18: Of Towers, Of Turrets

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

Sex contains all,

Bodies, Souls, meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations,

Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk;

All hopes, benefactions, bestowals,

All the passions, loves, beauties, delights of the earth,

All the governments, judges, gods, follow’d persons of the earth,

These are contain’d in sex, as parts of itself, and justifications of itself.

Walt Whitman, “A Woman Waits for Me”

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

The delicate pastel hues of dawn tint the silent walls, and I am still in Edward’s arms.

“Tell me what you want,” he whispers against my shoulder, and I open my mouth to answer.

But I do not know.

+.+.+.+

“I shouldn’t be gone longer than an hour or two,” Edward mutters absently, hastily tucking his shirt into his suit pants, his hair the color of candlelight in the late morning sun. “You’ll be okay until then?”

“I can fend for myself,” I reply.

He eyes my naked form still tangled in the rumpled sheets. “Good,” he finally says with a nod, grabbing his jacket. “Have you seen my tie?”

I am not a liar, so I choose not to answer, watching as he gives my bedroom a rushed once-over before shaking his head and walking away.

Then he is gone and I am left nestled amongst the bedclothes, staring at the ceiling, the silk of his Ferragamo necktie absently drawn through a never-ending loop between my restless fingers.

+.+.+.+

“What is it about these men that fascinates you?” Dr. Cope asks. Her frown deepens the parallel creases between her immaculately groomed eyebrows.

“I don’t think I can answer that question.”

“Is it power?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do know, Isabella.”

“Do you?”

“I think you know why the answer to this question is important. We need to find out if there’s a pattern to these fixations so we can help you manage them.”

“Have they been unmanageable before?”

“You tell me. Were you in control when you attacked Congressman Black?”

“I wasn’t out of control.”

“What about Tyler?”

“What about Tyler?” I ask, annoyed.

“The marks on his neck and shoulders-”

“I knew what I was doing.”

“Did you?”

“Yes. I’d read about it.”

“Mmhm. So you were in control?”

“Of course.”

“And that’s important for you.”

My silence is my answer.

+.+.+.+

It is my family’s last night in London and the evening is marked with another soiree, another bird’s eye view of the light and laughter downstairs, my spindly arms and frail wrists showing stark white against the heavy-hued tones of the oak banister. It could be like any other night.

But it is not.

Below me is a sharp smile, square jaw and hair the color of a penny, moving through clusters and circles of guests, moving to and fro like a dowsing rod. The weeks of his presence have not diminished his appeal; women’s eyes still follow him and I cannot put my finger on it but there is something, something different, something he possesses which demands attention. Power beyond his years.

I blink, lightning-quick, as my mind replays the sights and sounds of the maze a few nights before, as my body flushes with the exhilarating, humiliating, warm burn of a new awareness. Burned against my mind’s eye is an obscene cameo of pale skin, moonlight and long fingers, harsh voices and sharp sighs…

A noise above me and I start, look, half-expecting him to be standing above me in spite of just seeing him in the hall below.

But I am disappointed. There instead, on the landing, is pretty, little Alice.

“What are you doing?” she demands loudly. I scowl at her intrusiveness.

“None of your business,” I whisper, but she does not go away.

“Papa said we’re supposed to be in bed for the party.”

“Your papa isn’t in charge of me.”

“He is. This is his house and he is,” she argues, eyes narrowed. “He doesn’t like spies.”

“I’m not a spy.”

I watch her face, the perfect features screwed up in concentration as she assesses my resolve.

“I’m going to tell on you,” she declares finally.

“No you won’t.”

But she only smirks. “I’m going to tell, I’m going to tell…” she sing-songs.

“Shut up,” I snarl.

“Make me. My mother said to never trust the Swans. She said your father’s crooked and your mother’s a gold digger.”

“At least my mother’s still alive,” I reply coldly.

Her nostrils flare, and I watch as her perfect porcelain cheeks grow rose-red with rage, her face contorting into a caricature of itself. She takes a breath…

And then she is stomping, flailing, screaming and sobbing, and footsteps rush up the stairs as adult voices clamor, calming, coming to soothe, poor, poor Alice.

I stand by as Alice cries, parroting my last words to Carlisle, hiccoughing as he glares at me and pulls her into his arms. He carries her swiftly up the rest of the stairs and down the hall to her room, and I am left with the questioning eyes of the party.

