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Beneath This Man (This Man Trilogy)(8)

By:Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘Here, put these on.’ I place the clothes on the bed next to him, and he turns his head to inspect my selection, letting out a heavy, tired breath.

When he makes no attempt to dress himself, I pick up his boxers and kneel down in front of him, holding them at his feet. He’s done this to me plenty of times. I tap his ankle and he pushes himself up on the bed, looking down at me, a small twinkle lighting his eyes. It’s another familiar trait.

He silently lifts his feet into the waiting holes and stands so I can negotiate the boxers up his legs, but then his towel drops when I’m halfway up his body and I come face to face with his huge arousal.

I release his boxers and jump back from him, like it might burn me or something. Not all of him is broken then, I think to myself, trying to ignore the steel rod of flesh within touching distance. I flick a glance up to him and for the first time, his eyes sparkle fully, but it’s not a good thing. I’ve seen that look, more than once, heaps in fact, and it’s not what I need right now, although my body is completely disagreeing with my brain. I struggle to control the urge to push him on the bed and straddle him. I’m not risking sidetracking either of us with sex. There’s a lot to talk about.

He reaches down to pull his boxers up the rest of the way. ‘I’ll go to the hospital.’ he says. ‘If you want me to, then I’ll go.’

I frown at him. ‘Agreeing to have your hand looked at won’t make me fall to your feet in gratitude.’ I say curtly.

His eyes narrow slightly at my harshness. ‘I’ll let that slip.’

‘I need to feed you.’ I mutter, turning and walking out of the room, leaving Jesse to put his sweatpants and t-shirt on.

I need him to want to sort himself out, not just do things because he thinks it will get him closer to me. That won’t help. It would just be another form of manipulation, and I’ve got to avoid anything that influences the small part of my mind that is functioning correctly.

Chapter 4

I examine the contents of his fridge. There is nothing I can do with a can of squirty cream, a jar of chocolate spread or some peanut butter. There is plenty that Jesse could do, though – like make an Ava éclair. I shake my head on a shudder.

‘You have nothing.’ I say as he approaches behind me and grabs the jar of peanut butter.

He cradles the jar under his arm and unscrews the lid with his good hand, tossing it on the breakfast bar, before perching on a barstool and proceeding to dunk and lick his finger clean.

‘I’ll go to the supermarket.’ I shut the fridge door and make my way to the stairs.

He pulls his finger from his mouth. ‘I’ll come.’

‘Okay.’ I carry on my way.

‘I’ll come because I want to.’ he says quietly.

I stop in my tracks. ‘Okay.’

‘Ava, will you look at me?’ His voice is impatient. I don’t appreciate it.

I turn to face him, silently pleading with him to instigate a talk, but he just stares at me, looking almost mad.

‘I’ll get ready.’ I turn, leaving him in the kitchen.

I shower in the spare room en-suite, leaving myself standing under the hot water for an eternity, like it might wash away all of my troubles. When I eventually emerge from the shower enclosure, I search through my bags and find that Kate has, quite literally, chucked anything and everything in. I throw on a cornflower blue fifties dress which flares at the waist and my cream ballet pumps before rough drying my hair and pinning it in a low mess at the nape of my neck. A quick flick of blusher and mascara and I’m done.

I present myself to the mirror, but I don’t look much better after my attempts to make myself appear better. My eyes are probably matching Jesse’s on the hollow scale and the empty feeling that’s been lingering since last Sunday has not been filled by Jesse’s presence. Maybe I’ve got all of this wrong. Maybe I am better walking away because I certainly don’t feel any better for being here. I sigh at my reflection, willing it to give me some answers, but I know the only place I can find the answers I’m looking for is sat downstairs feasting on peanut butter. I grab my bag and make my way down to him.

He’s asleep. I look at him sat on the sofa, one leg up, one hanging off the edge, his palm resting on his chest. His mouth is slightly parted and his lashes are flickering. I leave him, taking myself to the kitchen to down my pill and use the time to send a quick text to Kate, letting her know all is fine, even though it’s not, and then I ring my brother. With all that’s happened, I forgot I’m supposed to be seeing him today.


‘Dan!’ It’s so good to hear his voice. ‘Where are you?’

