This man, p.51
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       This Man, p.51
 

         Part #1 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
Page 51

  Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas

  ‘How old are you, Jesse?’ I shout across the road.

  ‘Thirty. That wasn’t very nice, you little temptress. ’

  I blow him a kiss and courtesy sweetly, watching as he puts his hand out to catch it, that dark smile ever present. I can see those cogs flying around from here. I turn on my heels and sashay off down the road, feeling rather pleased with myself – for now, anyway. After all, he holds the power.

  Chapter 27

  ‘Meeting at twelve,’ Victoria calls as she totters out of Patrick’s office.

  I start sifting through my current clients, making notes on current statuses. Our fortnightly progress meetings are a relaxed affair to keep Patrick abreast on current projects and to advise Sally of any paperwork that needs to be completed. It’s also an hour of scoffing cream cakes and drinking tea continuously. I must go for a run tonight.

  ‘Sally?’ I call down the office. She looks up from her computer screen, acknowledging me by removing her glasses. ‘Can I have a list of payment statuses on clients, please?’

  ‘Of course, Ava. ’

  ‘Oh, and me,’ Victoria shouts.

  Sally looks at Tom, who nods too. It’s rare to have to chase payment, but highly embarrassing when you do. Patrick’s a stickler for payment deadlines.

  I get lost in my work for a few hours, chasing orders and replying to emails.

  At twelve, Sally places a box on my desk. ‘This came for you. ’

  Oh? I didn’t hear the door. ‘Thanks, Sal. ’ I look down at the white box. Of course, I know who it’s from. I open the box, secretly excited, while glancing around the office to make sure no attention is aimed in my direction. Inside is a chocolate éclair. I laugh out loud, and Tom’s head whips up from his desk. I wave my hand in a dismissive gesture. He rolls his eyes, returning to his sketching.

  I grab the note and open it.

  Revenge is sweet.

  Jx

  I smile, pick up the éclair and sink my teeth in as I grab my folder and head for Patrick’s office. Sally follows behind with a tray full of tea and cakes.

  ‘Wait for us!’ Tom whines, watching me pop the last piece of éclair into my mouth. He gives me a disgusted look as I wipe a lump of cream from the corner of my mouth. ‘I want one of them, Sal. ’ He diverts his attention to the tray that Sally has placed on Patrick’s desk.

  Sally flicks a glance in my direction, frowning. ‘I got vanilla slices. ’

  ‘Don’t offer me any!’ Victoria barks, settling in one of the four tub chairs arranged around Patrick’s huge, mahogany desk.

  ‘Don’t tell me you’re dieting again?’ Patrick grumbles.

  ‘Yes, but this one’s working. ’ she declares happily. Honestly, the girl is waif to the point of disappearing and on a different diet every week.

  I take a seat next to her, and Tom joins us as Sally hands out a spread sheet of clients invoice statuses before pouring the tea and settling down. I scan the list of invoices – all marked “Paid” or “Not due” and run my finger across the page when I come across the highlighted “Overdue” section. There’s one client in the column – just one.

  What?

  I inwardly cringe. Any hope I had of evading any reference to The Manor and Mr Ward has just been spectacularly dashed. The idiot hasn’t paid his initial consultation fee. What’s he thinking? I glance up, seeing Patrick running through the same list as me, along with Victoria and Tom, who both look up at me in unison with the same expression. It’s an, oh dear look. I sag in my chair, waiting for it.

  ‘Ava, you need to contact Mr Ward and give him a nudge. What’s the current position?’ Patrick asks.

  Oh. . . . dear. I’ve completed no client forms – apart from the initial briefing sheet – I’ve sent no quotations, I’ve not established my role in the project, whether it be to design or design and manage. I’ve done nothing. Well, I have, but nothing you can class as work related. I’ve not even submitted an invoice request for the second so called meeting that had me running away without my bra. That’s a point…where is that bra?

  Oh, I’ve spent a few hours sketching a design, sat on my arse in the extension on a Sunday, but I can hardly put a bill in for that. I don’t work on Sundays, and Patrick only has to look at my diary to see no appointment with Mr Ward. The only things I’ve established, concerning Mr Ward, are not of a professional capacity.

  Oh, fucking hell. I clear my throat. ‘I’m compiling the consultation breakdown and quotation as we speak. ’

  He looks up at me, frowning in disapproval. ‘Your first meeting was nearly two weeks ago and you’ve had a second since. What’s taking so long, Ava?’

  I break into a cold sweat. A list of my fee structure is a simple task to complete, according to individual contracts, and usually done before the second meeting. I have absolutely no excuse. I can feel Tom and Victoria staring at me.

  ‘He’s been away. ’ I blurt. ‘He asked me to hold off with any correspondence. ’

  ‘When I spoke to him last Monday, he was very keen to get cracking. ’ Patrick counters as he checks his diary. Damn him for making notes on everything!

  I shrug. ‘I think it was a last minute business thing. I’ll give him a call. ’

  ‘You do that. And I don’t want you spending any more time on it until he’s coughed up. Now, what’s the current status with Mr Van Der Haus?’

  I exhale in relief, launching into an enthusiastic update on The Life Building, glad to be off the subject of The Lord of the Manor. I’m going to kill him!

  I walk out of Patrick’s office and Tom nudges my shoulder, giggling as he passes.

  ‘Don’t!’ I warn.

  ‘That could have been worse, Ava. ’ Victoria comments. She’s right. It could have been a disaster.

