He pulls away, unhooks my legs and lets me slide down the wall to my feet, and then he rearranges his groin area while observing my shocked face under hooded eyes. ‘Would love to, but I’m late.’
‘You bastard.’ I spit, trying desperately to compose myself. It’s no good. Why bother pretending to be unaffected? It’ll never work. I stoop and grab my bag before pushing the door open and clinking on my frustrated heels through the foyer.
‘Good Morning, Ava.’ Clive’s fresh, happy tone irritates me.
I just about manage a low grunt as I pass, walking out into the sunshine and putting my sunglasses on, immediately loving the fact that my present isn’t here, but my Mini is. He’ll have to let me out, and he’d better. I jump in and start her up, and there’s an immediate tap on my window. ‘Yes?’ I ask as the glass pane lowers.
‘I’ll take you to work.’ It’s that tone, but I couldn’t give a toss.
I do the window back up. ‘No, thank you.’ I reverse out of the space, taking care not to run his feet over, before pulling my phone from my bag and dialling Lusso. ‘Morning, Clive.’ My greeting is a million miles away from the grunt that I’ve just given the old boy.
‘Yes, sorry to be a pain. Could you open the gates?’
‘Of course. I’ll do it now.’
‘Thank you, Clive.’ A smug, private smile breaks the corners of my lips, and I chuck my phone on the passenger’s seat as the gates start to open. I don’t hang around. I drive straight out of the car park, catching Jesse’s arms waving around above his head before he stalks back into the foyer.
* * *
After driving up and down the car park forever, looking for a space, I finally fall through the office doors a whole half an hour late. I’m still slightly sweaty, I’m even more out of breath and my frustration is obvious, especially when I throw my bag across my desk and it takes my pen pot with it, the loud clatter attracting the attention of my work colleagues, who all poke their heads out of the kitchen to see what the commotion is all about.
‘Feeling better?’ Tom asks, his inquisitive gaze running the length of my clammy form.
‘Yes!’ I bark, wrenching my bag to the floor and collapsing into my chair. I take a few calming breaths and turn my swivel chair towards the kitchen, finding three sets of raised eyebrows. ‘What?’
‘You look terrible,’ Victoria pipes up. ‘Maybe you should’ve stayed off work.’
‘I can pick you a Starbucks up,’ Sally offers sweetly.
I soften my scowling face at the expressions all pointed at me, which have now turned from curious to concerned. I forgot that I was supposedly ill yesterday. ‘Thanks, Sal. That would be lovely.’
She walks over to her desk and pulls some money from the petty cash tin. ‘Anyone else?’
Tom and Victoria both shout their orders at Sal, who barely holds back to hear them before leaving office promptly, probably to escape my obvious foul mood. I turn my computer on and load up my email account. Tom and Victoria are standing at the end of my desk in a blink of an eye.
‘You look pasty.’ Tom observes, twirling a pen in his fingers, his turquoise shirt and yellow tie playing havoc with my tired eyes.
‘Really pale, Ava. Are you sure you’re okay?’ Victoria sounds and looks more concerned than Tom, who just looks damn right suspicious.
I start flicking through my email, highlighting and deleting the mass of junk and promotional rubbish. ‘I’m fine. Where’s Patrick?’ It’s only now, when I’ve calmed slightly, that I’ve noticed my boss hasn’t come to investigate the noise.
‘Personal meetings.’ they chant in unison, and I look up on a frown.
‘Wasn’t he in private meetings yesterday?’
‘He’ll be in tomorrow.’ Tom tells me. ‘Do you think he’s finally divorcing Irene?’
I actually laugh. ‘No!’ She might drive Patrick around the twist, but he loves her dearly.
‘Ooh, I didn’t think of that.’ Victoria’s blue eyes are wide. ‘Did you see that thing she had on at your wedding?’
‘Yes!’ Tom shrieks. ‘A crime!’
Victoria laughs as she walks back to her desk, and I look back at Tom. He is in no position to pass judgment on other peoples fashion sense.
‘What?’ he asks, running his eyes down his own garish torso. ‘Fabulous, isn’t it?’
‘Stunning.’ I laugh, turning my attention back to my computer, leaving Tom dancing his way back to his side of the office.
The office door opens and a woman with a basket draped over her arm walks in. ‘Ava Ward?’ She looks at Tom, and then follows his pointed pen over to me.
‘Hi,’ I say as she makes it to my desk and rests her hamper on the edge. ‘Can I help you?’ I don’t recognise her.
She pulls the gingham towel from the top of the carrier and my eyes naturally follow her hand into it. ‘Breakfast,’ She smiles, placing a paper bag in front of me, and then reaches back in, pulling out a takeaway coffee cup. ‘My coffee wasn’t good enough, so he had me pick one up from Starbucks. Cappuccino, extra shot, no chocolate or sugar.’ She doesn’t sound impressed. ‘Enjoy.’ And with that she turns and walks out.
I sigh and push the bag to the side. I’m not in the least bit hungry, but I’m dying for some coffee. I take a sip and immediately screw my face up at the bitter taste. ‘Ewww,’
‘All right?’ Tom frowns across the office at me.
‘Fine,’ I stand and take myself into the kitchen, removing the lid from my coffee and tipping sugar into the cup before giving it a good stir and taking another sip. I hum in sweet satisfaction.
