She bends and picks her picture up before backing out of the door, her eyes flicking nervously from Jesse to his deranged, pregnant wife, and as soon as her body is over the threshold of the penthouse door, I slam it in her face, then turn to look at my ex-whore of a husband. He’s chomping nervously on that bottom lip and maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’m mad with him, too. I steam past him and up the stairs, finding the shower still flowing when I arrive back in the en-suite. Stripping down, I scrub my teeth, then step in and make no rush to get done quickly. I’ve been up for less than half an hour, and I already feel like it should be the end of my day.
My eyes are closed as I rinse my hair, but I can feel him behind me. He’s not touching me, but I know he’s there. And he’s all worried. I can sense the anxious vibes shooting into my wet back. The evidence of his uncertainty at Coral’s claim just reinforces my concern. Have I now got to add potential baby mommas to my list of things that could cause us issues? We’ve been back from Paradise for just two days, and I’m mentally exhausted already. A life of peace and comfort. That’s what I want and need, and every time I think we’re close to exactly that, something jumps up and obliterates it.
The familiar feel of the natural sponge connects with my back, as does his palm with my tummy. He’s cautious, and he should be. The only thing that sends me loopy is him and his sordid history with women. ‘Jesse, I’m not in the mood.’ I step away from him and finish rinsing my hair. He doesn’t know what to do, so as usual when he finds himself in this situation, he tries to win me back over with his touch. I expect to hear a snort of disbelief or even a scorn for denying him, but I don’t. I do, however, feel his hand slide back around my stomach. ‘I said I’m not in the mood.’ I snap harshly, shrugging him off and grabbing a towel to dry myself.
‘You promised you’d never say that.’ he murmurs sullenly.
Securing myself in the towel, I glance up and see him standing under the pounding water with his hands hanging limply by his sides. ‘I’m late.’ I leave him with trepidation written all over his face to get myself ready for work.
I’m just about to exit the bedroom when he appears, all dopey eyed and sad. ‘Baby, my heart’s splitting. I hate fighting with you.’ He makes no attempt to close the distance between us.
‘We’re not fighting,’ I brush of his solemnness. ‘You need to get the code on the elevator changed. And find out how she got up here, too.’ I walk out, but barely make it to the top of the stairs before the warmth of his palm is around my wrist, stopping me from going anywhere.
‘I will, but we need to make friends.’
‘I’m dressed. We are not making friends now.’
‘Not properly, no. But don’t make me spend all day knowing that you’re not talking to me.’ He drops to his knees in front of me and looks up. ‘The days are long enough already.’
‘I am talking to you.’ I mutter.
‘Then why are you sulking?’
I sigh. ‘Because a woman has just invaded our home and tried to stake a claim on you, Jesse. That is why I’m sulking.’
‘Come here.’ He pulls me down and wraps me in his arms. ‘I love it when you trample.’
‘It’s tiring.’ I mumble into his chest. ‘I really need to go.’
‘Okay,’ he kisses my hair and pulls back, securing my cheeks in his hold. ‘Tell me we’re friends.’
He blasts my moodiness with his smile—my smile. ‘Good girl. We’ll make friends properly later. Go get your breakfast. I’ll be two minutes.’
‘I need to go.’ I remind him, glancing down at my Rolex. ‘It’s eight thirty already.’
‘Two minutes.’ he repeats, returning me to standing. ‘You’ll wait for me.’
‘Hurry up then!’ I push him away and he starts jogging backwards with his contented grin in place. He’s all happy and roguish again.
I find Cathy in the kitchen wrapping a bagel and still muttering under her breath. She soon stops when my presence is noted. ‘Ava,’ She scurries over, wiping her hands down her apron. ‘I tried to stop the vindictive little minx!’
Something tells me Cathy has had an encounter with Coral before. ‘Don’t worry, Cathy.’ I smile and give her a rub of her arm. ‘You know her, then?’ I press lightly.
‘Oh, I know her, and I don’t like her.’ She starts muttering again as she returns to the island to finish wrapping my breakfast. ‘She’s been turning up for months, pestering my boy and claiming poverty. I told her. I said, look here, you conniving little tramp. Leave my boy alone and try fixing your marriage.’ I smile as I watch her aggressive hand movements, virtually bashing away at my bagel. ‘I don’t know how many times my boy has sent her packing. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ She looks up at me. ‘Have you taken your folic acid?’
‘No,’ I walk to the fridge and collect a bottle of water before taking the pills that Cathy hands me, followed by a ginger biscuit.’ Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome, dear.’ Her wrinkled face grins. ‘You certainly put her in her place.’ She laughs and retrieves my bagel, and then stuffs it in my bag. ‘You eat that, I mean it.’
‘You sound like Jesse.’ I down my pills.
‘He cares, Ava. Don’t condemn him for that,’ she scolds me lightly, looking over my shoulder. ‘Here he is, and he’s dressed!’
‘I’m dressed.’ He laughs, straightening his tie. ‘As is my beautiful wife.’
I roll my eyes, but I don’t feel embarrassed at all. She’s seen it all before, and Coral’s visit has taken the edge off any mortification. ‘Can I go to work now?’
He pulls his collar down and rubs his three days’ worth of stubble. Two minutes didn’t give him time to shave. ‘Have you taken your folic acid?’
