Beneath this man, p.30
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       Beneath This Man, p.30

         Part #2 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
 
Chapter 30

  The drive to The Manor is a blur of visions and memories. Visions of Jesse staggering and slurring, and memories of finding him unconscious on the terrace, all unwelcome, but a repeat performance highly likely. I can't go through that again. I can't watch him do that to himself again - not because of me. I might not be able to control his unreasonableness, but I can prevent him from slowly killing himself.

  I'm not surprised when I pull up to the gates and they open immediately. John must be looking out for me. My descent up the driveway is fast and frantic in my desperation to get to him and stop the inevitable. I find The Manor's door open and run through the entrance hall, ignoring the noise coming from the bar and restaurant. The summer room has been returned to its former relaxing space of sofas and chairs scattered across the vast area, members gathered, chatting and drinking. Silence falls, all conversation halting, when I run through. I'm sure if I paid attention, there would be many vicious, scowling faces pointed straight at me, but I don't have the time or inclination to stop and soak up the resentment. I don't need to look. I can feel it heavy in the air.

  As I approach the door to Jesse's office, I hear a thundering crack that makes me jump. What the fuck was that? I hold the door handle and look behind me, but find the corridor empty. I turn the handle of the door and push it open.

  'Ava!' Big John's loud rumble travels down the corridor, halting my progression, but I can't see him. 'Fucking, mother fucker! Ava, wait!' He appears, moving faster than I would think possible for such a mountain of a man, his glasses in place as he hurdles towards me like a steam train. 'Jesus, woman, don't go in there!'

  I look at the frantic beast rocketing towards me in slow motion and jump at the sound of another ear piercing snap. It pulls my attention from John's booming voice and towards Jesse's office. What is that? I push the door open a little further until the full room comes into view.

  Oh Jesus Christ!

  I stagger forward on a loss of a few dozen beats of my heart. What the fucking hell is going on?

  'No!' John crashes into me and grasps me around my waist. 'Ava, girl, you can't go in there. '

  I lose all feeling as I stare at the hideousness before me and then fight with the incredible strength of John, who's trying to haul me out of the room. I don't know how, adrenaline perhaps, but I break free from John and fall into the room as Sarah raises the evil looking whip that she's holding and brings it thrashing down on Jesse's back. My stomach jumps into my throat, and I feel John's warm palm wrap around the top of my arm.

  'Ava, darling,' John's voice is the softest I've ever heard it. 'You don't need to see this. '

  I shrug him off and stand trying to piece together the scene unfolding before me. It's hard, even though time has slowed and every tiny detail is perfectly clear to me. He's naked, except for his jeans, and kneeling on the floor, his head dropped limply. He hasn't even looked up. Sarah is standing behind him, kitted out in black leather trousers, a leather bodice and a thigh high leather boots, looking as evil as the whip in her hand.

  I can't move. I'm completely rooted to the spot. My legs are shaking, my heart beating so fast it might escape my chest, and I can't open my mouth. What is happening?

  Sarah glances up at me, a look of deep satisfaction on her face as she slowly raises the whip again. I want to scream, tell her to stop, but my mouth is dry and not responding to my brains commands. Her pouty face screams pleasure at subjecting Jesse to this wicked torture and, no doubt, having me here to bear witness to it.

  She brings the whip crashing down on Jesse's bare flesh again, and he arches his back, throwing his head back, but he doesn't make a sound.

  The loud scream echoing around the room is me.

  His head snaps up as my cry seeps into his ears. I'm struggling against John again, who has regained his hold on me. 'Let go of me!' I fight harder, twisting my body in his grip, clawing and hitting him.

  'Ava?' Jesse's voice stills me. It's weak and broken as his head turns in my direction.

  A desperate cry escapes my mouth as our eyes meet and all I find are empty glazed holes. He doesn't look completely with it. He looks drugged and hollow. He makes to stand but staggers forward slightly in complete disorientation. My eyes fall onto his back, finding at least ten angry welts spread from one side of his back to the other, overlapping and seeping with beads of blood.

  I feel sick. My stomach starts to heave and as Sarah raises the whip again, I hear John in the distance bellowing her name. My knees give out and I crumble to the floor at John's feet.

