This man, p.76
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       This Man, p.76

         Part #1 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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Page 76

  Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas

  ‘Ava?’ I lift my pounding head from my pillow, finding Kate stood in my doorway. The sympathy on her face enflames the hurt a little bit more. She perches on the edge of the bed, stroking my cheek. ‘It doesn’t have to be like this. ’ she says softly.

  How so? How can it be any other way? I just have to ride out this pain and see if I have the strength to deal with any of it. Start all over again. But at the moment, I’m content just lying here feeling sorry for myself.

  ‘Yes, it does. ’ I reply on a whisper.

  ‘No, it doesn’t. ’ She’s firmer this time. ‘You still love him. Admit you still love him. Did you tell him?’

  I can’t deny it. I do. I love him – so much it hurts. But I shouldn’t love him. I know I shouldn’t. ‘I can’t. ’ I turn my face into my pillow.

  ‘Why?’

  ‘He owns a sex club, Kate. ’

  ‘He didn’t know how to tell you. He was worried you would walk away. ’

  I look at Kate. ‘Well, he didn’t tell me, and I’ve still walked away. ’ I settle back down into my tear drenched pillow. ‘You heard that man. He destroys marriages. He screws women for fun. ’ Why is she being so defensive? ‘Why are you not shocked?’ I mutter into my pillow. I know she’s laid back, but this is shocking stuff.

  ‘I am…a bit. ’

  ‘You could’ve fooled me. ’

  ‘Ava, Jesse hasn’t so much as looked at another woman since he met you. The man is crazy about you. Sam never thought he’d see the day. ’

  ‘Sam can say what he likes, Kate. It doesn’t change the fact that he owns a place where people go to have sex and he sometime joins in. ’ I shudder, feeling sick at the thought. Crazy about me? That’s total crap.

  ‘You can’t punish him because of his past. ’

  ‘It’s not his past, though, is it? He still owns the place. ’

  ‘It’s his business. ’

  ‘Oh, leave me alone, Kate. ’ I spit. Her defending all of this is just pissing me off. She should be supporting me, not trying to justify Jesse’s misdemeanours.

  I feel her weight lift from the bed on a sigh. ‘He’s still Jesse. ’ she says as she leaves my bedroom, and me alone to mourn my loss.

  I lay in silence trying to rid my head of all the inevitable thoughts. It’s no good. My brain is assaulted by flashbacks of the last few weeks. Of our first meeting when he floored me, the texts and the calls and then the stalking…and the sex. I flip myself onto my stomach, sinking my face into my pillow.

  Kate’s words keep pin-balling around in my mind “he’s still Jesse”. Do I even know who Jesse is? All I know is a man who swept me up in his intensity and blindsided me with his physical being.

  Another piece of the puzzle falls into place when I recall him telling me that he has no contact with his parents. They disowned him when his uncle died and Jesse refused to sell The Manor. It makes sense now. It had nothing to do with the inheritance or sharing the estate, and all to do with their twenty one year old son being left to run a super posh sex club. Of course they would be concerned, and probably highly pissed. Their disapproval of Jesse’s relationship with Carmichael is absolutely warranted. Christ, did Carmichael encourage Jesse to pursue that lifestyle? Jesse even said he was having the time of his life. What young man wouldn’t be in a house where anything goes? He really has had lots of practice. And there’s a distinct possibility that he really has never fucked a woman more than once – apart from me.

  It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out why I was being chucked the evils by all of those women when I was at The Manor. They all want him. No, they all want him again.

  He played it risky by taking me there, but when I think carefully, no one ever approached me – I was never alone, never free to roam. Did everyone know I was oblivious? Were they under instruction to keep quiet, to stay away? I must be a complete laughing stock. He really did go out of his way to keep me in the dark. How did he think he could get away with it? Sarah’s comment on leathers. . . I push my face into the pillow in complete despair.

  ‘Ava?’

  I look up and see Sam stood in the doorway, looking as deflated as he was earlier. ‘He beat himself up on a daily basis trying to think of how he could tell you. I’ve never seen him like this before. ’

  ‘You mean rejected?’ I say sarcastically. ‘No, I can’t imagine Jesse Ward did get many knock backs. ’

  ‘No, I mean crazy about a woman. ’

  ‘Oh, he’s crazy all right. ’ I laugh.

  Sam frowns, shaking his head. ‘Yes, crazy about you. ’

  ‘No, Sam. Jesse is crazy about controlling and manipulating me. ’

  ‘Do you mind?’ he asks, standing at the edge of my bed.

  ‘Help yourself. ’ I grumble uncharitably.

  He perches on the edge of the bed. I’ve never seen him so serious. ‘Ava, I’ve known Jesse for eight years. Not once have I seen him behave like this over a woman. He’s never had a relationship beyond sex, but you came along and it’s like he found purpose. He’s a different man, and while you might have been frustrated over his protectiveness, as a friend, I was happy to see him finally care so much to behave like that. Please, give him a chance. ’

  ‘He wasn’t just protective, Sam. ’ I say tiredly. Protectiveness is just the start of a long list of unreasonable ways.

