Beneath this man, p.14
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       Beneath This Man, p.14

         Part #2 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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Chapter 14

  Six o'clock approaches and I start clearing my desk. Everyone else has left, so it's down to me to do the office checks and lock up. Kate pulls up in Margo Junior and I jump in.

  'I can't believe you suggested a girls night out in front of Jesse!' I fire at her immediately as I settle and put my belt on. In my huffy state, I begrudgingly marvel at the comfort of Kate's new van.

  'Nice to see you too. ' She pulls into the traffic. 'He said you can go, so what's the problem?'

  'The problem is, he won't let me drink because he has this unreasonable worry that if he's not there to look out for me, I might end up dead or something. '

  She laughs. 'How sweet. '

  I scoff . 'No, it's not. It's unreasonable. '

  'Pah! He'll never know. Let's be rebels!'

  'You've got to be kidding me. ' I laugh, although I really feel like being a rebel at the moment. I feel like getting drunk, but that would just be thoughtless. 'He's just thrown a rage over a male client. He actually hijacked my meeting with Mikael Van Der Haus and marked his territory. It was mortifying. ' I blurt it out, still racing through reasons for Mikael to find my relationship with Jesse interesting.

  'Yikes!'

  'On the plus side, though, I do know how old he is now. '

  Kate swings her blues to me with a look of excitement. 'Really?'

  I nod. 'Really. '

  'Come on then. Reveal the mystery of ages. '

  'Thirty seven. '

  'No!' she says dramatically. 'Really? He doesn't look it. How did you find out?'

  'I introduced Jesse to the truth fuck yesterday morning. ' I don't know why I have completely, unashamedly admitted that because I know she'll be pumping me for more information. Do I care?

  'You've known a whole day and not told me?'

  'Sorry. ' I shrug. There's a lot more than his age. A lot more, but I need wine to delve into that shit. I need a night out to off load it all on Kate.

  'What's a truth fuck?' She frowns.

  There we are. 'It involves Jesse handcuffed to the bed and me with a vibrator,' I look at her. 'He doesn't like sharing me, even with a machine. ' I add dryly. She bursts into laughter and the van swerves. I grab the door. 'Kate!'

  'Sorry,' she splutters. 'Oh, I love it!'

  I've got so much to push on her, but her own situation is worrying me. 'What's going on with you and Sam?'

  She stops laughing immediately. 'Nothing. '

  I roll my eyes on a dramatic sigh. 'Nothing. Of course. '

  'Hey, what the hell are you wearing to this big bash?' she asks, in an obvious diversion from my enquiries.

  I inwardly groan. Am I even going now? 'I don't know, Jesse is supposed to be taking me shopping. '

  'Oh? He is, is he?' she muses. 'Make the most of old money bags. '

  'I'm not looking forward to it. I've not been there since last Sunday, and that pouty faced tramp will be there. ' I grumble. No doubt I'll be receiving another warning. I sit back in my seat and think of all the other things I would prefer to do tomorrow night, and now Jesse is quite clearly raging with me, my enthusiasm has not lifted. It's me who should be raging. He's got some explaining to do in light of Mikael's brainteaser.

  We pull up outside my old flat, and I see Matt's white BMW. My heart sinks, but I knew he would have to be here to let me in.

  'Do you want me to come in?' Kate asks.

  I mull over the question for a few seconds but decide it's probably best if she waits in Margo. Kate is a feisty bugger when she wants to be, and all I have to do is get in, be polite and get out. I shall be quick about it as well.

  'No, I'll bring it out to you. ' I open the van door and get out. I'm feeling sicker by the minute. Jesse's already crazy mad over a stupid telephone call. I would call him unreasonable if it hadn't been for Mikael's line of conversation, but Jesse doesn't know what was said, although his reaction speaks volumes.

  I make my way up the steps and press the buzzer for our apartment, looking up at my building and feeling unexpectedly sad that I don't live here anymore.

  'Hi. ' Matt's happy voice comes over the intercom.

  'Hi. ' I say as informally as I can. I don't want to get into friendly conversation with him. I'm still pissed he had the nerve to call my parents.

  'I'll buzz you in. '

  I hear the door mechanism release and I look back at Kate, giving a little wave to indicate I'm going in. She puts her thumb up and flashes her mobile at me. I nod my understanding and step into the corridor of the downstairs entrance hall.

