I turn myself back to the bar, all calm and unruffled, but I’m quietly raging. He just can’t help himself. ‘If you don’t go to that kitchen, change my order and get me a glass of wine, then I’m one step closer to moving in with my parents for the rest of this pregnancy.’ I know he’s looking at me now. I can feel his shocked greens burning a hole in my profile. I take my glass of water and slowly turn my face to his. ‘You are not trampling my diet, Ward.’
‘You’ve already got yourself pissed while you were pregnant.’ he spits quietly. He’s not happy, but neither am I.
‘I was mad with you.’ I still sound calm, but now I feel guilty, too.
His eyebrows shoot up. ‘So you thought you would take it out on my baby?’
I soak up the resentment pouring from him. ‘You keep saying my baby. It’s ours.’
‘That’s what I meant!’
‘You’re not worried about me, then? It’s not my safety anymore?’ I watch him carefully, weighing up his reaction to my words.
I’ve shocked him because he’s not coming back with a counter attack. He’s just severely chomping on that bottom lip, his mind’s cogs racing at a million miles per hour. He finally sags, swinging away from me on his stool, his hands diving straight into his messy array of dark blonde. ‘Fucking hell,’ he curses quietly. ‘Fucking, fuck, fuck, fuck!’
‘I mean it, Jesse.’ I reinforce my threat. I need him to know that I’m not setting myself up for this. I was wrong to go out and get myself pissed up, aware that I’m pregnant, but it was only a result of what this man does to me—what this man spikes in me. I won’t be getting pissed again, but a small glass of red wine won’t hurt and a half cooked steak is harmless. Don’t even get me started on the eggs.
I see his eyes clench shut and he takes a deep breath before turning towards my calm face. He takes my water and places it on the bar, and then holds my hands in his. ‘I’m sorry.’
I very nearly fall off my stool. ‘You are?’ There is no escaping the shock in my voice. Even if I was threatening him with confidence, I had absolutely no faith that he would take any notice of me.
‘I am. I’m sorry. This is going to take some getting used to.’
I laugh. ‘Jesse, this is hard enough to cope with, without dealing with an enhanced control freak. It’s not something I planned or even considered. I don’t need you on my case, analysing every move I make, monitoring everything that passes my lips. Please don’t make this tougher than it already is.’ I started on a laugh, but that little speech just ended completely seriously. I mean every word, and he knows it. His sorry eyes confirm it. I know he can’t help it, but he must. I need to work heavily on some reassurance, and then perhaps he might ease up. It’s an ambitious thought when he’s hardly learnt to control his challenging ways when it comes to only me.
I let out an almighty sigh and stand up, positioning myself between his legs. ‘I want my baby to have a daddy. Please, try to reduce the risk of a stress induced heart attack by chilling out a little.’ I kiss every part of his face that I can lay my lips on, and he lets me.
‘Hmmm. I’ll work on it, baby. I’m really trying, but can we at least compromise?’
I feel his hand slide onto my head and grasp my hair, pulling my busy lips away from him. He pouts. ‘Please don’t drink.’ His eyes are pleading with me, and I realise all too quickly how important it is to him. He’s a recovering alcoholic, even if he won’t admit it. For me to chuck alcohol down my throat in normal circumstances would be thoughtless. While I’m carrying his baby would be way past that. It would be cruel.
‘I won’t.’ I agree, and the relieved look that washes over his face makes me feel awful. Really really awful. ‘Go and get me a medium cooked steak.’ I peck his lips and pull out of his hold, placing myself back on my stool. ‘And I’d like that dressing on my salad.’ I nod past him.
He gives my cheek a quick stroke and leaves me at the bar to go and fulfil his obligation of getting his pregnant wife a medium cooked steak.
As my eyes wander around the bar, I immediately notice that it’s busy, something I was oblivious to when Jesse brought me in here and while we were busy sniping at each other, and subsequently making friends. Did they hear anything? Oh God, have we just revealed to a bar full of members that I’m expecting? My eyes flick across various groups, all drinking and chatting, but the curious interest that always surrounds me when I’m here is ever present. I spot Natasha in the corner with voice one and voice three, and I’m mortified when her eyes drop to my stomach. My face heats, and I swing back towards the bar, hastily escaping her inquisitive, intent look. It’s so easy to forget there’s a world happening around us when we’re so wrapped up in each other, whether we’re arguing, making friends or just plain getting our fix of each other.
‘Evening, Ava.’ Drew’s reserved tone pulls my attention in his direction, and I’m more than thrown to find him in jeans. He has a formal shirt tucked in and his black hair is perfectly placed, as usual, but jeans?
‘Hi,’ I can’t help my eyes making repeat up and down motions over his body, and when he shifts uncomfortably, I realise that he’s caught me making my examinations. I quickly snap myself out of my rude observations. ‘How are you?’
‘I’m good. And you?’ He nods at Mario, who promptly collects a beer from a fridge and delivers it to Drew.
‘Oh, congratulations,’ he raises his bottle and takes a swing.
I gape at him. He knows, too?
‘Never thought I’d see the day.’ He shakes his head.
‘Yes!’ Mario sings. ‘A baby!’
