I snap my mouth shut and retreat back a little. ‘What do you mean, you know?’
‘I know she’s in love with me.’
‘Of course I do, Ava. I’m not fucking stupid.’
I scoff. ‘You obviously are! You’ll trample anyone who tries to take me away from you, yet right under your nose, she’s doing the best job and you’re choosing to ignore it!’ I swing around and stamp my way into the kitchen. I need some water to sooth my scratchy throat.
‘I didn’t just let it go unsaid, Ava. I had it out with her and she admitted and regretted it all.’
‘Of course she regrets it. She failed! She’s probably regretting not doing a better job.’ I slam my glass down on the worktop. ‘And you may as well have let it go unsaid. Did you offer burial or cremation?’
His face screws up. ‘What?’
‘The usual option you give people who hurt me. Did you offer it to Sarah?’
‘No, I offered her a job in return for her word that she’ll never interfere again. I told her that if you say so, she’s out.’
‘I say so!’ I shout. ‘I say she’s out!’
‘But she hasn’t done anything.’
I look at the thick skinned idiot across the worktop in disbelieve. ‘She’s not done anything?’
His eyes close and he exhales long and wearily. ‘I mean she’s not done anything since I reinstated her. And you rewarded her with a tidy crack to the jaw for the stuff that came before.’
‘Why are you doing this? You know how I feel, Jesse.’
‘Because she’s desperate, Ava. She has no life past The Manor.’
‘You feel sorry for her?’ I ask more calmly. I love everything about this man, except his sudden empathy for all of these historical women who are trying to sabotage our relationship. Look what he did to Matt, for Christ’s sake.
‘Ava, first of all, I want you to calm down because it’s not good for you or the babies.’
‘I am calm!’ I screech, lifting my glass with wobbly hands. I’m far from calm.
He sighs and cocks his head to crack his neck, almost like he’s alleviating some stress. I have no idea what he’s so stressed about. Let me tell him that I’ll continue to work for Mikael and see what reaction that sparks. It’s the same principle, kind of.
He walks over to me, takes the glass from my hand and picks me up, placing me on the worktop. My jaw is seized and pulled up to meet his face. I maintain my scowl, looking at him through pissed off eyes.
‘Sarah has nothing. I kicked her out when she came clean, and thought no more of it.’ He takes a deep breath. ‘Until John spoke with her and she was saying all kinds of fucked up shit, the most worrying part mentioning death being better than living her life without me.’
My suspicious mind instantly makes me think that it’s another ploy to nab him. I can’t help it. ‘Attention seeker.’ I snipe, still scowling. Her past actions are a clear indication to what lengths she’ll go to.
‘I thought so, too, but John wasn’t so sure. He found her. She’d slashed her wrists and taken a pile of pain killers.’ He raises his eyebrows as I recoil. ‘It was no cry for help, Ava. There was no attention seeking about it. John only just got her to the hospital in time. She wanted to die.’
My brain is failing me on all counts. There are plenty of sensible questions that I should be asking, but nothing is coming to me. I’m blank.
‘I don’t want another death on my conscience, baby. I live with Jake’s every single day. I can’t do it.’
I choke on sympathy. ‘She came to see me.’ I say. I don’t know where it comes from.
‘She told me.’ He reaches up and cups my cheek. ‘But I’m surprised you never mentioned this before.’
What can I say? That Sarah’s words were, in fact, the reason for my clarity? That she was the reason I turned up at The Manor in such a state? ‘I didn’t think it was important.’ I answer feebly. Does he know exactly when Sarah paid me a visit, because if he does, then surely he’ll know that a couple of hours later, I was a deranged wreck, desperate to see him.
‘It was Sarah who told Matt about my drinking.’ He starts biting his lip.
I recoil further, and his hand drops from my face. That’s how Matt found out? ‘Is that how you knew I was collecting my clothes from Matt’s too?’
He nods. ‘She said she’d overheard you on the phone, telling someone you were intending to pick your stuff up. I was too mad to piece it together. I saw red, acted on impulse and asked questions later.’
So her list of misdemeanours goes further. I desperately do not want to feel sorry for her. ‘She said she couldn’t work for you anymore.’ I remind him. ‘So how come she is?’
‘I asked her. I’ll never find someone else to do the job, which means I’ll have to do it, and I’m not prepared to give up my time with you. And you should know, she only accepted on the condition that you were okay with it.’
If I’m okay with it? That makes me feel like total shit. So the future of Sarah has been placed in my hands? If I say no, will she try to top herself again? And if I agree, will I be facing another round of Sarah trying to split us up? ‘You’re not giving me much of a choice.’ I mutter. I’m trying and failing to be logical here. I don’t want to lose Jesse to The Manor’s demands at the best of times, not least to piles of paperwork that will stress him out. I’ll never see him, but if I accept this, then I’m accepting what she has done to us, and I don’t think I can do that, not even when she’s tried to kill herself. But Jesse’s words keep running on repeat in my head.
I live with Jake’s every single day. I can’t do it.
And I can’t do it to him, just because of my insecurities regarding The Manor’s resident Indiana Jones. My anxieties are justified, but Jesse’s guilt isn’t, and I can’t put him through any more than he’s already dealt with. It would be cruel and selfish. I love him too much.