  'Ava?' Jesse makes it to a standing position, but he is nowhere near stable. He shakes his head as if trying to regain his focus, his confused face becoming stricken as he registers my presence. 'Jesus, no!' Fear floods his handsome features. Even his voice is unstable. He goes to walk forward, but he's stopped by Sarah, who's grabbing at his arm. 'Get the fuck off me!' he roars, knocking her backwards. 'Ava, baby. What are you doing here?' He rushes forward and drops to his knees in front of me, grabbing at my face and searching for my eyes.

  He's a complete blur through my tears. I can't speak. I'm just shaking my head frantically, trying to rid my brain of what I have just witnessed. Is this a nightmare? He wasn't fighting her off at all. He knelt there waiting for the blows in a total trance. I throw my arms out to bat him away from me and scramble to my feet.

  'Ava, please!' he pleads, as I push his grabbing hands from me. I need to get out of here.

  I turn, knocking John out of the way, and run in blind shock down the corridor, emerging into the massive summer room. As I hurry through, I'm vaguely aware of shocked gasps, and I turn to see Jesse and John in pursuit of me. I slap my hand over my mouth as I feel the bile rising in my throat. Oh God, I'm going to throw up.

  I hurtle through the toilet door and into a cubicle, slamming the door behind me. I just make it over the bowl and then proceed to evacuate the contents of my stomach on loud, painful retches, my face wet with sweat and tears. I'm in the lowest level of hell and once again, trapped in a fucking cubicle with nowhere to go.

  The sound of the toilet door crashing into the tiled wall rings out around the ladies' washroom. 'Ava!' He bangs on the door behind me, and I sink to my bum as I feel another round of violent heaves coming on. 'Ava! Open the door!'

  I can't answer him through my persistent retching, even if I wanted to. What the hell am I supposed to say? I've just watched him accept a thrashing from a woman I despise - a woman who I know wants Jesse and hates me. My imagination doesn't stretch to this kind of callousness. I throw up again and fumble for some toilet paper to wipe my mouth as the door continues to bang behind me.

  'Please,' he begs, and a dull thud meets the door. I know it's his forehead. 'Ava, please, open the door. '

  My tears gather force again at the sound of him begging. I can't possibly look into the eyes of the man I love knowing he has done this to himself.

  'Who let her in?' His tone has turned fierce, and he punches the door. 'Fuck! Who the fucking hell let her in?'

  'Jesse, I didn't let her in. I would never have let her in. ' John's low hum is soothing. I want to jump to his defense. He didn't let me in. John's fretful voice, his attempts to stop me from entering Jesse's office, it all brings me to one conclusion. He didn't text me. He didn't open the gates. She's done it again. My strong, dominate man having himself beaten? I've underestimated her hatred of me. I've trodden on some really fancy, red polished toes. She has more than succeeded in her attempts to shock me, but all of this doesn't detract from the fact that Jesse was actively, willingly, partaking in the appalling activity. Why?

  'What's going on?' The familiar sound of Kate's voice gives me hope of escaping this horror scene. 'Fuck! Jesse, what the hell has happened to your back?'

  'Nothing!' he snaps.

  'Don't fucking talk to me like that. Where's Ava? What the hell is going on? Ava?' She calls my name, and I'm desperate to answer her, but I know
if I open the door, Jesse will be in. I can't see him.

  'She's in there. She won't come out. Ava?' he calls. 'Please, Kate, get her out. ' He bangs the door again. He sounds desperate and frantic.

  'Hey! Tell me why she is locked in there and why you're out here bleeding all over the place?' Kate's voice is fierce.

  'Ava walked in on something she shouldn't have seen. She's freaked out. I need to see her. ' His talking is strained through his heavy breathing.

  I want to scream exactly why I've freaked out, but I'm attacked by another succession of retches, rendering me incapable of uttering any words.

  'If you've fucked her over, Jesse!' Kate shouts. 'Ava?'

  He's fucked me over all right, but not in the way she is thinking. It's almost worse. It is worse.

  'No!' Jesse's voice is full of defense. 'It's not like that!'

