There are as many ways to grieve as there are ways to die. Each and every person is unique in his or her pain.
She was looking for trouble. Anything to keep the vast dark space in her soul from fully consuming her. She'd made it through the day, now she just had to make it through the night.
Everyone told her it would get better. Time, it heals all wounds. Doctors, friends, counselors- she'd poured her black soul out to all of them and gotten tired, old platitudes in return. They couldn't understand why she couldn't move on. Why, a year later, her pain and loss were as sharp as the day she'd watched that mask of death fall over his beautiful face.
Every time she closed her eyes she relived those final moments. Felt the warmth of his blood pulsing through her fingers; watched him struggle to breathe as it filled his lungs. Sat, helpless, as that cold, hard mask took his soul from hers, their connection forever severed.
It was as if someone ripped any good she'd ever had in her away. Now, left with no light to guide her, the dark inside her had solidified steadily, day by miserable day.
They'd tried pharmaceuticals, no change. They'd tried therapy, no change. They'd even had her hospitalized at one point, nothing had helped. The darkness still grew.
Lately, she'd stopped speaking. Started taking foolish risks. Doing things that weren't in her nature. Tonight, she'd try something new. Something she would never have considered doing in her former, happy life.
It was like playing a character in a movie. Here she could be anyone and anything she imagined- or nothing at all. Tonight she was looking for darkness. Someone who's soul mirrored her own.
She certainly looked the part, from her leather mini skirt and thigh high boots to the deep red lipstick and the temporary black hair dye. For a moment, seeing herself in the mirror, she truly felt like someone else.
It was more comfortable, this new skin she'd put on, than she would admit. Something about it made her feel in control. More level than usual. Maybe it was just her imagination trying to ease her along. She didn't much care, just went with it.
The club she'd chosen was obscure, older than most and had a much more sinister vibe than her usual haunts. It suited her new persona perfectly.
It was labeled a "Goth" club, but it was fairly well known around the circles as a fantasy, vampire role-playing club. She wasn't into that, or the light BDSM she'd been warned about. All she cared about was that this club had an open sex policy.
A woman didn't go to this club alone unless she was willing to play the game. Anonymous sex had become her new therapy but the thrill was fading and she needed something more to keep the dark away. Especially tonight.
The main area, with its red lights and dark dance floor, was hazy with all kinds of smoke from cigarettes, pipes, and joints. It was a heady combination. Walls, covered in drapes of black velvet, did only so much to hide the obvious couplings going on in their folds. The smells swirled all around her- sticky sweet liquors, fragrant smoke, cologne and sex, an unmistakable musk that made her heart race.
While you might be able to see what was going on along the walls, you couldn't hear the couples over the loud, heavy bass music blaring from several speakers placed around the dance floor. Of course, what was happening on the dance floor wasn't exactly for the faint of heart.
Moving closer, she waited.
He'd watched her eyes widen in momentary surprise as she'd walked in, quickly masked by faux bravado and some real excitement. Who knew if she'd actually participate. Women like her, come here for one of two things, to hurt, or be hurt. Some look brave but deep inside they have the heart of a choir girl.
This little chip certainly looked like she belonged but experience had taught him that looks could hide a whole lot of nasty business. Still, for some reason, this one seemed different. She was here for a thrill but not because she'd spent a week behind a desk, attending boring business meetings and drinking fancy five-dollar coffees.
No, this one needed something this place could offer. Maybe something he'd be willing to give her- personally.
He'd been approaching her slowly, less than confident. She could actually feel the nervous energy surrounding him like a fog. It turned her off. Knowing his touch would revolt her, she moved quickly away. She did the same to the next two, both much too young to know what she might need from them.
Stepping up to the bar, she tried to tamp down the disappointment that was simmering just under her skin. This wasn't going exactly as she'd imagined. Of course, nothing was ever that easy. She leaned heavily on the faux black ebony topped bar, breathing deep to try and center herself as doubt and darkness tried to swallow her again.
"Finding nothing to your liking tonight?"
