Beneath this man, p.34
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       Beneath This Man, p.34
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         Part #2 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
Chapter 34

  'What. . . how. . . when. . . ' I stammer and stutter all over the place. Where did they come from?

  'Hello. ' Mum says, short and sharp. My Dad just sits there shaking his head.

  I can't work out if she's mad or not. I want to dive on them both and squeeze the life out of them, I've not seen them for weeks and here they are, but I can't gage their moods.

  'How did you get in here?' I manage to get a full sentence out.

  'Oh, didn't you know? Your father is a retired cat burglar. ' Mum's perfectly threaded eyebrow raises at me and Dad sits there looking all disapproving and moody.

  'Mum?' I frown.

  She sighs and stands. 'Ava O'Shea, get you backside over here and give your Mother a hug. ' She holds her arms out to me.

  I burst into tears.

  'I knew she would do that!' My Dad grumbles. 'Bloody women!'

  'Shut up, Joseph. ' She gestures with her arms again and I walk straight into them, sobbing like a child and wincing slightly as she rubs my back warmly. 'Ah, Ava. What are you crying for? Stop it, you're setting me off. '

  'I'm so pleased to see you. ' I blubber into my Mums grey blazer and hear my father huffing his displeasure at the two women in his life bawling and sniveling. He's never been one for showing his emotions, finding any sort of affection highly uncomfortable.

  'Ava, you couldn't avoid us forever, even if we are miles away. Let me look at you. ' She pulls me away from her body and wipes my tears away.

  There is no denying I'm my mother's daughter. Her eyes mirror mine, all big and chocolaty and her hair that matches mine in colour is cut into a short sweeping style. She looks good for forty seven - really good.

  'You have sent me and your Dad wild with worry these last few weeks. '

  'I'm sorry. I've had a crazy few weeks. ' I try and sort myself out. My mascara is probably running down my cheeks and I seriously need to blow my nose. 'Hold up. ' I look at my Mum and then my Dad, who shrugs his big shoulders on a grunt. 'How did you really get in?' I've been so blindsided with shock and emotion, I've forgotten that we're stood in Jesse's ten million pound penthouse.

  'I invited them. '

  I swing around and find Jesse stood in the archway entrance with his hands resting loosely in his trouser pockets. 'You never said. ' I splutter. I'm confused.

  'I didn't want to row over it. ' he shrugs. 'They're here now. '

  I look at my mother, who is smiling brightly at my challenging man, and then at my father, who executes his I'm-just-doing-as-I'm-told look. I return confused eyes to Mum. She is still smiling brightly and I'm mortified to see that she's obviously affected by Jesse. I don't know why I'm mortified, he draws the same reaction from all women and I need to remember that my mother is nearer to Jesse's age than I am.

  Oh God!

  'Urmm, Mum, Dad. This is Jesse. ' I gesture between them. 'Jesse this is my Mum and Dad. Elizabeth and Joseph. ' I hadn't planned for it to be like this. I hadn't planned it at all, actually.

  'We've met. ' Jesse says.

  My eyes fly to his. 'What?'

  'We've met. ' he repeats himself, which is not necessary because I heard the first time.

  His lips are twitching. Okay, I'm thoroughly confused. He sighs and walks towards us until he's stood in front of me, a bit close for comfort, considering my parents are just there and this is all a bit of a shock for them, and for me.

  'I didn't go for a run this morning. ' he says.

  'You didn't?' I frown. 'You had your running kit on. '

  He laughs lightly. 'I know. It's not what I would have chosen to wear to meet your parents, but desperate times. ' He shrugs.

  'You're making up for it now, Jesse. ' My Mum pats his suit clad arm and my mouth drops open.

  What the fuck is going on here? I want to swear my head off, but my Mum hates swearing just as much as Jesse. Well, Mum hates all swearing, full stop. Jesse just hates me swearing, but thinks it is perfectly acceptable for him to rant like a sailor.

  'I'm sorry. ' I reach up and rub my temples. 'I'm confused. '

  'Sit. ' Jesse takes my arm and leads me over to a stool, taking a seat next to me. Mum resumes position next to Dad. 'I spoke to your Mum late last night. She was understandably worried about you and asked me lots of question. ' He raises his brow at my Mum who laughs lightly.