My exhale of exasperation is loud, just as I intended it to be. I hope it reached the ears of my darling husband in the kitchen, where he’s ensuring my steak is pink in the middle. ‘Thank you,’ is all I can think to say. That is until Jesse walks back into the bar, and I start mentally preparing my words as he walks towards me.
He gets in first, though. ‘Just remember, none of our business.’
‘What?’ I frown at him as he gives me a warning look, which would be fine, if I knew why I was receiving a warning. ‘What are you talking about?’
He rolls his eyes and grabs his water from the bar, and then I see them.
Sam and Kate.
‘What the hell?’ I jump up from my stool, only to be placed back on it before I can launch into my rant.
‘Ava,’ His tone is clipped and stern, not that I’ll take any notice, but then it very quickly occurs to me that Sam is oblivious to Kate’s straying ways, as is Jesse, so I aim my aggravation at my husband instead. ‘Who else have you told?’
His warning face soon drops. ‘A few.’
My lips purse. ‘You’ve told everyone, haven’t you?’ I can’t believe this man. My poor parents don’t even know that they’re going to be grandparents yet.
‘I might have.’
‘Jesse,’ I moan, completely deflated.
His adorable face takes the edge off my irritation slightly, and then he shrugs guiltily, completely diminishing the rest of my exasperation. ‘Can we visit my in-laws this weekend?’ he asks quietly.
‘Well, yes. We’d better before news travels and makes it to Cornwall before we do.’
He grins at me and stoops down to seal our mouths, his hand landing on my stomach and caressing my non-bump, while his tongue caresses my mouth. ‘You make me a very happy man, Mrs Ward.’
‘That’s because I’m letting you trample all over me at the moment.’
‘No, it’s because you’re beautiful, spirited, and all mine.’
‘My Man!’ Sam’s happy greeting distracts us from our moment. He claps Jesse’s shoulder and stands me up, looking me up and down. ‘I can tell,’ he says, staring at my tummy before lifting his sparkling blues. ‘You’ve got that healthy glow about you.’
I actually laugh, and I’m dying to ask if any of these happy well-wishers know of the circumstances surrounding my pregnancy. ‘That’s funny because I mostly feel like shit.’ I quip.
‘Mouth, Ava!’ Jesse snaps, but I snub him and move past Sam to take Kate’s hand. ‘Let’s sit over in the corner.’ I smile sweetly and lead her away from the bar. Her pale face is cautious, and it bloody well should be, but she doesn’t resist, letting me direct her away from the men to a little table in the quietest part of the busy bar.
I practically push her into a chair. ‘Okay, Matthews. Spill.’ We’ve got way past the fun excuses, so she’d better not even try. Not now my brother is involved, even if I don’t particularly like him at the moment.
‘So,’ she begins, all chirpy and unfazed by my sharp order, ‘It’s official then?’
‘What?’ I sit down opposite her.
‘The baby,’ she nods at my stomach. ‘You’re not getting rid of it.’
‘Kate!’ I blurt on a shocked whisper, making a quick check of the nearby tables. We’re safe, but her hard-hearted words have hit a nerve and for the first time since all of this sank in, my hand rests on my tummy protectively. And I feel untold guilt.
She smiles. ‘Ava, I knew you’d never see that through.’
I’m a little speechless. ‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner?’
‘You needed to figure it out.’ She looks across to the men, who are all chatting at the bar. ‘I don’t get him, but look at that face.’ she says, smiling fondly at Jesse. ‘I was a breath away from telling him, Ava.’
I knew she would be. I follow her eyes and see a very happy man, but he’s always happy when we’re together, or he’s always happy when I’m conceding to him and his impossible ways. Whichever, I can’t deny how happy it makes me to see him like this and to know it’s me who does it—me and now his little peanut, too. Jesse catches my eye and flips me a wink, sending a comforting, warm shot of contentment deep into my heart, but then I remember that I have a friend with some explaining to do.
‘Hey!’ I blurt across the table. ‘It’s time to explain yourself.’
Kate returns her body forward and gives me a tired look. I don’t appreciate it. ‘I’ve told your brother to go back to Australia.’
‘Oh?’ I lean forward, utterly rapt by this news. ‘And is he?’
She shrugs. ‘I don’t know, but I haven’t heard from him since Saturday.’
‘I knew he was there.’ I’m scowling. ‘What happened?’
‘Sam happened.’ she answers quietly. ‘It’s not ideal, but we’re going to work on it.’
‘You mean The Manor?’
‘Then why are you here now?’ I ask. If they are working on eradicating The Manor and all things kink from their relationship, then wouldn’t it make sense to avoid this place?
‘We’re having a drink.’
‘But won’t you be tempted to…’ I can feel myself burning red, and I could kick myself for it. ‘you know…’ I look up at the ceiling. ‘get your fix?’
Kate bursts into a hysterical fit of laughter, her palms hitting the table, making me jump back. ‘Oh, Ava. Considering you’re married to the man who owns this place, your primness is laughable.’
‘Clearly,’ I scoff, a little offended. I am not prim.
She gets her laughter under control and smiles fondly at me. I might not be delighted by her humour, but I’m more than happy to see her back to her old self. ‘We’re only going to have sex with each other from now on.’ Her face is somewhere between amusement and complete seriousness—amusement because I know my mouth has just fallen open, and seriousness because I know that despite her open-mindedness and blasé approach to her relationship with Sam, she really likes him, and that has never happened.