‘No. It’s not all fucking good!’ I yell a bit too loudly, earning myself a frightening scowl from Jesse. I don’t care. He doesn’t get to do this. He doesn’t get to brush me off when it suits him. It’s my wedding day.
‘Watch your mouth!’ he grates, leaning into me. ‘I’ll be a few minutes. You’ll stay fucking put, Ava.’
I recoil at his animosity, completely stunned as he makes quick work of the handcuffs before striding out with John. I’m perched on a barstool, the bride in a stunning gown, adorned with diamonds, all of our guests laughing, chatting and drinking, and I want to go home. I feel tearful, slighted and very, very hurt. I lower myself from the stool, deciding to make the most of my freedom and have a wee. I might have a little cry, too. I need to get away from these people before the tears start flowing freely. What is wrong with me?
‘Where are you going, darling?’ Mum asks as she makes her way over.
I spread a fake smile on my face. She’s had too much Most Marvellous. Her hair isn’t perfect and she doesn’t seem to care, a clear indication that she’s feeling a bit squiffy. ‘Toilet. I won’t be long.’
‘Do you want some help? I’m not sure where Kate’s gone.’ She looks around the bar.
‘No, I’ve got it.’ I leave my mum and head for the toilets, sadly looking forward to some privacy.
I push my way through the door and place myself in front of the mirror to look at my sorry face. I’m not a blushing bride anymore. There is no twinkle in my eye or happy smile on my face. I sigh heavily and pinch my cheeks in an attempt to get some colour back into them. I’m looking a little washed out.
‘Ohhh myyy Goddd!’
My head flies up and my body swings around to face the source of the long moan. I still myself, holding my breath as I hear shuffling and shifting from one of the cubicles. Someone is having sex in the toilet? No! I quickly gather my dress up to leave. This could be embarrassing. I take my first urgent step, but then freeze when the door swings open and Kate stumbles out.
I gasp, my dress dropping from my hands. ‘What are you doing?’ I blurt in disbelief. I know Sam was slightly miffed that all things kink have been removed and stored temporarily, but they could have waited.
She stiffens from head to toe, her red hair a wild mane of curls, half covering her shocked face. ‘Oh shit!’ she says quietly, re-arranging her dress.
‘Couldn’t you have waited?’ I ask, horrified but a little relived that I haven’t just caught one of our other guests in the act.
‘Ava…’ she begins, and then a man strolls out behind. And it’s not Sam.
My mouth falls open. ‘Dan?’ I don’t believe this. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
He shrugs, refusing to look at me, keeping all of his attention on refastening his trousers. My eyes are batting between them, waiting for some explanation, but I get nothing from either of them. They’re just standing there, both looking anywhere, except at me.
I throw furious eyes at Dan. ‘I told you to leave it!’ I shout, before turning my fury on Kate. ‘And you’re pissed! What’s the matter with you two? Haven’t you learnt?’
‘None of your business, Ava.’ Dan says flatly, and then strides out of the ladies, leaving me and my delinquent friend alone.
‘Kate?’ I push, but she’s still refusing to meet my eyes. She knows that she’s just made a massive mistake. ‘What about Sam?’ I ask. The poor bloke is out there, completely oblivious. ‘I can’t believe this.’ The heel of my hand meets my forehead, my brain aching with information overload.
She hiccups and giggles a little before reaching for the sink to steady her swaying body. ‘Fun.’ she says haughtily. ‘And it’s got nothing to do with you.’
‘Oh, okay,’ I exclaim, lifting my dress. ‘I’ll leave you to have your fun in that case.’ I turn and leave the toilets, heading straight to Jesse’s office.
The summer room has been cleared of tables, but is now full of people, the band enticing everyone to the dance floor with some classic motown. I skirt through our guests, smiling, trying my hardest to look like the elated bride and cutting any lengthy conversation very short. I’ve fallen out with my brother, and now Kate, too. I want to escape with Jesse and be alone when we’re at our happiest—when the world and its problems are not interfering with our little bubble of contentment, where we only have our own issues to contend with.
I steam down the corridor and straight into his office, my heart falling straight into my Louboutins as soon as I lay my eyes on the occupants.
There are just two people.
Jesse… and Coral.
My day just got a whole lot worse. They’re seated at opposite ends of a couch, and both heads fly towards me, while I just stand there feeling a little lost. All of my anger, all of my frustrations of the day have just transformed into pain. I can feel my eyes welling up with tears and my heart thundering in my chest. I feel completely crushed.
Not knowing what else to do, but knowing for certain that I don’t want this woman to see me break down, I slowly step back, closing the door quietly behind me. I walk numbly down the corridor in a haze of misery, but instead of making my way back to the crowd, I escape the happy chatter and dancing bodies and turn down the gravel pathway towards the woodlands.
