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The Siren, Page 20

Tiffany Reisz

Page 20

  Author: Tiffany Reisz

  Zach swallowed.

  “Yes, I believe that. ” He met her eyes.

  “Okay,” she said. “We’re okay. I could have told you all this over the phone, you know. ”

  “I know. But you pegged me as a Scouser the day we met. So I thought I’d say ‘I’m sorry’ the way a Scouser does. ”

  “And how is that?”

  Zach reached inside his trench coat and brought out a brown paper bag. From it he pulled a bottle of Irish whiskey and set it in front of her on her desk.

  “Interesting,” she said eyeing the bottle.

  “What is?”

  Nora opened the bottom drawer of her desk and brought out two shot glasses and placed them next to the bottle.

  “How much Catholics and Scousers have in common. ”

  Zach stared at her across her desk and suddenly found himself doing something he hadn’t done in a very long time—he laughed loudly and freely and it felt so foreign and wonderful that if he’d been braver, he might have kissed Nora right then and there.

  Standing, Zach reached for the bottle. But Nora beat him to it. She held it in her hand and gave him the most dangerous smile he’d ever seen.

  “Zach…let’s play a game. ”

  It took five minutes before Zach regretted coming to Nora’s.

  “Truth or drink?” Zach asked as he shed his coat. “You will recall I’m in my forties. ”

  “There’s no age limit on alcohol-induced stupidity,” Nora countered. “And this is an easy game. I ask a question and either you answer it or you take a shot. Same rules for me. Whoever gets the drunkest loses, or wins, depending on your mood. ”

  “This game is hardly fair. You are far more forthcoming than any other person I’ve ever met. ” Zach tossed his coat over the back of Nora’s armchair.

  Nora leaned forward across her desk.

  “Trust me, Easton. You’ve got secrets you want to keep. I’ve got secrets I have to keep. I think we’re pretty evenly matched here. ”

  “Is that so?” he asked, his curiosity piqued. “Let’s find out then. ”

  “Game on,” Nora said. “You go first. ”

  Zach knew his first question immediately. “I’ll ask you the question you didn’t answer today—who is, excuse me, was Ellie?”

  “Ellie was me once upon a time. My mother and friends always called me Elle or Ellie. Søren, being rather formal, calls me Eleanor. I was born Eleanor Schreiber. ”

  “A German Catholic then. This poor Jew is even more intimidated. So Nora Sutherlin is your pen name?”

  “It’s the name I work under, yes,” she said, and Zach thought he saw a shadow of one of her secrets cross her face. “But that’s two questions. My turn—why did your wife leave you? Or was it you who left her?”

  Zach leaned forward, poured his whiskey and took a shot. He swallowed a cough as the liquor burned his throat and stomach all the way down. He hadn’t done any hard drinking in a long time. He was afraid if he started he would never stop. Here with Nora he still felt as if he was at a funeral but now at least it was a jazz funeral.

  “Fair enough,” Nora said. “Your turn. ”

  “On the subject of our respective exes, why did you leave your mysterious and formal Søren?”

  Nora seemed to think about it. She reached forward, poured her shot and downed it.

  “Søren’s off-limits,” she said. “More for his sake than mine. My turn to ask—are you going to sign my contract?”

  “Honest answer, I don’t know. ” Zach worried Nora would be hurt by his reticence. “It’s going well, better than I’d hoped. But there’s still a great deal of work to do on it. And I never know if I like a book until I’ve read the last page. The ending makes or breaks every book. I hope that doesn’t upset you. ”

  “Water off a drunk’s back. ” Nora raised her shot glass to him in a salute. “Your turn. ”

  “Why is Søren such a secret?”

  Nora smirked at him and downed her whiskey without the hint of a cough or discomfort.

  “You’re trying to get me drunk. I appreciate that. I will tell you this—I highly doubt Søren is a secret for the same reason your wife, ex-wife, whatever, is. ”

  “Who is also off-limits. ”

  “Let’s forget wives then. How about lovers? Ever had a threesome?”

  “There’s no warm-up here, is it? It’s just straight for the jugular. ”

  “I’m known for my directness, gorgeous. Answer or drink. ”

  “The answer,” Zach said, “is that I’m going to drink. ”

  Nora hooted with laughter.

  “I’ll take that as a yes then,” she said as Zach swallowed hard and set his shot glass down with an emphatic clink.

  “It is a yes, but I wanted the whiskey anyway. ”

  “My kind of guy. Who, what, where, when, and can you draw me a picture?”

  Zach leaned back in the armchair and felt the heat from the drink and the memory quickly rushing to his head.

  “I will admit I barely remember the evening. It was when I was at university, as a student not a professor, and I was at a birthday party. I believe there was some Irish whiskey involved in that night, as well. I was seeing a young lady, and her rather liberated flatmate decided to join us in bed after the party. Lovely girls, both of them. One’s married to an M. P. now. ”

  “I’m jealous,” she said. She left her chair and crawled up onto her desk and sat on top of it cross-legged. “I’ve never had a threesome with two other women. All of mine have been with one man and one woman. Or two men. ” She looked down at him and winked.