  'Well, what is it like then? She's in there throwing up. Ava?' The subtle knock of Kate's fist starts drumming on the door. 'Ava, come on. Open the door. '

  'Ava!' Jesse shouts frantically.

  'Jesse, just go. ' Kate yells.

  'No!'

  'She's obviously not going to come out with you here. Hey, big guy. Get him out of here. '

  'Jesse?' John rumbles, and I pray that Jesse listens to him and leaves. I'm not going anywhere with him out there. 'Let's get you sorted out, you stupid mother fucker. '

  I sit with my head in my hands while I listen to the back and forth coaxing of Jesse from the bathroom.

  I eventually hear the door open and close again and then Kate's subtle knocking on the door. 'Ava, he's gone. ' Kate assures me through the door. I lift up and slide the lock across to let my friend into the toilet with me. She pushes through the small gap and screws her nose up at the sight of the vomit spattered bowl. 'What the hell is going on?' She crouches on the other side of the cubicle so we're knee to knee.

  I sniffle and blow my nose on some tissue. My mouth tastes dreadful. I take a few controlled breaths through my sobs and try to steady my vocal cords. 'He had himself whipped. ' I manage. The sound of them words has my chucking my head back over the bowl, but all I'm achieving is choking myself on dry heaves. I feel Kate's palm rubbing at my back.

  'He what?'

  I push myself away from the toilet and find Kate's jaw dropped disbelievingly. Who would believe it? But she saw the evidence plain and clear and plastered all over Jesse's back. 'I walked in on him being whipped by Sarah. '

  Her eyes widen. 'Sarah the mega bitch?' she splutters.

  'Yes. ' I nod in case the word didn't make it out of my mouth. 'He was on his knees, Kate, like some sort of submissive slave. ' My tears start again and my mind is invaded with the horrible memory of my strong, self-assured man being willingly beaten. Why would he do that?

  'Oh, fuck. ' She rests her hand on my knee. 'Ava, his back is a mess. '

  'I know!' I cry. 'I saw it!' That was no kinky kicks. There no pleasure element in it. Not on Jesse's part, anyway. Sarah could be a different story, though. Jesse wanted to be hurt. My stomach convulses. 'Kate, I need to leave. He won't let me. I know he won't let me go. '

  A look of determination invades her pretty, pale features and she rises to her feet. 'Wait here. '

  'Where are you going?' My voice sounds panicky. He'll barrel back in here as soon as Kate exits. I know he will.

  'John's taken Jesse to his office. I'm just going to check, though. ' She opens the door and shuffles past my slumped body.

  I hold my breath, waiting for a commotion, but it doesn't come. The door opens and closes, and then there is silence. I'm alone. I stand myself up, my legs weak and shaky, and pull some toilet roll off to wipe around the seat. I hold my hand over my mouth as I generally clean up my mess, all the time more violent heaves threatening.

  The toilet door opens. I freeze, holding my breath.

  'Ava?' Kate whispers, tapping the door gently. 'Jesse's in his office with John. Sam will get the gates. '

  I open the door and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror before I'm pulled out of the toilet cubicle and yanked towards the door. I look God awful. 'Wait, I need some water. ' I shake Kate off and take myself to the sink, leaning over to splash my face and swill my mouth.

  'Here, have some gum. ' Kate shoves a stick in my mouth.

  I'm now weighing up the merits of alcohol. Would I have preferred to find him drunk? Yes, without a doubt, I would have faced that merciful creature rather than witness him being beaten. He really is self-destructive. Grief turns into anger as I consider his reactions to a few bruises on my backside when I took a trip in Margo senior, and his face when he clocked my bruised arm after my run-in with Mr Baldy Jag - how over-the-top he was.

  Before I have a chance to declare my intentions of tracking Jesse down and demanding some answers, he comes barging back into the toilets in a blind panic. I notice his eyes have cleared of the glaze as they land on me, his chest damp, his dirty blonde hair dark with sweat. I can feel Kate's eyes passing between us as she assesses the situation.

