Beneath this man, p.11
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       Beneath This Man, p.11

         Part #2 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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Chapter 11

  'Hello, flower. ' Patrick comes out of his office as I take my seat. 'You're bright and early this morning. ' He sits on the edge of my desk and performs his usual snort of disgust as the desk performs its usual creak of protest. 'What have you got to tell me?'

  'Not much,' I turn my computer on. 'I have a meeting with Mr Van Der Haus at lunchtime to go over my designs. '

  'Oh, Good. What about Mr Ward?' he asks innocently. 'Have you heard from him yet?'

  Yes, I've handcuffed him to his bed!

  I feel my face flood with heat. 'Urhhh, no, I'm not sure when he's back from his business trip. ' I turn my flaming face away from Patrick and load my email up, mentally praying he leaves it right there.

  'It has been nearly two weeks, hasn't it?' he asks. I suspect he is frowning, but I can't look at him to confirm that. 'I wonder what's keeping him. '

  I cough. 'I really don't know. '

  Patrick rises from my desk on a long creak. 'He can't be in that much of a rush. ' he grumbles. 'Oh, by the way, our Sally is poorly. She won't be in today. ' he says as he makes his way back into his office.

  Sally is ill? That's not like her. Oh! It was her second date last night. Either it went very well and she's pulling a sicky to cavort in bed all day with Mr Mystery, or it went very badly and she's pulled a sicky to mope in bed all day with a box of tissues. I guiltily suspect it's the latter. Poor Sal.

  I sag in my chair on a long exhale, and then jump when I hear Angel seeping from my bag. Oh dear Lord. He's obviously freed himself. I'm not answering it. It rings off and immediately rings again, but it's my normal ringtone this time. I scoop my phone from my bag and take Miss Quinn's call.

  'Good morning, Miss Quinn. ' I greet cheerfully.

  'Hi, Ava. Please, it's Ruth. I was just checking in. Have you managed to get the ball rolling yet?'

  'Yes, I've prepared a schedule of fees for my services, Ruth, and I've drafted a few ideas to send over. '

  'Brilliant. ' She is very enthusiastic. 'I'll look forward to receiving them. Where do we go from there?'

  'Well, if you are happy with my fee structure and draft ideas, then we can start putting together some firm designs. '

  'Great, I'm so excited!' she exclaims.

  I smile. That much is obvious. 'Okay, I'll get the fee structure and drafts over to you by the end of play today. Bye, Ruth. '

  'Thanks, Ava. ' She hangs up, and I immediately set about scanning the designs into my computer. I love working with people who are as passionate about their home as I am.

  As ten o'clock hits, I've been in the office for three hours and I've got mountains of work done. I pick up my desk phone to chase Stella, my curtain maker, on Mrs Stiles' new drapes. I have a nice chat with Stella. She's a bit hippy and a naturist, judging by the dicey photographs scattered across the walls of her workshop, but she makes the most amazing soft furnishings. I'm more than pleased when she tells me that she is just packaging them up, ready for me to collect. It's a week sooner than I quoted Mrs Stiles, so she will be delighted.

  I hang up and swing back around in my chair, nearly having a seizure when I'm confronted with my arrogant God, who's looking down at me with raised, cunning eyebrows. His handsome face spreads into his customary roguish grin. I'm instantly on high alert.

  Oh no!

  He looks bloody delicious as well, in his grey suit and pale blue shirt, open at the collar with no tie. He's shaved his two days' worth of stubble and fixed his hair. My eyes are delighted, but my mind is racing with uncertainties.

  'How lovely to see you, Ava. ' he says smoothly as he reaches forward and puts his hand out. His jacket sleeve rides up, revealing his gold Rolex.

  Shit!

  I go stone cold when I see a collection of red welts around his wrist, the gold strap of his watch doing nothing to conceal them. It's his damaged hand too. I flick my startled eyes up to him and he nods in acknowledgment. I mentally kick my stupid self around the office. I've hurt him. I feel hideous. I don't blame him for being so furious.

