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Beneath This Man (This Man Trilogy)(6)

By:Jodi Ellen Malpas

I don’t know, so I resolve to sit with my hands in my lap and shut up.

I look at him, looking at me and my mind is racing with things I want to say, none of which I can. I want to tell him that I love him, for a start. And I want to ask him why he didn’t tell me he owns a sex club or that he has an issue with drink. Is he wondering what I’m doing here? Does he want me to leave? Oh, God, does he need a drink? The silence is killing me.

‘How are you feeling?’ I blurt, instantly wishing I had kept my mouth shut.

He sighs and inspects his damaged hand. ‘Shit.’ he states sharply.

Oh, okay. Now what do I say? He doesn’t seem pleased to see me at all, so perhaps I should go before I push him to crack another bottle open. He’ll have to go buy some more, though. That will probably be even more of a reason to be mad at me.

I decide he must need some fluids, so I get up and head towards the kitchen. I’ll get him some water and then I’ll leave.

‘Where are you going?’ he asks, slightly panicky and bolting upright on the couch.

‘I thought you might need some water.’ I assure him, my heart lifting a little. He doesn’t want me to leave. I’ve seen that face plenty of times. The domineering control freak usually follows, after he’s pinned me down somewhere, but I won’t get my hopes up too high. He hasn’t got the strength to be chasing, pinning or dominating me at the moment. I’m disappointed.

He settles at my response, and I carry on my way to the kitchen, glancing at the clock on the oven as I fetch a glass. Eight o’clock. I’ve slept for ten hours straight. That hasn’t happened since…well, since I was last with Jesse.

I grab a bottle of water from the fridge and fill the glass before traipsing back into the vast open space to find Jesse sat up on the sofa with his head in his hands, the blanket pooling in his lap.

When I reach him, he lifts his gaze to mine and our eyes lock. I hand him the water. With his good hand, he takes the glass, his fingers resting over mine. I retract mine quickly, the water splashing out of the glass. I don’t know why that happened, and the look on his face makes me feel instantly heartless. He’s shaking dreadfully, and I’m wondering if it’s withdrawal. I’m sure I read shakiness as a symptom, along with a catalogue of other signs.

He follows my eyes to his hand and shakes his head. This is weird. Things have never been like this between us. Neither of us knows what to say.

‘When did you last have a drink?’ I ask. This is pink elephant in the room territory, but I’ve got to say something.

He sips his water and then slumps back on the sofa, his abdominals looking sharper from his slight weight loss. ‘I don’t know. What day is it?’


‘Saturday?’ he asks, obviously shocked. ‘Fuck.’

I’m assuming this means he’s lost a lot of time, but he can’t have been in this penthouse for five days solid, just drinking. Surely he would be dead?

And then the silence falls again and I find myself back on the chair opposite him, twiddling my thumbs and searching my brain for the right thing to say. I hate this. I wouldn’t usually think twice about diving on him and throwing my arms around him, letting him smother me completely, but he’s so delicate at the moment, which is crazy, considering his tall, if a bit leaner frame. My strong rogue is reduced to a shaking mess. It’s killing me. And on top of all that, I don’t even know if he would want me to. I’m not sure I really want to either. This man is not the man I fell in love with. Is this the real Jesse?

He sits and fiddles with his glass thoughtfully, the familiar sight of the cogs turning is comforting, it’s a little piece of him that I recognise, but I can’t bear this silence. ‘Jesse, is there anything I can do?’ I ask despairingly, while silently pleading for him to give me something – anything.

He sighs. ‘There are lots of things you can do, Ava. But I can’t ask you to do any of them.’ He doesn’t look at me.

I want to scream at him, tell him what he’s done to me. Sat here looking at him, all disheveled and tracing the rim of his glass, is just reinforcing the sensible side of my brain’s instinct to run.

‘Do you want a shower?’ I ask. I can’t sit in silence anymore. I’ll tear my hair out.

He leans forward and winces. ‘Sure.’ he murmurs.

I watch him struggle to his feet, and I feel like a cold cow for not helping him, but I don’t know if he wants me to, and I’m not sure that I can. The atmosphere between us is so awkward.

