A Darker Love Ch. 02byAMY_Monaco©
Amy relaxed her body in the sunken black marble bath, but her mind was on other matters. With her head resting on the edge of the marble, her eyes took in her surroundings. The bathing chamber was all black marble swirled with white; it made the chamber look immaculate with its gilded accents and strange illuminated light. The splashes of water from her bath echoed, but not in a cavernous, cold way, which made it all the more surreal for her.
Two female servants worked close by, setting out what was to be her new gown. Dressed in gowns that were more like bolts of cloth draped over the body, they moved busily with their eyes down.
"Where's the exit to this place?" Amy asked.
The two women ignored her, again. For the past twenty minutes they worked in silence, only heeding Amy's words if it concerned her bath. She breathed in deeply, trying hard to suppress her irritation with the women.
"Does anyone else live here? It's so empty."
"Attending to business." One answered.
"Killing someone." Amy muttered to herself.
She sunk deeper until she was chin up in the warm steamy water. It all seemed like a bad dream, yet the feel of the water and the marble seat she sat on were tangible enough to remind her it wasn't. The night had started out so well, being able to hang out with her best friend at one of their favorite places, then meeting a charming foreigner...
She had no idea then exactly how foreign he was. What made things worse was that her first taste of sex with Cosimo left her longing for him. Her body seemed to sing in his presence, and she knew this deep down in her heart, even if they are complete strangers to each other.
"Enjoying your bath, my love?" Cosimo strode into the chamber without sparing a glance at the servants.
"Get out of here!" Under the water, Amy covered herself, pushing against the side of the pool to put distance between them.
Cosimo grinned, crossing his arms over his wide chest and leaning a shoulder on the column, one of four that surrounded the sunken bath.
"I have already seen you naked, Amy. There is no need to be shy."
"What are you doing here? They said you were attending business."
"I can walk in on my own wife any time I want."
"I am not your wife. I exchanged no vows."
He shrugged. "Demons need no vows."
She nearly threw her hands up in the air, but that would leave her exposed.
"Will you stop saying that word?" She asked curtly.
His eyes narrowed slightly. "I cannot help what I am. What do you have against me anyway? I already promised not to hurt you."
She looked away. He was delivering the right lines, yet she couldn't just fall into his arms so trustingly. "Please, can you leave? I want to get dressed."
"I will help you."
"No!" She shook her head. "No, you will not. I'll do it myself, and without their help."
Cosimo turned and gestured for the two women to leave. They bowed low, leaving without a sound.
"They're terribly rude, you know. They won't answer me."
He chuckled. "They speak only when necessary. Don't expect them to offer gossip or tell you how to escape. Their souls are bound to my palace, therefore they cannot leave."
"How convenient for you." She replied. She watched him lift up a towel and hold it out.
"Are you done bathing?"
"Will you look away?"
Cosimo sighed. "Fine, I will look away."
Hurriedly, she stood up from the water and felt the warm, thick towel wrap around her, along with his arms. She groaned inwardly. She should have known he would do that.
He nuzzled her neck, inhaling her clean fragrance. "Next time, I will join you in the bath."
"No, thanks. I like to bathe alone."
He turned her around slowly. "That wasn't a question." He stood so close to her, his bare chest brushing her shoulder. She could feel the hard muscle of his body, the strength to be found there in his arms.
"You're so beautiful." His voice was soft. He lowered his head until their lips met.
Once again, it was hard to break away. His arousal was magnetic and it entered into her body like bolts of lightening. The heat from the bath that clung to her skin didn't seep away, but ignited into a fire that burned so brilliantly, all thoughts began to meld into nothingness.
His arms tightened around her, pressing her closer to his thickening sex. His hands ran over her smooth shoulders, down to pull her towel off so she was naked. Then he swept her into his arms and carried her to the bed. Shedding his robe, he came over her.
His lips coaxed hers apart again. "Don't deny me, Amy," came his tortured whisper. The pain in his voice made her pause. When she opened her eyes, she saw an intensity there that she'd never seen before. Emotions played in his eyes, many she couldn't recognize.
Cosimo entered her swiftly, eliciting a low moan from her. His eyes never left hers as he moved over her, in her. With his hands spread on either side of her neck, he pushed into her again and again, each thrust harder than the next.
