“You are up early,” Iris comes into the kitchen to find me making some pancakes.
I smile at her awkwardly. How can I explain to her that I barely sleep, that the only rest I get is when exhaustion hits and I practically faint for a few hours on my pillow. So I just flip the pancakes.
My sweet Iris hasn’t pushed. She hasn’t asked where I was, what has happened to me and she hasn’t told me about her. All we talk about is memories from before, little things that made us happy back then, when it was just the two of us, when we only had each other. She is giving me time but I don’t think all the time in the world would be enough to tell her what I have been through.
“You made me pancakes on my birthday,” Iris almost whispers and goes around to prepare the coffee machine.
She does that every morning for Rage to come down and have a cup of black coffee in absolute silence. I think Rage is not a morning person. Then again, Rage doesn’t seem to be a person for any time of the day.
I can’t help but watch their daily interaction and it is... adorable. The room I am staying is the guest room, two doors from Iris’s and Rage’s but I don’t sleep a lot. So, faint as it is, I know they... make love. It’s the soft sighs of my sister and the low grunts of Rage. I pull the pillow over my head each time. Iris is still my little flower, my baby sister. No need to hear her like that.
Then it’s those soft whispers and chuckles I hear each morning when they wake up before they share a shower. Makes me rethink that “Rage is not a morning person” thing. And that whispering thing goes on all through breakfast.
“Morning,” Rage's rough voice reaches me as he walks in in his sweatpants and nothing else.
Is it wrong to check out your little sister’s husband? It is wrong but he could have looked any less striking. His arm is raised as his fingers go through his wet hair and he almost looks innocent though his tattooed biceps flex dangerously. He pulls instantly closer to Iris as if there is a magnet that keeps them drifting together all the time.
“Morning, baby,” Iris climbs on her toes and leaves a peck on his lips. “Tamie is making pancakes.”
He couldn’t care less. I could be making poisonous caterpillars in lava and still all his attention would be on Iris that is wearing a long t-shirt – his I am guessing – and a pair of shorts. Her hair is in a bun and she is still puffed from sleep but as he cups her face, he looks at her as if she is the most beautiful girl in the whole world. Aaaawww!
For a sociopath killer, Rage can be so sweet and innocent to Iris that it makes my heart clench each time I see them together. It’s been two days and I don’t think my poor heart can take any more of this. Yes, Rage is a tad overbearing, yes it will take him at least fifteen minutes before he finally lets Iris go and head to work, yes he is freaking scary with that crazy look in his eyes. But he is so sweet with her, so protective, so much and utterly in love.
It is still scary staying in the same house as the man I saw mutilate all these men back in the prison I was held. But he loves my sister, I can tell as much. He loves her with an absolute, pure love that brings tears to my eyes.
He is ever so protective of her, so mindful of her needs. All his being, all that he is, broken and shattered as he might be, is devoted to her. And she gives back. Day by day, piece by piece, armed with immense love, she repairs those vast cracks in his soul. And she doesn’t care that he might never be a normal guy. She just wants him to be happy. And they both are.
And where do I fit in this? Nowhere. I am empty. I have no life, no dreams, no purpose. All my life, all my miserable life, I was driven by the need to keep Iris safe. But my little flower doesn’t need me anymore. She thrived and grew and she is radiant. What does that leave me?
I shut my eyes at the selfish thought and swallow my bitterness. Am I that unworthy that I secretly wished to find my sister a mess so I can have something to do with my worthless life? Am I that person? No. I survived and I will keep living. As soon as I find something to live for.
“I think we should have Wood over for dinner,” Iris says as she pours syrup over her pancakes.
My cheeks go red upon hearing his name. Wood. I haven’t seen him for two days but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about him. Mostly at night, when the absolute silence of nature spreads and I hear the couple two doors down exchange their love. I replayed that kiss, that desperate kiss in his arms, against his hard body. And then the night he held me so close, his breath against my neck and his thick arm trapping me in a sea of safety I drowned in.
“I... I think it is a good idea,” I nod to Iris.
“Then we are definitely going shopping,” Iris gives me an excited smile.
I try not to look at Wood too much over dinner but it’s impossible. I have missed him so much. More than I knew I could. I love being back with my sister, I have missed her so much and I am more than happy to see her happy. But...
"Stig will set Tamie up with an identity as well,” Iris flashes me one of those smiles over the table.
I smile back. She is not the little girl I remember. She is a woman, a strong woman that has found all that her heart desired. Her calling, a family, friends. And Rage. I am not the girl I was either. I waned, I was stretched to my limits, my soul was dragged to the sewers.
“This is delicious!” Iris exclaims.
She tastes one of the pies Wood has baked himself and brought to dinner. I look to him but I was not expecting to find him searching my face with intensity. There is a frown on his handsome face as if he read my thoughts and my mind.
