The siren, p.43
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       The Siren, p.43

         Part #1 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 
Page 43

  Author: Tiffany Reisz

  27

  Two weeks left…

  Zach paced around his flat trying to decide where to begin packing. His flight to L. A. was in exactly thirteen days. He’d arrive on Sunday morning, get settled into the temporary quarters that Royal had rented for him and he’d start work on Monday. There was little to pack so he wasn’t sure why he was bothering about it so soon. With his work at Royal New York almost finished, he didn’t know what else to do with himself.

  He opened a cardboard box and starting packing his books. The Great Gatsby…the book that first turned him on to modern American literature when he was a university student. Atonement by Ian McEwan…a glorious story, one of McEwan’s best. Zach stared a long time at the title of the next book—Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. Nora had joked about that book once; that she was quite disappointed that no one actually got tied up in it.

  When he realized he was smiling at the memory he made himself stop. Everything was over with Nora now—the book, the deal, the promise of a few nights together before he was gone. He was so angry with himself. He thought that once he was settled out in L. A. she would come visit for a few days. He’d offhandedly mentioned the idea a week ago. She asked him if he’d ever heard of something called “Goths in Hot Weather. ” Apparently leather and tropical weather didn’t mix. But she’d said she would consider it…if he begged enough.

  He’d been fully prepared to beg.

  It was useless. Nothing he did could exorcise thoughts of Nora from his mind. The anger had burned itself out yesterday and turned into a cold, hard fist of anguish in the pit of his stomach. He half hoped she’d call. Even another fight was preferable to the bitter silence that had become the last three days since he’d told her it was over.

  Zach went into the bedroom and looked around. Perhaps there was something in here he could pack that wouldn’t spur such potent and painful thoughts. He stared at the clothes in his closet and considered packing some of them. But he still had over a week in New York and he didn’t have the energy for sorting out what he’d wear from what he wouldn’t.

  Giving up, Zach sat on his bed with his elbows on his knees. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, sensing a headache coming on. He looked down to the floor and saw the corner of Nora’s manuscript peeking out from under the bed.

  What hurt more than anything was knowing how good the book could have been. She was almost finished with it. A hundred pages or so was all that was left to rewrite. So close… It would have outsold all her other books combined, outsold all of Finley’s dull, dreary pretentious postmodern books combined. It would have been a sensation.

  With his heel Zach kicked the manuscript all the way under the bed. He started pulling clothes from the closet and throwing them into an empty box. He’d just give them all away. Everything. He’d start over completely in L. A.

  After a few minutes Zach realized what an idiot he was being. No matter what he did with his things, burn them, bury them or send them by mail, he would take nothing with him to L. A.

  He had nothing anymore. And nothing was very easy to pack.

  * * *

  More exhausted than she’d ever been in her life, Nora dropped her toy bag in the entry hall and didn’t even pet the dogs. She stumbled up the stairs of Kingsley’s town house and stopped at the second floor. She’d been staying with Kingsley since Saturday not wanting to subject Wesley to the torment of knowing how many jobs she was taking in an effort to get Zach and her aborted novel out of her system. Wesley called every day and every day she texted him the same message—I’m fine, kid. I’ll be home soon.

  Three clients today—two men and one woman. The men were actually the easier gigs. One had a foot fetish and would pay through the nose just to kiss her boots for hours on end. The other was a masochist who was at his happiest when he was tied up, called a “slut” and beaten black and blue. Both were married men, upstanding members of their communities. They came to her to keep their marriages and lives intact. A few hours with her a month and then they could go back to their regular lives until the pressure built up again and they had to let off their secret steam. Women, as usual, were much more work. But at least Nora liked this girl. She was one of Griffin’s trust fund friends who hadn’t come out to her family yet, afraid they’d cut her off until she straightened up. Nora felt sorry for the girl—she knew all too well how difficult it was to tell the truth about who you really were to the people you cared about.

  Kingsley had given Nora the room next to his, after she had reluctantly turned down his invitation to join him in his own bed. Zach had accused Kingsley of being her pimp, but it was just one more thing that Zach didn’t have a goddamn clue about. Kingsley had saved her life five years ago. They were friends and business partners, and right now, business was good.

  Without even bothering to undress, Nora collapsed onto the bed. She didn’t have to wait long before Kingsley made his usual nightly appearance.

  “Comment ça va?” Kingsley asked as he came into the guest room without knocking.

  “Je suis too fucking exhausted to speak French, monsieur. ”

  “J’accepte. ” He sat next to her on the edge of the bed. His hair was unbound and he’d abandoned his suit jacket for the night. He looked ridiculously dashing in the dark vest and knee boots in a gypsy king sort of way. She decided not to tell him that.

  “Drink?” He held out a glass of wine to her.

  “God bless. ” She took a very unladylike gulp of one of Kingsley’s best merlots.

  “The distinguished gentleman from New York called again. He said he’d consider changing his vote if you considered changing your mind. ”

  “Did he consider upping his offer?” Nora hated Senator Palmer. He was a family-values Republican by day and an S&M fiend and pervert by night. When her work got too difficult, she focused on the money. She’d never forget the desperation that had brought her to Kingsley five years ago. She’d learned a long time ago that money didn’t buy happiness. But it did buy a roof over your head and that was more than she’d had when she’d started this job.