Amy gasped as she clung to him, her body beginning to tremble, until everything went tense and still. Then she was floating over the heat and ecstasy.
Cosimo's release was powerful. His entire body tightened with each rope of seed that shot into her and he finally fell to her side, bringing her close to him.
As his body reveled in this completely sated state, his heart filled with incredible sadness and longing. He felt Amy bury herself closer to him, release allowing her vulnerability and acceptance of him to show – even if it was just for a few moments. He could have shouted his triumph. But the thought quickly died away. Under heavy lidded eyes, he looked down at her cloud of dark hair, her face still hinting at the passion she experienced.
Amy. She was his mate, his other half, his love.
If only he had more time with her.
Melissa checked her phone. Odd. Amy called twice, but left no message. It was unlike her to do so. Maybe she went home with that man after all.
Melissa was just leaving Sully's when she left a message on her friend's phone. A definite metallic click made her jump.
"Okay, lady. Hand over the phone. And your purse."
She froze. "What?"
Deep in the shadows of the alley, she could see the outline of a rather tall, lanky man, but the gleam of the steel in his hand was detailed enough under the lamplight.
"The purse, lady. And no screaming or I'll pull the trigger."
Her back went up. Her mind registered the dire situation she was in. But something in her made her rebel. No way was someone taking her purse. She worked hard to afford this designer label.
"I'm not giving you anything."
"Eh?" The thief hesitated a moment. He'd never had a victim resist at gunpoint before. "I'm not kidding, lady. I'll shoot ya."
"Then someone's bound to hear. I'm less than a block away from Sully's and three other restaurants. You'll be thrown in jail for murder."
"Like hell I will. You'll be dead and I'll be long gone."
She held her hand up. "How about letting me go and I won't turn you in?"
The guy tilted his head, getting a better grip on his gun. "How about you hand over your purse, bitch and I won't blow your fucking brains out?"
"How dare you –?"
A shot rang out and Melissa was thrown aside. She expected the bullet to hit her, but instead, she felt the impact of the brick wall. Through strands of hair that fell over her face, she saw another figure lunge toward the thief.
It happened so fast. One moment the thief was protesting, the next he was lying on the ground, limp and silent.
Melissa gasped. "Oh, my god. You killed him." It was a statement made in horror rather than gratitude. The stranger caught that in her voice and narrowed his piercing gray eyes.
"Better him than you." He yanked her up, urging her out onto the street.
"What! You can't just leave him there – we need to call someone." She struggled out of his firm grip and then felt something warm and wet on her arm. She gasped again. "You're bleeding."
His white shirt was soaking in that awful dark color. What made her panic was that he took the bullet in his chest.
"We need to get you to the hospital. We need an ambulance."
He pulled her forward again. "No time."
"No time?" Was he kidding? "You're going to bleed to death! You could be internally wounded."
"I'll be fine." He winced when she bumped into him as she still resisted.
"You aren't fine at all. Listen, I know this is a shock to your system – "
"Where do you live?"
"What? No – you can't go there. You need a doctor."
He shook his head. "Trust me, all I need is a place to...recuperate." He stopped to look at her. The strange lightness of his gray eyes was unraveling.
"Fine," she answered cautiously. "Okay. But I only know so much about first aid."
Despite the pain, his mouth curved. "I'll consider that fair warning."
She didn't live far, but she felt bad that they had to walk up five floors to get to her apartment, due to no elevator.
With the lights quickly switched on, she pushed him down on the couch and hurried to get the first aid kit.
Benedict glanced around the small, but neatly put together apartment. He could hear her nervously move around in the next room. He assessed the room, seeing photographs framed and sitting on a mantle, a vase of daisies at the windowsill and that the furniture was mismatched, but as a whole, it worked.
Wincing, he felt the bullet lodged close to his heart. His chest burned and his stomach churned from the pain. But he focused his energy on the location of the bullet. Slowly, his flesh began to push it out. In seconds, he caught the bullet in his hand, looked at it with amusement. What was left now of the otherwise fatal injury was a dull ache in his chest. Hearing her footsteps, he stuck the bullet into his jeans pocket.
