Beneath this man, p.31
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       Beneath This Man, p.31

         Part #2 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
Chapter 31

  I bypass the toilets, the busy bar and the restaurant quickly. I don't need to be seeing Kate, or any of the others, for that matter. And if I clap eyes on Sarah, then I'm likely to end up at a police station because I won't stop thrashing her with that whip until I've sliced her in half. Anyway, it won't be long before he comes looking for me, so I need to be quick.

  I reach the entrance hall and take the stairs two at a time, walking quickly around the gallery landing and ignoring the women's harsh stares. But then I spot her. I know I should keep going. I know I should resist the temptation to throttle her, but the overwhelming urge gets the better of me.

  I approach her. She's chatting to a few female members, no doubt filling them in on the events of the past hour. She's still kitted out in her leather gear, whip still in hand. I stop behind her, the other women silencing immediately. Obviously curious to the sudden halt in conversation, she turns to face me. Her expression is superior, with a little sick satisfaction mixed in there too. My blood boils as she stands in front of me, relaxed in her pose, twirling the whip in her grasp.

  'You sent me a text from John's phone. ' I accuse calmly.

  She almost laughs. 'I don't know what you're talking about. '

  'Of course you don't. ' I shake my head disbelievingly. 'You also let me into The Manor when I discovered the communal room. '

  'Now, why would I do that?' she asks cockily.

  'Because you want him. ' My voice is amazingly calm, considering my blood is boiling and I'm physically shaking. I can feel the other women's stares burning through my skin. I spread my gaze over all of them. 'You all want him. '

  None of them say a word. They all stand there watching me, probably anticipating my next move.

  Sarah can't keep her trap shut, though. 'No, little girl, we've all had him. '

  I snap.

  My fist bunches and flies out, cracking her clean across her botox pumped face, sending her staggering back on her heels and to her arse. I don't stop there. I grab her hair in the most unladylike, cattish fashion and haul her up, pinning her against the wall by her throat. Shocked gasps ring out through the air before silence falls and the only sound is Sarah's stunned breathing.

  'You EVER lay a finger on him again, requested or not, and I won't stop until I've snapped every bone in your fucking body. Do you understand me?'

  Her eyes are wide. I can feel her shaking under my hold.

  'DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?' I scream the words in her face. I've lost control.

  'Yes. ' she squeaks quietly, shifting under my vice grip of her throat. I'm restricting her breathing.

  I release her and she crumbles to the floor in a heap of leather, gasping and gripping at her neck. I'm shaking with anger as I turn and absorb the shocked expressions of many witnesses, all standing in stunned silence. I don't need to say anymore. I've made my point pretty clear to Sarah and every other person stood observing my meltdown. I leave them all and carry on my way to my original destination, shaking violently, breathing heavily. As I reach the bottom of the stairs to the communal room, I waiver for a few seconds, but as soon as I remember Jesse's words, I race up the stairs with nothing but adrenalin and determination coursing through my veins.

  I enter the dimly lit communal room, ignoring the few scenes playing out in front of me, while trying to blank out the erotic music that's invading my hearing. I'm not here to be turned on. I head to the right and find myself where I want to be.

  Two men, I recognise neither, are talking quietly while a women puts her underwear back on. I approach the scene and they all turn their attention on me, the conversation ceasing as I get closer. One of the men watches me cautiously while the other eyes me approvingly, his face breaking out into a dark smile. I kick my shoes off and pull my t-shirt up over my head before throwing it to the floor and unfastening my jeans.

  'Come to play, sweetness?' One of the men drawls as he starts towards me.

  'Steve, leave her. ' The other guy warns. He clearly recognises me. I throw him a filthy look, and he shakes his head. 'Steve, you need to leave her. '

  'She wants to play, don't you, sweetness?' His eyes are dark but sparkling at me.

  'She's Jesse's girl, Steve. It's not worth it. ' His friend tries to reason with Steve, but he looks like he's on a mission and doesn't like being told what to do, which is just what I need.

  'All's fair in sex and The Manor. ' Steve quips on a smirk. 'What can I give you, sweetness?'

  'Seriously, Steve, she's special to him. '

  'She's special all right. Now she can be special for me too. Ward has never had an issue with sharing before. '

  His words stir the bile that's coating my throat, and I watch as the sensible man grasps the woman's arm and pulls her away with a cautious look all over his face. This Steve, though, he's cocky and confident, but not in an attractive way. Not that it matters. I'm not planning on kissing the man.