  'Nosey, isn't she?' Dad tuts, and Mum slaps his shoulder.

  'She's my little girl, Joseph. '

  'Anyway,' Jesse continues, 'I thought it was best for them to come and see for themselves that I'm not a raving loon, keeping you captive in our tower. So, here they are. '

  'Here we are. ' Mum sings. She clearly has no issues with the mature, stunning man who is gently stroking my hand.

  I try and recover from shock. 'So, you met them this morning? Why?' I ask.

  'I felt I needed to explain myself. ' Jesse says. I look at him and could weep. I can't believe he's done this. 'Ava, neither of us anticipated each other and for very different reasons. I know your parents opinion counts for a lot to you, and as it means so much to you, it means a lot to me too. My priority is you. You're all that matters to me. I love you. '

  I hear my Mum hit the deck in her mental faint and my Dad, although emotionally detached, gives an approving nod. 'All any father wants is for their daughter to be taken care of. ' Dad reaches over and puts his hand out to Jesse. 'I believe you'll do good. '

  Jesse accepts my Dads offering. 'It's my fulltime job. ' Jesse smiles, Mum swoons and I laugh.

  Good God!

  Jesse raises a sardonic eyebrow at me. He knows what I'm thinking. Are my Mum and Dad aware of how serious he is when he says that? I have to commend Jesse on his speech, though. He's won them over fair and square, and I do feel like I've had a huge burden lifted from my shoulders, but I'm conscious that they don't know Jesse's business nature and what he did when he drank. Or about the punishment he subjected himself to because he thought he had failed me, because he thought he deserves retribution - or the fact that I could be pregnant. I could go on forever. That's a whole other weight on my shoulders. Did he explain to them about the drinking? After Matt's call to them, they must be wondering.

  Mum gets down from her stool and makes her way around the island, her eyes all glazed. 'Come here, you silly sod!' She pulls me down from the stool and throws her arms around me. I hiss a few times, clenching my eyes shut. 'You've got yourself in a right pickle. You've fallen in love, Ava. You should have told me. ' she soothes.

  Oh, I have got myself in a pickle, but for a whole lot more reasons than she knows.

  'Right, are we eating or what? And I'm gagging for a pint. ' My Dad drags me back to the here and now.

  Mum releases me and straightens herself out. 'Do you mind if I use your bathroom, Jesse?' she asks.

  'Sure. Do a right and an immediate right again. Knock yourself out. '

  'Pardon?' Mum blurts.

  I laugh.

  'I'm sorry. ' He smiles, flicking his eyes to me, then back to my Mum. 'Go for it. Like I said, right and right again. By the gym. '

  'Oh, thank you. ' Mum gives me an oh-the-gym look and grabs her purse from the worktop, leaving me, Jesse and my Dad to make small talk.

  'So, what do you drive?' Dad starts, and I groan. Dad's passion for big, expensive cars is going to be fed good and proper now.

  Jesse pulls me back onto the stool. 'A DBS. '

  'Aston Martin?' Dad asks.

  'That's it. '

  'Nice. ' Dad nods and does a rubbish job of showing disinterest. 'And the hotel is in the Surrey Hills?'

  Jesse must feel me go rigid because he squeezes me slightly. 'It is. I'll show you one day, perhaps on your next visit. '

  Never come to London again!

  'Sure, Elizabeth loves anything luxury. ' Dad rolls his eyes. My Mum is certainly high maintenance. 'It's a nice place you have here. ' Dad looks around the kitchen and then ba
ck at Jesse.

  'Thank you, but your daughter is responsible for that. ' He starts curling a lock of my hair around his finger. 'I just bought the place. '

  'So, this is the big project that stole all of your time?' Dad muses. 'You did a good job. '

  'Thanks, Dad. ' I'm more than relieved when I hear the front doorbell. Dad and small talk are not a match well made.

  'Do you want to get that?' Jesse pats my bum and I stand.

  'Who is it?'

  'I don't know. Go and see. ' He pushes me away, and I leave Dad and Jesse to continue small talk as I make my way to the front door. No one can come up without knowing the code, so it has to be Clive.