"I'm no good at sewing, but I passed Home Ec well enough...in middle school." She said, trying at some humor to lighten the mood. He could see she was too pale and her hands shook as she set everything down, before taking a seat on the coffee table.
"Hey," he said gently. She looked up. "I'll be fine. Don't worry."
After hesitating, she nodded. "You'll need to take your shirt off."
He felt sort of guilty playing along to this victim routine, but he obliged her, tossing it on the table.
Melissa held her breath as he did this, watching his muscles ripple and flex. Now that she had time to take it all in, she realized that her savior was built like a god. His dirty blond hair was streaked with darker brown, even the slash of his eyebrows were brown.
Stubble covered his Adonis-like face and those gray eyes were watching her carefully. She already knew that his body was deliciously toned like an Olympic athlete, but soon, her admiration turned to confusion when she saw his wound.
It wasn't as bad as she thought. The bleeding had stopped and what was supposed to be an open gap where the bullet entered was now puckered up skin and starting to scab.
She looked up.
"I told you." He grinned. "I'm fine. I'm a fast healer."
She used some cotton to clean off the blood, gingerly feeling the skin but finding no bullet lodged underneath his skin. Her mind grappled for an explanation.
"The bullet must have grazed your skin." She mumbled, finding this as the only explanation.
He made a noncommittal noise. "Must have."
She tossed the bloodied cotton and disinfected the area.
"I'm Benedict, by the way."
"Melissa." She tried to concentrate on her task, but she was slightly distracted by the rise and fall of his chest. She could also feel his gaze upon her and she couldn't help but notice he smelled of exotic spices.
"That was a fool thing you did, Melissa." He reproved in a low, husky voice. "He could have killed you."
She began to bandage him. "But he didn't. Besides, do you know how hard I worked to get that purse?"
Ben swore softly, staring at her incredulously. "You would trade your life for an inanimate object?"
One of her eyebrows went up. "I could have handled him."
"He was going to shoot you." He said loudly. He grabbed her wrists, trying to make her understand the severity of her situation. "If it weren't for me, you would be dead."
"Do you want my gratitude? Is that it? Well, thank you for saving my life, Benedict. I really am grateful that you did. But I'm safe now."
She finished and stood up. "I'll get you a couple Advil to help with the pain."
"There's no need." He said, rising to his feet gracefully.
"Then I'll get you a shirt or something. You can't go out half-naked." It was the wrong thing to say because suddenly her mind filled with images of him being completely naked in her bed. Her heart thumped faster as she searched one of the closets. Ben was in her tiny kitchen by the time she came back.
"I don't know if it will fit. It's my brother's, he left it here some time ago..." She was starting to babble and bit down on her bottom lip to stop. He was making her nervous now or perhaps it was the shock of the evening finally hitting her.
He tugged on the simple gray t-shirt. It was a little tight on him, but truthfully, she didn't mind and the color only enhanced his eyes.
"Thanks for nursing me." A smile teased at his mouth. She crossed her arms over her chest.
"No problem, Ben."
"You shouldn't have stood up to him like that." He said softly. "Better to lose your purse than your life."
The way he said it, as if he truly cared for her made her smile. "Hopefully, there won't be a next time. Are...are you going to be okay?"
He nodded. "Don't worry about me. I'll see you later, Melissa."
She knew he didn't really mean to see her later. It was another way to say good-bye and she repeated the line as he left.
Later that night in bed, she replayed the alley scene in her head over and over again. It didn't add up, she kept thinking. The way he was bleeding indicated the bullet had hit him full on the chest, instead of grazing his flesh. His wound didn't look like it had been grazed...
And Ben didn't even seem to be that affected by the pain.
"It doesn't make sense." She mumbled to herself. His words had been so ominous. No time, he said when he was urging her down the street. What did that mean?
Melissa tied on her black apron and headed out to the tables. She worked at Archer Café, a sit down eatery that attracted the artsy and intellectual types. The décor was modern, following a mod theme of white, black and turquoise.
A cool mix of jazz and underground alternative played softly with the pressured sounds of espresso and cappuccino machines. The smell of coffee beans wafted in the air along with the sweetness of freshly baked pastries.
With her pad and pen ready, she went to the first table and took down their order. She was scribbling down the last of it as she approached the next table.