  He starts towards me and I make no attempt to stop him from doing what I know he's going to do. He leans down, scoops me up into his arms and strides out of the toilets towards his office. He keeps his line of sight firmly forward as he walks with purpose, back through the summer room under the watchful eyes of some members, who are still floating around soaking up the spectacle. I'm aware of whispers and pointing as tears invade my eyes and start trailing down my cheeks. I'm in absolute agony, I feel sick to the stomach and my heart feels like it's been sliced straight down the centre.

  He kicks the door of his office shut and walks straight to the couch, lowering himself down on a wince. My stomach turns. His arms immerse me and his head falls straight into my neck. He is silent, holding me as close as he can get me, while I try and control myself, try to prevent the shakes that are attacking my body, but it's not a battle I can win. My beautiful man has deep issues and just when I thought I was figuring him out, I'm hit with the worst kind of wake up call. I don't know him at all and I certainly don't understand him.

  'Please don't cry. ' His muffled voice reaches my ringing ears. 'It kills me. '

  'Why?' I ask. It's the only thing I can think to ask. It's all I want to know. Why would he do this to himself?

  'I promised you I wouldn't have a drink. '

  What?

  He got himself beaten rather than have a drink because he promised me he wouldn't? Just when I thought I couldn't be more stunned. 'You wanted a drink?'

  'I wanted to block it out. '

  'Look at me. ' I demand, but he makes no attempt to lift his head from its secluded location. 'Damn it, Jesse, look at me!' I wriggle to try and get a grip of his head and pull it up, but he hisses in pain and I still immediately. 'Three. ' I say calmly. I can't believe I'm giving him the countdown, but I don't know what else to do. I feel him tense under me, but he still doesn't look. 'Two. '

  'What happens on zero?' he asks quietly.

  'I leave. ' I say calmly.

  His head flies up and I whimper at the sight of him, his green eyes clouded, pain spilling out of them, his chin trembling. He gazes straight into my eyes. They are pleading silently to me. 'Please, don't. '

  Any ounce of strength that was keeping me marginally together is shredded at the sight and sound of him. I fall apart completely as I clasp his face in my hands and put my lips on him, but I'm not close enough. I gingerly shift so that I'm astride his lap, and then pull him as close as I can get him, without hurting him. 'Tell me what you were blocking out. '

  'Hurting you. '

  'I don't understand. ' I'm beyond confused. Doesn't he think that this is hurting me? 'I would rather you had a drink. '

  'You wouldn't. ' He says it on a slight laugh that sends a nervous twinge through me.

  I pull back and search his eyes out. 'I would rather face you with half a vodka distillery inside you than see what I just saw.
'

  He drops his head in shame. 'Trust me Ava, you wouldn't. '

  'Yes, I would. ' I affirm. There is no contest. 'And trust you? Jesse, I feel sick with betrayal. ' I've not even thought about what I'm going to do to Sarah when I get my hands on her. A trample won't cover it. She has marked my neurotic God and the more all of this sinks in, the angrier I'm getting.

  I lift myself from his lap and bat him away when he tries to grasp me. 'I'm not leaving. ' I say a bit too harshly. His panicked expression has me even madder.

  I start pacing around his office, tapping my nail on my front tooth under the tense, anxious eyes of my challenging man, who just keeps delivering on fucking challenges. I'm struggling here. That was some serious sadistic shit. God, I thrashed a belt at him on the launch night of Lusso.

  I lower myself to the sofa opposite him and rest my aching head in my palms. I can hear him repeatedly drawing breath, as if he wants to say something. I exhale wearily and massage my temples. 'Is there anything else I need to know?'

  'Like what?' he asks guardedly. I don't appreciate it and how the hell would I know what? He's knocked me for six with this place, his drinking, and now willingly being whipped. What else could there possibly be that could shock or anger me more than this?

  'I don't know, you tell me. You said no more secrets, Jesse. ' I throw my arms up in annoyance. I want to comfort him desperately. Keeping myself away from him is hurting almost as much as bearing witness to his beating. 'Why would I prefer this to drunken Jesse?'

  He leans forward delicately on a clenched jaw, resting his elbows on his knees, rubbing his temples thoughtfully. 'Drink and sex go hand in hand for me. '

  'What does that mean?' My voice is high and edgy.

