He gasps a little, still studying the offending garment. ‘Ava, come on, be reasonable.’
‘Jesse,’ I sigh. ‘I’ve told you. If you want long skirts and roll neck jumpers, then go find someone your own age.’ I pull my shorts back down and kneel to tie the laces of my Converse, ignoring the grumbling and bristling emanating from every delicious fibre of my unreasonable man. ‘I might go for a swim at The Manor.’ I look up at him, and his grumpy face is back to horror.
‘In a bikini?’
I laugh. ‘No, in a snowsuit. Of course in a bikini.’ I’m really pushing my luck here, and I know it.
‘You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?’
‘I’d like to go for a swim.’
‘I’d like to strangle you.’ he snaps. ‘Why do you do this to me?’
‘Because you’re an unreasonable arse and you need to loosen up. You may be an old man, but I’m only twenty six. Stop acting like a caveman. What’ll happen if we go on a beach holiday?’
‘I thought we could go skiing.’ He’s the one smirking now. ‘I’ll show you how good I am at very extreme sports.’
I grin at his repeated words from our very first meeting, and then jump up to his body, my nose diving straight into his neck. ‘You smell luscious.’ I inhale in his yummy scent as he carries me out to the car, still wearing the short shorts.
* * *
We pull up at The Manor, and I’m quickly collected from my side of the car before being pulled up the steps and into the entrance hall. I hear the distant hum of chatting from the bar and smile when I see John approaching, looking ever the frightening mountain of a man.
‘Ava would like to go swimming.’ Jesse grumbles as John joins us and starts walking alongside, matching Jesse’s strides and my quick steps that are keeping up with him.
The big guy looks down at me, his eyebrows peeking above his wraparounds. ‘You do, girl?’
I nod. ‘It’s hot out there,’
The small smile flashing across John’s face is an indication that he knows damn well what I’m doing. Yes, I’m trying to bash all unreasonableness out of my husband, and this is the perfect place to start—at the sex haven of my Lord, where the revealing of flesh is an everyday occurrence. I’m not planning on ever stripping down and prancing around for everyone to see, but a swim in a decent bikini is a good place to start. If he can overcome it here, then he can overcome it anywhere.
We pass the bar, and I spot Sam. I can’t see his face, but his body slumped on a stool is a clear indication of how he’s feeling. My best friend is an idiot. She’s running away from something good, just to reignite something that’s terribly bad. Sam might have dragged her over to the dark side, but he doesn’t deserve to be crapped all over like this.
As soon as we enter Jesse’s office, he drops my hand and goes straight to the integrated fridge. He pulls out a jar of peanut butter, immediately unscrews the lid and plunges his finger in. John doesn’t bat an eyelid, instead taking a seat on the other side of Jesse’s desk, while I look on with a smile on my face. He walks casually over to his chair and takes his seat, slipping his finger into his mouth and sighing. He likes it?
‘What’s happening?’ he asks John around his finger.
‘Camera three is out of action. The surveillance company is scheduled to come sort it out.’ John shifts in his seat and pulls his phone from his pocket. ‘I’ll chase them up.’ He dials and puts his phone to his ear before standing and walking over to the window.
‘Baby, you okay?’
I flick my eyes from John’s back to Jesse, finding a concerned look on his face. ‘Yes, fine.’ I realise now that I’m still standing at his office door, so I start towards his desk and sit myself down in the chair next to John’s. ‘Daydreaming. Sorry.’
His finger slips into his mouth again. ‘What about?’
I smile. ‘Nothing. Just watching you settle now you have your peanut butter.’
He looks down at the jar and rolls his eyes. ‘Want some?’
‘No.’ My nose wrinkles in distaste, and he laughs, his eyes twinkling, his soft lines springing from his greens as he screws the lid on and slides the jar onto his desk. He’s had his fix. ‘How’s Sam?’
‘Shit. He won’t talk about it. How’s Kate?’
‘Not good.’ I’m not lying, she really isn’t.
‘What do you know? Why did she end it?’
I shrug as casually as possible. ‘Because of this place, probably.’ I’m resisting the urge to sit on my hands. I dare not even mention my brother. ‘It’s probably for the best.’
He nods thoughtfully. ‘Do you want to swim or stay with me?’
I know what answer he wants. ‘What are you going to do?’ I ask, eyeing up the piles of paperwork on his desk. I’ve never seen it so messy, and I know why. No Sarah. But I’m not feeling in the slightest bit guilty about it, even if it means Jesse’s desk looks like a bomb’s gone off on it.
He looks at the paperwork, too, and sighs. ‘This is what I’ll be doing.’ He flicks through one of the piles.
‘Why don’t you employ someone else?’
‘Ava, it’s not that straight forward in this line of work. You have to know someone, trust them. I can’t just call the job centre and ask them to send along someone who can type.’
Okay, now I am feeling a little guilty. He’s right. We’re talking about people of high society, people with high powered jobs. Jesse has told me that they delve into the history of these people to determine their financial status and medical history, including any criminal convictions. I suppose there is a confidentiality issue. ‘I could help.’ I offer reluctantly, even though I wouldn’t have the first idea where to start, but his overwhelmed expression as he scans the masses of paper on his desk is really nudging the guilt.
His eyes fly up. ‘You would?’