  Making my way up the stairs, I take calming breaths while giving myself a mental pep talk. I must not mention the call to my parents and I must not get involved in too much conversation.

  When I reach the top, I see the front door open slightly. Shaking myself up, I walk straight in. I don't shut the door; I don't plan on being here long. I look in the kitchen and lounge for Matt, but he is nowhere to be seen, so I head for the bedroom and find my stuff piled in bags and boxes. With Matt nowhere to be found, I start collecting a few bags up in my hands, but when I turn to leave the room, I find Matt stood in the doorway with a glass of red wine in his hand. He's wearing his beige suit. I've always hated that suit, not that I've told him. His dark hair is in its usual side parting and combed neatly.

  'Hi. ' he says on an over-the-top smile.

  'Hey, I looked for you. ' I explain as I lift the bags. 'Kate's waiting in her van. I'll take these down to her. ' There's no hiding the hostility that develops at the mention of Kate's name, but I ignore it and walk with purpose to the door, stopping when he makes no attempt to get out of my way.

  'Excuse me. ' My politeness is killing me.

  He smiles at me, then takes a cocky swig of his wine before standing back a fraction, giving me just enough room to slip past and make my way down to Kate. When she sees me emerging from the building, she jumps out of her van and runs around to open the back doors.

  'That was quick. ' she says, taking the bags from me.

  'He's packed for me. ' I nod at the bags and raise a brow.

  She smirks. 'That's very civilised of him. '

  I return to the apartment and grab a few more. It would be quicker if Kate came and got a few, but the pick-up has been quite straight forward and pain free up till now. Introducing Kate into the equation is a sure fire way to send the situation into anarchy, so I traipse back and forth, shifting my worldly possessions alone. I notice Matt doesn't offer to help.

  I hand my ninth and tenth bag to Kate. 'How many more?' She thrusts them in the van.

  'Just one box. ' I say on an about turn. He better have packed everything because I don't want to come back.

  I make my way back up and grab the final box, turning to make my hasty exit, but I find Matt blocking my escape again.

  'Ava, can we talk?' he asks hopefully.

  I cringe. 'Talk about what?' I know damn well what this is about. I need to get out of here. I can't rehash this shit again. The last time I rejected his proposal to give it another shot, he turned nasty.

  'Us,' He waves his hand between us.

  'Matt, I'm not going to change my mind. ' I say as surely as I can, but before I know what has happened, he's on me trying to shove his tongue down my throat. I drop the box and use all the strength I possess to push him away from me. 'What the hell are you doing?' I screech incredulously.

  He pants a bit and then scowls at me. 'Reminding you of why we're good together. ' he spits.

  I actually laugh. It's a proper belly laugh. He's reminding me? Of what? How much of a twat he is? Please! A Jesse style reminder it is not.

  'Are you still seeing someone?' he asks.

  'That's none of your business. '

  'No, but your parents were very interested. ' he snipes.

  I take a long, steady breath to prevent my hand flying out and cracking him one. I'm not even going to justify his actions with
a response. After the day I've had, this is the last thing I need. 'Get out of my way, Matt. ' I'm immensely proud of myself for keeping my voice even.

  'You stupid cow. ' he sneers.

  My eyes widen. I'm stunned. I knew he had a nasty streak, but is this really necessary? I see red. 'Yes, I am seeing someone and do you know what, Matt?' I don't wait for him to ask. 'He's the best I've had. ' I say, stupidly or not.

  He laughs a sly, slap worthy laugh. 'He's a raving alcoholic, Ava. Did you know that? He's probably drunk out of his skull every time he fucks you. '

  I falter and Matt's cocky grin widens. How the hell does he know who I'm seeing? He thinks I'm shocked because he has just dropped the alcohol bombshell on me. No, I'm shocked because he must know who I'm seeing. How?

  Oh God, I want to wipe his smug grin off his face with one swift slap. 'Well, even pissed he's a better fuck than you ever were. ' I toss at him and watch as his smug face turns to confusion.

  The bastard thought he had one over on me. Those words have achieved far more than a slap ever would. I'm delighted with myself for being so quick off the mark. He always liked to think he was handy in the bedroom. He wasn't.