“What’s wrong with her?” is the murmur that runs through the people watching from below.

“What did you do?” my mother hisses, narrowed eyes and thin fingers wrapped in a vice around my arm.

“Nothing,” I reply sullenly. Derision and disgust drip from the words, melting into the marrow of my bones. “She misses her mother.”

+.+.+.+

Less than an hour after Edward leaves, a sharp knock on my door is the only warning I receive before I discover that, true to his word, Paul Strickland has returned.

“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” he greets blandly, eyes taking in my dressing gown, the necktie in my hand, the decor of the foyer and the living room beyond.

“I’m sure you don’t mean that.”

He crosses the threshold without waiting for an invitation, arrogance and presumption and the power that comes with standing behind my father’s name. “This is a beautiful apartment, Ms. Swan.”

“You should let my father know you think so. He hired the decorator.”

Something like pity flashes across his features. “Actually, your father was somewhat indisposed before you relocated. I hired the decorator.”

I nod, unsurprised. “Why are you here?” I ask impatiently.

“If you’ll remember what I told you last night, your father would like you to be home during this difficult time. I’ve been sent to accompany you back to Washington.” He smirks. “Are you going to invite me to sit down?”

“I’m sure you’ll make yourself at home, with or without an invitation. By the way, I’m perfectly capable of traveling alone.”

“Your father insisted.”

I sigh, annoyed. “When will I be coming back to New York after the funeral?”

“That’s for you to discuss with your father,” he replies absently. “Who was the man I saw here last night?”

“That’s none of your concern,” I answer coolly, but there is an edge to my voice.

Paul Strickland notices, and smiles. “Your father will want to know how well you’re doing. How you’re adjusting.”

“Then he can ask me himself.”

His smile flattens into a grim smirk, and I am reminded that while he may not dirty his own hands, this man in my foyer is as much a hired thug of my father’s as any of the criminals Charles Swan’s politicians have pledged to put away. The only difference, I muse bitterly, is that my father has the power to make me disappear without spilling a drop of blood.

The thought of this makes the car ride to Washington doubly unappealing.

Paul smiles again, but it is not a pleasant expression. “We leave for Washington at eight o’clock tomorrow. Have your bags outside.”

+.+.+.+

“You all can be anything you want to be,” the female commencement speaker declares boldly, and I watch as graduation caps all around me bob up and down in agreement, a multitude of tassels dancing cheerfully as they hail this bright new time, this age of enlightenment in which a woman is not bound to the fate of her forbears.

But I, I remain still, cold in the knowledge that there are some chains which Lady Liberty knows nothing about.

+.+.+.+

“I’m not going back empty-handed,” Paul warns me as he leaves.

And then I watch him go, his tailored overcoat’s tails whipping around his Brooks Brothers-clad legs as he strides away, but for all his bluster, any control he has exists only by the grace and favor of my father. I have witnessed natural power the same that drove Edward’s hips forward, and forward again, as they crashed into a clueless girl in a moonlit maze.

The same power I feel surging between us as he relinquishes control, only to reclaim it with a smirk and a fuck.

But my time here has been running out with or without Paul Strickland, the last sands slipping through my outstretched fingers. Clenching my fists around the errant grains will only be energy wasted, seconds lost and my mind sways with indecision as the whispers of the past grow louder.

My feet carry me to the closet, and I am on the floor and tearing open the lid of the box inside, blindly pulling out its contents until a pile of books and knick-knacks lie scattered around me. Here is the delicate statue of Artemis the Huntress, the tip of her arrow missing due to my own clumsiness in handling her. Here are my drawings and my thoughts, my privacy and my wants, fantasies splayed vulnerably across years of pages.

I want to lose a battle to him and win a war against him, I wrote once, and my fingers follow those words in my own dated scrawl.

Either way, Edward is lost to me, lost to the truth that I am not a game he can win. A shudder runs through my abdomen as I sit, frozen, and imagine abandoning the battlefield of his nakedness, of never again feeling the triumph of wringing completion from him as he strains, grunts and groans against me.

Even now, I can feel his fingers in the corner of my mouth, pulling as he pushes against me. Be good, he gasped against me, then. Be good.

And I’ve been good.

So good.

