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, silent, reflective moments of the day so far and probably the last. I’ve been waiting for this tiny snippet of time, begging for it among the chaos surrounding me. I need this moment, just me to myself, absorbing the massive leap that I’m taking trying to gather myself together. 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 lounge 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 me being the bride. My parents, brother, and family members are all roaming around the grounds of Jesse’s supposed country retreat. They’re all poking around the building and gushing at the opulent splendour. That’s why I have a five kilo padlock on the double doors to the communal room. I’ve checked it a million times, and I’ve double checked that all wooden, cross-like wall hangings and suspended, gold grid frames have been removed from all of the private suites. I’ve also grilled the staff of The Manor repeatedly. Jesse’s poor army of employees have all endured my constant whittling and persistent reminders that my family are oblivious. They humour me, just rolling their eyes and giving me a reassuring shoulder rub or a sympathetic look, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. I’m not so worried about the male members of my family, they’ll all just prop themselves up at the bar and only move on demand. But my mum and aunt are a different story entirely. My mother, with her love of all things luxurious, is gushing over the place and has suddenly taken the role of tour guide, keen to demonstrate just how magnificent Jesse’s county estate is. I wish she wouldn’t. I wish she’d join my dad at the bar. I wish I could cement her backside to a stool and feed her Mario’s Most Marvellous all day and night. Marrying at The Manor is an added stress that I really don’t need on my wedding day, but when my challenging, neurotic birthday boy had me surrounded by his hard, warm strength and sprawled across the terrace, I agreed—no sense fuck required.
I know he’s taken care of everything. The Manor really does look just like an exclusive resort, but I know what’s on the next floor, and all of those beds are currently dancing on the ceiling above me, like they’re lonely. They probably are. 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.
I look up to the ceiling and roll my shoulders in an attempt to dispel some of the growing tension. It’s not working. I’m too bloody nervous. Pulling myself up from my reclined position, I walk over to the mirror and gaze at my reflection. Despite my unease, I look fresh. I’m glowing and my make-up is light and natural. Phillipe has done an incredible job of glossing my dark hair to within an inch of its life, the long, heavy waves flouncing freely and loosely pinned on one side with an intricately jewelled hair comb. Jesse loves my hair down. He also loves me in lace.
I turn towards 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. 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.
The ivory lace sweeps over my bum, hugs my thighs, and puddles on the floor a metre in every direction. Zoe of Harrods came up trumps with this dress. She’s figured me out, even down to the simple, ivory heels. No fuss, just a classic Christian Louboutin stiletto.
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 small 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 silent, reflective time is up. ‘Yes?’ I call, slipping my robe over my underwear and making my way across the suite.
‘Ava, darling, are you decent?’ It’s my 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, steering away from the traditional mother-of-the-bride matching dress, jacket and hat, and instead adorning her tidy figure with a lovely oyster coloured, satin shift dress. Her short, sweeping hairstyle is 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 on the spot. ‘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 that day will be forever etched on my brain.
‘Ah, okay.’ She commences securing all of the hook and eyes. ‘Ava, you should see the summer room. It looks absolutely beautiful. You’re so lucky to have such a wonderful place to get married. Women re-mortgage to afford venues like this.’
I’m glad she can’t see my face because she would see a painfully uncomfortable expression. ‘I know.’ I’ve seen the room and it does look beautiful—Tessa, our wedding planner, made sure of it. But then, every part of The Manor oozes splendour, anyway, wedding or not. I’ve done very little in the preparations of my own wedding. 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 organising our wedding—the wedding we were supposed to discuss together like adults. And, quite conveniently, The Manor also holds a wedding licence. I didn’t even ask how he achieved that. All I’ve done for my wedding is visit Zoe to find my dress. I’ve had no planning stress, just location stress.