  I place my hand in his, but I don't grip it. I don't want to hurt him anymore. 'I'm so sorry. ' I whisper the words quietly, my voice full of the regret I truly feel. My unreasonable desire to know his age has marked him. I really am going to be in for it.

  'I know you are. ' he answers coldly.

  'Ah! Mr Ward. ' Patrick's cheerful voice invades my ears as he approaches my desk from his office. I release my hold of Jesse. 'How very good to see you. I was just asking Ava if she had heard from you. '

  'Mr Peterson, how are you?' Jesse gives him his full on melt worthy smile, usually reserved for women.

  'Very good, how was your business trip?' Patrick asks.

  Jesse's eyes swing to mine briefly before returning to Patrick's. 'I secured my assets. ' he replies, completely composed.

  Assets?

  'Did you receive the deposit I made?' he asks.

  Patrick's face lights up. 'Yes, absolutely. Thank you. ' he confirms. I notice he doesn't advise Mr Ward that it is far too much for an initial upfront payment.

  'Good, as I said before, I'm eager to get things moving. My unexpected business trip has put us a bit behind. ' He accentuates unexpected.

  'Of course, I'm sure Ava will sort you out. ' Patrick places his hand on my shoulder affectionately, and Jesse's eyes fall straight onto it.

  Oh no. Don't trample my boss!

  'I'm sure she will. ' he muses quietly, his eyes still firmly fixed on Patrick's unmoved hand.

  He's sixty years old, silver haired and about five stone overweight. He surely can't be threatened by my big, cuddly bear of a boss?

  He shoots his eyes back to Patrick. 'I was going to ask Ava if she would like to join me for some brunch so we can go over a few things. You don't mind. '

  That last part was definitely not a question. Oh yes, he's trampling.

  'Be my guest. ' Patrick chirps happily. I notice he doesn't ask me.

  'Actually, I have an appointment at lunchtime. ' I pipe up. I point to the page in my new diary which is absent of the big, black, permanent marker pen lines that Jesse put through every day of my last diary. I want to hold off on this altercation for as long as possible. I'm not at all comfortable with that wily look all over his face. He's loving this, but then he catches a glimpse of my new diary and frowns, his jaw ticking slightly.

  Yes, I replaced it! He better not even think about sabotaging my new one.

  'That's not until noon. ' Jesse points out, and I cringe. 'I won't keep you too long. ' he adds on a husky, promising voice that also harbours a bit of threat.

  'There you go!' Patrick sings as he walks off to his office. 'It was nice to see you, Mr Ward. '

  I sit tapping my front tooth frantically with my nail while I try to think of a way out of this. There is none, and even if I had a valid reason, I would only be delaying the inevitable. I gaze up at the man who I love beyond measure, and I am literally trembling. He is playing it far too cool. It's a million miles away from the raging beast I left handcuffed to the bed this morning.

  'Shall we?' he asks, as he puts his hands in his pockets. I collect my phone from my desk and stuff it in my bag, along with my file for The Life Building. I'll need to head straight to The Royal Park for my meeting with Mikael after my meeting with Jesse.

  He holds the door open for me, and Tom comes barreling through before I have a chance to exit. His eyes go all wide and shocked when he clocks who's holding the door.

  'Mr Ward!' he splutters, and then throws me a questioning look. It's ridiculous for him to be addressing Jesse so formally. He's been out drinking and dancing with him.

  'Tom. ' Jesse nods, all business like.

  'I'm just going for a breakfast meeting with Mr Ward. ' I tilt my head to the side and flash a telling look. I hear Jesse laugh lightly.

  'Oh, I see. A business meeting, huh?' Tom chuckles. I could kick him in the shins. He turn
s to Jesse and holds his hand out. 'It was nice to see you, Mr Ward. I hope you enjoy your business meeting. ' He winks as Jesse takes his hand, and I decide there and then that when I next see Tom, I will kick him in the shins.