  I can see him struggling, clearly wondering how he should deal with me. I stand my ground, but I'm still curious how the hell he knows about Jesse.

  'You're pathetic. ' he snarls.

  'No Matt. I'm making up for four years of shit sex with you. '

  His face drops a little. He doesn't know what to say. I lean down to get the box from the floor and whip my head up when I hear the thunder of heavy footsteps charging up the stairs.

  Oh fuck!

  'Ava!' he roars.

  Any hope I had of leaving Matt and his bewildered expression kind of commotion free has been well and truly trampled. How does he know I'm here? I'll kill Kate if she's tattled on me.

  He comes bulldozing through the door and any notion I had that I've seen him in all of his challenging ways has just been thoroughly obliterated. He's rampant, and I'm actually afraid. Not for myself, for Matt, and I hate him. Jesse looks capable of murder.

  He doesn't pay any attention to Matt. He looks straight at me and I wilt under his intense, furious stare. 'What the FUCK are you doing here?' he shouts.

  I physically tremble in my heels. I've really waved a red rag under his irate nose this time. He's not supposed to know I'm here. How the hell does he know I'm here? Has he got a tracker on me? I elect not to ask, though. Instead, I stand with my mouth firmly shut.

  'Answer me!' he roars.

  I flinch. It's pretty obvious what I'm doing here, he doesn't need my confirmation, and he must have seen the bags in the back of Kate's van.

  Matt wisely stands back and keeps his cocky mouth shut. His eyes are flicking from me to Jesse, and I know he's thinking that this is not the behaviour of a man just fucking a woman.

  Hey, meet my God!

  'I fucking told you! Don't ring him, don't come here. I said John would do it!' He waves his arms around like a deranged screwball. 'Go and get in the fucking car. '

  I hear a snigger escape Matt's lips, and I whip my eyes around to him. He looks at me and I see a glint of sick satisfaction in his eyes. It tips me over the edge. I'm not standing here being screamed at, especially in front of my twat of an ex-boyfriend. I grab my box and steam out of my apartment, thanking all things holy that Jesse didn't walk in a few seconds earlier.

  'We kissed. ' I hear Matt's smug voice and then Jesse's unmistakable fist in his face.

  I could cry. Does Matt not know when to shut the fuck up? I hear Jesse's thumping footsteps behind me as I walk out onto the street and see Kate and Sam - oh, and John too.

  John's leaning up against his Range Rover - wraparound sunglasses in place - looking as menacing as ever, but his face is completely impassive, while Kate is pacing besides her van with Sam standing to the side looking a bit concerned. Is it really necessary for everyone to be here? I give her a don't stare as I approach her.

  She takes the box from me. 'Holy fucking shit, Ava. ' she whispers, throwing it in the back of her van.

  'Did you tell Sam I was here?' I ask shortly.

  'No!' she screeches. I believe her. She wouldn't do that to me.

  'John!' Jesse yells as he emerges from my building. 'Put her stuff in the Rover. ' He shakes his recovering hand and a flash of concern twangs inside me. The bloody idiot. Couldn't he have used his left hand? And then his referral to me registers.

  Her?

  'Leave it John!' I shout, halting John in his tracks. 'I'm not going with him. Kate, come on. ' I start towards the passenger side of Kate's van and when I get to the door, I look up and see Sam with his hand on Kate's arm. She looks at Sam and he shakes his head faintly, then she looks back to me. I can see she is torn.

  'Get the bags, John!' Jesse thunders down the steps.

  'Leave them!' I shout.

  I see John blow out an exasperated breath of air and look at Jesse for guidance, but he must decide that my wrath is the lesser of two evils because he starts transferring my things into the Range Rover. He can take my things. It doesn't mean I'm going. I get in Kate's van and throw myself back in the seat in total aggravation.

  Within two seconds, the door is flung open. 'Out!' His voice is shaking with anger. I couldn't give a toss.

  I grab the handle to yank it shut, but he moves his body to block me. 'Jesse. Just fuck off!'

  'Mouth!'

  'FUCK OFF!' I scream. My throat is sore, my vocal cords pleading for some calmness. I've never shouted so much. I'm shaking, trembling with fury. How dare he? How dare he behave like this after everything I've been through with him.