“Thank you,” he turns to Iris but retracts his eyes quickly when Rage growls.
Rage is openly possessive over Iris to an alarming degree. He dropped work this morning to escort us to the shops and he made sure everyone kept a wide berth from Iris in his non-discreet way of hovering around her. Everyone tended to be glad to stay away from him though all the girls were eyeing him intensely.
“So, are you going back to San Fransisco?” Iris ignores Rage’s open discontent.
To San Francisco? Wood is leaving. Of course, he is. Why should he stay here? To look after me? He did what he set out to do, he saved me, delivered me to my sister and now I am none of his concern. Why would a man like him care for me?
But then I am flooded by the memories of the moments we shared and the night he pulled me in his arms and we slept there. The steaks we ate at the dinner, the way he took me in his arms when I crumbled. And how each time I broke down and cried, he cupped my face and wiped those tears with his calloused thumb. How I crave for that attention. And most of all, Ι crave to hear him call me “kitten” in that low, husky voice of his.
“No,” Wood turns back to me. “I am not going back to San Francisco.”
“I thought you worked with Vince on that...” Iris doesn’t finish her sentence which means I don’t want to know what business Wood has there.
“Yeah,” Wood shifts uneasily on his chair. “I am... I am not interested in that anymore.”
His look drifts to me and I give him a soft smile and I see him smile back. His real smile, the one he rarely puts on and I feel a flutter in my stomach when this happens.
“Good,” Iris chippers. “You can take care of the Riders for me. Seriously, those rotters are simply useless.”
Wood laughs a fake laughter and shakes his head.
“They do have their uses,” he says in a mischievous way that makes me clench my thighs all of the sudden.
“Now, Wood,” Iris points a fork at him and tries to be strict, “you need to find a good girl and settle down.”
A cruel chuckle leaves Rage’s lips and he looks at Wood with utter malice while he grabs Iris and places her over his lap. Iris yelps but lets go in his arms. Rage throws one last harsh glance at Wood before pulling Iris down for a wet, slow kiss.
I turn to Wood once more but he is lightly shaking his head before he turns to me and the fortitude of his look makes me shiver. This is a deep look that threatens to claim me whole and I lean to him without even thinking.
“Oh, stop it, Rage,” Iris whines playfully and breaks the spell.
“I think I should go,” Wood gets up suddenly. “This was great. Thank you, Iris for having me. Brother,” he lifts his chin to Rage.
“I... I’ll walk you out,” Iris tries but Rage demands her attention and he nuzzles in her neck making her close her eyes.
I roll my eyes at those two and I get up.
“I’ll walk you out,” I smile softly to Wood that is walking to the door briskly.
I open the door for him and he takes one step out into the stillness of the night. I see a bike parked next to Rage’s. That must be his. Spurred by curiosity and by my reluctance to let go just yet I go down the stairs with Wood.
He says nothing, he just takes a cigarette and lights it, the flame of the lighter making his face look so handsome those few seconds. He is the exact opposite of Rage. Both are big, burly men but where Rage is light with his fair hair and beard and those blue eyes, Wood is dark. And I am drawn to that darkness.
“Is this your bike?” I have to say something.
“Yeah,” he caresses the handles and then swings his legs and sits on the leather seat.
I take in the spectacle before me and I think I have never seen anything more breathtaking in my life. I grew up finding men appalling and all that I have been through made me hate them more. But this man? This man I find irresistible.
“You like it, kitten?”
At the endearment, my stomach flips. I do, I do so much it’s scary. I was dreaming of being back to Iris, of being free but I never thought it would actually happen. No matter how I held on, there was a constant voice in the back of my head that kept repeating that I was to die on one of those filthy beds. Only the urge to save Iris, my little sister, the last sliver of humanity I had left kept me going.
What I didn’t expect was what I found after I got out. Iris safe, happy and married. And least of all I expected him, the man with the dark eyes and dark dreams. He may have freed me but he is not free. He is a wild beast, a beautiful, magnificent wild beast caged in his own mind.
“Perhaps I can take you for a ride one day,” Wood says as he takes a drag from his cigarette and demands all my attention.
The idea alone of being in the back of his bike, wrapped around him, the wind on my skin, riding with him without caring where we are going is exhilarating.
“Tomorrow,” I blurt out and I instantly put both hands over my mouth.
I did not just say that in that panting way that makes me sound so desperate, did I? But even the idea makes my mouth water. Wood throws his head back and laughs. This time his laughter is true and genuine.
“OK, kitten,” he says and revs the bike. “You know I can’t say no when you ask of something. Tomorrow it is.”
That’s all he says, pulls the bike back and rides away. And I just stand there, looking at him. “Can’t say no”. I smile at his admission. Tomorrow.