  I exit hastily onto the street, relieved I'm away from the office and the possibility of being ratted out, but nervous that I am now pretty much at Jesse's mercy. I'm not deluded enough to think that just because we're in public he won't have me pinned against the nearest free wall as soon as he can.

  We walk along, side by side, until we hit Piccadilly. I don't know where we're going, but I keep up with him. He makes no attempt to take my hand and he doesn't speak. I'm getting more apprehensive by the second. I glance up at him and find his face is completely straight and he doesn't return my gaze, although I know he knows that I'm looking at him.

  'Excuse me, have you got the time?' A mature business woman asks Jesse.

  He takes his hand from his pocket and looks at his watch. I wince at the sight of the marks on his wrist. His hand is still bruised from the beating he gave his car, and I've added to it. 'It's ten fifteen. ' He flashes his smile, reserved only for woman, and she pools on the pavement in front of him.

  I'm spiked with immense possessiveness as she gushes a thank you. She is probably more Jesse's age than me, the brazen hussy. You can't possibly tell me that she doesn't have a phone she could check. Everyone has a bloody phone these days, and why didn't she ask that middle aged, overweight, balding, sweaty type in front of us? I roll my eyes as I wait for Jesse to take the initiative and lead on.

  After he's spent a few moments blasting the woman with his knockout smile, ensuring she gets the full on experience, he carries on his way, me following. As I look back, I see the woman glancing over her shoulder. How desperate and unashamed can someone be? I laugh to myself. I'm that desperate when it comes to Jesse, and I'm also completely unashamed.

  We cross the road and approach The Ritz, and I'm stunned when the door is opened for us. Jesse signals for me to enter. We're having brunch at The Ritz?

  I say nothing as he leads me to the restaurant and we're seated in the most obscenely regal space. This isn't Jesse at all, and it certainly isn't me.

  'We'll have the Eggs Benedict twice, both with smoked salmon, both on granary, a cappuccino, extra shot, no chocolate and a strong black coffee. Thank you. ' Jesse hands the menu to the waiter.

  'Certainly, Sir,' He picks up my fancy, fabric napkin and lays it across my lap and repeats the same carefully executed move on Jesse before backing away from the table. I gaze around at the affluent surroundings which is full of well-bred, wealthy folk. I feel uncomfortable.

  'How is your day going?' he asks casually, with no hint of any emotion in his tone. This just increases my unease further, the question dragging me back to his dark presence across the swanky table. He removes the napkin from his lap and places it on the table, his face expressionless as he regards me.

  What the hell I should say. It's not even ten thirty and I'm already having a pretty exclusive day. So far, I've found out how old he is, used a vibrator, handcuffed him to the bed and left him there, and now I'm having a late breakfast in The Ritz. It's certainly not your usual daily happenings.

  'I'm not sure. ' I answer honestly, because I have a feeling there are going to be a few more exclusives I can add to that list.

  His eyes lower so his super lashes fan his cheekbones. 'Shall I tell you how my day is going?' he asks.

  'If you like,' I whisper. My voice is full of all the nervousness I really feel. I'm not even confident that he wouldn't cause a scene in the most posh hotel in London in front of the most posh people in London.

  He sits back in his chair and hammers me with his potent green gaze. 'Well, my morning run was waylaid by a challenging little temptress, who handcuffed me to our bed and tortured me for information. She then abandoned me, leaving me helpless and in desperate need of her. ' He starts fiddling with the fork at his place setting, and I wilt under his stare. He takes a deep breath. 'I eventually got hold of my phone that she left just. . . out. . . of. . . reach. . . ' He pinches his thumb and index finger together. 'And then waited for a member of my staff to come and free me. I ran fourteen miles in my personal best time to expel some of the pent up frustrations that she presented me with, and now I'm looking at her beautiful face and wanting to bend her over this wonderfully dressed table and fuck her into next week. '

  I gasp at his crass words, spoken with no concern in the middle of the Ritz restaurant. Oh God, what must Big John think of me? I hope he laughed. He seems to find Jesse's reactions and behaviour towards me quite amusing.

