It’s not there.
‘What!’ I yell disbelievingly to absolutely no one. ‘Fucking hell!’ I slam my brakes on and jump out, finding the glower has morphed into a dazzling smile.
‘Planning on going somewhere?’
‘Oh fuck off!’ I yell across the car park, grabbing my bag from the front seat and leaving my car exactly where it is, driver’s door open. I stomp my angry heels towards the pedestrian gate, but I’m not lucky enough to avoid a Jesse style intervention this time. I’m swiftly grabbed and hoofed back to my shiny new wedding present.
‘Will you watch your fucking mouth!’ He places me in the driver’s seat and puts the seatbelt on me before whipping the keys to my Mini from my hand. ‘Why do you have to defy me on absolutely everything?’ He starts transferring all of my keys onto my new car key.
‘Because you’re an unreasonable arse!’ I shift irritably in my seat. ‘Why can’t you take me to work?’
‘I’m already late for a meeting because my wife won’t do as she’s told.’ He grabs the back of my neck and yanks me towards his lips. ‘Anyone would think you’re after a retribution fuck.’
He grins and hits me with a full on, hot, melt worthy kiss. A long one—one of those kisses that bashes all of the obstinacy right out of me. ‘Hmmm, you taste delicious, baby. What time are you finishing work?’
I’m released and, as ever, breathless. ‘Six.’
‘Come straight to The Manor and bring your files so we can finalise the orders for the new rooms.’ He pushes another button, lowering the driver’s window, before shutting the door and leaning in. He looks so smug. ‘I love you.’
‘I know.’ I mutter, turning the key in the ignition.
‘Have you spoken to Patrick yet?’ he asks, halting my strop and reminding me that I have yet to fulfil my obligation.
‘Move my car!’ I snap, not knowing what else to say.
‘I’ll take that as a no. You’ll speak to him today.’ It’s not a question.
‘Move my car.’ I repeat touchily.
‘Anything you want, lady.’ His eyes are giving me a thorough warning, but I ignore it.
‘Where the hell am I going to park this thing?’
He starts laughing and strolls off to move my car before jumping in his DBS and screeching out of the car park.
* * *
After driving around the nearest car park for an age, I finally find two spaces to straddle. Bursting through the door, the first thing I see is a bunch of Calla lilies spread on my desk and as I get nearer, a little box.
‘Darling!’ Tom’s croon doesn’t distract me from the small box.
‘Morning,’ I greet, taking a seat and picking up the box. ‘You okay?’
‘Chirpy chirpy. You?’ Tom sounds curious now and that does have my eyes dragging away from the box as I remember the last time I saw him.
‘I’m good,’ I brush it off and watch as his face spreads into a cheeky grin.
‘I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. God, that man can do a sexy brood!’ He starts fanning his face with a coffee coaster. ‘Hot!’
I scoff and turn my attention back to the box. What’s he bought me now? ‘Who delivered this?’ I ask, holding the box up.
‘Flower girl.’ Tom shrugs and returns to his computer, leaving me to unwrap the neatly covered gift box. I sigh when I open it up and come face to face with a graphite and gold Rolex. It’s the women’s equivalent to Jesse’s and stunning, but more responsibility.
‘Wow!’ Sally gushes as she catches sight of the contents. ‘Wow, wow, wow! That’s beautiful!’
I smile at her enthusiasm and take it from the box, slipping it over my wrist. It really is. ‘I know.’ I say quietly. ‘Thanks, Sal.’ I move the flowers from my desk and slip the box into my bag.
‘Would you like a coffee, Ava?’ Sal walks off towards the kitchen.
‘Please. Where are Patrick and Victoria?’
‘Patrick has a personal meeting and Victoria is on a site visit.’
After putting my flowers in water, I get stuck into my work, preparing my file to take to Ruth Quinn’s, and then printing off all of the details for the obscenely expensive beds that Jesse wants made for The Manor.
At ten o’clock, I abruptly come over all queasy and disappear into the toilet to try and throw up, but it’s just not happening. I slump on the toilet, feeling hot, bothered and tearful. I need to chase up my hospital appointment. Suddenly a little determined, probably because of how crap I feel, I exit the toilets to do exactly that, but I’m soon halted mid-resolute march when the main office comes into view, and I clock someone sat in one of the tub chairs opposite my desk.
I don’t feel ill anymore. I feel angry. What the fucking hell is she doing here? As much as I’d love to rip her to shreds, I don’t want to in my office, so I turn to escape and hide in the toilets.
I snap out of my shocked, fleeing state and turn towards the voice—the voice I’ve not heard for weeks. I’m a little surprised this voice has found me, especially after everything that’s happened. I got her sacked. ‘Sarah.’ I say flatly. I’m reeling. Is she going to add to my grievances? She’s looking rather understated, her hair softer than usual and her boobs tucked neatly behind a substantial cropped jacket, the short dresses side-lined for a respectful, knee length matching skirt. ‘Why are you here?’ I ask.
‘I was hoping we could talk.’ She shifts in the chair uncomfortably, her usual cocky demeanour nowhere in sight.
I’ve been caught completely off guard. Is she playing games again? ‘Talk?’ I ask cautiously. ‘About what?’ I’ve got nothing to say to this woman.
