Read by Edita Brychta
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Beyond Central Jesse Cloud Nine is another Cloud Nine. It’s where I’ll always find my family. I would never have survived this madness without them.
To my table legs, Fanny, Fruth, and Flo. I love every moment I spend with you, and most of all… owning my s*&t with you. London is calling.
J & G at TotallyBooked. Your support and encouragement have been invaluable to me. Some amazing things have come from my This Man journey and you two coming into my life is one of those things. Thank you for everything.
I started off as a self-published author and landed in a world that I had no idea about. My success has undoubtedly been assisted by book bloggers who work tirelessly and for no gain, other than the pure enjoyment of reading and sharing their latest find. I had no prepromotion, no marketing, no contacts. I just pressed that publish button and was lucky enough for my story to fall into the hands of bloggers, whether by default or by talk in the community. My story could have been lost among the millions of other self-published books for an eternity unnoticed. Incredibly, it didn’t get lost. It was found, and I have the online reading community to thank for that. My gratitude is huge and my admiration immense.
And last, but never least, my lovely ladies. Each comment, message, “like,” tweet, and blog comment has been read, absorbed, and appreciated—all of them. You’ll never know what your support and enthusiasm mean to me. Obsessive Jesse Disorder is an epidemic, and I’m not even sorry-ish. You’ve shared and enjoyed each and every moment with me, shouted about my story, and spread the word to family, friends, and even the shop assistant. Your passion is as fierce as mine, and I love it.
This is it—the conclusion, the final part of Jesse and Ava’s story. For me, Central Jesse Cloud Nine doesn’t get any better than this. I hope you feel the same.
My nerves are shot to bits. I don’t know why. I know I’m doing the right thing, but damn I’m a stupid mass of nerves. I’m alone, my first few reflective moments of the day and probably the last. I need this moment, just me to myself, absorbing the massive leap that I’m taking. I know these moments will likely be precious from this day forward.
It’s my wedding day.
It’s the day I promise myself to this man for the rest of my life—not that I need a piece of paper or a metal band on my finger to do that. But he does. That’s why only two weeks after he fell to his knee on the terrace of Lusso, I’m marrying this man. And why I’m now sitting in my robe on a chaise longue in one of the private suites of The Manor—the suite where Jesse cornered me all those weeks ago—trying to gather myself.
I’m getting married at The Manor.
The biggest day of my life is taking place at the plush sex haven of my Lord. My nerves aren’t only a result of my being the bride. My parents, brother, and family members are all roaming around the grounds of Jesse’s supposed country retreat, poking around, taking it all in. The Manor has been closed to members for two days so preparations could be made, and that alone has cost Jesse a small fortune in reimbursed membership fees. I might be just as unpopular with the male members as I am with the female members now. They must all hate me—the women for snatching their Lord from under their noses, and now the men for putting a halt on their preferred sexual adventures. Jesse has ensured all wooden, crosslike wall hangings and suspended, gold grid frames have been removed from the private suites, and he’s had the doors to the communal room locked. I don’t feel any better about it, though.
I look up to the ceiling and roll my shoulders in an attempt to dispel some of the growing tension. It’s not working. Pulling myself up, I walk over to the mirror and gaze at my reflection. Despite my unease, I look fresh, I’m glowing, and my makeup is light and natural. My dark hair has been glossed to within an inch of its life, the long, heavy waves flouncing freely and loosely pinned on one side with an intricately jeweled hair comb. Jesse loves my hair down. He also loves me in lace.
I turn toward the door where my dress is hanging and drink in the vast expanse of lace—lots of lace, with explosions of tiny pearls sewn here and there. Zoe of Harrods came up trumps with this dress. The ivory lace sweeps over my bum, hugs my thighs, and puddles on the floor a meter in every direction. I smile. He’ll stop breathing. This simple gown, with delicate shoulder straps, plunging back, and nipped-in waist will have my Lord on his knees.
I scoop my phone up from the nightstand. It’s midday. In just an hour, I’ll be meeting Jesse in the summer room and taking my vows. My stomach does a swift three-sixty-degree turn… again.
Slipping off my robe, I put my knickers on before taking my ivory lace, strapless corset and stepping in, pulling it up over my stomach and arranging my cleavage in the cups. Only just, but it does conceal the perfectly round bruise on my breast. My mark.
There’s a quiet knock at the door. My quiet, reflective time is up. “Yes?” I call, slipping back into my robe.
“Ava, darling, are you decent?” It’s Mum.
I open the door. “I’m decent, and I need your help.”
She pushes her way in, shutting the door behind her. She looks stunning, adorned in a lovely oyster-colored, satin shift dress, her short, sweeping hairstyle arranged with a feather and pearl hairpiece. “Sorry, darling. I was showing Aunty Angela the spa facilities. I think she’ll be asking Jesse about joining up. She was most impressed. Do you need membership for the spa and gym, or is it just for guests?”
