This man, p.46
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       This Man, p.46

         Part #1 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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Page 46

  Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas

  He looks up, giving me his glorious smile, reserved only for women, and I’m reassured again. As I approach him, he looks me up and down with satisfaction, and as soon as I’m close enough, he yanks me into his muscled body.

  ‘You’re impossibly beautiful. ’ he breathes in my hair.

  ‘So are you. Where’s Sam?’

  ‘Kate’s giving him a tour of the van. ’

  Oh, I almost forgot about Margo Junior. I pull back, giving him a suspicious glare. ‘You brought Kate a van?’

  He smirks. ‘Are you jealous?’

  What? ‘No!’

  His face straightens. ‘Yes, I brought the van. ’

  ‘Why?’ Doesn’t he think it’s a bit weird? Is he trying to buy my friend so she overlooks his unreasonable behavior?

  ‘Because, Ava, I don’t want you being tossed about in that shed on wheels, that’s why. And I don’t have to explain myself to you. ’ he huffs, standing back from me with his arms folded across his chest.

  I actually laugh. ‘You brought my best friend a van so I won’t get injured holding a cake up?’ Oh, this is laughable.

  He scowls at me good and proper. ‘Like I said, I don’t have to explain myself to you. Let’s go. ’ He grabs my hand, leading me down to the car.

  ‘You made Sally’s day today. ’ I say, virtually jogging to keep up with his long strides.

  ‘Who’s Sally?’

  ‘The waif like creature in my office,’ I remind him, while considering if his lack of memory is an indication of his age too.

  ‘Oh, has she forgiven me?’

  ‘Undoubtedly,’ I mutter.

  Kate spots us and launches herself at Jesse. ‘Thank you!’ She sings it repeatedly in his face.

  Jesse holds on to her with his one free arm as she continues to screech excitedly in his ear. I roll my eyes at her, spotting Sam shaking his head. I’m comforted by the fact that Sam seems to find this all a bit over the top too.

  ‘It’s for my benefit, Kate, not yours. ’ he says.

  She releases him. ‘I know!’ She grins, turning her bright blues onto me and mouthing, ‘I love him!’

  ‘Hey! Where’s the love?’ Sam calls. She skips off to throw her arms around Sam.

  I roll my eyes. I’m surrounded by crazy people.

  We pull up outside a small Italian restaurant in the West End. I get out of the car, and Jesse comes to collect me, grabbing my hand and pulling me into, what can only be described as, a sitting room. Dimly lit and with Italian paraphernalia in every nook and cranny, it’s like I’ve stepped back in time to the eighties in Italy.

  ‘Sir Jesse, how very good it is to see you. ’ A small Italian man approaches. He has a naturally happy face.

  Jesse clasps his hand. ‘Luigi, good to see you too,’

  ‘Come, come. ’ Luigi gestures us further into the room.

  He settles us at a little table in the corner. The table cloth is cream and embroidered with the Italia Turrita. It’s very pretty.

  ‘Luigi, this is Ava. ’ Jesse introduces us.

  Luigi bows at me. ‘Ah, a beautiful name for a beautiful lady, yes?’ I’m a bit embarrassed by his forwardness. ‘What would Sir Jesse like?’

  ‘May I?’ Jesse asks, nodding at the menu.

  He’s asking me? ‘You usually do. ’ I mutter. His eyebrow arches as he puffs his lips slightly, in a don’t-push-it gesture. I let him get on with it. He obviously knows what’s good on the menu.

  ‘Okay, Luigi. We’ll have two of the fettuccine, with yellow squash, parmesan and lemon cream sauce, a bottle of the Famiglia Anselma Barolo 2000, and some water. You got that?’

  Luigi scribbles frantically on his pad, backing away. ‘Yes, yes, Sir Jesse. I go now. ’

  Jesse smiles fondly. ‘Thank you, Luigi. ’

  I gaze around the cluttered restaurant. ‘Now, this is what you call Italian shit. ’ I murmur thoughtfully. I find a smiling face around a chewed lip when my eyes reach Jesse. ‘You come here often?’ I ask.

  His smile broadens into knee trembling territory. ‘Are you trying to chat me up?’

  ‘Of course,’ I smile as he shifts in his chair.

  ‘Mario, the head barman at The Manor, insisted I try it, so I did. Luigi’s his brother. ’

  ‘Luigi and Mario?’ I snort, rather rudely. Jesse raises his eyebrows at me. ‘I’m sorry, that’s really tickled me!’

  ‘I can see that. ’ He frowns as Luigi returns with the drinks. Jesse pours me some wine and himself some water.

  ‘You didn’t get a whole bottle for me?’ I blurt. ‘Are you not having any?’ Christ, I’ll be on my back.

  ‘No, I’m driving. ’

  ‘And I’m allowed?’

  His lips press into a straight line, but I can see he’s trying to suppress a smile at my cheekiness. ‘You may. ’

  I grin, picking up my glass and sipping carefully as he watches me. It’s lovely.

  As I look over the table at the beautiful, neurotic man, who has fucked my plans right up, my brain is suddenly bombarded with questions.

  ‘I want to know how old you are. ’ I state confidently. This whole age thing is really quite stupid.

  He circles the rim of his glass with the tip of his finger as he watches me. ‘Twenty eight. Tell me about your family. ’

  Huh? Oh, no, no, no! ‘I asked first. ’

  ‘And I answered. Tell me about your family. ’

  I shake my head in despair and resign myself to the fact that I’m in love with a man of an age I don’t know and, quite possibly, never will do.