“I’ve been a good, good girl,” I whisper, fingers pressed against the stark black words. For the first time that I can remember, I am growing tired of this game. The walls of this world are always, always waiting to close in, to crash and crush against me until I am beaten, broken and bone-tired.

I’ve been so good.

But now there is Edward, his caring and his kisses and his pushing and pulling and patience and words that slip just so, sharp and smooth beneath my skin. His fingers press against me like tenterhooks, holding and stretching, even as he soothes, and I know he means to keep me.

But I do not want to be kept I want to be free.

Free of his heat and his pointed, searching looks and his surrender. Free of the weight of us, our bodies suspended by gossamer thread above an open flame. This cannot last. Leave, or watch him go.

You’re caught now, my mother’s ghost goads. I close my eyes and the illusion is complete, her ire rising from the pages between my hands.

“I’ll leave,” I tell her.

Ah, yes, she retorts. You’ll leave and he’ll move on and you will still pretend you’re free, pretend, pretend!

Pretend for a few minutes that you’re not just like me, that what you have isn’t based on what you can do to moneyed men with your cunt.

I was chained to one man, Isabella, but you are chained to all of them, linked by history and sickness.

Your father’s created your world, showed you what is required, and yet you fail and fail and cannot leave.

Freedom, I think wildly. Is this freedom?

It’s the only freedom you’ll have from the Kingmaker, my mother’s voice hisses mockingly.

Pretend and pretend, Isabella, and fall away from your ivory tower all the while. Mind the turrets, my dear.

No, I whisper, but the sound is lost in her laugh.

+.+.+.+

I am seventeen, and the streets of London are heavy with memories of young summers and pale, trembling limbs lit by moonlight. Every man is a possibility; every tall, lean figure I see could be him.

Beside the Thames River, my classmates crowd the sidewalk outside the Tate Britain gallery as we are herded inside by our trip chaperones. The sounds of London fade as we enter the grand foyer, and we begin our tour of the gallery in reverent quietude.

Time dances a slow, graceful ballet as we move through the exhibits and I am looking, always looking, for something that will show me myself.

And then, it is in front of me, and, graciously, Time pauses its steps as I take it in.

Before me, a sculpture of lovers cling to one another in an erotic embrace, their figures pressed together, held not only by passion, but by the twine wrapped tightly around their frozen forms. Captivated, and captive.

“Rodin’s ‘The Kiss,’ re-imagined,” the curator closest to me explains in reverent tones. “Tate Britain is exhibiting it as a piece by Cornelia Parker. The artist wrapped Rodin’s sculpture in one mile of string to represent the ‘claustrophobia of relationships.’ You’ll notice the contrast of the two materials: the high culture of the marble, and the low culture of the twine.”

If I look hard enough, the faces beneath the twine become more familiar.

“Fascinating,” I breathe, and mean it.

+.+.+.+

The late afternoon sun casts the terrace in violent orange and yellow, and I am still in my dressing gown when Edward returns with a tense jaw and furrowed brow, offering me absent apologies for his hasty departure, for attending the last-minute meeting and leaving me alone.

“It’s fine,” I tell him, cocooned in the consideration of my choice: subdue him and the connection that burns between us like a live wire, or leave, and sever it completely.

He only nods, asks me if I want to leave the apartment for the evening or stay in.

“I can order dinner,” he offers, but I shake my head.

“We can keep our plans.”

He pauses. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Alright,” he says slowly. “How does 230 Fifth sound?”

I pause, remembering the noise of the club he’s taken me to before, and nod. Double back, square on and back down into a place where I can claim him, where I can remember how to be myself again.

+.+.+.+

I am fourteen, dying to be touched, and the words of Cora Anderson roll off my tongue, sugar and vinegar in the truth of them.

“‘…Whatever man may say about ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,’ they know that nothing rules men but their desires and there is no ruler in this world but sex.'”

I am in the anteroom of my father’s office, and the young man sitting on the couch across from me, one of Charles Swan’s interns, looks nervous. “Should you be reading that?” he asks uncertainly.

I want to tell him that he must speak with more confidence, if he wants to continue wearing one of my father’s American flag lapel pins, but I do not.

“It’s a quote,” I explain slowly. “And it’s true.”

He looks away first, swallowing quickly. “It seems a little… adult.”

