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Beneath This Man (This Man Trilogy)(3)

By:Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘I know, Clive, but they’re worried.’ I say, sounding completely detached. ‘They just want to check he’s okay, and then they’ll be leaving.’ I try with graciousness as I know Drew, Sam and John would have been a lot less than that.

‘Ava, I have been up and knocked on Mr Ward’s door and got no response. We’ve checked some of the CCTV, and I have not seen him leave or return on my watch. Security cannot check five days of continuous footage. I have told your friends this. If I let you up, it’s more than my job is worth.’

I’m stunned at Clive’s sudden turnabout in concierge etiquette. If only he had been this professional and stubborn when I came to see Jesse on Sunday, then we might never have had the altercation we did. But then I would still be blissfully unaware of Jesse’s little problem.

I feel Sam press up against my back. ‘Let us up, for fuck sake!’ he yells over my shoulder.

I flinch slightly, but I can’t blame him for being frustrated. I’m feeling pretty frustrated myself. I just want to get them past Clive and go. I can feel the walls closing in on all sides of me. I can see Jesse carrying me across the marble floor in his arms. All of the images swamping my brain are now all the more clearer for being here.

I turn and see John with a face like thunder and his hand on Sam’s shoulder, his way of telling Sam to calm down. I didn’t want to do this, but tempers are fraying. ‘Clive, I would hate to resort to blackmail.’ I say tightly, turning back to face him. He looks at me in confusion, and I can see his brain ticking over, trying to think of what I could possibly blackmail him with. ‘I would hate for anyone to find out about Mr Gomez’s regular visitors, or Mr Holland’s aversion to a Thai girl or two.’ I watch as Clive’s face screws up into a contortion of defeatism.

‘Ava, you play nasty, my girl.’

‘You leave me no other choice, Clive.’ I spit.

He shakes his head and motions us on to the elevator while muttering insults under his breath.

‘Brilliant!’ Sam chants as they make their way over to the penthouse lift.

I don’t have any idea how it happens, but I find my feet lifting and taking small steps behind them, following them to the elevator. ‘Jesse might have changed the code.’ I say to their backs.

Sam swings around, looking alarmed.

I shrug. ‘If he has, then there is no way of getting up there.’

All of a sudden, I’m stood in front of the elevator, taking a deep breath and punching in the developer code. There’s a chorus of exhales as the doors open and they all get in. I stand on the outside and look up at Sam, and he smiles, jerking his head mildly, encouraging me to board with them.

I do.

I get in the elevator, Sam and Drew flanking me on one side, John on the other. I enter the code again. We travel up in an uncomfortable silence, and as the lift doors open, we’re faced with the double doors that lead into Jesse’s penthouse.

Sam is the first to exit the lift, striding towards the doors and jiggling the handle calmly before he starts hammering on the door like a madman. ‘Jesse! Open the fucking door!’

Drew and John approach and pull him away, and then John tries the door himself, but it doesn’t budge. I can’t help but think I might have been the last person to exit the penthouse. I remember making a point of slamming the door as hard as I could.

‘Sam, mate, he might not even be here.’ Drew soothes.

‘Where the hell is he then?’ Sam yells.

‘Oh, he’s in there,’ John rumbles. ‘And the mother fucker has been drowning in his sorrows for too long now. He’s got a business to run.’

I’m still stood in the elevator when the doors start to shut, snapping me out of my dazed state. My natural reflex has my arm flinging up to stop them closing before I step out into the penthouse foyer. I know I said that I would get them up here and leave, I know I should just go, but seeing Sam in such a state has me even more worried, and John’s words are prickling me. Drowning in his sorrows or drowning in vodka? If I stay, am I going to be faced with drunken, raging Jesse again?

Drew knocks on the door calmly. It’s laughable. If Sam’s relentless hammering doesn’t get a response, then I doubt Drew’s gentlemanly tapping will.

He steps away from the door and drags Sam over to me. ‘Ava, have you tried calling him?’ Drew asks.

‘No!’ I blurt. Why would I do that? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want to talk to me.

‘Can you try?’ Sam asks pleadingly.

I shake my head. ‘He wouldn’t answer, Sam.’

‘Ava, will you just try?’ Drew pushes.