  'Ava, I inherited The Manor when I was twenty one. Can you imagine a young lad with this place and a whole lot of women ready and willing?' He looks ashamed.

  My mind starts racing. Oh, I can imagine all right and it's no wonder the women were ready and willing. They still are. Look at him! 'You mean the dabbling?' I whisper. Do I want to know this?

  He exhales. 'Yes, the dabbling, but it's all behind me. ' He sits forward on a wince. 'Now, it's all about you. '

  'You drank and dabbled?'

  'Yes, like I said, drink and sex go hand in hand. Please, come here. ' He reaches across the big table that's positioned between the two sofas, but I pull back. His hand drops and he looks down at the floor. I still don't understand, and it still doesn't explain why he has just accepted a thrashing from Sarah.

  'So, you didn't have a drink because you would have wanted to have sex?' My forehead must look like a road map because I am thoroughly confused.

  'I don't trust myself with alcohol, Ava. '

  'Because you think you will jump the nearest woman?'

  He laughs nervously and runs his hands through his hair. 'I don't think so. I couldn't do that to you. '

  'You don't think so?' I'm shocked.

  'It's not a risk I'm willing to take. Ava. I drink too much, lose reason and women throw themselves at me willingly. You've seen it. ' He gives me an embarrassed smile.

  I scoff. 'You didn't look very capable of anything last Friday!' He was unconscious and yes, I have seen women throw themselves at him. It's degrading!

  'Yeah, that's not my normal level of intemperance, Ava. I was on a mind numbing mission. ' he says awkwardly. I suddenly feel awful.

  'So, you usually maintain a steady level of drinking and then have lots of sex with lots of willing women?' I think I'm getting my head around this. 'You've never had a drink when you've slept with me?'

  He gets up and shifts the table so he can kneel in front of me and rest his hands on my thighs. He looks straight into my eyes. 'No, Ava. I have never been under the influence of alcohol when I've had you. I don't need it. Alcohol blocked things out for me, made me forget how hollow my life was. I didn't give a fuck about any of the women I slept with, not one. And then you fell into my life and things changed completely. You brought me back to life, Ava. I never want to touch the drink because if I start, I might not stop and I never want to miss a moment with you. '

  Tears start to prick at my eyes at his confession. He was a playboy who fucked about all over the place. I knew that. 'Have you had sleepy sex with anyone else?' I hold my breath. Of all the things to ask, I ask this?

  He sighs heavily. 'No. '

  I narrow my eyes on him. 'What about a sense fuck?'

  'Ava, no! I've never cared about anyone else enough to need or want to fuck any sense into them. ' He squeezes my thighs. 'Only you. '

  Okay, that bizarrely helps, but he still insists he's not an alcoholic, which is utter madness. If you don't drink because you can't trust yourself, then there's a problem and anyway, he could have been under the influence all this time. They say a good alcoholic hides it well. How the hell would I know? I think back to Thursday evening when I found him in his office with a bottle of vodka and another woman. Oh, this is bad news. Not only have I got the concern of him having a drink, I've also got to worry about what he does once he's had one. This is rich! I can't even have a business meeting with a male client without him dissolving on the spot, although Jesse's meltdown with regards to Mikael seems to be warranted. But I'm not delusional enough to think that he wouldn't trample my other male clients.

  I push his hands away from my thighs and get up, leaving him crouched by the sofa looking lost. 'So on Thursday in your office, are you telling me that if you had drank the vodka, I would've found you nailing Sarah on your desk, not just looking cosy with her on your desk?' This is horrible.

  He gets up and stalks over to me, grabbing my hips to immobilise me before bending down to get into my line of sight. 'No! Don't be so stupid. '

  'I don't think I'm being stupid. ' I scathe. 'It's bad enough worrying about you drinking. I don't know if I can cope with the additional complications of you being drunk and wanting to fuck other women!' I'm screeching, but I can't help it.

  He recoils. 'Will you watch your fucking mouth? It doesn't make me want to fuck other women. It just makes me want to fuck!'

  'So I had better ensure that I'm with you when you have a drink then, hadn't I?'