I cringe. “Just for guests, Mum.”
“Oh, well, I’m sure he’ll make an exception for family. Your grandparents would’ve thought they were in Buckingham Palace, God rest their souls.” She faffs with my hair, and I bat her fussing hands away. “Have you wiggled your way into your underwear yet?” She runs her chocolate eyes up and down my robe-covered body. “It’s nearly time.”
I slip my robe off again and drape it on the bed. “Yes, I need you to fasten it.” I turn my back to her and pull my hair over my shoulder. Two weeks of Jesse’s hands working cream into my back has cleared all evidence of my thrashing. The physical marks are gone, but the mental images will be etched on my brain forever.
She commences securing all of the hooks and eyes. “You’re so lucky to have such a wonderful place to get married.”
I’m glad she can’t see my face because she would see a painfully uncomfortable expression. “I know.” I’ve seen the summer room and it does look beautiful—Tessa, our wedding planner, made sure of it. Jesse presented me with Tessa the day after I agreed to marry him, a small indication that my challenging man had already sourced her to take on the role of organizing our wedding—the wedding we were supposed to discuss together like adults. And, quite conveniently, The Manor also holds a wedding license. All I’ve done for my wedding is visit Zoe to find my dress. I’ve had no planning stress, just location stress.
“There.” Mum turns me around and sweeps my hair back over my shoulder. She’s looking at me thoughtfully. “Darling, can your mother offer you some advice?”
“No.” I answer quickly on a small smile.
She returns my smile and sits me on the end of the bed. “When you become a wife, you become the core of your husband.” She smiles fondly. “Let him think he’s in charge, let him think you can’t live without him, but never let him take your independence or identity, darling.” She laughs a little. “They like to think they’re wearing the trousers, and you have to let them believe it.”
I shake my head a little. “Mum, this isn’t necessary.”
“Yes, it is,” she insists. “Men are complicated creatures.”
I scoff. She has no idea how complicated my creature is.
She pulls my blushing face to hers. “Ava, I can see that Jesse loves you, and I admire his frankness when it comes to how he feels about you, but remember who you are. Never let him change you, darling.”
“He won’t change me, Mum.” My parents stayed with us for two days after Jesse proposed, so they’ve had the full-on experience of Jesse’s way with me, minus the countdowns and various degrees of fuckings. They have witnessed the smothering, the constant touching and affection, and their quiet observations haven’t gone unnoticed. Not by me, anyway. Jesse is oblivious. No, not oblivious; he just doesn’t care. Whenever and wherever.
Mum smiles. “He wants to look after you, and he’s made it quite clear you’re precious to him. It makes me and your father so happy to know that you’ve found a man who adores you, a man who’ll walk through fire for you.”
“I adore him, too,” I say quietly. The sincerity of my mum’s words is tugging at my vocal cords, making my voice a little quivery. “Please don’t make me cry. My makeup will be ruined.”
She clasps my cheeks in her palms and plants a kiss on my lips. “Yes, let’s stop with the emotional stuff. Just don’t ever do anything that you don’t want to. I can also see he could be quite persuasive.” I actually laugh, and Mum laughs with me. Persuasive? “It’s such a shame his family couldn’t be here,” she muses.
I wince a little. “I’ve told you, they live abroad. They’re not very close.” I’ve only vaguely outlined the reason for Jesse’s lack of family.
“Money,” she says and sighs. “It causes more family rifts than anything else.”
“It does,” I agree. So do sex houses and playboy uncles.
We’re interrupted by another knock at the door and Mum leaves me on the bed to answer it. “Oh, that’ll be Kate.”
“I have drinks! Wow, Elizabeth, you look incredible!” Kate’s excited voice creeps into the room before she barrels past my mother and hits me with delighted blue eyes. “Aren’t you dressed yet?” She sets a tray on the wooden chest. She looks fabulous in an ivory satin dress, her long curls a mass of red flames surrounding her pale face—my only bridesmaid, but with the enthusiasm of ten.
“Just about to.” I stand myself up and adjust my boobs in my cups.
“Here, have one of these.” She thrusts a glass of pink liquid at me.
“Oh, yes, you must!” Mum chants, closing the door and hastily making her way over to scoop one up for herself. She takes a long sip and gasps. “Oh, that little Italian knows how to keep a lady happy.”
I shake my head at the glass that’s floating in front of me. “No, I’m fine.” I don’t want alcohol breath under Jesse’s nose.
“It’ll sort your nerves,” Kate insists, taking my hand and placing the glass in it. “Drink.”
