‘You can tell them the money will land in their account before the week is out. You have the proof.’ Jesse’s fingers work through my hair softly as he speaks sharply. ‘And no trouble when you leave.’ he warns.
I know what that means, but I don’t know what the proof is. My washed-out mind is too exhausted to even ask, and I don’t care, anyway. I watch as Dan nods his acceptance and then strides out of Jesse’s office, not looking back.
‘I want to show you something.’ Jesse says as he collects me from the car outside Lusso. ‘Do you want me to carry you?’ I don’t know why he’s asked me because I’m draped across his arms before the question registers in my useless brain.
‘What do you want to show me?’ I ask, resting my head on his suit covered shoulder. These are the first words I have spoken since watching Dan leave Jesse’s office, and not because I haven’t been spoken to. I couldn’t even muster up the strength to growl a warning at Sarah as we passed her in the entrance hall of The Manor. She smiled awkwardly, refrained from laying her wandering hands all over Jesse and stepped back, almost warily, like she was fully expecting a backlash from me. The surprise was clear when I ignored her presence, choosing to walk on and leave Jesse to talk business with her. And I know that’s all it was and all it ever will be. Business.
‘You’ll see.’ He strides into the foyer of Lusso, and I smile when I hear Clive’s cheerful voice. He’s not as easy on the eye as our new concierge, but I’ll always favour Clive’s age worn and jolly face, rather than Casey’s fresh, pretty one.
‘Congratulations!’ he chants. I’m not surprised. Either Jesse really has broadcasted it, or Cathy’s been getting excited. ‘Wonderful news!’ His voice is getting closer as I’m carted across the marble towards the elevator. ‘Let me get that for you, Mr Ward.’ He jumps in front of Jesse and pushes in the code for the penthouse lift.
‘Thanks, Clive.’ Jesse sounds just as cheerful, as if being reminded of his peanuts. He’s not pushed too much conversation on the journey back to the city, letting me quietly reflect on my recent revelation—the revelation that my brother is stupid and my husband is now two hundred grand lighter because of it.
‘Very good, Mr Ward, very good. You look after yourself, Ava.’ His instruction is stern, and I smile fondly as his crabby face disappears when the doors meet in the middle.
‘You let Clive call me Ava.’ I point out casually.
He looks down at me with raised, cautionary eyebrows. ‘Your point being?’
‘Just saying.’ I find the muscle power to curve my lips into grin, my husband’s possessiveness providing the amused strength necessary.
‘I’m ignoring you.’ He’s fighting his own grin as we exit the lift and he lets us into the penthouse, kicking the door shut behind me.
‘You won’t be able to carry me soon.’ I grumble, holding on extra tight. I’ll miss it so much, but when I’m bursting at the seams and double the size, I can’t envisage being carried with such ease, like I’m just an extension of his own body.
‘Don’t worry, lady.’ He kisses my forehead and turns to push his back into his office door. ‘I’ve ready increased the weights I’m lifting in preparation.’
I gasp and reach up to pull his hair. ‘Hey!’ I’m placed on my feet, but I still have hold of his hair.
‘You’re a savage, lady.’ He laughs, his head lowered to prevent the pull. ‘Are you going to let go?’
‘Sorry.’ He’s still laughing. ‘I’m sorry. Let go.’
It’s ludicrous. He could stop me in a heartbeat, but he’s letting me have the power. For now, anyway. I release him and kick my shoes off. ‘My feet hurt.’ I complain, wriggling my toes. ‘Why are we in your office?’
‘I wanted to show you something.’
‘A picture of Jake?’ I ask hopefully, probably too eagerly as well. I really want to see what Jesse’s twin looked like.
‘Well, no.’ His frown line jumps onto his forehead.
‘What then?’ I ask, utterly intrigued. He looks shifty all of a sudden, uncomfortable and all boyish. ‘What’s up with you?’
‘Turn around.’ he commands softly, resting his hands in his pockets.
I’m not sure I want to. I look at him questioningly, but he remains silent and his frown line remains fixed in place. He’s concerned, which makes me concerned, and very very curious. I slowly pivot, wanting to close my eyes, but far too inquisitive to do it. And then the wall slowly comes into view, and I stop breathing. A choked gasp flies from my gaping mouth, and I’ve taken a step back because Jesse’s chest is pressed up against me. Or maybe he has stepped forward to steady me. I’m not sure. I can’t even take it all in. My eyes run from one side of the large wall, the length of his office to the other end.
It’s completely coated in… me.
Every square inch is me. Not framed pictures or canvases or photographs. It’s wallpaper, although you would never know it. Each seam is so incredibly perfect, it looks like one giant piece of art—a homage to me, and the biggest piece, the centre piece, is me spread on the cross in our room at The Manor. I’m naked, my eyes are dropped low and my lips are parted. My hair is a mass of glossy waves, framing my lust filled face and the sensual vibes pumping from my body in the still shot is tangible. I can feel it as I’m standing here.
My gaze starts to drift, absorbing it all. There’s too much, and I’m gasping again as I spot a motion shot of my back as I rush down the steps of The Manor. It wouldn’t be particularly strange, but I can clearly see the head of a calla lily, extending from the side of my fleeing body. And I register my dress. It’s my navy pencil dress. It’s the dress I wore to my very first consultation with Mr Jesse Ward.