  The waiter places our coffees down and we both nod a thank you before he backs away again.

  I pick up my fancy - probably solid - silver spoon and start slowly stirring my coffee. 'You have had quite an action packed morning. ' I say quietly. Of all the things I could have said? I glance up nervously and find him fighting a grin from his face. It makes me feel so much better. He wants to laugh, but he wants to be angry with me too.

  He sighs. 'Ava, don't ever do that to me again. '

  I disintegrate on my yellow throne. 'You were crazy mad. ' I breathe on a long, relieved exhale.

  'I was way, way past crazy mad, Ava. ' He reaches up and starts circling his temples, as if trying to rid himself of the memory.

  'Why?'

  He pauses mid-rub. 'Because I couldn't get to you,' He says it like I'm stupid. He must catch my look of confusion because he moves his fingers to his forehead and rests his elbows on the table. 'The thought of not being able to reach you actually made me panic. '

  What?

  'I was in the room!' I blurt a bit too loudly. I take a quick glance around to make sure I've not drawn any attention from the posh clientele.

  He scowls at me. 'You weren't in the room when you left!'

  I lean across the table. 'I left because you threatened me. ' This is most definitely not a conversation for the plushness of The Ritz.

  'Well, that's because you made me crazy mad. ' He widens his eyes at me. 'When did you get those handcuffs?' he asks accusingly as his palms hit the table, the bang silencing the other diners surrounding us.

  I sit back in my throne and wait for them to continue with their conversation. 'When I left work yesterday. You kind of pissed all over my plan with your retribution fuck. ' I grumble moodily.

  'Watch your mouth. I pissed on your plan?' he asks incredulously. 'Ava, let me tell you, nowhere in my plan was it written that you would have me restrained and at your mercy. So, it is you who pissed all over my plan. '

  We both cease all speaking of plans, retribution fucks and handcuffs when the waiter approaches with our food. He places it in front of me first and then Jesse, swiveling the plates around so the presentation - which looks more like art - is at its best position for us to admire before we attack it with our knife and fork. I smile my thanks.

  'Is that all, Sir?' The waiter asks Jesse.

  'Yes, thank you. '

  The waiter removes himself from the table and leaves us to resume our inappropriate conversation.

  I sink my knife into my dish. It looks too good to eat. 'You should know your temptress is extremely pleased with herself. ' I say thoughtfully as I wrap my lips around the most delicious piece of granary toast, topped with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce.

  'I bet she is. ' He raises his eyebrows. 'Does she know how crazy in love with her I am?'

  I melt on a sigh. I'm in The Ritz, eating the most incredible food and I'm looking across the table at the most devastatingly handsome man I've ever laid eyes on - my devastatingly handsome man. All mine. I am back to basking in the sun on Central Jesse Cloud Nine. 'I think she does. ' I confirm.

  He turns his attention back to his dish. 'She had better not just think. ' he says sternly.

  'She knows. '

  'Good. '

  'What's the problem, an
yway?' I ask. 'Thirty seven is nothing. '

  His eyes flick to mine. He looks almost embarrassed. 'I don't know. You're in your mid-twenties and I'm in my mid to late-thirties. '

  'So?' I watch him closely. He really does have a complex about his age. 'It bothers you more than it does me. '

  'Maybe. ' He fights a smile from his lips. I can see he is relieved at my lack of concern. I shake my head, returning to my dish. My arrogant playboy has an insecurity, but I love him all the more for it.

  We eat in a comfortable silence, the waiter checking if everything is to our satisfaction at regular intervals. How could it not be? When we're done, he clears our plates swiftly and Jesse asks for the bill.

  'So, when are we going dress shopping then?' he asks before taking a sip of his coffee.