  I walk over to the stand by the wall and pick out the fiercest looking whip I can find before turning and handing it to him with steady hands. Any reluctance will foil me and this is the only way that I can demonstrate to Jesse how crazy all of this shit is. His face spreads into a wide smile as he accepts the whip and runs his eyes down my semi nakedness. I remove my jeans and walk over to stand myself under the suspended gold frame and hold my hands above my head. 'No contact, just the whip. Hard. ' My voice is clear and totally resolute. I feel resolute. I have no fear or hesitations at all.

  'Hard?' he asks.

  'Very hard. '

  'What about your bra?' His eyes are fixed firmly on my chest.

  'The bra stays. '

  'Fair enough. ' He nods and saunters over, tucking the handle of the whip in his back pocket. He reaches up to secure my hands in the manacles on the gold suspended frame.

  'Steve, you need to stop. '

  'It's none of your business. ' I grate.

  'You heard her, she wants this. ' Steve looks up at me with hooded eyes filled with lust, before he starts walking around the back of me.

  My heart starts a heavy, steady thump in my chest and I close my eyes, reciting Jesse's words in my mind.

  It's not possible. It's not possible. It's not possible. It's not possible.

  I blank my mind of everything except that, the music fades and I brace myself for my own punishment - my punishment for reducing Jesse to a fraught mess of a man, for making him need alcohol, not just want it, for turning him into an uptight, neurotic freak. . . for making him do this to himself.

  I hear it before I feel it. A fast, sharp whip though the air before it connects with my back. I cry out.

  Holy fucking shit!

  The thrash sends a continuous stabbing pain radiating throughout my entire body and my legs turn to jelly. People volunteer themselves for this? I've volunteered for this? I keep my eyes firmly shut. It's only now I realise that we didn't agree on a number of strikes. I hold my breath and grit my teeth as a second lash falls across my back, and I mentally plead with myself to keep quiet and accept the beating.

  I tense myself, waiting for the next hit and when it comes, I release my body, hanging helplessly from the frame. I'm at the complete mercy of this stranger. The fourth, fifth and six thrashes connect at even intervals until I'm familiar with when to expect the strikes, and I've completely numbed out what I'm doing. I'm completely crazy. I'm totally unaware of my surroundings, the music is dull in the distance and the voices around me are quiet. The only thing I'm alert of is the timing between each lash and the air whipping before the leather connects with my flesh. I might be unconscious. I'm not sure. I'm not even tensing anymore.

  Another thrash connects with my back and I jerk again, my back arching, my head flying back.


  The roar I know so well snaps me to the here and now as another burning snap spreads across my back. I buck in shock, the metal restraints clanking loudly above my head.
I can't open my eyes. My head is heavy, my body lifeless and my arms are lacking any blood and feeling in them.

  'Jesus! Ava, no!' His voice is loud but broken. My body starts swinging slightly, and I feel his warm hands all over me. 'John, release her hands! Oh, God, no, no, no, no, no, no!'

  'Mother fucker!'

  'John, fucking hell, get her down! Ava?' He sounds terrified. I'm grabbed and stroked all over as I feel the tampering of big, clumsy hands on mine above my head. My arms fall down like lead. I'm limp in his arms. 'Ava? Oh God, please! Ava?' I'm vaguely aware of being moved.

  And then the pain kicks in.

  Oh good God!

  My flesh feels like it's on fire, pain emanating from every single nerve ending across my back and beyond. I'm being shuffled about and I can't even speak to tell him to stop. I've never felt pain like it.

  'Don't let him go anywhere!' Jesse's voice is muffled, but I know who he is talking about and through my haze, I realise that I've probably just sent Steve to his death.

  I need to stop that. I asked him to do this, although I'm wondering why the hell I did right now. I really am completely crazy, but then I remind myself of the reasons behind this. He might not be so willing to do this to himself if he is faced with me following suit. But will he have a drink, or will he get himself whipped again, anyway? God, I hope not. I don't think I could do this again. Through my dazed state, I realise I might have just started a really big, vicious circle of punishments. Should I have done this?

  My crazy side and my sane side are having an argument in my head, and I can hear Jesse's thundering footsteps and many shocked gasps as I'm carried through The Manor.

  'What the fuck!' Kate's shocked voice is distant. 'Jesse?'

  He doesn't answer. All I hear is John's low rumble fading into the background along with all the commotion that I have caused. I don't care. A door slams and a few moments later, I feel the sofa beneath his thighs as I'm cradled in his lap.

