‘Give me until Monday.’ I plead. ‘I’ll talk to him on Monday.’
‘Monday.’ he affirms, his eyes slightly narrowed. ‘I mean it, Ava. You’ve got till Monday, and then I’m stepping in.’
He grunts a little, and then buries himself back in my neck. ‘Monday.’ he mumbles again. ‘And when do I get to take you away?’
‘I did warn you if you wanted to marry me so quickly, there would be no honeymoon for a while. You accepted that, remember?’
He lifts his head and points a scowl at me. ‘So when am I going to get my wife all to myself? When am I going to be able to love her?’
‘You always love me. When I’m not working, I’m with you. And you text and call me often enough, so I’m technically connected to you all day, anyway.’ I need to approach this issue, too. He’s relentless.
‘I want you to give up working.’ he’s pouting, and I’m shaking my head, just like I have every time he’s suggested this. He’s not demanding yet, but that’s coming, most likely when Mikael rears his ugly head. ‘Be a lady of leisure.’ he presses.
‘How would I be a lady of leisure if I’m permanently nailed to you?’
His h*ps push forward into my groin, enticing a sharp intake of breath from me. ‘Okay. Be a lady of pleasure, then.’ He’s grinning at me, the crafty arse, and I suspect a sense f**k is on the horizon. I’d love him to take me hard. It would make a nice change after the last few weeks of gentle Jesse.
‘Ward, you are not taking me now. Anyway, we should get downstairs before my mum comes in search of us.’
He rolls his eyes and sighs. ‘You’re mother is a pain in the f**king arse.’
‘Don’t wind her up, then.’ I laugh.
He shifts off me and pulls me to the edge of the bed. ‘She needs to accept who has the power.’ he says candidly, starting to re-cuff me.
My amusement increases. ‘You’re touching me. Of course you have the power.’ I attempt to pull my hand free from his grip, but the clanging of metal soon tells me he’s already managed to secure me. I look up at him. He grinning that roguish grin.
‘I’m sorry.’ He shakes our wrists, instigating another clanking of the handcuffs. ‘Who has the power?’
I scowl at him. ‘You can have the power for today.’ I brush my hair over my shoulder and rearrange my diamond.
‘You’re being very reasonable.’ he says quietly, swooping down and tackling my mouth. I grip his shoulder and soak up his attentive tongue and the warmth of his big palm secured at the base of my back. ‘Hmmm.’ he hums. ‘You taste delicious, Mrs Ward. Ready?’
I shake myself back to life. ‘Yes.’ I’m all breathy and hot.
His eyes drift down to my stomach, and his hand slowly lifts. I flinch when his hand connects, and he freezes, his fingers resting lightly on my belly. I don’t know why that happened. He doesn’t look up, he just waits a few silent moments before spreading his fingers, and then circling big, soft, rings on my stomach. I wish he would stop doing this. Neither one of us has spoken about it, but it can’t be avoided for much longer. He must sense my lack of enthusiasm. This little situation is my biggest burden of all. I don’t want a baby.
I pull back and his hand drops. ‘Come on, then.’ I can’t look at him. I start towards the door, but I’m soon halted when Jesse doesn’t follow, the metal of the cuffs cutting into my flesh. I wince a little.
‘Are we going to talk about this, Ava?’ he asks shortly.
‘Talk about what?’ I can’t do this, not now—not on my wedding day. We’ve had weeks of skirting around this, and for once it’s me who’s evading all talk. I’m in complete denial, I realise that, but it’s hitting me harder each day. I could be pregnant.
‘You know what.’
I keep my eyes down, not knowing what else to say. Time seems to slow, enhancing the awkward silence between us, and as I hear him draw breath to speak when I’m clearly not going to, the door crashes open and my mum charges in. I’ve never been so pleased to see her.
‘Can I ask,’ she starts, all stern, ‘why you two didn’t just run off somewhere to get married? You have guests downstairs, dinner is being served and I’m thoroughly fed up of running around trying to control you.’
‘We’re coming.’ I pull at the cuffs, but he doesn’t budge.
‘We’ll be a few minutes, Elizabeth.’ Jesse counters shortly.
‘No, we’re coming.’ I argue, silently begging him to leave this exactly where it is. I give him pleading eyes, and he shakes his head on a sigh. ‘Please.’ I say quietly.
His hand delves into his hair in frustration and his jaw tightens severely. He’s not happy, but he relents and lets me pull him from the room. I can’t believe he has chosen today of all days to push for a talk on this. It’s my wedding day.
We make our way downstairs, the silence between us remaining uncomfortable, but my mum is oblivious. I’m feeling mad. Why today?
The summer room looks incredible. Hints of green foliage peek out from among the masses of calla lilies adorning every spare space. The chairs are draped in white organza with big green bows fastened to the back, and the tables are scattered with fern leaves. Tall glass vases, full of crystal clear water and tall calla lilies dominate the tables.
Simple, understated elegance.
I’ve picked my way through a three course meal with no wine, played with my napkin and indulged anyone who’s approached in conversation. I’ve done anything to avoid looking at Jesse. John has given a short, sweet speech as Jesse’s best man. There was no talk of their history as friends, no mention of Uncle Carmichael or the early days. John doesn’t do humour, although he seems to find Jesse’s way with me quite amusing.