  I let out an exasperated breath. I'd forgot about that. I know if I defy him on this, I'll be promptly ejected from Central Jesse Cloud Nine. I shrug. 'You don't have to come. ' I can shoot to House of Fraser anytime on my travels.

  'I want to come and anyway, I owe you a dress, remember?' He smirks, and I'm swiftly reminded of the dress massacre. He only wants to come so he can make an appropriate selection, and that means I'll probably be wearing ski pants and a roll neck jumper.

  'Friday lunch?' I try, failing miserably to sound upbeat.

  His frown line jumps into position. 'That's cutting it a bit fine, isn't it?'

  'I'll find something. ' I finish the most scrumptious coffee I've ever had.

  'Put me in your diary for Friday afternoon. . . all afternoon. '

  'What?' I feel my brow knit.

  He takes a wad of notes out of his pocket and puts five twenties in the leather bound book that the waiter has just left. One hundred pounds for breakfast? That's my new dress!

  'Make Mr Ward a Friday afternoon appointment. Say, one-ish. ' His greens are dancing with delight. 'We'll go dress shopping and there will be no rush to get ready for the party. '

  'I can't book out my whole afternoon for one appointment!' I splutter in disbelief. Mr unreasonable is back.

  'You can and you will. I'm paying him enough. ' He stands and makes his way to my side of the table. 'You need to tell Patrick that you're living with me. I'm not pussy footing around him for much longer. '

  Am I living with him? I stand, taking the hand he has offered, and let him lead me out of the restaurant. No, he won't pussy foot around. He'll just keep trampling him instead. 'It will make things awkward. ' I try to reason. 'He won't be impressed, Jesse. And I don't want him to think that I'm slacking instead of working if I should have any business meetings with you. '

  'I couldn't give a fuck what he thinks. If he doesn't like it, then you'll retire. ' he says, marching on, dragging me behind him.

  Retire? I love my job, and I love Patrick too. He's joking. 'You're going to trample him, aren't you?' I say warily. My man is like a Rhinoceros.

  The valet hands him his car keys and Jesse slips him a fifty. A fifty? Just for parking and returning his car? Granted, it is a very nice car, but still.

  He turns into me, grazes his palm down my cheek and circles his nose on mine. 'Are we friends?' His minty freshness hits me like a bulldozer.

  'Yes,' I submit, but judging by the last few minutes' conversation, I don't expect we will be for long. Retire? 'Thank you for breakfast. '

  He smiles. 'Anytime. Where are you going now?'

  'The Royal Park. '

  'Near Lancaster Gate? I'll take you. ' He presses his lips hard onto mine and pushes his hips gently forward.

  I gasp.

  He can't thrust me outside The Ritz! I hear him laugh at my shock before he pulls me towards his car. The valet opens the door for me, and I smile sweetly before climbing in. After Jesse has slid in behind the wheel and given my knee a quick squeeze, he roars off into the mid-morning, London traffic at his usual alarming speed. I wonder how many points he has on his license.

  So, I've just had a business breakfast with Mr Ward, of which the only business we discussed is crazy stuff. 'What am I going to tell Patrick?' I turn and look at him. Oh, he is so handsome.

  'What, about us?' He flicks his eyes to me. His frown line is firmly in place.

  'No, about our business breakfast. What have we discussed?'

  He shrugs. 'Tell him we've agreed fees and I want you at The Manor on Friday to finalise the designs. '

  'You make it sound so simple. ' I sigh, sitting back in my seat and looking across the parks.

  He places his hand on my knee and squeezes. 'Baby, you make it sound so complicated. '

  Jesse screeches up outside The Royal Park and waves a delighted looking valet away when he approaches to collect Jesse's car.

  'I'll see you at home. ' He wraps his palm around the back of my neck and yanks me over to him, taking his time to say his goodbye. I let him. I could crawl all over him. Sod the valet stood close by, looking longingly at the DBS.

  'Six-ish. ' I confirm as he kisses the corner of my mouth.

