‘Yes, but now there are three of us for Jesse to get his knickers in a twist over.’ I grumble.
‘Crazy mother fucker.’ He laughs, revealing his gold tooth. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Do you mean being pregnant, or after the accident?’ I keep my eyes on him, gaging his reaction. I want to know if there have been any developments since we’ve been away.
‘Both, girl.’ He says no more.
‘Fine, on both counts, thank you. Any news on Jesse’s car?’ I sweep straight in. I’m comfortable enough with John to blurt out what I want.
‘Nothing for you to worry about, girl.’ he answers coolly. I might be comfortable enough to ask, but I need to remember that John is also comfortable enough to brush me off. I won’t get anything out of him. ‘How was Paradise?’ he asks in a blatant change of subject tactic.
‘It was paradise,’ I muse. ‘Until we bumped into Jesse’s parents.’ I’m not sure if I should be divulging this, but I’ve said it now and judging by the look that’s just flashed across the ever cool giant’s face, I’ve shocked him. I nod my head, confirming that he heard me right, and his shiny forehead wrinkles above his shades. ‘Amalie’s wedding got postponed because Jesse’s dad had a heart attack,’ I continue. John must be aware of the wedding, the invite, and Jesse parents living near to Paradise. He’s been around forever, according to Jesse.
‘Henry had a heart attack?’ he asks, surprised. ‘And what went down?’
‘What went down?’
‘Yes, did they speak? How was Jesse?’ John sounds really curious, which is pricking at my own curiosity.
I spill it all. ‘Jesse practically made a public announcement to the restaurant where we were eating. He told the bloody world that we were married and expecting twins.’ I pause and let John get his sudden burst of laughter under control. ‘Anyway, this woman kept staring at me and when I asked Jesse if he knew her, he went all peculiar and hauled me out of the place. His mum found us by the car, started rabbiting on about twins. You know, because Jesse was a twin.’ I watch as John nods his head thoughtfully. What is he concluding from all of this?
‘Was that it?’
‘Yes, I got him away from her. He was so upset.’
‘And afterwards, he didn’t drink?’
‘No,’ I sigh. ‘But I have a feeling he would have, had I not been there.’ I keep seeing his face, the face that resulted in binge drinking and whippings. ‘Did you know them?’
‘Not really. I don’t ask questions.’
I’m nodding to myself. I know John has been around forever, and he was Carmichael’s best friend, so he must know more than he’s letting on. ‘How’s Sarah?’
He shifts in his seat and turns that menacing face to mine. ‘Better than she was.’
I wilt in my seat. I have nothing to say to that, so I shut up, unwrap my bagel and let John drive me the rest of the way in silence.
I audibly sigh when John pulls up at the kerb. ‘What’s up, girl?’
I gather my bag and exit the car before I can convince John to drive me to The Manor. ‘It’s time to advise my boss of a certain Danish client.’
‘Oh,’ he says slowly. ‘Good luck.’
I think I actually blow the sarcastic sod a raspberry. Good luck? ‘Yeah, thanks, John.’ I quip, slamming the door and hearing that deep baritone laugh getting quieter as the car door comes between us. I take a deep breath of confidence and stride into my office. I‘ve never dreaded coming to work, but now I really do.
Tom’s screech is the first thing I hear. ‘Oh my God! Ava!’
Then I hear Victoria. ‘Oh wow, you have a real tan!’
Then I see sparkling Sal, sparkling again. ‘Ava, you look so well.’
Then I clock my desk and stop dead in my tracks. Balloons… everywhere. With babies on them. There’s a pack of nappies on my desk, too, and a How To guide on becoming a mother. But the worse thing of all, and I pick them up to check I’m seeing right, are the gigantic maternity jeans laying across the back of my chair, or covering my chair completely, more to the point. As if my morning wasn’t depressing enough, with my dress not fitting and the lack of a Jesse wake-up call, I’ve now been reminded that I’m going to look like a whale. He really has told everyone. I’m going to kill him.
‘I knew it!’ Tom scurries over to my desk. ‘I knew you were pregnant. But twins! Oh wow, this is so exciting! Will you name one after me?’
I discard the maternity wear and flop into my chair. I’ve been here two minutes and I’ve already had enough. Double babies means double excitement, as well as double weight gain and double anxiety. ‘No, Tom.’
He gasps dramatically. ‘What’s wrong with Tom?’
‘Nothing,’ I shrug. ‘I just won’t be naming any of my babies it.’ He snorts his disgust and stomps off, without even wishing me congratulations.
‘Congratulations, Ava.’ Sally bends down and hugs me. I knew I could rely on Sal. ‘Coffee?’
‘Please. Three sugars.’ I return her hug, getting Sal’s great tits thrust in my face from my seated position. ‘How are you, Sal?’
‘Amazing.’ she gushes, dancing off to the kitchen. I quickly conclude that Sal’s love life must be back on track.
‘Where’s Patrick?’ I ask to no one in particular because there’s no one standing at my baby infested desk anymore. Tom is sulking across the office, obviously ignoring me, and Victoria is daydreaming, staring at me. ‘Hello.’ I wave my hand at her.
‘Oh, sorry! I was just wondering what shade you would call that’
‘Your tan. I’d say deep bronze.’ She scribbles something down, and I know it says deep bronze. ‘So, babies now?’
I take instant defence to her tone. ‘Yes.’ My short, snappy answer pulls her head quickly from her writing pad. The long blonde locks get flicked over her shoulder and she smiles. If it’s fake, then she’s doing a great job. ‘Congratulations, Ava.’
‘Thank you,’ I smile, doing a terrible job. ‘And thanks for all this.’ I gesture to the balloons wafting around my head.
