This man, p.53
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       This Man, p.53

         Part #1 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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Page 53

  Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas

  ‘Yeah, sure it’s. . . Ava?’ James looks at me, his brow completely furrowed.

  My brain’s in complete meltdown, trying to figure out what message it should be sending to my mouth. ‘James,’ I just about manage.

  James does a tennis spectator performance, his eyes flicking from me to Jesse and back again. ‘Urhhhh…are you okay?’

  ‘Yes. ’ My voice is high pitched and squeaky.

  He regards me disapprovingly, which is bloody rich, considering he was Matt’s right hand man in all of his transgressions. I don’t even know why I’m bothering to get my knickers in such a twist. After everything Matt has done, what do I care if he receives confirmation of me seeing another man? Now, I just feel furious with Jesse for taking it upon himself to decide when and how things play out.

  ‘Time?’ Jesse prompts shortly. I hope I’m the only one who can detect the hostility emanating from him.

  James turns his stare on Jesse, giving him the once over, faltering when he clocks the Rolex. I mentally plead for him to give Jesse the time and not poke the rattle snake. James can be as cocky as Matt, and upsetting Jesse would be a huge mistake.

  ‘Yeah,’ He glances down at his phone. ‘It’s ten to two, mate. ’

  Jesse doesn’t thank him. Instead, he releases my hand, throws his arms around my shoulder and pulls me into his side, placing his lips gently on my temple. I look up at him, shaking my head in dismay. He’s trampling. His upper body is puffing, and short of banging his fist on his chest, he may as well be pissing up the side of my leg.

  James watches, all wide eyed, as Jesse leads us away from him. I’m completely speechless. He’s just made reference to our relationship as little more than fucking, and now he’s marking his territory. I’m so confused by all of this. If I had the courage, I would just come outright and ask him. Why can’t I do that? I know why. I’m worried about what he might say. These shallow waters are becoming trickier to navigate the more time I spend with this man.

  As we near my office, he stops and gently presses me up against the wall with his body. He lowers his face to mine, his hot, minty breath warming my cheeks. ‘Why would you not want your ex to know you’re fucking another man?’

  There we are. Fucking! ‘No reason, it’s just not necessary. ’ I say quietly.

  He reaches up, grasping my wrist to pull my hand down from my hair. ‘Now, tell me the truth. ’ he demands softly.

  How has he picked up on my bad habit so quickly? I’ve known my Mum, Dad and my brother all of my life, and Kate since secondary school. They’ve earned the right to this knowledge.

  ‘Answer me, Ava. ’

  ‘He asked me to get back together with him. ’ I drop my eyes. I can’t look at him. Not that I should care. After all, I’m only fucking him.

  ‘When?’ He grinds the words through clenched teeth.

  ‘It was weeks ago. ’ I feel his hand tighten around my wrist as my muscles flex to raise my fingers to my hair. I’m so bad at lying.

  He tips my chin up with his free hand so I’m forced to look at him. I’m not at all comfortable with the blackness burning in his eyes. ‘When?’

  ‘Last Tuesday. ’ I whisper.

  His eyes narrow as he starts chomping on his bottom lip. What’s he thinking? ‘He was your something important that came up, wasn’t he?’

  Oh…dear. He’s going to go spare. I watch as his chest puffs in and out, slowly and controlled. I’m not frightened – I know he won’t hurt me. I’ve seen his reaction and subsequent prevention methods to a few bruises on my arse, but he’s just so intense in his reactions and approaches.

  ‘Yes. ’ I admit quietly. I physically feel the ice air emanate from him at my answer. ‘I need to get back to work. ’ I add. I need to remove myself from this situation.

  His sludgy eyes bore into me. ‘You won’t see him again. ’ It’s another demand.

  This lunch hour has been a massive eye opener. He wants complete control of me, and I get absolutely no say in it – none at all. Is this what I want? My head is a riot of mixed feelings and doubts. Why did I have to go and fall in love with the ultimate, unreasonable, challenging control freak?

  I wait patiently for him to release me from his grasp. I have no idea what to say. Is he waiting for my confirmation to his demand? Should I give it? I’m not likely to see Matt again, not after his performance, but should I have to give my word to a man that I’m, apparently, fucking?

  He watches me carefully for a considerable amount of time before his forehead meets mine and his lips move up, pressing against my brow. ‘Go to work, Ava. ’ He steps back. I don’t hang about. I leave him on the pavement and walk back to my office as fast as my shaky legs will carry me.

  Pushing my way through the office door, I’m met by Tom and Victoria’s inquisitive faces. I must look as terrible as I feel. I hope they don’t start asking questions about Mr Ward, or about anything, actually. I think I’ll fall apart. I shake my head at them both as I make my way to my desk.

  Sally walks out of the kitchen with a tray full of coffees. ‘Ava, I didn’t realise you were back. Do you want a tea or coffee?’

  I want to ask her if she has any wine stored away in the kitchen, but I refrain. ‘No, thank you, Sal. ’ I murmur, earning me a what-the-hell-is-going-on look from Tom and Victoria.

  I focus my full attention on my computer screen, trying to ignore the ache dwelling deep inside me. Jesse has some serious issues with control – or power, as he calls it. I can’t do this – I can’t expose myself to guaranteed heartbreak. That’s exactly where this is heading.

  My mobile rings and I’m grateful for the distraction from my turmoil. It’s Mr Van Der Haus. Is he back? ‘Hello?’

  His light Danish accent rolls down the telephone. ‘Hello, Ava. How did you find The Life Building? Ingrid has advised me your meeting went very well. ’

  He’s ringing from Denmark to ask me this? Could it not wait until he’s back? ‘Yes, very well. ’ I don’t know what else to say.

