This man, p.18
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       This Man, p.18

         Part #1 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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Page 18

  Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas

  She sips her champagne while eyeing me suspiciously. ‘You’re quite a surprise. ’ she purrs.

  She seems genuine. Is that a compliment? Oh God, don’t be nice to me. I’ve just screwed her boyfriend in his new bathroom, and now she’s being nice? Or is it her bathroom as well? Oh heck! I want to crawl inside myself and die. I’m deplorable.

  I really don’t know what to say. ‘Thank you. ’ I utter, turning back to the elevator when it opens. I need to get out of this place.

  ‘It wasn’t a compliment,’ she says categorically.

  ‘I didn’t think it was. ’ I retort, without looking at her. Obviously, I was mistaken.

  ‘You know Jesse owns this place, right?’

  I want to ask her if she’ll be living here too, but, of course, I don’t. ‘He mentioned it. ’ I say casually, stepping into the lift and punching the code in. ‘It was nice to see you. ’ I smile. I don’t know why I said that, it wasn’t nice at all. I still don’t like her, and she’s made it perfectly clear how she feels about me. I can’t blame her.

  The doors close and I fall back against the mirrored wall.

  Shit!

  Chapter 10

  What ever happened to the simple, single life for me? I’m such a fuck up.

  After collecting my things from the changing rooms of the spa, I dump them in my car and wander down to the docks, sitting myself on a bench. The hustle and bustle of the docks is in full swing as people come and go, all looking happy and content. The flowers are in bloom on the elaborate lampposts, spilling over the baskets and cascading down the ornate iron, and the lights from the building all flicker and glow across the docks, dancing off of the rippling waves.

  I sigh and close my eyes, listening to the sound of the water lightly lapping at the sides of the boats. It’s rhythmic and relaxing, but I don’t think anything will make me feel better at the moment. I get my phone out of my bag to call Kate. After letting it ring off, I leave a message.

  ‘Hey, it’s me,’ I know I sound forlorn, but I can’t feign chirpiness when I really don’t feel it. I groan. ‘Oh, Kate… I’ve made a monumental fuck up. I’ll be home soon. ’ I drop my hand to the bench and resolve to the fact that I’m pretty damn stupid. What was I thinking?

  My phone jumps to life in my hand, and I connect the call without looking at the display, assuming it will be Kate. ‘Hey. ’

  ‘Where are you?’ He speaks softly down the phone.

  I don’t know whether my heart sinks because it’s not Kate, or just because it is Jesse. I don’t know anything. My life was resuming rather well, man free and commitment free, and now this is going to play on my conscience. I’m a firm believer in Karma, in which case, I’m in big trouble.

  ‘I’m at home. ’ I lie again. It’s coming naturally these days. I’m twiddling my hair, a sure sign of my Pinocchio behavior.

  ‘Okay. ’ he whispers and hangs up.

  Oh? Well, that was easier than I contemplated. After I didn’t comply with hand holding orders and abandoned him with the gayest of the gay mauling him, I had expected pissed off. So, he’s got what he wanted and that’s it. I’m not sure why I feel so neglected. It’s what I had expected, and it’s no less than I actually deserve. His persistence had worn me down, but now it’s out of my system. Now, I can get back to me and my life. And if I’m lucky, Sarah won’t ever find out about this mild indiscretion.

  Mild? It was far from mild.

  Nevertheless, Jesse can continue with his serial seductions and move on to the next lucky woman, for all I care. I’m sure Sarah will find out soon enough, just not now. A woman scorned and after my blood is the last thing I need.

  After sitting and musing for a while, I reluctantly get up to go and hail a cab. There’s only so long you can sit feeling sorry for yourself. I need to put tonight behind me fast. I need to forget about it, eradicate it from my memory and put it down to experience. He’s hazardous. I know it.

  As I turn and look up, Jesse is stood a few feet away, quietly watching me. How the hell am I going to achieve any of my objectives if he stalks me?

  Where’s Sarah?

  We face each other, still and silent, his face impassive as he studies me. And then I burst into tears. I don’t know why, but I put my face in my hands and I sob. God only knows what he must be thinking. But then I feel his warm body swathe me and my head rests in the crevasse of his neck, my arms, on reflex, reaching under his to cling onto him. We say nothing for a long time. We just stand there in each other’s arms, silent while he massages the back of my head with the palm of his big hand, keeping me tucked tightly against his body. There is only a small part of me wondering where Sarah is, but I don’t dwell on it. I feel sheltered and safe, and I’m only mildly alert to the fact that I should be running away from these arms, not into them. I should be treating them with caution, not accepting the comfort they’re giving me. Why can’t I run?

  ‘How long have you been stood here?’ I ask when my sobs have finally abated.

  ‘Long enough,’ he murmurs. ‘What’s all this about a monumental fuck up?’ He squeezes me tighter. ‘I hope to God you weren’t referring to me. ’

  ‘I was. ’ I don’t beat around the bush. It would be pointless.

  ‘You were?’ he sounds surprised and a little pissed, but then a few moments later he follows it up with, ‘Will you come home with me?’ I feel him tense slightly.

  I’ve just told him that he’s my monumental fuck up, and he wants to take me home? What about Sarah? They obviously don’t live together then. ‘No. ’ I answer. What I’ve done already is bad enough.