“We all have to grow up sometime,” I inform him with a smile.

He does not speak to me again.

+.+.+.+

In the mirror stands a woman, naked but for a few scraps of black lace, small and pale and cold, white-lipped and dark-eyed and trembling with purpose and fear. In her left hand, its fingers clenched tightly around their prize, is a Ferragamo necktie.

Over and over, her colorless mouth forms the same sentence:

Subdue, or sever.

“Bella, are you almost ready?”

I can find my freedom in subduing him, showing him his place and leaving him, leaving those suffocating ties that no one sees. Free of Edward and his roaming hands, his fingers that dig too deep, push too far, making me bruise and bleed. Free of disappointing. Free of the past, its dagger-like memories showing me my own warped features in shards of reflection.

A tearing of something, a rip inside at the thought of leaving him, and I am not crazy, or I am, but either way I am determined to fly, unfettered, away from the twisting in my chest when I think of the taste of Edward’s skin, of the pulse under his jaw or the wide, free expanse of the skin across his shoulders. I flush, arousal and anger that he is more than I’ve made him in my mind. He wages subtle wars with his words, fingers caressing me into a docile haze until I am submitting to his mouth and his mind and I no longer recognize myself.

A fault line of something like fear runs through me as I imagine him closer, and closer and inside me until I am exposed, until everything in me is laid out for his perusal and subsequent rejection.

I will not be weak. I will not be exposed. I am able to leave him first.

“Bella?” he calls again, and he is right by the door now. “Did you hear me?”

A breath, and another breath.

“I heard you,” I reply evenly. “I’m ready.”

+.+.+.+

“Evening,” Billy cheerfully calls to us as Edward and I exit the lobby.

“I have a car waiting,” Edward informs him absently, his tone dripping with the nonchalant command of la noblesse d’ancien régime.

Billy nods at him, nonplussed. “Very good, sir. And, you,” he says to me with a charming wink. “It’s been a few days. I hope you’ve got a good one.”

I can feel Edward’s curious gaze on me.’We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.'”

Billy frowns, exasperated. “Somebody French, I’ll bet,” he huffs.

“Is that André Berthiaume?” Edward asks.

“Yeah, who he said,” Billy quips.

“It is,” I reply, frowning up at Edward. “How do you know that?”

He shrugs, but before he looks away there is something in his face that I do not like.

“Well, I’ll give you something a little closer to home,” Billy declares, blithely ignoring Edward’s sudden reticence.’Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

My mind flashes through a thousand bon mots from philosophers, authors and playwrights, but nothing fits. “I don’t know that one,” I admit.

“Dr. Seuss,” Edward mutters.

Billy smiles. “Very good, sir. I see you and Ms. Swan are well-matched.”

“I suppose so,” Edward replies tightly, nodding toward the black sedan that pulls to the curb in front of us. “Here we are.”

Later, I will remember both Billy’s indiscreet use of my last name, and Edward’s silence at the sound of it.

+.+.+.+

The 230 Fifth Club is as vibrant and as loud as it was the first time he brought me here, and the women still look at the man by my side with a mixture of hunger and anticipation.

And then their eyes find me, and they quickly look away.

He guides us through the crowd with a hand on my back, and we arrive at the same private booth as last time, only instead of the coterie of before, now there is only Jasper Whitlock. Older and slender, sun-tanned with unruly blond curls and eyes with a whiskey glaze, he grins as he sees us approaching.

“Cullen!” he exclaims. “What the hell?”

“Jasper,” Edward greets coolly. “You’ve met Bella.”

“Yeah, I remember,” he slurs, staring at me appreciatively. “Done with her yet?”

“No,” Edward replies stiffly, leveling a meaningful glance at the tumbler in front of Jasper. “Although I believe you may be done with that.”

“You sound like your sister. Alice has been waiting for you, by the way,” Jasper continues, ignoring him. “Stick up her ass. As usual.”

“Who is she with?”

“Who do you think?” Jasper drawls. “Story of your life.”

“I’ll be right back,” he says, and frowning, I sit and watch his back retreat into the crowd.

+.+.+.+

I am nineteen and drunk. So, so drunk.

Tyler’s handprints are old news, phantom shadows, mere memories on my skin, and I want them off, I want them gone.