I sit my defeated arse on an old log and start picking at the dried bark, crumbling it to grains between my fingers, while the dark, cool evening air spikes at my exposed skin. They were just talking, but he knows how I feel about her—how I feel about any other woman who Jesse’s had—yet he still sacrificed time with me on our special day to see her. I want to scream at him, bash my fists on his chest and yell in his face, but I don’t have the energy. All of the fight has been sucked out of me. My spirit has been stripped down by drama, mine and others, and it’s left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. And doubtful, too. Right now, on my wedding day of all days, I’m doubtful I can maintain the strength I clearly need to spend my life with Jesse—spend my life fighting off women and problems…issues. The tears I’ve been holding back jump straight from my eyes onto my lace. I’m powerless. I can’t make these women go away, I can’t strip Jesse’s past from him, and I can’t control other people and what they do. The one thing I could dois take my pills so that I don’t get pregnant. If I could stop losing them, that is. I drop my head in my hands and sob quietly to myself. I’ve not even got the energy to cry properly.
Through my low, pathetic weeping, I hear him approaching behind me. I can smell his fresh water and minty scent. And through my total numbness, I can still feel his presence. Every part of my being senses him, but my eyes don’t want to look at him.
I brush my tears away and sniff a little. ‘I know you’re there.’ I say quietly, keeping my eyes pointing downwards.
‘I know you do.’ His evenly spaced steps crunch over the ground, getting louder as he nears, and in my peripheral vision, I see him lower himself next to me. But he doesn’t touch me. His hands are clasped in front of him, his thumbs circling each other slowly. I can hear the tail end of his heavy breathing subsiding. He’s been running around the grounds like a madman trying to find me, and now he’s just sitting next to me, all silent when he should be explaining himself, explaining why he abandoned me on our wedding day so he could see a woman who’s in love with him—another woman who’s in love with him.
I laugh to myself. ‘Isn’t it funny how we’re so in touch with each other, yet you sit here now and don’t know what to say to me?’ I see him shift next to me, and then his hand drifts across the space between us and rests on my thigh, his heated touch doing things that I really don’t want it to do. I look down at his spread fingers, his flat, platinum and diamond wedding band that matches my own, sparkling as he flexes his hand and squeezes my thigh. ‘So he touches me.’ I say quietly.
‘He loves you.’ he whispers. ‘He wishes he could eliminate the past that’s hurting you.’
I turn my face to his and see green puddles of regret. ‘Then why did you see her? On our wedding day, when you vowed to have me by your side all day, why did you desert me to see her?’
‘I couldn’t leave her at the gates with guests arriving, Ava.’
‘So tell her to go away.’
‘And cause a scene?’
‘What did she want?’ I ask. She was here for a reason. ‘Did she know we were getting married today?’
His frown line crawls across his brow and sets firmly in place, his lip disappearing between his teeth. ‘Yes, she knew.’
So he’s spoken to her? ‘And she still came? Was she hoping to stop it? Was she going to barge through the summer room doors and declare that we shouldn’t be joined in holy matrimony?’ This is laughable.
‘I don’t know, Ava.’ He looks away.
‘When did you speak to her?’ He sighs. ‘She’s been calling and turning up at The Manor. I’ve told her repeatedly I’m not helping her. I’ve told her there are no feelings. I’m not sure what else I can do, Ava.’
‘What’s your definition of an affair?’ I ask.
His eyes swiftly return to mine, all confused by my question. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, she’s in love with you, and you’ve said it was only sex. It was obviously more to her.’ I assess him, trying to gage his reaction.
‘Baby, I’ve told you before, just sex. They always wanted more, but I never gave them any reason to expect it. Never.’
I wince at the referral to they. He means many—many women who want him, many women who’ve had him, many women who have fallen in love with him. I want to tell him what Coral said about him making her need him, but then he’ll know that I intercepted her call. And after having him, who wouldn’t want him again, maybe even think they need him. I know that I did, but now my need is a lot deeper than his physical touch. Now I need him to breath. ‘I don’t want you to see her again.’ I insist.
He returns his eyes to mine. ‘I won’t. I’ve no need to.’
I take a deep breath and return to scanning the ground. ‘I’ve had enough of my wedding. I’d like to leave.’
‘Ava, look at me.’ he orders gently.
‘Jesse, don’t start making demands when I’m feeling like this.’
‘Perhaps you didn’t hear me right. I said, look at me.’ He’s not asking gently now, but my despondency prevents me from defying him. ‘What?’ I ask, following through on his unreasonable order.
He falls to his knees in front of me and takes my hands. ‘I’ve fucked up. I’m so sorry, but I was trying to keep her away from you. I panicked and thought I could talk some sense into her. I didn’t want her kicking up a stink on your special day.’
‘It’s your special day, too.’ I remind him quietly. ‘You should’ve just told me.’
‘I know.’ He leans up and wraps me in his arms. ‘Let me make it up to you. What do you want me do, baby? Name it.’
I relax into him. ‘Just take me to bed.’ I demand quietly.
‘Deal.’ He stands me up and reinforces his apology with a deep, meaningful kiss. ‘We’ll make friends properly later.’ He scoops me up and starts back towards The Manor.
We enter the summer room via the huge French doors, and we’re immediately attacked by my mother’s infuriated glare. ‘There you are!’ She scuttles towards us, still tipsy, but obviously annoyed. ‘You’ve not cut the cake and you need to have your first dance. Tell me, are we having a wedding?’