Beneath this man, p.29
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       Beneath This Man, p.29

         Part #2 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 
Chapter 29

  A couple of hours later, I walk into the kitchen and find Jesse still in his running gear with his finger in a jar of peanut butter. I screw my face up in disgust as he glances up and gives me a small smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. He looks on edge.

  'Cappuccino extra shot, no chocolate. ' He holds up a Starbucks cup, and I take it gratefully. 'I got you everything. ' he shrugs. 'They don't do salmon. '

  'Thank you. ' I smile and take a seat next to him.

  'I hope you've got lace on under all of that baggy shit. ' He nods at my body as he plunges his finger into his mouth.

  I look down at my ripped jeans and cropped Jimmy Hendrix t-shirt and smile. 'I have. ' I pull my t-shirt up to display my cream lace and he nods his approval. 'I thought you were getting dinner?' I pull over the nearest paper bag, finding a croissant. I make quick work, sinking my teeth into it.

  'Technically, as you have been asleep all day, it's breakfast time. ' He thrusts his finger under my nose and I retreat back in my stool, violently shaking my head. He smiles a little and feeds it to himself, 'What do you want to do this evening?'

  'I get to pick?' I garble around a mouthful of pastry.

  He looks at me and cocks his head to the side. 'I told you, I have to let you have your way some of the time. ' He reaches up and knocks a flake of pastry from the corner of my mouth. 'I'm all for give and take. '

  A burst of laughter flies out and I struggle to keep my half chewed croissant in my mouth as I cough and slap my hand over my mouth. Give and take? This man is crazy.

  'Something funny?' he asks.

  I look up and find a serious face. Oh dear! 'No, nothing, it went down the wrong way. ' I cough a little more and God love him, he starts patting my back.

  I regain control as the intercom starts ringing and Jesse leaves me to answer it. 'Clive, yes, see him up. ' He hangs up and replaces the phone. 'Jay. ' he mutters without looking at me.

  'Jay? Who's Jay?' I place my croissant back on the paper bag.

  'The doorman. He's got the CCTV footage from the bar. ' He puts his peanut butter back in the fridge and leaves the kitchen.

  Oh fucking hell!

  CCTV footage?

  CCTV footage that will show me talking to Matt?

  I think I'm going to be sick.

  I hear the muffled greetings and a few moments later, Jesse walks back into the kitchen with Jay. The doorman gives me a small smirk, one that suggests he may have already watched the footage himself and knows what's coming. Yeah, I'm definitely going to be sick. I get down from the stool and start to leave the kitchen.

  'Where are you going?' Jesse asks me.

  I don't look back. My face must display complete panic. 'Toilet. ' I call, leaving Jesse and Jay in the kitchen. As soon as I'm out of sight, I race up the stairs and shut myself in the bathroom, where I'm safe from the hurricane that I know is coming. I should have known he wouldn't leave it. I should have known he would be on a mission to hunt down the perpetrator. Oh God, this is so bad. I sit on the toilet seat, get up, walk circles around the bathroom, and then the door handle jiggles.

  'Ava?'

  I stand looking at the door. 'Yes?' It comes out all squeaky and nervous. I'm so nervous.

  'What's up, baby. You okay?'

  Perhaps I should say no, make out I'm ill so I can stay in the bathroom. 'Yes, fine. I'll be down in a minute. ' I call. Saying I'm ill would be stupid. He'd break the door down to tend to me.

  'Why is the door locked?'

  'I didn't realise I'd locked it. I'm having a wee. ' I cringe. It's a good job there's a giant lump of wood between us because my finger is a knotted mess in my hair. I should just jump out of the bathroom window.

  'Okay, don't be long. '

  'I won't. ' I hear his long even steps take him out of the bedroom. I'm panicking. Really panicking and I don't know why. I didn't arrange to meet Matt. It was a chance encounter, that's all.

  FUCK!

  Damn him for being so fucking persistent. Why can't he just let it go instead of having the doorman lift the CCTV footage? I should go down and stamp on the thing. I yank the door open and stomp out of the bathroom, through the bedroom and out on to the landing. He's taking this too far. I'm halted mid determined march when the gigantic flat screen television comes into view. It's like a cinema screen, emphasising everything, making everything seem huge. It's not, though. It's quite blurry, the movements are disjointed and the screen keeps jumping. Jay starts fast forwarding the footage, the whizzing of people passing through the bar, the lights flashing here and there, all making it an even more disordered mush of activity. But then I see me settling at the table with the others.

