This Man (This Man #1)(11)


by Jodi Ellen Malpas

Chapter 6

‘Morning,’ I sing to Tom as I sashay past his desk on Thursday.

He looks up at me over his thick framed spectacles – a blatant fashion statement and Tom’s effort to be taken more seriously. I should tell him to lose the canary yellow dress shirt and grey trousers that are verging on leggings. That would do the trick.

‘Did someone get laid?’ He smirks. ‘Join the club, I’m exhausted!’

‘No! Tom, you’re such a tart.’ I feign a disgusted look as I throw my bag down by my desk. ‘Anything to report?’ I ask to divert the conversation from Tom’s sexcapades.

‘Nope, I’m just going over to Mrs Baines to give her a cuddle. You know, she rang me at eleven last night to ask if she could expect the electricians in this morning. Interrupted me right in the middle of…’

‘Enough!’ I hold my hands up. ‘I don’t want to know.’ I sit down, swinging my chair around to face him.

‘Apologies, darling. It was really good though!’ He winks. ‘Anyway, she’s in a panic because her summer ball is scheduled for July and she wants all the works completed in time. There’s not a hope, darling! If she would just stop changing her bloody mind, then we might get somewhere.’ He springs up from his chair and air kisses me from ten feet away. ‘Au Revoir, darling!’

‘Bye. Oh, where’s Victoria?’ I shout after him.

‘Appointments.’ he calls, shutting the door behind him.

I turn to face my desk as Sally places a coffee in front of me. I pick it up immediately, taking a sip while she hovers at my desk nervously.

‘Patrick called to remind you that he’s not in today.’ she says.

‘Thank you, Sally. Did you have a good weekend?’

She smiles, nodding enthusiastically as she pushes her glasses up her nose. ‘I did, thank you for asking. I finished my cross-stitch and cleaned all the windows, inside and out. It was wonderful.’ she says dreamily as she scurries off to file some invoices.

Cleaning windows? Wonderful? The girl is sweet, but good Lord, she’s as dull as dish water.

I spend a few hours working through my email to clear my inbox. I check the final clean-up of Lusso is complete and grab my phone when it starts dancing across my desk. I roll my eyes when I see who’s illuminating my screen. He just will not give up. Yesterday was a relentless bombardment of calls – all of which I rejected – and he’s still at it. I’ve got to speak to the man eventually. He has something that I need…my car.

At one o’clock, I leave the office to meet Kate for lunch.

‘Are there any decent men left in the world?’ she asks thoughtfully, dabbing her mouth with a napkin. ‘I’m losing the will to live.’

‘It wasn’t that bad, was it?’ I ask. Her date yesterday evening was a failure. When she walked into the apartment at nine thirty, I knew it couldn’t be good news.

She drops her napkin on her empty plate, pushing it away. ‘Ava, when a man gets a calculator out at the end of a meal to work out what you owe, it’s usually not a good sign.’

I laugh. No, this is not a good sign; it’s equality gone mad. The modern man needs to catch on to the fact that women want to be treated as equals, but only when it suits us. The modern woman’s fierce need for independence doesn’t mean we want to pay for our half of a meal, or that we don’t want a man to hold a door open for us. We still want to be looked after, but on our terms.

‘So, you won’t be seeing him again?’

She scoffs. ‘No, the bill saga was bad enough. When he dropped me home in the taxi and accepted the twenty I offered him, it finished me off.’

‘You were a cheap date.’ I giggle.

‘Yeah.’ She picks up her phone and starts tapping away at the screen, holding it up to show me. ‘One BLT and two waters, you owe twelve quid.’ We both have a little laugh at Kate’s failed date. I love that she can be so lighthearted about it. Kate maintains that it will happen when it happens. I’m with her on this.

‘When will your car be ready?’ she asks.

Crap! She’s supposed to be borrowing it to visit her Nan in Yorkshire on Saturday, and it’s Thursday already. I need to sort this out. ‘I’ll give the garage a ring later.’ I assure her.

‘I don’t mind taking the van.’

‘No, it’s fine. I don’t think Margo will get you there.’ She’s a twenty year old, hot pink VW camper van that spits and fires all over London on cake deliveries. Kate’s carbon footprint must be huge.

My phone shouts and Kate leans over to see who’s calling me. I whip it off the table, far too hastily. But it’s too late. I look at her nervously as I red button him again, before placing it back on the table as casually as I can. My jumpy reaction doesn’t get past Kate. Not much does.

‘Jesse,’ she says with an arched brow. ‘What would he want?’

I’ve not shared any of the hideous events of Tuesday with Kate. I’m too ashamed.

I shrug. ‘Who knows?’

‘Have there been any more suggestive texts?’

Oh, more than texts. There have been endless phone calls and the fact that he tricked me into going back to The Manor on the pretense that I was designing, only to have me trapped in one of his hotel suites so he could seduce me. Kate would thrive on my misfortune, which is exactly why I’ve not told her. If I don’t hear the words out loud, then I can almost pretend it didn’t happen…almost. I’m a fool. I’ve thought of little else, and he’s not helping me in my attempt to eradicate him from my mind with all his calls. I don’t need to be getting involved with anyone, especially someone who’s already involved with someone else. Besides, I’m just a mission for him to accomplish. The man’s a playboy and not the sort of man I need to be getting involved with. He quite obviously has commitment issues. I don’t like Sarah, but I do feel sorry for her.

