This man, p.73
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       This Man, p.73
 

         Part #1 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
Page 73

  Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas

  Kate springs from the stool. ‘Yes!’ she sings enthusiastically. ‘I’ve been dying to see this place. ’

  ‘It’s a hotel, Kate. ’ I roll my eyes, but let her have her excitement. My car’s at hers, so I’m kind of stuck without her. ‘Give me five. ’ I run upstairs to change into my jeans and ballet pumps, meeting Kate at the front door in record time. I send Jesse a quick text to tell him I’m on my way.

  It’s time to lay my cards on the table.

  Chapter 36

  We walk into the Sunday evening sunshine, but I don’t see Margo Junior. I scan the car park for the big, pink van, but it’s not like you can miss the giant heap of metal.

  ‘Oh, I hope you don’t mind. ’ Kate laughs nervously, just as I spot my Mini, roof down and parked in one of Jesse’s spaces.

  ‘You’re a cheeky cow!’

  She waves off my insult. ‘Don’t you narrow those big browns on me, Ava O’Shea. If I didn’t drive her, then she would be sat outside the house for eternity. It’s a waste. ’ The indicators flash, and I put my hand out for the keys, which she reluctantly hands over on a huff.

  We drive out towards the Surrey Hills discussing the merits of domineering men. We both reach the same conclusion: Yes to sex and no to all other aspects of a relationship.

  The problem is: Jesse manages to drag sex into all aspects of our relationship, using it, mostly, to get his way. And I can’t ever seem to say no so I’m pretty much doomed. This could all be over within an hour. The thought sends an unbearable ache to my stomach, but I have to be sensible here. I’m already in way over my head.

  I pull off the main road, up to the gates. They open immediately, letting me through.

  ‘Holy shit!’ Kate exclaims as we drive up the long, gravel driveway, flanked by trees.

  She’s in awe already and she hasn’t even seen the house yet. We eventually emerge into the courtyard. It’s busy.

  ‘Holy fucking shit!’ She gapes at the imposing property, leaning forward in her seat. ‘Jesse owns this?’

  ‘He does. There’s Sam’s car. ’ I pull into a space next to the Porsche.

  ‘I can’t believe he comes here to have lunch. ’ she grumbles, joining me on my side of the car. ‘Holy fucking shit!’

  I laugh at Kate’s amazement – she doesn’t shock easily. I lead her towards the steps, expecting to find John greeting us, but he doesn’t appear. Instead, I find the double doors ajar, so I push my way through. Looking back at Kate, I see her gazing around, open mouthed and wide eyed at the splendid surroundings.

  ‘Kate, shut your mouth. ’ I scorn her lightly.

  ‘Sorry. ’ She snaps her mouth shut. ‘This is one fancy place. ’

  ‘I know. ’

  ‘I want a tour. ’ she says, craning her neck to look up the stairs.

  ‘Get Sam to give you a tour. ’ I say shortly. ‘I need to see Jesse. ’ I head past the restaurant and towards the bar, spotting Sam and Drew immediately.

  Sam gives me a huge, cheeky grin as he swigs his beer, but spits it out when Kate follows in behind me. ‘Fuck! What are you doing here?’ he splutters.

  Drew turns, clocks Kate and breaks out in uncontrollable laughter. I frown.

  Kate looks less than delighted. ‘I’m pleased to see you too, dick!’ she spits indignantly at a stunned Sam.

  He quickly shoves his beer on the bar, pulling a stool up close to him. ‘Sit!’ He bashes the top of the stool, giving Drew a worried look.

  ‘Don’t order me about, Samuel!’ The look of disgust on her face is fierce. I’ve never seen Sam so twitchy before. Is he hiding something? Perhaps, it’s the girl from Starbucks?

  He pats the stool again, smiling nervously at her. ‘Please,’

  Kate makes her way over, resting her bum on the stool. Sam pulls her even closer. She’ll be on his lap soon.

  ‘Buy me a drink. ’ she demands on a half-smile.

  ‘Just one. ’ he affirms, signaling to Mario. Jesus, he’s breaking out in a sweat. ‘Ava?’

  ‘No, I’m good. I’m going to find Jesse. ’ I thumb over my shoulder as I start walking backwards.

  ‘Does he know you’re here?’ Sam asks, all wide eyed.

  What’s the matter with him? ‘Well, I text him,’ I glance around the bar, seeing plenty of familiar faces from my previous few visits to The Manor. I’m pleased to note there’s no Sarah, but this means nothing, of course. She could be anywhere in this huge house. ‘But he didn’t reply. ’ I add. It’s only now I realise how strange that is.

  Sam gives Drew a nervous look, prompting Drew to laugh harder. ‘Wait here, I’ll go and get him. ’

  ‘I know where his office is. ’ I say on a frown.

  ‘Ava, will you just wait here?’ Sam’s face is pure panic. I’m super suspicious now. He fixes Kate with a stern glare as he gets up. ‘Don’t move. ’

  ‘How much have you had to drink?’ Kate asks, eyeing his bottle of beer. Has Kate picked up on his unease too?

  ‘This is my first and last, trust me. I’m going to get Jesse, then we’re leaving. ’ He looks around the bar nervously. Okay, now I’m convinced he’s definitely hiding someone or something. I’m beginning to wish Sarah was in here because then I would know for sure that she isn’t with Jesse. I’m bristling from head to toe.

  He jogs off, leaving Kate and I exchanging puzzled faces.

  ‘Excuse me ladies,’ Drew gets up. ‘Nature calls. ’ He leaves us at the bar like a couple of spare parts.

  ‘Oh, fuck this,’ Kate exclaims, taking my hand. ‘Give me the tour. ’ She pulls me back towards the entrance hall.