  ‘I do hope that lovely little head of yours is swimming with ideas. I’m looking forward to meeting upon my return to the UK. ’

  He’s called me from Denmark. He’s referring to my head as pretty. Oh, please don’t bless me with another inappropriate client. I’m having a hard enough time dealing with the one I’ve got.

  ‘Yes, I got your email too. I’ll have some schemes ready for you. ’ I’ve practically finished the mood boards and drawings. It just came to me all of a sudden – at a moment when my brain wasn’t consumed with a certain other client.

  ‘Excellent! I shall be back in London next Friday. Can we meet?’

  ‘Yes, of course. Any particular day?’

  ‘I will have Ingrid contact you. She arranges my diary. ’

  I pout to myself. How lovely to have one person dedicated to organising your life. I would benefit from one of those at the moment. ‘Okay, Mr Van Der Haus. ’

  I hear him tut. ‘Ava, please. It’s Mikael. Goodbye. ’

  ‘Goodbye, Mikael. ’ I hang up and sit at my desk, tapping my tooth with my fingernail. I really don’t know if he’s just being super friendly or super friendly. He took my decline to dinner pretty well, so am I reading too much into this? This is Jesse Wards fault, or do I have easy written on my forehead? I instinctively reach up and rub my head. Christ, I’m a mess.

  I retrieve my drawings for The Life Building, spread them out on my desk, and grabbing my pencil, I start making notes. I hear the office door open in the background, but I don’t look up. I’m on a roll with additional ideas. It’s a welcome, and very needed, distraction.

  ‘Ava,’ Tom calls. ‘It’s someone for youhoo!’

  I look up, nearly falling off my chair when I see Jesse stood, bold as brass, at the front of the office. Oh, good God, what is he doing?

  He walks, with complete confidence, over to my
desk – all godly in his faded jeans, white t-shirt and ruffled hair. I notice Tom and Victoria tapping their pens casually on their desks as they follow his path to me. Even Sal has paused mid-fax, looking slightly confused. He lands at the foot of my desk, my eyes travelling up his body to meet his green gaze, the semblance of a smug, satisfied smile tickling the corners of his mouth.

  I’m not sure what to make of this. He left me, not half an hour ago, with shaky legs and a mind racing in confusion. The shakes have returned, except my whole body is trembling now, and my mind’s a disorder of chaos and uncertainty. What’s he trying to prove here?

  ‘Miss O’Shea. ’ he says softly.

  ‘Mr Ward. ’ I greet hesitantly. I look at him questioningly, but he’s giving nothing away. I glance across the office, spotting three pairs of eyes flicking towards me at regular intervals.

  ‘Aren’t you going to ask if I would like a seat?’

  I snap my eyes back to Jesse. ‘Please,’ I indicate one of the black tub chairs on the other side of my desk. He pulls one out, lowering himself slowly into the chair. ‘What are you doing?’ I hiss, leaning across my desk.

  He smiles that self-assured, melt-worthy smile. ‘I’m here to settle an invoice, Miss O’Shea. ’

  ‘Oh,’ I lean back in my chair. ‘Sally?’ I call. ‘Can you deal with Mr Ward, please? He would like to settle his outstanding account. ’ I watch as Jesse shifts in his chair slightly, throwing me a critical look. I’m not being defiant. It’s not my job to take payment; I wouldn’t know where to start.

  ‘Of course,’ Sally calls. I see realisation hit her. Yes! It’s the same man that screamed at you down the phone, bulldozed the office and sent you flowers. Apparently, I drive him crazy! I throw her a don’t-ask-just-do look, prompting her to scuttle off towards the filing cabinet.

  ‘Sally will look after you, Mr Ward. ’ I smile politely.

  Jesse’s eyebrows shoot up, his frown line jumping into position. ‘Only you. ’ he says softly, for my ears only. He makes no attempt to remove himself from my desk. He just sits there – all casual and relaxed, regarding me closely as Sally farts around at the filing cabinet.

  Hurry up!

  I nearly snap my pencil when I hear the familiar thump of Patrick’s heavy feet from behind me. This day just keeps getting better and better.

  ‘Ava?’

  Glancing nervously up, I see Patrick stood at the side at my desk, looking at me expectantly. I wave my pencil in the general direction of Jesse. ‘Patrick, this is Mr Ward. He owns The Manor. Mr Ward, meet Patrick Peterson, my boss. ’ I throw Jesse a pleading look.

  ‘Ah, Mr Ward, I know your face. ’ Patrick puts his hand out.

  ‘We met briefly at Lusso. ’ Jesse says as he stands and clasps Patrick’s hand.

  Did they?

  I see the pound signs ping into Patrick’s delighted, pale blue eyes. ‘Yes, you brought the penthouse. ’ he chirps joyfully. Jesse nods his confirmation. I notice Patrick isn’t so worried about his outstanding bill now. Sally approaches with a copy of Jesse’s invoice and jumps a mile when Patrick snatches it from her dainty, pasty hand. ‘Have you offered Mr Ward a drink?’ he asks a stunned Sally.

  ‘I’m fine, thank you. I’ve just come to settle my account. ’ Jesse’s husky tones reverberate through me as I sit, stuck like velcro to my chair, watching the polite exchange going on before me.

  How can he be so calm and collective? I’m sat here, tense from top to toe, twiddling my pencil nervously in my hand and keeping my mouth firmly shut. It must be obvious that I’m uncomfortable, but Patrick seems oblivious.

  Patrick waves Sally away. ‘You shouldn’t have rushed in just for this. ’ He flaps the outstanding invoice in the air.

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