  'I won't be having a drink! When will you listen to me, woman?' he shouts. 'I don't need drink. ' He releases me harshly and stomps off towards the window and then back again. He points at me. 'I need you!'

  And we're back to that. How the hell does he know? I slap his finger out of my face. 'You need me to replace drink and screwing. ' I want to cry. All he needs me for is to remove himself from a lifestyle that would kill him if he kept it up for much longer. I'm his escape from a certain premature death by alcohol poisoning. I think I might throw up again. He really is scared of me leaving, but it has nothing to do with how much he loves me. It is because he is scared of returning to a hollow life. 'You manipulate me. '

  'I don't manipulate you!' He actually looks offended.

  'Yes, you do! With sex! Sense fucking, reminder fucking. It's all manipulation. I need you and you use it against me!'

  'No!' he roars, and then swipes his arms straight across the top of the drinks cabinet, sending dozens of liquor bottles and glasses crashing to the floor, the sound of broken glass thundering around us.

  I jump, stepping back, but he stalks forward and grabs the tops of my arms. 'I need you to need me, Ava. It doesn't get any simpler than that. How many times have I got to tell you? As long as you need me, I look after myself. . . simple. '

  'How is having yourself whipped looking after yourself?' I scream in his face.

  He drops me and grabs at his hair, virtually pulling it out. 'I don't fucking know!'

  I look to the heavens above. This is hopeless. 'I do need you, but not like this. '

  He takes my hands. 'Look at me. ' he demands harshly. I drop my head back down so we're at eye level again. 'Tell me, how do I make you feel? I know how you make me feel. Yes, I've had a
lot of women, but it was all just sex. Mindless sex. No feelings. Ava, I need you. '

  I look at my handsome, troubled, neurotic rogue, looking me straight in the eyes and I want to scream at him, bang his head against a wall and knock some sense into him the conventional way. We make each other crazy. That's the truth of it. We're no good for each other, and he does manipulate me. The problem is, I enjoy it. The sex kitten in me comes racing to the surface every time. I need him, just as much as he needs me, but for different reasons. He's made himself a part of me. He's embedded himself into my mind and soul. Without him, I feel like nothing. I am nothing.

  'How can you need me if I make you do this to yourself?' I ask tiredly. 'You're more self-destructible now than you were before me. I've made you need alcohol, not want it. I've made you into an unreasonable, crazy man, and I'm certainly not stable anymore. Don't you see what we're doing to each other?'

  'Ava,' His tone is warning. He knows where I'm heading.

  'And for the record, I hate the fact that you've put it about?' I need him to know this, but then the most horrific thought slams into my head.

  I gasp.

  'When you disappeared for four days. . . ' I can't even finish. My heart has just jumped into my throat and exploded.

  His eyes widen at my obvious conclusion, his mouth tightening, the muscles in his jaw ticking. 'They. meant. nothing. I love you. I need you. '

  'Oh God!' I fall to my knees. He hasn't denied it. 'You were fucking other women. ' My palms find my face as the tears start again, a massive hole punched straight through my stomach.

  He joins me on the floor, clenching my arms, shaking me. 'Ava, listen to me. They meant nothing. I was falling in love with you. I knew I would hurt you. I didn't want to hurt you. '

  'You said you couldn't do it to me. You forgot to add again. You should have said you couldn't do it to me again. '

  'I didn't want to hurt you. ' he whispers.

  My defeated face comes up. 'So to remedy that, you fucked other women?' My stomach is turning. I can't breathe. 'How many?'

  'Ava, please don't. I hate myself. '

  'I hate you too!' I cry, my shoulders jerking as I sob relentlessly. 'How could you?'

  'Ava, why are you not listening to me?'

  'I am, and I don't like what I'm hearing!' I scramble to my feet, but he grabs my waist to prevent me from walking away.

  He rests his forehead on my stomach, and I watch through my hazy vision as his own shoulders start jerking. 'I'm sorry. I love you. Please, I beg you, don't leave me. Marry me. '

  'What?' I cry. We've not even spoken about the subject at hand yet, and I'm already balancing on the edge of complete breakdown. This is information overload. This is the death blow. 'I can't marry someone who I don't understand. ' I utter the words quietly through my heaves and feel him sag before me on a sharp intake on breath. I can see the angry welts and beads of blood across his back. 'I thought I was working you out. ' My voice is trembling. 'You've destroyed me again, Jesse. '

  'Ava, please. I was a mess. I lost control. I thought I could fight you out of my head. '

  'By getting pissed and fucking other women?'

