‘I should have told you.’
‘Fuck!’ Silence falls after his curse, and I can see a clear mental image of him slumped in his office chair, rubbing a furious circle on his temple with his fingertips. ‘Tell me you’re not leaving that office this afternoon.’
‘I have a meeting with Patrick. I’ll speak to him about Mikael.’ I’m trying to tell him what I know he wants to hear. I can’t work with Mikael, even if I don’t think it’s him anymore.
‘This isn’t the work of Mikael, Ava.’ he says more calmly than I know he’s feeling. I knew that, but what has convinced Jesse? ‘Steve confirmed that Mikael was on the flight to Denmark. He’s been back and forth to London over the last few weeks, but completely legit. He couldn’t have drugged you and he couldn’t have been driving my car because both of those times it’s confirmed that he was in Denmark. And why the hell would he say that he knows me?’ Jesse’s tone gets sharper as he finishes the sentence. It’s a reference to the first threat.
‘What about the man in the CCTV footage?’ I ask tentatively?
‘I don’t know, Ava.’ he sighs. ‘My car was found yesterday. Steve’s looking into it. The tracker’s been deactivated.’
‘Oh.’ I rest my tired arse down on one of the plush chairs surrounding the conference table. I could point out to him that I’m not the only one who’s been withholding information, but I won’t. I know he’s been pulling strings, calling in favours and generally doing everything other than using the police in the way they should be, whereas I have just been plain dumb.
‘Should I come to The Manor after work?’ I ask.
‘No, John will take you home as soon as you’ve spoken to Patrick. I’ll meet you there. Given this new information I’ve just found out, I’ve got Steve swinging by.’ His sarcasm doesn’t go unnoticed and neither does the edge of anger. I’ve made a huge mistake. I don’t point out that my working day may not be over after I’ve spoken to Patrick because it will serve no purpose other than instigating further growling down the phone. I really do need to play by his rules this time. ‘Don’t leave that office, and once John’s taken you home, you stay put. Do you understand me?’
‘I understand.’ I whisper.
‘Good girl. I’ll speak with Steve, but I’m out of here the second I’m done.’
‘I love you.’ I blurt urgently, like I won’t ever get to tell him again.
He sighs. ‘I know you do, baby. We’ll have a bath when I’m home. Deal?’
‘Deal.’ I agree, his soft words and promise of tub-time making me feel a little better.
‘Do what you’re told, lady.’ He hangs up after that final warning, but I don’t take my phone from my ear. I know he’s gone, but I hold it there for a few moments anyway, maybe hoping that I’m mistaken and his deep husk will install some further reassurance.
It’s only when the door to the conference room swings open and Patrick appears that I finally pull my mobile away and accept he’s gone.
‘There you are,’ He still doesn’t look impressed as he stands holding the door open. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Yes,’ I go to rise, but he waves me back down.
‘No, stay there. We’re having the meeting in here.’ He shouts through to the others and one by one, they filter in, all puzzled and all deadly quiet. Something is going down, everyone can obviously sense it, and I now gather that it’s not just me and Patrick in this meeting.
There are no trays of tea brought in by Sal and there are no fresh cream cakes to dive into. Patrick looks tired and harassed, whereas we all look majorly confused by this sudden change in meeting etiquette. What happen to the relaxed affair, where we all huddle around our boss’s desk and stuff our faces with cake while Patrick brings himself up-to-date on client progress?
‘Right,’ He sits his big body down in a chair at the head of the table and undoes his suit jacket to prevent the pull over his rounded stomach. ‘I’ve not been here much lately, and I’m sure you’re all wondering why.’
The other three all murmur their acknowledgment, and even though I had absentmindedly noticed his lack of presence in the offices lately, I hadn’t dwelled on it for long. ‘Well, there is a perfectly good reason,’ he continues. ‘and I’m now in a position to disclose it. It has been tough, keeping you all in the dark. You all know I value each and every one of you, but things needed to be ironed out and finalised.’ His hands rest on his stomach and he relaxes back in his chair. My eyes travel from Tom to Victoria to Sal, and back again a few times, trying to gage their reaction to the news of news, but they are all just staring blankly at Patrick. ‘I’m retiring.’ he sighs. ‘I’ve had it.’
There is a collective hum of relived breaths coming from everyone, except me. If he’s retiring, then what happens to Rococo Union? Have none of them thought of that yet?
‘You’ve all still got your jobs. I’ve made sure of that,’ More collective sighs. ‘but I can’t do it anymore. The rat race of London is wearing me out, so Irene and I are moving up to the Lake District.’
My first thought is… Patrick full time with Irene? What is he thinking? And my second thought is… who am I going to be working for? I don’t have to wait long to find out. The door opens and Mikael walks in.
‘Meet the new owner of Rococo Union!’ Patrick sings.
Tom and Victoria swoon a little, but Sally is definitely with me in the shock department. We’re both visibly choking on thin air, but while I know damn well why I am, I have no clue what’s gotten into Sal.
‘Of course, you already know him in some capacity.’ Patrick continues, ‘Mr Van Der Haus and I have been thrashing out a deal over the last few weeks, and we’ve finally settled on mutually agreeable terms.’