‘No.’ I answer on a sigh.

She looks at me questioningly, making me feel like I’m under examination. I am. I’m twiddling my hair. I release it on a huff.

‘You deserve some fun.’ she says thoughtfully. Fun? I don’t call getting tied up with an involved man fun by any stretch of the imagination. I call it stupid! ‘After Matt, you definitely deserve some fun.’

I’m keen not to get into a conversation about Matt. Kate doesn’t know that he still calls me now and then. I don’t know why he does.

‘I’ve got to get back to work,’ I lean over, giving Kate a peck on the cheek. ‘Luv ya.’

‘Yeah, ditto. I’ll be late tonight. There’s a cake convention at The Hilton.’ She gets up, waving me away when I try to give her some money for lunch. ‘It’s my turn.’

I put my money back in my purse. ‘Okay, but it’s my shout next time.’

We leave each other outside the bar, Kate heading back to her workshop, me back to the office.

***

I collapse onto the sofa when I get home. I need an early night. Tomorrow will be a long day at Lusso and I need to be on form. My phone rings. I roll my eyes as I look at the screen, but it’s not who I expected it to be. It’s Matt. I groan to myself. When will my phone ring and it be someone that I actually want to speak to?

‘Hi,’ I all but groan.

‘All right?’ he greets, with his usual confident tone.

‘Yeah, and you?’ I know he’s fine. I’ve heard he’s out almost every night, catching up on lost time. Not that our relationship prevented him from living exactly how he wanted to anyway.

‘All good. I was ringing to wish you luck for tomorrow. It’s tomorrow, right?’

I’m surprised he remembered. He never really took an interest in my career. ‘Yeah, thanks. I was just thinking about getting an early night.’

‘Oh, okay, I won’t keep you then,’ He sounds disappointed. ‘I’ve boxed up the rest of your things.’

‘Oh, right,’

‘There’s no rush,’ he adds. ‘If you’re free sometime, it would be nice to catch up.’

It would? Catch up on what? How many women he’s slept with since I left? It’s nice that we’re still on talking terms, I did spend four years with the guy, but he’s taking the whole “let’s be friends” role a bit too far, treating me like one of his mates and filling me in on all of his latest conquests. I don’t care, but I also don’t want to hear about it.

‘Sure, I’ll ring you.’ I suggest.

‘Make sure you do, I miss you.’

WHOA! Where did that come from? Is he drunk? ‘You do?’ I ask. The shock in my voice is quite clear.

He laughs. ‘I do. Good luck tomorrow.’

I hang up and sit wondering if it’s time to collect my things and sever all ties. I’m not so sure the friend’s scenario is going to work with us. Does it ever work? My phone rings again, but it’s a number that I don’t recognise.

‘Ava O’Shea.’ I announce down the line, but there’s no reply. ‘Hello?’

‘Are you alone?’

The voice hits me like a sledgehammer to the gut. Oh, f**king hell. I stand up and sit back down again. Visions of him stood half n**ed before me, pleading to me with his eyes, start to assault my mind’s eye. This is exactly why I’ve been avoiding his calls. The affect he has on me is unsettling and most unwelcome.

Why didn’t his name come up on my phone? ‘No.’ I lie, a sweat breaking out across my brow.

I hear him sigh. It’s a loud sigh. ‘Why are you lying to me?’

I jump back up from the sofa. How does he know? Darting across the lounge, my wine swishing out of my glass, I look out of the window to the road, but I can’t see his car. How does he know I’m alone? In a panic and with a lump in my throat, I hang up. It rings again immediately. I chuck my phone onto the couch and let it ring off. And then it rings again.

‘Go away!’

I pace the lounge, biting my nails and swigging my wine. Tuesday’s events flood back into my mind, but not the bad stuff. Oh, no…it’s all the bloody good stuff. How he made me feel, how his hands felt on me. Everything before I heard the shrill, cold voice of his girlfriend. I slam a lid on my thoughts immediately. I’m a pawn in his sexual exploits, and he’s probably feeling hard done by after I pulled the plug on his charade. My phone declares a text message. I creep cautiously towards the sofa, like my phone might launch itself upwards and bite me.

For God’s sake, I’m being pathetic. I grab my phone and open the text.

Answer your phone!

It rings again in my hand, making me jump, even though I completely expected it. He’s relentless. I let it ring off again and, quite childishly, text back,

No

I pace some more, up and down, swigging wine and clutching my phone. It’s not long before another text arrives.

Fine, I’m coming in.

‘What? Oh no!’ I shout at my phone. It is one thing ignoring the phone, but it’s a whole other level of resistance trying to repel him when he’s flesh and blood and looking right at me.

Shit, shit, shit! I frantically pull up my call log to call him. It rings once.

‘Too late, Ava.’ he drawls down the line. I stare at my phone in uncertainty, and then the banging starts.

I run onto the landing, leaning over the banister as he hammers on the door.

‘Open the door, Ava.’ He bangs again.

What’s he thinking? Is he that desperate?

Bang, bang, bang!

‘Ava, I’m not going anywhere until you talk to me, please.’

Bang, bang, bang!

‘I’ve got your keys, Ava. I’ll let myself in.’

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