“Hey, pretty lady,” someone says, I can just barely hear his words over the din of the club. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“A drink?” I yell over the music, and he nods.

Clean features, I think. He has clean features and nice teeth and he’s one of those Dartmouth boys, the ones with lots of money and nothing to do with it but buy drinks for pussy.

But he won’t buy me.

My fingers curl around the lapels of his jacket and I pull him down, down, down until my lips are against his ear.

“No more drinks,” I tell him. “But if you’re in the mood to do me a favor, I can think of a better use of your time.”

He leans back and smiles wolfishly, every pretense of chivalry washed away in a whisper. “Where?” he asks.

There is no challenge in it and the sport is easy, but every victory counts, and I tell myself this as he fucks me against a wall, screaming as I scratch, scoring his skin with my presence.

+.+.+.+

Jasper rambles on drunkenly, yelling over the music as I nod and smile and ignore him, my eyes constantly, conspicuously scanning the room for Edward. I’ve sought him like this once before, my lips on the petal-white skin of Victoria’s wrist, confident in my power over him, in the light in his eyes as he thought he was chasing me.

I cling to the memory, wrap my own power around me like a tattered cloak and pray he cannot see the holes. This place, the music and movement and the slick sensuality of its inhabitants it swirls around me, a reminder of how I once stood above it all.

I’ve led him before, I can do it again.

Several minutes later, beyond clusters of dancers and drinkers, I finally spot him, his face oddly blank as he makes his way toward me.

I am a statue where I sit, my pulse sounding off like a countdown.

+.+.+.+

“I hear you,” Edward calls in a sing-song tone.

A breeze rustles through the hedges of the maze, and the crashing leaves whisper as one:

Run.

+.+.+.+

Control, I tell myself. Conquer him. Leave, or be left.

Apprehension curls itself around my spine, mating with the sense of the inevitable, of fate and freedom. The desire to let what will come, come, so that I may have the chance to best it.

Edward approaches me with deliberate steps, calm and measured and carrying him closer. His eyes meet mine with purpose and something else, something dark.

He is angry, but he has been angry before. I am not afraid of him.

“May we speak privately?” he asks coolly, and I nod, my fingers bidding farewell to the silk of the pilfered necktie in the pocket of my dress as I stand.

His fingers wrap around my arm, tight enough to shackle me, and the tang of bitter apprehension burns my tongue.

+.+.+.+

I am winded, wide-eyed and weary and covered in filth when my father finds me and, chastising, demands to know where I’ve been. Concern permeates his features I am, after all, the shining jewel of the Kingmaker’s own crown.

I am swiftly carried up the terrace steps and into the house, but not fast enough to miss the disheveled figure of a young woman sheepishly emerging from the maze. Behind her, exuding smugness and ease, Cullen follows.

For the briefest of seconds, our eyes meet, and I shudder at the world of arrogance and power within his gaze.

+.+.+.+

A world of arrogance and power.

Edward drips with it now, the docile and demanding lover tucked neatly away behind the tailored lines of his suit as he pulls me through a door marked ‘restricted’ and into a hallway of harsh fluorescent light, its walls lined with spare tables and chairs. He releases my arm, and I feel the rush of blood filling in the places where he held me so tightly. The only sound is his harsh breathing and the dulled bass from the other side of the door.

The hallway is cold, white and barren.

I watch Edward wordlessly as he pulls a thick manila envelope from beneath the crook of his elbow. His face is unreadable. Tabula Rasa, I think. Blank slate.

It is silent, but not the quiet of the hallway is a weak buffer against the thudding bass of the music on the other side of the wall. It presses against my skin, shakes and shivers around my bones like a reckoning.

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly

Innocent words a child’s nursery rhyme. And yet, therein lies my dilemma:

I am your danger and your play, I told him once, smiled as he looked back with glass-green eyes and took a step and a step and another into my world, into this clumsy web I cannot stop weaving.

And now, foolish girl that I have become, I find myself unsure of who is the spider, and who is the fly.

“What is it?” I ask flatly, inevitability settling itself in a cold fog around my bones.

His mouth is pressed into a sharp, grim line, but his gaze is full of stones and blades and battle, and is this the man who so readily let me climb him, claim him?

I am still, watchful and wary, waiting for his words.