  'Slow it. ' Jesse orders, and Jay puts the film to normal speed. 'That's it, leave it playing. '

  I lower myself to the top step and watch the television through the glass as my night plays out in front of me. Nothing interesting happens, not for a long while. I watch as Tom dives across the table and seizes my hand. I watch as Victoria leaves us to join her date and then Kate leaves the table, and I know all too well what's coming. I mentally plead for the television to spontaneously combust, but no. Tom leaves, and then Matt approaches. I stiffen from top to toe and watch as Jesse's shoulders raise, kissing his earlobes. Matt's back is to the camera, but there is no mistaking it's him. I could never fob Jesse off on this.

  'Pause it. ' Jesse instructs shortly, walking over to the television, getting way up close to have a good inspection. His head starts nodding thoughtfully. 'Keep it going. '

  Jay continues the tape, and Jesse takes a few steps back. This is bad. I'm sat glued to the top step, running through the last time Jesse found out I'd seen Matt. I really don't want a repeat of that. Why didn't I foresee this? I watch myself jump down from the stool and crouch to gather my scattered possessions with Tom.

  'I need another angle. ' Jesse says.

  'There's another camera. ' Jay answers swiftly.

  'Get me it. Did you see her talking to him?'

  'Ward, I do what I can, but if I'm called away to deal with some drunken twat or a few cat fighting girls, then I can't watch her. '

  I shake my head to myself. He'll have a bodyguard flanking me next. This is ridiculous. 'I don't need someone watching me. ' I grate. I'm feeling mad.

  Both of their heads swing around to me, Jay suddenly looking uneasy and Jesse looking stiff and agitated. There's a few moments silence lingering between us. It's uncomfortable, and I unconsciously wrap myself in my own arms as I sit, while Jesse scrutinises my every move.

  'Did you leave your drink unattended at any point?' Jay asks.

  The question shocks me. 'No,'

  'When did you start feeling strange?' Jesse pipes up, his arms folding across his chest.

  'I had a little stagger at the bar, but I put it down to my heels. '

  'Did you speak to anyone at the bar?'

  Oh Fuck! Should I lie? I've seen Jesse's reaction to a man coming on to me and it wasn't pleasant. Shit shit shit! I glance nervously at Jesse. He knows what I'm deliberating.

  He stares at me with dark, cautionary eyes, his torso rising and falling, his arms still over his chest. 'Answer the question, Ava. ' he says, more calmly than I know he's feeling.

  'There was a guy at the bar who offered to buy me a drink. I refused. ' I spit the words out quickly. It's obvious I'm uncomfortable, but he's going to find out for himself when he finishes watching the footage, so I may as well be upfront.

  Jesse is displaying some sort of stun-gun reaction and my heart starts thundering in my chest.

  I look down at my feet. 'It was fine. I left the bar and returned to Kate. ' I try and brush it off before Jesse passes out.

  'Stop saying its fine!' he yells.

  I jump and reluctantly take a glimpse of him, finding bulging neck veins and a tense jaw. And then something catches my attention on the television and I look past Jesse. I
shouldn't have. I should have ignored it, and then maybe it would have passed before Jesse had a chance to see it. My blood turns to ice. At the bar is a tall, suited man. It's too late to feign ignorance. Jesse swings back towards the flat screen to see what has caught my abrupt attention, as does Jay.

  The silence is back as we all watch the man on the screen shift out of view when I get up to go to the bar. Then there's the pumped up, ponytailed creep, getting way too close, me dropping my change and gathering it up before I'm staggering and making my way back to the table. Then the man comes back into view. I squint to try and focus better. Is it him? It certainly looks like it, but his text message said he was in Denmark.

  I can see Jesse in my peripheral vision twitching, indicating he is having the exact same thoughts as me, but I'm watching the footage with complete fascination now, also aware of Jesse's hard breathing, but too rapt by the television to look and confirm what I already know. He'll be rampant.

  Time is suddenly passing fast, but then Sam walks in and the motions slow down again as I get up from the table, leaving Sam drooling all over Kate. And then Jesse appears in the lower corner of the screen and I watch as I collapse, hitting the floor hard, the flurry of people gathering around my lifeless body blocking out my view.