  'Watch your fucking mouth!' He leans in and grabs me.

  I fight him off, but my strength compared to his is pathetic. He manhandles me out of Margo Junior and stands me with my back facing his front, while I persistently struggle to bat him away. He wraps an arm around my waist and lifts me clean from the ground, carrying me to his car while I kick and scream like a three year old.

  'Get off me!'

  'Shut your filthy mouth, Ava. ' he grates, which only assists in encouraging me to fight him some more.

  I'm being manhandled in the middle of Notting Hill under the observation of my best mate, her boyfriend and John. I'm mortified! I can't believe he has gone off the rails like this. I was handling it fine. I was on my way out, and then neurotic arse here rocked up and threw the shit right in the fan. I want to throw my head back and scream to the heavens.

  I wriggle a little more and try and prize his arm from around my waist.

  'Stop making a scene, Ava. ' he warns.

  Looking up, I see numerous bystanders halted in their daily business, all watching the dramatic happenings unfolding before their eyes. I give in with my struggle, but mainly because I'm thoroughly exhausted. I let him bundle me into his car, batting my arms at him when he tries to put the seatbelt on me.

  He grabs my chin and tugs my face to his. 'You had better stay fucking put!' His green eyes are brimming with fury as I stare at him defiantly before pulling my face away. I sit in the warm, black leather trying to catch my breath.

  I am not going to The Manor tomorrow night and I am going to the pub on Saturday. I'm also moving out of Lusso, not that I really moved in, although Jesse would completely disagree with that.

  I see him walk back over to John, Kate and Sam. They're talking, but I have no idea what about. Jesse's head drops and I see Kate place a hand on his arm. It's a reassuring gesture. She's a fucking traitor! Why is he the one getting all of the sympathy and reassurance when I'm the one who's just been abducted by a wild fucking maniac?

  John shakes his head and clips the side of Jesse's jaw with his knuckles, but Jesse pulls back from it harshly. I lip read John's calm down and watch as Jesse walks away, throwing his arms in the air before yanking his dark blonde, disheveled hair in frustration. John shak
es his head and this time I know he just said mother fucker.

  Good! This is an indication that John agrees with me. Nasty qualities, I think John said. You don't get much nastier than this. He's completely lost the plot.

  I look out of the passenger window when he climbs back in the car. I'm not talking to him. He's gone too far this time. He starts the car and roars off down the road, flinging me back in my seat. His normal driving mood is frightening enough. I'm not looking forward to this journey.

  'How did you know I was here?' I keep my eyes firmly on the view whizzing past my window.

  I hear him wince as he takes a corner and out of my peripheral vision, I see him shake his hand. He's upset it. 'It doesn't fucking matter. '

  'It does matter,' I turn and look at his scowling profile. He's still a handsome beast. 'I was fine until you turned up. ' I accuse.

  He whips his head around to face me. I meet his stare with the same fierceness he's giving me. 'I'm fucking infuriated with you. Did you kiss him?'

  'No!' I shriek. 'He tried and I beat him off. I was just leaving. ' My forehead muscles are aching from scowling so much.

  I jump when he punches the steering wheel. 'Don't ever fucking tell me I'm possessive and over-the-top, do you hear me?'

  'You are stupidly possessive!'

  'Ava, in two days I've caught two men trying to get in your knickers. God knows about the times when I've not been there. '

  'Don't be stupid,' I scoff. 'You're imagining things. ' I'm fully aware that he's not. He's totally right, but what I want to know is why Mikael is suddenly interested in my relationship with Jesse. 'How do you know Mikael?'

  'What?' he snaps.

  'You heard me. ' I can tell by the disappearance of his bottom lip between his teeth that he's thinking hard about this.

  'I bought the penthouse, Ava. How do you think I know him?'

  'He thought it was very interesting when I told him that we had been seeing each other for a month-ish. Why would he?'

  His head whips around. 'Why the fuck are you talking to him about us?'

  'I wasn't, he asked the question and I answered! Why would he think it's interesting, Jesse?' I can feel myself losing control. I look away from him, trying to take some calming breaths.

  'That man wants you, trust me. '

  'Why?' I shout, throwing my face in his direction again, but he refuses to look at me.