‘Coffee for Ava!’ Sally walks into the kitchen, waving a Starbucks cup at me. ‘Oh?’ A look of complete confusion invades her face as she watches me gulping down the hot, sweet liquid.
I exhale happily. ‘Delivered, courtesy of my husband.’
She melts. ‘That’s so sweet.’
‘No, it wasn’t, actually. But I added a few myself.’ I walk past a puzzled looking Sal, back to my desk and dig through my bag when I hear my phone shout the arrival of a text.
Are you eating your breakfast?
I take another swig of my coffee and text back;
No thank you because I’m really not very grateful. I feel queasy, but the sweet coffee is going down a treat. I don’t get a chance to put my phone down before it chimes again.
I’m so glad our marriage is based on honesty.
My eyes instinctively lift and there he is, holding a bunch of calla lilies and with an annoyed glare drilling into me. I can’t prevent the long, drawn out exhale of air that rushes from my mouth as I lower myself to my chair. He strides over, giving Tom and Victoria a nod in greeting before sinking his tall, leanness into a chair on the other side of my desk, placing the flowers in front of me. ‘Eat.’ he orders flatly, nodding at the paper bag that’s been shoved to the side.
‘I’m not hungry, Jesse.’ I’m whining, but I can’t muster up the energy to retaliate or snap at him.
He leans forward, looking worried, his eyes evaluating my face. ‘Baby, you look pale.’
‘I feel rubbish.’ I admit. Finally morning sickness at the correct time of day. There is no point in feigning fine because I absolutely don’t feel it and I clearly don’t look it.
He rises and comes to stand behind my chair, leaning down and placing his palm across my brow and his mouth to my ear. ‘You’re hot.’
‘I know.’ I sigh, pushing my cheek to his mouth, my eyes closing with no instruction from my brain. How can I feel so exhausted still? ‘I hope you feel guilty.’ I say quietly. This is all his fault. I’m feeling sorry for myself.
I’m released and my chair swivelled around to face him. He crouches in front of me and takes my hands. ‘Let me take you home.’ he says, but I can tell by his pleading face that he knows I’ll refuse.
‘You’re impossible sometimes.’ He reaches up to cup my cheek. ‘Pregnancy is making you moody and even more defiant.’
I force a small smile. ‘I like keeping you on your toes.’
‘You mean you like keeping me crazy.’
Sighing, he leans in and kisses me sweetly. ‘Please eat.’ He’s begging, not demanding. ‘It might make you feel better.’
‘Okay.’ I agree. I’m willing to try because even though the thought of swallowing food makes me want to gag, I couldn’t possibly feel any worse than I already do.
He looks a little surprised at my lack of disobedience. ‘Good girl,’
I’m turned back towards my desk and presented with the paper bag, and as I open it, the waft of bacon hits my nose and I do actually gag. ‘I don’t think I can.’ I snap the bag shut again, but it’s soon whipped from my hand, the bagel unpacked and placed on a napkin in front of me. As I gingerly pick at a corner and bring it to my lips, I’m fighting the overwhelming desire to run to the toilets and shove my fingers down my throat. I chew slowly for an age, under the watchful eye of my worried husband, then I swallow. I don’t retch. ‘Can I just eat the bagel?’ I pick at another piece. I can’t face the bacon.
He smiles down at me. ‘Yes. Do you see how happy you make me when you do what you’re told?’
I ignore him and pop the bread in my mouth, each chew becoming easier, each swallow instigating less stomach turning. He just stands and watches me until I’ve worked my way through most of my breakfast, leaving the bacon and a few scraps of bread to the side. ‘Happy?’ I ask. I know I am. I feel better already.
‘Your colours back. Yes, I’m happy.’ He scoops up the remains and throws it in the bin, and then bends down, getting nose to nose with me. ‘Thank you.’ he grins, and I grin right back. ‘My work here is done.’ He pushes his lips to mine. ‘Now I’ll leave my wife to work in peace.’
I scoff. ‘No you won’t.’
Pulling back, he hits me with a cheeky grin. ‘I might check in once or twice.’
I scoff again. ‘No you won’t!’
‘I won’t make a promise I can’t keep. Is Patrick here?’ His question reminds me that I still haven’t spoken to my boss about Mikael.
‘No. He’s in meetings all day.’
He straightens, flicking his eyes to my hair, clearly looking for signs of my fiddling fingers. He won’t find them there because Patrick is in meetings. ‘You’ve made me late.’ he says, looking down at his Rolex.
‘You make yourself late.’ I shoo him away and pick up my flowers to put them in water. ‘Go.’
He holds his hands up and starts backing away from me. ‘Feeling better?’
‘I do. Thank you.’ Now I really am very grateful.
Blessing me with his smile, reserved only for me, he winks, blows a kiss and walks out, leaving me with a little grin on my non-pale face, Victoria and Sal smiling fondly and Tom swooning at my Lord’s back.
They’re all still so affected.
* * *
I make it to the end of the day with my breakfast still in my stomach. I feel so much better. Jesse has text me five times, each one asking how I feel, my answer the same for every reply. Better.
The final message asks a different question, though.
I’m still at The Manor. Come? We’ll have steak.
The last bit gets me.
On my way x
I pack my desk up and wave a goodbye to all of my colleagues, meeting a woman holding a bunch of flowers at the door.
‘Ava O’Shea?’ she asks. It’s not the usual florist, and she called me by my maiden name. Jesse would absolutely never do that and he already sent me flowers today, anyway.