"What will it be?" She asked, looking up. Then stopped as recognition kicked in. "Ben?"
His smile was disarming. He looked relaxed in dark jeans and a button down white shirt. Sunglasses were pushed up into his dark blond hair and his face was clean-shaven.
"What are you doing here?"
"Having coffee." He said simply. Yes, what a stupid question to ask on her part. It wasn't as if he was making an effort to see her.
"Ready to order then?"
"Double espresso and a biscotti, please."
She mumbled something in return. She made the order herself, using the time to calm her racing heart.
"When are you done for the day?" He asked, when she set his order down.
She looked up in surprise. "Not until two."
"Have lunch with me." Before she could protest, he added, "It's the least I can do to repay your kindness last night."
Her eyes filled with guilt. She'd forgotten for a moment that he had been injured. "Are you okay now? No pain?"
He smiled. "None. I told you I was a fast healer. Lunch then?"
"I'll meet you here later."
Her mind was only half focused on her job for the rest of the afternoon. Just as her shift ended, she decided to give Amy a call. But after five rings, there was no answer. She left a message to call back as soon as possible when it occurred to her to try Amy's office.
"Sorry, but she didn't come into work today." Melissa went still. "Did she say why or leave a message?"
"No message or reason. I figured it was an emergency and she didn't have time to call in."
She let out a slow breath. "Okay, well, if she does show up or call in, can you tell her to call Melissa? It's really urgent that she does."
Panic rose quickly and she rushed out from the back of the café. Then she saw Ben. She'd forgotten about their lunch.
"What's wrong?" He came up to her, flipping his sunglasses up into his hair.
"My friend, Amy. She's – she's not at home. She hasn't shown up to work and she's not answering her phone."
"When was the last time you two spoke?"
"Last night. She met a guy and I assumed she went home with him...oh god, I shouldn't have let this happen. She usually picks up when I call."
Ben wrapped an arm around her.
"Do you mind if we go check on her apartment?"
Ben said very little. And as he predicted, Amy's apartment was empty and undisturbed. Melissa shook her head worriedly.
"I'm calling the police." She announced. She was digging into her purse when she felt his hand close over hers.
"You won't get any help from the police, Melissa."
"What do you mean?" She frowned. "Of course, I can. They can help track her down."
Her heart started to beat faster, but she willed herself to stay calm. Ben was looking at her strangely, but she chose to ignore it.
"Not where your friend is, they can't."
Her hand loosened on her phone and purse and in turn, his hand loosened over hers. An innate alarm went off inside her and she put her things down.
"What do you mean where she is the police can't find her?" She asked. "Do you know where Amy is?"
She started into the kitchen, trying her hardest not to shake in fear. Then she heard him say, "Melissa, I'm not going to hurt you."
"All right." She answered cautiously. "Then you better explain yourself." She walked over to the knife drawer and turned to face Ben. This way she could keep an eye on him. She leaned against the counter, resting her hands on either side of herself. The drawer was only a reach away.
Ben was standing casually a few feet away, hands at his side. His sunglasses were discarded. He too seemed to sense that she'd put her guard up.
"I know where she is, but no, I didn't have anything to do with her going missing, if that's what you are thinking."
Her hand shifted. "Are...are you a cop or detective?"
"No." Where could he begin? He took a step toward her. "Melissa,"
"Stay where you are!" She thrust open the drawer and randomly grabbed for a knife. In doing so, she cut herself, the sting of it causing her to falter for a second. Finally, she gained a hold on one and held it out. "Stay where you are or I'll cut you."
"Put the knife down." He said calmly, taking another step closer.
"Do you think I'm stupid? I'm not putting it down until you get out of my apartment. Come any closer and I'll scream my head off."
"Listen to me, Melissa. Put the knife down and I'll explain everything. I give you my word that I won't hurt you."
Her hands were shaking and her finger was bleeding more than she thought, making her grip on the knife slippery.
"Don't come any closer!" She screeched. He was walking toward her like a panther to his prey, his gray eyes sparking with intent. He was unbuttoning his shirt as he did so, shedding it easily and letting it drop to the floor. This only confused her more. She stared at him. "I'll stab you. I swear I will, Ben."