She nods at the glass with raised eyebrows and I relent, taking a generous swig of Mario’s Most Marvelous. It tastes as marvelous as ever, but no amount of alcohol is going to settle me.
“Where’s Jesse?” I ask, setting my glass down. I’ve not seen him since last night. Knowing my mum’s traditional views, I insisted we sleep separately on the night before our wedding. He refused to leave my room until one minute to midnight, and then he did so in a mighty huff when my mum was banging on the door. I could see he was dying to trample all over her, but, surprisingly, he conceded without too much fuss, just a ferocious scowl at my mum as she guided him from the room.
“I think he’s getting ready.” Kate downs a Most Marvelous.
“Katie Matthews, take it easy!” Mum scolds, 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, and it’s called Dan and Sam combined.
“What about Dad and Dan?”
“At the bar, Ava. All of the men are at the bar.” Kate emphasizes all.
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 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. “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. I shut the door quietly before using the toilet and relishing another private moment. Then I hear a loud knock on the suite door, followed by the unmistakable 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.” 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’s drinking more Most Marvelous while 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 Mum is blocking the small gap between the door and the frame.
“We won’t fall out, Mum, if you let me in,” Jesse says. 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 into 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.
I throw my eyes back to Kate, and she nods her head, instantly catching my drift. We both run toward 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. “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 glance at Kate and shake my head. He’s trampling my mother, just like he promised 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. “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. 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.
I swallow. His green pools are full of desire and studying me closely, his face expressionless, his jaw stubbled. My greedy stare trails 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 meet his gaze. “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’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. 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. “There’ll be lace if I do, won’t there?”
His chest expands slightly. This could be dangerous for my hair, makeup, 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, 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 bombarded with tingles.
I make my move before he does, walking slowly across the room and stopping close to his sweat-coated body. Then I flick my gaze up to his lush lips. His breathing escalates.
“You’ve just trampled my mother.” I try to hide the lust in my voice, but fail miserably.
“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.”
“Too long.” He runs his tongue slowly across my bottom lip, enticing a quiet moan from me. I’m instantly fighting the natural instinct to grab his big shoulders. “You’ve had a drink.”
“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 warmth of him dispels my nerves; 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 greens to find my eyes. “Are you ready to do this?”
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.”
“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. End of.”
“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. No waiting list. No 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. Ava, baby, I want you to cherish today, not get your knickers in a twist over something that’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 chest.
He opens his arms. “Come here.”
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.
“Better?” he asks, pulling me in closer.
“Much better,” I whisper. “I love you, my Lord.”
I feel him jerk a little under me, a silent hint of his quiet laugh. “I thought I was your God.”
“You’re that, too.”
“And you are my temptress. Or you could be my Lady of The Manor.”
I jump off his chest and find him grinning at me. “I am not being your Lady of the Sex Manor!”
He laughs and yanks me back down, making a meal of stroking my glossy hair and inhaling deeply on a satisfied pull of breath. “Whatever you want, lady.”
“Just lady will do.” I’m aware of my hands sliding all over his damp back, but I really don’t care. “I’m so in love with you.”
“I know you are, Ava.”
“I need to get ready. I’m getting married, you know.”
“You are? Who’s the lucky bastard?”
I smile and pull myself away from his body again. I need to see him. “He’s a challenging, neurotic control freak.” I reach up and cup his rough cheek. “He’s so handsome.” I whisper, searching his eyes, which are watching me so closely. “This man stops me breathing when he touches me and fucks me until I’m delirious.” I wait for his scorn, but his lips just press into a straight line, so I lean up and kiss his chin, working my way to his lips. “I can’t wait to marry him.”
“What would this man say if he caught you kissing another man?” he asks around my mouth.
I grin. “Oh, he’d probably castrate him, offer burial or cremation, that type of thing.”
His eyes widen. “He sounds possessive. I don’t think I want to take him on.”
“You really don’t. He’ll trample all over you.” I shrug, and he laughs. It’s that eye-sparkling laugh, the one that has light creases fanning his beautiful greens. “Happy?” I ask.
“No, I’m shitting myself.” He falls back, taking me with him. “But I’m feeling brave. Kiss me.”
I dive right in, smothering his face with my lips and humming in sweet contentment, but I don’t get long to indulge myself.
- "You can't help but fall in love with these characters."—ScandaliciousBookReviews.com
- "I couldn't tear myself away."—FictionVixen.com
- "This Man was a sexy, infuriating, wild ride. The back and forth in this book gave me whiplash ... I cannot wait for Beneath This Man!"—TheBookListReviews.blogspot.com
- "This Man by Jodi Ellen Malpas really hooked me right from the beginning. It's erotic and passionate and romantic ... it'll also leave you wanting more."—BookishTemptations.com
- On Sale
- Jan 21, 2014
- Hachette Audio