And my Dad. I’m close to tears as I watch him battle his way through his post-it notes, reminiscing on my youth, advising every one of my feisty streak, and then proceeding to tell them about the time I got caught shoplifting a penny sweet and ate the evidence.
He raises his glass and turns towards us. ‘Jesse, good luck.’ he says seriously, prompting a chorus of laughter from all of our guests and a huge smile from Jesse, who raises his glass, too, then stands himself, keeping his arm down so he doesn’t yank at my wrist. My dad is applauded as he sits and downs a straight whiskey, my mum rubbing his shoulder on a smile.
Jesse places his water on the table and turns towards me, dropping to his knees and taking my hands in his. My back straightens, and my eyes make a quick scan of the room, noting all attention is pointed right at us. Why can’t he play by the rules?
His thumbs are working fast circles on the backs of my hands, and then he plays with my rings, turning them on my finger before straightening them up. He lifts his glorious greens, and I’m blasted by twinkling pools of pure happiness. I make him happy, even when I’m avoiding something we really do need to talk about. After my continuous battle to get this man talking, it’s now me who’s skirting around things. It’s me running away from it, even if I am running away from a problem he’s created.
‘Ava,’ he says quietly, but I’ve no doubt the whole room can hear him. The silence is screaming. ‘My beautiful girl.’ He smiles mildly. ‘All mine.’ Leaning up, he kisses me sweetly. ‘I don’t need to stand up and declare to everyone here how much I love you. I’m not interested in satisfying anyone of that. Except you.’
A lump is forming in my throat, and he’s only just started.
He sighs. ‘You’ve taken me completely, baby. You’ve swallowed me up and drowned me in your beauty and spirit. You know I can’t function without you. You’ve made my life as beautiful as you are. You’ve made me want to live a worthy existence—a life with you. All I need is you—to look at you; to listen to you; to feel you.’ He drops my hands and smoothes his palms over my thighs. ‘To love you.’
I’m ruined. My mum’s ruined. Everyone in the room is ruined. My teeth are clamped on my bottom lip to prevent a sob escaping, I’m choking on the lump in my throat and my eyes are welling with tears as I look down at Jesse’s handsome face.
‘I need you to let me do all of those things, Ava. I need you to let me look after you forever.’
I hear my mum’s quiet sob, and I can’t help mine. Not now. He used to cripple me with just his touch. Now he cripples me with his touch and his words. I’m destined for a life of devastating pleasure, melting tenderness, and heart stopping emotion. He’s going to incapacitate me at every turn.
‘I know.’ I whisper.
He nods and exhales a long lungful of air before standing and pulling me up to his body. My face falls straight into his neck, and I breathe him into me, his fresh, minty scent prompting me to close my eyes on a contented sigh.
The room is no longer silent. When I pull out of Jesse’s hold, I see people standing everywhere, a steady, respectful clapping of hands resonating through the room. I should feel embarrassed, but I don’t. He’s just spoken to me like we were alone, proving that he really doesn’t care where he is and who’s there—wherever and whenever, as it always has been and as it always will be.
I watch as my mum approaches and throws her arms around Jesse. ‘Jesse Ward, I love you,’ she says in his ear, as he holds her with one arm, ‘but please remove those handcuffs from my daughter.’
‘Not going to happen, Elizabeth.’
She releases him and slaps his shoulder, and then Kate dives on him. ‘Oh my God. I wanna kiss your feet.’
I roll my eyes, getting my arm yanked all over the place while people congratulate my neurotic ex-playboy on his little speech. It’s our wedding day, and I don’t want to be here. All of these people, including Kate and my mother, are getting in my way. I want him all to myself, but evening guests are arriving so we’re not going anywhere.
After I’ve been kissed on the cheek a million times, and Jesse has shaken hands with everyone, he starts leading me from the summer room.
I turn, finding my brother close behind us. I almost wish he wasn’t here. He’s struggling, and it’s incredibly painful to see. Looking down at my wrist, I start wondering how I can convince Jesse to release me. He wouldn’t for my mum, and I haven’t much faith that he will for my brother. I know Dan’s wary of him, and I also know that Jesse is aware of this. I turn my eyes up to Jesse and find him watching me. He knows what I’m thinking, and I know he’s not happy about it, but he still reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small key.
Without a word, he releases me from the cuffs and leaves them dangling from his wrist. ‘Go.’ he says quietly, flicking threatening eyes at Dan.
Dan gives as good as he gets, flashing an equally warning glare. I don’t need this, not with two of the most important men in my life. I know why Dan is cautious, even if he doesn’t know the whole story, and I know damn well why Jesse is. Dan’s a threat. He’s my brother, but he’s still a threat. In Jesse’s eyes, anyway.
I lean up to kiss Jesse’s cheek and feel his hand glide around my hips, smoothing over my bum before he rips his eyes away from Dan and turns his face into my lips. ‘Don’t be long.’ he says, releasing me and striding off towards the bar.
‘Come on.’ I hold my hand out to Dan, and he takes it, letting me lead him out to the gardens.
We’re silent for a short while as we wander down the gravel path, past the tennis courts, finding ourselves in the woodlands. The low evening sun is fighting through the canopy of trees and scattering dashes of sparkling light across the ground before us. I focus my attention on tracking the puddles of light as they dance across the forest floor at my feet. There has never been discomfort between us, but the tension now feels really uncomfortable.