He re-cups my cheeks and pierces me with green eyes full of sincerity. ‘I’ll tell her it’s a no go. I’m not prepared to see you so unhappy.’
I crumble on the inside. He’s prepared to live with the potential of further blood on his hands, even though none of this is his fault, just to keep me happy? I shake my head in his grasp. ‘No, I want you with me more than I want her gone.’
‘You do?’ He sounds surprised.
‘Of course I do, but you have to promise me something.’
‘Anything, you know that.’ He kisses my forehead.
This is not strictly true because he wouldn’t ask this of me. I’m trying to disregard the mitigating circumstances, but it’s hard to ignore a woman who’s attempted suicide because my husband doesn’t want her. ‘When the babies arrive, you won’t be at The Manor day and night. You’ll be with me as often as you can. I don’t know if I can do this.’ The fear of being alone with twins is scaring me. I don’t care that I’ve just admitted it. One baby was frightening enough. Two babies? I’m terrified, and he needs to know.
His lips curve at the edges. He finds my panic funny? ‘Ava, you’ll have to bury me six feet under before I have it any other way. You can do it because you have me.’ He wraps me in his arms and pulls me off the counter so I’m left little choice but to cling onto him with my legs around his naked hips and my arms around his naked shoulders. ‘We’re going to be okay.’
‘I know.’ I admit. I’m feeling needy, like I’m seeking constant reassurance. He’ll always give it to me, but he must be slightly concerned by my anxiousness. I’m hardly showing any motherly tendencies. Shouldn’t it be the woman reading the books and buying folic acid?
‘Let’s not fight. It makes my heart split in pain, and I don’t want you stressing out. We have to watch your blood pressure.’ He starts pacing back towards the bedroom.
I link my fingers at the nape of his neck and lean back so I can see him. ‘I’m confiscating that book.’
He grins at me. ‘That’s my book, and I’m keeping it.’
‘We need to make friends.’ I straighten my back, pulling my body into his so my nipple is at his mouth. ‘Did you read the part of the book that says a husband should service his wife as she demands?’
He bites down gently and swirls his tongue in a deliciously slow rotation, spiking a moan from me and a chuckle from him. ‘I did, but our plane is scheduled for take-off in two hours. I need more time, so I’ll service you in the tub when we get home. Deal?’
‘No deal.’ I retort, thrusting my chest to his mouth again. ‘I want to stay in Paradise.’
‘You’re incorrigible, and I love it.’ I’m lowered to the bed on a disgusted snort. ‘But we need to catch that flight.’
‘I need you.’ I grasp his cock loosely, teasingly, and he jumps away.
‘Ava, when I have you, I like to take my time.’ He plants a chaste kiss on my lips. ‘Pack.’
I flop back on the bed in complete pregnancy fuelled exasperation. My time in Paradise is up.
I’m barely functioning by the time we pull up at Lusso. I’ve slept for the best part of the journey, and I’m still beat. I don’t even attempt to get out of the car when the ignition is switched off and Jesse unclips my seatbelt for me. I stay sunken in the leather until I’m physically removed. I just about manage to rip my eyes open when we’re in the elevator, just so I can refresh my sleepy mind of his beauty. He negotiates the locks, kicks the door open and closed again, and carries me up the stairs. My eyes are still closed, but I recognise the familiar, squidgy surface of the master-suite’s bed when I’m placed on it.
‘I’ll start the bath and get the cases. Will you be okay?’
‘Hmmm.’ I roll onto my side. I can’t even be bothered to have a bath with Jesse, and that is unheard of. I hear him laugh lightly and the running of water from the en-suite, and then he’s picking me up again. ‘I thought you were getting the cases.’ I mumble.
‘I already did, Ava. You drifted off again.’ He places me on my tired feet and strips me down, before unclothing himself with one hand while holding me steady with the other, like he thinks I could collapse. I think I really could. I have zero energy.
I’m lifted from my feet and sunk into the bath with him, and I don’t help at all. I let him position me so I’m cradled in his arms on his lap, the side of my face settled snuggly on his shoulder. The hot water is doing nothing to wake me up.
‘I’ve missed this.’ My self-professed tub man says quietly. ‘I know you’re tired, but I just want a few minutes.’
‘Okay.’ I agree. As long as he dries me off and puts me to bed afterwards, then he can do what he likes with me.
‘And I need to service you.’ he adds. My sleepy eyes snap right open, and my lusty brain quickly engages. I can definitely find the energy from somewhere for that. I go to shift, but I’m held in place as he laughs. ‘Jesus, Ava. You fucking would as well, wouldn’t you?’
‘I’m touched, but I like my wife conscious when I fuck her.’
‘Don’t say the word fuck.’ I grumble. ‘That’ll just make me want you more.’
‘Is that even possible?’ he asks seriously.
‘Probably not.’ I don’t bother scoffing at his arrogance. He’s right. ‘Let me see you.’ I complain, wriggling from his iron grip. I haul my exhausted body up and straddle his lap, reaching up to feel his nearly two days’ worth of stubble. ‘Don’t shave tomorrow.’