally.’ I walk to the rack of trollies lined up at the shelter and slip a pound in the top to release one. ‘Have you ever been to a supermarket?’ I ask as we make our way up the canopied walkway. Jesse and a supermarket is not something that fits together naturally.

He shrugs. ‘Cathy does it. I usually eat at The Manor.’

The mention of Jesse’s super plush sex club has me bristling and losing all enthusiasm in trying to make conversation. I feel his eyes on me, but I ignore it and focus ahead of me.

As we make our way around the supermarket, I load in the essentials and Jesse loads in a dozen jars of peanut butter, a few jars of chocolate spread and a several cans of squirty cream.

‘Do you not have anything?’ I ask, dumping milk in the trolley.

He shrugs and takes control with his good hand. ‘Cathy’s been away.’

I guide him around into the next aisle and instantly realise that I’ve unwittingly led him into the alcohol section. I fly around in a panic and get the trolley rammed into my shin. ‘Fuck!’ I exclaim on a wince.

‘Ava, watch your mouth!’

I rub my shin. Damn that hurts. ‘We don’t need this aisle.’ I blurt, frantically pushing the trolley back towards him.

He walks backwards. ‘Ava, stop it.’

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realise where we were.’

‘For God’s sake, woman, I’m not going to dive into the shelves and rip the caps off the bottles. Are you okay?’

I frown and look down at my shin. ‘I’m fine,’ I mutter, pissed off that I wasn’t paying attention to where we were. I lean down and run my palm up my shin. It bloody hurts.

I go to straighten up and I’m stunned when I find Jesse on his knees in front of me. He rests his damaged hand around the back of my leg and lifts with his good hand to sit my foot on his knee before leaning down and planting a kiss on my shin. We’re in the middle of the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon and he is literally on his knees kissing my leg.

‘Better?’ he asks as he looks up at me. ‘I’m sorry. For everything, Ava.’

I look down at his beautiful, stubbled face and I want to cry. I can see total sincerity in his eyes as he looks up at me. ‘Okay.’ I reply quietly, not knowing what else to say.

He nods and sighs, then leans up and plants a chaste kiss on my stomach before getting to his feet. He leads me away from the alcohol aisle and straight to the cosmetics section where he collects some shaving gel and blades. I look up at his overgrown stubble and wonder whether I want him to get rid of it. The more I look at it, the more I like it.

By the time we get back to Lusso, it’s six o’clock and we find the door has been repaired. Jesse goes to lie on the sofa, exhausted from a few hours out, and I stand in the kitchen after unpacking the shopping, wondering what to do. It’s Saturday evening and usually at this time I would be cracking open a bottle of wine and settling down for the evening. There is no wine and I can’t settle, so instead, I ring Kate.

‘What are you up to?’ I ask as I plant myself on a barstool with a coffee – not wine, but coffee.

‘We’re on our way out.’ she says cheerfully.

‘We?’

‘Yes, we. Don’t ask me who we is, Ava. You already know.’

That means it’s Kate and Sam, and I’m not to make a big deal of it. I am, however, slightly envious. ‘Where are you going?’

‘Sam’s taking me to The Manor.’

What?

Okay, the envy has disintegrated. ‘The Manor?’ I blurt incredulously. Is she winding me up?

‘Yes, don’t get the wrong idea. I asked him to. I’m curious.’

Holy f**king shit! Kate’s coolness knows no bounds. While I disintegrated on the spot when I discovered exactly what The Manor represents, she wants to go and socialise there? Bloody hell, I can’t believe Sam has agreed to this. Sam is a member which should, but obviously doesn’t, alarm her. The man I’m involved with owns the place, and I’ve still not established all of the nitty gritty with regards to the business and/or recreational side of things. Well, I know it has been recreational, but to what level? Judging by the evil looks I was subjected to by the female members on the few occasions I was there, my suspicions tell me there has been a lot of recreational. The thought depresses me, and I’m hankering after some wine even more now.

‘And Sam’s happy to take you?’ I ask as casually as I can, but there’s no hiding the shock in my voice.

‘Yeah, he’s told me what goes down and I want to see.’ She sounds so matter-of-fact, laidback Kate prevailing again. I’m in meltdown just thinking about the place. I hate her for being so open-minded. And what does go down, anyway?

‘It’s a nice place,’ I shrug to myself, spinning my coffee mug on the counter. What else can I say?

‘How’s Jesse?’ she asks.

I detect the edginess of her tone. Does she still like him as much now? It’s clear the fact that he owns The Manor will not be an issue, but she wasn’t best pleased when I eventually stopped crying for long enough to tell her about the drunken arsehole I encountered when I came back to make amends with him. He seems fine, but I’m definitely not. What to say?

I settle for, ‘He’s fine. His hand is just muscle damage and he insists he’s not an alcoholic.’

‘I’m glad.’ Her sincerity is sweet, and I’m relieved she isn’t hurling explicit language down the phone and demanding I walk away. ‘Well, he doesn’t fall out of bed and wrap his lips around a bottle of vodka, does he?’ She laughs.