+.+.+.+

Tyler is a fool, caught in the throes of both my cunt and his own religion. His face twists with guilt and wanting as I tie his hands behind him with one of my stockings.

And then twists with something darker as I take him into me.

“Is this a sin?” he breathes against my naked shoulder, but his hips continue to crash into mine with abandon, the buckle of his belt knocking loudly against his desk. My hands play roughly along the wide expanse of his lean chest, my fingers dancing along his torso with delight as I see him struggle lightly against his ties. “Is this…? This is a sin.”

“Whatever you need to tell yourself,” I retort, clenching around him. He jerks against me but I’m not done, I’m not finished with him and I tell him so as I push him off, pull him down and mount him on the floor, ignoring his discomfort as he tries to shift his hands underneath him.

“This is a sin?” I ask, watching as his eyes roll back while I ride him. “Tell me why.”

“Ah… god-”

“God?” I ask mockingly. “God told you this was wrong?”

He grimaces, groans as I come down, and I’ve seen the light in his eyes before. I’ve seen it in the eyes of a priest with his pants down. I’ve seen it in the eyes of my father the only god I’ve ever known as his universe sustains itself on his perpetually incorruptible image, even as he fucks his best friend’s wife.

“If this is a sin, then I don’t care. I love it. Does that mean I’m going to hell, Tyler?”

“Bella,” he gasps.

“Tell me. Tell me now.”

“I can’t-”

“Tell me,” I demand harshly, cruelly digging my nails into the quivering muscle of his thigh.

“Yes!” he cries, thrusting up to meet me, and maybe it’s a cry of pleasure, or the answer to my question, but I see him now as he sees himself the bright young boy, the pride of his father, the hope of his family’s future as he walks into a future that allows him both sex and sainthood a world of arrogance and power and men

“Say it,” I hiss, snaking my hand down to where his trousers are bunched around his knees, my fingers searching and finding and yanking until I have what I want.

He could have it all everything I’ll never be and he wastes it so carelessly, relinquishing his power, letting me tie him up and push him down like it’s nothing at all-

Nothing at all.

I lean over him, shuddering with delight as my nipples brush against his chest, my shaking hands working quickly, my mind racing with ecstasy and purpose.

“I don’t want to say it,” he moans, eyes closed…

…and then open wide, wide open as I pull the belt around his neck and tighten…

“Bella!” he gasps.

And gasps.

He bucks against me, red-faced, twisting and jerking like a marionette, but I stay on, pressing down and feeling his release as I cry out my own, coming around him as his eyes water.

I release him moments later and move off of him, still shaking with adrenaline and exhilaration as he gasps, rolls over, hacking and coughing and fighting against the knot of my stocking.

I am glowing.

His life his perfect, charmed life was in my control, briefly but completely. Everything he had, mine to take away.

“Good boy,” I say breathlessly, and I cannot help the grin on my face as I free his hands.

He rolls over, but there is none of his usual afterglow, no guilt-ridden smile or needy, clinging arms pulling me to him, even as I push him away.

Instead, he is staring. Horrified. Angry.

Gone is the docile boy who begged.

“Get out,” he wheezes.

“Excuse me?”

“You tried to kill- I’m- my father was right-”

“You can’t be serious,” I scoff indignantly.

“Get OUT,” he rasps. Over and over.

Get out get out get out get out

Burning with humiliation and anger, I gather my things, cover myself and leave. He’ll come to his senses soon, I tell myself, but there is no timbre of truth in the thought.

+.+.+.+

Wordlessly, he regards me long enough for my fingers to rebel against my edict of calm, the digits tapping against my thigh in a frenetic tattoo and I curse them and command: still, still, be still.

“Alice came to see me today,” Edward finally says, an undercurrent of coldness in his tone as he calmly pulls something from the envelope in his hands. “It seems there’s been some concern within my family regarding the company I keep.”

A flash a memory of a summer evening and a party below, the echo of pretty, little Alice taunting me from above:

I’m going to tell, I’m going to tell…

His business meeting this morning. Alice. Alice.

“You said you had a work meeting.”

“I believe I said that I had a meeting in my office,” he replies impassively. “Although the location is a bit beside the point.”

“Then what is?” I demand impatiently.

He holds my gaze for a moment, and I cannot read his face. “How long have we known each other, Isabella?”

