He holds my hands, leaning down so his eyes are level with mine. ‘Ava, she’s a little friendly.’
‘Friendly?’ I scoff. ‘That woman is not friendly!’
‘She’s a friend.’ he says soothingly. I don’t want soothing. No, I want to pop some pouty red lips! She knew exactly what she was doing. She, clearly, wants to be more than friends.
He brushes his palm down my cheek. ‘Now we’ve clarified Sarah’s position in my life, can we talk about yours?’
What? I recoil. ‘What do you mean?’ His previous comments suddenly embed themselves into my mind. All of the, you’re mine, I’ll keep you and you’ll change your mind.
He smirks. ‘I mean in my bed and under me.’ He yanks me into his chest, and I resume nuzzle, sagging with relief. That sounds good to me. I’ve just added a steaming hot affair with an older man to my bucket list, just so I can tick it off. No commitment, no tying down. This suits me fine. Although, I doubt I would get either of the aforementioned from this man.
‘At The Manor?’ I ask. It’s quite a drive.
‘No, I’ve an apartment behind me, but I can’t move in until tomorrow. I’m renting a place on Hyde Park. You’ll come.’
‘Yes.’ I don’t hesitate, but I’m aware that it wasn’t a question. And I’m also mindful of his previous comments, especially his last one: You belong with me.
Is that his decision, or mine?
He sighs, applying more pressure to my head and back.
Yes, proceed with extreme caution, Ava.
We travel in silence, except for the low tones of Massive Attack’s Teardrops filtering out of his car sound system. How fitting after my sobbing fit. I spend most of the journey deliberating on my decision to come home with Jesse, while he repeatedly draws breath, as if intending to say something but deciding against it.
He pulls his Aston Martin into a gated car park, and I let myself out. Popping his boot and grabbing my bags, he takes my hand and leads me into the building.
‘I’m on the first floor. We’ll take the stairs, it’s quicker.’ He guides me through a grey fire door, into the stairwell and up a flight of stairs.
We exit into a narrow corridor. It looks like a specialist hospital facility. Jesse unlocks the only other door in the long expanse of white and grey, ushers me in, and I’m immediately stood in a large open plan area. It’s white from top to bottom, with black furniture and a black kitchen, monochrome to the absolute maximum – a real guy’s pad. It looks empty, cold and clinical. I hate it.
‘It’s a pit stop. I bet you’re really offended.’ His eyes glow and he smiles, no doubt at my critical face.
‘I prefer your new place.’
I wander further into the apartment, scrutinising the lack of warmth and cosiness. How does he live here? There are no personal touches, no paintings or photographs. I notice a snowboard propped up in the corner, with various skiing equipment piled around it. On the side board, where I would expect to see vases or ornaments, there’s a motorcycle helmet and some leather gloves. That’s a surprise.
‘I don’t keep alcohol. Do you want some water?’ He strolls over to the huge, black fridge and pulls it open.
‘Please.’ I join him in the kitchen area, pulling out a black bar stool from under the black granite worktop of the island. Jesse removes his suit jacket and perches on the adjacent stool, turning to face me and handing me a glass of water before he unscrews the cap of a bottle for himself. His long, muscled legs are straining against his trousers, his feet flat on the floor, but his legs considerably bent, considering the height of the stool. My feet are propped on the footrest.
He sips his water, looking at me over the bottle, while I fiddle with my glass. I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have come. Things have become awkward and I’m not sure why. There is one reason and one reason alone why he’s brought me here. And like the idiot that I am, I’ve gone along with it.
I hear him sigh. He places his bottle down before he takes my glass from my hand and puts it on the island worktop. Grasping the seat of my stool, he drags it closer to his, turning it to face him, resting his palms on my knees. He leans in. ‘Why did you cry?’ he asks.
‘I don’t know.’ I answer honestly. The whole episode caught me off guard, if I’m honest. There’s no reason for me to be blubbering all over him. I feel pretty stupid.
‘Yes, you do. Tell me.’
I consider what I should say, while his eyes probe mine, waiting for me to answer. The light crease appears across his brow, and I realise now that it’s a concentration slash concern frown. What should I tell him? That I’ve just come out of a four year relationship with a bloke who persistently cheated on me? That over the last four weeks, since calling it a day, I’ve re-established my identity and I don’t want a man to rob it again? That my trust in men is zero and the fact that he is, quite clearly, a prince of seduction spells trouble for me? Oh, and finally, I know deep down that this could all end very messily for me – not him.
But he won’t want to hear any of that girly nonsense. ‘I don’t know.’ I repeat myself instead.
He sighs, his frown morphing into a scowl as he taps his fingers on the granite a few times. I can, quite literally, see the cogs of his mind grinding as he looks at me, chewing his bottom lip. ‘Would I be right in saying that your misinterpretation of mine and Sarah’s relationship wasn’t the only reason you were avoiding me?’ he asks, but it’s more like a statement than a question. He unclasps his Rolex and slides it onto the worktop.