‘And I can’t wait to get stuck in.’ Mikael smiles, ignoring the other members of staff and keeping his blues right on me. ‘I think we’ll work very well together.’
I predict that the hum of agreement comes from only three people in this room. I don’t agree and it doesn’t look like Sal does either. There will be nothing coming from my mouth because my throat has closed up. I watch him round the table and shake hands with Patrick before formally introducing himself to my colleagues. When he makes it to Sal, he barely looks at her and she undoubtedly burns bright red and looks down to the floor.
She’s been seeing Mikael!
My mouth gapes as I watch her fidget. That is how he knows I’m married. That is how he knows I’m pregnant and that I’m pregnant with twins. That is how he knows everything!
The room is suddenly filled with Massive Attack’s Angel and everyone looks at me, sitting in the chair like a statue, holding my phone limply in my hand.
‘Would you like to take that?’ Mikael asks on a smile, which I don’t reciprocate. Then the office door bursts open and John steams in, panting and doing a quick assessment of the scene that he’s just barged in on. Now, I can safely say that my career at Rococo Union is over.
John steps forward, with no regard for the people all looking wide eyed at him, and grabs my phone from my lifeless hand, answering it quickly. ‘She’s fine.’
My stunned brain gets up to speed with what’s happening as I watch John pace the conference room. Everyone is watching him, but no one is questioning him. He must have seen Mikael enter the office and called Jesse. I almost want to yell at the big guy, but the latest stroke Mikael has pulled is the nail in the coffin for me and my employment at Rococo Union—that and the huge, mean Mafia type stomping around the office.
Mikael doesn’t need an interior design company. This is ridiculous, and crossing the fine line of obsessive… a bit like my husband did.
John looks at me and nods, me nodding back because speech still hasn’t found me. Then he hands me the phone, and I look at him in horror. I can’t have what I know will be a heated conversation with Jesse here and now. I push myself back, further into the chair, but John gives me a look to suggest that I’m not going to get away with it. Jesse wants to talk to me, and I know I’m going to get nowhere refusing.
Nervously taking the phone, I stand up and leave the room. ‘Jesse?’
‘What the FUCK is he doing there?’ he’s rampant, probably yanking chunks of hair from his head.
‘He’s bought the company.’ I say the words quietly and calmly, having a delusional hope that by saying it calmly, might reflect the way in which he deals with this. It’s a very delusional hope.
He’s hyperventilating down the phone. ‘Get your bag, get John, and leave. Do you hear me?’
‘Yes,’ I confirm quickly, knowing I have no other option.
‘Do it now while I’m on the phone.’
‘Okay,’ I let my phone leave my ear and re-enter the office, getting six sets of eyes pointed straight at me. The tension in the air is heavy. I pick my bag up and look at John, who nods again.
‘Ava?’ Patrick’s familiar, concerned voice pulls my eyes to my boss, or ex-boss.
‘I’m sorry, Patrick. I can’t work for Rococo Union anymore.’
‘Why ever not? Exciting things will be happening. Mikael has assured me that you’ll be made a profit sharing director. I made it part of the deal, flower.’ He’s standing now and approaching me with a wrinkled brow. ‘It’s an amazing opportunity for you.’
I smile and glance at Mikael. He seems to be speechless himself now. ‘I’m sorry, I should’ve said that I can’t work for Mikael.’ Now all eyes are on the Dane. ‘Mikael has been actively pursuing me for some time. He won’t take no for an answer.’ I swing my bag onto my shoulder. ‘Sal, he’s been using you to keep tabs on me. I’m sorry.’
She’s hiding her face, but I can see that she’s crying. I feel terrible for her.
‘Are you so desperate that you’d destroy someone as sweet as Sally?’ I ask Mikael. ‘Are you so desperate to get revenge on a man that you’ll buy the company his wife works for?’
‘Revenge on that womaniser is just an advantage. I’ve wanted you from day one.’ He basically confirms Jesse’s suspicions in that one sentence. ‘He doesn’t deserve you.’
‘He does deserve me, and he has me. He’ll always have me. We’ve fought off bigger beasts than you, Mikael. Nothing you can tell me will ever sway me from my decision to be with him.’ My body might be shaking, but my voice is steady and firm. ‘I have nothing more to say to you.’ I turn to leave, but stop briefly at the door. ‘I’m sorry, Patrick.’
John follows me, his giant hand set firmly on my back, as if he’s gaging my physical condition. I feel sad, but strangely resolute.
The light Danish accent that I used to find quite sexy, now just makes my skin crawl. John tries to push me on, but a stupid sense of curiosity has me fighting against the big guy’s strength and turning towards Mikael.
‘He fucked other women when he was with you, Ava. He doesn’t deserve you.’
‘He does deserve me!’ I scream the words in his face, and he steps back, shocked.
John’s hand moves to my arm, but I shrug him off. ‘Ava, girl?’
‘No! No one gets to pass judgement on him, except me! He’s mine!’ I’ve forgiven him, and given the chance, I could probably forget. ‘You’re blinded by resentment.’ I say more calmly.
‘It’s more about you.’ The Dane flicks a cautious glance at my bodyguard.
I laugh and shake my head. ‘No, it’s not. I’m married and preg…’