  ‘Please, Ava. ’

  ‘Why?’ I ask. I need to know what his fascination is with me, because if I spend any more time with this man, I may be in even more trouble. I can’t be getting caught up in sordid affairs with older, unavailable men. Although, exactly how old is still to be determined. There is something about this man, and it’s screaming bad news.

  He pulls back to look down at me, his beautiful brow furrowed. ‘It feels right. You belong with me. ’ He says it like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

  ‘So, who does Sarah belong with?’

  ‘Sarah? What’s she got to do with anything?’ He looks really confused now.

  ‘Girlfriend,’ I remind him. He really has no regard for the poor woman.

  His eyes bulge. ‘Oh, please don’t tell me you’ve been ignoring my calls and running away because you thought…’ He releases me. ‘You thought me and Sarah were…’ He steps back. ‘Oh, fucking hell, no!’

  ‘Yes!’ I exclaim. ‘She’s not?’ Oh, now I’m really confused. The woman couldn’t have made her claim any clearer if she’d have pissed all over him. Who the hell is she then? Oh, I really don’t like her now.

  His hands delve into his hair. ‘Ava, whatever made you think that?’

  Is he winding me up? ‘Oh, let me see,’ I smile sweetly. ‘Maybe it was the kiss in the hallway of The Manor. Or when she came looking for you in the bedroom. Or it could be her frosty reception to me,’ I draw breath. ‘Or, perhaps, it’s the fact that she’s with you every time I see you. ’ I can’t believe this. I’ve been beating myself up about this, and over a woman that I really don’t like. What a waste of conscience! ‘Who is she?’ I ask, completely riled.

  He holds my hands, leaning down so his eyes are level with mine. ‘Ava, she’s a little friendly. ’

  ‘Friendly?’ I scoff. ‘That woman is not friendly!’

  ‘She’s a friend. ’ he says soothingly. I don’t want soothing. No, I want to pop some pouty red lips! She knew exactly what she was doing. She, clearly, wants to be more than friends.

  He brushes his palm down my cheek. ‘Now we’ve clarified Sarah’s position in my life, can we talk about yours?’

  What? I recoil. ‘What do you mean?’ His previous comments suddenly embed them
selves into my mind. All of the, you’re mine, I’ll keep you and you’ll change your mind.

  He smirks. ‘I mean in my bed and under me. ’ He yanks me into his chest, and I resume nuzzle, sagging with relief. That sounds good to me. I’ve just added a steaming hot affair with an older man to my bucket list, just so I can tick it off. No commitment, no tying down. This suits me fine. Although, I doubt I would get either of the aforementioned from this man.

  ‘At The Manor?’ I ask. It’s quite a drive.

  ‘No, I’ve an apartment behind me, but I can’t move in until tomorrow. I’m renting a place on Hyde Park. You’ll come. ’

  ‘Yes. ’ I don’t hesitate, but I’m aware that it wasn’t a question. And I’m also mindful of his previous comments, especially his last one: You belong with me.

  Is that his decision, or mine?

  He sighs, applying more pressure to my head and back.

  Yes, proceed with extreme caution, Ava.

  We travel in silence, except for the low tones of Massive Attack’s Teardrops filtering out of his car sound system. How fitting after my sobbing fit. I spend most of the journey deliberating on my decision to come home with Jesse, while he repeatedly draws breath, as if intending to say something but deciding against it.

  He pulls his Aston Martin into a gated car park, and I let myself out. Popping his boot and grabbing my bags, he takes my hand and leads me into the building.

  ‘I’m on the first floor. We’ll take the stairs, it’s quicker. ’ He guides me through a grey fire door, into the stairwell and up a flight of stairs.

  We exit into a narrow corridor. It looks like a specialist hospital facility. Jesse unlocks the only other door in the long expanse of white and grey, ushers me in, and I’m immediately stood in a large open plan area. It’s white from top to bottom, with black furniture and a black kitchen, monochrome to the absolute maximum – a real guy’s pad. It looks empty, cold and clinical. I hate it.

  ‘It’s a pit stop. I bet you’re really offended. ’ His eyes glow and he smiles, no doubt at my critical face.

  ‘I prefer your new place. ’

  ‘Me too,’

  I wander further into the apartment, scrutinising the lack of warmth and cosiness. How does he live here? There are no personal touches, no paintings or photographs. I notice a snowboard propped up in the corner, with various skiing equipment piled around it. On the side board, where I would expect to see vases or ornaments, there’s a motorcycle helmet and some leather gloves. That’s a surprise.

  ‘I don’t keep alcohol. Do you want some water?’ He strolls over to the huge, black fridge and pulls it open.

  ‘Please. ’ I join him in the kitchen area, pulling out a black bar stool from under the black granite worktop of the island. Jesse removes his suit jacket and perches on the adjacent stool, turning to face me and handing me a glass of water before he unscrews the cap of a bottle for himself. His long, muscled legs are straining against his trousers, his feet flat on the floor, but his legs considerably bent, considering the height of the stool. My feet are propped on the footrest.

  He sips his water, looking at me over the bottle, while I fiddle with my glass. I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have come. Things have become awkward and I’m not sure why. There is one reason and one reason alone why he’s brought me here. And like the idiot that I am, I’ve gone along with it.

  I hear him sigh. He places his bottle down before he takes my glass from my hand and puts it on the island worktop. Grasping the seat of my stool, he drags it closer to his, turning it to face him, resting his palms on my knees. He leans in. ‘Why did you cry?’ he asks.
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