As he stands, the blankets fall to his feet and he looks down at his naked body. ‘Shit.’ he curses, reaching down to retrieve one of the blankets. He wraps it around his waist and turns towards me. ‘I’m sorry.’ he says on a shrug.


Like I haven’t seen it all before – lots, in fact. In his words, there is not a place on my body that hasn’t had him in it, on it or over it.

My shoulders droop and I sigh as I start walking with him up the stairs to the master-suite. It takes a while and we’re surrounded by an uncomfortable silence the whole way, but we make it, eventually. I don’t know how much longer I can stay here. This is a million miles away from what I’m used to with this man.

‘Would a bath be better?’ I ask, walking ahead into the bathroom. He looks exhausted after his trek up the stairs, so standing in the shower isn’t going to be fun. A good muscle soak in the bath will probably help.

He shrugs again. ‘I suppose.’

Okay, I’ll run him a bath, and then I’m leaving. I can’t do this. This is the man who I was beginning to think I knew, who I was desperately hoping I knew, but I’m destroyed to discover that I don’t know him at all – not even a little bit. I’ll ring John and see what he suggests. I’m not cut out for this. He is inhibited, withdrawn and all of the hurtful things that he bellowed at me during our altercation are getting louder and clearer the longer this goes on. Why did I get into that elevator?

I turn the giant mixer tap on and run my hand under it until the temperature is right, while trying my hardest not to think about tub talk and the fact that Jesse is a self-proclaimed bath man now – but only when I’m in there with him. I push the button for the plug and let the water run, knowing the giant thing will take an age to fill.

I turn and come face to face with the vanity unit. That is where we had our first sexual encounter. This bathroom is where we showered together, bathed together and had many steamy sex sessions together. It’s also where I last saw him.


I shake my thoughts away and busy myself finding some bath soak and generally pottering about, while Jesse stands propped up against the wall in silence. As I knew it would, the bath takes forever to fill, and I begin to wish I had just shoved him in the shower.

Finally, it’s full enough. ‘There.’ I say shortly, walking out of the bathroom. I’ve never felt compelled to escape his presence. I’ve stormed off in strops and evaded his touch for fear of losing my mind, but I’ve never really wanted to leave. I do now.

‘You’re acting like a stranger.’ he says softly, just as I reach the door, stopping me in my tracks. This is so very painful.

I don’t turn around. ‘I feel like a stranger.’ I say quietly, swallowing hard and trying to prevent the shakes that are threatening to invade my body.

Silence settles again, different instructions tangling in my head. I really don’t know what to do for the best. I thought the pain couldn’t get any worse. I thought I was in the lowest level of hell already. I was wrong. Seeing him like this is crippling me. I need to leave and continue with my battle to get over this man. I feel like I’ve been knocked back a few steps, now that I’ve seen him again, but the truth is, I hadn’t really made any progression in my recovery. If anything, this will make the whole painful process easier.

‘Please look at me, Ava.’

My heart sprints up to my throat at his words that are a plea rather than the usual demand. Even his voice sounds different. It’s not the familiar deep, husky, sexy rumble I know. Now, it is cracked and broken. He is cracked and broken, which means I am cracked and broken.

I slowly pivot to face the man who is a stranger to me, finding his bottom lip wedged between his teeth as he looks at me through hollow green eyes. ‘I can’t do this.’ I turn and leave, my heart hammering, but getting slower at the same time. It’s going to stop soon.


I hear him coming after me, but I don’t look back. He’s not at full strength, so this might be the only time I actually get away from him. What was I thinking coming here? Flashbacks of last Sunday overwhelm my head as I take the stairs fast, my vision blurry, my legs numb.

As I hit the bottom of the staircase, I feel the familiar grip of his hand around my wrist, and I panic, flying around to push him away from me. ‘No!’ I scream, frantically trying to release myself from his harsh hold. ‘Don’t touch me!’

‘Ava, don’t do this.’ he pleads, grabbing my other wrist and holding me in front of him. ‘Stop!’

I crumble to the floor, feeling helpless and fragile. I’m already broken, but he can dish the final blow that will finish me off. ‘Please, don’t.’ I sob. ‘Please, don’t make this harder.’