‘Fuck off.’ I yell in her face, physically removing her hand from Jesse. I don’t need to repeat the move when it comes to Jesse’s palm on her backside. That has already been wisely removed, and there is no need for me to repeat my words, either. The woman’s eyes widen and she backs away cautiously. It’s probably the most sensible move she’s ever made. I feel lethal. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I scream at him.
His eyebrows raise slowly, a hint of a smirk breaking the corner of his lush mouth. It’s the first emotional reaction I’ve gotten from him since he walked into the bar. But he doesn’t say anything.
He shakes his head and turns towards the bar, signalling the barman over. Oh, he asked for this. I turn and see all three of my friends, plus Sam and my brother, all standing in shocked silence. I’m shocked myself, but I’m far from silent.
‘Move!’ I shout and push my way between them, striding determinedly towards the dance floor. It doesn’t take me long to find what I’m looking for, I get plenty of offers when I hitch the hem of my dress up, but I’m not doing this with just anyone. I take a few brief seconds to scan the selection and home straight in on a tall, dark haired, blue eyed man. A hot man. I don’t give myself time to consider rejection. I walk straight up to him, let him drink me in for a few moments, before I slip my hand around his neck and move in. He accepts willingly, pushing his tongue into my mouth without delay and slipping his arm around my waist. I scorn myself for thinking how good he is, and I soon fall into his steady rhythm, until he is suddenly gone.
I open my eyes and see the strange man scowling at Jesse. ‘What the fuck?’ he shouts incredulously, to which Jesse replies by drawing his fist back and punching the poor guy straight in the face… hard. I watch in horror as his nose splatters and blood sprays everywhere. It doesn’t stop him, though. He goes straight back at Jesse, tackling him to the floor, fists flying, throats being squeezed and everyone moving back to give the two big men room to fight.
‘Ava, what the fuck were you thinking?’ Sam’s angry voice stabs at my ears from the side, and I look up to find an accusing stare. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t think I was thinking at all.
I follow Sam’s gaze back to the floor, just as Jesse takes a clean swipe of a fist to his jaw. I wince. ‘Sam, please stop them.’ All I can see is Jesse’s white shirt smothered in red and the other guy’s face mangled, his nose clearly broken.
‘Are you fucking mad?’ Sam laughs.
I’m just about to start begging when Jesse gets to his feet and drags the man up, pinning him against a pillar before bringing his knee up and striking with a full on, hard blow to the ribs. The man crumbles to the floor with his arms wrapped around his torso. I feel horrible, and not because I’m watching my husband rub his sore jaw. I feel responsible for the poor stranger, who I targeted to get the crap beaten out of him. What the hell is wrong with me?
I gasp as I’m shoved out the way and Jay charges through, doing a quick assessment of the situation before practically diving on Jesse and manhandling him out of the bar. I move back as they pass me, but Jesse fights against the skinhead and grabs hold of me. ‘Get your fucking arse outside.’ he growls at me.
I’m suddenly very aware that I’ve made a grave mistake, and not wanting to face the music that will be a raging beast of a man outside, I decide my safest option is to remain in the bar. I struggle against Jesse, and he struggles against Jay.
I can hear the doorman cursing as he battles with us. ‘Out!’ he shouts, and I’m abruptly lifted from my feet and secured against the doorman’s chest. ‘I’ll carry her out if you remove your stubborn fucking arse from the bar!’ he yells at Jesse.
It works, but not before Jesse snarls at the doorman. ‘Keep your fucking hands exactly where they are.’
In my crazed state, I register exactly where Jay’s hands are—one holding me around my waist and the other clenching my forearm. I defiantly wriggle. ‘Get the hell off me!’
‘Ward, how the fuck do you put up with this?’ Jay asks as he paces out of the bar.
‘She drives me fucking crazy.’ Jesse answers, flicking me a critical stare before re-focusing his attention forward and rubbing his jaw. ‘Be careful with her.’
I’m gently placed on my feet and given a disapproving headshake by Jay while he claps hands with Jesse and leaves us on the pavement. We’re both glowering at each other when everyone comes rushing out of the bar, including Dan. I don’t need him seeing this.
‘Fuck off, all of you!’ Jesse roars.
Dan steps forward. ‘You think I’m leaving her with you?’ He laughs. I pray for Dan to just shut the hell up because after what I’ve just witnessed, there is absolutely no question that Jesse will annihilate my brother. I turn slowly back to face Kate with a help face, but all I get is Kate’s pursed lips and the rest of them frantically flicking eyes from Dan to Jesse. They have seen madman Jesse. They’re not going to help.
Jesse takes my elbow and points his glare at Dan. ‘You don’t mind if I take my wife home, do you.’ It’s a statement, not a question.
‘Yes, actually, I do.’ Dan’s not going to back down here. I can see it in the steely sheen of his dark eyes.
‘Dan, it’s fine. I’m fine. Just go.’ I turn to face the rest of the group. ‘All of you, please, just go.’
But no one makes the first move to leave.
Jesse’s grip on me increases. ‘What the fuck do you think I’m going to do?’ he bellows. ‘This woman is my fucking life!’