  “He doubled it, chérie. ”

  “Doubled it? Our hard-earned taxes at work?”

  “What are taxes?” Kingsley asked and they laughed. She prayed the IRS never got a look at Kingsley’s books. “What should I tell him?”

  “Tell him yes. I don’t care. He’s at least easy to please. Any idea why he likes getting the shit kicked out of him by a grown woman in a schoolgirl uniform?”

  “He was the U. S. envoy to Japan for a few years. Perhaps he’s read too much manga?”

  “Tell him Wednesday night. And that’s it. I need a day off. ” She stretched out to take the pressure off her aching shoulders. She wished Wesley were here. He had this magic way of rubbing her back that not only made the pain go away, but made her forget how it got there in the first place. Wesley…it had been four days since she’d even seen him. Was he eating like he was supposed to? Checking his numbers? Nora forced Wesley-worries out of her mind. Thinking about him hurt almost as much as her back did.

  Kingsley tapped the end of her nose to get her attention.

  “You have a day off. Thursday, recall? A certain member of the clergy would have me in the Judas Chair if I dared interfere with your Holy Thursday ritual. ”

  Nora closed her eyes. Thursday…her anniversary with Søren.

  “You know, King, you pretend to be all debased and amoral, but I think, deep down, you’re a romantic. You have to stop playing matchmaker. Leaving Søren was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Going back to him would be the only thing harder. ”

  “Mais oui,” King said and stood up. “But as you know, mon père was a Frenchman and I have a Frenchman’s heart. We French do love our romances. ”

  “Søren and I aren’t a romance. We’re just a fantasy. ”

  “Bien sûr, ma chérie. ” Kingsley bow
ed to her as he backed out of the room. “You are the writer, after all. You would know your genre, I suppose. ”

  Nora reached out and turned off the light next to the bed. She lay alone in the dark.

  “I was the writer,” she said to the ceiling. “And I don’t know anything at all. ”

  * * *

  Nora stood outside her house and took slow, shallow breaths. They didn’t help. She walked to the edge of the porch, leaned over and threw up in the bushes. Life at Chez Kingsley was harder on her than it once was. She’d taken a few too many of her pills, drank more than she needed to, had done and seen things she wished she hadn’t. She wiped her mouth and took the house keys from her pocket. She hadn’t been home since Saturday. Five days gone and she already felt like a stranger breaking into her own house.

  She said nothing as she passed Wesley’s room on the way to hers. She was single-minded in her destination. She went to her bedroom and brushed her teeth before sinking into the bathtub fully dressed. That was as much as she could do.

  A few minutes later, she heard a gentle knock on the bathroom door.

  “I’m in the bathtub,” she said.

  “I’m coming in anyway. ”

  Wesley pushed tentatively through the door wearing a fretful look on his face. She glanced his way but couldn’t meet his eyes. He knelt next to the bathtub and laid his head on his crossed arms.

  “You’re wearing clothes, Nora. ”

  “I know. ”

  “There’s no water in the tub,” he said with the slightest smile on his face.

  “I said I was in the bathtub. I didn’t say I was taking a bath. ”

  “That’s true,” Wesley conceded. “Nice to see you again, stranger. ”

  “I’m a stranger to myself these days. Don’t take it personally. ”

  “Any particular reason you’re in a school uniform with your hair in pigtails and sitting in an empty bathtub?”

  “Because I need a bath. ”

  “You look clean enough to me. ”

  Nora swallowed and started to rock slowly back and forth.

  “I was with a bad person tonight,” she whispered.

  The smile left Wesley’s face.

  “Did he hurt you?” He paled at the mention of the idea.

  “I hurt him. It’s what he paid me for. After he said thank you. He said…” Nora pulled her knees tight to her chest. “He said he’s in love with his twelve-year-old niece and it helped to have someone dress like her and beat it out of him. ”

  “Oh, my God,” Wesley breathed. “What did you do?”

  “Nothing. I wanted to hit him but hitting a masochist is pretty pointless. Wesley?” She finally looked him full in his face. For a moment his brown eyes turned silver and she saw Michael’s face floating in front of her. “What if I’m a bad person, too?”

  “You’re not a bad person. If you were a bad person you wouldn’t be sitting fully dressed in a bathtub with no water in it because you’re terrified you might be a bad person. The devil doesn’t worry about going to hell. ”

  “Only because he’s already there. ”

  Wesley sighed. He reached out, pushed down the bathtub stopper and started the water running. He took her shoes off one by and one and pulled her knee socks down and off her feet.

  “What are you doing?” she asked as the warm water started to surround her.

  “You said you needed a bath. So you’re gonna have a bath. Okay?”

  Nora nodded. “Okay. ”

  Wesley eased the ponytail holders out of her hair and ran his finger through her long locks to loosen them. The water rose up to the top of her thighs. Wesley took some of her bubble bath off the ledge and poured it in. The scent of orchids filled the bathroom as the bubbles rose in a weightless white wave.
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