WITH THIS WOMAN, a hero’s point-of-view retelling of the iconic This Man series from #1 New York Times Bestselling Author, Jodi Ellen Malpas, is available now!
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He’ll do anything to shield her from his dark, soul-destroying past…
The Manor – the heartbeat of hedonism and pleasure, the place where Jesse Ward lost himself for years in women and alcohol, escaping his past – was his life. His everything. Until the day Ava O’Shea walked through the doors and Jesse discovered something else to live for.
Their love affair was passionate, intense, and all-consuming. She became his heaven. His escape. And eventually, his downfall. When Ava walked away from him, he was destroyed, even more broken than before.
But she’s come back, and Jesse vows never to lose her again.
Except Ava’s only scratched the surface of his broken soul, and as their relationship intensifies and their love deepens, Jesse’s pushed to the brink of insanity when his past creeps into his present and risks destroying everything.
They will never survive his truths, and Jesse will never survive losing Ava again.
So he’ll do anything to shield her from his dark, soul-destroying past.
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“Are you religious?” I ask. A small hesitation, and for a second I’m worried she’ll hit me with the news that her parents—whom I am yet to meet—are church goers.
“No,” she eventually says.
“Me neither.” That’s helpful. The churches seem to be the busiest, and I doubt I’d be accepted into the house of God anyway. “Do you have any preference on dates?
Her obvious confusion pulls me away from a viable option—a country club on the outskirts of Kent. “Is there any particular date you would like to become Mrs. Ava Ward?” God, that sounds amazing.
Recognition dawns on her, and we’re quickly both on the same page. “I don’t know, next year, the year after?” She plucks some bread out of the toaster, happily slapping some butter on, and I stare at her, alarmed, oblivious to the jar slipping out of my hand. It hits the marble with a clang, getting Ava’s attention and knocking me from my inertness.
“Next year?” I splutter.
“Okay, the year after.” Sinking her teeth into her toast, she smiles. She fucking smiles like waiting two years to get married is something to celebrate.
“The year after?” she adds tentatively.
“We get married next month.” And that’s going to be a painful wait. “Next fucking year,” I say in disbelief, getting more peanut butter. Apparently, we’re not on the same page. Not even the same book. Hell, she’s in a completely different genre to me.
“Jesse, I can’t marry you next month,” Ava says, laughing.
“Yes, you can and you will,” I grunt when the lovely country club just outside Kent shows there’s nothing available for the next eighteen months. This is ridiculous. Why the hell would anyone wait so long to tie the knot? So much can happen in that time. For example, one person could change their mind.
“No, I can’t.” Ava’s still laughing. Like . . . this is funny?
I put my jar down with a heavier hand than intended, and Ava jumps. She can’t? No, she won’t, and that’s different territory. “Excuse me?”
“Jesse,” she says, exhaling, and I can see she’s falling into a pacifying state. “My parents don’t even really know about you. You can’t expect me to call them up and break this sort of news down the phone.”
Fuck it all. The parents. If John was here, he’d smash my head onto the counter. I’m tempted to do it myself. “We’ll go and see them. I’m not pussyfooting around, Ava.” God, listen to me. Yes, I am hearing myself. No, I can’t help it.
I stare at her, as she stares at me. I hate that she’s so worried about me meeting her parents. What the hell does she think I’ll do? Bang my fists on my chest, toss her onto my shoulder, and steal her away from them? I’m a rational man. I would never come between Ava and her parents.
“You’re being unreasonable.” She looks at me with too much disdain for my liking, nibbling at her toast.
“Do you love me?” I ask.
“Don’t ask stupid questions.”
“Good.” So let’s get on with this. “I love you too. We get married next month.”
Her toast hits her plate, her eyes closing briefly to gather herself. She’s digging her heels in, and that’s not what I need right now. I need acquiescence. “Jesse, I’m not marrying you next month.” She takes her plate to the bin and drops the rest of her toast in there. I can see what’s coming a mile off. She’s going to walk away.
“Come here,” I say, feeling my heartbeats quickening. It’s unstoppable. Annoying. Almost like an alarm bell that’s goes off inside me to warn me shit’s about to go down, or, in other words, Ava is leaving.
“No,” she says simply, facing me, her determination worrying. So perhaps I need to fuck some sense into her. Convince her in a way we both love. “And you are not going to be fucking an agreement out of me,” she fires, reading my mind, making me recoil. “Forget it.”
“Watch your fucking mouth, Ava,” I grumble, going for the jugular. It’s not failed me yet. “Three.”
Poor thing, her eyes nearly pop out of her head. Why’s she so stunned? This is what we do. Spar with words. Then with bodies. Ava says no to something she wants, and I convince her I’m right and she’s wrong. “Oh no.” She laughs. “Don’t even think about it.”
Too late. I’ve thought about it, and it’s happening. “Two.”
“No,” she warns.
I smile to myself as she scans the space, searching for an escape. I get up and brush off my hands, getting ready to catch her. The countdown. Best invention ever. It takes a heated discussion to heat of another kind. It’s our way of resolving our differences. And best of all, I always come out on top. Literally. “One.”
“Jesse, you can fuck right off!” She flinches herself this time, a sign that even she hates her swearing. And another clue, if ever I needed one, and I don’t, that she’s in it to wind me the hell up.
“Mouth,” I yell, not wasting anymore time. “Zero, baby.”
About Jodi Ellen Malpas:
Jodi Ellen Malpas was born and raised in England, where she lives with her husband, boys and Theo the Doberman. She is a self-professed daydreamer, and has a terrible weak spot for alpha males. Writing powerful love stories with addictive characters has become her passion—a passion she now shares with her devoted readers. She’s a proud #1 New York Times Bestselling Author, a Sunday Times Bestseller, and her work is published in over twenty-five languages across the world. You can learn more about Jodi & her words at www.jodiellenmalpas.co.uk
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