‘I think he’s getting ready.’ Kate downs a Most Marvellous.
‘Katie Matthews, take it easy!’ Mum scorns, taking the glass from her. ‘You’ve got all day to go.’
‘Sorry.’ Kate flicks me a cheeky grin. I know why she’s hitting the drink so early: theDan and Sam combination.
‘What about my dad and brother?’
‘At the bar, Ava. All of the men are at the bar.’ Kate emphasises all.
‘All of the men?’ I ask. ‘Like all of the men, including Sam?’
Kate nods in agreement to my obvious thoughts. ‘Yes, all of the men, except Jesse and including Sam… and Dan.’
I wince. Today is going to be tough for Kate. Dan delayed his return to Australia so he could be here for my wedding, but he hasn’t said much, neither on the night of the proposal or since. He doesn’t need to. It’s obvious that he’s struggling with both the direction of my life and being near Kate, especially with an oblivious Sam on the scene. Kate’s struggling too, although trying to appear unaffected.
‘Come on, then.’ Kate claps her hands. ‘Are you getting dressed or walking down the aisle in that? I’m sure he won’t mind.’
I smile at my fiery friend. She knows Jesse’s compulsion for lace, but my mum doesn’t. ‘I’m getting dressed.’ I unpack my heels from the tissue paper and slip them on, raising me by four inches. ‘Right,’ I take a deep breath and make my way over to the door, where my dress is waiting for me.
‘Perhaps you should use the toilet before we get you into it.’ Mum suggests, joining me by the dress. ‘Oh, Ava. I’ve never seen anything like it.’
I hum my agreement, my eyes drifting up and down the full length. ‘I know. And yes, I need a wee.’ I leave my mum admiring my dress and head for the bathroom, catching Kate having another quick glug while my mum’s back is turned. If I wasn’t so concerned about my wedding venue, I might be concerned about spending the day with Dan and Kate within spitting distance of each other.
I shut the door quietly before using the toilet and relishing in another private moment. Then I hear a loud knock on the suite door, followed by the unmistakably panicked voice of my mother. Wondering what’s going on, I make quick work of sorting myself out and washing my hands before exiting the bathroom.
‘Jesse,’ My mum is clearly exasperated. ‘You and I are going to fall out if you don’t do as you’re told.’
I look over at Kate, who is drinking more Most Marvellous while my mum is distracted. She grins at me on a shrug. ‘What’s going on?’ I ask.
‘Jesse wants to see you, but Elizabeth is having none of it.’
I roll my eyes, turning my attention to the door, where my mum is blocking the small gap between the door and the frame. Then I hear him.
‘We won’t fall out, mum, if you let me in.’ I know he’s grinning at my mother, but his playfulness isn’t fooling me. I can detect the threat in his tone. He’s coming in this room, and not even mum will stop him.
‘Jesse Ward, you do not get to call me mum when I’m only nine years older than you.’ she spits. ‘Now go, you’ll be seeing her in half an hour.’
‘Ava!’ he yells past my mum.
I throw my eyes back to Kate, and she nods her head, instantly catching my drift. We both run towards the door, Kate unhooking my dress from the top and me gathering the bottom in my arms before we take it into the bathroom and rehang it on the back of the door.
Kate laughs. ‘Will your mum learn or will she continue to try and tame him?’
‘I don’t know.’ I smooth the front of my dress down and follow Kate back out, shutting the door behind me. Mum is still guarding the door, her foot wedged at the bottom. That won’t stop him.
‘Jesse, no!’ She’s pushing against him now. ‘Oh no! It’s bad luck. Have you no respect for tradition, you stubborn man?’
‘Let me in, Elizabeth.’ He’s clenching his teeth, I know he is.
I glace at Kate and shake my head. He’s trampling my mother, just like he promised to do if she ever got in his way, and she is most certainly in his way.
Kate takes another drink from the tray and walks casually over to the door. ‘Elizabeth, just let him in, you’ll never stop him. The man’s a rhinoceros.’
‘No!’ Mum is really digging her heels in, not that it’ll work. She should know this by now, even after the limited time she’s spent with him. ‘He is not… oh!… Jesse Ward!’
I smile to myself as I watch my determined mother shoved back slightly before being lifted from her feet and placed neatly to the side, giving Jesse access to me. She rearranges her dress and straightens her hairpiece, all the while spitting nails at my challenging man. Then I cast my eyes back to the open doorway. His eyes are green pools of desire and they’re studying me closely; his face expressionless, his jaw stubbled. My greedy eyes trail slowly down his half nakedness as he stands before me in just his loose shorts, his solid chest damp and his hair dark with sweat. He’s been running again.
‘Well!’ Mum huffs. ‘Ava, tell him to leave!’ She’s not happy.
I find his eyes again. ‘It’s fine, mum. Just give us five minutes.’
His eyes sparkle in approval as he stands patiently waiting for my mum to relent and leave us. Mum won’t appreciate it, but even this small gesture is uncharacteristically respectful. He’ll ravish me wherever and whenever he pleases, so the fact that he hasn’t physically removed my mum from the room is quite a surprise. He’s trampling all right, but he could trample harder.
I see Kate in my peripheral vision approach my mum and take her arm. ‘Come on, Elizabeth. Just a few minutes won’t hurt.’