  He punches the steering wheel again. 'He wants to take you away from me. '

  'But why?'

  'He just fucking does!' he roars.

  I jump back in my seat, shocked and unsatisfied by his vague, furious answer. This conversation will get us nowhere. He needs to calm down and so do I. I'll ask my questions when he's not looking like he may put his fist through the window.

  He pulls up outside Lusso and I exit the car before he turns the engine off. I notice John pull into the car park as I enter the foyer, and I completely ignore Clive as he comes out from behind his desk. I head straight for the elevator.

  I expect Jesse to stop the doors from shutting so he can get in, but he doesn't. He's obviously concluded that we both need to calm down as well.

  I exit the lift and fish my pink key from the side pocket of my bag to let myself in before I slam the door behind me and chuck my bag on the floor in a temper. 'Fucking man!' I curse to myself.

  'Hello. ' A small voice says.

  I look up and see a grey haired, middle aged woman stood in front of me. I suppose I should be concerned by this strange woman in Jesse's penthouse, but I'm too angry. 'Who the hell are you?' I blurt nastily. The woman recoils slightly and it's then I clock the can of furniture polish and duster in her hand.

  'Cathy. ' she says. 'I work for Jesse. '

  'What?' I ask impatiently, but then the anger dominating my entire being gives way to allow that little piece of information to sink in - that and the furniture polish in her hand.

  Oh shit!

  The door opens behind me, and I turn to see Jesse walk in. He looks at me and then at the woman stood in front of us both. 'Cathy, you should probably get off now. I'll speak to you tomorrow. ' he says calmly, but I can still detect the anger in his voice.

  'Of course. ' She places her polish and duster on the side table and then takes her apron off, folding it hastily, but neatly. 'I've put dinner in the oven. Give it thirty minutes. ' She picks up a carpet bag from the floor and stuffs her apron in the top. God bless her, she smiles at me before leaving. It's more than I deserve. What a first impression to give.

  Jesse gives her a peck on the cheek and a reassuring rub of the shoulder as she leaves. I watch her walk out into the foyer and see John and Clive transporting my bags from the elevator. That's a waste of time because I'm not staying here. I stomp into the kitchen and yank the fridge open, hoping a bottle of wine might have magically found its way in there. I'm sorely disappointed.

  Slamming the fridge door, I steam out of the kitchen and up the stairs. I can't even look at him at the moment. As I enter the bedroom and slam yet another door, I stand and wonder. . . what now? I should just leave - give us both some space to calm down. This is too intense, too quickly. It's poisonous, crippling.

  I take myself into the vast bathroom and shut the door behind me. The surroundings of this whole penthouse are more familiar than they should be. After spending months designing and coordinating the works, I feel at home. I'm probably more at home than Jesse; he's not even lived here for a month and one week of that was spent ridiculously drunk or unconscious.

  I wander over to the chaise lounge in the window and gaze out across the docks. The people down below are going about their everyday business, strolling around or having an evening drink in the bars, all looking untroubled and relaxed. It's probably not the case for all of them, but in my messed up state, I selfishly think that no one else could be as troubled as me. I'm head over heels in love with a man who has the most extreme temper and challenging ways. At the other end of the spectrum, though, he's the most loving, sensitive, protective man in the universe. If John's right, and he is only like this with me, should we be together? He'll be dead by the time he's forty from heart failure, and it will be my fault. With Jesse, when times are good, they are incredible, but when they are bad, they are unbearable.

  I feel damned and blessed all at once for having found him.

  I sigh wearily, putting my head in my hands in desolation, feeling the tears brimming and a lump in my throat forming. I thought I was beginning to find out what I needed to know but as time goes on, it's becoming obvious that I haven't, and with Jesse keeping his lips firmly shut, evading again, it doesn't look like I'm going to find out anytime soon - unless I ask Mikael. . .

  The door flies open and Jesse comes crashing in, looking like he's been electrocuted. He's visibly shaking and the main artery in his neck is bulging. While I've calmed significantly, he, it would seem, has not. He holds up something in his hand.

  'What the FUCK is this?' He looks like he could spontaneously combust at any moment. I frown but then realise he's holding up the flight details that Patrick gave me.

  Oh Jesus, I'm in for it now.