  I swing it open and find Dan, Kate and Sam, all stood in the penthouse foyer and my first thought is; Dan and Kate within a mile of each other? Bad news. But then Dan steps forward with a big smile on his face and I all but throw myself on him, forgetting all back pain and awkward tension between him and my best friend.

  'What are you doing here?' I squeeze him to me and he laughs.

  'I'm doing as I'm told,' He fights me off and holds me back. 'You look good. ' he says on a bright smile. 'Where's this new bloke who I need to give the 'if you hurt her' speech to?'

  I wave of fear flies through me at the thought of Jesse accepting any such speech. 'In the kitchen, but you don't need to do that. '

  Please don't do that!

  He eyes me warily. 'It's my job. ' he states firmly, and then looks past me into the penthouse. 'Fucking hell!' he whispers as he cops a load of the space. He drops me and saunters off.

  Kate steps forward with a clear look of trepidation of her pale face. She wraps her arms around me. 'This has to be the most awkward situation I have ever put myself in,' she whispers in my ear. 'Fucking hideous. '

  I laugh. 'Ease up on your grip,' I shrug her slightly. 'Does Sam know?' I whisper back.

  'Sorry and no. I thought he might have made the connection after you landed Dan's visit on me at lunch that time, but he's fucking oblivious. '

  'Hey! Where's the love?' Sam removes Kate and throws his arms around me gently. 'You are one mad woman. ' he says quietly.

  'I know. ' I agree. Fucking crazy mad.

  'Don't do that again. ' he scorns me. 'Where's my man?'

  'Kitchen. '

  He drops me and heads for the kitchen. I look at Kate, and she shakes her head. 'If I could've got out of this, I would have. ' She lets out a stressed breath. 'Come on. ' She takes my hand and we go back to the kitchen, finding Jesse making the introductions. Dan's cautious eyes flick between Jesse and Sam for a whole lot of different reasons.

  Cathy appears from nowhere with Luigi and three waiters and Jesse leaves the kitchen island chatter to have a word. I watch as he lets Cathy kiss his cheek, shakes Luigi's hand and then points around the kitchen and through to the terrace. Cathy shoos him away and gives me a happy wave.

  'What's happening?' I ask him when he joins me back by the island.

  'We're having dinner. '

  'Here?'

  'Yes, I arranged for Luigi to come in and do the honours. We'll eat on the terrace. It's a nice evening. ' He places me in front of him and brushes my hair away from my face.

  'I can't believe you did this. '

  He cocks his head to the side. 'Whatever it takes, you know this. '

  My hands slide up his jacket sleeves to rest on his biceps. 'You might get the loving brother speech,' I smile apologetically. 'Do you think you could humour him?'

  His lips press into a straight line. 'You mean another man telling me how to look after you? I don't think so. '

  My shoulders sag slightly. 'Whatever it takes?' I whisper his words. I can't even begin to imagine how much it pained him to have to talk to my parents. It goes against all of his natural instincts.

  He rests his finger under my chin and drops a light kiss on the corner of my mouth. 'Whatever it takes. ' he confirms. 'Come on. '

  He proceeds to direct everyone out of the kitchen and onto the terrace, where I find everything has been set for a meal. The outside dining table has been superbly laid, the patio heaters have been lit to take the edge off the cool evening air and bottles of wine and beer are chilling in the drinks fridge by the huge built-in barbeque. I throw Jesse a questioning look. How did he manage all of this? He smiles and gives me a gesture of sleep. While I was snoozing most of the day, he has been busy meeting my parents and preparing all of this? I'm still in shock.

  I'm in a half trance as the people I love the most in the world converse, chat, laugh and drink at the table, while Luigi and his staff prepare and serve a luscious Italian feast. Jesse keeps his hand firmly on my knee, choosing to eat one handed, squeezing every so often, particularly harder when Dan commences his older brother speech. I watch Jesse struggle to remain polite and gracious while they chat, and when my mother catches the line of conversation, I'm immensely grateful for her intervention. She admonishes Dan and smiles sweetly at Jesse before picking up her conversation with Kate, who has eased up slightly after a few glasses of wine inside her, although you can't ignore the tension that is bristling between her and Dan. Sam, however, is completely unaware and doing a good job of making my Dad laugh hard with God only knows what stories.