  ‘He’s still Jesse. ’ Sam repeats Kate’s words, looking at me pleadingly. ‘The Manor is a business. Yes, he mixed business with pleasure, but he had nothing else. It all changed when you fell into his life. ’

  ‘I can’t wrap my head around all of this, Sam. ’

  He smiles, picking my hand up in his. ‘If you can tell me that you can walk away from him, no second thoughts or regrets, then I’ll shut up now and leave. If you can tell me that you don’t love him, I’ll walk away. But I don’t think you can. You’re shocked, I realise that. And yes, he has a history, but you can’t ignore the fact that he adores you, Ava. It’s written all over his face, expressed in everything he does. Please, give him a chance. He deserves a chance. ’

  Sam’s pleading speech on behalf of his friend sounds like it’s been well prepared and rehearsed. Maybe it has. They must have known I’d find out eventually. Can I get past this shit? I know I’m not doing myself any favours laying here, kicking my sorry arse around in circles. I’m trying to deal with something I just don’t understand and probably never will. He owns a sex club. This crap doesn’t feature into my idea of a normal, happy ever after. Could I ever trust him? He cares enough to behave like this? He adores me? Does adore equal love? I ignored all of Jesse’s pillow talk in the beginning. All of the “you’re mine” crap and his declaration of never letting me leave rubbish. He said the word love a lot, but not in the context I so desperately wanted to hear. “I love you in lace”, “I love sleepy sex with you”, “I love having you here”. Should I have looked further into all of it? Was he telling me what I wanted to hear but in a backwards way? He persistently sought reassurance from me that I would stay. If all he needed was comfort that I was staying put, then I did that plenty of times, didn’t I? I always told him I would stay. But I didn’t know about The Manor then. And now I do, and I’ve left.

  He always wanted me in lace, not leather. He claimed me as his. He was possessive to the absolute maximum – unreasonably so. He always wanted to keep me covered, never wanting me to be exposed to anyone but him. Leather, sharing and the exposure of female flesh must be a regular occurrence at The Manor, surely. Was he was trying to make me the complete opposite of everything he knows? Everything he’s use to? But what about the sex?

  I sit up. I need to talk to him. I can get over The Manor, I think. But I know, for absolutely sure, I’ll never get over Jesse. This is an easy decision really. Seeing him so fraught and desperate must at least mean he’s hurting, surely? He wouldn’t behave like that if I didn’t mean something to
him, would he? So many questions…

  I look at Sam. A small smile spreads across his cheeky face. ‘My work here is done. ’ he mimics Jesse’s words as he gets up on a little wince. ‘That evil cow, she’ll be moaning when I can’t perform. ’

  I smile on the inside. This bombshell, obviously, hasn’t affected Kate in the same way it has me. I throw on the nearest clothes I can find – which happen to be ripped jeans and a Jimmy Hendrix t-shirt – and grab my car keys. Tears flood my eyes and guilt punches a great hole in the stomach. I’ve made a monumental fuck up. He was the one who wanted the cards on the table. He was going to tell me about The Manor, but was there something else he wanted to tell me? I hope so, because I’m on my way to find out. Sarah’s warning about building dreams on Jesse comes crashing back into my mind as I race down to my car. Maybe, she’s right, but I can’t live not knowing.

  Chapter 38

  I drive to Lusso in a stupid fashion, overtaking, banging my car horn impatiently and running a few red lights. When I pull up at the docks, I see Jesse’s car parked on an angle, spanning two of his allocated spaces. I abandon my Mini on the road, let myself in the pedestrian gate – thanking all that’s holy I remember the code – and rush into the foyer, finding Clive at the concierge desk. He’s looking more cheerful than usual.

  ‘Ava! I’ve finally got the hang of all this ruddy equipment. ’ he declares delightedly.

  I brace myself on the high, marble counter to catch my breath. ‘Great, Clive. I told you it would come. ’

  ‘Are you okay?’

  ‘I’m fine. I’m just going up to Jesse. ’

  The phone on the desk starts ringing, and Clive holds his finger up in a signal for me to excuse him for a second. ‘Mr Holland? Yes Sir, of course, Sir. ’ He hangs up, scribbling a few notes on his pad. ‘Sorry about that. ’

  ‘That’s okay. I’ll make my way up. ’

  ‘Ah, Ava, Mr Ward hasn’t notified me of your visit. ’ He scans his screen.

  I gape at him. Is he having me on? He’s seen Jesse carry me in and out of this place on numerous occasions. What’s he playing at? I smile sweetly. ‘How are you finding the job, Clive?’

  He immediately becomes willing and animated. ‘Well, I’m basically a personal assistant to thirteen filthy rich residents, but I love it. You should hear some of the requests I get. Yesterday, Mr Daniels asked me to organise a chopper ride over the city for his daughter and three friends and…’ He leans over the counter, lowering his voice. ‘Mr Gomez up on fifth, he has a different woman every day of the week. And Mr Holland seems to have a thing for the Thai birds. But keep that to yourself. It’s all confidential. ’ He winks, and I wonder what Jesse has had him do or arrange. Organise for his smashed car window to be fixed would be a start.

  ‘Wow, it sounds very interesting. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Clive. ’ I broaden my smile at him. ‘Do you mind if I head up?’

  ‘I need to call first, Ava. ’

  ‘Call then!’ I huff impatiently, standing and shifting irritably, while Clive rings up to the penthouse.

  He hangs up and dials again. ‘I’m sure I saw him pass through. ’ he mutters on a frown. ‘Maybe, I didn’t. ’

  ‘His car’s outside, he must be here,’ I push frantically. ‘Try again. ’ I point to the telephone. Clive presses a few buttons again as I look on.

  He hangs up again, shaking his head. ‘No, he’s definitely not there. And he hasn’t put a DND on his system, so he’s not asleep or busy. He must have gone out. ’

  I frown. ‘DND?’

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