  Hang on a minute. That was in my bag. 'You've been through my bag!' I'm shocked. I don't know why, he does it all the fucking time. He doesn't look ashamed or apologetic. He just waves the paper in front of my face while his chest puffs in and out erratically.

  I push past him and storm downstairs to my bag, hearing him follow me, his heavy breathing almost louder than his charging footsteps. I rip my bag from the floor and take it into the kitchen.

  'What the hell are you doing?' he shouts. 'It's not in there, it's here. ' He thrusts the paper under my nose as I dump my bag on the island and start rummaging through it.

  I have no idea what I'm looking for.

  'You are not fucking going to Sweden or Denmark or any fucking where, for that matter!' His voice is somewhere between ange
r and fear.

  I look at him. Yes, there is definitely fear in there. 'Don't go through my bag. ' I grind the words out through my incensed frustration and look at him accusingly.

  He backs away a little and chucks the paper on the island while maintaining his infuriated glare. 'Why, what else are you hiding from me?'

  'Nothing!'

  'Let me tell you something, lady. ' He stalks forward, getting his face right in mine. 'I will die before I let you leave the country with that womanising prick. ' A wave of pure dread travels across his face.

  'He won't be coming!' I shout, slamming my bag down for effect. I don't know that for sure and in actual fact, I suspect he probably will. He's got a plan and a motive. But why?

  'Yes, he will. He'll follow you there, trust me. He's relentless in his pursuit of women. '

  I actually laugh. 'Just like you did?'

  'That was different!' he barks. He closes his eyes and lifts his fingertips to his temples to start rubbing away the tension.

  'You're impossible. ' I spit. I've lost the will to live.

  'And what are you doing taking vitamins?' He scowls good and proper. 'You're pregnant, aren't you?'

  Is he winding me up? I grab the vitamins from my bag and throw them at his head. His eyes widen as he ducks stealthily out of the way and they crash against the wall before falling to the kitchen floor. I need to regain control. I'm losing it in a big way.

  'I bought the vitamins for you. ' I yell, and he looks at me like I could possibly be a fruit loop. I'm close.

  'Why?' He looks at the pot on the floor.

  'You put your body through the mill. Have you forgotten?'

  He scoffs. 'I don't need pills, Ava. I've told you. ' He stalks forward and grabs my arms, pulling me close to his face. 'I am not a fucking alcoholic. If I drink now, it will be because you make me crazy mad!' He shouts the last bit in my face.

  'You blame this all on me. ' I state. I'm not asking it as a question because he has already shouted it in my face.

  He drops me and walks away. 'No, I don't,' His hands yank on the back of his hair in frustration. 'What else are you keeping from me? Business trips with rich Dutch men,' He glares at me. 'Cosy visits to the ex-boyfriend?'

  'Cosy?' I splutter. He thinks seeing Matt was cosy? 'You stupid fucking man!'

  'MOUTH!'

  'Get lost!' I shout. He really is on another planet. If he knows me as well as he claims he does, then he wouldn't be throwing such stupid insinuations around.

  He throws his hands in the air in a Lord-give-me-strength gesture. 'I can't be around you right now,' he bellows. He clenches his teeth, and I see the muscles of his jaw ticking. 'I fucking love you, Ava. So fucking much, but I can't look at you. This is fucked up!' He stalks out of the kitchen.

  I hear the front door slam and moments later, an almighty crash. I run out to the penthouse foyer and Jesse is nowhere to be seen, but the mirrored door of the elevator is shattered into a million pieces. Through my derangement, I instantly think of what further damage he has done to his poor hand. Then, I cry. Hopeless, howl at the moon, blubbering. I feel completely helpless and out of control. I feel like I'm being tested, like he is trying me to see if I have the strength to get him through this total mess and on top of that, I'm battling with the incessant niggling thought that it's me who has made him like this. It's not healthy.

  I walk back into the big open living area and see all of my bags placed in a neat row at the side of the stairs. What should I do with them? Am I staying?