  'You stupid, stupid girl. ' he sobs on a cracked voice. I feel him buried in my neck, inhaling into my hair and frantically stroking my head. 'You crazy, stupid girl. '

  I drag my eyes open and stare blankly forward across his chest. I'm in so much pain, but I have no desire to move or voice my discomfort. I feel sedated, like I'm floating on the outside, observing this shocking scene from afar. What if my attempts to make Jesse see my point of view fail? What if he does punish himself again? I couldn't bear to go through this again and not just because I'm in absolute agony - I couldn't bear to see Jesse on his knees, accepting lashes dished out by Sarah or by anyone, for that matter. Not that I'm ever going to be able to scrub that image from my mind. It will be etched on my brain for as long as I live. Nothing will wipe it away. Nothing.

  I don't know how long we sit in silence; me staring into the distance, completely detached from the circumstances, and Jesse sobbing into my hair. It feels like hours, maybe longer. I've lost all sense of time and realism.

  The door knocks.

  'What?' Jesse's voice is fragmented and low, and he sniffs a few times.

  The door opens, but I don't know who it is. My eyes have been staring into space for such a long time, I think they may have set in place. I hear some movement close by and something being put on the table in front of us, but whoever it is doesn't speak. They leave just as quietly, the office door shutting almost silently.

  Jesse moves ever so slightly under me, and I inhale on a sharp, painful hiss. He stills. 'Oh, Jesus. ' He sounds fraught. 'Baby, I need to move you, I need to see your back. '

  I shake my head mildly and press my face into his bare chest. It's going to hurt like hell when he moves me. I want to delay it for as long as possible. I'm not ignorant to the fact that his own back is a blooded mess and he's leaning back on the sofa with me on his lap pressing into him. He must be in some serious pain himself. What a pair of crazy arse, challenging freaks we are.

  He sighs and rests his chin on the top of my head. 'Why?' he croaks, kissing my head. 'I don't understand. '

  If I could talk, I would be throwing that right back at him. Why exactly?

  'Ava, I need to see your back. ' He makes to move again and pain slices through me. I clench my dry eyes shut and let him move me until I'm sitting up on his lap.

  The gravity smacks right into my stomach and I'm suddenly heaving, my stomach convulsing, my body jerking, which only serves to increase the pain further. I double over on his lap.

  'Oh God!' He places his hand on my back in an instinctive move to soothe me while my stomach decides if there's anything left inside me to bring up. The hot contact of his hand has me jolting forward on a cry and my stomach deciding that yes, there is something left to evacuate.

  I throw up all over the floor.

  'Shit! Ava, I'm sorry. Oh, fuck!' He pulls my hair from my face and tentatively moves to get better access to me. 'Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck. Ava, what have you done?' His traumatised voice tells me he has just copped a load of my back. It must look as bad as it feels. I'm desperately trying to get a handle of my retching in an attempt to minimise the pain. 'I'm going to move you now, okay?' He grasps me under my arms and stands. I cry out. 'I can't lift you without touching you. ' He grunts a few frustrated curses as he tries to maneuver me to the other couch without catching my back.

  My legs are still wobbly and unsteady. I wouldn't be surprised if he never wanted to see me again on the grounds of feebleness. I never imagined this, but there was no discussion when I handed Steve the whip. Other than my request of no physical contact with him and to give it to me hard, I said nothing. I practically gave him free reign.

  'Get on your front. ' He lowers me to the sofa on my stomach, and I put my arms under my head as a pillow. 'Ava, I can't believe you've done this,' He kneels by the sofa and pulls over a glass bowl of water with a bottle of purple liquid. He squirts the liquid into the water and takes the roll of cotton wool, tearing some off before dipping it in the solution and squeezing off the excess. 'This is going to sting, baby. I'll be gentle, okay?' He puts his face in my field on vision and my eyes lift with some effort, finding green pools of total anguish.

  I stare blankly at him, all muscles refusing to work.

  'I'm furious with you. ' he says softly. He lowers his lips to mine and kisses me gently and it's the first time ever that I don't have to fight to respond, and it's not because I don't want to.

  He shakes his head, returning his attention to my back, and I pull in a severe, distressed breath as he unclasps my bra gently, letting the straps lie to the sides. Then I feel the soft cotton wool skimming over my skin. It feels like he is dragging barbed wire across my back. I sob.

  'I'm sorry. ' he blurts. 'I'm so sorry. '

  I turn my face into my arms and clench my teeth as he attempts to coat me in the solution, refreshing the cotton wool repeatedly and reloading it with the warm mixture for each painful swipe. He curses with each one of my flinches.

  When I hear the bowl scrap across the table, I let out a long, thankful lungful of air. I turn my face back outwards and see the purple tinged water is now stained red and has all the used cotton wool balls piled inside, soaking up the liquid. He gets up from beside me and returns swiftly with a bottle of water.

  He crouches in front of me. 'Can you sit up?'

