There’s a gentle hum of voices, of feet on the hardwood floor. The whole inn has whispered ever since Paige’s tantrum, afraid of waking the beast again. She cried herself to a shuddery sleep. I watched as Jane rocked her small body. Somehow they ended up curled against the baseboards in a corner. Begging. Ordering. Bargaining. We tried everything to get Paige to stop, but in the end it was the cradle of Jane’s arms that worked.
Thank God for room service. And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which Paige ate even though the peanut butter was the crunchy kind. Then she fell into a deep, exhausted slumber on top of the coverlet. No bath today. We’ll have to face it again tomorrow, but we’ll all be calmer.
Sometimes the wisest course in a battle is retreat.
Water murmurs through the pipes. I fight the images that come to my head—Jane reclining in the copper clawfoot tub, water sluicing over her gorgeous skin. A wide faucet spills into the tub. There’s an attachment you can hold instead. I imagine her holding it between her legs, the spray massaging her clit, her thighs shaking as she comes.
Christ. Now I’m hard.
Sex. It won’t happen again. Brilliant idea, Rochester.
I know I should stay away from her, but it’s hard to remember the reasons when I’m aching in my boxer briefs. The sun folds down, crouching beneath the water, only an eerie purple glow spreading out over the surface. This is what tourists come here for. This is why they rent this room, for this view of a beautiful sunset. My mind knows this. It’s only my baser instincts that see it as sinister. This is the bay that claimed my brother’s life. This is the water that beat against the cliffside, futile, uncaring, even as we almost burned.
There’s a knock at the door. I remain still for a moment, hoping she’ll go away. It’s her. Of course it’s her. The person I most long to see. The person I hunger for. The person I can barely stand to be around. Resentment rises, that she would come to me. Along with unholy anticipation.
The moment spins out, and I imagine her waiting, waiting, waiting.
How long will she wait?
Her feet are probably bare on the cold hardwood floor. Her arms crossed in a useless attempt at comfort. Her nipples are probably pebbles beneath her clothes.
I stand and cross the room. Open the door.
My imagination might have conjured her, except for her expression. It’s reserved. Wary. And exhausted. She looks as reluctant to see me as I feel toward her. I can’t help but look at her body in these new clothes, the way the pale pink shirt molds to her breasts, the way the black stretchy pants hug her thighs. Her dark hair falls around her face, tumbling over her shoulders.
I didn’t think you’d be this angry, she said in the hospital. Anger is too simple a word for what I’m feeling. Fear and lust and possession. It’s a form of madness, really. I can’t let her have this much control over me, but even as I think the words, I’m worried it’s too late.
“Yes?” I say, my voice low in warning.
There’s an internal struggle. The arguments darken her eyes. Then she stands straighter. “I need to speak with you.”
“She’s fine. Asleep.”
“Then this can wait until morning.” When we won’t be alone. When you won’t look so small and tired and fragile. Christ, why can’t I stop looking at her body?
She’s in a cotton shirt and yoga pants. Not the most alluring clothing. I’ve taken women to galas and then stripped them afterwards. I’ve dated a Victoria’s Secret model, but I’ve never been more tempted than right now.
She smells faintly of the sweet orange soap that rests on the bathroom counters. I want to trail the damp strands of her hair over my chest and abs. I want to breathe along every plane of her skin, following the shadows to her sex. Want to lick, lick, lick until I draw her arousal, replacing the soap scent with her own.
“It can’t wait,” she says. “I need to talk to you without Paige around.”
My stomach sinks. She would need to speak to me alone if she were going to quit. I step back so that she can come inside. Only when she’s standing in my space, the door closing us in, the heat of her body a siren call do I realize I could have led her downstairs. The king-sized bed looms. It beckons. I can taste the phantom salt-sweet of her on my tongue.
I clear my throat. “Have a seat, then.”
She ignores the two armchairs by the bay window and instead sits on a small padded stool by the dresser. One foot steps on the other. Nervous. She’s nervous. I head to the minibar. Something tells me I’m going to need a stiff drink for this conversation.
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