Authors: Pam Godwin
Tags: #Romance, #Music, #Adult, #Thriller, #Contemporary
The bathroom door swung open, releasing the pungency from within. An older man strode out and clipped Jay’s shoulder before he could spin out of the way. His heart raced.
Inside, fluorescent lights cast a bleached glow on the white tiles, the scuffed concrete floor, and the two men at the urinals.
They didn’t look up as Jay sprinted into the private oasis of the only stall, latched the door, and leaned against the wall. After a few calming breaths, he fished the heroin out of his pocket and spun the small folded paper between his fingers and thumb.
The fix wasn’t a daily habit, and he never used needles. He smoked it when his memories became too much to hold in, often before he went on stage or when he anticipated an encounter with a handsey crowd.
He wasn’t an addict. He was a self-medicating nut job.
Deep breath. Another. He was about to find out the truth of his denial. Could his propulsion to be clean and deserving of Charlee bowl over any romance he might’ve had with chemicals? Could he be normal for her?
He dropped his head against the tile wall.
His childhood hadn’t created an affection for normal. He was young when his parents died. Too young to remember their faces, their voices, their love. In fact, he would never know if they actually loved him.
Sometimes, he would imagine what being loved felt like. It might feel robust and exotic like the harmonic minor in the key of
on his Martin Acoustic. Or maybe it shared the beautiful monotonous strength of the glissando slide between short appoggiatura notes. Was it warm and soothing? Powerful and protective?
In his twenty-four years, he had never experienced closeness with another. Had his parents’ death scraped the part of him worth loving right out of the marrow of his soul?
Their death might’ve hollowed him, but the years that followed their plane crash nearly killed him. In a way, that year in his aunt’s custody had.
Enough. He unfolded the paper and held it over the toilet. He couldn’t unlive his childhood, but maybe if he faced it, if he actually looked at the scars it left behind, he could overcome it.
What had Charlee said? Celebrate it, not bury it under bullshit? A smile stole over his face. Now that he wasn’t overwhelmed with anxiety over her touching him, he let himself retrace her beauty.
She’d teased him about touching but had respected his physical space. Every time she’d smiled at him, she’d done so without intention, without wanting anything in return. Christ, she had navigated his freakishness with the patience and experience of an old soul. Perhaps she was the missing element of
Heat spread through him at the memory of her penetrating blue eyes. She’d looked at him as if she had the power to see through his clothes, his flesh, and his scars. Crazy how she didn’t flinch at what she saw. Rather, she seemed to reflect it. Beneath her grin and her spunk, she carried a burden, a preoccupation, something that guarded her eyes and kept her focused outwardly.
His smile fell. And he’d been such a fucking dick to her. That would change, too.
He tilted the fold of heroin and poured the powder into the stool, his hand shaking. The condoms from his pocket were next. He emptied his half-full pack of cigarettes last.
As he stared at his self-loathing habits floating in the rust-stained bowl, he felt a purging rush through him, lift him. His shoulders sat a little higher, and his jaw loosened. Was it that easy?
Receding footsteps outside the stall were followed by more. The bathroom door swooshed opened, closed, and stillness settled through the room. Finally alone. He kicked the toilet lever, flushed the gear, and exited the stall without a twinge of loss.
On his way to lock the outer door, he caught his reflection in the mirror. Was he ready for the real reason he’d sought out the bathroom? He hadn’t looked at his scars in years. Would an hour’s worth of ink cover the worst of them?
He turned the lock on the restroom door and backed up to the mirror, angling his body to look over his shoulder. His chest tightened and tremors gripped him. What if the sight triggered an episode?
If he didn’t take this opportunity, he wouldn’t get another one living out of a van with three other guys and no mirrors. Could he wait to look until they returned to L.A.?
“Just do it, you fucking pussy.” He yanked his shirt over his head.
He choked. No, he wasn’t seeing it right. He strained his neck. As the black outline took shape, a throb erupted between his ears and spread a burn behind his eyes. He backed up until his ass bumped the sink.
Flames traced the bubbles of his existing burns and danced around simulated scars. The edges of damaged skin, real and not real, were torn and charred and curling away from…
A sob escaped from deep in his chest.
The sketch was a rough black outline, but the new scars had a three-dimensional effect to match the old ones and were drawn as if to peel away from the illusion of steel plates and rivets beneath. She’d created the epitome of beauty and strength in pain. And yes, it fucking celebrated the freedom in survival. How incredible that she’d accomplished as much as she had in one hour.
He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, shocked to find wetness there. It was cruel that art could be so exquisite and heart wrenching at the same time.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, staring at the birth of so many possibilities and thinking about the woman who gave that to him. A pounding on the door eventually pulled his gaze away.
As he tugged on his shirt and strode to the door, he knew he didn’t just want to be healed. He wanted to be healed by his own inner strength. Charlee had drawn the steel beneath the burns. And the next time he looked into her beautiful face, he would prove to her she had not misjudged him.
The scent of freshly oiled leather, the creak of bolts twisting in wood, and the sour taste of vomit coaxed Charlee awake. Cold metal rings collared her wrists, ankles, and neck, locking her to three horizontal bars. Each support hung from various heights, suspending her face down, staring at her knees, naked.
Sixty floors up. Down a long corridor. Last door on the left. Roy’s stockroom.
Shadows clung to the walls on all sides and concealed the contraptions she knew intimately. She was confined in Roy’s favorite restraint.
