My legs buckle, making me stagger forward and my heart stops in my chest. But my dramatic entrance and gasp of shock doesn’t seem to faze her. She maintains her rapt stare, not giving me a second glance. She’s spellbound and if it wasn’t for Jesse and John’s recent words and reactions to this woman, then I would be thinking that she not only has a crush on me, but she is insanely obsessed.
Too much time has passed before my brain registers that I should be running, but when I slowly start stepping backwards, she looks at me. She looks hollow, not the usual bright eyed, fresh skinned woman who I’ve become used to. It has only been a few hours since I’ve seen her, but you would think it was years.
‘Don’t bother.’ Her voice is cold and carrying an air of loathing, and it immediately eliminates any thoughts I had that this woman is crushing on me. Now I know, with absolute certainty, that she hates me. ‘The lift will be out of action and Casey will stop you on the stairs.’
I might be in shock, but those words register loud and clear. So does the mental flash back of Casey in his suit… and in the CCTV footage from the night I was drugged. I even manage to ask myself the sensible question of how the hell she got in the penthouse, let alone Jesse’s office.
Then she’s dangling a bunch of keys in front of her. ‘He made it too easy.’ She throws them on Jesse’s desk, and my eyes follow their path until they clatter and eventually still. I don’t recognise the set, but I’m not stupid enough to wonder what they’re for. ‘Your husband’s stupidity and my lover’s desperate need to make me happy has almost made this boring.’ She looks back to the wall. The Ava wall. ‘I think he’s a little obsessed with you.’
I remain exactly where I am, racing through my options. I have none. No escape, no chance of anyone getting to me and with the new concierge keeping guard, I’m helpless.
The tip of her finger meets the wall where Jesse has written something. ‘My heart started beating again?’ She laughs, a cold, sinister laugh, increasing my already potent unease. ‘Jesse Ward, the obnoxious, woman using, arsehole is in love, married and now expecting twins? How perfect.’
She doesn’t mean that, but she definitely meant what came before. I’m facing another scorned ex-lover, but this one is on a whole new level. She hates him, and in turn, hates me. Frightening clarity, plus the way she has now turned and is staring at my stomach, informs me that she also hates our growing babies. My fear has just catapulted to the highest level, and I know for certain that me and my babies are in grave danger.
I acknowledge her getting closer, but I don’t acknowledge that I’m moving too. Not fast enough, though, because she is in front of me in seconds and now stroking my stomach thoughtfully.
Then she draws her hand back and punches me. I scream, my body folding over protectively, my arms wrapping around my tummy, instinctively trying to protect my babies.
She’s screaming, too, grabbing at my hair and yanking me from Jesse’s office into the openness of the penthouse. ‘You should have left him.’ she shouts, pushing me to the floor and kicking me accurately.
Pain slices through me and my eyes tear up, flowing freely. If I could get my mind past the incredible pain and shock, then I think I could find the strength to find my anger. She’s trying to kill our children.
‘What is it about the immoral bastard that has you hanging around, you pathetic bitch!’ She pulls me to my feet and slaps me around the face, but the raging sting and flaming skin won’t pull my arms from my stomach, nothing will, not even the need to fly back at her. I even have my phone in my hand still, but I can’t risk giving her clear access to my stomach.
My overloaded brain is urgently trying to guide me, give me instruction, but all I can think to do is accept her derangement and pray that all three of us come safely out the other end. If I’ve ever thought that I might have been in hell, then this moment is proving me wrong. This is below the lowest level of the underworld.
Her fist connects with my forearm on an angered, frenzied scream and my body concaves on a frightened, painful one. I’m not going to get through this. I’m nowhere near dead, but the look in her eyes through my hazy vision tells me she won’t stop until I am. She’s demented. Completely unhinged. What the hell did he do to this woman?
The front door crashes open and she’s suddenly gone from in front of me. I struggle to turn, still clutching at my stomach, still crying in agony. I see her back disappear into the kitchen, and then my pouring eyes land on Jesse. His whole body is heaving. He’s run up the stairs, and his fist is visibly swollen. His frantic eyes are running all over my body, his forehead is pouring with sweat and his face is a mixture of pure, raw terror and incensed, body shaking anger. It takes him a few moments to gather himself, and I can see he’s torn between tending to me or dealing with the crazy woman who’s broken into our home. I can’t talk, but I’m mentally screaming at him to do the latter. A choked sob escapes my mouth, prompting him to shake further then break into a full on sprint into the kitchen. My feet instinctively fly into action, and wisely or not, I follow him. Now every modicum of fear is for him.
I skid to a halt, seeing Jesse standing across the room, then I quickly locate Ruth across the breakfast bar from him. We’re standing in a perfect triangle, all breathing heavy, all flicking eyes to each other, but Ruth is the only one brandishing a knife. My phone drops from my hand, clattering loudly, but it doesn’t draw her attention. The huge blade glimmers as she turns it casually in her hand. It’s pointed in my direction, but the sight of the evil, razor sharp metal doesn’t just make my fear rocket. It also makes my eyes fall onto Jesse’s abdomen in horror.
