My phone dances in my hand and a quick glimpse at my screen tells me my day has only just begun. Dealing with Ruth Quinn at the moment, though, doesn’t seem like such a chore. ‘Hi, Ruth,’
‘Ava!’ She sounds surprised. ‘You never said that you were going away.’
‘Last minute, Ruth. Is everything okay?’
‘Yes, fine, but I’ve changed my mind on the cabinets for the kitchen. Can we meet to discuss?’
‘Of course,’ I only just supress my sigh. ‘I’ve got piles of paperwork to get through, so can we say tomorrow?’
‘Twelve?’ she counters, not demanding today which is a pleasant surprise.
‘I’ll see you then, Ruth.’ I hang up and make the best job of an unaffected face. It’s not hard, actually. I’m not at all affected by my last two telephone conversations. I feel empowered, like I’m taking charge to things rather than letting them take charge of me.
I land at my desk and spend the rest of my Tuesday clearing the build-up of paperwork.
* * *
Six o’clock comes around fast, and I’m the last the leave the office. Patrick didn’t return to work as planned, but called to assure me that he’d be in tomorrow. I’ll talk to him then, but I’m disappointed. I feel the compulsion to rid myself of this mind burden without delay.
I get straight into the big black Range Rover without a sigh, falter or complaint. ‘Hi, John.’
‘Girl,’ He pulls off into the traffic. ‘How was your day?’
‘Magnificent.’ he rumbles.
I get the feeling he’s being cynical. ‘Where are we going?’ I slouch back in my chair, hoping he says Lusso, but I won’t hold my breath. Jesse would’ve collected me himself if we were going home.
‘The Manor, girl. How did it go with your boss?’ He flicks his covered eyes to me, a curious look flickering across his face.
‘It didn’t. He wasn’t in today.’
‘That’ll please the crazy mother fucker.’ He laughs.
I smile my agreement. I know it will, but I can’t tell Patrick if he’s not there to tell. I can’t be blamed for it, but at least I can say that I’ve told Mikael. That’ll show my intention was there, and it really was.
* * *
I jump out the second John pulls to a stop and take the steps fast, unlocking and pushing my way through the doors. ‘He said to wait in the bar for him, girl.’ John calls to my back, but I pretend not to hear him. I’m not waiting in the bar. After having him to myself for three days, my first day back at work has been the longest ever. I hot foot it past the stairs, towards the back of The Manor and through the summer room before John can catch me. The usual gatherings of members are here, but I don’t hang around to gage the reaction to my presence.
I steam straight into Jesse’s office, without knocking and without stopping to think that I could be barging in on a business meeting. I’ve had some shocks when doing this before.
And I’m shocked now.
‘Dan?’ I say warily, staring at my brothers back. He’s sitting opposite Jesse at his desk, and he turns at the sound of his name. ‘What are you doing here?’ The sudden astronomical consequences of his visit hits me hard.
‘Hey, kiddo.’ He stands, all smiling, and makes his way over to me, stooping to hug me. ‘Congratulations.’
‘I might get to tell someone myself soon.’ I grumble, landing Jesse with a reproachful look over my brother’s shoulder. He shrugs sheepishly and pouts before mouthing I love you and pulling at his suit jacket, and then his shirt, as if reminding me that he dressed in what I asked this morning, so I should go easy on him.
‘So what are you doing here?’ I repeat, cocking my head at Jesse, but he just shrugs again and remains quiet. It’s a novelty.
‘Making amends.’ Dan releases me and runs his hand through his dark mop. ‘I didn’t want to go home without sorting this out.’
‘Oh?’ I look at Jesse, but damn him he just shrugs again. ‘So you’re friends?’
‘Something like that. Anyway, I need to shoot. I’m meeting Harvey up west.’ He turns to Jesse. ‘Thanks.’
‘No problem.’ Jesse nods, not bothering to be civil and stand to see Dan out. That and the nonchalant shrugs leaves me very suspicious.
‘When are you heading back?’ I ask when he’s facing me again.
‘I’m not sure. Depends on flights. I’ll call you, okay.’ He kisses my cheek and heads past me, meeting the big guy at the door. John shakes his menacing head at me before escorting my brother from Jesse’s office. What’s he doing here, anyway?
I point my suspiciousness at Jesse, and I know he knows what I’m thinking because he’s refusing to meet my eyes. ‘What was all that about?’
I walk over to the sofa and drop my bag down before taking the seat my brother has just vacated. ‘Look at me.’ I demand. Those three words always do the trick, but not because he’s obeying me. It’s because he’s always shocked to hear them. I don’t care. He can look at me stunned all he likes. ‘Why was Dan here?’
He stands and picks his phone up from the desk. ‘He apologised.’
I laugh in his face. Dan would never apologise, not to Jesse. I’ve known him my whole life, and I know he’s far too proud to back down, especially to a man like Jesse. Dan feels inferior, as most men do. Just because he’s my brother, doesn’t eliminate the testosterone batting between them. ‘I don’t believe you.’
‘That makes me sad, baby.’ He pulls a solemn face, which raises my suspicions further. ‘Now, tell me. What did Patrick say?’
