With This Man - Jodi Ellen Malpas

Dedication

For Jesse. Thank you for trampling my mind with your perfect kind of crazy.

And for Sara Burch. Always in our thoughts.

This one is for you.

Contents

Dedication

Title Page

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Also by Jodi Ellen Malpas

Chapter 1

The pounding of my feet on the treadmill is rhythmic and comforting. The sound of Imagine Dragons’ ‘Believer’ on my iPhone is muffled by the pulse throbbing in my ears. The hammering of my heart tells me I’m alive. Not that I need to run until I can’t feel my legs to achieve that any more.

My pace increases, my breath beginning to become laboured as my run turns into a sprint. Sweat is pouring down my bare chest as I watch the clock across the gym, eyeing the second hand slowly roll around the dial. Two more minutes. Keep the pace for two more minutes.

Yet when the time has ticked down and the machine automatically starts to slow, my legs do not. I smack my hand on the plus button to increase the pace again, my ego refusing to let me stop just yet. One more mile. I crank up the volume and sprint on for a while longer, pushing air steadily through my nose, roughly wiping away the sweat rolling down my forehead. Glancing down at the screen on the treadmill, I note my distance. Fifteen miles. Done.

I slam my fist on the button and let the machine work me down to a gentle jog, yanking the buds out of my ears and grabbing my T-shirt to wipe my wet face.

‘You did it faster yesterday, you stubborn motherfucker.’

My feet slow to a stop and I brace my hands on the handles, dropping my head while I work to level out my breathing. ‘Fuck you,’ I manage to wheeze, turning to face one of my oldest friends. John’s shit-eating grin, the one that displays his gold tooth to its fullest, makes me want to knock it out.

He chuckles, low and rumbling, throwing a towel at my chest. ‘Still not come to terms with it, then?’

Stepping down off the treadmill, I wipe my soaked chest before shoving the towel back at him. ‘No idea what you’re on about.’ I’m lying. I know exactly what the bastard is on about, and I’m sick to fucking death of being wound up about it. I’m not even sure how it’s happened – where the time has gone. Because, Lord help me, I’m fifty this weekend. Fifty fucking years old. My ego is dented more each time I think about it.

I make my way over to the water cooler, John following behind.

‘Fifty suits you.’

I roll my eyes as I grab a cup and shove it under the tap. ‘Did you want something?’

Another mild chuckle sounds from behind me as I glug down the water and turn to face the smug bastard. I don’t know what he’s so tickled pink about. John’s knocking on sixty, though you’d never know it. He’s still in prime shape, not that I’d ever tell him so.

‘The new weight machines are arriving later.’

‘You good to take care of that?’ I ask, refilling my cup.

‘No problem.’

‘Thanks.’ I glance around the gym floor of the health club I own, the space alive with music, sweat, and pounding hearts. Disciples’ ‘Daylight’ is booming, adrenalin pumping, shouts of