I recoil at his fierce declaration, and so do the others, including Dan. If I’m his life, then where has he been for the last four days? Why did he take me like I’m nothing more than an object? And why did he have his hands on that woman at the bar? I wrench my arm from him and step back, taking a quick glance at my friend. I’m not sure what for—guidance, maybe, because I don’t know what to do. She gives me a subtle shake of her head. It’s a don’t-kick-up-a-stink shake. My argumentative side is shouting, don’t let him show you up and my fractionally sensible side is appeasing, don’t show YOURSELF up.
With the encouragement of Kate’s reassuring look, I walk over to her while pulling the hem of my dress down, and stupidly or not, in one last act of defiance, I grab her wine and down the lot.
‘Ava!’ She tries to stop me, but I’m on a mission now.
‘See you later.’ I say as I grab my clutch from her other hand and turn towards Jesse. His lip is curled in warning, but I couldn’t care less. Everything he has done tonight is playing on repeat in my head and with each re-play, I’m getting angrier. ‘Don’t bother following me.’
He looks down at me, the fury in his expression more than evident. I hope my displeasure is obvious, too, but just in case it’s not, I throw him a disgusted look before I push past him and use all of my concentration not to stagger. I shouldn’t have drunk that wine, for more reasons than one.
I haphazardly step into the road to hail a cab, but I don’t even get my arm in the air. ‘Don’t step out into the fucking road!’ he growls, slinging me over his shoulder. ‘You stupid woman!’
‘Fucking hell, Jesse!’ I’m taken from the road, back to the pavement. ‘Put me down!’
‘Jesse, you’re hurting me!’
I’m immediately lowered and instantly have concerned greens running all over my body. ‘You’re hurt? Where?’
I smack my palm on my chest. ‘Just there!’ I scream in his face.
He recoils, but then performs the same little rendition, thumping his own chest over his blood stained shirt. ‘Join the fucking club, Ava!’ he roars.
I flinch at the sound level of his voice before turning on my slightly drunken heels and storming off.
‘The car is this way.’ he shouts from behind me. I stop and carefully carry out an about turn before marching back in the other direction. There is little point in trying to get away. I’m tipsy, and he’s determined. ‘I don’t like your dress.’ I hear him snarl from behind me.
‘I do.’ I counter, walking on.
‘And why is that?’ He catches up with me. It’s not hard. I’m drunk and in heels.
I stop and swing to face him. ‘Because I knew you wouldn’t!’ I shout, drawing a little attention from passers-by.
‘You’re right!’ he yells back at me.
‘Good! Is that the only reason you’re pissed, or is it because I’m drunk, or is it because I kissed another man?’
‘All of the above but kissing another man gets the fucking gold!’ He’s shaking with anger.
‘You had your hand on another woman’s arse!’
‘I know!’ He glares at me, and I glare right back.
‘Why? Getting bored of keeping it for just one woman?’ I screech, and then tense, looking around to see who has heard my little outburst. I’m relieved to see our friends have all escaped the scene. I could have chosen to rebuke him on his possessiveness or jealousy but no, I pick his sexual history.
He narrows his dark green eyes on me, his lips forming a straight line. ‘You fucking asked for it, woman!’
‘You left me! You promised you would never leave me!’
We stand opposite each other, staring each other down like a pair of circling wolves, neither one of us backing down. We both have cause for grievance. Of course, mine is the stronger argument, but I’m not prepared to stand in the middle of the street all night, just to prove a point. I’m not as stubborn as he is.
‘You shouldn’t have taken it upon yourself to decide my future.’ I say more calmly and carry on towards the car, staggering slightly towards the kerb. I’ve no idea where it is parked, but I’ve no doubt some directions will be barked at me soon enough.
‘You’re a fucking pain in the arse.’ he snaps. ‘And I was thinking about our future.’ He scoops me up from behind and carries me in his arms.
‘Jesse, put me down.’ I complain weakly. My meagre attempt to wriggle free is really quite pathetic.
‘I’m not putting you down, lady.’
I give in. My body is weak, my mind even weaker and my throat sore and raspy from too much shouting. I let him carry me to the car and deposit me in the passenger seat, not even kicking up a stink when he leans over to buckle me in. He mumbles incoherently as he pulls the hem of my dress down and then slams the door. I’m aware of him getting in the car, and I’m vaguely aware of the pleasant sounds of Ed Shearan, but then mental exhaustion overwhelms me and I can no longer find the energy to yell at him. My forehead hits the passenger window, and I stare blankly at the bright lights of London by night, flashing past the window.
* * *
‘Oh dear!’ I hear Clive’s disapproving tone as I come round, bobbing up and down in time to Jesse’s strides. ‘Should I get the elevator for you, Mr Ward?’
‘No, I’ve got it.’ Jesse voice vibrates through me. ‘Fucking dress is ridiculous.’ he mumbles as he calls for the lift and steps in when it opens immediately.
I come to in his arms, and then writhe to free myself. I seem to have dropped a stage of drunkenness and gone from drunk and defiant to simply difficult. ‘I can walk.’ I snap.
He scoffs and lowers me to my feet, but only because there’s nowhere for me to escape and there are no cars that I can walk in front of. The elevator door opens, and I’m the first to exit whilst fishing around in my clutch for my keys. I find them remarkably quickly, considering my disorientated hands, but getting the right one in the lock is another matter, entirely. I close one eye to try and focus as I slowly guide the key towards the lock. I hear him grumbling under his breath behind me, but I ignore him and carry on trying to insert the key. He must get fed up of waiting because there is suddenly a hand wrapped around my wrist, holding it steady and guiding it to the lock successfully.