I’m sitting in a stunned silence, just staring at her, with not a clue of what to say in response. What do I say to that? ‘You want your job back.’ So I say that?
Her eyes widen. ‘I don’t think that can happen, do you?’
No, it couldn’t. Despite her confessions, I could never trust her or even like her. I can feel a little sorry for her, but I could never invite her back into our lives. I’ve never asked Jesse what happened when he fired her. He made it clear it wasn’t up for discussion and being delighted that she was out of the picture, I didn’t push it. But now, more than ever, I really want to know what happened during that conversation.
‘You must have seen him with many women. Why target me?’ I ask, although I already know the answer to that question.
‘You were different, that was obvious. Jesse Ward doesn’t pursue women. Jesse Ward doesn’t take women back to his home. Jesse Ward doesn’t not drink. You’ve changed that man. You’ve done what many women have tried and failed to do for many years, Ava. You’ve won The Lord.’ She stands up. ‘Congratulations, Mrs Ward. Take care of him. Make him happy. He deserves it.’
As I watch her back disappear out of Starbucks, I feel tearful again. I’ve won The Lord. I’ve changed him. I’ve made him stop drinking and fucking around. I’ve made him feel and love. And he does love. He loves really hard, and I love him really hard, too. I need to see him. I really need to see him. Damn Ruth Quinn and her demanding arse.
I jump up and race to the car park to collect my present, calling Kate on the way.
‘What did she say?’ she screeches down the phone before it’s even rung.
‘Apologised.’ I’m a little breathless. ‘Anyway, I’m keeping the baby.’
She laughs at me. ‘Of course you are, you stupid cow.’
I smile as I run towards the car park, keen to get my appointment with Ruth out of the way so I can get to Jesse.
* * *
‘Ava!’ Her smiley face almost irritates me.
‘Hi, Ruth.’ I practically push past her into the shell of a kitchen, doing a quick analyse. Everything looks like it’s on track. Nothing is jumping out as being a problem. ‘I can’t stay long, Ruth. I have another meeting.’ I turn to face her.
‘Oh? Coffee?’ She looks hopeful.
‘No, really. What’s the problem?’ I ask, trying to prompt her along, but she doesn’t look like she’s in a hurry as she meanders over to a makeshift table and starts faffing with a mug.
‘I’ll just make myself one, and we can go sit in the lounge where it’s less dusty.’
I screw my face up in frustration. ‘I’m sorry, I double booked, Ruth. Can we re-arrange?’ I’m feeling panicky.
‘Oh. It won’t take long.’ She carries on about her slow business, while I shift impatiently behind her. You would think she was doing this on purpose. ‘Did you have a good weekend with your parents?’
The question throws me, but I quickly engage my brain before I drop myself in it. ‘Oh, yes, thank you.’
‘Are you sure you don’t want a coffee?’ She lazily strolls over to the fridge to get the milk.
‘No, honestly.’ I can’t help the irritation in my tone.
‘It’s funny. I was sure that I saw you on Friday evening.’ she says casually. ‘In a bar. What’s it called?’ She pours the milk leisurely and stirs even slower. ‘That’s it. Baroque on Piccadilly.’
‘Oh?’ Shit! ‘Yes, I joined a few work friends. Nothing much. I left Saturday morning to visit my parents.’ My fingers are twisting wildly in my hair. Why am I even lying to her? What I do and when I do it is none of her business.
She turns with a smile, but then her eyes fall on my left hand and there is no mistaking the eye bulge. I look at my diamond adorned ring finger and suddenly feel uneasy. ‘You’ve never said you were married.’ she laughs. ‘I feel so stupid! There’s me, telling you to steer clear of all men, and all along you were married!’ She actually starts blushing, and a horrible realisation kicks in.
She’s gay! Oh no! Oh fucking hell! That would explain it, all of the invitations to drinks, the persistent calling and meetings, and now her eyes bulging at my rings. She fancies me. Now I really do feel uncomfortable.
‘Wait there.’ She frowns. ‘I remember you saying you had a boyfriend,’ Her frown deepens. ‘And you didn’t have any rings on last week.’
I shift on my heels. ‘I only recently got married.’ I’m not going into this. ‘My rings were being re-sized.’ I can’t look at her. She’s attractive, but not like that.
‘Why didn’t you say?’ She sounds offended.
Why didn’t I say? Lots of reasons! ‘It was a low-key affair. Just family.’ Would she have expected an invite, or would she have tried to stop me? All this talk is making me want to get to Jesse even more. Should I tell her that I’m pregnant too? By, the look on her face, it would probably finish her off. She looks hurt. ‘Ruth, I really must ask what you wanted to discuss so I can remedy it and get going. I’m sorry to do this.’
She makes an obviously bad job of hiding her alarm and giving me a fake smile. ‘No, you go. It can wait.’
I’m relieved but shocked. Maybe this was the best thing that could’ve happened. Will she ease off on the persistent offers of drinks and meetings? I can’t believe I didn’t see this before. A woman who looks like this with no man? I don’t dwell on it for long, though. I’m itching to escape, and not just because I have a female admirer.
‘Thank you, Ruth. We’ll re-arrange.’ I don’t hang around. I exit hastily and wave my arm over my shoulder as I do. I’m such a fool.