His voice was deep, rough like fine grit sandpaper and very close to her ear. Ah, there it was. A tiny shiver of alarm skittered across her flesh, followed closely by curious attraction. Gooseflesh broke out along the back of her neck and her scalp tightened, making it feel as if her hair were trying to stand on end. Without turning, she shook her head no.
His hand appeared in her line of vision, wide with long fingers and clean nails, signaling something to the bartender. "Maybe a drink will help." It wasn't a question, he'd already ordered for her, yet she still nodded a small yes.
The drinks came quickly and she closed her hand around the thick glass, the amber liquid inside tickling her senses with the scent of aged caramel. He picked his up and touched the rim to hers.
It was that moment when she chose to turn her head and look at him through the veil of her hair. The drink distracted him and she wouldn't be caught.
He was everything his voice had promised. Dark hair, wavy and thick, a squared jaw shadowed by just a touch of stubble and thickly lashed eyes that were, thankfully, closed. Down the left side of his face was a long scar that ran from just above his ear on the temple, across his cheek, ending just at the beginning of his chin. It was fairly thick and must have been incredibly painful.
"Do I pass inspection?"
Her eyes shot up to his, noticing how very clear the green was, like those glasses her Grandmother used to have- and how much amusement was in them. It was bait she wouldn't take. Another nod of the head, yes.
"Those other men, something wrong with them?"
A shake of her head, no.
"Just not your taste?"
A nod, yes.
"Are you mute?"
A shake, no.
She lifted the glass to her lips and sipped, humming appreciatively. It was very good. Before she could lick the moisture away, he rubbed his thumb slowly across her bottom lip, then licked the liquid away with his tongue. Sudden heat rose up, nearly choking her.
He didn't ask permission before taking her hand in his much larger one and leading her to the middle of the dance floor. While he hadn't asked, he hadn't forced her either. They stood together, her eyes on his chest, head barely reaching the top of his shoulder. All around them bodies moved, heat coming off them in waves. They stood still, uncaring what happened around them.
Gently, he raised her chin with a finger until her eyes met his. She saw a mirror of her own eyes, temptation, hunger, and heat inside them. She lingered there for a moment before breaking the contact, closing her eyes and turning until her back was nestled against his chest.
Some men would have taken her action as rejection, others as invitation to treat her roughly. He took it exactly as she meant it. Submission.
He did not gloat. He would claim her for his own, here in front of all these others, happily. There were many shocked faces turned their way, many women he had refused over all these many years of owning this place. She was the first he'd willingly touched.
Her scent was unique and he breathed it in as he moved her hair off her neck and over her left shoulder. He was careful not to touch her. This was the way of the people who played here. He didn't need the show and he suspected she didn't either, but they did. They would never touch his woman after this. Here, in this place, it was important to set the boundaries.
The entire place had gone still. It was slightly unnerving. He'd seen plenty do this but had never thought he'd be one to participate. Her skin called to him though, the pulse in her neck beating a furious rhythm. Shutting them all out, he leaned in, bared his teeth and bit into the skin over her pounding artery.
She had to swallow the moan that wanted to burst free of her chest. There was no pain, just pleasure. No skin was broken, no blood taken, yet the intent behind the gesture was erotic.
He lingered, pressing soft kisses all along her beating flesh. To soothe, to excite, to please.
As if she knew the rules to this new game, she kept her eyes closed, letting her other senses guide her. Already the scent of him was embedded into her mind. Spicy, like cinnamon, with a hint of good pipe tobacco and herbal soap, she could have picked him out of the crowd by his scent alone. She would also know him by the feel of his lips, the pattern of them, the firmness and heat. Like a fingerprint, their uniqueness had been branded onto her flesh.
For several long moments all she could do was try and catch her breath, slow her pounding heart. Luxuriate in the strong male body behind her, the heat of his skin through their clothes.
Slowly, she became aware of the amount of attention they were receiving. Attention she wasn't sure of the reasoning behind. His large hands on her waist stopped her breath, and her musings.
Pulling her body tightly against him, he leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Keep your eyes closed and trust in me."
She nodded then followed the instructions he whispered in her ear. He moved them forward slowly, the music fading but bodies getting closer. Occasionally a hand would brush her arm, or thigh. She didn't startle though since he was there to guide her. However, the feel of him moving behind her, their bodies still so close together fed the hunger that was growing moment by moment inside of her.