‘Yes,’ I groan.
‘Have you had your breakfast?’
I tap the side of my bag.
‘You better eat that.’ he warns, taking my hand. ‘Say goodbye to Cathy.’
‘Bye, dear. Bye, my boy!’
I’m a little wary when we leave the penthouse, and even more wary when we step out of the elevator, into the foyer of Lusso, but she’s nowhere to be seen. I wince when I see Clive at the concierge desk, knowing he’s about to cop it in a big way.
‘Morning, Ava. Mr Ward.’ The old boy’s cheerfulness is going to be short lived once Jesse lets loose.
‘Clive,’ Jesse begins. ‘How the hell did a woman make it past you and up to the penthouse?’
The confusion on Clive’s face is clear. ‘Mr Ward, I’ve just come on shift.’
‘Yes, I relieved the new boy…’ he glances down at his watch. ‘only ten minutes ago.’
I cringe further. It’s Casey who’ll be copping it. My sympathy for the new concierge increases. Chancing a peek at my man, I note a look of pure irritation. Casey might do well never to return. ‘When’s he back on shift?’ Jesse asks shortly.
‘I finish at four.’ Clive confirms. ‘Did he do something wrong, Mr Ward? I have advised him of protocol.’
I’m pulled towards the sunlight outside. ‘For what fucking use it’s done.’ Jesse mutters. ‘John’s taking you to work.’ he tells me as we emerge.
‘When do I get my Mini back?’ I ask, spotting the big guy across the car park, leaning up against the driver’s door.
‘You’re not. It’s a write off.’
‘Oh,’ I say quietly. I love my Mini. ‘Well when do I get to drive myself to work, then?’
Jesse opens the passenger door of John’s Range Rover and lifts me in. ‘When I find out who stole my car.’
‘Why aren’t you taking me to work?’
He pulls my seatbelt across and secures me before dropping a kiss on my forehead. ‘I have a few meetings at The Manor.’
‘Then why did you make me wait for you?’ I ask on a scowl.
‘So I could put you in John’s car and remind you to speak with Patrick.’
I know I audibly groan. ‘You’re impossible.’
‘You’re beautiful. Have a good day.’ He kisses me once more and shuts me in, giving John a brief nod before making his way to the DBS. I’m suspicious of that nod and when John climbs in next to me, I make sure I direct my suspiciousness at him.
‘What’s up, Girl?’
‘Nothing’s changed then,’ he laughs that deep, rumbling laugh.
‘No, nothing has changed.’ I grumble.
I’m a whole hour late for work, but I’m not going to get away with it today. Patrick is here, and he’s standing over my desk when I finally burst through the door.
‘Flower?’ His round face is questioning, and the last thing I need today. I’m late, and now I’m going to shock him into a heart attack with my announcement. He looks up at the office clock. ‘What time do you call this?’
It’s one of the only times I’ve seen a displeased look on my boss’s face. I’ve always been so dedicated to my career, but personal stuff is getting in the way and my job has been side lined. I’m really pushing my luck, and I have been since Jesse trampled into my life. ‘I’m sorry, Patrick.’ I can’t lie and feed him any rubbish on a client appointment, so I leave it at just an apology.
‘Ava, I know your life has been moving pretty quickly lately—congratulations, by the way, but I need dedication.’ He takes his comb from his inside pocket and sweeps it through his silver mop.
I’m a little shocked. Congratulations, by the way? That was hardly sincere. ‘I’m sorry.’ I repeat because I’m stumped for anything else to say. By the way? I’m a little insulted, but my slighted state isn’t drawing any further inspiration to voice it, and Patrick doesn’t give me the chance to, anyway. He goes back to his office, shutting the door behind him. I turn my confusion onto my three colleagues, who are all sitting quietly with their heads down. Has he had a pop at them, too? I collapse in my chair and decide, wisely or not, given my boss’s annoyance, to call Kate. A friendly voice. That’s what I need to hear right now.
She grunts down the phone in greeting.
‘Are you still in bed?’ I ask, firing up my computer.
‘Yep.’ is the one word, swift reply that shoots down the phone.
I smile. ‘Is a certain cute, messy haired, dimpled faced man with you?’ I pray for a yes, then hear shuffles and definitely a giggle, making my smile widen. I might have wanted to hear a friendly voice, but this will do the trick, too.
‘He is.’ She answers on a little shriek, not bothering to evade or brush off my question. ‘Sam!’
‘Okay, I’ll go.’ I have things to share, but I’m more than happy to hold off.
‘Wait!’ she demands. I hear more shuffling, definitely a few slaps and then a door close. ‘I just wanted to know how you got on with Dan.’ She’s whispering, for obvious reasons.
That wipes the smile clean from my face. Kate doesn’t need to know the gory details, and I’m just as ashamed of my brother as he is of himself. ‘Fine. It’s fine. He’s gone back to Australia, and Jesse convinced him to keep quiet.’
‘I feel responsible.’
‘Kate, he’d already worked it out, before you made the entrance of the year.’ I can joke about it now. ‘Did you talk?’ I ask tentatively, taping my pen furiously on the table and wondering if there’s still scope for a bit of head bashing.