‘No! He just doesn’t know when to stop when he does start, apparently. It’s still a problem, though, Kate.’

‘You’ll be fine, Ava.’ she assures me.

Will I? I’m not so sure. I thought being here with him would start to mend the mess, but it hasn’t. I’ve told him what I want, but he doesn’t seem to be all that keen on giving it to me, attempting, instead, to distract me as he knows best. I decide to give him until the morning. If he hasn’t talked to me by then, I’ll leave. I’ll cave into his touch soon if I’m not careful.

‘Yeah, listen,’ I snap my attention back to Kate. ‘I would say have fun tonight, but I’m more inclined to say… keep an open mind.’

‘Ava, you don’t get more open minded than me. I can’t wait! Speak to you tomorrow.’

‘Bye,’ I hang up and run through my times at The Manor, when I thought it was an innocent hotel. I shake my head at myself. How could I have missed it all when everything seems so obvious now? I should cut myself some slack because I was completely diverted by a tall, lean framed man with dirty blonde hair and hypnotising green eyes. He was perfect. He still is, if a few pounds lighter and a few issues heavier.

I make my way upstairs to change out of my dress, throwing on a pair of cotton shorts and a vest before removing all of the grips from my hair.

When I get downstairs, Jesse is still asleep on the sofa. I mess around with the T.V cabinet for a while, but I can’t get the damn thing to open and reveal a television, so I slump into the chair and watch Jesse sleeping, his mangled hand draped over his solid chest and rising and falling with his steady breaths. As my thoughts wander naturally to chocolate éclairs, calla lilies and Angels, I drift off to sleep.

Chapter 5

‘I love you.’

I come awake in a daze of darkness and rub my eyes as I sit up in the chair. It takes me a few moments to figure out where I am, but when I begin to focus, I find a handsome, dark blonde man crouched in front of me.

‘Hey,’ he says softly as he brushes my hair from my face. I gaze around the vast open space to try and grab a hold of my bearings.

‘What time is it?’ I ask sleepily.

He leans in and kisses my forehead. ‘Just gone midnight.’

Midnight? I’m sleeping for England, and I could drift straight back off again, but I’m properly woken up when the shrill sound of a phone ringtone stabs at the silent air.

‘For f**k sake,’ Jesse complains.

I watch as he yanks his phone from the coffee table and looks at the screen. Who would be ringing at this time?

‘John,’ he greets calmly down the phone, ‘Why?’ He glances at me. ‘No, it’s fine…yeah…give me half hour.’ He hangs up.

‘What’s the matter?’ I ask, fully awake now.

He shoves his Converse on and stalks for the door, clearly unhappy. ‘Problem at The Manor. I won’t be long.’

And just like that, he’s gone.

So, I’m wide awake, it’s past midnight and Jesse has just disappeared in the middle of the night. How is he going to drive with one hand? I sit in the chair like a loose part and contemplate what is going on at The Manor of such urgency.

Oh no, Kate is there.

I run into the kitchen and find my phone to call her, but she doesn’t answer. I try repeatedly and with each unanswered call, I get more worried. I should just call Jesse, but he seemed pretty pissed off. I pace up and down, make myself a coffee and sit at the island repeatedly dialing Kate. If my car was here, I would be on my way to The Manor. Or would I? It’s easy for me to say I would, especially when there is no way I can.

After pacing the penthouse for an hour and calling Kate endlessly, I give in and go to bed, crawling into the plush, soft sheets of the spare room bed and curling up.

‘I love you.’

I open my eyes and find Jesse looming over the bed. I’m somewhere between sleep and consciousness and my mouth won’t work. What time is it and how long has he been gone? I don’t get a chance to ask, though. I’m gathered up into his arms and transported to his room.

‘You sleep here.’ he whispers, lowering me into his bed. I feel him crawl in behind me, and I’m tugged back against his chest.

If I wasn’t so contented, I would be asking questions, but I am, so I won’t. My head hits the pillow and with Jesse’s warmness surrounding me, I’m gone again.

‘Morning,’

My eyes open and I’m pinned to the mattress under a heady scent of fresh water and mint. My morning brain is desperately trying to convince me to struggle free, but my body is blocking all of the sensible instructions trying to filter through.

He sits back on his heels. ‘I need to do this.’ he whispers, clasping my hand and pulling me into a sitting position.

He takes the hem of my vest and slowly pulls it up over my head before leaning into me and kissing the middle of my chest, running his tongue in a light, flicking circle up to my throat.

I’m tense.

He pulls back. ‘Lace,’ he says softly as he removes my bra.

I battle between my body’s desperate need for him and my mind’s strong need to talk. I want to clear the air before I’m dragged back onto Central Jesse Cloud Nine where I lose all cognitive reasoning. ‘Jesse, we need to talk.’ I say quietly as he kisses my throat and works his way to my ear. Every nerve is buzzing, pleading with me to shut up and accept him.

‘I need you.’ he whispers, finding my mouth and plunging his tongue in.

‘Jesse, please.’ My voice is a breathy whisper.

‘Baby, I do my talking this way.’ He grips the nape of my neck and pulls me further into him. ‘Let me show you.’