I shrug and grab the first piece of paper I can lay my hands on. ‘An hour here and there, I suppose.’ I scan the text in my hands and recoil. It’s a bank statement. At least I think it is. The figures on here look more like international telephone numbers, so it could be a telephone bill. I glance up at him. He’s grinning.
‘We’re very rich, Mrs Ward.’
‘I’m sorry, but…’ I try to focus on all of the digits but lose my place. ‘This sort of stuff shouldn’t be lying on your desk, Jesse.’ It has his account numbers on and everything. ‘Wait… did Sarah look after your finances?’
‘Yes,’ he says quietly. I bristle. I don’t trust the woman.
‘Do you have any idea where your money is? How much there is?’ I place the paper back on his desk.
‘Yes, look,’ He takes the piece and points at it. ‘I have this much and it’s in this bank.’
‘You have just one account? What about business accounts, savings, pensions?’
He looks a little alarmed, and almost irritated. ‘I don’t know.’
I gape at him. ‘She did everything? All of your accounts?’ I don’t like that thought at all.
‘Not anymore.’ he grumbles, throwing the paper back down. ‘But you’ll help?’ He’s smiling again.
How can I not? This man is stinking rich and has no idea where and how any of his money is stored. ‘Yes, I’ll help.’ I grab a pile and start sifting through, but then I have a very worrying moment of realisation. My head snaps up, finding a contented face staring straight at me. ‘I said I’d help, that’s all. A few hours here and there, Jesse.’
He visibly sags at my words. ‘But it’s the perfect solution.’
‘For you! The perfect solution for you! I have a career. I am not giving it up to come here every day and file paperwork!’ The cheeky swine. He wants me to replace Sarah as his office girl. Not a chance. ‘And anyway,’ I dump the pile back on the desk and stand. ‘I don’t know how to lash a whip, so I think I’m a little under qualified.’ I don’t know why I said that. It was unnecessary and really quite spiteful.
He’s shocked. He’s sitting far back in his chair with a mixture of disbelief and anger on his face. ‘That was a little childish, don’t you think?’
‘I’m sorry,’ I scoop my bag up. ‘I didn’t mean it.’
John joins us again and breaks the uncomfortable silence that has fallen between us. ‘They’ll be an hour,’ He slips his phone back in his pocket. ‘Before I forget, we’ve had a further three memberships cancelled.’
Jesse’s eyebrows rise in curiosity. ‘Three?’
‘Three,’ John confirms as he walks towards the door. ‘All female,’ he adds, leaving the office.
I watch as Jesse’s elbows hit his desk and his face falls straight into his palms. I feel rotten. Dropping my bag, I make my way around his desk and push him back in his chair before sitting on his desk in front of him. He watches me as he chews that lip. ‘I’ll sort allof this out,’ I signal to the paperwork everywhere. ‘But you need to get someone on this. It’s a fulltime job.’
‘I know,’ He clasps my ankles and pulls them up so my feet are sitting on his knees. ‘Go for a swim. I’ll make a start on this, okay?’
‘Okay,’ I study him closely and he studies me studying him.
‘Go on, beautiful girl. Spit it out.’ He’s smiling a little.
‘They’re withdrawing their memberships because you’re no longer available to fu…’ I bite my tongue. ‘To have sex with.’ That makes me immensely happy and it’s obvious.
‘It would seem so, wouldn’t it?’ He narrows his eyes on me. ‘I can see this pleases my wife.’
I shrug, but I can’t hide my pleasure at this news. ‘What’s the ratio of men to women?’
‘Members?’ he asks.
My mouth drops open. I remember Jesse saying there were roughly fifteen hundred members. That’s a thousand women who are potentially after my Lord. ‘Well,’ I brush off my shock. ‘You might have to turn The Manor into a gay club.’
He laughs and dangles my feet back off the desk. ‘Go take a swim.’
* * *
The changing rooms are empty. I wriggle into my bikini, remove my diamond, re-tie my hair high on my head and stuff my things in one of the wooden walnut lockers. In all of the time I’ve been with Jesse, I’ve never used the spa and sports facilities, but I’m reliably informed that there’s no skinny dipping allowed, so I’ll brave it and put Jesse to the test at the same time. I wander through the area, looking for any sign of life, but it’s completely deserted. It’s lunchtime on a Sunday. I would have thought it would be a peak time for members to utilise this part of The Manor.
Stepping into the huge glass building, I scan the area, finding all of the Jacuzzis, the huge pool, and the sun loungers are empty. It’s eerily quiet, the only sound a distant hum of water pumps. Laying my towel on a plush wooden sun lounger, I gingerly take the first step into the water and sigh. It’s tepid. Lovely. I wade down the rest of the steps and push myself into the water and start a breast stroke to the other end of the pool.
I’m relishing in the calmness and quiet as I swim length after length, no one joining me, no one venturing in to use the Jacuzzis, and no one coming to relax on a sun lounger. But then I hear movement, and I stop mid-length to see who appears from the entrance that leads to changing areas. My eyes flick from the male to the female entrances, and then Jesse emerges, wearing a loose pair of black swimming shorts. I sigh in appreciation, and he blasts me with his smile, before diving straight in, his body stretching out, making minimal noise or splashing as he slips below the surface. I float in the middle of the pool and watch the shadow of his tall body approaching me under the water until he’s right in front of me, but he remains submerged beneath me.