  No one says anything - for a long, uncomfortable time. I turn my eyes to Jesse and find him watching me. I'm not at all comfortable with the blackness in his eyes, and I can feel tears brimming in my own. Should I tell them about the text? Jesse looks sadistic already. Should I add to his obvious fury?

  Jay coughs, pulling my attention back to him. 'Have you seen enough?' he asks.

  'Yes. ' Jesse answers without taking his eyes off me. It's quite obvious now that Jesse turning up was probably the best thing that could have happened.

  'I'll be off then. ' Jay gets up and retrieves the disc from the player. 'I'll see myself out. '

  Jesse says nothing as Jay leaves, shutting the door quietly behind him.

  I sit at the top of the stairs and drop my eyes to my feet. I'm in a slight trance. This really could have been so much worse. No doubt Jesse will have something to say about my lack of honesty with regards to Matt's presence, but he can't blame me. Why would I openly offer that information? I'm not completely stupid. Well, it would appear I am. I never gave CCTV footage a thought, and I certainly didn't expect Jesse to start playing Inspector Poirot.

  'You didn't mention Matt before. ' Jesse's calm tone doesn't fool me, and why has he homed in on that instead of the more important issue at hand. . . the tall suited man at the bar. I know he thinks it's him too.

  My shoulders rise anxiously, but I don't look up; I already know he's angry. I don't need visual confirmation, and I should think it's pretty obvious why I didn't mention Matt. 'I didn't want to upset you. '

  'Upset me?' His voice is high with surprise.

  'Okay, I didn't want to piss you off. ' I look up at him and find a completely impassive expression. I'm surprised; I was expecting boiling mad. 'It was a chance meeting. '

  'But you had a few minutes conversation. What did you talk about?'

  'He apologised. '

  'And that took a few minutes?' His eyebrows are raised. He's right, an apology doesn't even take two seconds, but I can't remember every detail of the conversation. 'I told you not to see him again. '

  I gape at him. 'Jesse, I didn't plan on it. I told you, it was only by chance. ' What did he want me to do? Walk out of the bar? 'I wanted to know how he knows about you. '

  'Do you care?' He's reining in his temper. I can see it.

  'No, I don't. '

  His teeth start working his bottom lip as he watches me. I feel guilty and I don't know why. I've done nothing wrong. He's not shouting at me, but he's clearly not happy. What am I supposed to do? I know he's thinking exactly what I'm thinking about Mikael, but he can't possibly be mad at me about that because I didn't even know he was there - if it was even him. Was it him?

  'Then leave it. ' He starts across the open space of the penthouse and up the stairs. 'I'm going for a shower. ' He walks straight past me, leaving me stunned by his calm façade. I think I would rather have him blow his top. At least then I would know where I am. What now?

  I haul myself up from the step and make my way towards the bedroom. I can't stand this middle ground. I need to establish exactly what is going on in that complex mind of his. I know he's mad, so why is he holding back on his temper. It's not pleasant, but I would rather him rage a bit and clear the air. I feel like I'm hovering over a detonate button.

  I walk into the bedroom and hear the shower, so I pad across the room to the bathroom, finding him under the spray. Even now, I'm drawn to the mass of beauty that stands before me, quaking with anger. It's potent, but he's not letting rip.

  'Will you please just rant at me and have it over with. ' I sit myself on the vanity unit and put my hands in my lap. I notice for the first time since I woke up that my engagement ring is missing. Did he take it off? The thought is like a stake through my heart. I don't like this, not one little bit.

  He doesn't say a word. He carries on soaping himself down before stepping out and grabbing a towel to dry himself off. He leaves me sat exactly where I am, my eyes darting around the bathroom, uncertainty plaguing me. I lower myself down and walk nervously back into the bedroom.

  'Jesse?'

  He completely ignores me and goes into the wardrobe, appearing a few moments later in some faded jeans. His jaw is ticking constantly and I can see it's taking his every effort to hold onto his emotions. I never thought I would want him to fly off the handle. And where is he going, anyway?

  He pulls a grey t-shirt over his head and makes his way back into the bathroom while I stand in the middle of the room, wondering what the hell to do. I follow him again and find him brushing his teeth. His eyes flick to mine in the mirror. I feel anxious. . . uncomfortable.

  'Please speak to me. ' I plead. I can't stand this.