  I leave them and not knowing what else to do, I go and sit myself on a sun lounger on the decking area and cry to myself - loud, shoulder shaking, pouring tears crying, while I try to find some direction and guidance. I'm coming up with nothing between my relentless tears. I'm staring into space and feeling nothing but abandoned. Familiar feelings, all of which I never wanted to feel again, are flooding back into me - the empty feeling, the lost, lonely and dejected emotions that had me residing in the lowest levels of hell while Jesse wasn't in my life. How have I come to need him so much? How has this happened to me? He's walked out, and now I've got a good idea of how he felt when I did the same to him. It's not a nice feeling. I feel like a massive part of me is missing.

  It is.

  The thought of him not being around makes my heart jump into my throat, makes my breath hitch and panic attack me. This is hopeless. I take myself back into the penthouse, upstairs to the master-suite and have a shower. I stand under the sprays of water absentmindedly soaping myself. Everywhere I turn, I see us - me and Jesse on the vanity unit, against the wall, on the floor, in the shower. We're everywhere.

  I get out, suddenly needing to escape the reminders of our intimacies. I flop on the bed, but soon shoot back up into a sitting position, panic invading my entire being. The times we have been apart he's had a drink. Will he have a drink now? My hearts starts a painful gallop in my chest, working its way up to my mouth. The thought of Jesse mixed with alcohol is enough to have me dashing down to the kitchen to get my phone.

  As I enter the kitchen, I get a waft of something smelling really good. Oh! I run to the oven and turn it off, grab my phone and dial John.

  His low rumble seeps down the phone after the first ring. 'He's here, Ava. '

  'The Manor?' I'm so relieved but at the same time, I wonder what he's doing there.

  'Yeah,' John sounds regretful. It makes me straighten up.

  'Should I come?' I don't know why I'm asking. I'm on my way back up the stairs to get dressed.

  He hums down the phone. 'Probably, girl. He went straight to his office. '

  I hang up and scrape my wet hair up before shoving my discarded work clothes back on. My car keys. Jesse hasn't given me my car keys back. I fly downstairs and dive into the boxes of my belongings, praying I'll find the spare set. Eventually, I lay my hands on them.

  I get to the smashed elevator and punch the code in, at the same time thinking that Clive won't be happy. Since I've been here, the maintenance bill must have gone through the roof.

  I run through the foyer in my heels and notice Clive knelt down behind his desk. I swiftly pass him without a word. I've no time for him this evening. The poor man will wonder what he has done to upset me.

  'Ava!' I hear him yell after me. I wouldn't stop, but it sounds like something is seriously wrong. Maybe the mystery woman has been back.

  'What's up Clive?'

  He runs towards me in a panic. 'You can't go!'

  What's he talking about?

  'Mr Ward,' he pants. 'He said you mustn't leave Lusso. He was very insistent. '

  He what? 'Clive, I haven't time for this. ' I carry on my way, but he grasps my arm.

  'Please, Ava. I'll have to call him. '

  I don't believe this. He's got the concierge performing prisoner guard duties now? 'Clive, it's not your job to do this,' I point out. 'Please, let go of my arm. '

  'Well, I did say as much myself, but Mr Ward can be very insistent. '

  'How much, Clive?'

  'I don't know what you're talking about. ' he says quickly, re-arranging his hat with his spare hand. He couldn't look guiltier if he tried.

  I pull my arm free from Clive's grasp and walk over to the concierge desk. 'Where do you keep Mr Ward's numbers?' I ask, scanning the hi-tech display screens in front of me. I notice Clive's mobile sat on the desk too.

  Clive walks over with a befuddled look on his face. 'It's all linked to the phone through the system. Why do you ask?'

  'Do you have Mr Ward's number on your mobile?' I ask.

  'No Ava, It's all pre-programmed into the system. Resident's confidentiality and all.

  'Good. ' I yank out the wires leading from the phone system to the computer and drop them in a tangled mess to the floor where they meet Clive's jaw.

  I hear the poor old boy's shocked mumbling on my way out and feel a small pang of guilt. That will be yet anothe
r repair bill falling on the doormat of the penthouse.

  I jump in my car and instantly notice a little black device on the dashboard. I know what that is. I press the button and, like I knew they would, the gates to Lusso start opening.

  The whole way to The Manor, I pray repeatedly that I'm not going to find Jesse with a drink in his hand. This will be the first time I've been back since my discovery of its offered activities, but my need to see Jesse is overriding any nerves or reluctance I have.

 
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