With my bottom solidly perched on his dining room chair, I stared openly at my lovers gobsmacked expression, determined to see this through.
“You want to break up?” he asked, completely distraught.
“Don’t make this something it isn’t!” I pleaded, desperately trying to keep my emotions in check.
It was a wonder I wasn’t sobbing.
“Well what do you want me to say, Jessica? You’ve just suggested a separation…”
“A temporary separation,” I reminded him. “What’s a year in the grand scheme of things?”
Spencer’s need to remove himself from the table saw me in dire need of appeasing the situation before something was said or done to change my mind. I didn’t want this but understood it was what needed to be done. If only he could see that too.
“A long fucking time!” he answered, certainly not seeing the bigger picture.
“Listen to me, Spencer,” I pleaded, keeping my tone soft. “Alister will do everything he can to hold my past against us. He’s vindictive and manipulative. We need to stop putting all our trust into those blood sucking lawyers and start making moves of our own. If we lead them to the assumption that we are no longer an item, his defence doesn’t have a leg to stand on. We’ll beat him at his own game,”
“But I’ll lose you in the process!” he retorted, unconvinced.
I shook my head, saddened by his immediate assumption. “You can never lose me.”
“And what if you meet someone else during this year-long separation?”
The entire contents of my stomach threatened to evacuate.
“Spencer!” I implored, hurt by his insinuation. “This is about us getting Leila back. It has absolutely nothing to do with my feelings for you.”
“Then why do I get the feeling you’re giving up?” he offered, forcing me to leave my position over by the table in order to join him.
I approached his tremoring form and landed passionate kisses to his cheeks, hoping to initiate confidence. I hated that he thought this was my way of abandoning him. I would never give up on us and the sooner he realised that, the better.
“I’m not giving up, baby. This is me fighting back. What we need and what we want aren’t always the same thing,” I whispered, repeating what he once said to me back when I first signed our contract. “I’ll always cater to our needs.”
“And we need this, do we?” he questioned, face solemn.
“I believe we do.”
We both submitted to silence as I allowed the start of my tears to show. Willingly walking away from a man I promised never to leave was heart-breaking and no matter how temporary it was, I still found it hard.
“If you want out, just tell me, Jessica,” he expressed, lacking his usual vigour. “I know this is a lot to take on. I wouldn’t blame you.”
I instinctively caressed his broad chest and made a point of kissing his entire face, lovingly so.
“I’m all in,” I shared, finishing my assault on his cheeks. “Orchestrating a believable breakup is beneficial to everyone.” I paused. “Isy included.”
Now was the time to tell him.
“I need to tell you something. Something you won’t like. Can you sit down, please?”
My change in tone provoked his need to panic.
“Please,” I begged, watching him reluctantly sit.
The chair creaked under his weight and rebelled once more as I crouched down, levelling my eyes with his. I took note of their expressed concern and allowed myself a moment to get lost in them.
“Has she mentioned anything to you? Anything about her relationship with Alister?”
He shook his head. “No. We hardly speak.”
He grasped my hand and held it tightly in his own, encouraging me to continue. I sighed against the action.
“She has a black eye.”
He seemed surprised by my sudden declaration. “Pardon?”
“Leila mentioned something the other day. Something that made me wary.”
“Alister?” His expression turned murderous. “If he’s fucking touched her…”
“Spencer, calm down. Leila likes him. I asked her. He hasn’t hurt her.”
“But he’s hurt Isabelle?”
Again, he used her full name, enhancing the formalities. It was clear he felt she no longer deserved the shortened version he had once gifted her.
“I don’t know for sure.”
“But you suspect?”
“I wanted to tell you straight away but we’ve never had a moment to ourselves. After the meeting yesterday, I was shaken up over you finding out about my past and everything just got a bit lost. I bumped into Isy in the toilets,” I admitted, pulling lightly on his chin. “An attempt had been made to hide it but it was there. Clear as day. An awful bruise.”
“It makes sense. Why else would she be doing this? Why go to such extremities?”