  'Kate's not her normal self. ' Jesse observes quietly, as he tops up my water glass. 'Is she okay?'

  'She and Dan have a bit of a history. ' I reply, equally as quietly and out of earshot of Dan. 'It's complicated. '

  Jesse's eyebrows rise in surprise. 'I see. Did you enjoy your pasta?'

  'It was lovely. ' I rest my hand over his on my knee. 'Thank you. '

  'You are more than welcome. ' he winks. 'Nothing stands in the way now, does it?' He gives me an expectant look.

  'No, the path is clear. ' I smile and then melt when he gives me his smile, the one reserved only for me, his eyes twinkling in contentment.

  'I'm glad you said that. ' He stands, halting all conversation at the table, all attention turning to him. He pulls my chair out. 'Up you get. ' he instructs, and I stand on a frown. 'Excuse us for a few minutes. ' he says to our silent guests, before leading me away by my hand.

  'Where are we going?' I ask his back.

  He halts, turns and drops to his knee in front of me, only a few feet away from the table. I hear my Mum's sharp intake of breath and mine that follows shortly after. I look down at him with a gaping mouth and wide eyes as he takes my hand and looks up at me with crystal clear green.

  'Shall we try this the traditional way?' he asks quietly.

  I start to physically shake. 'Oh God. ' I breathe through the melon sized lump in my throat. I turn slowly and drink in the table and the occupants, all watching intently. My Mum has her hand over her mouth and my Dad has a small smile on his lips. Dan is expressionless and Kate and Sam are relaxed in their chairs with matching grins.

  My heart commences gallop in my chest as I return my body to face Jesse, my glazed eyes to his. He's only just met my parents. He can't land this on me - not in front of them.

  'I've trampled them all. ' His eyes twinkle. 'delicately. . . ish. ' he adds. 'I've even asked your father. ' The corner of his mouth lifts into a half smile and a small sob escapes my lips. 'You must know how hard that was for me. ' He drops my hand and glides his palms around the backs of my legs to pull me closer, prompting my hands to rest on his shoulders. 'Anything it takes, Ava. ' he whispers.

  My hands drift up to find the back of his head and my fingers thread through his dark blonde hair as he looks up at me.

  'Marry me, baby. '

  'You're crazy mad. ' I sob, bending to kiss him, my hands moving to the side of his face. 'You crazy, crazy man. '

  'Will I be crazy mad and married?' he asks into my mouth. 'Please tell me I'll be crazy mad and married to you. ' His hands pull me down to my knees and he holds my shoulders firmly, his eyes swimming as he searches my face. 'It's all about you and it always will be.
For the rest of my life it's only you. I love you, beyond crazy. Marry me, Ava. '

  I fall forward onto his chest in a sobbing mess and hear my Mum burst into tears.

  'Is that a yes?' he asks into my neck.

  'Yes,'

  'I can't breathe. ' he murmurs, falling back, taking me with him so we're sprawled on the terrace floor. He takes my mouth, kissing me adoringly. Once again, my challenging, neurotic ex-playboy will have me wherever and however he pleases, and he's completely unashamed of it. 'I love you so much. ' He pulls my hand up and slips my ring back onto my finger before dropping a kiss next to it and engulfing me in his body again, squeezing me hard.

  'I love you too. ' I whisper in his ear.

  'I'm so glad. You're the best birthday present I've ever had. '

  What?

  I pull up and gaze down at him through my glazed eyes. He smiles, almost embarrassed. 'It's your birthday?'

  'It is. ' He starts nibbling his lip. He's concerned.

  'Today?'

  'Yes. ' He nods as he answers.

  I narrow playful eyes on him. 'How old are you?'

  'I'm thirty eight. ' He doesn't hesitate.

  I break out in a full beam. 'Happy birthday. '

  He blesses me with his smile, reserved only for me and pulls me back down to his chest, sinking his nose straight into my neck.

  I melt into him.

  I love this man, in all of his perfection and in all of his challenging, unreasonable ways. He took me hard and fast. He made me fall in love with him. He made me need him.

  He was so unexpected, so passionate and so absolutely irresistible. And now he is wholly mine, and I am undeniably his.

  I finally understand him.

  I've finally got beneath this man.

  The End.

 
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