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The Siren, Page 25

Tiffany Reisz

Page 25

  Author: Tiffany Reisz

  Poor Wesley, Zach thought. Did that poor smitten lad have any idea that he was the inspiration for Nora’s latest hopeless, love-struck heroine? Did Nora even know it herself? I will save you from yourself…he could hear Wesley saying those very words to Nora. He hadn’t learned yet you couldn’t save someone who didn’t want to be saved.

  Zach wanted to be saved. He tried to conjure the image of Grace, six inches shorter than he and light as a sparrow, trying to lift and carry him on her back. She’d had the chance to save him once. That day he told her about the job at Royal House, that he would be moving to the States, she could have saved him with a sentence—“I’ll go with you. ” She could have saved him with a word—“Don’t. ”

  Zach opened his email. Nora—you cut half this chapter or I’ll cut half this chapter. Either way half of it is getting cut.

  He hit Send without remorse. Nora truly worked better when he was at his most brutally honest with her. He didn’t have to couch a criticism inside a compliment. She didn’t want compliments. She wanted her book to be better.

  Zach closed his laptop. Stretching out on his sofa he stared around his flat. Grace would be horrified by its austerity. If she ever saw it she would tease him that minimalist was not a synonym for empty. But when he’d come to New York he knew it was temporary. He’d have about eight months at the East Coast offices until the current chief editor in L. A. finished off the last of her projects and then he was off to yet another city. He saw no reason to have anything but the bare minimum—a sofa, a bed, a television that he only ever tuned to the occasional Everton football match, and a landline phone sitting on the floor. Why even bother with an end table for the living room? Just one more damn thing to pack.

  He picked up his lager and took a drink. Only seven o’clock on a Monday evening and he already felt so exhausted he considered just calling it a night. Only his masculine pride kept him from going to bed at such a geriatric hour. Even his sixty-six-year-old widowed father never went to bed before eight.

  Thoughts of his father stirred a fearful thought—Nora’s pills in the medicine cabinet. He still couldn’t believe that she was as ill as the bottle portended. Perhaps it was only a mild condition, an arrhythmia or something innocuous and treatable. He tried to talk himself out of his fear but couldn’t quite rationalize it away.

  Zach picked up a handful of Nora’s pages and skimmed the lines. Why do you stay with me? He had never spoken those words to Grace, though they echoed in his head almost every day of their marriage. Their marriage had begun in terror and shame and then in time changed into something he didn’t want to live without. Zach knew why he stayed. But why had she?

  Standing, Zach rubbed his neck and tried to think of something or someone else for a few minutes. But his only other thoughts were of Nora and that was an even more dangerous rabbit hole. Nora… It had been over a week since their drunken night of idiocy. He remembered how her mouth felt on his skin, how foreign it felt to be touched by a woman’s hands again, how strange it was to be awake and conscious and thinking of something other than losing Grace, not thinking about anything at all except that whatever Nora was doing he would be content to let her keep doing until the day he died. Only afterward did the guilt set in—the guilt that for a few minutes he let himself stop feeling guilty.

  Zach performed a quick mental calculation. Seven o’clock in New York equaled midnight in London. He knew Grace would still be up. A night owl in the worst way, she took long naps after coming home from school and then stayed up far too late reading.

  He picked up his phone and dialed. It rang once and no one answered. A second ring and still no answer. Zach’s heart dropped with every unanswered ring. Between the seventh and the eighth ring Zach whispered, “I miss you, Gracie,” and hung up the phone. On the floor next to the phone Zach sat with his head in his hands. Midnight and she wasn’t home. A school night and she wasn’t…

  For a horrible second an image of her with another man tore through his mind. But he knew he couldn’t be angry or jealous. After that night with Nora, he’d lost all right to be hurt.

  Nora…he remembered what she’d offered him when she’d come to his office last Thursday…a chance to see the world she lived in, to see what it was like to live free of guilt or restraint. He envied Nora her freedom. He wondered if her mysterious former lover, Søren, was the source of her vivacity. Nora said the first day they worked on her book together that Søren had owned her. He couldn’t even imagine what that meant, what such a relationship would be like. But perhaps only someone who had been a slave could truly appreciate the worth of freedom.

  Let me show you what life is like lived in the moment. No past, no future…no guilt…no shame…nothing to be afraid of…

  No guilt, no shame, no fear—he’d forgotten what it felt like to live without his three most constant and cruel companions. Could Nora really do that for him? Even just a few minutes of freedom seemed worth any price he had to pay.

  Zach looked down at the useless phone and his empty flat and made a quick decision. He stood up and grabbed his coat. He fled his building in one minute and hopped on the train in ten more. He wouldn’t turn into his father, he told himself. Not tonight.

