Having slept on it, I decided it was best I tell Spencer everything about the conversation I had with his daughter. I figured I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on but still felt it necessary he know. I knew him enough to know he would want to go in all guns blazing and had a speech in mind to prevent that. If (and that’s a big if) Alister was abusing his title of loving fiancée, we needed to play our cards sensibly. It was a delicate situation and one that needed careful attention. It was Isy’s responsibility to accept that their relationship was toxic and seek a way out. It didn’t, however, excuse her actions.
Her need to cut Spencer out of his daughter’s life still made her our number one enemy and we had to consider the potential for this being yet another bid to throw us off. Perhaps they were deliberately planting these ideas into our head? That way, when we accused Alister of domestic abuse, we looked desperate and pathetic when the claims fell flat. Then there was the potential for something else. Were Isy’s bruises similar to mine in the sense that they were given consensually? I didn’t know the woman well enough to dismiss the idea of her engaging in a sub/dom relationship. Then again, Spencer had ensured me she wasn’t into that lifestyle and the way Alister had apparently insisted she was clumsy didn’t seem right. Not in the slightest.
“I’ll be back in a sec.” I smiled. “I need to use the bathroom before we go in,” I added, parting ways with Spencer by planting a sweet kiss on his lips.
He had been called for yet another meeting with Isy and her lawyer, though this time, my own presence was required. Given my involvement with Spencer, social services were obliged to include me in their investigation. Angela had explained that I would need to be there for any future visits with Leila. It seemed a little extreme but we understood and complied.
“Okay, don’t leave me for long. I don’t trust myself to be alone should Alister-the-fucking-great show up.”
“Hey, I’m the one who slapped him across the face on Christmas day, remember?” I replied, slowly making my way towards the ladies.
Behind me, I heard Spencer lowly chuckle and secretly smiled in response, reliving the exact moment I had knocked the wind out of Alister’s sails. The cocky twat had been asking for it and I’d never forget the satisfaction I gained from seeing the colour of his cheek transform before me. Starkly pale to begin with, I’d taken great joy in seeing it redden.
Quickly, I relieved my bladder and got straight to washing my hands in the very luxurious sink, stopping short of my task when another woman joined me from her own cubical. I hadn’t realised it was Isy at first and I almost faltered when she caught my eye in the mirror’s reflection.
Shit, shit, shit!
I desperately avoided her gaze but couldn’t miss the great big stinker she was sporting on her right cheek. The fact that it was hidden under a layer of foundation weighed heavy on my mind and I was suddenly stuck between wanting to act upon my intuition and ignoring all the warning signs. In the end, I simply dried my hands on the towels provided and set about my departure, stopping when a sickening realisation hit me in the gut, knocking me for six. Leila lived with this man and if he so much as touched a hair on her head, I wouldn’t think twice before killing the bastard myself. I was responsible for her wellbeing and if anything bad happened to her when I could’ve done something to prevent it, I’d never forgive myself.
“Sometimes we find help in the most unlikely of places,” I spoke, keeping my tone neutral.
Leaving it at that, I finally stepped out into the hallway and met Spencer by the water fountain. I wasn’t responsible for Isy’s well-being but I was held accountable for Leila’s. My instinct was telling me to inform Spencer right now but I held off for fear of him losing his cool in the meeting. Alister was the type of man who benefited from knowing the extent of one’s knowledge. The less he knew, the better chance we stood at taking him out. And what better way to take out a man who was completely unprepared?
I’d tell Spencer later, when the moment was more appropriate. If I went in with no evidence, I was essentially throwing away the element of surprise. Alister would then have the chance to manipulate the situation and somehow twist things on us. I couldn’t let that happen. I needed to act calm and rational, starting with this afternoon’s meeting.
Tonight. I would tell Spencer.
“Spencer, Jessica. We’re ready for you,” stated Malcolm, holding the door open for us.
The sterile office was as dull as I remembered it the last time, only now with the added burden of having to look at Alister Branning’s smug face. As if some hideous trick of fate, I was forced to sit opposite him, meaning I was subject to a full twenty minutes of him silently mocking us. He never once let up on his smirk, just about exceeding all expectations with regards to being truly fucking creepy. Next to him, Isy refused to look up, limiting herself to just the odd glance here and there.
“Mr Taylor, we have received the report from social services and they can see no reason to question my client’s abilities in bringing up his daughter. Spencer understands his limitations and has agreed to have a third party present whenever looking after the child in question,” stated Malcolm, speaking in our defence.
Again, Isy refused to acknowledge our presence and I couldn’t help but feel our earlier exchange was to blame.
“We appreciate the report but it has since been brought to our attention that the company your client keeps may not be up to standard.”