  I nod and start the painful process of getting myself up into a sitting position on the couch with Jesse flapping and cursing in front of me. My bra falls onto my lap and I half-heartedly attempt to pull it back over my boobs.

  'Leave it. ' He pushes my hands away and puts the water into my grasp. 'Open your mouth. ' he orders softly. I comply without thought, letting my mouth fall open, accepting the two pills he puts on my tongue. 'Drink. '

  The bottle feels like an iron weight as I lift it to my mouth. He places his hand on the base to alleviate some of the weight, and I welcome the ice cold water into my mouth. Jesse walks over to his desk and grabs his keys, phon
e and t-shirt. Stuffing them in various pockets, he then pulls his t-shirt over his head and down his body as he walks back towards me. Doesn't his back hurt? Am I being a complete baby?

  He gets my clothes from the back of the sofa and crouches back in front of me. 'I'm taking you home. ' He opens my jeans at my feet, taps my ankle and I lift, repeating on the other before he helps me up and pulls my jeans up my legs.

  He looks from the t-shirt, to my exposed breasts, and then to me with a slight frown. The thought of anything resting on my skin makes me want to vomit again, but I can't be walking out of here and into Lusso naked from the waist up.

  'Can we try?' He stretches the neck of my t-shirt and pulls my dangling bra from my arms before easing it over my head.

  I start lifting my arms to accommodate Jesse's hold on the t-shirt, but tears start to stab at my eyes with the effort and painful stings. I shake my head frantically. It's going to hurt too much.

  'Ava, I don't know what to do. ' He holds the t-shirt away from my body. 'I can't let you walk out there with nothing on. ' He bends down and looks at me. 'Please, don't cry. ' He kisses my forehead as tears stream down my face. 'Oh, fuck it!' He pulls the t-shirt back over my head and throws it on the sofa. 'Come here. ' He bends and curls his arm under my bum and lifts me up with one arm. 'Wrap your legs around my waist, arms around my neck. Be careful. ' I do as I'm told slowly and carefully. 'Are you okay?' he asks.

  I nod into his shoulder and link my ankles around the small of his back. I feel him pull my hair over my shoulder and rest his palm on the nape of my neck, holding me as tight as he can without inflicting further pain. My boobs are squished to his chest, my back completely exposed, but I couldn't care less. He strides to the door and releases my neck to open it, before replacing his hand securely at my nape.

  'Okay, baby?' he asks, walking down the corridor into the summer room. I nod into his neck. I'm far from okay. I feel like I've been lying directly on the sun, all of my skin burnt away, exposing raw flesh. 'John!' he yells. There's a succession on shocked gasps, all sounding more shocked than when I was carried in.

  'How's the girl?' John's low voice is close by.

  'How does she fucking look? Get a cotton sheet from the cleaning quarters. '

  John doesn't retaliate to Jesse's shortness.

  'Jesse, is there anything I can do?'

  I hear a female's voice full of alarm and her heels clicking on the floor of the summer room as she tries to keep up with Jesse.

  'No, Natasha. ' he replies harshly. I can't even muster up the strength to raise my head and throw her a filthy look. Is there anything she can do? What? Like fuck him again?

  'Ava?' Kate's fretting tone assaults my ears. 'Oh, fucking hell. What have you done, you stupid cow!'

  'I'm taking her home. ' Jesse is not stopping for anyone, not even Kate. 'She's fine, I'll call you. '

  'Jesse, she's bleeding!'

  'I know, Kate. I fucking know!' I feel his chest rise under me. 'I'll call you. ' he appeases her, and I don't hear her again, but I do hear Sam soothing her, his usual chirpy voice layered with concern.

  I know we're getting close to the entrance hall because the cool air starts to slowly spread across my back. It's a welcome sensation.

  'Jesse, mate, I didn't know. '

  Jesse halts abruptly and silence falls, all concerned chatter coming to a complete halt as I hear Steve's voice drift into my ears. I squeeze Jesse's body with what little strength I can find, and he nuzzles my neck.

  'Steve, you want to be thanking all that's fucking holy I've got my girl in my arms, because if I didn't, the cleaners would be scooping up your remains for a fucking year. ' Jesse's voice is acidic, his heart pounding wildly.

  'I. . . . I. . . ' Steve stammers and stutters over his words. 'I didn't know. '

  'No one told you she was mine?' Jesse asks, clearly shocked.

  'I. . . I assumed. . . I. . . '

  'She's MINE!' Jesse roars, jolting me in his arms. I whimper from the flash of searing pain that his movement instigates and he tenses, pushing his face into the crook of my neck. 'I'm sorry. ' he whispers. I feel his jaw ticking against me. 'You're a fucking dead man, Steve. ' He stands still for a few moments and I know he's glaring at Steve with murder carved all over his face. I feel responsible.