  I leave the office and walk down the street to where Jesse dropped me off this morning. As I approach Berkeley Square, I’m scared half out of my skin by some prat on a motorbike screeching past me. I compose my racing heart and carry on, coming to a stop and leaning against a wall. I pull my phone out of my bag to check my messages. There are two from Kate.

  I need some help. Can u pop home & untie me plz?

  I gape at my phone, quickly looking at the message details and noting it was sent at eleven. Is she still there? I open the next.

  Don’t panic! Sam’s being a knob. I would love 2 c your face. Xxx

  Oh yes, Sam the comedian. But a small part of me wonders if there’s an element of truth in his joke. Jesse wasn’t at all surprised when I mentioned it to him. Fun, Kate said. Hmmm. I bet.

  I look at the time. It’s five past one. Okay, he’s late and I’m offended. How long should I wait? I ponder how desperate I am by standing here and glance up to be confronted with the handsome face I love so much. He’s straddling the screeching motorbike that I want to smash into a million pieces. I feel my lips curve into a semi grin as I push myself away from the wall and walk over to him. He’s just beyond sexy on that death trap.

  ‘Good afternoon, lady. ’ He sits on the bike with his helmet resting between his thighs, wearing no leather, just jeans and a white t-shirt. I can’t help but think how irresponsible it is. He looks delicious, though.

  ‘You’re a menace. ’ I scorn, coming to a stop in front of him.

  ‘Did I scare you?’ He secures his helmet on the handle bars of his bike.

  ‘Yes. That thing needs a noise risk assessment. ’ I complain.

  ‘This thing is a Ducati 1098. Watch your mouth. ’ He slips his arms around my waist and yanks me onto his lap. ‘Kiss me. ’ he breathes. He claims my lips, making a dramatic display of possessing my mouth for all to see. I hear jeers and taunts from passersby, but I don’t care. I wrap my arms around his neck and let him have me. It’s only been a few hours, but I’ve missed him.

  Suddenly, it occurs to me that we’re a hundred yards from my office a
nd Patrick could breeze out at any moment. If he sees me cavorting with Mr Ward, he’ll jump to the obvious conclusion: I’m giving special treatment at the expense of his profitability. After that meeting, I’m already skating on wafer thin ice.

  I wriggle to free myself, but he just increases his hold on me, pressing his lips harder to mine. My attempted escape becomes fraught and desperate the tighter he holds me. Placing my hands into his chest, I push against him, and he eventually frees my lips, but not my body.

  He narrows fierce eyes. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’

  ‘Let me go. ’ I strain against him.

  ‘Hey. Let’s get one thing straight, lady. You don’t dictate when and where I kiss you, or for how long. ’ He’s deadly serious.

  Self-assured control freak!

  I use all my strength to free myself, failing miserably. I’m out of breath. ‘Jesse, if Patrick sees me with you, I’m in all kinds of shit. Let me go!’ To my utter shock, he releases me, and I scramble onto the pavement to straighten myself out. When I look up, I’m met with the filthiest scowl I’ve ever encountered. He’s proper glaring at me. It makes me mad. And what’s all that about kisses where ever, however and for as long as he pleases? That’s taking his controlling tendencies to a whole new level.

  ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ he shouts. ‘And watch your mouth!’

  ‘You,’ I start accusingly, ‘have not paid your bill, and now I’m supposed to be giving you a polite reminder. I was forced to give some spiel about you being away. ’ Could a full on kiss be considered a polite reminder? Jesse would probably think so.

  ‘Consider me reminded. Now, get your arse here. ’

  Oh, if looks could kill. ‘No!’ I say incredulously. He really doesn’t like being defied. I’m not risking my job security, just so I don’t upset Mr Control Freak here.

  He looks at me in complete disbelief, dismounting his bike in the most spectacular fashion, his jeans stretching tightly over his magnificent thighs. I shift on my feet. I’m way too affected by this man.

  He glares at me. ‘Three,’

  I gape. He wouldn’t? Not in the middle of Berkeley Square. It would look like I’m being abducted, raped and murdered all at once! Obviously, I know different, but it won’t look good to an outsider, and I hate to think what Jesse is capable of if someone tries to pull him off me.

  His lips spread into a straight line of displeasure, while he drills holes into me with his hard stare. ‘Two,’ he grates through gritted teeth.

  Think, think, think. I huff. ‘Oh, I’m not getting into a row with you in the middle of Berkeley Square. You’re a child sometimes!’ I pivot and start walking away. I don’t know why I’m doing this, he’s like an unexploded bomb, but I’ve got to hold my own here. He’s being stupidly unreasonable, and I’m putting my foot down. I feel him close behind me as I stalk towards Bond Street, but I charge on. There’s a cute boutique up here. I’ll escape in there.

  ‘One!’ he yells.

  I carry on walking. ‘Fuck off! You’re being unreasonable and unfair. ’ I know I’m pushing my luck now, swearing and disobeying, but I’m that mad!

  ‘MOUTH! What’s so unreasonable about wanting to kiss you?’

  Good grief. Is he that self-absorbed? ‘You know damn well what’s unreasonable about it. And it’s unfair because you’re trying to make me feel shitty about it. ’ I enter the store, leaving him pacing up and down on the pavement, looking through the window every now and then. I knew he wouldn’t come in. I’m not oblivious to the fact that he looks raging mad and I have to leave the shop at some point, but I need a few moments alone to collect myself. I start mooching about.

  An overdressed, over made up girl approaches me. ‘Can I help you?’
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