‘Well, the hotel I was booked into let me down, so I’m staying with Harvey.’ he teases.

I ignore his little dig. He doesn’t care that he’s had to find somewhere else to crash. He hated Matt. ‘How are Mum and Dad?’ I ask.

‘Worried,’ he states flatly.

I knew they would be. ‘They needn’t be.’

‘Yeah, well, they are. And me too. Where are you?’


Where am I? I can hardly tell him exactly where I am and with who. ‘Kate’s,’ I lie. It’s not like he’ll be talking to her or visiting her to discover the truth. And anyway, Mum knows I’m supposed to be at Kate’s and I’m certain she would have told him. Is he testing me?

Silence falls down the phone line at the mention of Kate’s name. ‘I see,’ he says shortly. ‘Still?’

Oh, the detachment in his voice. They haven’t seen each other for years, but time, it would appear, is not a healer. ‘It’s just temporary, Dan. I’m looking for somewhere as we speak.’ Actually, as we speak, I’m sitting in the penthouse of Lusso waiting for the Sex Lord of The Manor – who has a raging hangover and with whom I’m in love with – to wake up so I can take him to the hospital and get his hand seen to – the one that he put through a window because I pissed him off. I start pacing around the kitchen island.

‘Have you spoken to that twat of an ex?’ he asks. The spite in his voice is palpable.

‘No, but I’ve heard he’s been in touch with Mum and Dad. That’s very nice of him.’

‘Fucking prick. We need to talk about this. Mum filled me in on her little chat with Matt. I know he’s a snake, but Mum’s worried. It didn’t help you not coming down to Newquay.’

‘I rang,’ I defend myself.

‘Yeah, and I know you’ve not given her the whole story. What’s with this new man?’

I freeze mid-pace. That’s a good question. ‘Dan, there are some things you can’t tell your parents.’

‘Yes, but you can tell your brother.’ he says firmly.

‘Can I?’ I blurt. I highly doubt that. Big brother would probably join my Dad in the heart attack ward. This is the reason I didn’t go to Newquay; interrogation and nagging. I will have to face up to it eventually, but not now. I’ve never been so glad that my parents live so far away.

‘Yes, you can. So, when can I see you?’ he asks, chirping up a little.

See me or squeeze me for information? ‘Tomorrow?’ I try.

‘I thought we were doing today?’ He sounds so disappointed.

So am I. I really want to see him, but I really don’t too. ‘I’m sorry. I’m looking at a few places to rent, and then I’ve got stacks of drawings to finalise.’ I lie again, but I couldn’t possibly muster up the strength to appear reasonably normal in such a short space of time. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have dragged myself out of my hole of depression and uncertainty. I very much doubt it, but at least I have time to try.

‘Great, we’ll make a day of it.’ he confirms my fears.

A whole day of evading his questions? ‘Okay, ring me in the morning.’ I say, and secretly hope he goes out with all of his mates tonight and suffers a dreadful hangover which delays his call to me. I need time.

‘Sure thing. See you tomorrow, kid.’ He hangs up.

I start thinking of ways to get around this and after an hour of aimless pacing around the penthouse, I come up with none. I can’t avoid him forever.

The intercom phone system chimes and I answer it to Clive. ‘Ava, the maintenance man is on his way up to fix the door. Oh, and Mr Ward’s window has been replaced.’

‘Thank you, Clive.’ I hang up and make my way to the door.

I answer to an old boy, who is already inspecting the damage. ‘You have a rhino ram-raid you?’ he asks, scratching his head.

‘Something like that.’ I mutter.

‘I can secure it for now, but it’ll need replacing. I’ll get it on order and let you know when it arrives.’ he says, placing his tool box on the floor.

‘Thanks,’ I leave him chipping chunks of splintered wood off the doorframe and turn to find Jesse half asleep, looking suspiciously at the door.

‘What’s going on?’ he asks.

‘John had a fight with your front door when you didn’t open it.’ I inform him dryly.

His eyebrows shoot up, but then he looks worried. ‘I should ring him.’

‘How are you feeling?’ I ask, assessing him and concluding that he looks a bit brighter after an hour power napping.