  'Jesse?' John's rumble breaks the screaming silence. 'S'all good. Priorities, yeah?'

  'Yeah. ' Jesse picks up his feet again and the slow building cool air is suddenly sharp and pelting at my back. He walks slowly down the steps.

  'I'll get the door. ' Kate's says as her heels clatter down the steps.

  'I've got it, Kate. '

  'Jesse, stop being such a pigheaded twat and accept the fucking help! You are not the only one who cares about her. '

  I'm squeezed against him. 'My keys are in my back pocket. '

  Kate's hand brushes over my jeans as she negotiates the keys out of Jesse's pocket, and I smile on the inside at my fiery friend living up to her reputation. My eyes open and catch Kate's.

  'Oh, Ava. ' She shakes her head and bleeps Jesse's car open.

  Jesse turns back towards The Manor. 'Everyone needs to fuck off back inside. ' He doesn't want anyone to see me. I hear the crunching of gravel under footsteps as Jesse waits with me in his arms, ensuring everyone has gone before he releases me from his body. 'Ava, I'm going to ease you down, you need to turn onto your side and face the driver's seat. Can you do that?' he asks softy. I loosen my grip of his neck to show my willingness and be begins slowly lowering me down into the car. 'Don't lean back. '

  I shift slowly on the soft leather until my shoulder is resting against the seat and I'm facing the driver's side. Fucking hell, it hurts. He then lays a light sheet over me before shutting the door softly without even attempting to get the seatbelt over me. My head falls against the seat and my eyes close of their own accord. In no time at all, the driver door shuts and Jesse's scent invades my nose. I open my eyes and adjust my vision until I'm confronted with green, pitiful eyes. I feel pitiful. I'm a hopeless, pathetic waif of a woman who has caused all of this chaos, pain and aching because I was trying to prove a point - a point I pray to God I've made successfully because if I've put myself through all of this, put Jesse through this and he still doesn't get it, then it's finished. Over. We can't do this to each other. The thought makes my heart rate slow.

  He reaches over and brushes my cheek with his knuckles. 'Stop. ' he orders, wiping another tear away, but I'm not crying with pain anymore. I'm crying in desperation.

  He turns the engine over and drives slowly down the driveway, the rushed roar and madcap driving skills that I've fast become accustomed to, sidelined for a sensible purr of the DBS's engine. He takes corners carefully, accelerates and brakes gently and flicks his eyes to me at regular intervals. I'm beltless, half naked and displaying angry wounds all over my back. If the police stopped us, it would take some interesting explaining.

  I remain still and stare blankly at the profile of my handsome, troubled man and wonder whether I could be classed as troubled now too. My sanity is certainly questionable, but I'm sane enough to admit that. I was a normal, sound-minded girl. I definitely don't qualify for that anymore.

  The silence of the journey home is filled only by the humming of the car and the background sound of Snow Patrol's Run.

  Jesse pulls up to Lusso and makes his way around to my side of the car, helping me out while trying to keep me covered. 'God only knows what Clive is going to think. ' he mutters as he lifts me back onto his chest. I suddenly feel panicky. 'Ava, unless you let me drape this sheet over your back, there is nothing I can do. ' He sandwiches the sheet between our chests and does his best to hold it out to the side, shielding me from one angle before walking into the foyer.

  'Mr Ward?' Clive sounds perplexed. The poor man has seen me drunk and carried; defiant and carried; sick and carried; tired and carried. It must be clear that I am none
of the above.

  'I've got it, Clive. ' Jesse tries his best to sound unaffected, but I'm not sure he pulls it off. We get into the elevator and the surrounding mirrors bounce our reflection off in every direction. Everywhere I look, I can see Jesse's disturbed face and my fragile body wrapped around him. I close my eyes and let my head go heavy on his shoulder, feeling the motions of his long, easy strides as he carries me from the elevator, through the penthouse and to the master-suite.

  'Easy. ' He lowers me to the bed on my front.

  My arms slide under the pillow and I sink my head into the softness, taking a small comforting inhale of Jesse's scent. I feel my jeans being pulled from my legs and a few moments later, Jesse is lying next to me, mirroring my position. He keeps one hand free and reaches over to smooth his palm over my cheek, no doubt getting the contact he always needs. It's all he can do. There will be no flipping me onto my back or thrusting me up against the wall anytime soon.

  We lay forever, just gazing across at each other. It's comfortable. No words need to be said. I let him caress my face and I fight my eyes heaviness for a short while before he runs his thumbs over my lids and they don't re-open.

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