  “Can’t believe there’s anything you haven’t done. Is there anything else?”

  “One or two things. Keep asking, you might find out what they are. ”

  Zach knew she expected a question about her sex life. He decided to try a different approach.

  “Apart from the occasional heroic rescue you don’t really seem to need the services of a live-in personal assistant. Why did you ask Wesley to move in?”

  Nora blinked and reached for her shot. Her hand pulled back and she met Zach’s eyes.

  “Wesley… That kid blew my mind from day one. He was so damn sweet. I’m not around sweet people very often. When I had him in class I found myself doing something I hadn’t done in a long time. ”

  “What was that?”

  “Smiling. I’d been working so much, living a pretty hard life. Wes was the opposite of me in so many ways—soft where I was hard. Probably hard where I’m soft, too. ” She laughed again. “He made me feel human again…like the kind of person who could stay up too late watching stupid movies and talking. I’d forgotten how to be normal, or maybe I never knew how. My life got weird at a pretty young age and it’s been weird ever since. But Wes came along and suddenly I had another reason to get out of bed in the morning besides money. ”

  “Are you in love with him?” Zach asked.

  “That’s two questions,” Nora said, wagging a finger at him. She downed her shot. “That wasn’t me admitting to being in love with the kid. That was me being driven to drink yet again by that twerp. ”

  “Frustrating roommate, I imagine. ”

  “Very. No one that sexy should be that off-limits. I could say the same about you. ”

  “I’m your editor, Nora. I don’t think we should be involved,” Zach said, squirming a little in his seat. “J. P. would kill us both. ”

  “You’re not scared of J. P. and we both know it. It’s me you’re scared of—why?”

  Zach gave the question some thought. The three shots had gone quickly to his head on his empty stomach. He felt light-headed and warm. He knew Nora deserved an answer no matter how badly he didn’t want to tell her.

  He picked up his shot glass.

  “Again, I’ll answer. But not without some liquid fortification,” he said and took
his drink. He bent over for a moment and breathed. He looked up and saw Nora looking down at him, waiting patiently. “You’re beautiful enough and wild enough that you make me think things I never thought I would think again and feel things I didn’t think I’d ever feel again. And you make me afraid I’ll start forgetting things I don’t ever want to forget. You’re dangerous. ”

  She nodded her head and didn’t look flattered.

  “You’re not the first man who’s called me that. When I was sixteen, Søren told me that there were suicide bombers on the Gaza Strip who were less dangerous than I was. At that age, I took it as a compliment. ”

  “Were you engaged in domestic terrorism at the time?”

  “No, I told him I knew he was in love with me. That was his response. ”

  “You were sixteen. How old was he?”

  “Thirty. ”

  “I thought Søren was off-limits for discussion. ”

  “He was. But I’m getting drunk fast and have very little self-control under the best of circumstances. You could get Søren ten times as shit-faced as we’re getting and he’d still have the self-control of a desert father. ”

  “He must not be that disciplined if he made love to you at such a young age. ”

  “Young age? That bastard made me wait until I was twenty years old, Zach. You are sitting in the office of probably the most famous erotica writer since Anaïs Nin and she’s telling you that she didn’t lose her virginity until she was twenty,” Nora said and shook her head.

  “I’m aghast. Why so long?”

  “If he just wanted sex he would have taken me on day one, I have no doubt. But with D/s couples, the sex is the least of it. He wanted obedience, total submission. Keeping me a virgin waiting for him for so long proved he owned me even more than fucking me would have. He was also preparing me for everything he had planned. S&M is not for children or the faint of heart. He had to wait to make sure I was neither. My question now—how old were you?”

  Zach stared at her. She reached out and he handed her his shot glass. She refilled it and handed it back.

  “Younger than twenty,” he said and raised his glass to drink.

  Nora cleared her throat and waved her hand in a “give it up” gesture. Zach put his glass down.

  “Oh, very well, I was thirteen,” Zach said and had a sudden memory of running off into the trees behind his school with his best mate’s pretty older sister and coming out ten minutes later with a smile on his face.

  “Holy shit,” Nora said, laughing. “Good thing Wes is watching those middle school kids tonight. ”

  “She was only fourteen and while it was a rather awkward and quick affair, it was hardly traumatizing or particularly scandalous. ”

  “My first time was orchestrated and took all night, and I could barely move for a week after. I guess since I put Søren back up for discussion, we can talk about your wife. ”

  “Not drunk enough for that. ”

  “Well, keep drinking and at least tell me why it’s so hard for you to talk about her. ”

  While they’d been talking, the sun had set. Zach sipped at his whiskey while Nora flipped on her desk lamp. Warm light suffused the dark room and cast amber shadows everywhere he looked. Turning his head, Zach saw his reflection in the window. But he didn’t see himself. He saw the door behind him and the door opened and in the doorway stood Grace who should have been anywhere in the world but standing in his doorway…

  “Talking about how it ended, why it ended…it feels too much like it ended. And I don’t know if I’m ready for that, Nora. I’m sorry. ”

  “I understand not wanting something to be over. Can you at least tell me how it began?”