“Meaning, unless your client agrees to our terms, Isabelle fully intends on taking the matter to court,” replied Frank Taylor, Isy’s lawyer (AKA Alister’s employee).
“I think we can all agree that it’s best we avoid that,” insisted Malcolm, tired of Frank’s empty threats.
To my left, Spencer shuffled in his seat, searching for my hand underneath the table. He eventually found it and squeeze down, portraying his utmost hurt. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be to face such betrayal. He and Isy were once married and cared deeply for each other. Now, she was hell bent on ruining his life and quite frankly, none of it made sense.
“Absolutely!” countered Frank, every inch the shark with his corporate-like tendencies. “Which is why I would suggest you seriously consider our offer.”
“Why would I do that?” asked Spencer, losing his cool.
“Because if you agree to supervised visits, you will still see your daughter on a regular basis.”
“For one hour every two weeks. Go fuck yourself!”
“Spencer!” warned Malcom, intervening.
I quickly offered his hand a reassuring caress, hoping to calm him down.
“We decline your offer,” he stated, tone clipped.
He rubbed my knuckles with a force not to be reckoned with, filling me with enough confidence to smile.
“We’ll give you forty-eight hours to reconsider,” stated Frank, fiddling with a stack of papers. “Everything right now may not be as it seems.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” scoffed Spencer, undeterred by his idle threats.
“It means your girlfriend is not telling you everything,” offered Alister, sinister in his need to put forward his opinion.
“Excuse me?” I questioned, readjusting my gaze. “Are you seriously trying to spin this around on me? You’re delusional.”
“Am I?” He smirked, subtle enough for it to be missed.
“Yes. What is it I’m supposed to have done?” I demanded, fucking livid.
My body started to shake.
I attempted to mask my emotions, unprepared to give him the reaction he so clearly wanted. In doing so, I settled my gaze on Isy, desperate for her gaze to meet mine.
Your fiancé is a fucking dickhead!
“I think we all need to calm down. Empty threats will get us nowhere,” reasoned Malcom, rightly stepping in.
“I can assure you, there is nothing empty about our threats,” replied Frank, straightening his tie. “We all want what is best for the child.”
“The fact that you are so reluctant to share your findings just goes to show you have nothing,” I expressed, bored of their childish ways. “You are unprofessional and pathetic. It’s laughable!”
“Pregnant at seventeen. Putting your child up for adoption. Attempt at suicide. Is that list long enough for you, Jessica?” questioned Alister, stealing the very breath from my lungs. “I’m not known as London’s top lawyer for my daily good deeds and need to play by the book. I’ve done my homework on you and I know about your harlot tendencies.”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” thundered Spencer, slamming his hand down on the table.
At this, Isy flinched from her slumped over position, forced to momentarily look at me. She sent me a desperate plea, though it was impossible to sympathise with her. Everything around me started to spin and I suddenly felt as though I was swimming though murky water, unable to catch my breath.
“Speak to her like that again and I’ll rip your head from your shoulders,” he raged, radiating heat in the form of red, hot anger.
“Now there’s an empty threat if ever I’ve heard one,” laughed Alister, tipping my man over the edge.
Spencer rose to his full height, prepared to pounce. Never before had I seem him so enraged and I knew if I didn’t rectify the situation soon, there was a likely chance he’d kill the man.
“Spencer!” I stood, barely recognising my own voice.
With no more needing to be said, he tucked my body under his, communicating his protectiveness. He lightly encouraged my face to hide in the crevice of his neck and caressed my hair in a bid to initiate comfort. Unfortunately, I struggled to relax as I was slowly succumbing to the idea of having a meltdown.
Spencer’s demand was met with nothing but silence, throwing him into a further state of rage. “EVERYONE, FUCKING LEAVE. NOW!”
Frank was the first to scram from his position, followed shortly by Malcolm and Alister. Isy was last to vacate her seat and sheepishly made her way towards the exit, stopping short when Spencer formally addressed her.
“Isabelle, perché?” he seethed, unprepared to ease up on his hold of me.
“Non ho scelta,” she replied, finally shutting the door to the meeting room.
Spencer simply drew me closer to his intoxicating warmth, whispering soft Italian in my ear. It didn’t matter that he’d just been delivered an almighty blow, he was too concerned over my well-being to question the matter. Never one to push a situation, he always seemed to know how best to respond.
“The only reason I’m not currently beating the shit out of that moron is because I’m more concerned about you,” he stated, lightly tracing the outline of my dress. “Talk to me, bellissima.”
“It’s true,” I revealed, slightly distancing myself in order to speak. “Everything he said.”
“I gathered as much,” he smiled, kissing my nose.
“You’re not angry?”
“Angry?” he questioned. “Jess, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about your past. It has nothing to do with how much a love you.”
