He bends down and puts his lips to my ear. ‘Give me your hand.’ he whispers.
I hold out my hand to him, and he pulls away from me, taking my offering gently and placing his lips on the back of it. Then he snaps a pair of handcuffs over my wrist.
My eyes shoot to his, finding a small smile tickling the edges of his beautiful lips, but he doesn’t look at me. He keeps his eyes down and makes quick work of securing the spare metal loop over his own wrist. What the hell is he doing? I glance up at my dad, but he just shakes his head, and then I look across to my mother, finding her with her head in her hands, obviously despairing. I’m released from my dad’s hold before he makes his way to the front to join Elizabeth, her shocked whisper attacking him as he arrives by her side. My eyes drift over the congregation, noting all of the people who know Jesse are smiling, the ones who don’t displaying wide eyes and gaping mouths. Kate and Sam are chuckling, John’s flashing his gold tooth, and then there’s my brother. He’s not impressed.
I’m absolutely stunned. I don’t know why, he behaves however he likes. But on our wedding day? In front of my family? My mum’s going to have a hernia. Nothing so far has has reflected the dream wedding that she undoubtedly had planned for me since I was a little girl.
I find my senses then find his eyes. ‘What are you doing?’ I ask quietly.
He leans in and kisses me gently on the lips, then moves across my cheek to my ear. ‘You look so f**kable.’
I gasp a little, my face flashing red. ‘Jesse, people are waiting.’
‘Then they’ll wait.’ He trails his way back to my lips. ‘I really, really, really like this dress.’
Of course he does; it’s pure lace. I flick my eyes to my mother, seeing her looking at the registrar all apologetic, and a small smile breaks the corners of my lips. I reach up to thread my fingers through his dark, dirty blonde hair and tug. I should be used to this by now. ‘Mr Ward, you’re keeping me waiting.’
I feel him grin against my ear. ‘Are you ready to love, honour and obey me?’
‘Yes. Marry me now.’
He pulls back and hits me with his smile, reserved only for me. ‘Let’s get married, my beautiful girl.’ He joins our handcuffed hands and starts leading me down the aisle.
* * *
‘Here.’ He hands me a half-full flute of champagne. ‘Take it easy, Mrs Ward.’ I take the glass with my free hand before he can withdraw his offer. He’s been even more unreasonable about me drinking lately, and I know exactly why. ‘Are you going to remove the cuffs now?’ I ask.
‘No.’ he answers swiftly. ‘You’re not leaving my side all day long.’ He signals for a bottle of water from Mario, and I’m suddenly reminded that I’ll never enjoy a drink with Jesse, not even on our wedding day.
I glance around the bar, seeing everyone chatting, nibbling on canapés and drinking champagne. It’s relaxed and calm, just how I feel myself. After Jesse insulted all things traditional, we made our vows and he took it upon himself to drown me in his mouth—prior to getting the go ahead from the registrar. Then he picked me up and strode out of the summer room, leaving my poor mother chasing behind, demanding he wait for the music. Not a chance. I was placed neatly on my stool at the bar and smothered with his lips while the congregation made their way in behind us.
Dan catches my attention across the room. He’s being so quiet, and his attention is constantly pointed in Kate’s direction, which means it’s also pointed in Sam’s.
‘What are you thinking about?’
I pull my attention back to Jesse and smile. ‘Nothing.’
He rests his palm on the back of my neck and massages me. ‘Are you happy?’
‘Yes.’ I answer quickly. I’m delirious. He knows I am.
‘Good, then my work here is done. Kiss me, wife.’ He leans down, offering his lips to me.
‘You’ve upset my mother,’ I accuse lightly.
‘She’ll get over it. I said kiss me.’
‘I don’t think she will. You’ve ruined her big day.’ I’m grinning.
‘Don’t make me ask you again, Ava.’ he warns, and I reach up and pull him down to me, giving him exactly what he wants.
‘Enough!’ Mums shrill voice stabs at my ear drums. ‘Get those handcuffs off my daughter!’ She starts fiddling with my wrist. ‘Jesse Ward, you would try the patience of a Saint! Where’s the key?’
He pulls back and narrows his eyes on my mum. ‘Somewhere you’ll never want to venture, Elizabeth.’
She gasps and throws irritated eyes at me. ‘Your husband is a menace.’
‘I love him.’ I declare, and she fights a fond smile from her cherry red lips. She’s desperate to maintain her grievance, but I know she loves him, too. I know she loves how much he loves me, and while he infuriates her, he also charms her, a he does all women. Just because Elizabeth happens to be my mother, doesn’t make her immune to his potency.
‘I know you do, darling.’ She clucks my cheek and turns her attention to the bar, calling Mario for some of his Most Marvellous.
‘Right!’ Tessa dives over to us and takes my glass from my hand. ‘The photographer is ready. I thought we’d get the family shots out of the way first, then have you two alone for a few. You’ll need to remove those cuffs.’
I watch as my glass is placed on the bar before she makes a grab for Jesse’s water, but he swipes it away, leaving Tessa grabbing at thin air. ‘We’re not in the photos, I told you.’ Jesse says.
‘We’re not?’ I blurt, completely shocked. He’s trampling that tradition, too?
‘You must be in the photos.’ Tessa insists. ‘What memories will you have?’ She looks horrified. I bet she’s wishing she’d never taken us on. Or taken Jesse on; I’ve had nothing to do with this day.
