‘He’s waiting for you.’ I finish.
Her whole body relaxes and an air of contentment seems to form a haze around her. ‘So I should go?’ she asks, looking for reassurance. It’s rare to see her doubt herself or ask for encouragement or guidance.
‘You should go.’ I confirm on a grin. ‘You have to take a chance, Kate. I think you’ll be surprised where Sam leads you.’
‘I really do,’ I smile and take my unsure friend in my arms and squeeze all of the uncertainties out of her. ‘Please go and talk to him. And let him talk, too.’
‘Okay,’ she agrees. ‘I will,’ She pushes me off her, pulling a disgusted face. ‘Quit with the slushy shit.’
‘Of course, it’s all me.’ I turn to the mirror, along with Kate, and we both start rubbing under our eyes.
‘What do you think Jesse is saying to Dan?’ Kate question reminds me quickly that they’re alone.
‘I don’t know.’ I say on a frown, but I suspect I do. ‘I’m going to find out. You good?’
‘Fan-fucking-tastic.’ She drops a quick peck on my cheek and leads the way from the ladies, her going right towards the bar, me heading left towards Jesse’s office.
I burst in, my eyes almost closed, like I’m protecting them from the certainty of seeing my brother held against the wall by his throat. He’s not, though. They’re in the same seated positions as the last time I walked in on them—Jesse in his chair, relaxed, and Dan with his back to me.
‘Why are you taking money from Jesse?’ I ask assertively in an attempt to make both of them see that I mean business. I definitely don’t mistake the rise and tense of Dan’s shoulders. He might have rumbled Jesse’s establishment, but I’ve rumbled this little agreement, although I don’t know what the agreement is or even if I want to know. But that doesn’t stop me from pressing on. ‘Are you going to answer me?’
Dan doesn’t, but Jesse does. ‘Ava, I told you to stay put.’
‘I’m not talking to you.’ I counter fearlessly, spiking an incredible scoff of disbelieve.
‘Well, I’m talking to you.’ he counters.
‘Shut up.’ I approach the desk and poke Dan in the back. ‘You’re keeping quiet. Have you nothing to say?’
‘See what I have to deal with?’ Jesse’s palms face the heavens in hopelessness. ‘Fucking pain in the arse.’
I flip Jesse a scowl and smack my brother on the shoulder. ‘Speak. What’s going on?’
‘I’m broke.’ Dan says quietly. ‘Jesse’s agreed to help me out.’
‘You asked?’ I blurt in disbelief. That’s brash, given the history of my husband and brother’s relationship.
‘No, he offered, and there were no strings attached… until ten minutes ago.’
‘You’re bribing my brother?’ I swing my gaze to Jesse, whose hands are now forming a thoughtful steeple in front of his mouth. ‘You’ve paid him to keep quiet?’
‘No, I’ve lent him some money and added a little clause to the contract at a later date.’
I’m appalled, but stupidly relieved. Jesse said my parents would never know, and he’s ensuring that he keeps his promise. ‘What about the surf school? And why haven’t you asked mum and dad? They would’ve lent you some money.’
‘We’re not talking a few quid, Ava. I’m up to my eyeballs. I’ve got myself a massive loan to fund my share of the business and my partner did a runner with it. I’m fucked.’
I crumble. ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’
‘Why do you think?’ He looks truly humiliated. ‘I was turned over, Ava. I have nothing left.’
My sorry eyes fall back on Jesse, who’s remaining extremely quiet, but studying me closely. ‘How much?’ I ask. My question makes my husband look all uncomfortable, and Dan is shifting in his chair next to me, which can only mean one thing. I know we’re not talking about a couple of grand here. ‘Five thousand? Ten thousand? Tell me.’
‘Just a few.’ Dan interjects before Jesse can tell me himself. I don’t believe him for a moment.
‘Jesse?’ I push, holding him in place with a determined glare. I need to know how much trouble my brother’s in.
His eyes break from mine for a few moments and aim for Dan before he takes a deep breath and starts rubbing his temples. ‘I’m sorry, Dan. I’m not lying to her. Two hundred, baby.’ he says on a long exhale, continuing with the tension easing. I might need some temple rubs myself. I’m hoping by two hundred, he means pounds, but I know I’m hoping in vain. I stagger back a little in shock and Jesse is out of his chair in the blink of an eye. He looks mad.
‘Damn it, Ava.’ He holds me in place by my shoulders. ‘Are you okay? Are you dizzy? Do you want to sit down?’
‘Two hundred thousand!’ I yell. ‘What sort of bank lends two hundred thousand?’ I shrug a faffing Jesse away as my shock allows for the information to sink in, turning my disbelief into anger. ‘I’m fine!’
‘Don’t push me away, Ava!’ he yells back at me, taking my elbow and leading me around his desk. I’m pushed gently onto his massive office chair. ‘Don’t be getting your knickers in a twist, lady.’ It’s not healthy.’
‘My blood pressure is fine!’ I snap petulantly, but I suspect it’s probably just gone through the roof. ‘Two hundred thousand? No bank in their right mind would lend that sort of money for a surf school!’ Australian banks must work the same as British banks. They would laugh in anyone’s face if they rocked up with a request on that scale. How much can a few surf boards cost?
‘No, you’re right.’ Dan’s shrinking further into his chair, making himself smaller and smaller. It’s an indication of how he feels—small and stupid. ‘A loan shark would, though.’