“To appease him.” His realisation was evident. “You think staging a break up will help the situation?”
“I think Alister will assume he’s won. This will lead to him getting cocky and that’s when we swoop in. Pull the rug from under his feet.”
I thought long and hard for a moment, keen to explain myself properly.
“We gather evidence that he’s abusing her, offer to help Isy and get your little girl back.”
As if somehow mentioning her name sparked realisation, Spencer shot up and abruptly started pacing the dining room.
“He’s living with Leila,”
Each and every protective instinct he possessed was in full swing, understandably.
“I know. It’s a risk,” I agreed, resting my hand on his shoulder. “If you alert authorities now, Alister may have the chance to talk his way out of it. He’ll marry Isy and legally become Leila’s step-dad. However, if we wait…”
“I can’t wait, Jess. What if he hurts her? What if he hurts my little girl?” His voice rose, as did his anger. “We can’t do nothing!”
“Okay, baby. Okay,” I soothed, kissing him softly. “We won’t do anything you’re not comfortable with. I just wanted you to know all our options. Waiting may have given us a stronger advantage.”
“Waiting offers him more time. Time to hurt them. Both of them. Circumstances may be strained between us right now but Isabelle is the mother of my child. I can’t let her suffer.” He paused, final in his decision. “I won’t do it, Jessica. I won’t stand by and do nothing.”
And I respected that. Isy didn’t deserve the kind of treatment Alister was possibly enforcing and standing by while it happened would certainly be difficult.
“Then we won’t,” I appeased, kissing him lightly on the lips. “We’ll proceed however you want.”
For a while, we both said nothing. It was obvious our thoughts were a mess and neither one of us had an appropriate answer for the situation.
“I could try talking to her,” he suggested, first to speak.
I shook my head, “You’ll never get her alone. Alister has her on a tight leash.”
He simply grunted, no doubt in agreement.
“You could call Malcolm?” I offered, clutching at straws. “He must deal with cases like this a lot. He might be able to advise you.”
Spencer nodded and reached for his phone, commanding it to call his lawyer. He put it on speaker and proceeded to run a trembling hand through his hair, a nervous habit of his. I could tell my revelation had knocked him for six and with concern now possessing his every feature, I knew I had done the right thing by telling him. He may have decided against the possibility of waiting and all in all, I completely understood. The risk was far too great. Yes, keeping others uninformed and gathering enough evidence to bring Alister down was the best way to ensure his absence but at what cost? A few more black eyes on Isy’s behalf or worse yet…something else.
“Spencer, hi.” Malcom’s voice was direct and about as welcoming as herpes. “I was moments away from calling you, myself. There’s been a change in circumstances.”
This caught our attention.
“How so?” asked Spencer, caught off guard.
“Alister Branning is away on business for two, maybe three. Scotland.”
“And this changes things how?”
Malcolm sighed, apparently put out by Spencer’s ignorance. “The hearing cannot proceed without him. We’ll have to postpone.”
Deep creases appeared in my man’s forehead, rivalling my own. How Alister’s departure meant we couldn’t continue was beyond be. He was of no relation to Leila and had yet to even fucking marry Isy. He had no right to demand such a thing.
“They’re still expecting an answer regarding your relationship with Jessica by the end of the day.”
“This trip…” began Spencer, reassessing his decision. “Is Isabelle accompanying him?”
“No,” ensured Malcolm, presenting us with a possible opportunity. “Her and the child remain here.”
He could never bring himself to use Leila’s name and it annoyed me to no end. Malcolm treated his clients like objects and if Spencer wasn’t so adamant on keeping him around, I’d call him up on his coldness. A little compassion never went amiss, yet is seemed the man was incapable of it.
“Tell them we accept,” replied Spencer, reaching for my hand.
At this, I brought my gaze up to meet his. He wasn’t looking at me directly but that certainly didn’t mean I couldn’t read his expression. I knew exactly what he was doing and upon speaking his next words, I couldn’t help but smile.
“Jessica and I broke up.”