‘Tessa, take the family outside for photos,’ Jesse orders. It’s that voice. ‘I don’t need pictures for memories.’
I look at him in horror. ‘We’re not in the family shots?’ Oh God, another reason for my mum to despair.
‘No.’ he answers decisively.
‘You can’t begrudge her a photo with her daughter!’ He doesn’t answer, he just shrugs nonchalantly. I roll my eyes. ‘You do it to her on purpose.’ I grumble. ‘We’re having photos.’
‘No, we’re not.’ he retorts shortly.
I glare at my delicious husband with narrowed, determined eyes. He is not trampling this. ‘We are having photographs. This is my wedding, too, Ward.’
His mouth drops open, his bottle pausing halfway to his lips. ‘But I want some quiet time. Just me and you.’
‘We’re having photos.’ I say, full of authority. I feel a sulk coming on, but I’m not letting him win this one.
He scowls slightly, but he doesn’t argue with me. Instead, he signals for Tessa to gather our guests and take them into the rear grounds of The Manor. I watch as she flies into commander role, shouting for everyone to leave the bar and head to the gardens.
‘Come on, then.’ he grumbles, lifting me from the stool and placing me neatly on my feet. I mentally cheer to myself. He’s learning, or perhaps it’s me who’s learning—learning how to deal with him. I’m not sure, but we’re making immense progress. He knows when to relent, as do I.
He leads me out into the sunshine and over to the gathering of guests. Tessa is directing people into various positions, but my mother is quickly repositioning bodies as we approach. I look across and see Kate being ravished by Sam, my eyes instantly darting towards Dan and finding what I knew I would. A filthy look. Is she doing this on purpose?
I look up at Jesse. ‘Please, just do what you’re told.’ The more he plays up, the longer this will take and the more stressed my mum will get.
‘If you promise me quiet time after.’
‘I promise you quiet time.’ I say on a laugh.
‘Good. I hate sharing you.’ he grumbles, and I smile. I know he does.
Jesse spends the next hour cooperating completely. He moves when asked, smiles when requested, and even releases me from the cuffs without complaint when I have some shots on my own. On the final click, I’m swiftly scooped up and carried back to The Manor.
It’s not long before we’re alone in one of The Manor’s suites—the suite where he cornered me and tried to seduce me, and the suite where I got myself ready for our wedding. The door closes softly behind us, and I’m led to the grand, satin-adorned bed. He lifts me and crawls up the bed, settling me beneath him. Now I’ve got a set of lustful greens gazing down at me. ‘Quiet time.’ he whispers, dropping a soft kiss on my lips before his face buries straight into my neck.
‘You want to snuggle?’ I ask, a little surprised.
‘I do.’ He nuzzles further. ‘I want to snuggle with my wife. Are you going to deny me?’
‘Good. Our marriage is getting off to the best start, then.’ he says, completely serious.
So I let him snuggle. I absorb his weight, his smell and his heart beating against my chest. I like quiet time, but as I gaze up at the high ceiling, my mind naturally wanders to the thoughts that have been lingering for weeks—the thoughts that I have tried my hardest to bat away. Impossible. The perfection of this moment, of our love for each other, is clouded by the reality of the challenges ahead.
There has been no contact from Mikael, so I assume he is still in Denmark. I’ve been spared that challenge for now, although he’s bound to return soon and I highly expect him to enforce our meeting when he does. There has been no sight of Coral, either, and Sarah has been kicked out on her arse after admitting to everything that I absolutely knew she did. I’ve not heard from Matt, so he’s definitely got the message, but I’m still far too curious about his knowledge of Jesse’s drinking issue. And then there’s my period, which is due on Monday. I’ve never wished so hard for something. A baby? I can’t even think about that, and I’m not ignorant to the fact that I’ve buried my head well and truly in the sand. Way, way down.
Jesse hasn’t mentioned it again, but I know he wants me pregnant. He would love to have me nailed to his side, he’s made that clear, and perhaps he thinks a baby would achieve this. He would see it as the perfect excuse for me to give up work, something else he would like to happen. But I love my job. I love spending my days designing and interacting with clients. I’ll battle with him on this. I’ll fight him really hard… if I’m not pregnant. I’ve no idea what I’ll do if I am. I know he’ll be looking for signs of my period, and I can’t hide that from him. I’ve been making him wear condoms for two weeks, and he’s clearly demonstrated his disgust, but if I’m not pregnant, then I want it to stay that way.
‘Will you do something for me?’ I ask quietly.
‘Anything.’ His hot breath on my neck has my head turning into him, encouraging him to look at me. His head lifts from its hiding place, his hair now a dishevelled mess, his greens finding my eyes. ‘What do you want, baby?’
‘Can you please resist talking to Patrick about Mikael?’ I brace myself for his scoff. I’ve managed to keep him from my boss, but with Patrick and Irene arriving later for the evening reception, I’m not sure Jesse can hold himself back. Things have been quiet on the Mikael front, and I’ve been allowed to work, even if he does call constantly. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Jesse knows that my Danish client is out of the country.
‘I agreed not to visit Patrick if you spoke with him. And I don’t believe you have.’ He raises expectant eyebrows at me.
No, I haven’t, because I have no idea how to approach this. He was shocked enough to hear that I was marrying one of my clients just a short time after taking on the contract. I could hardly hit him with the shock that I’m about to jump ship on Rococo Union’s most important client, the client who guarantees Patrick’s retirement—the retirement that he won’t need if I tell him the news because he’ll most certainly keel over and die of shock.