The siren, p.51
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       The Siren, p.51

         Part #1 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 
Page 51

  Author: Tiffany Reisz

  Love,

  Your William

  Zach turned to look at Nora’s sleeping form. She looked so young right now, so defenseless. She looked like a child sleeping on her stomach, her arms tucked under her. What a fool he’d been. First he’d pushed her away out of grief for Grace. Then he’d pushed her away out of anger at himself. Adrift and unmoored, she had tried again and again to throw him a rope to save him from the raging waters. And now he no longer felt like a drowning man at sea. Nora…the siren and the goddess, the ship and the wine-dark sea. She would either save him or end him. Right now, with her words singing in his ears, he didn’t really care which.

  Standing slowly so as not to wake her, Zach found his messenger bag and dug through it. He pulled out her contract and returned to the sofa. He knelt beside her sleeping form and flipped to the last page. Taking up his pen, he laid the contract on her back and with a sure hand and absolute certainty that the book would outsell anything Royal had ever published, he signed his name, Zechariah Easton.

  Nora stirred and opened her eyes.

  “Zach?”

  “Here. ” He handed her the pen. “Your turn. ”

  Nora took the pen and only stared at him for a moment. Then she rolled up, took the contract, laid it on his back and signed Eleanor Schreiber on the line.

  “It’s done,” she said.

  “It’s good. Nora—” Zach placed a hand on the side of her face “—it’s spectacular. ”

  Nora smiled. And then the smile was gone. They only looked at each other. Nora leaned forward and kissed him.

  He didn’t think it was possible but their second kiss was even more intoxicating than their first. He was still on his knees, and she sat in front of him on the edge of the couch. He started to stand, started to push her onto her back.

  “No. ” She stood up abruptly. “I wrote the book your way. If we’re going to do this, we do it mine. ”

  Zach didn’t have to ask what she meant.

  “Safe out and send me home, Zach. Or come with me. Those are your only two choices. ”

  Zach rose off the floor and made the most terrifying decision of his life.

  “I’m with you. ”

  Nora headed to the bedroom.

  He stood alone in his living room and breathed for a minute. Grace… Her name echoed hollowly in his heart like an unanswered prayer.

  But there was no going back. The wind took hold of the sails. Zach followed Nora into his bedroom. She struck a match and lit the single candle he’d left next to the bed.

  “A bottle of wine and a candle…” Nora said. “You were looking forward to this night, weren’t you, Zach?”

  “Yes,” he confessed.

  She came over to him, unknotted her tie and took it off. She brought it over his eyes and tied it around his head, blindfolding him. He tensed at his loss of his sight.

  “Relax. ” Nora’s voice was calm and soothing as if she were talking to a child. “Trust me, please. ”

  “I do,” he said and knew he meant it.

  He stood still as Nora unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it down his arms. But she didn’t take it off completely. She used the shirt to tie his hands behind his back.

  Zach sensed her step away. He heard her soft laugh.

  “Ecce homo. ” Zach remembered the painting in the church. “Behold the man. ”

  “Nora…” Zach said, worried he was about to get crucified.

  “How do you feel?”

  “Disoriented. ”

  “The blindfold will do that. Don’t breathe too deeply and don’t lock your knees. ”

  He nodded and tried to relax his legs.

  “Do you know why I’ve done this, Zach?”

  “No. ”

  “I could say it’s because I want you. I do want you. I have rarely been so attracted to someone in my life. But if I just wanted you I could have had you the day we met. Yes?”

  Zach knew she expected an answer. He decided to save them both time and simply go with the truth.

  “Yes. ”

  “Do you know why I didn’t let that happen? Why I stopped you before you could ask me up that night in the cab?”

  Zach experienced a mild wave of vertigo. Nora moved as she spoke and the words seemed to come from everywhere at once.

  “Why?” Nora had never made her attraction to him a secret. Why she’d turned him down the one time he’d come on to her was something he’d wondered about since that night.

  “Because when you said Grace’s name you had so much pain in your eyes. I knew you didn’t really want me. You just wanted to not think and not feel for a few hours. Yes?”

  “Yes,” Zach admitted.

  “I do want you, Zach, but I also want to know you. ”

  “You do know me. ”

  “You’ve kept half your life from me,” she said. “I don’t want half. I want all. You know my secrets now. Time to tell me yours. It’s all or nothing tonight. Say ‘all’ and we go on. Say ‘nothing’ and this ends now and forever. You decide. ”

  He felt the floor rock underneath him. On the wood floor and in his bare feet, he imagined for a moment he was on a ship in a storm.

  “All. ”

  “Good,” Nora said, sounding relieved and yet determined. “Now…tell me about Grace. ”

  “I don’t want to talk about this. ”

  “Then say your safe word and end it. But that will end it. It and us. But if you don’t want to end it, answer the question. ”

  For a terrible moment Zach considered his options. There were some things he simply did not talk about. But they’d come so far now…it would be a more difficult journey back than forward. Zach took a few short, shallow breaths and used the street sounds below to orient himself.