  'I didn't know what to do. ' he says quietly.

  'You could have talked to me. '

  'Ava, you would have run away from me again. '

  'All of the apologies you've been giving me were because your conscience was eating away at you. It wasn't because you were drunk, or because of The Manor. It's because you screwed around on me. You said you hadn't dabbled since way before me. You've lied to me. Every time I think we've made progress, more bombshells. I can't cope with this anymore. I don't know who you are, Jesse. '

  'Ava, you do know me. ' He looks up at me with pleading eyes. 'I've fucked up. I've really fucked up, but no one knows me better than you, no one. '

  'Sarah might do. She seems to know you very well. ' I say with zero emotion. 'Why?'

  He collapses onto his heels and drops his head. 'I've let you down. I wanted a drink, but I promised you I wouldn't, and I know what's likely to happen if I do. '

  I wince at his admission. 'So you had yourself whipped?'

  'Yes. '

  My stomach joins my heart in my throat. 'I don't understand. '

  His head remains dropped. 'Ava, you know I've led a colourful life. ' His voice is quiet. He's ashamed. 'I've broken marriages, treated women like objects and taken what's not mine. I've damaged people, and I feel like all of this is my penance. I've found my little piece of heaven and I feel like everyone is going out of their way to take it away from me. '

  The lump in my throat grows further. 'YOU are the only one who's going to fuck this up. Just you. You drinking, you being a control freak, you fucking other women. YOU!'

  'I could have stopped it all. I can't believe I've got you. I'm terrified you're going to be taken away from me. '

  'So you ask a woman I despise, a woman who wants to take you away from me, to whip you?'

  He frowns as he looks up to me. 'Sarah doesn't want to take me away from you. '

  I shake my head in frustration. 'Yes, Jesse, she does! You doing this to yourself is agony for me. You are punishing me, not you. ' I'm desperate for him to see this. 'I love you, despite all of the shit you keep landing on me, but I can't watch you do this to yourself. '

  'Don't leave me. ' He grinds the words out, reaching up and grabbing at my hands. 'I'll die before I'm without you, Ava. '

  'Don't say that!' I shout at him. 'That's crazy talk. '

  He yanks me back down to my knees. 'It's not crazy. That nightmare I had when you were gone. Just like that - gone. It gave me a clue of what it would be like without you. ' He's in such a state. 'Ava, it killed me. '

  His repeated apologies in his sleep make sense now. I left him in his dream because I found out about the other women. 'If I left, it would be because I can't watch you hurt yourself - I can't watch you torture yourself anymore. '

  'You could never understand how much I love you. ' He reaches for my face, and I pull away. That statement just makes me fuming mad. 'Let me touch you. ' he demands, trying to grab at me. He's becoming frantic and panicked and it's ripping my insides out.

  'I do understand, Jesse, because I feel the same!' I yell. 'Even though you've fucked me over completely, I still fucking love you and I fucking hate myself for it. So don't you dare tell me I don't understand!'

  'It's not possible. ' He grasps the tops of my arms and pulls me forward on a hiss. 'It's just not fucking possible!' His voice is severe. He really does believe that.

  I let him pull me into his chest and smother me, but I can't even put my arms around him. I'm emotionally drained and completely numb. My strong, dominant playboy is reduced to a frightened, desperate soul. I want my fierce Jesse back.

  'I'm going to get something to clean you up with. ' I struggle from his fighting arms. 'Jesse, I need to clean you up. '

  'Don't walk away from me. '

  I break free and stand myself up. 'I said I would never leave you. I meant it. ' I turn and leave him on his knees, walking from his office in a complete daze.

  I'm not going to get anything to clean his back up. A bit of attention on his wounds is not going to prove anything. There is only one way I can get him to comprehend that I understand how he feels. And if that's what it takes, then I'll do it.

 
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