  He grins. 'ish. '

  I know it's not the right time to approach the subject, but it's going to eat away at me for the rest of the day. He can't be serious, surely? 'I can't retire at twenty six. '

  He sits back in his seat, the stupid, sodding cogs kicking into action. It worries me instantly. He is serious. 'I told you, I don't like sharing you. '

  'That's stupid. ' I blurt, which was obviously wrong, judging by the scowl that has just flashed across his face.

  'Don't call me stupid, Ava. '

  'I wasn't calling you stupid. I was calling your ambitious intention stupid. ' I argue quietly. 'I'm never going to leave you. ' I reach over and slide my hand across the back of his neck. Does he need re-assurance on this?

  His lip disappears between his teeth as he stares at the steering wheel of the DBS. 'That doesn't stop people from trying to take you. I can't let that happen. ' He turns tortured eyes onto me. It punches a massive hole in my stomach.

  'What people?' I ask, alarm clear in my tone.

  He shakes his head. 'No specific people. I don't deserve you, Ava, but by some fucking miracle, I've got you. I'll protect you fiercely - eliminate any threat. ' His hands slide over the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white from his harsh grip. 'Okay, we need to stop talking about this because I'm feeling a bit violent. '

  I sit and look across at my beautiful, neurotic control freak and wish I could give him the reassurance that he needs. My words won't ever work. I absolutely realise that now. I'm also fully aware that what he actually means is he'll eliminate any male threat to him, not me.

  I undo my belt and crawl across the car to straddle his lap, with complete disregard for the valet, who is still dribbling all over the DBS. I pull his face up to mine, cupping his cheeks and lowering my lips to his. He moans and slides his hands around to clench my bum and pull me in towards his hips. I want him to take me back to Lusso right now, but I can't brush Mikael off.

  Our tongues slowly sweep together, rolling, pulling back and plunging again, time and time again. I ache with need for this man - painful, constant aching, and I know he feels exactly the same about me.

  I pull back and find his eyes clenched shut. I've seen that look before, and the last time I saw it, it was because he had something to tell me. 'What's wrong?' I ask nervously.

  His eyes fly open quickly, like he's suddenly realised that he was pulling a complete give away face. 'Nothing is wrong. ' He brushes away a loose tendril of my hair. 'Everything is right. '

  I stiffen in his lap. He's said that before too, and everything really wasn't right. 'You have something you want to tell me. ' I state it as a fact.

  'You're right, I do. ' His head drops, and I feel sick - stomach churning sick, but then his eyes lift again and find mine. 'I crazy love you, baby. '

  I recoil slightly. 'That's not what you want to tell me. ' I say suspiciously.

  He reduces me to a
pool of steam on his lap when he blasts me with his smile, reserved only for women. 'Yes, it is. And I'll keep telling you until you get fed up of hearing it. It's a novelty to me. ' He shrugs. 'I like saying it. '

  'I won't get fed up of hearing it, and don't be saying it to anyone else. I don't care how much you like saying it. '

  He grins, a real boyish, cheeky grin. 'Would that make you jealous?'

  I scoff. 'Mr Ward, let's not talk about jealously when you've just vowed to eliminate any threat. ' I say dryly.

  'Okay, let's not. ' He pulls me in and rolls his hips upwards, unearthing a wicked beat at my very centre. 'Let's get a room instead. ' he whispers, flicking those damn delectable hips up once more.

  I frantically scramble out of his lap, eager to escape that mind melting touch before I rip his suit off here and now. 'I'm going to be late for my meeting. ' I grab my bag and press my lips briefly on his. 'I need you waiting in bed when I get home. '

  He smiles a satisfied smile. 'Are you making demands, Miss O'Shea?'

  'Are you going to deny me, Mr Ward?'

  'Never, but you do remember who has the power, don't you?' He makes a grab for me, but I bat his hands away quickly, jumping out of the car before he completely swallows me up.

  I pop my head back in. 'You do, but I need you. So could you please be naked and waiting?'

  'You need me?' he asks, a triumphant look on his face.