  * * *

  On their third morning together, she woke up in his bed and found it empty. Slowly, she sat up, careful of her bruised and aching body. Last night had been the roughest yet, and she smiled at the memory of the sensual crimes he committed against her flesh. He’d spent two years mentally preparing her for what he would demand of her once they finally consummated their relationship. Although she’d known what was coming, had even watched him with others, she hadn’t truly known how much it would hurt until the first blows landed on her virgin back their first night together as lovers. Waking up the next morning with welts on her body and blood on her thighs and his sheets, her first thought was not of regret or fear, but that it had all been worth it—the wait, the pain, the sacrifice that now felt like no sacrifice at all. She belonged to him and always would. He’d said those words to her but now she felt them singing in her skin. The collar he’d locked around her neck now encircled her heart. She raised a hand to her neck and found it bare. He’d taken off her collar in her sleep. Knowing he did not expect total submission from her right now, she rose from the bed and followed the sound of running water to the bathroom. She found him in the shower and without asking permission joined him under the steaming water. He was not angry. She knew he wouldn’t be. Everyone she knew was intimidated by him—by his intelligence, by his imposing height and strength, by his ethereal beauty—but she knew him as a man of flesh and earthy desire who loved her beyond comprehension. She knew his kindness, his generosity, and although he could make the surface of her body ripple with fear when as he locked her in her bonds at night, underneath that fear moved deep ocean currents of trust. For five years he’d been teaching her how to trust him. And as he bent his head to kiss her, she laughed into his mouth, proud of how well she’d learned the lesson.

  His hands, as gentle this morning as they’d been brutal last night, explored every corner of her body. She ran her fingers through his hair and slicked it back. When he moved his mouth to her neck and drank the water from the hollow of her throat, she taunted, “No toys, no chains—how are you going to dominate me now?”

  It happened so fast that she didn’t even have time to gasp. She was pinned with her stomach flat against the shower wall. At first she wasn’t scared.

  “Like this,” he whispered in her ear. “This is how. ” And he pushed into the one part of her body he hadn’t yet penetrated. The pain was beyond anything he’d ever inflicted on her. She screamed in the back of her throat, screamed broken formless words, words ripped in half as she was. She knew there was a way to stop it, but in her panic and her agony, the way was forgotten. On her lips she tasted blood and realized she’d bitten her own arm. He continued to thrust
as her tears mingled with the water and ran down her face. It was over then as quickly as it began. He pulled out of her and left her in the shower. Her legs gave out and she sank to the floor. The water continued to beat down on her. When he came back to her, he was dressed.

  Slowly, she forced herself to look up at him and in a hollow voice she whispered, “I forgot my safe word. ” Horror dawned in his eyes. Slowly, he knelt on the floor, knelt like he meant to pray. He reached for her and she shrank back instinctively in fear. He waited and did not move to touch her again. Finally, she pulled herself slowly up. He held open a towel and she stepped into it, leaning into his body as he wrapped it around her. Picking her up he carried her back to the bedroom. He sat in the armchair by the window and held her to him, rocking her in his strong arms while she cried.

  He did not apologize and she did not expect him to.

  She never forgot her safe word again.

  Nora read the words with a slight smile on her lips before deleting the last hour of writing with a wistful sigh. She opened her email and found a new set of notes from Zach on the last chapters she’d sent him. Although he liked where she was taking it, Zach was back in attack mode and she couldn’t stop grinning as she read some of his more sarcastic comments.

  “Nora— Forgive me for copyediting, but it must be said—you have raped the semicolon yet again. Stop it. It wasn’t asking for it no matter how it was dressed. If you don’t know how to use punctuation then do away with it altogether, write like Faulkner and we’ll pretend it’s on purpose. ”

  Bite me, Easton, Nora said to herself as she corrected her sexually compromised semicolon in chapter eighteen. Seriously, bite me.

  “Nora— Aristotle said character is plot. Aristotle is dead and can’t hurt you. I’m alive and I can. Plot is plot. Find one and keep it. ”

  You want to try to hurt me, Zach? I’d love to see you try.

  Nora looked up as Wesley entered her office. She smiled but he didn’t smile back. He merely sat her red cell phone on her desk, turned around and walked out.

  With relief Nora noted that her one missed call was from Kingsley and not Søren. She called back, but only out of courtesy.

  “Bonjour, ma chérie, ma belle, mon canard,” Kingsley started in on her as soon as he answered.

  “King, calling me ‘your duck’ isn’t going to change the fact that I’m still busy. ”

  “Too busy for a 10K evening with a dear friend of yours?”

  “Tell him it’s 20K or the waiting list. ”

  “The waiting list then. ”

  “We are in a recession after all. Just tell him to tell his wife how much he’s paid me in the last year. That should earn him enough of an ass-kicking to last him until I’m done with the book. ”

  “I’ll pass your well-wishes along to the happy couple. ”

  Nora hung up on Kingsley and left her office. She followed the thrumming of a guitar to Wesley’s room.

  “That’s pretty. What it is?” she asked.

  “The Killers. ” Wesley stopped playing the song and adjusted his capo. “Ever heard of them?”

  “If they came after Pearl Jam’s Ten then probably not. ”

  He looked at her and laughed a little.

  “A little after. You going out tonight?”

  “Nope. I hung up on King. And in three weeks if Zach signs my contract I will put on my best pair of stilettos and slam my heel through my hotline once and for all. ”

  Wesley smiled and started picking out a melody. Nora started to leave.

  “What if he doesn’t sign it?” Wesley asked.

  Nora considered the terrifying possibility that after reading the finished novel, Zach would still think it wasn’t Royal House material.

  “I guess the hotline will have to stay hot a little while longer. ”