‘That was the first one I took.’ he murmurs, ‘It became a bit of an obsession after that.’ His voice is quiet and unsure. I swing around, my mouth still gaping. I can’t possibly speak. The lump in my throat is doing too good a job of stopping me. He’s biting his lip, watching me closely. I swallow and turn back to the wall.
The Ava wall.
I’m everywhere. I’m at the launch night of Lusso; I’m sitting on the bench at the dock side after our encounter; I’m in the shower, the kitchen, on the terrace. I’m in Harrods changing rooms, and I’m sitting on my stool in bar at The Manor. I’m kitted out in my biker leathers, and I’m storming away from him in an oversized, cream knitted jumper. I smile, noting so many shots of my back from where I’m running away from him, probably after I’ve received the countdown or I’m having a strop. I’m naked in countless, or just in lace. And then there’s me in handcuffs on the bed, and another of me swimming in the pool at The Manor. I’m laughing with Kate; I’m brushing my hair from my face; I’m eating lunch in Baroque; I’m dancing with my friends, and I’m tapping my front tooth with my fingernail. I also see myself slouched in the passenger seat of the DBS, clearly drunk. I’m running towards the Thames and I’m collapsed on the grass in The Green Park. I’m pushing a trolley around the supermarket, I’m getting changed into my baggy shit, and I’m brushing my teeth. I’m asleep on the jet and standing on the veranda in Paradise. I’m poking about on the market stalls, kicking the sand on the beach and cooking breakfast in the villa. We only returned from Spain yesterday. How did he do this? I’m asleep in his bed and asleep in his arms—there are so many of me asleep in his arms. Every facial expression imaginable and every habit I have is displayed in one of these pictures. It’s like my life in images since I first met this man. And I wasn’t aware of any of it. He really is obsessed with me, and if I’d have known about this in the early days, like when he persistently pursued me, I think I’d have ran faster and farther. Not now, though. Now I’m just reminded after a tiring day of this man’s love for me.
I’m astounded and unaware that my feet have taken me to the foot of the wall. I’m slowly walking the length of it, absorbing it all, each flick of my eyes finding another picture that I didn’t see before.
‘Here,’ Jesse’s quiet husk pulls my bewildered eyes from the Ava wall, and to a black, permanent marker pen. That alone makes me smile. ‘I want you to sign it.’
I take the pen and look up at him, unsure if he’s playing or not. He wants me to deface his Ava Wall? ‘Sign it with my name?’ I ask, a little confused.
‘Yes, wherever.’ He waves at the images.
I glance back at the wall and laugh lightly, still dazed by what I’m confronted with. I step forward and pop the lid from the pen, looking for a spare space for me to scribble my name, but then I spot the first shot that he ever took of me and I approach it, armed with my pen. Smiling to myself, I write beneath the shot of me fleeing The Manor.
Today I met you.
This day was the beginning of the rest of my life.
From this moment, I was your Ava x
Then I make my way over to the image of me sitting by the docks on the launch night of Lusso.
Today I realised how in deep I was.
And I wanted to be so much deeper with you.
I move along the wall to the picture of me drunk in Jesse’s car and smile as I write;
Today I learnt that you can dance. I also admitted to myself that I was in love with you, and I think I might have told you too.
I’m in my stride now. I quickly locate the picture of me in the chunky jumper, after he manhandled me into the damn thing.
Today I found out that I’m just for your eyes.
Then I’m writing underneath the picture of me walking naked from the bedroom after I found him collapsed at Lusso, and after he showed me how he does his talking.
Today I learnt that I’m for your touch and for your pleasure only. But my favourite part of today was when you told me that you love me.
My pen drifts over to the shot of me handcuffed.
Today you introduced me to the retribution fuck.
I quickly scan the wall and find a picture of me walking in front of him through the foyer of The Ritz.
Today I found out how old you are… and that you don’t like being handcuffed.
I can’t stop. Each and every image brings a thought, and I find myself marking picture after picture with my memories in words. He doesn’t stop me. I just keep going, like I’m writing a diary of the last few months of my life. I don’t need to record it, each and every moment is etched on my brain, good and bad, but these are all good. And there are so so many of them. It’s sometimes too easy to let them slip to the outer edges when the not so good gets in the way. Our short time together has been a bombardment of bad, but all of this good far outweighs the challenging moments. He’s reminded me.
My hand is aching by the time I reach my final picture—my final picture for now, anyway. I’m sure I’ll be thinking of more captions to add. It’s the one of me standing on the veranda in Paradise. I push my pen to the wall.
Today I decided that you’re right. We will be okay.
And yes, I do have a bump… ish, and I love you for giving it to me.
I’ll always love you.
Replacing the lid on the pen, I take a deep breath and finally face my Lord, bumping right into his chest and getting a waft of his fresh, minty scent. I look up at him, finding a straight face and clouded green eyes. ‘I’m done.’ I whisper quietly, but he’s not looking at me. He’s studying all of my captions, his eyes travelling across the wall and pausing every now and then to read what I have written.
He takes the pen and moves towards the picture of me fleeing The Manor, and then gets up close and personal with the wall. I can’t see what he’s writing, and I shift to try and look around his body, but he’s too close. He finally moves away, and I see it, scrolled across the top of the image.