‘Oh my God,’ I whisper, so quietly I know that I’ve not been heard over the distressed rush of breaths coming from all three bodies in the room. He said that it happened in the car accident. That’s what he said. I search for my brain, trying to locate the exact words, but I don’t find them because they’re not there. What’s there, though, is the silent conclusion that I drew myself. I’m horribly mistaken in my assumption, but I also doubt he would’ve divulged the real reason—the reason that is standing here now, playing threateningly with a knife—a knife I know that she’s prepared to use. I don’t think anything else I could face will terrify me more. Now all four of us are in danger.
‘Nice to see you, Jesse.’ she spits, steadying her stance by shifting her feet further apart. She’s getting ready to pounce.
‘No, it’s not.’ Jesse replies calmly through his laboured breathing. ‘Why are you here?’
She smiles coldly. ‘I was happy to let you wallow in misery, drink your life away, and try to fill the void that you created by mindlessly fucking about, but then you went and fell in love. I can’t let you have happiness when you’ve destroyed mine.’
‘I’ve paid tenfold for my mistakes, Lauren.’ His referral to Ruth has my head snapping from the shiny blade to Jesse’s sweaty face. Lauren? ‘I deserve this.’ It’s almost a plea, and it slices straight through my heart. He’s trying to convince himself that he deserves me and the thought of him seeking approval from this deranged woman momentarily makes me forget about the dull ache in my stomach and the heated sting of my face. I feel anger simmering.
‘No you don’t. You took my happiness, so I’ll take yours.’ She waves the knife at me and Jesse shifts nervously, his haunted greens flicking over to me briefly before settling back on Ruth—or Lauren. I don’t even know.
‘I didn’t take your happiness.’
‘Yes!’ She screams. ‘You married me, and then left me!’
I gasp and swing my eyes to Jesse. He’s chewing his lip, his eyes darting constantly between me and… his ex-wife? He was married? I’m choking on nothing, my mind racing in circles and failing to comprehend what I’ve just heard.
Ruth looks at me, snapping instantly from her angry outburst and smiling. ‘You didn’t know? Well, there’s a surprise. It might also explain why you’ve stuck around.’
Her smugness teamed with Jesse’s despair cripples me completely. ‘Nothing can break us.’ My words travel through the air and wipe the smile from her face, but they also make Jesse noticeably tense. I hold his wary gaze and determine from the emptiness in them that he disagrees. My head starts shaking mildly, my bottom lip trembling. The feeling of my palm sliding across my stomach is comforting, but the look on his face isn’t. His eyes fall from mine to my navel and a wave of desperation travels slowly across his face.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he murmurs. ‘I should have told you.’
He really has saved the best shocker till last, but I don’t care. I mean it. Nothing can break us. ‘It doesn’t matter.’ I try to assure him, but I can see defeatism swallowing him up.
‘It does matter.’ Ruth spits, pulling both of our attention away from each other and back to the knife wielding, psychotic bitch who has invaded our lives. ‘She knows nothing, does she?’
I hope she’s mistaken. I hope Jesse nods and explains that I know everything. The Manor, the drinking, now her… everything, But his head starts to shake, quadrupling my uncertainties.
‘She doesn’t know about our daughter?’ The room starts to spin, and Jesse’s goes to move. ‘Stay where you are!’ Ruth shouts, flicking the knife to him.
‘Ava…’ He desperately needs to get to me. I know I’m swaying on the spot as I try to let that information sink in. He has a daughter? My life is ending here and now. That tips the iceberg of shocks from this man. He’s trying to compensate for his lack of involvement in her life.
‘Yes, we were married and he left me when I was pregnant.’ she spits.
‘I was forced to marry you because you were pregnant. I didn’t want to and you knew it. We were seventeen years old, Lauren. We fooled around one time.’ His voice is broken and unsure, like he’s trying to reassure himself that he did the right thing.
‘Don’t blame your decision on your parents!’ She’s burning with fury again, her hand shaking uncontrollably. ‘
‘I was trying to right my wrongs. I was trying to make them happy.’
The room is still spinning wildly, while I try to piece together what I’m hearing. I can’t make any sense of it, especially now when I’m in such a hazardous situation. Through my confusion and alarm, I do, however, realise the importance of keeping myself safe. I need to get out of here. I start to back away, hoping her attention and anger will remain on Jesse as I quietly attempt my escape. I know this is going to end with her gunning for me, not Jesse. She wants to punish him, and she’s going to do that by making him live without me. She’s got it all worked out and so have I.
‘Don’t move!’ She screams, halting me dead in my tracks. ‘Don’t even THINK about trying to leave because this knife will be in him before you make it out the door.’ That threat foils my plan completely. ‘You’ve not even heard the best part, so it would be nice if you stick around to hear me out.’
‘Lauren,’ he grates in warning.
She laughs, a sly, delighted laugh. ‘What? You don’t want me to tell your young, pregnant wife that you killed our daughter?’
He’s moving fast now, nothing will stop him, and I know it’s because I’m swaying, set on free-falling to the ground. My world has just exploded, splintering into a million pieces along with my overloaded mind. But I register her moving too. I register the knife coursing towards me fast and with absolute intent. And I also register Jesse coming between me and the blade. He manages to break my fall before tackling Ruth to the floor and punching her straight in the face on an infuriated roar. She laughs. The psychotic bitch just laughs, goading him, pushing him on with her hysterical fit of amusement.