‘Oh God!’ My hands fall into my palms. I know how they work, not that I’ve had the pleasure myself. ‘What were you thinking?’ I can feel Jesse’s palm rubbing soothing circles into my back, but it doesn’t soothe me at all.
‘I wasn’t thinking, Ava.’ he sighs.
I uncover my face, just so Dan can see the disappointment on it. I thought he was smart. ‘Is that the only reason you came home?’
‘They’re looking for me.’ Dan’s defeated face yanks at my heart strings. ‘You don’t get away with non-payment with these types.’
‘You said you were doing well,’ I remind him, but I get no explanation, just a shrug. ‘Just stay here.’ I sit forward in my chair. ‘Don’t go back.’ I hear Jesse’s quiet laugh and see Dan’s soft smile. Both reactions to my remedy are not being taken seriously. They are also a clue that both men find my naivety endearing. I don’t see a problem, though. Australia is on the other side of the planet.
‘Ava,’ Dan sits forward, too. ‘If I don’t go back, then they will come here. I’ve already been warned, and I believe it. I’m not putting mum, dad or you at risk and…’ Dan’s interrupted mid-sentence by a cough from over my shoulder, pulling his stare from me to Jesse. I don’t need to turn around to know what expression will be on my husband’s face. Dan continues. ‘These people are dangerous, Ava.’
My head hurts, and Jesse’s hand rubs are becoming firmer. I rest my head back on the chair and look up at Jesse. ‘You can’t just deposit that kind of money into a bank account. Isn’t it laundering? I don’t want you involved, Jesse.’ I feel terrible saying that, given my brother’s sorry situation and knowing Jesse is his only hope, but we have enough of our own issues, without Dan adding to them.
He smiles down at me. ‘Do you honestly think I’d do anything to put you and my babies at risk?’ He nods at my stomach. ‘I’m transferring enough money into Dan’s account to get him back to Australia. I have the details of an off-shore account where I’ll transfer the two hundred. They won’t know where the money has come from, baby. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.’
‘Really?’ I’m looking for reassurance.
‘Really.’ His eyebrows rise and he lowers to kiss my cheek. ‘There are ways. Trust me.’ His confidence makes me wonder if this is something he has handled before. I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
‘Okay,’ I concede, accepting his kiss before feeling his face out. ‘Thank you.’
‘Don’t thank me.’ he warns seriously.
I look across the desk to my brother, who has noticeably eased up. ‘Have you thanked my husband?’ I ask, suddenly feeling a little resentful.
‘Of course,’ Dan retorts, offended. ‘I never asked, Ava. I came to make peace. Your husband’s been doing some digging.’ Dan’s tone shouldn’t be, taking into consideration his dependence on Jesse helping him out of the shit, but it’s accusing.
‘Has he?’ I swing my eyes upwards. ‘Have you?’
He almost rolls his eyes, like he thinks I’m stupid for not thinking something was amiss myself. ‘I know a man in the shit, Ava.’
‘Oh,’ I whisper. This is too much. I feel exhausted. ‘Can we go home?’ I ask.
‘I’m sorry.’ Jesse pulls me up from his chair and does a quick scan of my body and face. ‘I’ve neglected you.’
‘I’m fine, just tired.’ I sigh and pull my depleted form towards Dan. ‘When are you leaving?’ I sound short and stroppy, but I can’t help it. I know exactly why Jesse is doing this, and it’s not just to keep Dan quiet. That was an essential add on when needed. He’s doing it firstly because he won’t risk the Australian Mafia turning up in London, and secondly because he knows I’ll be a wreck if anything happens to Dan, which is highly likely if Jesse doesn’t get him out of the diabolical situation that the idiot has gotten himself into. I won’t hold my breath that Jesse will see a penny of his money again. Dan wouldn’t earn enough in a lifetime to pay him back.
‘Tonight.’ Dan stands. ‘They’ll be on their way over if I’m not back by Thursday, so I guess this is goodbye for a while.’
‘You weren’t going to tell me you were leaving?’ I ask.
‘I would have called you, kiddo.’ I can sense his shame, but it doesn’t ease the hurt. ‘I’m not your favourite man anymore.’ he adds on a smile. I’m not going to disagree. He’s not. He always was, even during my relationships with Matt and Adam, but not anymore. My favourite man is currently holding my tired body up and massaging my tummy with his comforting touch.
‘Take care,’ I force a smile, not wanting to contravene my mother’s instruction to never leave a loved one on a bad word.
‘Can I?’ he asks for Jesse’s permission with his arms open, stepping forward.
‘Sure,’ Jesse hand reluctantly leaves my stomach, but he still holds me until Dan has me in his embrace.
I don’t want to, but I do. I let a few tears escape and soak into Dan’s jacket as I return his tight clinch. ‘Please be careful,’ I beg.
‘Hey, I’ll be fine.’ He holds me at arm’s length. ‘I can’t believe your husband owns a sex club.’ I smile as he rids my cheeks of tears with his thumb and kisses my forehead. I feel guilty for not feeling more excited, but the truth is, I don’t need him anymore. And he knows it. ‘Look after her,’ Dan puts his hand out to Jesse, who takes it without even a snort of disgust at my brothers insulting demand. He just nods and reclaims me before Dan has fully released me.