She glances around the office, as do I. Tom is ever my nosey, gay friend and looking curiously across at the strange woman who’s sitting at my desk. ‘Perhaps I could buy you a coffee?’ she asks, returning her eyes to mine.
Whilst I should be telling her where to go, curiosity is getting the better of me. I walk over to my desk and grab my bag, ‘I have half an hour.’ I say curtly, leaving her behind and walking out of my office. My heart is pumping too fast for my liking. I thought I’d seen the back of this whip wielding witch, and now I’ve clapped eyes on her again, all of the torment and drama she’s caused is fresh and clear in my mind. All I can see are lash marks on Jesse, his tortured face and my pitiful body draped over him. She has a nerve.
I walk into the nearby Starbucks and settle in a chair. I’m not buying her a coffee. I know my face is plastered in a look of contempt as she approaches the table, but I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it. I want her to know how much I hate her.
‘Would you like a drink?’ she asks politely. This is not the Sarah I know and despise.
She smiles a little. ‘Well, I think I’ll get one. I don’t think the management would be very happy about us taking a table up. Are you sure?’
‘Yes,’ I shake my head and watch her go quietly to the counter, ensuring she’s busy ordering before I pull my phone from my bag to text Kate. I need to vent.
The cheeky bitch has turned up at my office!
She replies immediately. Granted, it wasn’t the sort of text that you could cast aside with the intention to reply soon.
No!!!!! Really? Ava, stop talking in fucking code! Who’s the cheeky bitch?
I almost let an exasperated curse fall from my lips.
Her reply is instant again.
My fingers work fast across the pad as I look up to check that Sarah’s still being served.
Fucking yes!!!!! Will call u.
I go to slip my phone in my bag, but it chimes instantly again. I can imagine her gasping, her pale fingers flying across the buttons of her phone. She’s probably driving, too.
Call me now, put it on the table. I want 2 hear what she’s got 2 say!
I do scoff out loud this time, shaking my head. She would never keep her gob shut if she heard something that she didn’t like, and then I would be explaining the distant sounds of my screeching best friend.
I press send and smile when she immediately texts back;
I shove my phone back in my bag when Sarah approaches with a coffee, crossing my legs and maintaining a look of complete hatred. I do. I hate her. I hate everything she represents, but most of all, I hate her for inflicting pain on Jesse. I should stop thinking. I’m getting angrier. My moods are extreme these days.
She lowers herself and stirs her coffee gingerly, looking down at her cup. ‘I wanted to apologise for everything that’s happened.’
‘You do?’ I laugh. ‘Are you winding me up?’
She pauses and looks up at me, smiling nervously. ‘Ava, I’m so sorry. I guess I was a little shocked at your arrival.’
‘Oh?’ I say on a frown.
‘If you told me where to go, then I wouldn’t blame you. I’ve behaved dreadfully. I have no excuse.’
‘Except that you’re in love with him.’ I say frankly, and her eyes widen in surprise. ‘Why else would you behave like that, Sarah?’
She looks away, and I think I detect tears in her eyes. Oh, she’s really in love with him. Have I underestimated this issue? ‘I’m not going to fob you off, Ava. I’ve been in love with Jesse for as long as I can remember.’ She returns her eyes to mine. ‘It doesn’t excuse me, though.’
‘But you whipped him.’ I don’t get it. ‘Why would you do that to someone you love?’
She laughs mildly. ‘That’s what I do. I dress in leathers, hold a whip and thrash men before I fuck them.’
I wince. ‘Okay.’
‘Jesse was never interested in that.’
‘But you’ve still fucked him.’ I say candidly. Jesse has admitted that to me, and I know he was never whipped before that horrible day when I found them in his office. She must have been in her element, especially when she managed to entice me to The Manor to witness the whole horror scene.
She looks surprised. ‘Yes, but just once.’ She’s definitely holding back tears. I’ve really misjudged this issue. ‘Funny, isn’t it? Even when he was smashed he didn’t want me. He’d take them all, but never me.’
I’m beginning to understand this now, even if I’m not overly happy about the reminder of Jesse’s history. He screwed all over the place, took anything, anytime… except Sarah. The Manor is full of willing women, none more than Sarah, and he never wanted her. ‘You were hoping he’d fuck you after you thrashed him?’ The words turn my stomach. I feel sick again.
She shakes her head. ‘No, I knew he wouldn’t. He was too screwed up over you. I never thought I’d see the day when Jesse Ward would fall to his knees for a woman.’
‘You mean you hoped you would never see the day.’
‘Yes, I hoped. I also hoped that you’d run a mile when you found out about The Manor.’
I did run a mile, but I went back. It didn’t take Sarah’s intervention to get me running after I discovered the drunken Jesse, though. I look at the woman across the table from me, and I feel sorry for her. I hate myself for it, but I do. ‘Sarah, he classes you as a friend.’ I can’t believe I’m trying to make this woman feel better after everything she’s done.
‘Yes, he does.’ She really laughs this time, but then she frowns and returns to stirring her coffee. ‘After what you did, and seeing how he reacted to that, it made me realise how stupid I’d been. He deserves happiness. He deserves you. You love him despite The Manor, what he did, and his problem with alcohol. You love him in his entirety.’ She smiles. ‘You’ve made him feel. I should never have tried to take that away from him.’