‘Oh, that was Tom.’ She returns to her computer.
‘Thanks, Tom!’ I throw a pencil across the office, catching him a treat on the side of his head. It knocks his glasses off kilter, and he gasps in shock. ‘Sorry!’ I press my lips together to supress my laugh.
‘Workplace bullying!’ he squawks, and I lose the battle to keep quiet. I start jerking in my chair as Sally places my coffee in front of me on a frown, and then turns to see what I’m laughing at. She starts chuckling, too.
‘Where’s Patrick, Sal?’ I ask, having not gotten any answer from Victoria.
‘He’ll be in at noon.’ She answers. ‘He’s not been around much.’
She shakes her head, but says no more and returns to the pile of invoices at the filing cabinet.
‘Ava,’ Tom begins, straightening out his fashion specs. ‘You need to call that Ruth. She hounded the office phone yesterday, looking for you.’
My laughing abates fast. I’d forgotten about my admirer. ‘What did she say?’ I ask casually, riffling through my bag for my phone when it occurs to me that I’ve still not turned it on. It’s been off since Thursday morning when Jesse impounded it.
‘Not much.’ He straightens his aqua tie. ‘Everything’s fine with the works. I kept your appointment with her on Thursday, but she wasn’t impressed to see me.’
I shrink into my chair on a wince as my phone comes to life in my hand and immediately starts alerting me of dozens of missed calls, texts and emails. I filter through, responding to Kate’s Welcome home! Text, and my mum’s Call me when you’re settled text, before counting the missed calls from Ruth. There are eleven, but despite the bombardment of calls from my lesbian client, it’s the two missed calls from Mikael that start my heart pumping fast. I can’t avoid this any longer and for the first time, I sit and think hard about who could be responsible for drugging me and trying to run me off the road. And then there are the dead flowers. They were from a woman, I don’t doubt it for a moment, which leads me to the same conclusion: Mikael couldn’t possibly be responsible. He’s a businessman, and a respected one at that. But what about the CCTV footage? Maybe the incidents aren’t connected at all. My money is on Coral, or perhaps Sarah. The flowers came after Sarah’s apology, though. So did the car chase. Is she playing games still? I drop my phone to the desk. My brain aches.
I twiddle my pencil, scanning my mind for my next move. It doesn’t take long. I swipe my phone up and dial Mikael. I don’t even register it ringing before his smooth, mildly accented voice comes down the line. ‘Ava, how very good to hear from you.’
‘I’m sure.’ I reply dryly. ‘Did you manage to sort your divorce out?’ I go straight for the jugular and judging by the silent span to time that follows my question, I’ve succeeded in my strategy.
‘I did,’ he says cautiously.
‘Oh good. What can I do for you Mikael?’ I’m stunned by my own confidence. I could be dealing with a lunatic here, and I’m talking to him with absolutely no respect, as a client or as a potential lunatic.
He laughs lightly. ‘It’s time we met, don’t you think?’
‘No, I don’t.’ I retort briskly. ‘I think we both know that our business relationship is over, Mr Van Der Haus.’
‘Why ever would that be?’
His question stops me in my tracks, but I soon gather myself. ‘You said it was very interesting that I’d been seeing Jesse for a month-ish.’ I’m not shying away from this.
‘Yes, except now you’re married to him and expecting his twins. I’m broken-hearted, Ava.’
I don’t gather myself so quickly this time. How the hell does he know? ‘Mr Van Der Haus,’ I’m sure to keep my voice down, scanning the office constantly. This isn’t the time or the place, but I’ve started now. I’m not finishing this conversation until I’ve said what needs to be said. I get up, beating away balloons, and pace into the conference room, shutting the door behind me. ‘Is this about Jesse and your wife?’ I know I hear a falter in his breathing, and it boosts my confidence. ‘Because I already know, so you’re wasting your time.’
‘Oh, Mr Ward’s been confessing?’
‘Your ex-wife turned up at Jesse’s home, Mikael. I’m sorry for what has happened, but I don’t see what this is going to achieve.’ I’m not sorry at all, but maybe, just maybe, I can make him see sense.
He laughs, and it prickles at my deep bronzed skin. ‘Ava, I couldn’t care less about my ex-wife. She’s a money grabbing whore. I care only for your wellbeing. Jesse Ward is not the right man for you.’
I flinch at his harsh referral to his wife and rest my backside on the edge of the conference table. ‘And you are?’ I stammer over the words, mentally scolding myself for showing any hesitance. He cares for my wellbeing?
‘Yes, I am.’ he says candidly. ‘I won’t entertain other women behind you back, Ava.’
I nearly drop my phone. He knows that, too?
‘Nevertheless,’ I’m desperately trying to find my stride again. ‘I think too much has happened for us to continue working together.’
‘Too much has happened?’ he asks. ‘And you know what he got up to when he left you?’
‘Yes,’ I grate, wondering how the hell he knows. I’ve managed to keep that issue quiet. ‘My relationship with Jesse has nothing to do with you, Mikael. I know what he did.’ It kills me to say it. ‘I’ll be speaking to Patrick and withdrawing from The Life Building project. You’re welcome to take my designs and have someone else see the contract through.’ I hang up before he can come back at me and exhale a relieved breath. I don’t know why I feel like a weight has been lifted, I’ve still got to tell Patrick, and listening to Mikael for the last few minutes has stirred more questions. I’m not sure whether I would put my life on it, but I don’t think he would go to the extremes of date rape and trying to ram me from the road, not if he wants to take me away from Jesse so I can be with him. What use am I dead? I laugh out loud in my own little private moment of comprehension. Someone tried to kill me. This is insane.