The steel bars connected to the ceiling by chains. The shackles locked her head and hands to one bar. Another bar hung near the floor, spreading her legs at the ankles beneath her bent waist, her feet bound to the ends. The third supported her hips, higher than her head, forcing her butt skyward and vulnerable to the movement behind her.
A heavy palm settled on the arch of one spread cheek. Violent shudders bombarded her body, making the chains groan against the wood beam above as she swayed.
“I missed you, Charlee.” The voice, oily and pungent like octane, produced a rush of saliva over her tongue. She gagged, retching up water, stringy with spit, on the ebony hardwoods.
His touch vanished.
A sting rippled over her butt. It was nothing. He was just warming up.
Anguish gripped her insides. Any semblance of hope she’d held onto shriveled with that first strike. It was only the beginning of the pain she would endure for the next few hours, perhaps for the rest of her life.
The palm returned to her hip, fevered and sweaty, sliding over her back, her shoulders, and dipped to cup her breast. “You’ve kept yourself beautiful for me, Charlee, my good girl.”
She narrowed all thoughts on building her armor. She’d created the mental barrier at sixteen, and over the two years that followed, she thickened her skin with it, layer after layer, training her subconscious to unleash it. If she could figure out how to hold it through the worst parts, perhaps nothing would penetrate it. Not his words, nor his eyes. Not even the cut of his cane.
The stroking continued, down her breastbone, along her ribs, and backtracked to capture each nipple. Goosebumps trailed the path.
Her shield sparked in her mind’s eye and shaped an ethereal coat over her body. The invading hand was still there, but the notional space beneath it buffered the sensation.
Oh God, she didn’t want to be there. She trembled to be back in St. Louis with Noah, at his house, in his bed, just like they’d planned. He’d be wrapped around her, protecting her.
Her stomach bucked. Did he live? Was he angry at her for lying to him? Would she ever feel the tenderness of his touch again?
Finality coiled around her, constricting and choking. Her life with Noah was over, an unanswered wish. She couldn’t think of him. Not in this place, where no one would be looking for her. Longing for him would destroy her.
“I’m talking to you. I expect an acknowledgement.”
“Unh.” Fuck. Her armor shuddered beneath the sturdier strike, the lingering bite. The fucking paddle. She flexed the muscles in her backside, longing to rub out the sting. “Y-yes, Sir.”
“Yes, Sir, what?”
He wanted her to say she missed him. Not just reciprocate but put her heart in the words. She could do it. She could look into his vile eyes and impart the words. She coughed, tried to clear the panic amassing in her throat. “May I…may I look at you, Sir?”
Einstein claimed that physical concepts were creations of the mind. The brain was power. She tried to focus on that, on her shield, and not on his shadow moving over her, around her.
Then he was there, nude from the belt up with his wool-stretching arousal an inch from her face. She’d watched clueless fucking women stare at his beauty, flock to him with ignorant desire. They wouldn’t salivate over his strength if they were trapped beneath it.
The musculature in his torso stretched as he crouched to eye level. Despite the brawn on display, the pasty complexion gave him a sickly appearance. His eyes, violet in daylight, were as dark as the energy emanating off him.
Her armor rose from her skin and outlined her body. She kept herself safe beneath it where he couldn’t see her or hurt her. On the outside, she arranged her mouth into a smile, her cheeks shaking with the effort, and held his gaze. “I missed you, Sir.”
His pupils dilated, and his hands swung up, caging her face, fingers pressing into her temples. Then his mouth was on her, tongue knifing its way in, slashing, impaling. She held stock-still, mouth agape, and let his teeth scrape and pierce, his lips suck and yank. Puncturing her shield. Stealing her breath. Taking, always taking.
The kiss broke and his chest panted. “I own you. Say it.”
Rehearsed and executed endlessly, she delivered. “You own me, Sir.”
He jumped to his feet, hands tackling his belt buckle. Oh God, she wasn’t ready. The shield. Harden the shield. It wavered around her, clinging, but not thick enough.
How had Jay survived his pain? If he were hanging in irons, what would he have done to guard his mind from splintering apart? How resilient he must’ve been to carry the weight of so many wounds. She wanted to borrow his strength, imagined it plated over her skin.
Roy’s pants dropped. Boxers followed. His inflamed erection grazed her lips. Rigid fingers raked over the crown of her head, twisting and yanking the short strands. “I love this length.”
She would never cut it again.
The fist in her hair tightened. The metal collar around her neck held her immobile. He punched his hips forward and slammed the head of his penis to the back of her throat.
Deep breath. No air. She gasped. Shit! No air. Relax the throat. Stretch the tongue. Swallow the thrusts.
Her eyes burned and her gagging was loud and sharp.
His pelvis rotated, burrowing in. Wiry hair scrubbed her face. “Oooh…Hot damn, Charlee. Mother…fuuuuck.” Then the pounding began.
Tears clogged her nose and spasmodic bursts of air, noisy and wet, escaped her lips between pumps. She swallowed, slackened her throat, and fought for every shallow breath.
Please hurry. Oh Jesus, be done already
“Do you know how long it’s been?” He panted and plunged.
No, no. Stop talking and finish
. She shook her head, as much as his stabbing allowed. The metal bands around her ankles, wrists, and neck dug in, suffocating. Tears flooded her vision and seared her cheeks.