The Siren, Page 53Tiffany Reisz
Author: Tiffany Reisz
Zach grabbed a pen and scrawled the name of Grace’s hotel on his palm. He considered calling to see if she was there but didn’t want to waste a second. He threw on his coat and raced from his apartment. If the lift had broken the sound barrier on its way down, it still wouldn’t have been fast enough for Zach. She’d come by his flat? When? Probably when he was in the shower. Of all mornings to take an hour-long shower, he cursed himself again. Traffic was blessedly light, but it still felt like a lifetime passed before the taxi pulled in front of her hotel.
Zach shoved money in the driver’s hand and raced into the hotel lobby.
“Could you ring Grace Rowan’s room please?” Zach asked the hotel desk clerk.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we have no one registered under that name. ”
Zach swore under his breath. Had he heard Grace wrong? Unless…
“Try Grace Easton. ”
“Ah, yes. I’ll call her room for you. ”
Zach sagged with relief. The clerk dialed her room number. After what seemed an interminable amount of time passed, he hung up the phone. “I’m sorry, sir. She doesn’t seem to be in. Would you care to leave a message?”
Zach decided his course of action that instant. “I’ll wait for her. ”
He found a seat in the lobby that afforded him a clear view of the entrance. He stared at the elegant revolving doors, trying not to let their endless spinning hypnotize him.
Now that he was finally at her hotel his heart was still racing as if he’d run the whole way there. Why was Grace here? What on earth had she come for? He knew her. She’d always been brave enough to deliver bad news face-to-face. But he’d already heard the bad news. So why?
It didn’t matter, he told himself. Whatever the reason he would get to see her. That was reason enough to wait in the lobby. Forever, if necessary.
* * *
Two hours after falling asleep with the combs in her hand, Nora crawled from her bed and showered and dressed in a daze. Numb from exhaustion, exhausted from shock, she entered the kitchen on feet made of lead. Wesley was there loudly opening and closing cabinet doors.
“What are you looking for?” she asked between slams.
“My coffee thermos. The blue one with the lid. ” His voice sounded tight and strained.
“Did you check the dishwasher?”
Wesley stopped, wrenched opened the door of the dishwasher and yanked out the top rack.
“Dishwasher,” he said, as much to himself as her. “Right. Of course. How could I have been so completely stupid?”
Nora winced and sat down gingerly at the table. It hurt to be in the same room with him. Wesley leaned against the counter for a moment and just breathed.
“Are you mad at me?” she asked in a small voice.
“I want to be. I oughta be. ” He shook his head. “No, I’m not mad at you. Just myself. ”
She nodded and met his eyes.
“Are you sad at me?”
He released a cold, empty laugh.
“Yeah, I’m sad at you. ” She could tell he was trying not to cry. She tried, too.
“I’m sorry, Wes. I am. God, you said you wanted your first time to be with someone who knew what she was doing. Obviously when it comes to you I have no idea what I’m doing. ”
“I don’t care. There’s no one else I want to be with. But if you want to be with Zach…I just want you to be happy. That’s all that matters. ”
“Listen, last night with Zach—it was about the book. I went over to his apartment yesterday to throw the book in his face, to show him it was done. I was going to leave. He asked me to stay, to help him finish editing it. We got it all done in one night. ”
“I saw you when you came in. You didn’t just work on the book. I’m not completely stupid about everything. ”
“You aren’t stupid about anything. I am. I’m the one who forgot to call, who forgot we had plans. I was just so shocked that Zach had changed his mind…that he wanted to read the book. Wes,” she said and Wesley met her eyes. “He signed the contract. We celebrated. ”
“I thought we were going to celebrate. ”
“We still can. We—”
“I wasn’t talking about dinner and a fucking movie, Nora. ” Nora flinched at the sheer agony in his voice. “I wanted us to be together. ”
“Wesley…” she began but couldn’t find another word to say.
“I’m sorry,” he said and ran his hands through his hair. “I didn’t mean to yell. This is…I don’t know. Last Sunday on your bed, Nora, I can’t even tell you how that made me feel. ”
“I never felt anything like what I felt with you, either,” she said and remembered that abject panic she felt when she and Wesley had come so close to making love.
“Felt what?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest. He looked cold and tired. She wanted to wrap her arms around him until they both felt warm again.
She laughed a little. “Performance anxiety. ”
“Performance anxiety? Nora, you don’t have to perform with me. ”
“I think that’s why I was so scared. I don’t know how to be with someone like you. I don’t know the rules to this game. ”
“It’s not a game. ”
“Then how will we win?”
Wesley didn’t answer, just stared past her.
“I guess that answers my question,” she said.
Wesley took a deep breath. “I’ll try. I’ll try to be what you need me to be. I know I’m not like you, but I can try. It’s worth it if I can be with you. ”
“But it wouldn’t be you with me. It would be some version of you that was trying to be what I wanted. I won’t let you sacrifice who you are to be with me. ” Wesley shook his head and headed for the door. “Wesley, please—”
She started to stand up, wanting to go to him.
