He strides over to a unit of drawers and pulls the top one open. ‘More than you know.’ he answers quietly, turning and holding up a bra.
‘That’s my bra!’ I blurt. I have a sudden flurry of flashbacks from when he cornered me. I left my bra, and he stored it there all this time?
He chucks it on the top of the drawers and shrugs sheepishly, then paces over to the bed and slips in beside me. I immediately crawl onto his chest and settle myself all over him, my face nuzzling straight into his neck.
‘Comfy?’ he asks.
‘Hmmm.’ I hum, my hands wandering all over the place, needing to feel him and relish in the flesh on flesh contact.
He sat in here quietly and thought of me. He kept my bra. No one has been in here, except me, and he’s replaced the bed.
‘How do you feel?’ he asks, letting me smother him.
‘I’m fine.’ I sigh. I’m fine at the moment, but not for long, no doubt.
He matches my sigh. ‘She’s fine.’ I’m held tighter, his heartbeat thumping against my breastbone. ‘Go to sleep, my beautiful girl.’
And I do. My eyes slowly close and I’m gone.
I open my eyes and stretch. It’s an over-the-top, noisy, satisfying, completely contented extension of my body all over the bed. Then I smile to myself, listening to him in the bathroom—the sound of the tap jetting out streams of hot water into the tub, him collecting all of the cosmetics he’ll need, and then the unmistakable sound of him swishing the water to instigate some bubbles. My self-professed bath man is keeping to his word. We’re going to have a long soak in the bath and undoubtedly some tub talk whilst we’re there. Do I want tub talk today?
Shuffling myself to the edge of the gigantic bed, I take my naked form over to the suite’s bathroom and lean myself up against the doorframe. He’s sitting on a chair in the window, elbows resting on his knees, looking out across The Manor’s grounds. He’s naked too, every finely tuned muscle protruding from his back and his dark blonde hair damp from the condensation filling the vast space. I could stand all day and watch him, but even from here and with his back to me, I can see the cogs of his mind racing around at a hundred miles per hour. He’s probably thinking about my denial, and he’s undoubtedly thinking about how he can keep me at home. It’s Monday tomorrow, therefore a work day.
My unreasonable, challenging, neurotic control freak.
And now my husband.
I need to touch him.
I approach quietly, my eyes getting more and more delighted the closer I get, my skin starting to prickle with the usual sparks that simmer between our bodies. ‘I know when you’re near, beautiful girl.’ He doesn’t look around. ‘You’ll never get away with that.’
I move around in front of him and climb onto his lap, planting my cheek on his chest.
His arms engulf me and his face plummets into my hair. ‘Trying to sneak up on me?’
‘It never works.’
‘It never will. How are you feeling this morning?’
I smile into his chest. ‘Fine.’
‘Fine.’ He replies, pulling me in closer. ‘Don’t go to work tomorrow.’
I sag in his lap slightly, even though I knew what was coming. I agreed to marry him so soon if he accepted that there will be no honeymoon, and if he agreed to chill out on the overprotectiveness and unreasonableness. My instincts told me he’d fail on all counts. I pull myself up and face him. ‘I need to work.’
He shakes his head. ‘You don’t need to work at all. We need to be together.’
‘We are together.’
‘You know what I mean.’ he grumbles.
I’m going to get nowhere with this, so I remove myself from his lap and head for the bath.
‘What are you doing?’ he asks my back.
I don’t need to turn around for visual confirmation of the scowl I know covers his face. ‘Having a bath.’ I climb in and settle back, but almost instantly move forward to give him space.
He climbs in and settles behind me, pulling me back to rest on his chest and homing straight in on my ear, giving a little growl and a nibble. ‘I’ve told you before, don’t fight me off.’
‘Then stop making unreasonable demands.’ I retort harshly.
He bites down harder on my lobe. ‘And I’ve also told you that before. There is nothing unreasonable about wanting to keep you safe.’
‘You mean keep me to yourself.’ I close my eyes and let my head relax against him, my palms sliding onto his strong, wet thighs.
‘No,’ His fingers lace through mine. ‘To keep you safe.’
‘You use that as an excuse for your unreasonable behaviour.’
‘No. You make me crazy.’
‘You make yourself crazy. I’m going to work tomorrow and you are going to let me, and you’re not going to make a fuss of it. You promised.’
I feel his mouth at my ear again, and I use every modicum of strength to restrain my moan. ‘But you promised to obey me. I think marriage vows over-ride any promises that were made before.’ He pushes himself up against my bum. ‘Does someone need some sense fucked into them?’
I jerk, sending water swishing around us. I’d love some sense fucked into me, but I still won’t relent. ‘You also promised to stop fucking sense into me because it was agreed that all of the sense only makes sense to you.’ I’m beginning to wish we’d never made that agreement. Sense fucking equals hard fucking.
‘Love, honour and obey.’ he whispers, and my face naturally turns into that low, husky voice, my lips finding his. ‘That makes sense, doesn’t it?’
‘No,’ I breathe. ‘Hardly anything you demand makes sense.’
‘We make sense.’ He swamps me with his mouth. ‘Tell me we make sense.’
‘We make sense.’
‘Good girl. Sit up so I can bathe you.’ He drops my lips, leaving me feeling deserted, and pushes me forward in front of him. ‘We’ll have breakfast with your family, then I’m taking you home. Deal?’