I can answer him in years or days or meetings or touches, but instead I say nothing, my fingers twitching, trembling before I ball them into a tight fist at my side.

“Alice gave this to me a few moments ago.” He offers me the paper in his hand and I unclench my fist and take it, glancing down. “A few things to substantiate the concerns she shared with me this morning.”

It is an 8×10 photo of a brick wall and black door that I recognize, a small woman in a white coat and dark sunglasses walking away from the building and toward a waiting car. The dark brown of the bricks create a sharp contrast to the pristine white of my favorite wool coat.

And the stone word fell, Akhmatova breathes against my memory, On my still-living breast.

“What is this?” I ask, wincing at my words, their intended venom shrouded in a pitiful whisper, because I know what it is, and I know what Alice has done.

He reaches into the envelope again, this time producing a small stack of papers. “Fascinating reading,” he remarks flatly. “Although I confess I was only able to skim over most of it.”

I stare down at the pages he shows me and it takes only a little effort to imagine the words scrawled upon the bright yellow of Dr. Cope’s ever-present legal pad.

“How?” I demand, hating the desperation in my voice.

He hears it, his lips twitching into a cold smirk. “Riley is very thorough.”

A tremor crawls, insouciant, down my spine.

“Tell me this is it standard practice for your therapist to send your session notes to Charles Swan?”

Eyes wide, lips pressed tight and I can feel my nostrils flare as I breathe, and breathe, and grasp at something, anything that will stop him or stall him or make him pliant once more.

“Your father,” he adds, as if to remind me. “What is it they call him? The Kingpin?”

“Kingmaker,” I croak.

“Of course, thank you. Although I probably should be more diligent in remembering the pompous political nicknames of men who’ve cuckolded my father.”

“My father-”

“I don’t care about your father,” he snaps. “He can fuck every blueblood in Washington for all I care. Last I heard, he was about halfway there.”

“That’s not true,” I seethe, but he only chuckles grimly.

“Isabella, don’t tell me you’re just another lonely girl with daddy issues,” he chides condescendingly. “Not when you’ve been so good at avoiding cliches. Of course,” he continues, pulling something from his coat’s inner pocket, “there’s not much mention of him in here.”

The faded brown leather binding of my moleskin screams at me from Edward’s hands.

He is silent, regarding me with grim satisfaction.

Darkness stirs inside, rising once again to taunt me. Foolish girl, it hisses mockingly, and I flinch even as I wish to sink into its shadows, and light, light there is too much light, I am no longer the only cold one as he stands before me, a statue, the heat of him leaked away by the arctic white of the fluorescent light, my secret resting prettily in the granite palm of his hand.

I want to lose a battle to him and win a war against him.

The pages of writing, of sketches and the delicious blur of the lines between desperate memories and my darkest dreams, fantasies of freedom and fucking and marking him as my own.

The beast in my brain roars indignantly from between the leather binding.

“Those are private,” I whisper weakly.

But he ignores me.

“I’ll ask again,” he says slowly. “How long have we known each other, Isabella?” He scowls when I do not answer, eyes snapping with ire. “You owe me some answers,” he growls. “Why me?”

The gall, the ghoul of him- I am exposed, flayed open and frozen, my nerves exposed as he pokes and prods and smiles that maddeningly calm smirk, every line of him radiating umbrage and power.

I have nothing, I have lost him, can only watch as he lords this new found power over me, stand frozen as he steals control and he knows, he knows now, knows everything, you stupid, stupid girl.

I believed him to be a shadow of himself, wanted to vanquish what he once was, wanted to feel the triumph of seducing the Lothario of my youth, subduing the Man in the Maze. I watched, exhilarated and wary, planning and luring and catching and holding him, a spoiled child trapping a small reptile in the clasp of her hands.

But how naive to assume, to think that any creature could forever remain so small, so docile. How foolish to ignore him as he stretched, strengthened, wound himself around me until he was no longer a harmless pet. I’ve trapped a small serpent, a memory reborn, an Everest and a goal. A small creature caught in the clutch of a little girl’s fingers, only to discover my hands wrapped around the tip of a dragon’s tail.

Now, I stare at him, a dragon made formidable by his own cold anger, by my own stupidity. His eyes flash, flinty with the realization that he has cornered me and I feel fear and want and rage collude, collide inside my chest. I am beyond my depth, he is beyond my reach, and I am a child once more in the face of his fury.