I reluctantly get my phone from my bag and pull up my contact list, dialing Jesse and holding my phone to my ear while Sam and Drew watch nervously. I’m not sure what on earth I’m going to say if he answers.

Drew’s head snaps towards the door. ‘I can hear it ringing.’ He returns to me, obviously waiting for me to speak down the line, but it goes to voicemail. My heart constricts. He doesn’t want to talk to me. I go to re-board the elevator, the hurt enflamed by his rejection of my call, but then an almighty crash sounds out around the foyer.

Sam, Drew and I all whip our heads around to the double doors leading into Jesse’s penthouse and find John on the other side, surrounded by a splintered doorframe. He nods at us, and Sam and Drew fly forward into the penthouse. I follow tentatively behind them and the only thoughts going through my mind are of my last discovery here. Why am I walking this way?

Turn around! Get in the elevator! Go, NOW.

But I don’t. I stand in the doorway and from what I can see, nothing has moved. Everything still seems to be in place. I step a little bit further into the open area and hear the guys running around upstairs and down, searching for Jesse, and as the bottom of the stairs comes into view, I notice the empty bottle of vodka is still on the console table. Then I see the terrace doors wide open. I take cautious steps towards them, still hearing the guys running around the penthouse, doors opening and closing, his name being called.

I, however, am being pulled towards the terrace. I know why. It’s the same magnetism that pulls me towards Jesse every time he is near, except do I want to see what is beyond the threshold of those doors? I know it won’t be my Jesse. Do I want to face him again when he is in such a terrible state, when he is so vicious and hateful? No, of course I don’t, but I can’t seem to turn away either.

As I approach the doors, I try to prepare my eyes for a drunken mess, sprawled across one of the sun loungers, clenching a vodka bottle, but instead, I’m greeted by Jesse’s naked, unconscious body face down on the decking.

I choke on my heart and my pulse starts pounding in my ears. ‘He’s here!’ I scream, running towards his lifeless body and throwing my bag down as I collapse by his side.

I grip his big shoulders to try and turn him over. I don’t know where I get my strength from, but I manage it, yanking him over so his head is cradled in my lap. I start desperately smoothing my hands over his bearded face, noticing his hand still swollen and bruised, with dried blood all over his knuckles.

‘Jesse, wake up. Please, wake up.’ I plead, giving into hysteria as I look at the man I love, unconscious and non-responsive, lying in my lap. Tears pour down my face and spill onto his cheeks. ‘Jesse, please.’ I desperately run my hands over his face, his chest, his hair. He looks hollow, he’s lost weight and his jaw is covered in a week’s worth of stubble.

‘Mother fucker.’ John rumbles when he finds me on the terrace with Jesse supported in my lap.

‘I don’t know if he’s breathing.’ I sob, looking up through glazed eyes to the mountain of a man stalking towards me. Why haven’t I checked this yet? It’s the first rule in first aid. I grab his wrist, but my shaking hands won’t allow me to maintain a stable hold to establish a pulse.

‘Here,’ John gestures, kneeling down and taking Jesse’s arm from me.

I look up and see Sam skid to a halt at the door. ‘What the…’

Tears are invading me eyes uncontrollably and everything has gone into slow motion. Sam makes his way over and lowers himself down next to me. He starts rubbing my arm.

‘I’ll call an ambulance.’ Drew says urgently as he finds us all crowded around Jesse’s motionless form.

‘Hold up,’ John barks harshly, leaning over Jesse and pulling his dried lips apart, inspecting every part of his limp body. ‘The stupid mother fucker. He’s drunk himself into a fucking coma.’

I look at Sam and Drew, but I can’t fathom their reactions to John’s conclusion. How does he know this? He could be half dead for all John knows. He certainly looks it. ‘I think we should call an ambulance.’ I push between sniffles.

John looks at me sympathetically. I’ve never seen anything but a completely impassive expression on his hard face, so the way he is looking at me now, all sorrowful and like I’m a little naive, is strangely comforting.

‘Ava, girl. I’ve seen him like this, more than once. He needs his bed and some care to get him through this. He doesn’t need a doctor. Not that sort, anyway.’ John shakes his head.

Oh? How many times is more than once? John sounds like he knows the drill. He’s not at all concerned by the condition of Jesse lying in my lap, whereas I am a hysterical wreck. Sam and Drew are not all that good either. Have they seen him like this before?