‘It’s tradition!’ she argues, but still lets Kate lead her out. I smile a little. There is nothing traditional about my relationship with Jesse.. ‘What’s that bruise on his chest?’ I hear my mother ask as she’s pushed from the room.
The door closes, and we maintain our deep eye connection, neither one of us saying anything for the longest time. I just drink him in, every finely tuned muscle, every perfect inch of pure beauty.
He finally speaks. ‘I don’t want to take my eyes away from your face.’
He shakes his head mildly. ‘They’ll be lace if I do, won’t there?’
His chest expands slightly. ‘And you’re taller, so you’ve got heels on.’
I nod again. This could be dangerous for my hair, make-up and underwear if those eyes stray from my face. It could also be dangerous for our strict time schedule. I’m expecting Tessa up here at any moment to check that I’m ready before she hits me with how many steps it is to the summer room and how long it should take me to get there.
He blinks a few times, and I know he’ll never resist a peek; he’d just better control himself when he gets the full impact, and I’d better control myself, too. It’s hard. Sweat beads are trailing down his temple, across his neck and onto his solid chest, before shimmering as they travel the waves of his stomach and disperse in the waistband of his shorts. I shift as his eyes break from mine and lazily drag down my body, his chest heaving more severely as his gaze makes its journey. I’m tingling all over, wanting to control my body’s reaction to his perfection, but at the same time wanting him to take me here and now.
‘You’ve just trampled my mother.’ I try to hide the lust in my voice, but, as always, I fail miserably. This man is impossible to resist, especially when he’s looking at me like this—when his eyes are pouring with appreciation.
I make my move before he does. I walk slowly across the room to him and stop close to his sweat coated body, then flick my gaze up to his lush lips. His breathing escalates.
‘She was in my way.’ he says quietly, breathing down on me.
‘This is bad luck. You’re not supposed to see me before our wedding.’
‘Stop me.’ His head dips so his lips brush over mine gently, but he doesn’t touch my body. ‘I’ve missed you.’
‘It’s been twelve hours.’ My voice is husky and inviting, even though I know I shouldn’t be encouraging contact when he’s a mass of hard, muscled sweatiness, and I’m standing in ivory lace, hair and make-up all perfect.
‘Too long.’ He runs his tongue slowly across my bottom lip, enticing a quiet moan from my mouth. I’m instantly fighting the natural instinct to grab his big shoulders. ‘You’ve had a drink.’ he accuses softly.
‘Just a sip.’ He’s like a bloodhound. ‘We shouldn’t be doing this.’
‘You can’t look like this and say things like that, Ava.’ His lips push to mine, his tongue seeking entry, encouraging my lips to part and accept him into my mouth. The hot warmness of him dispels my nervousness;, everything is forgotten as he claims me, but still keeps his hands to himself. Our sweeping tongues are the only contact between us, but it’s as consuming as ever. My senses are saturated, my mind scrambled, and my body begging for him. But he just maintains the slow, fluid movements of his tongue, withdrawing occasionally to tease my lips, before plunging back into my mouth. I hum at his exquisite pace, the inevitable bang dropping between my thighs as he worships me delicately.
‘Jesse, we’re going to be late for our wedding.’ I need to halt this before one of us takes it to the next level. It might be me.
‘Don’t tell me to stop kissing you, Ava.’ He bites my bottom lip and drags it slowly through his teeth. ‘Never tell me to stop kissing you.’ He lowers himself to his knees and takes my hands, pulling me down. I kick my shoes off and join him. He watches his thumbs circling over the tops of my hands for a while before lifting his glorious green eyes to find mine. ‘Are you ready to do this?’ he asks quietly.
I frown. ‘Are you asking me if I still want to marry you?’
His lips tip a little. ‘No, you don’t get a choice. I’m just asking if you’re ready.’
I struggle to stop my own small smile at his candidness. ‘And what if I say no?’
‘Then why ask?’
His lips turn into a shy smile, and he shrugs. ‘You’re nervous. I don’t want you to be nervous.’
‘Jesse, I’m nervous because of where I’m getting married.’
His smile falls away. ‘Ava, everything has been taken care of. I said not to worry so you shouldn’t.’
‘I can’t believe you convinced me to do this.’ I drop my head, feeling a little guilty for doubting he’d keep his word. I know exactly why we’re marrying at The Manor. It’s because there’s no waiting list or other bookings to work around. It’s where he could get me down the aisle without delay.
‘Hey.’ He tips my chin back up, making me look at his achingly handsome face. ‘Stop it now.’
‘I’m sorry.’ I grumble.
‘Ava, baby, I want you to cherish today, not get your knickers in a twist over something that’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen. They’ll never know, I promise.’
I shake myself out of my uneasiness and smile, feeling better for hearing his reassuring words. I believe him. ‘Okay.’
I watch as he stands and strolls over to a big chest, pulling something from the drawer and returning a few moments later with a bath sheet. My brow furrows as he drops back to his knees and wipes his face, then ruffles his damp hair before laying it across his front.
He opens his arms. ‘Come here.’ he demands quietly, and I waste no time crawling onto his lap and letting him surround me in his arms, my cheek resting on his chest through the towel.