I run down the path and jump into my shiny new car, nearly breaking down in tears when Angel hits my eardrums.
* * *
I frantically stab at the button on the intercom, but after a few agonising minutes, the gates still aren’t opening, so I dive into my bag and retrieve my phone to dial him. It rings once.
‘The gates won’t open!’ I sound distressed and crazy, but I’m going out of my mind with the need to see him.
‘Hey, calm down.’ He sounds equally anxious. ‘Where are you?’
‘I’m at the gates! I’ve been pressing the button, but no one’s opening them!’
‘Ava, stop it. You’re worrying me.’
‘I need you.’ I sob, finally giving in to the overwhelming guilt that’s been looming deep inside of me for days. ‘Jesse, I need you.’
I can hear his laboured breathing down the phone. He’s running. ‘Pull down the sun visor, baby.’
I look up through my tears and yank down the white leather, finding two small black devices. I don’t wait for his instruction. I press them both and the gates start to swing open. I throw my phone on the passenger seat and bang my foot down on the accelerator, immediately zooming forward. I’m crying hard now, painful, aching, heavy tears as I weave up the tree lined driveway in a blur until I see Jesse’s Aston Martin come speeding from the other direction. I slam my brakes on and jump out, running at full pelt toward him.
He looks absolutely terrified as he flies from his car, leaving the door open, and sprints towards his crazy, hysterical wife. I can’t help it, I’m freaking him out, but this sudden clarity has sent me into a panic attack. I’ve lost control of my emotions. The cold hearted bitch I’ve been is suddenly melting and letting me see things clearly.
Our bodies’ crash together, and I’m immediately engulfed by him, every hard muscle pushed up against me as I’m lifted and held tight to his body. I sob relentlessly into his neck as he paces around the driveway just holding me. I’m so stupid. I’m such a stupid, selfish, heartless cow.
‘Jesus, Ava.’ he pants into my neck.
‘I’m sorry.’ I still sound frantic, even though I feel a million times better for being in his arms.
‘Nothing. I just needed to see you.’ I grip him tighter. I can’t get him close enough.
‘Fucking hell, Ava! Please, explain!’ He tries to release me, but I firm up my already iron hold, refusing to let him put me down. ‘Ava?’
‘Can we go home?’
‘No! Not until you tell me why the fuck you’re in such a state.’ he shouts, battling with my clutching arms. I’m no match for him. He soon detaches me from his body and stands me in front of him, scanning every square inch of my figure as he holds the tops of my arms. ‘What’s going on?’
‘I’m pregnant.’ I sob. ‘I lied to you. I’m sorry.’
He physically starts twitching and drops me, stepping back, his eyes wide, his frown line deep. ‘What?’
I brush my rolling tears away and drop my eyes to the floor. I feel so ashamed of myself. He’s no saint, but while he was trying to make life, I was thinking about destroying it. That really is unforgivable, not that I could ever tell him what I was thinking. ‘You make me so mad.’ I whisper pitifully. ‘You make me mad and then you make me so happy. I didn’t know what to do.’ It’s a feeble and pathetic excuse.
When a few silent, awkward moments have past, and he still hasn’t spoken, I chance a glance at him. He looks in shock.
‘Fuck! Ava, are you trying to get me sectioned?’ His hands delve into his hair, and he looks up to the sky. ‘Are you fucking with my mind because I really don’t need this, lady. I’ve just got my head around you not pregnant, and now you are?’
‘I always have been.’
His head drops and so do his hands. They just dangle by his sides as he studies me closely, a disbelieving look on his face. ‘When were you going to tell me?’
‘When I accepted it.’ I don’t even think I’m lying, and my lack of need to try and restrain my natural reflex is telling me so. Maybe I was trying to make the most of dominant Jesse before he starts treating me like glass again. I don’t even know. I’ve been so stupid.
‘We’re having a baby?’ He barely whispers the words, and I nod my confirmation. I can’t talk. His eyes fall from mine to my stomach and linger for a while, and then I see a tear trickle down his cheek. It enflames the guilt further, but when he drops to his knees, I lose complete control of my own weeping. I’m just standing and crying, watching his slumped body silently shedding tears in front of me. I really have fucked with his head, as if he needs it where I’m concerned.
My natural response to my beautiful, neurotic man’s reaction is to walk straight to him and join him on the floor. My arms creep over his shoulders and hold him tight to me as he sobs into my neck, his hands drifting all over my back, like he’s checking that I’m really here.
‘I’m so sorry.’ I say quietly.
He doesn’t speak. He stands and lifts me with him before taking me to his car and depositing me in the passenger seat, remaining silent as he buckles me in. Taking his phone from the inside pocket of his suit jacket, he shuts the door before walking off and making a call while he moves my new car to the side of the driveway.
He returns and puts my bag between my feet before driving us home in complete silence.
He still hasn’t said a word by the time we pull up at Lusso. He gets out and collects me, walking me straight past a cautious looking Casey and putting me in the penthouse elevator. I glance up at him, but he’s keeping his gaze pointed forward, not even meeting my eyes when I look at him in the reflection of the doors. When he opens the door into the penthouse, Cathy appears from the kitchen, her happy smile dropping away as soon as she notices her cheerfulness isn’t being reciprocated.