They moved to the right but on her left, the sound of bodies coming together reached her ears. Their moans and gasps made her skin tighten with arousal. Her breath came faster, became more ragged.
The lush feel of velvet brushed across her skin then moved away. A key in a lock, a door opened nearly silently, cool air rushed across her face. The door closed and was locked behind them. All sound was gone now. All sensation, aside from him touching her, locked out. When he stepped away all she heard was the sound of her own breathing and pounding heart.
"If you are unsure, you need to tell me now. Once I open this next door there will be no going back. Not for either of us." His voice was no more than a whisper of sound but to her it felt like a shout.
How long had it been since she'd felt any real emotion? Anything remotely this exciting? All those other men, all those other nights, they were nothing like this. A parody of arousal. A spoonful of passion in an ocean of need. When was the last time her breath caught like this?
The day the death mask came.
Decision made, she reached back for his hand. His breath rushed out along her temple. Seconds later the melodic sound of numbers being punched into a keypad alerted her to his decision.
The door whooshed closed behind them, sealing with a click. He moved away from her and she immediately felt his loss. Not just of his body heat and protection but whatever odd connection she seemed to be building with him.
Even through her closed eyes she could see the room had brightened considerably. Her ears strained to hear him moving around. Monitors came on, a sound she'd been very familiar with in her old life. Four, five, six, seven, eight of them. He brushed close by her, his footfalls nearly silent on the thick carpeted floor. He had to have removed his heavy boots. What was this place?
It smelled of him. Cinnamon and herbs in the air mixed with could only be vanilla scented wax and books. The smell of old books was very strong. Like a great library.
How long since she'd noticed the variety of scents in the air? Her heart pounded and heat bloomed in her chest. Could she be honest? She had to try. Even before he'd died the simple things had been lost in her. She hadn't noticed them. She'd become complacent.
"Take off your shoes."
She didn't hesitate even though she was fighting back tears. Leaning down, she unzipped then stepped out of them. He was close enough that she could feel the heat coming off of him yet she didn't reach out.
"Take off the jacket and hand it to me."
Her fingertips brushed his as she passed the garment over, sending a shiver from the top of her head straight into her gut. Her breath caught and for a moment she felt dizzy.
He noticed her shiver. "You're such a tiny thing. Are you cold without the jacket?" He let his hands run up and down her arms, thinking to warm her.
The blush began on her chest then climbed her neck, settling in her cheeks. The air-conditioned room had not caused her chills. She shook her head no.
"You're blushing. I can't remember the last time I saw a woman do that." He ran a fingertip down one bright pink cheek. "It's very pretty on you."
Coming up behind her, he pulled her hair over to her left shoulder, baring her neck and the slightly red mark there. "I hope I didn't cause you any real pain? I have no clue what came over me." He placed a soft kiss on the mark and this time she couldn't contain the small moan that rushed past her lips.
Chuckling against her skin, he whispered, "So, now I know you can at least make noise."
She smiled, nodding her head yes. At this point she couldn't have spoken even if he'd commanded her too. The lump in her throat was too large.
"You didn't answer my original question. Did I cause you pain?"
Another smile came across her lips and it felt like an explosion in her chest. A miracle. She shook her head no.
"I will never cause you pain." His lips brushed her neck back and forth. "Can you trust me?"
Yes, she nodded, absolutely believing that he spoke the truth. Something about him- something clicked in her the moment she'd heard his voice. He'd made her feel so much, things she hadn't felt since...
No, should couldn't, would not, go to that place right now. Not here, not with this man. Tonight it wouldn't be pretend.
While she'd been lost in thought, he'd come around to face her. She couldn't see it, but his face was concerned, thoughtful. "I lost you somewhere. I said there was no going back but if you're having second thoughts..." He let the sentence die off, taking his hands off her soft skin and putting them at his sides.
Panic set in, slight but enough to wake her from her thoughts. Quickly she pulled his hands up and placed them around her waist. Her head on his chest, she vigorously shook her head no.