  'Always. See you at yours. ' I shut the door, hearing him yell OURS as I walk off.

  I'm suddenly aware of eyes drilling into me, and I turn to find the valet with the biggest grin on his face. I blush profusely and scuttle up the steps into the hotel. I am thoroughly contented and bronzing nicely on Central Jesse Cloud Nine.

  I rummage through my bag when I hear my text chime.

  It's Jesse.

  I miss you, I love you, I need you too Jx

  I laugh. How did he do that so quickly? He only left me three seconds ago. I toss my phone in my bag and skip through the foyer of the Royal Park.

  I'm shown to the same snug where Mikael and I last met, and Mikael is already waiting for me. He has the mood boards laid out on the table and is studying them. He looks more casual today, his suit jacket removed, his tie loose, but his pale blonde hair still perfectly styled.

  He looks up when I walk in. 'Ava, very good to see you again. ' His lightly accented voice is as smooth as ever.

  'And you, Mikael. You received the drafts?' I nod at the boards as I set my bag down on one of the large, green leather couches.

  'Yes, but the problem is I love them all. You're too good. ' He puts his hand out, and I take it.

  'I'm glad. ' I smile brightly while he shakes my hand gently.

  He releases me and turns back towards the table. 'I'm veering towards this one, though. ' He points to the cream and white scheme that I'm favouring myself.

  'That would be my choice too. ' I say cheerily. 'I think it encapsulates your aspiration best. '

  'It does. ' he agrees, smiling warmly at me. 'Take a seat, Ava. Would you like a drink?'

  I perch on a sofa. 'Water would be good, thank you. '

  He signals to the waiter at the doorway before lowering himself onto the sofa next to me. 'I apologise for the hold up on our meeting. Things didn't go as swiftly as I planned back home. '

  Oh. That would be his divorce then. I can't imagine things would go smoothly when you are as rich as Mikael. His wife is probably trying to take him for every penny. Why else would it not be going smoothly? I don't say anything, though. I suspect Ingrid shouldn't have divulged as much as she did. I don't want to get her sacked. I liked her.

  'It's not a problem, really. ' I smile and return my eyes to the mood boards. 'So, we're swinging towards this one then?' I place my hand on the cream and white scheme.

  He shifts forward. 'Yes, I like the simplicity and warmness. You are very clever. One would think it would come across insipid and cold, but it doesn't at all. '

  'Thank you, It's all about the fabrics and tones. '

  He smiles, his blue eyes shimmering. 'Yes, I guess it is. '

  We spend a few hours discussing the time frames, schedules and budgets. He is really quite easy to be around, which is a huge relief after he invited me to dinner at our previous meeting. I was worried things would be awkward, but it's not at all. He took my answer on the chin and has said no more.

  'It will all be sustainable material, yes?' He runs his long finger over the drawings of a bespoke four-poster bed I have sketched.

  'Of course,' I mentally thank Ingrid for the important piece of information that Mikael neglected to tell me previously. I indicate the other pieces of furniture I've drafted. 'It's all sustainable, as per you specification. I understand the forestry commission in Scandinavia is a serious business. '

  'It is,' he laughs. 'We all have to do our bit for the environment. We got some bad press after Lusso. '

  My mind's eye is flooded with an image of twelve superbikes and a petrol guzzling DBS. I bet Mikael drives a Hybrid Prius. 'We do,' I agree. He casts his eyes to mine, and I smile mildly. 'Excuse me while I use the ladies'. ' I collect my bag and leave him.

  I spend five minutes in the toilets refreshing my face and using the facilities. I'm pleased with how the meeting is progressing, and I'm eager to get back to the office to start working on the master design. I ruffle my hair, pinch my cheeks and exit the ladies', walking across the lobby of the hotel and back to the snug.

  As I enter, I nearly choke on thin air when I see Jesse stood next to Mikael, bold as bloody brass, looking over my designs.

  What the fucking hell is he doing here?

 
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