He watches me, smiles grimly when I do not answer, glancing down at the book in his hand. “And to think- all this time, I was worried you thought of me as some anonymous fuck.”

Something in my expression provokes him. “Goddamn it,” he snarls, snapping the book shut. “Do you have any idea- I wanted you. I watched you sleep and just… fuck, I wanted to crawl inside your head, read your mind.”

You’ve come close enough, I think, my eyes darting to the book in his hands.

He follows my gaze.

I am silent, willing him to see memories in my mind’s eye, the beauty and the terror of him as he rutted like an animal against a silly, silly girl with no name. I watched him years ago, a brat prince with the power and will to make the world go his way the closest thing to a god since the Kingmaker himself.

He sets the book down and moves closer, elegant, tapered fingers closing around my upper arm and squeezing and I have followed the thread, hunted my prey and let the fisherman borrow my selkie skin… and it has led me to him, to this moment, to a man and a woman in an empty hallway with his questions echoing and his indignation glowing, growing, filling the small space with the red haze, the heat of him.

“Answer the question,” he demands, as I stare at the jumping pulse beneath his jaw. “Why me?”

The shadow inside of me wants to taste his heartbeat, to bite him and claim him and keep him, but a fist closes around my lungs and there is a dead weight in my chest. We’re the same, he told me once, the thrusting weight of him heavy behind me as he gripped my wrist, folded me over his bed and fucked me, fucked me back.

Now he wants an answer.

And I am not a liar.

Follow the thread, follow it through…

“I always wanted you,” I confess, my voice low and cold and hollow; it only seems to agitate him further.

He glowers down at me. “You were a childwhen we met.” His fingers squeeze around me tighter. “You watched me fuck some girl in the garden.”

I nod.

“You wrote about it. About me. You drew me fucking other women.”

“Yes,” I croak.

“You wrote about me often.”

“I thought of you often,” I answer.

“You thought of me,” he scoffs, but then he is closer, his breath on my face and the hum of his voice can be felt in my chest. “When? When did you think of me?”

I pause, remembering the slow passage of adolescence, the newfound flush of my first arousal, the rhythm of my fingers, the whisper of my gasping and the empty air above me. And later, the grunting of the men beneath me, their sweat and their stink and their cries and their cum. “Always,” I whisper.

“Are the stories real?”

“What stories?”

“Tyler, Jacob. The men in your journal- are they real?”

Slowly, I nod.

“So this is- what? This is something you do for fun?”

“It’s who I am,” I breathe.

Edward releases my arm, stepping back and warily, my eyes follow his every movement, watching. He regards me shrewdly, sharp eyes fixed upon my face. “No last name, no phone number. I would wait all day, wondering if I would see you, if you would show up… I talked about you to people, called you my little stray. My prim, pretty little stray that never cared to sheathe her claws. I wanted you to keep coming back, and I let you push me, and hit me, and keep me in the dark. You were the only one I didn’t stop wanting.

“Imagine my surprise when Alice told me she had information more than I’d ever thought I’d have on my stray, on the mysterious Isabella. And I only kept remembering one thing, even as I saw the photos and the drawings and read that.” He meets my gaze, even, hard and sharp. “You told me I would love you.”

My eyes widen, watching as his gaze falters at his own words.

A small thing, but I straighten at the sight it is an opening, a weakness, a chink in his armor and perhaps, perhaps there is hope if the dragon bares his throat, vulnerable once more.

My mind echoes my arrogant words as I rode him, conquered him amidst the gaiety of the Liberty Ball. “Do you?” I ask evenly.

Love that great equalizer. He could be weak before me once more.

He says nothing, his mouth flattening into a grim line.

My arm still stings from the feel of his fingers but everything he’s said, his anger and his knowledge and his control…

All of it means nothing if he loves me, the poor fool.

Give me your secret, Delilah cooed seductively, with shears behind her back.

But this is no Samson with a secret he’s taken all of mine, devoured them with unsanctioned eyes.

The minutes spent paralyzed before him melt away as I meet his gaze.

Silent, he stares back.

I see you, he told me once, and wanted me still. But now he sees it all.

And frozen as ever, I wait for him to look away.

+.+.++.+.+.+


About hollelujah
meh.

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