“I should’ve told you though,” I replied, overwhelmed by the many emotions flooding my body.
Shame, guilt, grief; it was all there. Sam was right. I should’ve told him weeks ago.
“There’s obviously a reason why you didn’t and I respect that.”
The amount of understanding he was displaying was truly phenomenal. I didn’t hold this information from him out of fear. I did so for my own sanity. Truth be told, I never discussed my past with anyone because it was simply too painful. The things I did and the consequences that came with doing so would forever fall on my shoulders and talking about it only seemed to make things worse.
“She was called Charlotte,” I whispered, barely above a breath. “She died when she was two weeks old. Cot death.”
“Jess.” He caressed my cheeks, showing physical signs of pain. “Baby, I’m so sorry.”
“I chose her parents myself. They were a lovely couple who couldn’t conceive naturally. I couldn’t bring her up, Spencer. It was a kid myself!”
“And the Dad?” he asked, tipping my chin upwards.
“Could’ve been anyone.”
He looked neither repulse, nor ashamed.
“Alex?” he asked, turning suddenly pale.
“No, not him.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I just am,” I insisted, pulling on his collar. “The timings don’t match up and we were careful.”
Spencer seemed to relax, unburdened with the knowledge that my brother’s best friend failed to impregnate me at just sixteen-years-old.
“I assume your dad and Sam knew?”
“They were the only ones. Alex too,” I shared, stroking his cheekbones with my thumbs.
Call me delusional, but I needed to feel close to him. To touch him. It somehow helped knowing that I wasn’t being judged and if ever there was a moment I needed understanding, it was right now.
“And this was all during your rebellious stage? After your mum was diagnosed?” he enquired, reaching for both my hands and planting a kiss on their insides.
“It was what ended it,” I explained, resting my forehead to his. “A month after Charlotte died, I swallowed a handful of pills and regretted it instantly. It was a moment of weakness. I didn’t want to die, not really.” I paused, surprisingly finding solace in opening up. “I woke Sam up and told him what I’d done. He hightailed me to hospital and held my hand as they pumped my stomach.”
“He made me promise there and then that I’d get help. I later found out he was being bullied at school.”
Spencer made no attempts to speak, though did almost crush my ribs with the sheer amount of force he was hugging me at. He littered my head with tiny kisses and spoke loving words down my neck.
“This changes nothing,” he spoke, gifting my body another squeeze.
“This changes everything,” I insisted, pulling back. “They’ll drag this to court and bring it all up. I’m hardly a great role-model for Leila if I willingly gave away my own daughter.”
“You were seventeen, Jessica.”
“I tried to kill myself!”
“Again, you were seventeen,” he replied, unprepared to accept my excuses. “Alister and Isabelle are trying to manipulate the situation to scare you off.”
It didn’t escape my attention that he acknowledged his ex-wife by her full name. Perhaps he deemed her nickname a pleasantry she was no longer deserving of?
“I think what you did was brave. You wanted your baby to have the best chance in life and hand selected a couple who could provide that. If anything, that makes you a great a role-model. You did what was right by your daughter, not you, and that is the most important thing about being a parent. You always put their needs before your own,” he pressed, grasping at either side of my face. “She may have only been on this earth for two, short weeks but you gave her the best two weeks of her life by placing her in the care of two loving people.”
“I know what you’re like with Leila, Jess. That girl adores every fucking bone in your body and so do I. Do not sell yourself short and do not insult me by denying my words.”
“Unless that is your intention, in which case I will have to punish you.”
“P-Punish me?” I asked, fiercely intrigued.
He tilted my chin towards the ceiling and ran his mouth down the curve of my neck, snacking on my every square inch. His subtle nibbles proved almost sinful and as though forgetful of our surroundings, he pinned me up against the office wall, reaching for the hem of my dress.
“Spencer, we’re in a public place!”
“Great observation.” He smirked, not taking my concerns seriously.
“What if someone walks in?”
“After the way I just told everyone to leave? I doubt anyone has the guts.”
I laughed at his confidence, unable to deny the excitement that ran through my every being. Red, hot liquid gathered between my legs and uncontrollable tremors racked my body, unforgiving in their pursuit to make an appearance.
“I am doing this to prove nothing has changed,” he stated, hitching my skirt. “You are still intelligent, feisty and far too sexy for your own good.”
And you’re not disappointed?” I asked, unsure I was prepared for his answer.
“Only by your ability to insist you are a bad mother,” he replied, thankfully impartial.
“I’ll work on that.”
“That you will and in the meantime, I’m happy to help.”
“How?” I enquired, feeling his fingers at my entrance.
His skilled touch teased me as his lips twitched, the clear need to supress a smirk making me smile.
“Bend over that desk,” he instructed; filthy intentions on show for all. “And I’ll show you how.”