  “Grace was eighteen when we met. ” He gave up the words like precious possessions to a thief. “I was…older. ”

  “You were teaching at Cambridge then, yes?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Grace was your student?”

  Zach swallowed hard. “Yes. ”

  “That explains why my relationship with Wes made you so uncomfortable at first. Déjà vu, right? It seems so unlike you, getting involved with a student. ”

  “All teachers nurse attractions to the occasional student. I never intended to act upon it. Grace was lovely beyond words, twice as bright and talented as any student I’d ever taught. She wrote poetry, good poetry. No eighteen-year-old in history has ever written good poetry. But she did. ”

  “What else did she do?”

  “She brought me her poetry sometimes and asked for my opinion, my help. ”

  “You were her editor. ”

  Zach laughed bitterly.

  “I suppose I was. ”

  “She loved you. ”

  “As much as a girl of eighteen can love her thirty-one-year-old teacher. At the time, I simply assumed she cared only for her writing. ”

  “Eighteen means she couldn’t buy booze in the States. It doesn’t mean she couldn’t love you. ”

  “It does mean I shouldn’t have loved her back. ”

  “But you did. ”

  “Foolishly, yes. ” His stomach churned as he relived that year, that nightmare of a year. “Or what passed for love at the time. But I never acted on it. I loved my work, loved teaching, loved my life. ”

  “What happened?” Nora’s questions were as relentless as any assault.

  Zach took another breath. He never even allowed himself to think about that time, much less tell another soul about it. It was his burden alone.

  “I was in my office late on a Friday night. I had a hundred exams to grade that weekend. I suppose I’d complained about this in class. Somehow she knew I’d be there. ”

  “She came to your office?”

  “Yes. I was exhausted. ” Suddenly Zach was back in that cramped
third-floor office again. His sleeves were rolled up; his fingers were tinged with red ink. His head ached from the hours of reading, the endless concentration. He yawned, stretched, heard a noise in the hallway. “I heard footsteps in the hall and looked up. She was standing in my doorway. ”

  “She came to your office late at night. Shall I assume the inevitable happened?”

  “It felt inevitable. She came inside without waiting for me to ask her. And then she closed the door behind her. ”

  “What did she say?”

  “She said, ‘I don’t have any poems tonight. ’”

  “And what did you say?”

  Zach exhaled. “I didn’t say anything at all. ”

  “This shouldn’t be a bad memory for you. Tell me why it is. ”

  “She was…” Zach stopped and let the silence speak for itself. Behind the blindfold he closed his eyes. He remembered how easily Grace came to him, how her body relaxed against his, how his hands fit her thighs as if they’d been made to press them open again and again. And then he recalled her gasp of pain, that brief intake of breath that told him all.

  “She was a virgin,” Nora said, filling in the blanks.

  “Yes. ”

  “It’s not your fault that you didn’t know. ”

  “It was my fault…” Zach began and felt the guilt on him again like a knife pressed to his throat. “It was my fault I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. ”

  “Did she tell you to?”

  “No. But I should have anyway. I had dozens of lovers before then…but never…” Zach said and though the memory was an agony, his body remembered that moment. He could still feel himself inside her tight passage. “I’d never taken such pleasure inside the body of a woman before that night. ”

  “Tell me what happened, Zach,” Nora demanded. She wouldn’t stop until he told her.

  “No, it wasn’t my fault I didn’t know she was a virgin. But it was my fault she got pregnant. ”

  “Jesus Christ,” Nora said, sounding both shocked and sympathetic for the first time. Zach was almost afraid of the next question.

  “You don’t have any children so I’ll assume it was one of three possibilities—adoption, abortion or miscarriage. ”

  “It was ectopic. Worse than a miscarriage. ”

  He heard Nora’s slight intake of breath, the wince of pain.

  “How bad was it?”

  “It almost killed her. She was so young she didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t. She ignored the pain for a month. We’d only been married two weeks when she woke up in a pool of blood. One in a million chance, the doctor said, that a girl so young and healthy would suffer that. So young, he said, and he looked at me like a criminal. I felt like one. Eighteen years old and she’s hemorrhaging in the emergency ward. Eighteen years old and she has to marry a man over a decade her senior, a man hardly more than a stranger to her. ”

  “What happened after?”

  Zach shook his head. “She survived. But I wasn’t sure we would or even if we should. I waited every day for her to tell me she was leaving me. We married because she was pregnant. Then she wasn’t. But she never left me. Still, that year was hell for us. I had a nineteen-year-old wife I barely knew who had to transfer to King’s College in London after I left Cambridge, left before they could fire me. ”

  “But you stayed married. ”

  “We did. How or why, I don’t know. ”

  “Because she loved you, Zach. And because you loved her. ”

  “I did. Not that it matters. ”

  “Why doesn’t it?”

  “Because we’re over. She’s made that perfectly clear. ”

  “How do you know it’s over?”

  “Because she left me, Nora,” Zach said, letting irritation seep into his voice.
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