  ‘They retired to Newquay a few years back,’ I sigh, ‘Dad ran a construction firm, Mum was a house wife. My Dad had a heart attack scare so they took early retirement to Cornwall. My brother is living the dream in Australia. ’ That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. ‘Why do you not speak to your parents?’ I ask. I know I’m on dodgy ground here, especially after his last response to that very question.

  I watch carefully, almost apprehensively, for his reaction. I’m more than shocked when he takes a sip of water, then launches into his answer. ‘They live in Marbella. My sister’s there too. I’ve not spoken to them for years. They didn’t approve when Carmichael left me The Manor and all of his estate. ’

  Oh? ‘He left it all to you?’ I can see why that might cause a family feud, especially if there’s a sister in the picture.

  ‘He did. We were close, and he didn’t talk to my parents. They didn’t approve. ’

  ‘They didn’t approve of your relationship?’

  ‘No, they didn’t. ’ He starts chewing his lip.

  ‘What was not to approve of?’ I’m completely intrigued now.

  He sighs. ‘As soon as I left college, I spent all of my time with Carmichael. Mum, Dad and Amalie moved to Spain, and I refused to go. I was eighteen and having the time of my life. I stayed with Carmichael when they left. They weren’t happy about it. ’ He shrugs. ‘Three years later, Carmichael died and I was left to run The Manor. ’ He tells the story with no emotion. He takes another swig of water. ‘The relationship was strained after that. They demanded I sell The Manor but I couldn’t. It was Carmichael’s baby. ’

  Christ. I’ve found out more about this man in five minutes than I have since I’ve known him. Why is he so talkative tonight? I decide to take advantage – I don’t know when I’ll get another chance.

  ‘What do you do for fun?’

  His green eyes flash black and he grins wickedly. ‘Fuck you. ’

  My eyes widen at his crass answer, and I cave on the inside. He sees me as his current fun? Now I just feel shitty. I shift in my seat and break the eye connection, taking a sip of wine. I hate this regular plummeting feeling that I’m getting of late. I’m on Central Jesse Cloud Nine one moment, then one comment brings me crashing down to reality. I can’t cope with all these mixed signals.
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  ‘You like power in the bedroom. ’ I state without a trace of a blush. I’m proud of myself. His skill and influence on my entire being has me nervous.

  ‘I do. ’ His face is completely impassive when I return my eyes to his.

  ‘Are you a dominant?’ I blurt, and then mentally stab myself with the fancy, silver fork at my place setting. Where did that come from?

  He coughs, nearly spitting his water all over me. Why did I ask that for?

  Placing his glass down, he picks up his cloth napkin to wipe his mouth as he shakes his head on a half-smile. ‘Ava, I don’t need that sort of arrangement to get a woman to do what I want her to do in the bedroom. I haven’t got the time or inclination for crap like that. ’

  I sag slightly. ‘You seem to be committing a lot of time to me. ’

  ‘I suppose I am. ’ He gazes past me thoughtfully.

  ‘You’re very controlling. ’ I state coolly, observing the swirling of my wine. I’ll get that one out there too.

  ‘Look at me. ’ he demands softy, and like the slave to him that I am, I look. His green eyes have softened as he sits back, relaxed in his chair. ‘Only with you,’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘I don’t know. ’ He has a quick chew of his lip. ‘You make me crazy. ’

  What? Well, that clears things up no end. Does he think I need some sort of father figure? I’m beyond confused. I sigh wearily into my wine glass. I make him crazy? Right back attcha, Ward!

  ‘Here’s your pasta. ’ he says. I look up and see Luigi singing as he approaches. I’ve completely lost my appetite.

  ‘Lovely people,’ he places two considerable bowls in front of us. ‘Buon appetito!’

  ‘Thank you, Luigi. ’ Jesse smiles politely. He flicks me a questioning look, but I ignore it and smile my thanks at Luigi. He’s just like Mario.

  I stir the pasta with my fork, it smells heavenly, but my stomach is now a knot of confusion. I play with it for a few moments, then try a bit.

  ‘Good?’ Jesse asks.

  I nod lamely, even though it is very good. We eat in silence for a while, occasionally tossing stares at each other. The food is wonderful, and I’m feeling guilty for not enjoying it as much as it deserves.

  ‘When did you buy the penthouse?’ I ask.

  He pauses with his fork half way to his mouth. ‘March. ’ he answers, taking his last mouthful of food and pushing his bowl away before picking up his water.

  ‘You never told me why you requested me personally to work on the extension of The Manor. ’ I give up on my pasta, pushing it away.

  Jesse looks at the half eaten dish and returns his eyes to mine. ‘I brought the penthouse and loved what you did with it. I can assure you, I didn’t expect you to come rocking up, with your perfect figure, olive skin and big brown eyes. ’ He shakes his head, as if shaking off the memory. I feel somewhat better knowing he was as shocked to see me as I was to see him.

  I scoff. ‘You weren’t exactly the Lord of the Manor I was expecting. ’ I do my own little shudder when I recall the affect he had on me; the affect he still has on me. ‘How did you know where I was on that Monday lunchtime when I bumped into you at the bar?’

  He shrugs. ‘Lucky guess,’

  ‘Of course,’ I scoff. Followed me, more like.

  I look up and see a smile tickling the edge of his luscious lips. ‘I couldn’t think of anything else after you left The Manor. ’

  ‘So you pursued me relentlessly. ’ I retort quietly.

  ‘I had to have you. ’

  ‘And now you have. Do you always take what you want?’

  He watches me across the table, his face completely straight as he leans forward. ‘I can’t answer that, Ava, because I’ve never wanted anything enough to pursue it so relentlessly. Not like I wanted you.
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