  ‘A quick one,’ I agree, taking over the lead and guiding her up the massive staircase. ‘I’ll show you the rooms I’m working on. ’

  We reach the balcony landing and Kate’s gasps increase as she takes in the opulent splendor of The Manor. ‘This is some serious special. ’ she mumbles, gazing around in awe.

  ‘I know. He inherited the place from his uncle when he was twenty one. ’

  ‘Twenty one?’

  ‘Hmmm,’

  ‘Wow!’ Kate blurts. I look behind me, finding her gawking at the huge stained glass window at the foot of the second staircase.

  ‘This way,’ I call behind me, walking through the archway that leads to the extension rooms, leaving Kate to scuttle after me. ‘There are ten altogether. ’

  She follows me into the middle of the room, gazing around. I can’t deny, they are mighty impressive, even as empty shells. Once completed, though, they’ll be royal worthy. Will I get through to completion? After our little sorting of shit I might not see this place again. I can’t say that would disappoint me. I don’t like coming here.

  I wander further into the room and follow Kate’s gaze to the wall behind the door. What the hell?

  ‘What’s that?’ Kate asks the question that’s batting around in my own head.

  ‘I don’t know. It wasn’t here before. ’ I run my eyes over the huge, wooden, crucifix style cross propped up against the wall. With giant, black, wrought iron screw eyes bolted to the corners, it looks imposing, but it’s still a fine piece of art. ‘It must be one of the big wall hangings Jesse was talking about. ’ I approach the piece, running my hand over the highly polished wood. It’s spectacular – if a little intimidating.

  ‘Oh. Sorry, ladies. ’ We both swing around, finding a middle aged man in overalls holding a sander in one hand and a coffee in the other. ‘Looks good, huh?’ He points up at the frame with his sander as he takes a slurp of his coffee. ‘I’m just checking the size before I make the others. ’

  ‘You made this?’ I ask in disbelief.

  ‘I certainly did. ’ He laughs, joining me by the cross.

  ‘It’s stunning. ’ I muse. It’ll fit in perfectly with the bed I designed that Jesse loved so much.

  ‘Thank you, Miss. ’ he s
ays proudly. I turn around and see Kate observing the piece of art on a frown.

  ‘We’ll leave you to it. ’ I give Kate the lets-be-going nod, and she smiles at the workman before following me out of the room.

  We walk back through to the gallery landing. ‘I didn’t get it. ’ she grumbles.

  ‘It’s art, Kate. ’ I laugh. It’s not pink and chintzy, so I’m not surprised she doesn’t like it. Our tastes are very different.

  ‘What’s up there?’

  I follow her gaze up the staircase to the third floor, stopping to look with her. Those intimidating doors are slightly ajar. ‘I don’t know. I think it might be a function room. ’

  Kate takes the stairs. ‘Let’s have a look. ’

  ‘Kate!’ I start after her. I’m keen to find Jesse. The longer I delay speaking to him, the longer I have to convince myself not to. ‘Kate, come on. ’

  ‘Just a peek. ’ she says, pushing against the doors. ‘Fuck!’ she screeches. ‘Ava, look at this. ’

  Okay, my curiosity has been well and truly teased. I run the rest of the way up the stairs and into the function room, skidding to an abrupt halt next to Kate. Fucking hell.

  ‘Excuse me!’

  We both look in the direction of the foreign accented voice. A dumpy lady, holding cleaning cloths and anti-bacterial spray, comes wobbling towards us.

  ‘No, no, no. I clean. The communal room is closed for cleaning. ’ She shoos us back towards the door.

  ‘Chill out, Senorita,’ Kate laughs. ‘Her boyfriend owns the place. ’

  The poor woman recoils at Kate’s harshness, giving me the once over before bowing. ‘I’m so sorry. ’ She shoves her spray in her apron and clasps my hands in her tanned wrinkled fingers. ‘Mr Ward, he not say you come. ’

  I fidget uncomfortably on the spot at the woman’s panic, throwing Kate a disgusted look, but she doesn’t notice. She’s too busy looking around at the colossal room we’re stood in. I smile reassuringly at the Spanish cleaner, who’s got herself in a bit of a pickle over my presence.

  ‘It’s fine, really. ’ I assure her. She bows again, moving off to the side, leaving Kate and me to try and comprehend our surroundings.

  I gaze around, and the first thing that strikes me is how beautiful the room is. Just like the rest of the house, this room has been lavished with beautiful materials and furniture. The space is huge, easily spanning half of the entire buildings floor area, and as I look around, I realise it backs onto its self, circling around the stairwell. We’ve entered the centre of the room, so it’s even bigger than I originally thought. The ceiling is high and vaulted, with wooden beams stretching from end to end and over-elaborate, gold chandeliers hanging between them, offering a hazy glow of light. The room is dominated by three arched, Georgian sash windows, dressed in crimson, with Austrian blinds edged in gold jute braid. Miles and miles of gold silk, piped in crimson braid, is softly gathered and held in place at the sides by simple gold ombres. The deep red walls provide a dramatic backdrop for elaborately dressed beds that are positioned around the room.

  Beds?

  ‘Ava, something tells me this isn’t a function room. ’ Kate whispers.

  She starts to wander off to the right, while I remain frozen in place, trying to grasp what I’m looking at. It’s an immense, super luxurious, communal bedroom – The Communal Room.

  The walls are free from paintings, allowing space for various gold metal frames, hooks and hoists. They all look innocent enough, like extravagant wall hangings, but as my mind starts to recover from its shocked state, the significance of the room and its contents start to filter into my brain. A million reasons try to distract me from the conclusion I’m slowly drawing, but there is no other explanation for the devices and contraptions surrounding me.
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