“Don’t. ” He raised his hand. She froze where she was. “Don’t apologize and don’t explain. I’ll live with this. I just need you not to talk about it. ”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice hardly more than a whisper.
“Hey,” he said with false levity. “At least it’s not Søren. ”
Nora shrugged and clenched her teeth.
“Wes…will you let me give you the combs back? I can’t imagine how much they cost and I know—”
“Keep them. ” He grabbed his coffee mug and headed to the door again. He paused next to where she sat huddled in her chair. “They’ll look beautiful in your hair. ”
Nora rested her head on her knees. Her stomach rumbled from stress and hunger. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday afternoon, but the thought of food only made it worse.
“I gotta go,” Wesley said. “Study group. ”
“Be careful. ”
Wesley left without another word. The door shut. She heard Wesley’s car start and pull away. And she knew she was alone. Coughing on purpose, Nora tried to relieve the pressure in her throat. She rose and poured a cup of coffee and half-considered spiking it with whiskey.
Sipping at her coffee, she swallowed the bitter heat gratefully. She needed more sleep, she decided, or another shower. No, she realized. What she really, who she needed was—
The doorbell rang jarring her from the dangerous trajectory of her thoughts. She set her mug on the table and went to the door.
Nora opened the front door to find a woman standing on the porch. Her hair was an elegant shade of red and her fair skin was dusted with becoming constellations of pale freckles. Lovely beyond description, she looked a year or two shy of thirty, but her shining turquoise eyes glowed with a wisdom and intelligence well beyond her years.
“Hello,” Nora said.
“Ms. Sutherlin,” the woman said and with the first lilting words out of her mouth Nora knew exactly who she was. “I’m so sorry to trouble you. I’m—”
� Nora breathed, “you’re Grace Easton. ”
“I am,” she said. “How did—”
“Welsh, beautiful, freckles. I don’t see that combination much in this neighborhood. ” Nora smiled at her, sensing that this meeting was somehow preordained. “Please come in. ”
Nora poured her coffee down the drain and replaced it with tea. She filled another cup and placed it on the kitchen table in front of Grace.
“Milk?” Nora offered.
“Thank you, no. Zachary always called me a heretic for drinking my tea without milk. ”
“It’s not very English of you,” Nora teased. “But then again, you’re Welsh. ”
“My father is, and my mother is Irish. ”
“I can tell. ” Nora envied Grace her red hair and exquisite freckles. “Can you do an Irish accent, too?”
“A bit. But I grew up in Wales. Zachary can actually do the better Irish accent. ”
“Really?” Nora asked. “That jerk. He never told me he could do other accents. ”
Grace smiled and sipped her tea.
“He’s a man of many talents,” Grace said. “You’re being very kind to me. I know I must seem like a lunatic showing up at your home like this. I’m leaving tomorrow morning, and I can’t seem to find him anywhere. I called Mr. Bonner. He gave me your address. He said you and Zachary work together on the weekends sometimes. ”
“We did. But the book is finished now, thank God. ”
Grace nodded and took another tentative sip of her tea. Nora took a drink of her own and noticed a bruise beginning to purple on her wrist.
“So it’s work then that brings him here so often?” Grace asked, fixing Nora with a surprisingly firm stare.
“We’re friends. Good friends. ”
Grace looked down and her eyes appeared to study the tiny ripples in her tea. She seemed nervous as a bird, her delicate fingers fluttering over the rim of her teacup.
“I meant to come sooner. I tried to leave yesterday morning but my flight was delayed. ”
“Why are you here?” Nora asked and Grace met her eyes.
“Zachary leaves for California tomorrow. I could hardly stand it when he was in New York. California seems like the other side of the world. His mornings would be my nights. ” Grace breathed in and exhaled slowly. Nora stayed silent and let her talk. “I should have come weeks ago. I called him…I told him there was a blackout, and I couldn’t find the torch. There I was with every light on in the house lying to him just to hear his voice. ”
“Sounds like something I would do. ” It was easy to see why Zach had loved this woman so fiercely. She had a poetic beauty to her, a gentleness that belied her undeniable fortitude.
“There was something in his voice when we spoke, something that frightened me. He sounded farther away than just an ocean. I talked myself in and out of coming. Now I have to wonder—am I too late? No, don’t answer that. I’m sorry. ”
“I’ll answer any question you ask, Grace. ”
“I shouldn’t ask. I forfeited my right to ask the first night I spent with Ian. I say the first night as if there were dozens of them instead of just three rather humiliating awkward affairs. It only took a week to realize what a foolish mistake I’d made. But I was so young when Zachary and I married, and it was under such horrid circumstances. ”
“I know. Zach told me. I’m very sorry. ”
Grace gave Nora a quivering but determined smile.
“He must care about you very much to have told you about us. Even his best mates, he never told them. ”
Nora shrugged. “I beat it out of him. ”
“I think he’s always been embarrassed by it, by me. ”
“No, I promise you he wasn’t. I think he was only ashamed of himself. You were young and he was your teacher—”