  He finishes brushing his teeth and splashes his face with water, before bracing himself on the edge of the vanity unit and taking a few deep breaths. I prepare myself for the storm, but it doesn't come. He walks straight past me and into the bedroom.

  I follow like a desperate soul. 'Where are you going?' I ask his back, as he makes his way to the door.

  He stops and it's a few moments before he turns dark, troubled eyes on me. 'I need to sort some things out at The Manor. ' His voice is devoid of any emotion where as I'm close to wailing. I'm petrified.

  'I thought we were doing something this evening. ' I remind him desperately.

  'Something came up. ' he mutters and turns to leave. That something is, without a doubt, me. He's going to drink.

  'You're mad with me. ' I cry frantically. I don't want him to go. He would usually insist on me going and I would fight him on it, but now I want to go with him.

  He shakes his head and lets it fall slightly, but he doesn't face me. I need to see his face. He walks out of the bedroom and I collapse to the floor and cry. I feel helpless and incomplete. All of this pain because I wanted to have the final say, all of this because I insisted on going out and proving a point. The only point I've proved is that I'm at a loss without him.

  I drag myself up and across the room, collapsing onto the bed and finding my way to the place that smells the most of him. It's a meager substitute for the real thing. Only he can make this better, make all of this go away. And worst of all, I know where he has gone, who will be there and what he'll be doing. What am I supposed to do? I'm a mess, my face feels swollen and stingy with tears and my head hurts from too many disturbing thoughts. Will he crack open a bottle of vodka? I know that if he does, I won't be seeing him anytime soon - not when he's like that. I would rather not have him at all than have the hollow beast that is Jesse with a few bottles of vodka inside him. I never want to see that man again.

  I sit up on the bed, suddenly remembering somethin
g. He's not here, and I am. . . and I'm alone. I jump up and run into the bathroom, flinging open the cosmetics unit and staring at the masses of bottles, boxes and tubes. Starting my search, I shift the contents of the unit to the side, my shaking hands doing me no favours in executing the operation without knocking bottles over. A frustrated yell slips from my mouth, and in a temper, I sweep my hand through all of the shelves, knocking bottles flying all over the bathroom floor.

  What am I thinking? He's not stupid enough to hide them in such an obvious place. I leave the bathroom and run into the wardrobe, shoving my hands into every pocket of his suit jackets, inside and out, tipping his shoes upside down and searching through piles of neatly folded t-shirts. Nothing, but I'm not giving up. My pills are mysteriously disappearing and they have been since I met this man, and the first time was only a few days after I relented to his advances. What's he playing at? He can't want to get me pregnant, surely? If he does, he may very well get his way too. I can't believe this.

  I drop myself to the floor of the wardrobe, wiping my still streaming tears away. Is he trying to trap me? I proceed to hunt through his jean pockets, tossing them all over the wardrobe in a frenzy when I find nothing. The gold satin gift bag slips out as I yank a suit jacket down from a hanger, the contents spilling onto the floor.

  Condoms.

  We don't need those.

  He is trying to get me pregnant. Fucking hell!

  I scramble up and fly down the stairs into his office, pulling out every drawer, sifting through rows of books and even looking behind the sodding pictures on the walls. Still nothing.

  I fly around the penthouse like a madwoman, searching every drawer, cupboard, anywhere he could possibly hide them, but an hour later, still no pills. But I've made a massive mess. I halt when I hear my phone ringing in the distance and I track the sound until it cuts off and I'm stood in the massive open space, looking around desperately.

  'Fuck!' I curse to myself, but then the text message tone starts bleeping and I follow it to the armchair where I found Jesse sitting earlier. I grope down the side and find my phone. The missed call is from my Mum. Oh God, has Dan been on to her already? I really cannot be talking to her now, a really uncharitable thought, but I don't even know where I am myself to be able to tell her. My heart sinks when I see the text is from John.

  He's fine, but you should probably come.

  My heart lifts a little at the first part of the message, and then sinks just as quickly. I should probably go? Is John playing tug of war with Jesse and a bottle of vodka? I fly up the stairs and run into the bathroom to scrub my face and attempt to generally sort myself out. It's no good, I look like I've been wailing and no amount of make-up or washing will sort my glazed eyes out. After retrieving my keys, I make a hasty run for my car, ignoring Clive as he calls after me.

 
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