‘Deal.’ I agree. I can’t wait to go home but I absolutely can wait to go downstairs and face Kate and Dan. Stupid, stupid Kate. I’m not even going to try and work out what the hell she’s thinking, and I suspect she doesn’t even know herself. Will she even remember? She was pretty pissed. And Sam. I inwardly groan. How am I going to face Sam knowing this?
‘What are you thinking about?’ Jesse asks, pulling me back to the here and now.
‘Kate.’ I answer immediately. ‘I’m thinking about Kate and Sam.’
‘I’ve told you A…’
‘Don’t tell me it’s none of my business, Jesse.’ I cut him off completely. ‘She’s my best friend. I feel like I’m watching a car crash in slow motion. I need to stop it.’
‘No, you need to mind your own business, Ava.’ he scorns me harshly. ‘You’re done.’ He places the sponge on the edge of the bath and rises behind me, stepping out and grabbing a towel. ‘Wash your hair.’ He rubs himself down and wraps the towel around his waist. ‘Maybe you could show as much concern for a little detail in our relationship that needs addressing.’ He drills holes into me with an expectant look, and I immediately forget all issues relating to Sam and Kate, but I don’t embrace his new-found talent for talking. Instead, I slide down the bath and immerse myself in the bubbly water. I’m still not ready, and I notice that his new talking ability is only used on subjects of his choice.
I’m not looking at him, but I know he’s just rolled his eyes. He can roll his eyes all he likes. I’m dealing with this in my own way. And that way is to wedge my head as far underground as I can get it.
* * *
We walk into restaurant of The Manor hand in hand and are immediately greeted by loud clapping and cheering. The first things I notice, apart from the noise, is Kate’s obvious hangover, and across the room, Dan’s glacial glare, pointed right at Jesse.
My husband either notices neither or ignores them both, because he scoops me right up and strides through the tables, places me neatly on a chair opposite my mum and dad, then takes one up next to me.
‘Darling!’ My mum’s excited shriek hammers at my ears. ‘What a wonderful day it was, despite a certain difficult man.’ She glares across the table at Jesse.
‘Good morning, Elizabeth.’ Jesse beams at my mum, and she rolls her eyes, but I can tell she’s restraining a fond smile. ‘How are you, Joseph?’
My dad nods while carving through a sausage. ‘Very well. Did you two enjoy your day?’
‘We did, thank you. Are you being looked after?’ Jesse casts his eyes around the restaurant, obviously checking that the staff is seeing to the remaining guests.
‘Too well.’ Dad laughs. ‘We’ll be hitting the road after breakfast, so I’ll take this opportunity to thank you for your hospitality. It really was a special day.’
I smile at my dad and his graciousness, his manners never failing him. I’m glad they enjoyed themselves. ‘Is Dan going back with you?’ I ask, trying to sound casual.
‘Oh no, has he not told you?’ mum asks.
Jesse butters some toast and takes my hand, placing the bread in my grasp and nodding at it, his silent instruction to eat. ‘Told me what.’ I ask before wrapping my lips around the edge.
‘He’s staying in London for a while.’ Mum starts cutting the fat off my dad’s bacon, and I cough.
‘Staying in London, darling.’
I swing my eyes across the room to where Dan is sitting with aunty Angela, but clearly not listening to her babbling. No, his full attention is on Kate. ‘Why?’ I ask. ‘I thought he has the surf school to expand.’ This is bad news. I drop my toast on my plate and Jesse immediately picks it up and puts it back in my hand.
‘He says there’s no rush, and I’m not complaining.’ Mum accepts a coffee from Pete, and then he places one in front of me, too.
‘No chocolate and no sugar,’ he confirms.
I look up at him and smile fondly. ‘Thank you, Pete’ I place my toact back on my plate and Jesse immediately picks it up again.
‘Eat.’ He thrusts it in my hand.
‘I don’t want the fucking toast!’ I spit harshly, halting all chopping and sipping at our table.
‘Ava. Mouth!’ Jesse recoils, and I can feel my mum and dad’s shocked stares from across the table. I’m shocked myself, but I don’t need him trying to force feed me, and I most definitely don’t need Dan hanging around and complicating an already complicated situation. What is he playing at? I’m not naive enough to think that his dislike of Jesse and concern for me is his reason for staying.
I ignore Jesse’s incredulous stare and my parent’s dumbstruck faces, and get up from the table.
‘Where are you going?’ Jesse stands with me. ‘Ava, sit down.’ His tone is warning, even in front of my parents, but I should know by now that he couldn’t give a flying fuck where he is and who is present. He’ll be mad at me or ravish me wherever and whenever he likes. My parents aren’t going to stop him.
‘Sit down and eat your breakfast, Jesse.’ I go to pass him, but his hand flies out and grasps my wrist.
‘Excuse me?’ He laughs.
I look him straight in the eye. ‘I said, sit down and eat your breakfast.’
‘Yes, I thought you did.’ He pulls me back down onto my chair and places my toast in my hand, then leans into me, pressing his mouth to my ear. ‘Ava, this isn’t the time or the place for you to start throwing your weight around. And have a little respect in front of your parents.’ His hand moves to my knee and strokes up the inside of my bare thigh. ‘I like this dress.’ he whispers.