I know my suspicious glower has just transformed into guilt, and it’s me evading his eyes now.
‘You’ve not told him, have you?’ he asks with an edge of anger in his tone. ‘Ava?’
‘He wasn’t in the office,’ I blurt quickly. ‘But he will be tomorrow, so I’ll speak to him then.
‘Too late, lady. You’ve had your chance. Again and again and again.’
‘That’s not fair.’ I argue. ‘I told Mikael I won’t be working with him anymore, so you can’t say I’m not trying to resolve this.’ I know immediately that I’ve made a grave mistake when his shoulders stiffen and his greens widen.
‘You did what?’
‘I don’t think he drugged me, Jesse. He said he wanted me, so why would he hurt me?’ I need to shut the hell up. Those words have just made his mouth drop open.
‘What the fucking hell are you doing talking to him?’ He rests his fist on the desk, like a silver backed gorilla getting ready to charge. It makes me sit back in my chair.
‘He knows that you’ve…’ I start a frantic tap on my front tooth with my nail, ‘entertained other women while we’ve been together.’ I hold my breath, knowing that I’m increasing the building fury.
‘We agreed never to speak of that again.’ He virtually grinds the words out, his jaw tense to snapping point.
‘It’s hard when people keep reminding me of it.’ I’m leaning forward now, finding a momentary spurt of braveness. I will not be made to feel like a pain in the arse on this. ‘How does he know?’ I figure the answer out before he can deny even knowing it. The chewed lip and quite a few other things, mental comprehension, mainly, bring me to a fast conclusion. Mikael’s ex-wife. ‘She was one of them, wasn’t she?’ I ask. His eyes close, and I stand up and lean across the desk, mirroring his threatening stance. He doesn’t need to reply. ‘You said months. You said you hadn’t been with her for months, that you didn’t understand why she was suddenly sniffing around. You’ve slept with her more than once, too!’
‘I didn’t want to upset you.’ He’s still hostile. It’s a blatant defence mechanism.
‘Tell me. Did you call them up and have them make a queue outside your door?’
‘No, they hear that I’m on the drink and they’re like flies around shit.’
‘I hate you.’
‘No you don’t.’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Don’t make my heart crack, Ava. Does it matter who it was?’
‘No, what matters is that you lied to me.’
‘I was protecting you.’
‘And it’s hilarious that every single time you do that, you end up hurting me.’
‘So, have you learnt?’
‘Every fucking day.’ He grabs my jaw aggressively, but says softly, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Good.’ I nod decisively in his hold, suddenly registering that our faces are now touching as we both lean in over his desk. We’re burning each other with angry gazes, mixed with a ton of lust. ‘How did this happen?’ I ask the question out loud when I was only intending on thinking it.
‘Because, my beautiful girl, we’re meant to be stuck together. Constant contact. Kiss me.’
‘I’ve accepted that you’re an arsehole, so there’s no need to try and get me submitting to your touch now.’ I will, though.
‘I missed you, baby.’
I climb up onto his desk and inch my way closer on my knees until I’m wrapped around him and my lips are all over his. Stupidly, I’ve missed him, too. One working day after Paradise and I’m feeling hard done by—short changed. I’ve been suffering Jesse withdrawal and now I’ve finally gotten my next hit. ‘I wish you were pure and untouched.’ I mumble, trailing my lips over every inch of his face. Of everything, this I wish the most—that no one came before me, or even during me. I’ve forgiven him, I truly have, but I’m struggling to forget.
‘I am.’ He sits down in his leather chair and jostles with me until I give in and let him sit me on his lap. ‘The most important part of me is untouched.’ He takes my hand and twirls my rings for a few thoughtful moments before flattening my palm and placing it on his chest. ‘Or it was until you stepped into my office. Now it’s being stamped all over and is exploding with pure love for you.’
I smile. ‘I like feeling it beating.’ I move in, opening his jacket up and lowering my ear to his shirt. ‘I like hearing it, too.’ It’s one of the most comforting things in the world.
His arms wrap around me and pull me in closer. ‘How was your day?’
‘Crap. I want Paradise.’
He laughs and kisses the top of my head. ‘I’m in Paradise whenever I’m with you. I don’t need a villa.’
‘You were more relaxed in Paradise.’ I say it how it is. I know being back in London will slowly draw my neurotic control freak back to the surface.
‘I’m relaxed now.’
‘Yes, that is because I’m sitting on your lap, coated in you.’ I reply sardonically, earning myself a little dig in the hollow space above my hips. I laugh and turn myself around on his lap so I’m facing his desk. ‘How was your day?’
His hands slide around onto my tummy and his chin rests on my shoulder, getting a mouthful of my hair. He splutters and sweeps it away. ‘Long. How are my peanuts?’
‘Fine,’ His notepad catches my eye. ‘Why is my brother’s name written down there?’ I reach forward to pull it closer, but too slowly because it’s soon whipped from under my nose and shoved in the top drawer of Jesse’s desk. I pull my hand back on a shocked jump at his fast movement. ‘Daniel Joseph O’Shea?’ I frown to myself, thinking I definitely saw numbers on that paper, and it wasn’t a telephone number. ‘Why have you got Dan’s bank account number written down?’