"Okay, okay. Shhh. I'm not leaving. I just wanted you to know that you can change your mind."
Taking a deep breath, she relaxed back into his warmth again. Her legs felt slightly weak and she wobbled. Moving forward, he caught her up and set her in a chair. She sank in, inhaling his scent mixed with fine leather.
"Open your eyes."
For a moment, just a split half of a second, she thought of refusing him. Curiosity won out over doubt. It actually took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the light. Once they did there was nothing in her vision but his rugged face and amazing eyes. So familiar to her somehow. So honest as he stared back at her.
Unable to sustain the contact, she looked down, noticing how he sat in front of her as if it were an everyday occurrence. His hands were on the seat beside her thighs. Dark against light. Her chest tightened and to her utter horror tears burned her eyes. She tried to dash them away before he could see but it was a useless attempt.
He sat forward and ran his thumbs through the salty trails her tears had made on her cheeks. "Why? Why did you come here? This place, it isn't for someone like you. You're not the kind of woman who needs what this place is offering."
He was wrong. The darkness reared its ugly head. She closed her eyes so he couldn't see it in her. The emptiness that she'd begun to forget was suddenly very close to overwhelming her. She had to make it stop. Make it go away. It had to be him. Desperation clawed its way up her throat.
Control. She needed to gain control. She'd let him sidetrack her from what she'd come here to do. To push back the darkness. To hide. To forget.
He saw the change come over her. Like a mask had come down over her face, softness turned hard, cold, and distant. More like the women that came here every night. She was determined to shut down. He wasn't going to let her. He'd give her what she wanted, then he'd break her back down. Make the softness return.
"Are you sure you want it this way?"
Her eyes opened and all he saw was fire, burning bright and hot. It was in control. Eating her alive.
He knew that fire. Recognized it in him. Pulling her up as if she weighed nothing, he let her believe she was in control. With a growl that surprised him, she took his face in her tiny hands and held him still while she devoured his mouth.
With her ankles locked behind his back, his hands were free to roam. Up the smooth tautness of her thighs, over her leather covered ass, her heat reaching him through the thick material.
His hands digging into her flesh, she reared back and with a strength her size hid, ripped his shirt open, buttons flying. She froze, eyes taking in the two large scars on his upper left chest. For just a moment, the sight brought her back from the edge and she was able to meet his eyes. It didn't last.
The mask came back too quickly but her gaze didn't waver as she leaned down and let her tongue trace a trail of fire along his scars. This time the growl was his. Pulling the ruined shirt off his shoulders and down his arms, he threw it on the floor, lifted her higher, turned and pressed her body into the nearest wall. Not giving her a chance to catch her breath, he ripped her flimsy shirt down the front then gave the pretty little black lace bra underneath the same treatment.
Her upper body was exposed to his hungry gaze and like the predator he resembled suddenly, he licked his lips, his mouth watering for a taste of her. Locking her wrists above her head with one hand, he used the other to push her breast up, pinching the nipple just hard enough to make her squirm but not causing pain. Just as he'd done with her neck, he marked the plump upper flesh with his teeth, dragging a moan from deep in her gut.
He claimed her nipple, nipping, sucking and pulling it deep into his mouth. Her hands burned with the need to touch him but his hold was solid, unbreakable. It wasn't long before she was actively fighting to free herself, wanting to scratch him for imprisoning her.
Heart pounding out a punishing cadence, she bucked her hips into his hard stomach, seeking relief of some kind. The fire was trying to consume her, making her gasp for breath.
His own need was close to spiraling out of control. Releasing her hands, he moaned as they immediately gripped two handfuls of his hair and pulled until his lips were locked with hers again, feasting on his tongue.
Moving away from the wall, he turned and half stumbled, blind with want, to the desk, knocking everything in reach off the top and laying her across the cold glass surface. She never even reacted to the cold at her back.
Dangerously on edge, he pushed her tiny skirt up even further up her hips, tearing the matching scrap of black lace from her lower body and spreading her thighs wide, releasing the scent of her lust. He'd gone past being gentle. The moment his mouth touched her she screamed but it wasn't enough. He wanted more. Wanted her shaking, bucking and begging him to stop.